Signs of reconciliation on two wheels
Russian and German bikers on a peaceful mission through Germany
June 30, 2011
The tour started in St. Petersburg on 22 June, the day commemorating the German invasion of Russia. At the Piskarewskoje Memorial Cemetery, they remembered the victims of the 900-day hunger blockade and the fallen soldiers.
It was initiated by Matthias Zierold, the EKD pastor posted to St Peter's Lutheran Church in St. Petersburg. Zierold is himself an enthusiastic motor cyclist, with experience in biker worship services and pastoral care for this special clientele. In Orthodox priest Father
Wjatscheslaw Charinow he found an equally enthusiastic partner and motor cycle fan to organize this memorial tour.
It took place for the first time in 2010 in St. Petersburg. The motor cycle parade led to a place outside the city gates at which a hundred thousand Soviet soldiers lost their lives defending the supply lines of the besieged city. The route also led to the German military cemetery in Sologubowka, where a hundred thousand German soldiers found their last resting place. This tour was accompanied spiritually by devotions, Orthodox prayer for the dead and benedictions.
This year the joint Russian-German biker tour led straight across Germany to different sites of deaths in war. Besides the horrors of the Nazi concentration camp, in Bergen-Belsen they also recalled the countless Russian prisoners of war who lost their lives there. Survivors were often accused of cowardice after the war and sent to another camp, this time a Soviet one.
However, the joint motor cycle tour does not merely lead to the emotions accompanying commemoration. In its unconventional way it leads to understanding between Russians and Germans. They share biking as a hobby, which creates a bond and thus a precondition for mutual understanding. This motor cycle tour has thus become a symbol of reconciliation.
As a sign of good German-Russian relations, precisely in the church sphere, the route also led past the Church Office of the Evangelical Church in Germany. On Monday evening about 40 bikers turned up in Hanover on their motorbikes. They were welcomed by Bishop Martin Schindehütte, responsible for ecumenical relations and ministries abroad. He recalled what this "reconciliation tour" was about and prayed for blessings upon it. Father Wjatscheslaw Charinow expressed his gratitude for the hospitality and support, referring to the "solidarity and mutual understanding between the denominations" in this regard. He recalled that this remembering did not just bring Christians together but also agnostics and atheists, an allusion to the diverse composition of the group. Still under the impact of the Bergen-Belsen experiences, he praised "the courage and sense of history with which our German friends show these events."
The group will make a number of other stopovers on its way through Germany. They include the Buchenwald Memorial, war graves, the Frauenkirche in Dresden and the Seelow Heights near Frankfurt/Oder, where over 100,000 soldiers lost their lives within just a few days in World War II.
On Sunday the group is due to attend a service in Berlin Cathedral with the EKD Council Chair, President Nikolaus Schneider. And Federal President Christian Wulff will express his political appreciation of this symbol of reconciliation on Monday with a reception at his official residence, Bellevue Palace.
This tour is unusual in various senses. Church-initiated, ecumenical in composition and inspired by a spirit of reconciliation, it is able to connect people of quite different origin and background. Hopefully this second German-Russian reconciliation tour will become a regular event, symbolizing peace and commemoration. And perhaps one day Polish, Danish, British and many other enthusiastic bikers will join them as part of the many-facetted European network of reconciliation.