From star politician Obama to comedian Hirschhausen: The diverse program of the Protestant Kirchentag has attracted more than 100 000 people to Berlin and Wittenberg. At the closure, a large celebration took place in the city of Luther.
Bright orange in the subway, commuter trains, the buses and on the street: With its scarves, t-shirts, ribbons and programme books, the 36th German Protestant Kirchentag has, in accordance with the motto of the Bible verse “You see me” also set its own colour accents in Berlin. The venues of the socio-political debates, the worship services and the extensive cultural program were spread throughout the entire city, the participants of the Kirchentag were therefore a lot on the road. There were discussions on the dialogue of the religions, limits of tolerance and the defence of democracy.
A church parish from Brandenburg has settled the issue of being together in its own way. On the great Evening of Encounters between the German Chancellery and the Gendarmenmarkt for the opening of the Kirchentag on Wednesday, the young parish of Neuruppin offered vegan Doner Kebab, on the stand next to it, the rest of the parish sold sausage, lard sandwiches and meatballs. “We are all tolerant”, says a man from the vegan stand and laughs. Around 200 000 people visited this Evening of Encounters on the opening.
The highlight of the meeting of the Protestants at the occasion of the Quincentenary of the Reformation was the appearance of the former US president Barack Obama at the Brandenburg Gate in front of 70 000 people. But other, smaller events also attracted such a great interest that the venues were closed to further visitors due to overcrowding. Among these a bible study with the bestselling author Bernhard Schlink, the discussion of the Bishop of the host Evangelical Church of Berlin-Brandenburg-Silesian Upper Lusatia, Markus Dröge with a representative of the AfD (a right-wing populist party) and a podium with the social democrat candidate for chancellorship Martin Schulz in the Berlin Cathedral.
Plea for a democratic culture of debate
In a polarized society, the Kirchentag was also not a harmonious encounter. Dissident voices were explicitly invited. Thus the Kirchentag became itself a plea for a democratic culture of debate. Bishop Dröge was much acclaimed for his argumentative dissection of the political positions of the AfD. Beforehand the organisers faced a lot of criticism for inviting a representative of the AfD.
There were intense struggles on the other podiums as well. A common sermon of the German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen and of Military bishop Sigurd Rink was disrupted by peace activists. At a debate on arms exports with German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel banners were unfurled. Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière got booed – but was also applauded by some – for his position on the family reunion of refugees. There hasn’t been so much protests from the public at a Kirchentag for a long time.