Unhaunted Graves: Halloween, Reformation Day, “Luther Year” and Totensonntag

“The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living.”
– Marcus Tulius Cicero (106-43 BC), Roman writer, politician and orator

“Our dead are never dead to us, until we have forgotten them.”
– George Eliot

Wittenberg city hall

Martin Luther’s statue stands in front of the city hall in Lutherstadt Wittenberg, Germany. The banner below the window proclaims the “Luther Year 2017.” PHOTO: Hyde Flippo

Although celebrating Halloween has become increasingly popular in Germany and Austria over the last decade or so, it can still elicit a mixed reaction from many Germans. The fact that All Hallows’ Eve (Halloween) falls on October 31, the exact same date connected with Martin Luther’s Protestant Reformation, leads to a conflict between the religious holiday and the “pagan” Halloween celebration. Although it is not a German nationwide holiday, as some have proposed, the 31st day of October is Reformation Day (Reformationstag). It is a holiday only in some majority Protestant (Lutheran, evangelisch) states. But I propose a solution that accommodates both factions in October and November: cemetery tours and/or a visit to some historical Luther sites.

Although many people consider Halloween a pagan observance, it is actually a Western Christian holiday, the first day of Allhallowtide, encompassing three Western Church observances: All Saints’ Eve (All Hallows’ Eve, Halloween), All Saints’ Day (All Hallows’, Allerheiligen) and All Souls’ Day (Allerseelen). Originally, around the 15th century, Allhallowtide was a time to remember the dead, but particularly the martyrs, saints, and faithful departed Christians. There is some doubt if Halloween arose out of pagan Celtic harvest festivals, particularly the Gaelic festival Samhain, as some historians claim.
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Max Raabe in Reno

Max Raabe in Reno

An illuminated sign inside the Grand Sierra Resort and Casino in Reno announces coming attractions, including Max Raabe.

Although his first big hit song in Germany, “Kein Schwein ruft mich an,” was in 1992, I didn’t become fully aware of Max Raabe and his Palast Orchester until I was living in Berlin in 2007-2008. After hearing him on the radio, I bought one of his CDs and enjoyed listening to tunes from the 1920s and ’30s – and Raabe’s wry, light-hearted approach to a repertoire of songs rarely heard over the last 80 years or so. He regularly performs live in Berlin and other German cities, although I missed his June 2008 open-air Waldbühne concert in Berlin.

I knew that Raabe and his orchestra had also performed outside of Germany in places like New York and Tokyo, but the last thing I ever expected was to see him on stage in my hometown of Reno, Nevada. Las Vegas or San Francisco maybe, but Reno?

So a few weeks ago, while watching a PBS TV broadcast of a 2009 concert by Max Raabe and his Palast Orchester at Berlin’s Admiralspalast theater, I was a bit stunned to hear that Raabe was going to perform in Reno on April 10, 2011. I immediately went online to buy tickets for my wife and me. Continue reading

Marlene Dietrich stars in Berlin

Walk of Fame

Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. PHOTO: Hyde Flippo

Things can move slowly in Germany and Berlin. Especially things having to do with “the war” and the Nazi past.

The German-born film actress Marlene Dietrich falls into this category. Some Germans (the dumb ones) still view Dietrich as a traitor to Germany. They fail to grasp the big difference between being anti-Hitler and being anti-German. Dietrich, working in Hollywood in the 1930s and ’40s, refused to support the Nazis. She became an American citizen and entertained US troops. Her return to West Germany in 1960 drew a mixed reception. She was cheered and jeered. Later she said famously: “The Germans and I no longer speak the same language.” But after she died in self-imposed exile in Paris in 1992, Dietrich was buried in Berlin, at her request. In 1993 Berlin purchased her vast memorabilia collection for the film museum there for $5 million. Continue reading