The faithful speak up in secular Berlin | Scene in Berlin | DW | 17.04.2014
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Scene in Berlin

The faithful speak up in secular Berlin

With Easter upon us once more, the Christian candle is burning extra bright in some parts of Germany. Berlin is no leader of the divine pack, but neither is it as godless as some might have it.

About a month ago I received a letter. Nothing unusual in that. Only there was, because far from containing a tedious missive from the bank or a reminder from the tax office, it held a card quietly asserting that Jesus was planning to save me.

It was not the first time word of such messianic intentions has reached me, but never before has that word arrived in a stamped envelope bearing my name in neat blue ink. Who did the inking and stamping remains a mystery, for there was no mention of a church or a sender. To my mind that could make it hard to find the promised salvation, but perhaps I am missing the point.

A couple of weeks later, a woman rang the buzzer to my flat to ask if she could put some reading material about Jesus in my mailbox. I told her, politely, that she could if she wanted, but that in truth I was pretty unlikely to read it.

"You might say you're atheist," she exclaimed with a speed indicative of a well-worn defense mechanism, "but..." But what? Either she moved out of range of the intercom or allowed her thought to evaporate before lending it her voice. When she spoke again a moment later, it was merely to tell me that the literature would be waiting for me when I came downstairs. It wasn't.

A divine invitation

Then last week I received an invitation to attend a "celebration to remember the death of Jesus." The flimsy paper bears a digitally enhanced drawing of a robed man whose coiffed hair, beaming smile and beckoning hands all make him remarkably reminiscent of some character in a Disney film.

Were it not for the fact that I'll be out of town on the day of the festivities to which the airbrushed savior invited me, I may well have gone along. Not because I see myself being drawn into any institutionalized fold, but because I am interested in the tools used to market Christianity in a city where it was marginalized for large parts of the 20th century.

By the same token, I am intrigued by the reaction these attempts to colonize my own spiritual vein engender in me.

Symbolic image of Easter eggs on the grass, Copyright: lycha -

For some, Easter is a time to consider life's deeper issues

To return to the woman who warned me away from a school of thought to which I claimed no adherence in the first place... As I listened (perhaps half-listened) to her crackle through the intercom that day, I was acutely aware of my eyes rolling in their sockets. The action was involuntary, but there it was. I was judging her. Likewise when I opened last week's invitation, my lip curled. Uninstructed, yet unrestrained.

Preaching to the unconvertible

This kind of spontaneous response leads me to question both my own openness to different ideas and beliefs, and that of society as a whole. We are conditioned to regard the unexpected and perhaps unwanted advances of a devoted Christian - regardless of denomination - as something to be more wary of than a post office clerk trying to sell us a bank account when all we really want is a stamp.

The same goes for supermarket sales staff, which in Berlin at least regularly give the week's special offers the hard sell, or for the countless teenagers hired by direct marketing companies to convince passers-by to develop a conscience and commit to a monthly donation to one charity or another.

Far from rolling my eyes or curling my lip when approached by any of the above, I either listen and buy or make my excuses. And I believe that is fairly standard behavior. But when people gather at the end of the day to share its highlights and lowlights, the direct marketers, the advertising brochures, and the stationer who invariably tries to foist a pot of colored paperclips on his customers will rarely be deemed worthy of a mention.

Berlin Wall, Copyright: Fotolia/Ignatius Wooster

Religion was frowned upon in communist East Germany

The woman who rang the bell to talk about Jesus, however, will be singled out as unusual. So, too, the card that promises salvation. Those things, people will say, are strange, creepy even, and cross a line. I'm not so sure. I think we are simply less used to hearing from the faithful than from many other players in modern urban life, but that they are ultimately in the same boat as the banks and the brands: They are just trying to be heard.

I shall endeavor to roll my eyes no more.

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