Eine folgenreiche Reise – Martin Luther King in Deutschland

January 17th, 2017 by Pekka Kamarainen

On Monday 16.01.2017 the Americans celebrated once again Martin Luther King Day as a national holiday. 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:

Eine folgenreiche Reise. Martin Luther King in Deutschland

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.

– – –

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:

http://rundfunk.evangelisch.de/kirche-im-radio/am-sonntagmorgen/eine-folgenreiche-reise-8611

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 …

 

 

 

 

The end of the Obama era – the great Obama moments

January 14th, 2017 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my previous blog I wrote from a personal point of view on the coming of a new era. But, of course from a global point of view I have a stronger reason to use the expression ‘change of era’ when referring to the end of the Obama presidency in the USA. It is not my habit to comment the politics of other countries on my blog. Therefore, I will not make comments on Obama’s successor and what to expect of his presidency. What I want to do at this point is to celebrate the outgoing statesman and the special Obama moments during his years of service as the president. Much of this has been written and will be written elsewhere. So I limit my remarks to personal experiences and to observations on recent events.

Barack Obama gets elected and re-elected

Strangely enough, I find it difficult to retrieve my memories from the time when Obama was elected for the first time in 2008. Somehow there were too many things going on that I didn’t quite pick the momentum. Of course, Obama had impressed me with the “Yes we can” but yet I was waiting for him and his popular movement to show where this enthusiasm brings him and his administration. Yet, I do remember the politically correct gesture of the good loser, senator McCain when he announced that he had had the honour to congratulate Obama as the next president. (And already at that time the republicans showed that they are poor losers by greeting McCain with angry boo-shouts.)

Far more strongly I experienced the re-election of Obama in 2012. I was on other duties in Berlin and then continuing from there to Barcelona to attend the Learning Layers kick-off meeting. The elections in the USA took place on the very night that I spent in a hotel in Berlin before my morning flight to Barcelona. At this time there was much at stake and the result of the elections was not clear before the critical day. So, I just couldn’t get sleep and turned the TV on to follow the program of the German TV-channel ZDF. So the night passed, there were moments that I was nodding away and then getting wake. The race was tight and at the end there were the famous ‘swing states’ of which one was never so sure which side takes the votes.

And then – in between – came the announcement of the moderator Christian Sievers: “And the next president of the USA is – Barack Obama!” Indeed, Obama had won in Ohio and that already ensured the result. Then, with similar results from the remaining states the victory of Obama was clear. And I felt so relieved. At the airport I met some older American tourists who were heading to Barcelona. They were very disappointed and made it clear. I didn’t feel a temptation to enter a debate with them – after all, it was up to the US citizens to elect their president.

The farewell speech of Barack Obama – spelling out his legacy

Then time passed – and I had my attention mainly on the project work with the Learning Layers – and before long there was the time for the next US elections. And now it was about the successor of Barack Obama. Well, the results was what it was – the citizens had spoken (popular vote) and the election system had spoken (the result in terms of electors). One may speculate just as much one can – but the result remains. The Obama presidency will come to an end with a hand-over to a completely different presidency.

At this moment I prefer to focus on the farewell speech of President Barack Obama and how he has explained his legacy to his voters and supporters . To my great pleasure I found that the report of the leading German TV channel ARD on this event provides a link to Obama’s speech in full length (and not dubbed into German). So, let us give our full attention to Barack Obama making clear what has been achieved during his presidency and how to face the challenges of the American democracy in the coming times:

Other kinds of Obama moments to be remembered

But when speaking of Obama moments to be remembered, it is not only about Barack Obama as the president that we are thinking. Clearly, Michelle Obama has made something special of here role as the First Lady – by staying with the ordinary people and keeping her feet on the ground. And that has been appreciated – she has given the people their own Obama moments. When a popular TV show invited people to express their thanks to the outgoing First Lady, there were many volunteers with deep thoughts and deep feelings. And the TV-program and Michelle Obama had their special way to return the compliments to them. Let us enjoy these Obama moments as well:

Michelle Obama Surprises People Recording Goodbye Messages to Her.

I think this is enough of the Obama moments to be kept in memory. I will not continue with comments on American politics on my blog. But I am pleased to express my thankfulness and respect to the Obama couple now that they take the most important office in a democracy – that of a citizen.

More blogs to come … 

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