Bavaria, Baroque and Religion

Religion is one topic many journalists won’t touch with a ten-thousand foot pole.  Religion is complicated, people are passionate, and when one is working on deadline, a complicated and polarizing issue like religion doesn’t do good things for the blood pressure.

I’ve been cutting back on the coffee, though, so my blood pressure can take a subtle dose of religious analysis after a long few days in Munich.

Kloster Andechs
Kloster Andechs

Germany is a country heavily influenced by its religions.  Native Germans are predictably Christian.  Northern Germany is predominately Lutheran (Martin Luther had his grand entrance south of Berlin) and Southern Germany is over-flowing with Catholicism.  Bavarians, after all, can claim the current Pope as one of their own.

But Germany’s Jewish population has tried to reassert itself in the country, building new synagogues and supporting Holocaust memorial projects all over the country—and rightly so: the Jewish people and Germany have had an incredibly traumatic relationship and a lot of discussion and visibility couldn’t hurt.


To complete the Abrahamic Triple Crown Islam is establishing even more of a foothold in Europe.  Initially a vast minority, Islam was the primary religion of one of Germany’s guest worker demographics, the Turkish.  I’ll write more about Islam at a later date—saying it’s a hot topic would be a vast understatement.

Ornate design in Kloster Andechs


As I mentioned, Martin Luther was mover and shaker in his day near Wittenberg, and represents well the German approach to hot topics:  look a tough argument in the eye, and nail your opinion into it.

I’m not saying Germans will literally nail their opinions into you, but they will defend and argue vigorously.  Religion happens to be something self-evident in Germany.  Churches are everywhere, and the place names, people and writings tell the tale of a deeply curious German people wanting to  stay in God’s good graces.  Are all Germans religious? Of course not.  But they have plenty of opportunity to be, should they choose.

Carl Orff rests near-by.  He’s best known for Carmina Burana…uplifting.

That’s not to say I agree with everything I see in Germany in regards to religion.  On the face of it I think Martin Luther had to stand up to the Catholic church, in order to keep a then highly corrupt Vatican in check.

I like to think the church has mostly reformed itself into a more reputable entity, though hints of a moral skew still linger.

Relics…this and the beer keep pilgrims coming.

In Kloster Andechs, the Benedictine Monastery/Brewery/Pilgrim way-point to Santiago (not joking on any account) visitors are given a strong look into how the church used to do business, and to some extent still does.

In a competition worthy of a reality show, the religious institutions in this region—Andechs included—worked tirelessly to amass the most relics (artifacts from or of Saints) and VIPS (to be the final resting place of bishops, popes, etc.)  The payoff of this Survivor: Church would attract the most visitors, thus making the most money.

It was all about money, and is still that way to some extent.

“So you’re telling me the spirituality of this monastery and money are inherently linked?  Can that be true?” I asked a monastery spokesman.

“Yeah.  I think so.”  There it is.

I was prompted to ask that question after learning of the relic competition, that the monastery has a full shop for touristy items, and of course 7 brews of the holiest of beers.

Devil's step
The devil’s footstep in the Frauenkirche.

In Munich, the Church of Our Lady is a cathedral with style.  It has all the bells and whistles—famous people, relics, artwork, history.  It even has a legend, that the devil made a bet with the church builder, that the church wouldn’t be built with windows.  The builder agreed.  He built the church in such a way that a visitor wouldn’t see windows until the person was well inside the church.

The legend goes, the devil came and didn’t see any windows.  He thought the builder was a fool, and began to laugh, and stomped his foot into the floor in victory.  He stepped forward and was caught in the light streaming from huge stained glass windows, and because he had approached the sanctuary (and not just the entryway) he fled backwards. (His foot size is a little more than 11…just a hair bigger than mine.)

I didn’t feel like I was in an attraction inside the church, though.  People were praying, tourists were urged to be quiet and stay in the periphery.  It felt like a House of God, instead of a funhouse.

The Torah is through that door.


Rabbis decided not to rebuild the greatest synagogues in Munich because that would have been resurrecting the past.  They wanted instead to support the future, and rebuilt grand, modern synagogues.

I had never visited a synagogue before, but the idea is the same—this is God’s house, he just had another interior decorator.

The Torah is kept behind a gold-plated door, with a cloth covering the entryway.  Each main copy of the Torah (kept in rolled manuscript form) in this synagogue cost €30.000, and this particular synagogue had 10 copies.  I guess you pay top dollar for quality.

Let the light shine in.

Probably the most notable fact about the current state of Germany’s Jewish community, is the amount of awareness of the past.  Holocaust memorials, museums and cultural groups continue to keep the ideals of “forgiving but not forgetting” the past as priorities.

Interesting enough, many former or ethnic Germans are coming back to Germany from former Soviet countries.  Many of these immigrants are Jewish, and are adding to the integration debate.  Former Germans are often given more social assistance to integrate in Germany, because they retained citizenship by blood.  The same cannot be said about guest workers.

They work hard for the money.


Munich is a highly modern city.  Its public transit system is clean and high-tech—some of the subway trains are all digital, and fast.  As a transition from religion to just observation, I present a group of apparent Native people.

This group was playing flute and singing down the street from a McDonalds, on the outskirts of Marienplatz—the main square.

Coming from Arizona I had to think about the actual Native Americans, and about what their music means to them.  Many times the songs and dances are religious experiences in themselves, and here on the street in Munich, youngsters snicker, and older people laugh.  Some people actually bought CD’s, as a novelty and not for the music, I think.

Old city hall is keeping it real.

I’m noticing my observations becoming deeper, the longer I stay in Germany.  Instead of following a star struck crowd into every tourist attraction, I am stepping back and trying to see the bigger picture.

I watched those Native musicians for a good 15 minutes just to see how they worked the crowd, and how the crowd reacted to them.

I guess this is another natural step in my learning German and living abroad—I am now more easily looking past the superficial and getting a taste of larger issues.

Amazing enough this is only our fourth month in Germany, and there is still a lot to learn.  Next month, I’ll put my journalist hat back on and begin looking again at immigration and integration issues in Cologne.  With 8 more months to grow and learn, I look forward to seeing what kind of expat I am at the end of this ride.

Fortunately there’s a bit more time left to live it up.

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