Treasures Hooray! Third-time lucky and I have been on the holiday on the River Elbe which was previously cancelled twice, and it was lovely, particularly as spring was in full bloom with wild lilac growing in profusion. We visited some great places and lovely towns, large and small, each with its own character – Berlin and Wittenberg, Potsdam and Meissen, Dresden and Prague. And in each place there were treasures to be seen in the museums and palaces. In the famous Green Vault in Dresden there were beautiful, intricate models in silver, gold and ivory, many made for the Elector, Augustus the Strong, in the 18th Century. I wonder if the skills exist nowadays to produce such wonderful items? In the museum in Berlin, going back much further in time, there was some of the delicate, golden jewellery found in the ancient city of Troy, and one of the highlights was undoubtedly the iconic sculpture of the Egyptian Queen Nefertiti, one of the world’s most famous artefacts. And then there were the paintings and the porcelain …
Treasures – beautiful, valuable and skilfully crafted but, as we were taken on our tours by the local guides, it quickly became apparent that they valued something else far more than such material treasures, and that was their freedom. Berlin was a divided city until 1989, with the west of the city an island surrounded by the East German state, yet paradoxically it was the people in the eastern sector that felt imprisoned, denied the permission to travel and all activity controlled. The river Elbe flows through what was the GDR and now the houses and landscape look well cared for, but we were told how everything looked grey in the days of the communist regime, grey, neglected and dilapidated. One of our guides laughed as she told us how excited she had been after the collapse of the GDR when she was able to buy bananas and told that there was no limit imposed as to the number! Just imagine – a banana was a luxury in 1990.
Our holiday ended in Prague, now an attractive and lively city, enjoying its cultural heritage and filled with tourists. Yet I’m sure we can all remember how the Russian tanks rolled in some years ago to crush the so-called Prague Spring.
Freedom to travel, freedom to talk about what you think, about what you agree with and disagree with, and freedom to worship without reprisals, simple but priceless treasures to those denied them. This was illustrated in Wittenberg as our guide spoke of her faith. Wittenberg is a town filled with the presence of Martin Luther, especially following last year’s celebration of the 500th anniversary of his famous 95 theses. On a fine but chilly morning we had a tour of the old town, and we were taken to Luther’s house and, of course, shown “the church door” on which he nailed his theses (now just a replica). Our guide told us that she was a member of the Lutheran Church. She also told us that she had qualified as an
accountant, but in the days of the GDR she had not been allowed to practise her profession, because she was a Christian.
The memories of those grey, oppressive, days hang heavily on the generation that experienced them. How fortunate we are, how blessed in our freedoms. I am reminded of the gospel verse Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:21). True treasure exists not in objects, no matter how beautiful they may appear, but in what we value in life.