Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Thoughts on Berlin

Kaiser-Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche
Kaiser-Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche

I had intended for today’s post in our 2016 Advent Calendar to focus on the tasty seasonal treats we enjoy as Christmas draws nearer. One I had in mind was marzipan, the almond paste used in so many European treats and particularly popular at Christmastime. Marzipan is one of those things that people either love or really do not like. I love it.

Another subject would be Stollen, the thick, somewhat dry cake with fruit, nuts, and often a marzipan center. Coated in butter and rolled in sugar, it’s incredibly delicious. The history of Stollen is intertwined with the dietary restrictions of Advent, a fasting season which precluded use of butter. Bakers could not create such masterpieces without butter, and after ardent appeals to several popes, Pope Innocent VIII finally relented in the famous “Butter Letter” of 1490. The most celebrated Stollen still comes from Dresden and bears the name Striezel, reflected in the unusual name given to Dresden’s 582-year old Christmas market: Striezelmarkt.

All of this would have made good material for a post during Advent’s last week, a time when preparing for Christmas overtakes most kitchens. But then on December 19, a Christmas market in Berlin was the target of a cowardly and tragic attack. The count rests now at 12 dead and far more injured, some of whom will never again have normality in their lives due to this violence.

If you follow my posts, you know that I often write about Christmas markets, most recently describing this year’s construction of the Weihnachtsmarkt in our town of Weimar and about the market in Charlemagne’s town of Aachen. In addition, I returned just days ago from leading a lovely Christmas market tour for the Smithsonian from Paris to Luxembourg and then along the Mosel and Rhine Rivers. These annual holiday markets draw tourists, for sure, but they cater mostly to local residents with food, warm drinks, tiny rides for toddlers, festive displays, and kiosks filled with folk crafts and seasonal wares. While staying in Weimar before the tour began, I went daily with family and friends to stroll through the charming Christmas market.

And suddenly a scene of sweetness and cheer becomes one of horror, transformed by a deliberate act of malevolence. The Berlin Christmas market chosen as a target was clustered around a prominent German memorial site—the Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche, a church bombed in 1943. The ragged steeple was left in partial ruins to remind passersby of the horrors of World War II and to symbolize peace and hope in its aftermath. The irony of an act of terrorism at that site is lost on no one.

Each person in my tour group received a letter before the trip to inform us of the intelligence concerns that a terrorist act involving Christmas markets across Europe was a real possibility. Occasional anxious talk about the subject arose within my group, but all of us became so immersed in the beauty and delight of these markets, we put our fears to the side. I confess to thinking, once I boarded the plane to come home, that the threat had been overcome.

But I now am recalling an iconic line by the 5th-century AD Roman author Macrobius: Numquam periculum sine periculo vincitur (Danger is never surpassed without danger). The abstract fear that something “could happen” turned in an instant into an ugly scar that long will evoke fear in all who cross the site.

We struggle to understand such events that bubble up from an abyss of evil, as though understanding them might somehow lessen the pain they cause or protect us in the future. We wonder how to respond to the questions inevitably posed by our children.

Yet, we need to recall that Advent is a season of preparation, a time to ask the questions that seem to defy answers:

Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14)

So, let us give thanks for the good fortune most of us enjoy on most days. It’s all too easy to forget those blessings. Let us offer our condolences and prayers for those whose lives are shattered. Adults understand the efficacy of such actions, so teaching them to our children needs to be a priority.

And above all, as Berlin absorbs this blow and sifts through her devastation, let us remember that our only our sure hope lies in the Child whose symbolic figure will be placed in tens of thousands of manger scenes at Christmas Eve services across the world. Some of those services will be held right around the corner in secure and pleasant neighborhoods. But many will be celebrated in places that present danger on a daily basis to both Christians and all “men of good cheer.” We have much to learn from those who go forth daily into the midst of these dangers, keeping a solid hold on Divine support with each step.

Image: Diether (CC BY-SA 3.0)

There are 9 comments.

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  1. Front Seat Cat Member

    Thank you for your beautifully written post – it puts it all in perspective. I love watching Rick Steeves show on PBS and reading about all the holiday markets – the lights, the food – it’s wonderful. Attacks on the Light in an ever increasing dark and fallen world will continue. I found an old book called The Lives of The Saints. I found it at a sale for $1.00. It is copyrighted 1902 – originally printed in 1878 printed in Rome. It has a saint story for each day of the year. The persecution, torture and what they went through was astonishing. Yet they persevered and entire countries were changed. Your last paragraph says it all.

    Stay safe and Merry Christmas!

    • #1
    • December 23, 2016, at 8:43 AM PST
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  2. Boss Mongo Member

    Thanks, Prof. A beautiful post. I can’t say much on this topic. Your words are lovely, mine would be ugly. Have a wonderful Christmas.

    • #2
    • December 23, 2016, at 8:53 AM PST
    • 1 like
  3. American Kestrel Inactive

    It’s been a couple of years since I’ve been in Berlin but I’m amazed by what’s taking place since the fall of the wall. In many ways, the Germans are a truly amazing people.

    How many nations could adopt another nation of 16 million people and make it work.

    True – a common language but technologically light years apart.

    I feel quite confident hat, even with this tragedy, they will find a way. You have to be impressed by all of their leadership in the last 30 years.

    That includes Angel Merkel. I imagine that she will take a hit in the next election but she has a ‘good’ place in history


    • #3
    • December 23, 2016, at 5:41 PM PST
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  4. Boss Mongo Member

    American Kestrel: That includes Angel Merkel. I imagine that she will take a hit in the next election but she has a ‘good’

    View comment in context.

    Dear AK, I liked your comment: it was uplifting and positive. But there are pieces of your comment <cough, quote above, cough> about which I disagree vociferously. Germany–and Europe–will suffer for Merkel’s folly.

    • #4
    • December 23, 2016, at 5:50 PM PST
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  5. paulbass Inactive

    I love the post. I have been wondering how this has effected other markets in the small towns. I love the statement,

    “our sure hope lies in the Child whose symbolic figure will be placed in tens of thousands of manger scenes at Christmas Eve services across the world.”

    Thanks for posting.

    • #5
    • December 23, 2016, at 9:00 PM PST
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  6. Aloha Johnny Member
    Aloha Johnny Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Well written post and brough back lots of memories of my time in Germany back in the late 80s. I went to many Christmas markets and always found them so much more Christmasy than our American malls (and now Amazon.) It seemed a bit ironic since the German churches were mostly empty.

    I will say, however, we do lights much better than the Germans.

    You note also brings to mind the remarkable unpreparedness of the Germans in Berlin. If your US group had a letter warning of the dangers to Christmas Markets, why were there only 5 (maybe 15) policemen at the event? Either way it seems that the Germans were very negligent.

    • #6
    • December 23, 2016, at 11:13 PM PST
    • 1 like
  7. Susan in Seattle Member
    Susan in Seattle Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Your post was in my email this morning and I’ve let it sift down and settle into my soul during the day: thank you for such a valuable perspective. Another reading this evening is a pleasure.

    • #7
    • December 23, 2016, at 11:31 PM PST
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  8. Patrick McClure Coolidge

    Boss Mongo:Thanks, Prof. A beautiful post. I can’t say much on this topic. Your words are lovely, mine would be ugly. Have a wonderful Christmas.

    View comment in context.

    Boss, sometimes ugly actions and words are needed to protect the beautiful actions and words. Thanks to you and all who served, and are currently serving, to provide that protection. May you and your family have a Merry Christmas.

    • #8
    • December 24, 2016, at 5:51 AM PST
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  9. Laura Koch Inactive

    This is a beautifully written post, thank you, Carol. I was thinking about posting something myself on the Berlin attack but I couldn’t find the right words or thoughts.

    I found Merkel’s attending the Gottesdienst in the empty church to be very moving. She’s done what she needed to in the aftermath, but it sounds like the German intelligence and counter-terrorism agencies are not quite as well-oiled as I once thought. I was at the Kudamm Christmas markt with my kids before the attack, when the gov’t apprently had intelligence on a possible attack, and I did see two police officers. They were running an “info desk” for the public, not patrolling the markt. I’ll be paying close attention to what Merkel does next in response to the mishandling of the terrorist’s file and the bureaucratic nightmare that is deporting people who need to be deported yesterday.

    • #9
    • December 24, 2016, at 7:50 AM PST
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