Friends of Padre Steve’s World,
This is another of my pre-posted articles for while we are away. We are halfway through our trip Munich Germany this week for the Oktoberfest and while here we are making number of other trips to historic places and exhibits. But I wanted to post something that I think is important that the Germans do but we often miss in the United States, the concept of community.
What we have always liked about our times in Germany is that it is pretty easy to talk and spend time with people, even perfect strangers. In Munich during the Fest you can do this sitting in one of the Bier Gardens of the Hofbrauhaus tent at the Theriesienwiese grounds, the Hofbrauhaus itself, other restaurants, sidewalk cafes or the hotel bar. I have to say that the ease with which you can mix with and get to know people; the ability to talk about life, culture, and even current events without someone looking for an angle to exploit is in stark contrast to so much of what we see in the States. Since I have lived in Germany for about four years as well as having been back numerous times I can say that whether you are in a big city or small town it is pretty easy to mix.
One of the interesting things is how the Germans, even those who live in big cities understand the concept of community. The Germans take life and work seriously, but unlike many, if not most of us, they know when business stops and fun, family and community begin. When people leave work they leave work, and even the business culture, in which stores are not open 24 hours or on Sundays provide Germans the opportunity to spend good amounts of time with family, their neighbors and friends as they meet for dinner or drinks at the local Gasthaus or inn on a regular basis. Likewise communities sponsor sports teams, and a wide array of other clubs that draw them together, everything from Rotary, to veterans associations, bands and choirs, hunting and shooting clubs and many more. Many of these groups sponsor events in which the entire community can partake.
The concept in all of this is that of Gemütlichkeit, a German word that basically describes a situation of where a cheerful mood, peace of mind and social acceptance are joined with the connotation of being unhurried in a cozy atmosphere. It also is understood in relationship to holidays where public festivities in the form of music, food, and drink help promote a sense of community. In this there is a sense that someone is part of something bigger than himself or herself where they are connected with being accepted by others while enriching the community.
Unfortunately for many Americans this is not the case. Unless one belongs to an organization such a various types of lodges, local sports fan clubs, or a local pub or bar where “everyone knows you name” there are precious few places one can experience this type of community. Churches like to claim that they are places of fellowship, but in my adult experience I have to say that most churches neither foster community nor are they places where one can go to be accepted. They are often the most cliquish, unfriendly, uninviting, and judgmental places around, and this is across the board. This cliquish and uninviting spirit covered in a veneer of spirituality and forced friendliness knows no denominational or theological boundaries, but I digress….
Judy and are lucky, we have a sense of community with friends who span the breadth of society; most of those who we know from the place where everyone knows our name, the Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant bar in Virginia Beach.
The Germans for all of their serious nature and sometimes-brusque manner of getting around do know how to draw the line between work, and play and in the process build community. Their cities and towns are designed to keep a community connection, including many parks; excellent public transportation systems, sidewalk cafes, local corner grocery stores and bakeries, as well as family run businesses that have not been destroyed by the huge box-stores like Wal-Mart. They are places that you get to know people, where life is lived, and community experienced.
Part of this is the difference in culture and how over the years our American culture has become detached from this sort of community. In many ways we have become increasing individualistic through the proliferation of suburbia, massive box-stores, and all that goes with it, including the abandonment of cities, and small poor rural communities. Even our churches, across the denominational spectrum have embraced the community destroying box-store religion of the mega-churches. The fact is we don’t know our neighbors and that leads to a culture that devalues people, destroys community, and actually brings on social problems including crime.
Without community we fall back into our basest survival instincts; we see people in regard to what they can do for us. People simply become nothing more than commodities that we discard when they are no longer useful. We adopt the modern American business model as our model for relationships; and when we do this, we devalue friendship; we become paranoid, distrustful, isolated and ultimately come to despise our neighbors.
To make matters worse our lack of real community has so poisoned our political system that I doubt we will ever come back together as Americans. I would like to see our divisions healed but I just don’t see it happening, and that to me is heartbreaking.
Anyway, speaking of this Judy and I will be seeing some of our friends and doing some sightseeing today and just enjoying that gift of friendship.
Wishing you all today that sense of Gemütlichkeit,