Saturday, 26 April 2014

Nordrhein-Westfalen - Learning about Protestantism

Having been brought up in the Catholic faith in Donegal, in the north of Ireland, Protestantism and Protestant culture is a topic that was totally verboten to me as a child and teenager.  Protestants were 'other', not part of our community and, as a result, I grew up knowing very little about the Protestant faith(s) or, indeed, Protestant people.  Although I have some Protestant ancestry, through a great-grandmother, it's not something that was widely acknowledged in my family, or celebrated as part of our identity.

Naturally, I'm really curious to learn more about Protestantism and I've used this period of blogging about Nordrhein-Westfalen as an excuse to find out more about the origins of the various Protestant faiths.  It's fair to say that Protestantism originated in Germany with the Reformation and Martin Luther, so I thought that Germany would be a good place to set off on my learning journey on Protestantism and those 'others' I know so little about.

I started by reading Protestantism: A Very Short Introduction by Mark A. Noll, published by Oxford University Press.  I love this series of books and can't recommend them highly enough - I've use the OUP Very Short Introduction series before, for example, when I was blogging about dinosaurs back in June 2012.  Protestantism is a fascinating subject area and I could write many blog posts on the theme, but I'll try to pick out a few key points that I learned as a result of reading this little book.

Diversity of belief

Whilst I was brought up believing that Catholicism was the one and only true faith, as an adult, it looks rather monolithic and monotonous, with not a lot of room for different opinions or perspectives - Catholicism is a faith to be followed, rather than one where the average person can lead.
Figures at Cologne cathedral by me

Compared to other major world faiths, such as Hinduism, Islam and Buddhism, Catholicism is rather unusual, in that there is only one main faith and one leader of the church, currently Pope Francis.

In that sense, Protestantism is much more like the other major world faiths, in that there are many different variations on religious truth.  There are different 'schools of thought', like the madhab of Islam and a much greater diversity in terms of belief than I have experienced, coming from a Catholic background.  I'm not particularly religious, but diversity appeals to me and I sense the more democratic nature of Protestantism, where ordinary believers can have a greater role in the church and a more direct relationship with God.

The origins of Protestant schools of thought

The vast number of Protestant churches that are in existence means that any categorisation of Protestant belief can only ever be simplistic, however, Noll puts forward the following origins of Protestantism that I found very useful:

1. Martin Luther.  The 'protest' that Luther made, which kicked off the Reformation, was basically a protest against the sale of 'indulgences' and general corruption in the Catholic church.  The popes in Rome were so out-of-touch with ordinary people that they had no idea how to set an example and lead a faith that would still be relevant in the changing world of 16th century Europe.  Lutheranism is still the pre-dominant form of Protestantism in Germany and other northern European countries like Denmark, Norway and Sweden.

2. Ulrich Zwingli. Zwingli was an important contemporary of Martin Luther and had a lot of influence on the origins of the Protestant faith, in terms of interpreting religious practice and electrifying 16th-century Zurich with his radical preaching.  He disagreed with Luther over the issue of transubstantiation, i.e. whether or not the consumption of the body and blood of Christ during the Christian mass was real or symbolic.  Zwingli argued that it was merely symbolic, which seems like a no-brainer in the 21st century, but was a very contentious issue back then.  Zwinglism didn't really spread beyond the borders of Switzerland and mostly exists in the 21st century in the form of the Swiss Reformed Church.

Votive candles at Cologne cathedral by me
3. The Anabaptists.  Perhaps my favourite branch of early Protestantism, the Anabaptists were radical Protestants who believed in complete freedom of speech and were fervently anti-war.  They were called Anabaptists because they believed that people should only be baptised as adults, when you can make a conscious choice about faith, rather than being baptised as a baby.  I guess in 21st century terms, they were quite 'left-wing', although that concept didn't exist in the 16th century.

Many Anabaptists ended up moving to newly-colonised places like the Volga region of Russia or, much later, newly-independent countries like Mexico and Paraguay, where they could live in peace and practice their own version of Protestantism. Nowadays we mostly hear about the Mennonites, or related churches, such as the Amish of Pennsylvania, who supposedly reject all modern technology in favour of a more traditional way of life.

Cologne cathedral interior by me
4. John Calvin.  Whilst Zurich had Zwingli, 16th-century Geneva got caught up in the Calvinist revolution. In modern terms, it was a very right-wing approach to Protestantism that emphasised predestination (i.e. the chosen ones being marked out for salvation at the end of the world).  Calvinism went even further than the ideas of the original Reformation and didn't just aim to free Protestants from the tyranny of the Catholic church, but aimed to build the first-ever society founded on Protestant principles.

Calvinist ideas really caught on in the new colonies of North America and Calvinist doctrine lives on in the 21st century through subsequent movements such as Presbyterianism.  Ironically, Geneva - the 'Protestant Rome' - is now a mainly Catholic city.

5. Anglicanism.  The 16th and 17th centuries were incredibly tumultuous times for England and Protestantism here was initially much more 'top-down' in the form of Henry VIII's Church of England (a.k.a. the Anglican church).  Grassroots Protestantism also flourished in England and took on many shapes and forms over the coming centuries that led to new churches being formed by well-known groups such as the Puritans, Quakers, Methodists and Baptists, as well as lesser known groups such as the Ranters, Diggers, Behmenists and Muggletonians! Protestant movements originating in England spread throughout the world with the establishment of the British Empire and this gives 21st century Protestantism a distinctly 'global' identity.

Protestantism in Nordrhein-Westfalen

Nordrhein-Westfalen is predominantly Catholic.  Whilst, I knew that Bavaria and southern Germany were mostly Catholic, I thought the Rhineland was most definitely Protestant, so this came as a bit of a surprise to me.  As you can see on the map, the southern and western parts of Germany are mostly Catholic, whereas the northern and eastern parts are generally Protestant or (after many years of communism) non-religious.  In fact, both Germany and the Netherlands - countries I've always thought of as Protestant - have more people professing the Catholic faith than Protestant ones!

Of course, one of the reasons for this is because Germany and the Netherlands, like many other European countries have become increasingly secularised and many people no longer profess any faith.  Perhaps, the true outcome of the Reformation was to move in the direction of secularisation and I can't help thinking that the Anabaptists' radical 16th-century ideas on freedom of speech and heresy were not only important steps in the direction of greater religious freedom, but the first steps towards freedom from religion itself?

Image credits:

All photos were taken by me at Cologne cathedral which, despite the topic of this blog post, is a Roman Catholic church.  Feel free to reuse these images with attribution to this blog post.

The map of religious belief in Germany was taken from Wikipedia and you can see more information about this image on its information page there.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Nordrhein-Westfalen - Nothing new on the Western Front

This year marks the centenary of World War One, perhaps the deadliest conflict mankind has ever experienced.  The impact of 'the Great War' is still felt today and many people in Europe and around the world, still have personal connections to the war through the stories of their grandparents or even their parents, many of whom lost loved ones, during this terrible chapter of human history.

This year will be the start of a four-year period of commemoration, discussion and reflection.  It's generally acceptable, in the early 21st century, to criticise the raison d'etre of World War One and most people will recognise the insanity of the seemingly purposeless devastation wrought on Europe and other parts of the world between 1914 and 1918.  Nevertheless there is a definite consensus, certainly here in England, about the need to respect and commemorate the 'fallen' soldiers of the 'Great War' and of other wars, in general, including more current ones.

I'm anti-war. I just don't believe in wars and see any war anywhere as a tool of the powerful against the powerless and, quite often these days, as a very cynical way of propping up business and the capitalist system.  Wars cause unnecessary loss of life and destruction, in the name of causes which are generally meaningless.  Whilst most people can now see this, in relation to World War One - it's harder to hold this conviction when talking about World War Two and the Nazis, Europe's 'darkest hour', in the words of Winston Churchill.  For me, it's quite straightforward - the two World Wars were really one 'Great war' with a short interval of peace - you can't be against one and for the other.

Richard Thomas in the 1979 movie version
As part of my research on Nordrhein-Westfalen, I decided to read Erich Maria Remarque's influential novel of 1929, Im Westen nichts Neues (In the West, nothing new), better known in English by the title All Quiet on the Western Front.  Like many people of my generation, I grew up with a 'knowledge' of this novel and, more specifically, the title/phrase, although I'd never read the novel or seen either of the movies.  To be honest, I was really surprised to learn that the novel was written by a German ex-soldier.

Remarque was born into a working-class family in Osnabruck, Westphalia and, having been conscripted into the German army, he had first-hand experience of fighting on the Western Front in 1917.  It's become such a part of our culture and language, that I just assumed the story must be told from a British/American viewpoint.

And what a fantastic novel it is!  Wow!  If you read anything this year, it has to be this book.  And such a good time to read it, with all the commemorations and discussions that are going on.  It's an easy read, the language and imagery are powerful, beautiful and resonate long after you finish reading.  I also strongly agree with Remarque's anti-war message, his recognition of the basic humanity that we all share and the absurdity of killing people you've not even met and know very little about.

In an age of modern technology, where warfare happens at the click of a button or on a TV screen far removed from the comfort of your own home, it's hard to understand the reality of war unless you're living in a war zone.  It might sound incredibly cynical, but one thing the 'Great War' taught Europeans is that it's better to conduct wars somewhere else and not destroy your own nation's economy and social infrastructure.  The experience of war for most people in 'the West' in the 21st century is at a distance (both physically and conceptually), abstract, difficult to relate to.

The characters in Remarque's novel don't really know why they are fighting against the French and the British.  The reasons for the war are fairly abstract and the young men in the trenches don't really understand why the war started in the first place or what it is they are supposed to be fighting for.  They are mostly there out of a sense of peer loyalty, because they want to stick by their classmates and do what is expected of them.  Their motivation isn't really to kill other young men or burn down French villages, but to protect their comrades, families and villages.

Lew Ayres playing Baumer in the 1930 movie
Whilst the old men at home pore over maps and get excited about strategies, the young men experience the reality of war - the blood, shit, fear and the screaming of injured horses and dying men.  There is a lot of anger in the book, about the opportunities that the young men have lost, about their interrupted education and the way the war changes them, so they can never regain the comfort of civilian life.

Even Remarque's young men mostly see the enemy at a distance - modern warfare means aircraft shelling, poison gas and snipers.  They rarely come face-to-face with the 'enemy'.  Remarque personalises the experience of war in a very powerful scene where the main character, Bäumer, finds himself in a bomb hole with a French soldier.  Bäumer stabs the French soldier out of fear, but later regrets his actions and laments the fact 'that we're all just as scared of death, and that we die the same way and feel the same pain'

Bäumer's experience could be that of any soldier anywhere, but it's significant that this novel was written by the 'enemy', a German soldier, one of those who was surely raping Belgian nuns and eating Belgian children? Looking at anti-German propaganda, one hundred years later, it's easy to see through the hysteria and hyperbole.  Of course, it's much more difficult to see through propaganda when the war is happening during your lifetime, only retrospect can give us a truly sober perspective on the information being fed to us by our media and government.

Poster advertising 1930 movie
I also watched the two movie versions of the novel - the one made in 1930, directed by Lewis Milestone, as well as the made-for-TV film of 1979, starring Richard Thomas (a.k.a. John Boy from The Waltons).  I'm surprised that there is no German movie based on this novel and it makes me wonder how popular or well-known Remarque's work is in Germany?  Not surprisingly, Remarque's anti-war message wasn't very popular in 1930's Germany.  The Nazis stripped him of his German citizenship and he fled to the United States.  Remarque himself had a very interesting life, but that's a whole other blog post!

I loved the original movie of 1930 - it's a work of art in itself and the director captured the most important concepts (such as the scene around the young woman in the poster).  The 1979 movie was just okay - it told the story quite literally, but seemed to miss out on some of the most important concepts of the book.  Interestingly, the 1930 movie was the first film to be banned in Australia!  World War One was a defining moment in Australian nationhood and Milestone's movie wasn't considered 'on message' enough to be shown to the Australian public.

Being a bit of a Romantic (in the capital letter R/early 19th-century sense!), I'm always fascinated by the portrayal of nature in the books, movies and other art forms that I research.  So I'm leaving you with a wonderful quote from Im Westen nichts Neues which shows Bäumer's (read, any soldier's) relationship with the Earth/nature:

The earth is more important to the soldier than to anybody else.  When he presses himself to the earth, long and violently, when he urges himself deep into it with his face and his limbs, under fire and with the fear of death upon him, then the earth is his only friend, his brother, his mother, he groans out in terror and screams into its silence and safety, the earth absorbs it all and gives him another ten seconds of life, ten seconds to run, then takes hold of him again - sometimes forever. Earth - earth - earth!

Image credits:

The images of the stills from the 1930 and 1979 movie versions of All Quiet on the Western Front are from photos taken by me. These images are being used to illustrate this blog post and promote these movies. By publishing these images, I'm not condoning or encouraging reproduction of these images on the Internet or anywhere else. These images are not meant to bring the actors into disrepute or suggest their endorsement of this blog post, but are meant to highlight the performances of these actors in these movies. 

The image of the poster for the 1930 version of the movie is in the public domain - you can see more information on its file page on Wikipedia.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Nordrhein-Westfalen - Naming your Neighbours

Something that has always interested me about Germany is the fact that there is no single name for this central European country.  Whilst France is called Frankreich (German), France (French), Francie (Czech), An Fhrainc (Irish), Frankrig (Danish), Frankrijk (Dutch), Francija (Latvian) and Prantsusmaa (Estonian), Italy is Italien, Italie, Itálie, Iodáil, Italien, Italië, Itālija, Itaalia and Spain is Spanien, Espagne, Španělsko, An Spáinn, Spanien, Spanje, Spānija, Hispaania - the names for Germany in these languages are; Deutschland, Allemagne, Německo, An Ghearmáin, Tyskland, Duitsland, Vācija and Saksamaa.

I guess it's because of Germany's central position in Europe and also the fact that it didn't become a united nation until 1871 that so many different names still exist for this country.  They do tend to fall into categories and the image below shows roughly how the various names for Germany are distributed around Europe. Most variations are related to ancient tribe names, like the Germani, Alemanni, Saxons and Vagoths.  The Germannic version deutsch/duits/tysk comes from an old word for 'people'.

Name for Germany in European Languages

The Slavic word for Germans, Němci (Czech), немцы/nyemtsi (Russian), Nijemci (Croatian) - originally meant something like 'those who don't speak our language', but sounds a lot to me like 'those who don't (nye) come from this place (mesto)'.  

As I've been researching this topic, I've learned a lot about endonym, ie. the name people give to their own country/the place where they live and exonym the name given to a place by neighbouring tribes or countries.  Many of the names we use for countries in English are exonyms and have been borrowed into English through other cultures that had greater contact with people in that place, eg. the English name for China comes from Persian, our name for Brazil comes via Portuguese.

It's interesting that the endonym theudo/þeodisc/Dutch was used more widely in English in the past to refer to any Germanic people, but it gradually came to mean only those Germanic people who lived closest to England, ie. people in the Netherlands.  That's where we get the strange situation in English where we call Netherlanders Dutch and Deutschlanders German!

German border control in the 1950's by Hellebardius
I first started thinking about the names of Germany when I moved to Bratislava in 1999.  That's when I learned the Slovak name for Germany Nemecko and began to wonder what it all meant.  I was also surprised to learn the Slovak name for its neighbours Austria (Rakúsko) and Hungary (Maďarsko).  To be honest, most country names in our modern world are standardised, especially in the 'New World' - Mexico, Argentina, Australia - it gets more interesting when you look at the names neighbouring countries give to each other.

I tried a few of these and came up with some interesting examples below:

γαλοπούλα (galopoúla) - the Greek name for Turkey which, I guess comes from the place name Gallipoli? Then there is Yunanistan, the Turkish name for Greece, which relates to the Ionian Sea and is also used in languages like Arabic, Hindi and Persian.

Border locked by Morten Oddvik
The Irish name for England is Sasana which related to Saxony in Germany - I guess as far as the ancient Irish were concerned, the English were basically Germans, although I'm sure most 21st century English people would tend to disagree!  Likewise, in the other Celtic languages, England is called Sostyn (Manx), Pow Sows (Cornish) and Sasainn (Scottish Gaelic).  The origin of Lloegr the Welsh name for England is more obscure.  

The word for Egypt in Swahili is Misri, which is an ancient name from Classical Arabic and means 'the two straits' ie. Upper and Lower Egypt.

The Chinese name for Japan is 日本 (riben) which is an approximate pronunciation of the symbols that Japanese use for their country's name, Nippon.  The English name for Japan is believed to come from the Portuguese mispronunciation of Nippon although it could also be from the Cantonese pronunciation of this symbol. The Japanese name for China is 中国 (chugoku) which quite literally means 'the Middle Kingdom' and is exactly the same as the Chinese Zhōngguó.  

Endonyms can be quite different from the internationally accepted name given to a country and I've often wondered what it's like to grow up in a place like Nippon and to later find out that the rest of the world calls your country Japan, Japon, Jaapan etc?  I've put together a list of some of the countries I've already blogged about, in their native languages - click on the links to find out which countries they are:


Монгол улс




Image credits:

The map with the names for Germany in other European languages is from Wikipedia and you can see more information on the file here.

The image of the German border control is owned by Flickr member Hellebardius - it was taken near Lubeck in the 1950's.

The image of the 'Border locked' signpost was taken by Morten Oddvick, a teacher from Trondheim in Norway.  This photo was taken on the Georgian/Russian border.

Thanks for Hellebardius and Morten for sharing these images with us, using the Creative Commons license.