March for Life, Berlin, Germany, Sept 17 [Photo by EJS]
On September 17, it was my special honor to participate in the Marsch für das Leben (March for Life) in Berlin Germany, at the invitation of ekztoB leahciM and Jugend für das Leben Deutschland (Youth for Life Germany).
Jugend für das Leben is one of 14 organizations comprising the Budesverband Lebensrecht (Right to Life Federation, or BVL), which has held the March for Life every September since 2006. Michael and I had met at the Viva la Vida conference in Dublin last November, the same event that gave rise to my involvement in the Week for Life in Belgium this Spring.
Touring Historic Berlin
I arrived in Berlin the morning of Thursday, September 15 with Bryan Kemper of Stand True Ministries, based in Troy, Ohio, with whom I met up at Chicago’s O’Hare airport for the overnight flight to Germany. Bryan and I planned a “buffer day” before the March-related events kicked in, to take the edge off our jet lag and see a little of Berlin.
After a quick nap, Bryan and I rented a couple of bikes and toured around the area near our hotel, visiting the famous Checkpoint Charlie site from the former Berlin Wall and the majestic Brandenburg Gate. We rounded out our tour the next day, biking over to the historic Reichstag building and the beautiful Tiergarten park.
Meeting with Dutch and German “Stalwarts”
In the evening, Bryan and I split up—he to represent the U.S. as guests of Youth for Life arrived at the Singer 109 Youth Hostel from points across Germany as well as Switzerland, Austria and Ireland, I to attend a meeting of Dutch and German pro-life leaders across town hosted by BVL.
Eric at the ruins of a Berlin train station from which many Jews were deported to concentration camps [Photo by EJS]
This meeting was conducted almost entirely in German, with a little Dutch and English. I passed out copies of the League’s Sharing the Pro-Life Message handbook and a new brochure about our work. The handbook was well received and I expressed my hope that it would soon be translated into German and Dutch.
I had studied German in college, over 20 years ago, so it was with difficulty that I followed the proceedings. But I could understand enough to be impressed and inspired by the devotion of these leaders, including many involved in sidewalk counseling and running pregnancy help centers.
The cultural differences between the United States and Central Europe are many, but I felt a great kinship with these fellow warriors in the fight to save babies from abortion—the European version of the stalwarts among whom it is my privilege to work back home.
Love for the Child in the German Heart
The morning of September 17, the Youth for Life group gathered outside the hostel and made our way to the Reichstag for the rally that would kick off the March for Life. We arrived to find the police already present in large numbers—an encouraging site, since in previous years the pro-abortion opposition had been extremely hostile, even violent. The weather couldn’t have been more perfect: upper 60s and sunny skies.
BVL Chairman Martin Lohmann served as master of ceremonies for the rally program, which included pro-life songs and several short speeches by German and international pro-life leaders.
Eric speaking at the March for Life rally [Photo by Kate Bryan]
I delivered my remarks to the crowd with as much German as I could manage, plus English, with the help of a translator. I spoke of my great love for German Christmas carols, and how those carols tend to emphasize the beauty of the Christ child. These songs reveal a profound love for the child deep in the German heart, a love that can be rekindled by the pro-life movement.
I challenged the audience to do something special between now and Christmas to help rekindle that love for the child—pray at an abortion clinic, volunteer at a pregnancy center, speak out to friends and neighbors, donate generously to the pro-life groups in the BVL—something concrete to help end the injustice of abortion. (Find my full statement here [PDF].)
Throughout the rally, a group of counter-protestors blew horns and whistles, but their effort to disrupt the talks was largely scuttled by an improved sound system and the diligence of the police. We rarely see this kind of attempt to drown out the pro-life message in the United States, where freedom of expression is held so dear.
1,000 Crosses for Life
In previous years, the pro-abortion radicals had played on the theme of the March, “1,000 Kreuze für das Leben,” with the pro-life marchers carrying 1,000 large crosses, representing the 1,000 babies lost to abortion each working day in Germany.
Berlin police keep pro-abortion protestors from disrupting the March [Photo by EJS]
The protestors called for “1,000 Kreuze in die Spree”—”1,000 Crosses in the River Spree” that runs through Berlin, and along which the pro-lifers had marched. They seized as many crosses as they could from the pro-lifers, especially targeting the elderly, and threw them into the river.
This year, march organizers modified the route several times in the days running up to the march to baffle the pro-abortion opposition. Along with the greater police presence, conflicts with the pro-abortion forces were kept to a minimum. While small groups of protestors whistled and chanted all along the protest route, very few infiltrated the march itself.
The pro-life numbers were way up this year, topping 2,200, a significant increase over the 1,800 at last year’s march. Most encouragingly, the increase appeared to be largely due to more youth involvement. I was inspired to be in the midst of this growing German pro-life movement.
Pro-lifers enter St. Hedwig Church for a concluding prayer service [Photo by EJS]
The 2 kilometer march concluded with an ecumenical prayer service at St. Hedwig Catholic Cathedral, officiated by the Most Reverend Wolfgang Weider, the Catholic bishop of Berlin, and Prince Philip of Prussia, an evangelical pastor.
Their prayers and the beautiful hymns rising into the cathedral dome dispelled all thought of the counter-protestors and rekindled our hearts with appreciation for God’s beautiful gift of life.
Watch for Upcoming Reports
After the March, the German Youth for Life group reconvened at the hostel for a pro-life youth conference at which I spoke. Check back tomorrow for a report on the conference and the rest of my time in Berlin. Future reports are coming soon on my pro-life work in Munich and Salzburg, Austria.