Exploring cultures and communities – the slow way

Letter from Europe

  • — Issue 2008/2 posted by hidden europe on

To cross the threshold of the Wilmersdorf church today is truly to enter another world. For today, in the Eastern Orthodox ecclesiastical calendar, it is Christmas Day. The twin virtues of ardent faith and a strong sense of attachment to a diaspora community create magnificent theatre at this Berlin outpost on the high days and holy days of the Orthodox year. Icons, incense and ritual combine in a medley that creates in this unlikely location in Berlin an outpost of a very traditional Russia.

article summary —

Dear fellow travellers

For most Berliners, today is a perfectly ordinary Monday. Post-holiday routines have smoothed a return to normal life and the quiet days of Christmas and the New Year seem but a memory. Not so in one corner of Wilmersdorf, a western suburb of the city. Tucked away beside a motorway junction is one of Berlin's most fabulous buildings, the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of the Resurrection. Thousands of Berliners surely drive by every day without ever noticing the building, which is shaded by trees.

To cross the threshold of the Wilmersdorf church today is truly to enter another world. For today, in the Eastern Orthodox ecclesiastical calendar, it is Christmas Day. The twin virtues of ardent faith and a strong sense of attachment to a diaspora community create magnificent theatre at this Berlin outpost on the high days and holy days of the Orthodox year. Icons, incense and ritual combine in a medley that creates in this unlikely location in Berlin an outpost of a very traditional Russia.

This is of course nothing peculiar to Berlin. In most of eastern Europe, the twelve days of Christmas are only just beginning. And in Russian Orthodox churches across the entire continent, the rites of the Nativity commenced with services last evening and continue today. So our warmest greetings to the many readers of our e-news in Eastern Orthodox countries.

the soul of Switzerland

Places that embody the soul of a nation are always intriguing spots to visit. Take the Rütli Meadow on the shores of Switzerland's Lake Lucerne. It is not a foray for this time of year, but on a good summer day there are few finer Swiss excursions than a boat trip along Lake Lucerne to Rütli. Swiss nation-building myths rely a lot on the Rütli factor. It is said that it was here, some seven hundred years ago on this unremarkable lakeshore meadow, that representatives of local communes gathered to swear allegiance to each other. Initially just three small cantons were committed to the cause of confederation - a small step but very much the precursor of the modern Swiss state.

The early histories of countries are easily romanticised. Does not the mere mention of Fort McHenry in Maryland bring a tear to the eye of every good American? And nineteenth-century art and literature conspired to define and consolidate the Rütli brand to the extent that nowadays it is hard to find a Swiss adult who has not at least once made the pilgrimage to Rütli. And it is no surprise that when the commander of the Swiss military in 1941 wanted to address the assembled Swiss officer corps to outline his plans to defend Switzerland against invasion from Germany, it was at Rütli that the meeting took place.

The William Tell story is happily intertwined with the early steps to confederation at Rütli, so two national icons conveniently converge. Take a bar of Toblerone chocolate along, and that trip to Rütli might capture the pure essence of Swissness.

hidden europe 18, published today as it happens, ponders further on this question of locations that underpin nationhood. We do not touch on Rütli in the magazine, but we do survey some other fine examples from across Europe. One case we mention is the Faroese village of Fámjin - the place where the flag of the Faroese nation was first flown. You can see the full table of contents of this new issue of the magazine here.

This article was published in Letter from Europe.

About The Authors

hidden europe

and Susanne Kries manage hidden europe, a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine. Nicky and Susanne are dedicated slow travellers. They delight in discovering the exotic in the everyday.