Reformation Day


I’m going to miss it, and 500th anniversaries don’t come around very often.

When I first learned that I would be moving to Germany this fall, one of my first thoughts was “I can go to Wittenberg for the 500th anniversary celebrations of Luther’s 95 Theses!” Turns out I can’t after all.

The new job has some travel involved, and I am not in Germany today. I might have talked myself out of the trip anyway: I’m sure there will be crowds and accommodation prices have probably gone through the roof. I’ll visit Wittenberg another time.

Unfortunately, I’m also missing a cabaret performance that intrigues me. Even though I only know a few words of German, I would have paid to go to a show that was advertised by a poster of Martin Luther being assisted in nailing his Theses to the church door by a woman in a burka, watched by The Three Stooges. The title, Djihad in Wittenberg, I’m sure needs no translation.

If Google Translate is accurate (and it isn’t always), the cabaret is meant to spur dialogue and poke fun at the same time. The questions asked include: “Does Islam need a Martin Luther today?” And, “To which doctor must one go if one is suffering from acute Protestantism?” (My Roman Catholic friends might want to know the answer to that one.)

The cabaret was conceived before the influx of Middle Eastern refugees into Europe, before the terrorist attacks in Paris, Brussels and Berlin. The company has been touring it since 2015. There’s a spinoff blog, which is English is called Luther and the Burka Woman. Google Translate was notoriously imperfect, and some of the humour may be cultural, but I understood a few of the jokes. Looking online I discovered that the group behind the show, KLÜNGELBEUTEL, has been doing church satire for 25 years and have more than 800 performances under their collective belt. Somebody must find them funny, or they couldn’t keep doing it.

There are times when we need to laugh at ourselves. Over the centuries the Christian church has not always done a good job at that. We don’t always see the humour when we should. And that’s a shame. I know there are other religious traditions with even less of a sense of humour, but that is usually just their problem. When I was younger I subscribed to a satirical magazine, The Wittenburg Door. The keepers of The Door were an irreverent bunch who loved pointing out the foibles of their co-religionists. The also didn’t take themselves too seriously; they misspelled Wittenberg for their first issue, so just kept the new spelling as a reminder to be humble.

Somewhere along the way, in the mid 1990s I guess, I stopped finding The Door funny. I don’t know if that was just age on my part or whether the calibre of the writing began slipping. I mustn’t have been the only one – the magazine died in 2008.

I think the Djihad in Wittenberg cabaret was probably very much the sort of stuff The Door used to provide, in a different format and language of course. Just based on that poster, I would probably want to attend any show the KLÜNGELBEUTEL troupe puts on. Maybe next year. By then I might even understand a little German.

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