Saturday, July 31, 2004

Church Pollution

At 5:10 this morning, something jerked me awake. An undulating, roaring noise filled the room, and as I slid into consciousness, I got it: that party was still going on.

At 1, when I'd gone to bed, it was loud, but back in the back of the apartment, in my bedroom, it wasn't so bad that I couldn't fall asleep, and I did. But suddenly it was back with a vengeance. People were yelling AOUGGGH and WOOOOO, the music was so loud you couldn't tell what it was, and there was an echo to the whole thing that told me why the cops hadn't come.

It was the church.

There's a church two doors down from me, Golgothakirche, of the Evangelical (ie, Lutheran) sort. Attached to it is a Konvikt, or seminary (pedantic note: it was this word which caused me to toss my Langenscheidt dictionary in favor of the choice of all German/English translators, the Pons, since Langenscheidt didn't have it). The Konvikt is the local headquarters of the ESG, or Evangelical Student Congregation, and I assume it was they who were having the party. Usually the church distributes flyers around the neighborhood announcing they're going to do this, but this time they apparently couldn't be bothered. And who is going to call the cops on a bunch of kids studying to be pastors?

Hell, I would. But then, I'm particularly cynical about the ESG and have been ever since a couple of summers ago, when the Golgothakirche became ground zero for Ecumenical Church Week. This event drew both Catholic and Protestant church workers and their organizations to Berlin for seven days of meetings and parties. And boy, nobody parties like church folks. We're talking seriously wholesome here, people. The nadir came with the closing party for ESG, where these kids -- it sounded like thousands of them, but I know it's just the brick walls of the courtyard in which the party was held echoing -- started singing songs like "Blowin' In The Wind." Fuelled by alcohol (one thing I can say about the church here is it's not puritanical about kids drinking beer or wine, although Golgothakirche is also where the AA meetings in my neighborhood are held), and inspired by the fact that they all seem to be in church choirs, they began to spontaneously harmonize. Each vocal range -- tenor, alto, etc. -- seemed to have a different idea of how to do the arrangement, though, and while this might seem pleasingly harmolodic (was going to insert a link to Ornette Coleman's, but the page hasn't been updated in a couple of years -- someone tell him!), it was sheer chaos and horror. Didn't stop 'em from doing it until almost 4am, though.

You'd search long and hard here in beautiful downtown Berlin to find anyone of any age who deals with the church except in the most superficial way, though. Most of the kids who live at the Konvikt -- and 100% of the participants in the Ecumenical Church Weeks -- are lost-looking souls obviously from rural locations and terrified to be in the Big Bad City. I see them scurrying home from the library or part-time jobs, casting their heads fearfully about, impatient to reach the security of the huge brick womb. As for the church itself, it doesn't attract much of a congregation, as far as I can tell. In fact, around Christmas they had a special program for kids of some sort, and a lot of the local parents took their kids there, and it was noticeable that there were people at the church. Of course, on Sunday morning, they still ring the bells lustily at 9:20, 9:40, 9:50 and noon, presumably just to remind us they're still there.

But the church has plenty of money. You see, one of the things about Germany that Americans find very weird is that there isn't a separation between church and state. Taxpayers pay 10% per year in Kirchensteuer, or church tax. You can indicate Protestant, Catholic, or (as of the past few years) Jewish, and the money goes to the administration of the particular church. (Protestant pretty much means Evangelical Lutheran, incidentally, although there's a Methodist church near me).

And here's the really insidious thing: if you grew up here, you were probably raised in one or another church, so you have to go to court to get out of paying church tax. And the way you do that is to prove you don't go to church. Which seems to me to be one of those "when did you stop beating your wife" kind of situtations. Thus, most people don't bother.

So, neighbors, that was your tax dollars at work, the whooping and the bad music and the noise that kept us up all night.

Oh, and the recycling of the bottles. That was 6:25 am. Any wonder I'm in a bad mood this morning?

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