I have come here to Herrnhut, Saxony, in easternmost Germany, close to the Polish and Czech borders, ever since the Iron Curtain unzipped and the wall dividing the two Germanies crumbled. While carrying out research on the religious and cultural history of Labrador, I have been staying at a facility that has now been a home away from home for me for nearly 20 years.
I am speaking of the Tagungsund Erholungsheim, the Conference and Recreation Home of the Moravian Church. This house has opened its doors to numerous vacationing families and single parents, and has become a conference venue for many ecclesiastical institutions and groups. It is part of a network of so-called Christian recreational facilities.
Especially for families with modest incomes, such recreation homes provide a much needed relief from the pressures of daily life while strengthening family relationships in friendly surroundings. The stay can be as low as 26 Euros (C$33) per person a night.
Families or individuals usually choose either to have meals cooked for them or to furnish their own meals in a fully equipped kitchen in a spacious room.
The home I have been using during my research is by no means unique. Protestant churches have made available similar facilities throughout the Federal Republic. Many local church groups, religious and educational interest groups, as well as smaller and extended families, are taking advantage of such opportunities for vacations, workshops, seminars and fellowship.
In Saxony alone, 56 such Christian recreation and conference homes run by churches are available in traditional vacation areas and feature rich opportunities for culture, sports and recreation.
While staying at the Tagungsund Erholungsheim, I have met diverse groups of people, such as participants in a workshop on the Moravian Daily Texts; a busload of Christians from Denmark, who in the evening entertained me with their folksongs; the graduating class of 1949 of a local high school, with whom I cheered on the German soccer team at the televised FIFA World Cup in Durban; as well as a large group of individuals with hearing disabilities.
The house I have resided in over the past two decades when conducting archival research has dramatically improved its facilities since the peaceful revolution brought down the communist government of East Germany. It has done so with significant state funding, since government has recognized the value of such institutions for family and civic well-being.
The drab look of East German housing during the communist era has given way to a more cheery and colourful exterior, while interiors received added comfort and are now well-equipped to handle the special needs of people with disabilities. Government support has also enabled the renovation of a neighbouring house so the facility at Herrnhut now offers 87 beds in 47 rooms. Eight rooms can accommodate people in wheelchairs.
Only a few years ago, this home received its stamp of approval from no one less than Johannes Rau, the eighth president of the Federal Republic of Germany, when he stayed there. A deeply pious individual, Rau - in a fraternal gesture of solidarity - only wanted to be called "Brother Rau" during his stay at Herrnhut.
It seems to me that the German Protestant churches - and the similar Roman Catholic institutions - providing such conference and recreational facilities meet an important public need in the wider community. They also help significantly in forging an ecumenical identity among Christians and other people of goodwill, thus taking seriously their special responsibility and opportunity the early Christian ideal of koinonia or common life.
Hans Rollmann is professor of religious studies at Memorial University and can be reached by e-mail at hrollman@mun