Thinly though sweetly, the chime of Leipzig's last remaining Angelus bell penetrates my bedroom's double windows. It is Sunday, Feb. 5, 2073, time to get ready for the 9:30 service at the Thomaskirche. In my childhood, the thunderous drone of its massive Gloriosas used to hasten my pace to this Gothic sanctuary that once was Johann Sebastian Bach's workplace. But the Gloriosas have long been retired.
They were too loud for the self-satisfied secularists who in the early part of this century were in the majority here and resented having their Sunday morning sleep disturbed. Now Muslims are the predominant group in Leipzig. Almost all the city's churches have been transformed into mosques. Not even the Nikolaikirche, cradle of the peaceful revolution against East Germany's communist regime in 1989, has been spared this fate. Its last Lutheran pastor, the Rev. Christian Kretzschmar, has retained his pulpit, albeit as the first imam of what now is Islam's central house of worship that no longer has an altar, nor an organ. Like many Leipzigers, he converted and went on a pilgrimage to Mecca. So now he calls himself Hajji Ahmad bin-Kretzschmar.
There is no room for booming Gloriosas among Leipzig's growing forest of minarets. As I follow the Angelus's discreet peal, I glance at the figures shuffling all bundled-up through the snow, veiled women and men with dark complexion speaking our ridiculous Saxon dialect that has always been the laugh of all Germany. Most are descendants of Turkish, Arab, and Pakistani immigrants. Mind you, I thank God that they are here, fruitful and multiplying. They are clean, orderly, and respectful of the law. Thanks to their hard work, my social security payments are assured. And because of the Muslims' prevalence in the European Union nobody is talking about compulsory euthanasia for elderly people anymore, which is a comforting insight for this septuagenarian.
What has happened to the blond and blue-eyed Germanic types that used to dwell in this part of the world? What happened to the people of Luther, Bach, Goethe, and Wagner? They died out. Most were never born, in fact; during the last century, couples simply ceased to procreate-or they slaughtered their offspring in their mothers' wombs.
This is no longer allowed, of course. The Muslims don't kill their babies, and they forced the Bundestag, our parliament in Berlin, to repeal legislation making abortion quasi-legal. Do I think of the disappearance of most ethnic Germans from my hometown as God's punishment on us? No, I don't, that would be bad theology; judgment comes at the end of time. What has occurred here is simply the consequence of our ancestors' misdeeds.
Only last Friday, my friend Thomas Schmiede made a frightening observation as we were having our weekly tipple in the Bachstübchen, Leipzig's last remaining wine bar: "Have you noticed that this century has not produced a single great composer in Germany?" he asked. "I guess some babies somewhere in this land of music must have had that gift, but they evidently wound up in a garbage can." He was right, of course. No Beethoven, no Bach, no Telemann.
Schmiede is our organist. Agitated by the wine, he thumped the scrubbed tabletop. "Do you realize," he cried, "that Beethoven would never have been allowed to be born had he been a fetus in the late 20th or early 21st centuries. He was the son of a drunkard and probably a syphilitic, wasn't he? A kid whose genetic hearing problem would have been discovered sometime in the second trimester of his mother's pregnancy? Why, he would have been yanked out of her body faster than you could sing the first three bars of the 'Ode to Joy.'"
In my declining years I have become an amateur historian of sorts. I spend my days rummaging through the archive of my great-granduncle and namesake Uwe Siemon-Netto, a Leipzig-born international journalist and Lutheran lay theologian. For decades, he lived in the United States.
Just last week I read an arresting clipping in his portfolio. It was exactly 100 years old and commented on the United States Supreme Court's verdict in a case called Roe vs. Wade in 1973. Before my great-granduncle died half a century ago, he remarked in one of his last editorials that the United States had by then butchered some 70 million innocent lives, more than any other civilized nation in history.
In this melancholy piece, my great-granduncle also noted ruefully that his first column on Roe vs. Wade had been egregiously favorable, much in contrast to his later writings. "This is haunting me," he wrote, "for as I am now looking back on my years in the U.S.A. it is obvious to me that 1973 was the year when America, the beloved champion of human rights, redefined itself as champion of death."
My great-granduncle's despair peaked in 1994, it seems. That's when President Bill Clinton's envoys tried to arm-twist the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo to declare this prenatal infanticide a human right. It took an extraordinary alliance between Muslims and the Vatican to stop them in their tracks. But Germany, poor befuddled Germany, listened and obeyed.
My forebear believed he knew why. He felt that as a result of the Hitler régime's genocide and subsequent defeat, Germany had ceased to be a normal nation. It lacked self-respect, tried to dismiss its own history. It tried desperately to be as un-German as possible, especially in its lifestyle. Chiefly, it tried to be a precise copy of the U.S.A.
An adage had it that Germans were squares; they were steeped in their "three Ks tradition," as their detractors would quip. The "three Ks" stood for Kinder, Kirche, Küche (children, church, kitchen). But soon after World War II, it was no longer fashionable to have Kinder, attend church, or bother much with cooking. Germans learned from their victors, first the Soviets in the East, then the Americans in the West, that it was stylish to kill your kids before they are born. So by the turn of the century they threw 150,000 unborn babies into the trash every year. At least that's what the official statistics said; according to some unofficial estimates, the figure was twice as high.
This second holocaust began soon after World War II in the Soviet zone of occupation whence my great-granduncle had escaped in his childhood; Leipzig was this region's largest city. The East German communist rulers copied their Moscow masters and gave women the "right" to interrupt their pregnancies. They touted this as a quantum leap in gender equality. But in fact it was part of the cold and calculating Marxist-Leninist supposition that the people not only owned the means of production but actually were the means of production. Pregnant women and young mothers nursing their children did not produce; hence unplanned pregnancies might damage the economy and should therefore be stopped.
In democratic West Germany, Article 218 of the penal code continued to define abortion as a felony. With the lethal 1960s Zeitgeist drifting across the Atlantic came the agitation for women's "right to choose." Among my great-granduncle's estate I found a stack of old issues of Stern magazine-he was its North American correspondent for a number of years. The cover of an issue from 1971 looks like a postmodern advent calendar of sorts. It consisted of a grid of many small pictures, each showing a prominent woman. The headline read, Ich habe abgetrieben (I have had an abortion).
By 1973 my great-granduncle was back in Germany, serving as managing editor of a Hamburg daily. When the U.S. Supreme Court issued its Roe vs. Wade opinion, he recounts, it had instant repercussions in Germany. His notes show that his newsroom was in turmoil, with his female reporters not just covering, but actually participating in demonstrations all over Hamburg. Missiles of intestinal skins filled with pigs' blood were lobbed at Otto Wölber, Hamburg's last conservative Lutheran bishop who valiantly resisted this agitation.
Yet somehow Germany's left-of-center government, led first by Willy Brandt, then Helmut Schmidt, withstood the cry to follow America's lead, at least in this instance. Restrictions on abortions were relaxed somewhat, but by and large they remained forbidden. Then, in 1989, an event occurred that Christians in Germany had prayed for ever since the division of their country at the end of World War II: The Berlin Wall came down.
My great-granduncle was in San Francisco at the time. He immediately hopped a plane home to celebrate. He had covered the wall's construction in 1961 for the Associated Press. Now his commentaries jubilantly extolled the God-given end of what had seemed to him the vilest symbol of the Cold War. He joined the editorial management of a mass-circulation daily and started its East German editions.
Soon he recoiled in horror. When the Iron Curtain came down, the bankrupt Zeitgeist of the East bonded with the lethal Zeitgeist imported from America. East German women agitators insisted that they should not lose their "right to chose" under the laws of the newly reunified country. West German feminists supported them in this quest. In Hamburg, a woman pastor by the name of Maria Jepsen became the world's first female Lutheran bishop. Upon her installation she demanded that Article 218 of the penal code be abolished altogether.
This prompted my great-granduncle's paper to change its editorial policy from pro-life to pro-choice. To his chagrin, it now opined that women alone were to decide whether or not to carry their pregnancies to term. Later he mused in his memoirs, "In those days, we had 12 million readers per day. For many, our paper was the only thing they ever read. I wonder how many followed our new editorial line when they decided to abort-tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands? God help us!"
To be fair to Germany, it never quite legalized abortions. Even after 1994, when restrictions were relaxed, Article 218 remained on the books. A pregnant woman could not just check into an abortion clinic. She was obliged to see an ethical consultant first. Once she had done so, however, she received a signed and stamped document attesting to her visit. Then she would not be prosecuted for having her offspring killed subsequently.
What scandalized my great-granduncle was the fact that the churches provided many of these consultants, who in a sense acted as the gatekeepers of what Pope John Paul II called the culture of death. The pope stopped the official Catholic Church in Germany from giving this service. But soon liberal Catholics stepped in to provide a substitute. The Protestant churches showed no such compunction. Following Bishop Jepsen's lead, they succumbed to the Zeitgeist.
This may well be the reason why Protestantism is dead in Germany today, as is evident when one enters the Thomaskirche. Now the Angelus bell has stopped chiming. In a minute or two old Thomas Schmiede's arthritic fingers will try to lure some tunes out of the once lovely organ that was installed in the year 2000 to commemorate the 250th anniversary of Bach's death. It is now in a desperate state of disrepair, but there is nobody around to fix it.
At the altar, Father Ernst-Ulrich Pankau will intone the Gloria Patria, then the Kyrie¸ and then our little band of aging worshippers will do our best to sing out the Gloria. We'll follow the old Lutheran liturgy, but we are no longer Lutherans. Like Imam Kretzschmar over at the former Nikolaikirche, Pankau has given up the Protestant faith that defined our civilization since the 16th century until it betrayed the gospel so shamefully.
At least Father Pankau remained a Christian; he is a Roman Catholic now. He was allowed to remain married, and to carry on, however feebly, some Lutheran worship traditions. Old Schmiede and I have few illusions that these traditions will survive us. We are sufficiently versed in history to know that when civilizations slaughter their children, they are doomed to become extinct.