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My small home-town of 10,000 inhabitants was an entire world on a small scale. It has a history back to the times of the old Germans who built a sanctuary to the goddess, Frya, the mother of the Germanic gods, and the Romans whose highway, still called the Römerstrasse, is still in use today, and only recently received an asphalt topping, there were no pot holes in it yet. But Christianity was the main and lasting event. St. Suitbert from Ireland started his drive in this area; the Count of Berg defended it in the crusade in the Holy Land, and died of his wounds in the arms of his vassal, the knight of Erkenrode, our local gentry.

His old estate during my time was the main nuisance of the town, because the juices of the dung heap overflowed the main street heading to the railroad station. Somebody truly decrepit was in charge of it then, till a new owner put an end to it and installed a super market on top of it to the chagrin of the town's people. Well, the Saracen’s swords and other relics of the old knights were buried under the old and venerable church, and during the later restorations were taken from the ground and are now displayed inside the church.

This church is and was the center of my town, and many of my stories will take place around it. The sanctuary of St. John, the Baptist, was begun in 960 A.D. on top of Frya's altar. Maybe, St. Suitbert thought that the people might as well continue to go to the old and familiar place that the spirit dwelled there, and I believe, He or She does. The church grew, of course, and underwent many alterations in the following centuries.                

       

To this day, it remains a Romanesque church with Early Gothic additions. The church had its share of desecration when during the Second World War bombs hit the apses. But, perhaps to the intercessions of a certain spirit, some of the intended load of bombs was deflected, and unfortunately hit the St. Joseph's old folk’s home where many senior citizens were killed. Also, the entire ring of medieval timbered houses was destroyed. To add insult to injury, near the end of the war, its set of magnificent bells was removed to be melted down into metal for weapons. But, I talked already of the all-preserving spirit: they were found intact in Bremen after the war, and were hailed back in triumph, and again toll of birth and death, worship, and the time of the day. There was always religious tolerance between the Catholic and the Lutheran congregations, their sanctuaries stand side by side, and during times of renovations served the other congregations. Some Lutheran tenant farmer tilled Catholic Church land in 99-year perpetuity. There were occasions, when our esteemed pastor drew a standing crowd of listeners even from the Lutheran faith. Maybe, there were still some parishioners who could not forget the gaucheness of Pastor Bauer who thought the brown S.A. uniform was more fashionable than Martin Luther's black robe and white bib. He will probably not have forgotten it either, because after the war, he was immediately driven from his parish.

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The Song in the Fiery Furnace: Memories of a Childhood During World War II in Germany

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