I experienced unexpected delight in the 500th Jhare Reformation celebration in Eisenach. Christy and I had visited the city in 2010 during my first full summer at Wartburg, in 2010, when the city officials were seeking money to prepare for this Jubilee, so it’s nice to see what they’ve been able to do.
Guests of the Lord Mayor, Matthias Doht, we happened to attend a reception in the Rathaus at which some officials from Berlin, who apparently held the purse strings, were meeting officials from Eisenach as well as from cities nearby. Each mayor or lord-mayor was putting in a plug for his or her town, extolling its obvious worthiness for monetary support. It was fun hearing Matthias mutter under his breath as each of his counterparts made a plea. I recall that he punctuated the comments by the lord-mayor from Erfurt with a pithy remark: “Yeah, Erfurt, where Luther was still a Catholic.
The weeklong celebration really did catch me by surprise. I didn’t actually understand that we’d be walking into it, but it was nice that we did. Eisenach folded their sister cities into the event, hosting delegations from all but one sister city. In addition to our Choir, which effectively represented the city of Waverly, Mogilev in Belarus and Sarospatak in Hungary sent choirs, and I had occasion to hear the choir from Mogilev a couple of times—once at the Georgenkirche when they sang both before and with our Choir and again at the big outdoor worship service in the Marketplace on Sunday morning when they again sang a couple of songs and our Choir sang a couple of songs.
The folks in Eisenach took great pleasure in pairing the choir from Mogilev with our Choir, for they perceived (and perhaps intended) in that pairing a diplomatic or political statement. Several times folks said to me what a great thing it was for an American choir to sing with a “White Russian” Choir. Interestingly, the ambassador from Belarus and the senior American diplomat in Germany, Kent Logsdon, who serves as Deputy Chief of Mission and interim Chargé d’Affaires, both attended the concert and gave short speeches in favor of peace and international understanding.
I felt as though there was more than a little overkill in all this: from my perspective, we were enjoying two choirs sharing the gift of music; but, from the perspective of my friends in Eisenach, I now can see why they placed so much emphasis on this event. Practically, of course, it got two senior diplomas to visit Eisenach; but, symbolically, it was our dear Thuringian friends’ appeal for friendship rather than hostility. Thuringians, who for so many years had been politically separated from their fellow Germans to the west as well as from Americans, French, and the remainder of Western Europe, never take for granted the relationships they have with sister cities in France, western Germany, Denmark, and the United States. They feel, down to the tips of their toes, that humanity should be united, not separated. No wonder they read so much into these concerts.
And one other point comes home. We often say, in an offhanded way, that young people such as our Choristers are “ambassadors”; but, in Eisenach, they really, really are ambassadors with all the weight that that metaphor can bear. Eisinachers and, in this instance, Belarussians come to know Americans through our Choir; and, I for one, am really glad for that. I can’t imagine better representatives of our people and our culture than these.