Saturday, August 8, 2015

How Katz und Maus (Cat and mouse) caused a delay of a Prague-Berlin fast train

In 1965 I was invited to take part in an Easter meeting (Ostertreffen) of Christians from East and West in East Berlin, organized by Dietrich Gutsch from the Gossner Mission. The participants were divided into small groups, each discussing a text from the New Testament. I was deeply impressed by the earnestness with which Christians from Britain, Denmark, Holland, Federal Republic of Germany, and the GDR tried to penetrate the meaning of the given texts and derive from it guidance and strength to live their lives in their very different situations. I enjoyed every minute of it, and the participants enjoyed my contributions to the discussion.

I remember in particular the Easter meeting of 1968; it was very courageous of Dietrich to invite me in that year. The Prague Spring was in full swing, and the GDR government looked askance at the developments in Czechoslovakia. Dietrich chose Peter’s First Epistle, Ch. 4, vv. 1-11 for discussion. focussing on v. 7, “es ist aber nahe gekommen das Ende aller Dinge” (“the end of all things is at hand”), which he interpreted in the light of Revelation 21, 4 “God will wipe every tears from their eyes … for the former things have passed away” and Isaiah 2.4 “and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares … nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more”. ‘This is the end for which we must work and pray,’ insisted Dietrich, hoping against hope that the development in Czechoslovakia would not end in catastrophe. (To refresh my memory, I consulted my Nestle’s Novum Testamentum Graece, which I took with me; the lines we discussed are underlined; furthermore, I looked up Erinnerungen an Dietrich Gutsch (Remembering D. G.) on Google, where I found Dietrich’s Meditation on 1. Peter 4, 1-11.)

I revisited East Berlin in the Easter of 1977. Those were the days of concentrated efforts of the Czechoslovak regime to suppress the Charter 77 human rights movement. I took with me Günter Grass’ Katz und Maus (Cat and Maus) and was reading it when we stopped at the border. The German border control came, and the lady in charge asked me to show her the book. On the front page was a drawing of an army officer with a Ritterkreuz (Knight’s Cross) on his breast. The lady confiscated it. A young man from the Federal Republic of Germany tried to intervene:  ‘Günter Grass ist doch rosa’ (‘But Günter Grass is pink’). The border guard lady silenced him very sternly; she and her cohort left with their booty and with my passport. They returned after some fifteen minutes and asked me to open my suitcase. They found there Taxi nach Leipzig, confiscated it and left. After a good half an hour they came back, gave me back my passport, Günter Grass’ Katz und Maus, but kept Taxi nach Leipzig (a thriller, I don’t remember the author). The train could resume its journey.

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