Sunday, May 1

Living history in Szczecin, Poland

We arrived at the Bonhoeffer Institute in Szczecin, Poland (pronounced Stetten) about 8:30pm for what became our regular meal of deli meat, cheese, spreads, bread, tomatoes and cucumbers. Breakfast only added the difference of spreads (peanut butter, nutella, jams), cereal, and yogurt. Dawn and I totally scored when it came to our room! It was spacious, had high ceilings, all had private bathrooms and this one could have slept four comfortably but people kept insisting it was ours because I was pregnant. Three nights comfy accommodations and four meals cost me just 100 euro.

Friday morning we were joined by our host, young Lutheran Pastor Sikora. I think we all thought this trip would be a scholarly look into how Freidrich Bonhoeffer's work continued to this day in the city where he clandestinly held a seminary for prospective pastors while hiding from the Nazis. Those students were choosing a most uncertain, dangerous future to follow their faith. In a round-about way, not overtly, it was since Lutherans became the minority here and held their faith dear. It was more of a living window into Polish history, oh and a pitch for donations.

The building housing us was the Czeckoslovakian embassy until it was given to the Szczecin Lutheran church as reparation for seized properties. This portion of Poland has been part of Germany and Poland. When part of Germany, it was predominantly Lutheran. When part of Poland, it was predominantly Catholic. How? Depended on who "ran" the country. Before WWII, much of northern and western Poland that was part of old Prussia was Lutheran since the first days of the Reformation. The rest of Poland maintained its Catholic faith and culture. The Nazi occupation unsettled massive portions of the population and the Communists who took over did too as part of well-devised plan to keep control of the population and territory.

The national symbol/crest of Poland was traditionally an eagle with a golden crown on its head. When the Nazis and Soviets took over Poland, they removed the crown from the eagle's head. Now it's proudly displayed again.

The interesting thing about Szczecin, a major port city, is that no one here claims it as home. It's a city of transplants. Everyone claims the place where their grandparents are from as home - pre-WWII. Pastor Sikora is 34 and he claims Silesia as home yet he's lived here most of his life. A gal from the congregation who served as our tour guide of downtown grew up here but her grandparents were transplants here after the war. Her grandfather worked as a foreman in the train yards but when they moved to Szczecin for a better livelihood, he became a baker to support his family. His sons went into law and medicine and she just finished her studies and is aspiring to be a criminal law judge.

When this area became predominantly Communist and Catholic from resettlement after the war, Lutherans in Szczecin had a difficult time. They were suspected to be despised Germans or western spies based on their faith and thereby if you were Lutheran, you didn't broadcast it. Polish Lutherans and German Lutherans still in Szczecin have been sharing a church since the 1960s but did not hold services together over the decades until the 1980s. It took German/Polish/USSR wounds that long to heal. Now Pastor Sikora relates that the young Lutheran children are able to and do proudly claim their faith even as a minority of the peers. The fall of Communism allowed that pride and freedom to develop in the younger generations.

So after a couple hours listening to Pastor Sikora tell us about his congregation's life and activities, he began his pitch. The site of Bonhoeffer's clandestine seminary, Finkenwalde, was also given to the Lutheran church. He showed us the plans for a memorial garden on that site and then took us out there. We held a short devotional about Christians being a light to the world and not hiding it which was nice except for the trains charging by every two minutes or so interrupting us. The site is RIGHT next to the train lines. All that remains of the seminary is a foundation wall on one side because the building was bombed out when the train lines were targeted.

One of the funniest laughs I had on this trip happened as we were leaving when I overheard a short conversation. A couple had stopped the pastor to crystalize for themselves what was envisioned. They said to the pastor, "So the plans are to build a quiet place of meditation and solitude . . . right next to the train tracks?" In that moment, the ludicrous nature of the project because of it's location was immediately apparent to the couple and the pastor who just replied sheepishly with a nod, "Yeah." They only needed about $40,000. I think it may take some time.

Then we were taken to the church. It too has an interesting history. Because of the site's close proximity to the Oder River, those people coming ashore from the harbor under quarantine coudn't worship in town so they met here. It was Catholic until the early days of the Reformation.

After the excursion, the entire group went in search of a traditional Polish meal of meat, potatoes, and vegetables. Dawn and I got separated from the group we wanted to follow to a recommended restaurant and armed with only the name of the Galaxy Center, no map, no zloty currency, and knowing that it was about a 20 minute walk away, we set off to find it. I am proud to report we got there but found no group or such restaurant. We finally found our group at the mall's food court, all disappointed that the recommendation didn't pan out.

Afterward, a small group of us decided to walk down to the port waterfront area, saw the Pomeranian duke's castle and courtyard which is now used for local government administration and art gallery space.

Dawn and I spent some time in this big park enjoying the evening weather and local scene admiring the blooming crocuses. A nice way to rest our feet!