It all started with the road trip. Well, it was my idea to see some sights but he picked the locations. We were searching for Martin Luther, the monk whose 95 Theses nailed to the church door at Wittenberg (now called Lutherstadt Wittenberg) launched the Protestant Reformation. I mean, you can’t go to beautiful Germany without seeing some of the sights, right?
Our search for Luther first took us to Halle (Saale) in Saxony-Anhalt, Germany. Among other things, this is the birthplace of composer George Frideric Handel (1685-1759). His statue guards the historic marketplace. When I play trombone in the Messiah orchestra this December I can tell people that George and I go way back. Has anyone ever noticed that if the light is just right Handel looks just like Jim Whitmire? Asking for a friend.
Ein Freund von mir/A Friend of Mine
When Steffen Schulte asked me to teach at the Theological Seminary of the Rhineland I mentioned that I would like to see some sights on my days off. Steffen came up with the idea that we could visit some of the Martin Luther locations. I loved the idea because I like history. Also, I had never traveled to the eastern part of Germany. Here Steffen and I stand at the mother church of the Protestant Reformation in Lutherstadt Wittenberg, Germany. The original doors have been replaced by these metal doors with the 95 Theses on them. Why were the original wooden doors replaced? I don’t know, maybe the nail holes.
What do seminary presidents do when they hang out with each other? They tell unbelievably crazy ministry stories. I think I did most of the talking. Steffen’s stories are good, but I’ve been around longer. Steffen found it hard to believe that I can attract so much crazy at times. Well, I guess I’ll just have to show you, my friend.
Die Gürtelschnalle/The Belt Buckle
While in Lutherstadt Wittenberg, Steffen and I went to a local museum called Haus DER (sic) Geschichte. I have emphasized the definite article because when telling this story later my translator, the inimitable Dr. Eva Dittmann, corrected my use of the incorrect article. In learning German one should always memorize the definite article that matches a German noun whenever one learns the noun form of a word. Failure to do so may result in embarrassing errors like mine. Like many good Americans, I like to assume that any good article will do in a pinch, but that is not the case with the exacting Dr. Dittmann!!
While touring the museum I was immediately distracted from the exhibits by the very guide that was supposed to be focusing our attention on said exhibits. This guide spoke no English, wore blue jeans, and had his hair slicked back. But more than that, he was wearing a belt buckle I never expected to see in this former East German town. The buckle said in English, “The South Will Rise Again.”
I asked Steffen about the meaning of the belt buckle here but he was as perplexed as I. “Could I ask him about it?” I asked Steffen. “Yes,” Steffen replied. “What’s the German word for belt buckle?” I asked Steffen. “I don’t know,” Steffen replied. Oh well, here goes…
“Was…ist…deine…belt buckle?” I asked pointing. “Ach,” the Guide replied, “Rockabilly.”
“Ich bin aus Memphis, Tennessee,” I stammered out and the Guide’s face lit up like the Sun. Someone from Memphis here! “Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Sun Studio, Bill Haley and Comets….” The Guide must have named over twenty groups and record studios as we journeyed through the rest of the museum. Maybe I was the first Memphian to ever visit the Haus der Geschichte?
When we finally left Steffen couldn’t believe that a German had been so effusive, or may I say…emotional. Well, my friend, maybe now you can believe my other unusual stories.
Ein abschließendes Wort/A Final Word
So, first of all, I learned a new German word. “Belt buckle” is translated die Gürtelschnalle. Apparently, Germans don’t use this word much, which makes me wonder what do the winners of German rodeos call their trophies?
Second, in this crazy mixed-up world, I would like to think that I somehow have brought us all closer. Through the universal language of music a new bridge, a new connection has been formed. Sort of an Elvis Presley meets Martin Luther connection.
Thank you, thank you very much.