Horst Krueger was happy to only attend one Sunday worship service Nov. 9 at Berlin Mennonite Church. The service — one of thanksgiving — reflected on a historic weekend 25 years earlier.
Two Mennonite churches were only 10 miles apart, but concrete, guards, guns, politics, bureaucracy and the Cold War stood between them for 28 years until the Berlin Wall opened Nov. 9, 1989.
Krueger preached a sermon that recalled his experiences as pastor of the church in West Berlin and as liaison to the East Berlin church pastored by Knuth Hansen on Schwedter Street.
“You eventually grew accustomed to the guards at the border,” Krueger said in his sermon. “I went to church on Sunday morning at the Menno-Heim [West-Berlin Mennonite Church], then took the train to the Friedrich Street checkpoint.”
West Germans were free to visit the East, but visa applications took weeks and border guards were unpleasant.
“Of course, I had left anything I would not need at home before heading to the GDR [East Germany], because you didn’t want to risk anything,” he said. “I was not allowed to preach in the worship service, but from time to time I could say a word of greeting. Coffee was always desired.”
He said everything changed with the wall opening. Things wouldn’t be the same, for everyone on both sides of the divide.
On the day after the wall opened in 1989, Krueger preached on Luke 18:1-8, the parable of the widow who pleaded for justice from a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. Her persistence, like that of Berlin’s thousands of protestors, was eventually answered.
A sermon was preached that afternoon at the East Berlin Mennonite church, but Krueger can’t recall what was said.
“I can only say that when I invited all the participants to the next Sunday’s worship service in the [West] Menno-Heim, it was at first very quiet,” he said. “Knuth [Hansen who led the worship] didn’t say a word.
“After some time coming to terms with all the implications, it became loud and cheerful. Back then, we still didn’t understand the full implications.”
Though the two congregations were relatively close to each other, 28 years of cultural, economic and political divisions complicated merging back together.
On the west side, the Mennonite church gathered for worship on the second and third Sundays of each month. On the east side, worship happened monthly.
“In other parts of the GDR it was only three to six times per year,” Krueger said. “Certainly we thought here that longing for a regular service must be very large after all the years of separation. I think today we remember that we simply overwhelmed many.”
In the heady days following the fall of the wall and Germany’s official 1990 reunification, expectations ran high.
In Krueger’s notes from Nov. 30, 1989, he stated a belief that the church can learn from East German Christians. They had experience living in a state that rejected religion. Absent the west’s consumerism, they had different ideas about dealing with money.
But while there is only one Germany today, reunification is somewhat a separate matter.
In the mid-1980s Mennonites met monthly or quarterly in East Berlin, Rostock, Halle, Erfurt, Freital, Leipzig, Torgau, Schwerin and Potsdam. However, today only Berlin and Halle are congregations in the Associated Mennonite Churches in Germany, which formed later. The rest of the AMG’s 57 congregations are in the former West Germany.
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