Tuesday, April 10, 2007
Paolo Pellegrin/Mangum, for The York Times
Spreading the Word Postcards for sale at one of the many kiosks near St. Peter's Square.
New York Times
By RUSSELL SHORTO
Published: April 8, 2007
Walk into a shop to buy a newspaper or a wurst or a Game Boy in the German city of Regensburg and your server will probably welcome you with a brisk “grüss’ Gott,” shorthand for “God greet you.” It’s the local form of hello: street-corner dudes and grandmas, everyone says it. This is Bavaria, Germany’s Catholic heartland, a region that gives the lie to the popular notion that Western Europe has tossed its Christian heritage in history’s dustbin. Bavaria is as modern as you please — a center of the European telecommunications industry, the home of BMW (as in Bavarian Motor Works) — but on any special occasion you see couples wandering around looking like Hansel and Gretel, in lederhosen and dirndls. Elsewhere in Germany, Bavarian jokes serve the same function that Polish jokes used to in the United States. Bavarians will tell you they hold to tradition, religion and antique styles of speech not out of stupidity or addiction to kitsch but because they believe these things encompass what is real and true.
The center of Regensburg is all old stone, a carefully preserved medley of medieval towers, gates and spires clustered on the banks of the Danube, and in various ways — the firmness of the material, the rigorous workmanship, the serious commitment to the past as a component of the present — you might see this clutch of buildings as a metaphor for the mind and heart of Bavaria’s most illustrious native. Joseph Ratzinger — Pope Benedict XVI — was born in a little village tucked between a ridge and a broad plain of farmland to the east, and the major events of his childhood and much of his adulthood played out around here. It was in many ways an idyllic, almost fairy-tale youth. The family home in Traunstein was an 18th-century farmhouse with a single wood-shingled roof covering living quarters, hayloft and animal stalls. The Roman Catholic Church provided both structure and spectacle: at Eastertime, black curtains hung on the windows of the village church, so that, as Ratzinger wrote in his 1997 autobiography, “the whole space was filled by a mysterious darkness. When the pastor sang the words ‘Christ is risen!’ the curtains would suddenly fall, and the space would be flooded by radiant light. This was the most impressive portrayal of the Lord’s Resurrection that I can conceive of.”