Huddled over a mound of dirty clothes and unpacked suitcases, Roger mumbled: “I don’t like this.”
After spending a week in the woods, our leadership team returned to Dresden with about an hour to spare before our debrief dinner. Within that small window of time, Roger was to get ready for dinner and repack a bag for an overnight stay with a German couple he had never met. Previous to this moment, Roger had: endured a very long trip from South Carolina to Dresden, spent his first night in Europe with a German couple (whose English was limited), and survived a challenging week of sports camp. You can imagine that it was hard for him to pack, with a moments notice, for another stretching cultural experience. The couple he was to stay with only spoke German. Roger would be joining a teenager who had also helped at camp that night, at the home of Klaus. Luckily Micah spoke German, which meant that he would become Roger’s interpreter.
At church, the next day, I was eager to catch up with Roger. I couldn’t wait to find out how his stay with Klaus had been. That night, Roger and I would be switching housing situations. Micah was to leave for the States and my friend, Katrina, was to fly in.
Roger reported that the apartment was very “East German.” He described the apartment as small, with a strange layout. The furniture was old and the apartment was slightly cluttered. Operatic music lingered in the background. Stranger yet, Roger explained the art he had seen on the walls and the trinkets that sat around the apartment. He was surprised that all of these things were Jewish. I too was surprised by that fact, but I figured that I would get the story later. Having just finished a long week of camp and a heavy dinner, Roger admitted that he faded in and out of the conversation that night. Not trusting his observation skills in that condition, I wasn’t at all sure what I was walking into.
When Katrina and I walked into the apartment, I couldn’t keep myself from exclaiming “Chagall!” It’s true, I have a rare condition. I can’t help but yell the name of artists that I spot work from across the room. I can keep the volume in check in museums, but it’s harder in situations where I am not expecting to see a masterpiece. Covering my mouth, I felt embarrassed about my outburst. Klaus smiled and confirmed that many of his pieces were Chagalls. Originals (!!), in fact. His wife, Annette, scrambled to get a book from the exhibition where they had purchased the paintings. From that point on, the books and the stories kept coming. Fighting the heat and my nagging exhaustion, Katrina and I kept Klaus and Annette talking for 2 to 3 hours.
When I asked Klaus and Annette about the Allied bombing of Dresden, they handed me a book with pictures of the aftermath. I cautiously turned the pages. I was surprised by the charred remains that appeared before me. More surprisingly, Annette shared that her mother had been a part of the Bund Deutscher Mädel and that she had come into the city the day after the bombing, to help clean up the victims left hurting in the streets. She described her mother wiping the ash from the eyes of those suffering. About 25,000 Germans died in the bombing. Annette then told us about the 100,000 Jews that were spared because of the chaos. They were to be taken to camps by train one week later. 25,000 Germans lost their lives but 100,000 Jews were spared.
Klaus told us about the town he lived in, outside of Dresden. His great grandfather had been the mayor of this town and was well loved. In WWII, the Nazi party approached him with a “request” for his support and participation. He refused at first, but conceded when his family was threatened. Similarly, his grandfather was pressured into joining the Communist party. So when Klaus was growing up, his father told him that he was free to be whatever he wanted to be. Klaus chose to be an atheist.
Annette, however, gave us quite a different account of her own life. When she was a young woman, she had seen advertisement about a meeting that was going to occur by her apartment. Curious about it, she followed a small crowd into the meeting. The gentleman running the meeting was a preacher who wanted to begin an Evangelical Free church in Dresden. Annette was intrigued. She went back for the next meeting but she was the only person who had shown up, other than the preacher. Thinking that this Evangelical Free church could turn into something, she decided that it would be good to stay and be a part of it from the very beginning. Annette did not speak of any kind of conversion experience. She said her journey to becoming a Christian was long. I’m unsure about the conversion of Klaus. I only know that the faith of Annette was they key factor that brought him into a relationship with Jesus.
When Klaus and Annette met, during the time of Communism, they had very little. The guest bedroom we were staying in had once been their entire apartment. It had a separate entrance from the front hallway. Many years in their marriage passed before they were able to afford the whole apartment.
Klaus shared how rough Communist times were. He told us that he ordered a car, which was the only way that you could obtain one, and it arrived 10 years later. I asked him if he was ever paranoid about Communist spies. He didn’t say that he was, but he told us that the #1 way that they spied on people was through the telephone. So, he and Annette didn’t get a phone until the 90s. In their entire apartment building, only one person had a telephone. They were suspected to be a spy, of course.
Listening to the stories of Klaus and Annette was unbelievable. I felt as if I was living in a documentary. Roger’s reaction to this encounter was: “you can’t pay for this!” He was right. This experience was invaluable. To top it all off, Klaus eagerly volunteered to take us around Dresden. Here is a small video clip of Klaus explaining the history of Dresden to us: