About Me

My photo
I am a medievalist and an adjunct college instructor in the humanities at Union College. My research includes medieval theologies of history, text/image relationships in visionary and mystical texts, and the writings of the twelfth-century Doctor of the Church, St. Hildegard of Bingen. I am also a translator of medieval Latin and German texts, especially as relate to my research. My translation of Hildegard's Book of Divine Works is available from Catholic University of America Press here. I completed a Master's in Medieval Studies at the University of Notre Dame in 2010, a Fulbright Fellowship in Germany in 2008, and a B.A. in Classics and German at Boston College in 2007.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

In the House of the Pope

To my avid readers (a presumptuous adjective, but for which I ought not be faulted, I think), I apologize for the lengthy pause between my last post and this, for I had hoped to make once-a-week a standard. Unfortunately, it has taken me until today, because of many hoops of a bureaucratic nature too mundane and too numerous to recall here, to be able to access the internet wirelessly from my own laptop through the university's network. For the last two weeks, therefore, I have contented myself with snippets of the Internet bought a few cents at a time in an Internet Cafe across from the Hauptbahnhof (main train station), and that was no place for me to write to this blog (else it would have been a rather more expensive affair than it already was).

The major story I wish to relate today happened a week ago, but I think will be well worth the delay. Our story begins, however, not in Münster but in Boston, where the dear Prof. Michael Resler, head of Boston College's German Department, and the dearer still secretary of that department, Agnes Farkas, have long kept detailed records of anyone living in Germany at any time with any connection to Boston College (I think Agnes is far more to be thanked for this, but it is Prof. Resler who actually sent the email). Accordingly, Prof. Resler was able to put in touch three Boston College alumni spanning several generations who all, it just so happens, now live in Münster: myself; Jennifer Burkart, a former Boston College Fulbrighter to Germany from the 1990's , now living in the Münster area with her German husband, Jörg; and Dr. Bill Hoye, BC Class of 1965, a recently retired member of the Theology faculty at the Universität-Münster, living with his German wife, Holle Frank. (From left to right: me, Jennifer, and Dr. Hoye).

As she had maintained contact with Prof. Resler (who even a decade ago was rather enthusiastic about sending Eagles to Germany on the State Department's dime), he sent Dr. Hoyes's and my contact information to Jennifer, and after her introductions, Dr. Hoye and his wife graciously invited the lot of us to their house for dinner last Thursday evening.

So, round about 7:15 (after a bit of panic earlier that Jennifer's email might have said that they would pick me up at 17:15 (5:15pm) as opposed to 7:15pm in the American style), Jennifer and Jörg pulled up in the rain to the bus stop outside our dorms where I was waiting, and we were off to Bill and Holle's house near the university's botanic gardens.

After introductions were made, we were ushered into their living room, where discussion in a mixture of English and German, accompanied with some nice port and excellent olives, was joined. Dr. Hoye, it turned out, had traveled to Europe after finishing at B.C. to pursue various graduate studies in theology, his focus being on medieval scholastic thought. After meeting and marrying Holle, they settled down in Münster, where he taught for many years. Though recently retired, he is nevertheless teaching a course this semester (for the fun of it) on St. Thomas Aquinas. Jennifer, on the other hand, met Jörg during her Fulbright year in Trier, and they later settled down in Münster, where she has just started a new job teaching Business English in the Economics Department of the Katholische Hochschule (Catholic College) here in Münster.

We were now invited to the dining room, where the delightful conversation continued over an excellent salad of shrimp, tomatoes, and bell peppers (you will discover that my praise for Holle's cooking will abound), and then a main course of roast beef, roasted potatoes, and a tasty recipe of creamed spinach (sorry Mom, I didn't happen to ask her secret). Jörg, it seems, works as a computer programmer, while Dr. Hoye's wife, Holle, has had a long and successful career as an artist. She is an amazing photographer, and has recently taken up video art, which she has successfully combined with her recent discovery of the phenomenon of YouTube.

The discussion turned to family, and both Jennifer and Dr. Hoye offered interesting anecdotes of life an ocean apart from the rest of their family. Bill and Holle are looking to travel to the United States for several months after the New Year so that he can work on his next book (in English) on eschatology. They would like to be in Massachusetts, as it would be near to much of his family, but have been having bad luck so far finding a place--they had hoped to rent a house on the cape.

The fortuitous intersection of our three lives took another interesting tangent when I asked Jennifer about her Fulbright work. It turns out that she, too, had written a Scholar of the College project her senior year at B.C., in the field of art history. Her focus was on the miniatures in a manuscript of the Carolingian renaissance, the time around the 9th-century reign of Charlemagne. It was the topic of the art of the Carolingian renaissance that had led her, then, to do a Fulbright year in Trier. Unfortunately, she did not enjoy her topic nearly as much as I do mine, and has left the world of medieval art history far behind her.

The others were prompted to inquire as to my own project, and I gave my spiel, now well-honed from having to repeat it so many times. One aspect that I had neglected, though, was that I had mentioned in my project proposal an interest in the traditionally strained relationship between the Germans and the Papacy as a wider historical trend, with the interesting note that a German pope as we have now puts the tensions of the past into a new light. As I hadn't yet had the opportunity to ask many Germans about their feelings about Pope Benedict, f.k.a. Joseph Ratzinger, I put the question to Holle, whose reaction to the announcement of Ratzinger's election stands in stark contrast to many of the Jesuits at Boston College: she felt several minutes of pure, ecstatic joy, which was only later mitigated by here concerns (shared by many Germans) about his less-than-liberal tendencies. She pointed out, however, that he seems to have brought the German mindset of environmentalism with him, as the Vatican has recently started to support several "green" projects in various parts of Eastern Europe (where the environmental damage wrought by the Soviet Union was formidable).

Our conversation about the Pope also led to what was perhaps my favorite tale of the evening. Holle recalled attending several lectures given by then Prof. Ratzinger during his time as a member of the theological faculty here in Münster (1962-5, I believe it was). She could not let us leave, however, without noting another feature of the Pope's stay in this city. At some point during his tenure here, his apartment underwent several months of renovations, and the landlord graciously offered a spare room in his own house to the future Pontiff for the duration of the work. That house was later bought by none other than Bille Hoye and Holle Frank, who took it upon herself to do the research, comb the records, and establish that indeed, Joseph Ratzinger lived in the room just above our heads as we sat at the dinner table, for a period of several months in the 1960's.

The conversation could have gone on and on as first we indulged in some ice cream cake and then in some fine Lindt chocolates, but alas, the evening had to come to an end, as the Burkarts both had to go to work the next day. After the now-customary exchange of email addresses, and the taking of the photo you see above, we bid our farewells, and laid plans also for another get-together round Thanksgiving time.

My recollections today could go one, but I must bring this post to an end as I've still some preparing to do. You see, I am traveling to Munich tomorrow to join a gathering of some of the Boston College German Fulbrighters at the last weekend of the Oktoberfest. I promise pictures and stories (though I shall have to be judicious in which ones I share here :-) on my return.


Mom said...

Thanks for the update.


Anonymous said...

Hi Nathaniel,

Since our BC address got shut off, I don't have your email anymore, so good to see you're still alive and posting from Germany. Glad your Fulbright is going well.

Be in touch,