Dear friends:

After being gone for over two months, I appreciated the welcome home to Central Presbyterian Church! Several people have asked about photos from my recent months in Europe. Fortunately for those who only want to see a few representative images, I was shooting FILM and it constrains the temptation to fill your inbox. Please let me know if you don't want to receive any pictures, but otherwise I'll sample some for you, with file sizes scaled down. For the blog, these photos will eventually follow.

But first, some thoughts...

September 28th in Berlin was another unseasonably beautiful day and the pastor in the Alt-Schmoeckwitz village church providentially was delivering her sermon from the Garden of Eden account. Around us, she noted, was sunshine, adequate water, land that could grow a variety of crops, a mostly peaceful setting.

She could have added that it and adjacent neighborhoods were spared the utter devastation of World War II just north of it. Alt-Schmoeckwitz was bombed once, possibly in error, and the Soviet Army dashed through it in a violent couple of days at the end of the war. The surroundings were so untouched and beautiful that Field Marshall Zhukov chose a villa just across the water as his residence. A lakefront hotel nearby was set for his first meeting with General Eisenhower after the shooting stopped. Later, it became a residence site for favored citizens of the German Democratic Republic (aka East Germany), as well as privileged foreigners -- including Colorado-born singer and film actor Dean Reed. With German reunification, it again became attractive to the well-off; numerous improvements both public and private have been made. Streetcars still pass every 20 minutes every day on their way along the lake shore, and in the pale light of the gas street lamps, women look more beautiful and men more handsome.

The pastor did not have to give this background, as many parishioners are from families who went through those years, appreciate their new status and are willing to help others. This particular church has had a long relationship with Ethiopians, for example. Following the scripture, she had to take the congregation's thoughts to the world outside their paradise. (I should type it as Paradies, as she used the German word exactly as in English.)

But how will they cope with the crises happening just outside their 'Paradies'? The answers will include stress on Germany and the rest of the European Union, adding fuel to the fires of controversies already burning.

For American and Canadian readers, it's important to keep in mind that whatever the views that we have on the mechanics of immigration, we mostly accept the general idea. In European countries, founded on ideas of common ethnic or cultural patterns,the same stresses that North Americans experience with immigration issues are intensified. Germany, for years, treated economic immigrants as temporary residents. In 1971, a German lady explained to me, a U.S. soldier, that the Turkish workers brought in to aid in the post-WWII economic boom were just in Germany temporarily. In 2002, a Turkish ice cream vendor in Berlin demanded to know why U.S. veterans would think they had a right to hold a reunion in Berlin. It turned out that he knew nothing of recent history, except in relation to the Middle East. He had moved to Berlin after the Wall came down, joining hundreds of thousands of Turkish immigrants to stay.

Some Turkish immigrants in Germany have done better; one of the three candidates for Lord Mayor of Berlin this year is a German of Turkish descent. Turkish immigrants run businesses, teach in schools, etc. But at the same time, there are people like the ice cream vendor who remain attached to their home nation and are not interested, or perhaps too busy working, to learn how to be a part of their new country.

Given that Germany and other European countries have all been struggling with immigration issues, developments in the Middle East take on an especially alarming aspect. There are an estimated 3 million displaced Syrians in primitive refugee camps and an estimated 6 million more displaced within Syria. Those numbers are not final, and they are added to all of the other refugees and soon-to-be-refugees from that region and Africa. The turmoil so close to Central Europe has carried over into Germany in small, but dangerous, ways. Fighters from the Middle East head to Europe for rest and recreation. They place relatives there for safety. And, inevitably they collide with opponents or those who look like opponents.

While I was in Berlin, a major rally led by all elected political parties offered a chance for all people to show their opposition to recent anti-Semitic attacks. The new angle is that the recent increased number of attacks is traced back to Islamists. The presence of Chancellor Angela Merkel and other leaders at the rally in front of the Brandenburg Gate underlined their determination not to accept a spill-over of Mid-East violence.

Adding to the pressure on German society is the recent discovery that military spending cuts have damaged their ability to operate beyond Europe. As editorialists noted, Germany has the scientists and medical personnel to contribute to the fight against Ebola in Africa, but was embarrassed when relief supplies were stopped due to airlift problems. Similarly, military supplies for the Kurds were delayed. A Berlin newspaper cartoonist showed a German military plane patched with duct tape, dropping parts as it flew. In the caption, an ISIS fighter turns to his comrades and says "I hope their weapons are not as dangerous as their airplanes!" The German contribution to anti-pirate operations in the Indian Ocean was cramped by defects in most of their marine helicopters.

All of these pressures are converging on a country that had begun to feel exempt from economic downturns and that thought that European border issues had been settled in the Balkan Wars of the 1990's. The uneasiness created by all of the above, plus Russia's actions on its European borders, has resulted in rising influence for parties on the far Left and far Right.

While I was in Europe this August, the start of World War I was commemorated. So much of what happened in that summer of 1914 was the result of poor decisions made by uninformed people (some willfully uninformed). Germany and other European states have the intellectual capital to deal with all of the problems, but each election will be critical.

Thank you for reading this far, and the photos will follow!

-- rwr

Some of the many agencies working with the Syrian refugees:

In addition to the new problems, there is evidence that the German economy is hitting a plateau: