Cover Story

Germany, auf wiedersehen

GOODBYE TO THE CULTURE OF BEETHOVEN AND BACH: A once-proud culture, drunk on 100 years of American-style "freedom," has become enslaved

Issue: "Life Issues," Feb. 24, 2001

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.

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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."

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