On Monday 16.01.2017 the Americans celebrated once again Martin Luther King Day as a national holida. With this blog entry I join with my belated congratulations the ones who respect his legacy by sharing my experiences as a radio-listener in Germany. On Sunday morning – the day before – I happened to listen to the radio program “Am Sonntag morgen” (on Sunday morning) – this time provided by the German Lutheran church. And it was a special program about the travels of Marin Luther King Sr and Jr in Germany. Inspired by the program I started a blog entry but had to stop just after the introduction and only share the link to the audio recording. But I made a commitment that I will continue writing the blog and give more information, why the travel of Martin Luther King Jr to Germany and Berlin in 1964 was a travel with consequences. Here the link:
Now, after several busy days at work (I will report) I have found time to keep my promise. So, let me give some clues why the travel(s) of Martin Luther King(s) can be characterised as trips with consequences.
Let us start with the father – Martin Luther King Sr. He was originally called Michael – and so was his son. But in the year 1935 he and some other baptist preachers attended an international baptist conference in Berlin. The Nazis were already in power and tried to make an image as tolerant rulers allowing such events to happen. But this was not the point of this story. King Sr (still called Michael) took the opportunity to visit the home places of the reformer Martin Luther (Wittenberg and Eisenach). There he got very much impressed of the spirit of Martin Luther – civil courage and self-determination – and he wanted to convey this spirit to the American civil rights movement where he was already involved. So, after returning home he renamed himself and his son as Martin Luther King – Senior and Junior.
The son – Martin Luther King Jr – follows in the footsteps of the father and continues his work as a preacher, intellectual and activist in the civil rights movement. By the year 1963 he had become world famous as the leader of the non-violent civil rights movement of black Americans – the man who gave the speech “I have a dream …” in the largest demonstration for civil rights. One year after – in 1964 (nearly 30 years after his father) he travels to Europe to participate in the international conference of baptists (this time in Amsterdam). And just like his father, he has his own extension program to explore Germany – but his target is the divided Berlin.
Little is known of this part of the travel of Martin Luther King – and mostly we thank for our knowledge a Berlin school pupils’ documentation project “King Code”. What this project has found out by interviewing witnesses and tracing documents makes us clear, why the details of this visit were kept secret.
On 13.09.1964 a well-known person from the German Democratic Republic (DDR) tries to escape to West-Berlin and is shot at just before he reaches the other side. An American sergeant risks a lot by dragging the wounded person to the Western side and takes him to the hospital. Martin Luther King gets to know of the incident, visits the place of shooting and visits the victim at the hospital. In his famous speech at the Waldbühne he predicts that the wall- the symbol of inhumanity for him – will fall down. But he wants to do more – he insists to visit East Berlin as well. The American authorities wanted to prevent this and confiscate his passport but he manages to get through the border control with his credit card as a travel document.
Thanks to the above mentioned school project we can listen to witnesses and an audio recording of the speech of Martin Luther King in the crowded Marienkirche (and memories of another speech in the nearby Sophienkirche). King presents his audience greetings from America and from all over the world. He then emphasises that people on both sides of the Berlin Wall ar e children of God and thus alike as human beings – and therefore, no regime can take that quality away from them. He speaks of justice, equality and civil rights – determined that that the path leads to freedom. Three months later he receives the Nobel Price for Peace and continues his work in the civil right movement. Sadly, King was murdered some years later but his life work became know everywhere. And so, for the civil rights movement in DDR his message was present when they demonstrated for freedom and justice with the message for non-violence: “Keine Gewalt!” And in November 1989 the Berlin Wall and the borders of DDR were opened – another dream to come true.
In 2013 the activists of the school project “King Code” had the pleasure to witness the visit of the first black president of the USA to Berlin and to listen to his speech. Barack Obama spoke for open-mindedness between different religions as well as between residents and migrants. And in the spirit of Martin Luther King he emphasised that injustice at one place on earth is a threat to other places as well. In this respect he passed the message further to the young generation.
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I think this is enough of this radio program. Please note that the content was provided by Andrea Schneider for Deutschlandfunk as a contribution of the Evangelic Lutheran church, whilst the translations above were my private efforts to convey the message in English. I hope that I did justice to the program and to the legacy of Martin Luther King. Please find more information on the program here:
I was pleased to do my bit to give some insights into it and to the message tha has even more actuality now. But from now on I will get beck to my ‘working and learning’ themes.
More blogs to come …