December 16, 2004


Cathedral as metaphor in Germany (Uwe Siemon-Netto, Dec. 13, 2004, UPI)

Whenever I visit Leipzig, where I was born before the World War II but was unwelcome during four decades of Communism, I waver between irritation and bemusement about the way the local elites agonize over what seems only too natural. Foreigners, particularly those from Eastern Europe, share my bewilderment over this phenomenon, which strikes them as proof of Germany's enduring identity crisis.

Here's the issue: Should Leipzig's late-Gothic university church be rebuilt? In my childhood this enchanting sanctuary graced the Augustusplatz, once one of Germany's largest and most beautiful squares, now arguably the ugliest.

Called the Paulinerkirche, this former chapel of the Dominican order was the very icon of the ancient university, which will celebrate its 600th anniversary in 2009. Martin Luther personally consecrated it as a Protestant house of worship in 1543, and Bach preferred its organ to all others in this city that was his place of work for 27 years in the early 18th century.

The Paulinerkirche survived the air raids of World War II almost undamaged. But after that war Leipzig had the misfortune of becoming part of Communist East Germany. Its chief of state and party boss, Walter Ulbricht, a son of Leipzig's red-light district, hated this symbol of his hometown's patrician, religious and academic traditions and ordered its destruction.

So in 1968, before the eyes of tens of thousands of weeping spectators, the Paulinerkirche was blown up and later replaced by an excruciatingly unsightly administrative building, whose only ornament was - and still is - a monstrous bronze relief titled, "Karl Marx - the revolutionary and world-changing effect of his teaching."

No sooner did the Communist regime collapse in 1989 than prominent Leipzigers and the city's admirers all over the world called for the church's reconstruction.

As many as 27 Nobel laureates supported the friends of the Paulinerkirche movement; one of them, oncologist Guenter Blobel of New York, actually headed the association advocating the reconstruction for some time. Other supporters include Richard von Weizsaecker, Germany's former president.

"If this were Poland, the church would have long been back in business," said Polish composer Krzysztoff Penderecki when he received an honorary doctorate from Leipzig University.

But this isn't Poland. It is Germany struggling with its Nazi past, Germany whose chattering classes still seem under the illusion that by excelling in all things modern, lunacies included, and discarding all things old they might get rid of Hitler in the process.

And so when the Christian Democrat-run state government of Saxony decided to rebuild the church, the intellectual elites were dismayed, indeed outraged. [...]

"We felt to resurrect the church was the only right thing to do," said Tania, a recent Bulgarian graduate, as we stood in front of the Marx relief holding up the odious and thankfully moribund structure of concrete slabs that still stands where the church once stood.

"What makes life here so infuriating is that Germans mindlessly reject the admirable parts of their history the rest of us admire so much. The controversy over the Paulinerkirche is a prime example for this idiocy."

Perhaps the oddest feature of modern Eutrope is that it seeks to preserve only the secularity that made its 20th Century so uniquely ugly, rather than the Judeo-Christian heritage that, along with Grecco-Roman elements, gave us the glory of Western Civilization.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 16, 2004 1:48 PM

What's infuriating is their own ignorance. Hitler, like all totalitarians, had no use for any rival for men's allegiance. Such as, the church. Hence the "total" part of totalitarian. Rebuilding the church would be a repudiation of the worship of the state that marked both of these regimes, National Socialist and Communist.

Posted by: Mikey at December 16, 2004 2:40 PM

There was never anything as total as German Christianity.

Ask a Prussian, if you can find one.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at December 16, 2004 3:13 PM

When was there a totalitarian Christianity in Germany? Nevermind one as totalitarian as the secular/Darwinist regime of Hitler?

Posted by: oj at December 16, 2004 3:17 PM

The Holy Roman Emperor, although the murderers I am referring to, the Teutonic Knights, got their charter to kill direct from the pope.

He's a Christian, right?

Posted by: Harry Eagar at December 16, 2004 4:30 PM

Harry: You're talking about the 1200's, correct? Frederick Barbarossa and all the fun that was the Holy Roman Empire? That world's dead, real dead-and-dust. Christianity hasn't been like that for hundreds of years.

The gist of the discussion was that totalitarians, whether Communist or National Socialist could not stand any other group in their society* which could even a part of a person's allegiance. Hence the rationale for dynamiting that church and the rationale for rebuilding it: a repudiation of the totalitarian state and its demand that all the subjects bow down to the party and the party's leader only. This would be a physical symbol of the rejection of that totalitarian past and an acknowledgement that the state does not own the people.

*Churches, fraternities, youth organizations, civic clubs - all associations were absorbed by the Nazi state. The same thing happened in Communist countries. Totalitarians brook no rivals, even if the rival is only the local Kiwanis Club.

Posted by: Mikey at December 16, 2004 4:51 PM

How can someone who opposes rebuilding the Cathedral were JS Bach had his greatest performances be called a member of any kind of 'elite?' Does membership of this elite require anything more than a batch of boxtops?

Posted by: Bart at December 16, 2004 5:14 PM


So the Pope didn't rule Germany, did he?

Posted by: oj at December 16, 2004 5:45 PM

Holy Roman Emperor totalitarian? I don't think so. It was a most ramshackle affair. Feudal in its essence. The emperor could not compel his vasals beyond their feudal obligations. The emperor possesed only the force that his patrimony provided. The Hapsburgs gained strength from marrying well not from being emperors.

The Teutonic Knights got a bad rep in Eisenstein's movies and the ability of the Prussian military to beat the French like a rented mule in the 19th century gave them a rep, but those reps have nothing to do with medieval realities.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at December 16, 2004 6:27 PM

Totalitarian? What's more total than being dead?

The pope said, convert the Prussians. The Prussians ended up all dead.

You can spin it how you like, but totally dead is, like, totally dead.

I don't care whether they rebuild a church or not. I'm just pointing out that religion, and specifically the Christian religion, generated more crimes, over a longer period, than anybody else.

Indeed, it was 800 years ago. But it didn't stop then, did it. Those days are not dead and gone, though the Prussians are.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at December 17, 2004 12:19 AM


Killing foreigners doesn't make you a totalitarian state. We killed all the Indians while a thriving democracy.

Posted by: oj at December 17, 2004 7:14 AM

I never said the Holy Roman Empire was totalitarian. I was refering to Harry's statement above mine, trying to place his comment in a time-frame. My comments on totalitarianism were within the context of the Twentieth Century, thus my reference to National Socialism and Communism. And Kiwanis Clubs, which I'm fairly certain the Holy Roman Empire never had.

Posted by: Mikey at December 17, 2004 11:10 AM

Maybe so, Mikey, but Orrin wants to return to those glorious days of yesteryear, when if you did (or, alternatively, didn't) put the i in homoiousion, you got killed.

There really is no totalitarianism like death.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at December 17, 2004 4:25 PM


You keep saying that but it makes no sense. Are we a totalitarian society just because we kill babies?

Posted by: oj at December 17, 2004 10:03 PM


Your statement is on the verge of not making sense.

The society does not kill babies, any more than the society drives drunk.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at December 18, 2004 10:58 AM

Drunk driving is illegal.

Posted by: oj at December 18, 2004 11:48 AM


So? That isn't what you said.

The society doesn't kill babies any more than the society cooks dinner, either.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at December 18, 2004 7:51 PM

Yes, Jeff, we're all aware you refuse responsibility for the society you've helped make.

Posted by: oj at December 18, 2004 9:17 PM


This isn't a question of my "responsibility."

Rather, it is a question of whether your syntactical formulation above has any meaning.

It doesn't.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at December 19, 2004 7:12 AM


Decent people take responsibility for the quality of the society they help create and maintain.

Posted by: oj at December 19, 2004 8:21 AM

That's as may be. It also has nothing to do with Are we a totalitarian society just because we kill babies?

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at December 19, 2004 3:00 PM

Yes, that was my point.

Posted by: oj at December 19, 2004 4:39 PM

Christians don't. Not around here, anyway.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at December 19, 2004 5:16 PM


Then why are they trying to change it so radically?

Posted by: oj at December 19, 2004 5:18 PM