Theologian Wolfgang Huber: “Fontane’s irony made the episcopate easier for me”

Dhe was former President of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany from 1994 to 2009, State Bishop of the Evangelical Church in Berlin-Brandenburg. He is a church man of the most well-read variety. Wolfgang Huber not only wrote countless of his own books, he also edited Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s writings and most recently published a biography of the theologian murdered by the Nazis (C.H. Beck). The enlightened and liberal trace of Huber’s journalistic work reads like an emancipation from one’s own background.

Wolfgang Huber was born in Strasbourg in 1942, his father was the Nazi constitutional law teacher Ernst Rudolf Huber. After studying theology, Wolfgang Huber was a university professor in Marburg, Heidelberg and the USA as well as Kirchenmann in many functions. His bookshelf is as colorful as a Kirchentag, from which he introduces us ten formative readings in his own words.

Ernst Rudolf Huber: German constitutional history since 1789

My first picture of my father shows him sitting on the typewriter; he transfers a handwritten typed text. My first picture of books is that they are written. At the time of my birth my father was a professor of constitutional law at the University of Strasbourg; This position also reflected the fact that he had accepted the National Socialist idea of ​​constitutional (in) law. When Strasbourg, which was occupied by the German Wehrmacht, was recaptured by the Allies in 1944, it was over.

For many years my father was prevented from returning to a university. Seen from the outside, he endured this without complaint; unlike some colleagues, he was guilty. This is how I saw the emergence of the “German Constitutional History” from childhood, which ended when my father’s role in this story became fatally apparent: 1933. The first volume of this work appeared when I was fifteen. I made up for it a little later. I have proofread all of the following six volumes. What follows from this? You either have enough of books – or you start writing yourself.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Resistance and Surrender. Letters and records from detention

I encountered another world with the Christian Scouts, with whom I became at home as a child. In the early morning we were allowed to go “on the road” without adult company; four older brothers had paved the way for my independence. But we were not only looking for adventure, but also forms of living together. We encountered a narrow font by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, which was dedicated to this topic. But his notes from the military prison in Berlin-Tegel with the provocative title “Resistance and Surrender” became more important to me.

Here I was dealing with someone who rebelled against the Hitler regime from day one. Later he was one of the conspirators who wanted to end tyranny. On April 9, 1945, he was killed at Hitler’s personal behest. As I read the prison letters, I began to suspect that life and belief, biography and theology were closely related to this person. This literary encounter was decisive for the path to studying theology. Decades later, I was one of the co-editors of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s works; my last book so far portrays him.

Albert Camus: The Plague

For me, existentialism bridged the gap between humanistic education and modernity. I was fascinated by comparing Aeschylus’ “oresty” with Jean-Paul Sartre’s “flies”. But I was more sympathetic than Sartre to Albert Camus, who built a similar bridge with his “Sisyphus”. I was of little interest to the reasons why he did not see himself as an existentialist. He exposed the absurdity of life, but did not stop there, but opposed it with a spirit of love and solidarity. His book on the plague in the Algerian city of Oran was both a war settlement and a monument to the French Resistance.

“The Plague” by Albert Camus

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In our library is a copy of the rororo edition that my wife bought in February 1965. We had known each other for a year. It belongs to the 298th thousand of the German paperback edition, a sensational response. Now the book was brand new; the metaphorical meaning of the work is receding: we need doctors like Dr. Rieux, and not just in Oran, but all over the world. When my wife and I camped in the Luberon Mountains many years ago, we visited Albert Camus’ grave in Lourmarin. A simple stone: the name, the dates of birth and death, nothing else.

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Didn't die of the plague, but of a car accident: Albert Camus (1913-1960)

Thomas Mann: The Magic Mountain

I devoured Thomas Mann for a while. The “Magic Mountain” became the most important to me, probably because it is an educational novel – and this in the alienation of an era that came to an end when Thomas Mann described it. However, the focus of my interest was not on the sanatorium world, which Thomas Mann had found so strange during a three-week visit that he extended it to seven years in the novel.

One chapter attracted me more than any other: the “Snow” chapter. Bottomless recklessness, Hans Castorp gets into a snowstorm, in which he gets lost in a “dream poem about man”. But he escapes. This chapter contains the only sentence in italics in the entire novel: For goodness and love, man should not allow death to rule over his thoughts. In his soliloquy, Hans Castorp adds: “And with that I wake up …”.

Ernst Bloch: Tübingen introduction to philosophy

In 1961, when the Berlin Wall was built, I studied theology in Tübingen. I took half of the courses I attended outside of theology. The winter semester started with the inaugural lecture of a new philosophy professor. Ernst Bloch, until then teaching in Leipzig, was in the “FRG” at the time the wall was built and decided to stay.

He was quickly awarded a professorship in Tübingen. He started teaching with the inaugural lecture. You almost never experience that the name of this lecture is taken so seriously. Right from the start, the philosopher of the “principle of hope” asked the question: “Can hope be disappointed?” And he replied: “However”. With this sober statement, the “Tübingen introduction to philosophy” began. That was a lesson for life.

Hannah Arendt: Vita activa or From active life

Hannah Arendt translates that death does not have the last word from the individual to the communal existence of people. It depends on the birthliness of the person. In communion with others, he can do something that goes beyond the mortality of the individual. I was particularly impressed by this idea in the case of an author who was confronted intensively with the failure of plans and with the finiteness of life.

How totalitarian rule can destroy human life became a life issue for her. On the way to exile, she learned how people feel who have no right to belong. That is why she developed a radical concept of human rights: its core is the right to have rights. How current!

Hans Jonas: The principle of responsibility

While Hannah Arendt first wrote her main work in English and then translated it herself into German, Hans Jonas, like Arendt, a Jewish emigrant of German origin in America, went the opposite way: at first, he wrote his book in German because it was quicker and time constrained. But then he took the leisure to translate it himself into English. To this day, his work has met with more resonance in German-speaking countries than anywhere else. He himself contributed to this by being guided by the opposition to Bloch’s “Principle of Hope” when choosing the title.

Instead of curiosity about what is to become, he shifted his attention to what is to be feared. Jonas saw the reason for fear in the moderate rule of man over the biosphere in the time of the “Anthropocene”. This epochal cut is dramatically expressed in climate change. The obligation to the precautionary principle goes back to Hans Jonas. The personal encounter with him impressed me very much. His warnings remain correct for those who not only warn of risks, but also appreciate opportunities. Both are part of the responsibility ethics for which I am committed.

Theodor Fontane: The Stechlin

When my wife and I moved to Berlin from the southwest of Germany 25 years ago, Theodor Fontane became our Cicerone. Even more than his “Wanderings through the Mark Brandenburg”, the “Stechlin” became one of my favorite books. This has been even more true since we became at home in “Kloster Wutz”, which in reality is called “Kloster Lindow”. Fontane’s descriptions of people are even more important than his description of landscapes, places or buildings. The cheerful irony with which he characterizes the ecclesiastical staff made my job as evangelical bishop in this region much easier.

Juli Zeh: Unterleuten

July toe is not a modern fontane; but the lifelike description dominates them like him. The tensions between residents and newcomers in their fictional Brandenburg village, the know-it-all of the Wessis and the bills from the past that have not yet been paid between the Ossis, but also the lack of a view of the “church in the village” and the ghostly end of the novel – in all my experience reflects that too. Juli Zeh is a trained lawyer. The fact that she can write so well will benefit the judgments in which she is involved as a new member of the Brandenburg constitutional court.

The slogans of the Moravian congregation

At the initiative of Nikolaus Graf von Zinzendorf, the Herrnhut slogans appeared for the first time in 1731. Since then, for the 290th time, there has been a booklet every year in which a sentence from the Old Testament is drawn every day; he is accompanied by a sentence from the New Testament that matches the content. Even as a boy scout, I was familiar with the slogans as part of our morning service. I came back to it later.

There is also an original edition now, so I can read the Old Testament texts in Hebrew and the New Testament texts in Greek. A good start to the day with my wife. The slogans are even more widespread than “The Plague” by Albert Camus. The German edition alone counts more than one million copies; they are translated into 61 languages ​​worldwide.


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