Holidays in the Holy Land (0)

It was the last Friday in March and in Lutherstadt Wittenberg sunrise was imminent. We had packed our bags, filled up our car and were ready to roll. Normally we would have taken the train, but these days, that is dicey. “Deutsche Bahn” has serious issues and not just with strikes by Verdi and other disruptors. Without any serious stoppages and going full blast most of the way, we quickly found “Dein-Stellplatz” in Hufenweg 16 to park our car for the next week. A shuttle took us to the airport and in good time, we found the counter for El Al. It was the first time, we were flying with this airline. At least that was the plan. Things can change quickly.

Angelika piped up: “I have not got my passport!” At first I thought, well, she might get by with her German ID, but that was not enough. What could we do? Angelika wanted to take the train back to Wittenberg, but there was not enough time for that. It was now 7h45 and the flight was scheduled to leave at 10h00. She would only be back in Wittenberg by then and the plane would leave without her – and without me, because on these Israel tours, couples are treated as units. Anyway, in our mind, we tried Ukrainian neighbours – like Sascha, who has a car and Natalia, who had access to our house – but both were unavailable. Sascha was taking his children to school and Natalia was teaching. So, I tried Thomas Schmid. He is part of of Stammtisch and does guided tours in Dessau. When I called, he was up and ready for a new day. His next tour was in Dessau at 11h00. Without much ado, he agreed to pick up Angelikas passport in her office and try to get to us at the airport in time. Of course we were now sitting on coals, but it did help to know, that our flight was somewhat delayed. Time passed terribly slow, but Thomas made it to the airport with some twenty minutes to spare before 10h00. We checked in our bags. Went through long security lines and started to relax. I do not remember, how often we hugged ourselves to confirm, we were indeed leaving for the real Holy Land and not just the one in Wittenberg.

I had cut up some apples and pears. That came in handy as we were waiting for the aeroplane from Tel Aviv to arrive. The political disruptions there had caused some delay. Well, we for one, did not really care. We were overjoyed, that we were going to fly and not just pick up our car to return home with our mission not accomplished. The plane was fully booked. The stewardesses pretty and professional. In just around four hours we touched down in Tel Aviv at Ben Gurion Airport and we set foot on the holy Land for the very first time in our lives.

At the airport we had to go through various checks and controls. My South African passport was illegible to the AI scanners and I had to stand in the long queues waiting for personal attention by the busy border police. In the end that too was done and we got our luggage and boarded the tour bus to get to Nazareth, where we were booked in for the next two nights. The bus was comfortable, had WiFi and charging facilities and super cold aircon, which during spring and with temperatures way below twenty was overkill. Later in summer it might come in handy. For now it was just too much for old Germans. My friends in the US would have been in their element.

Eyad was our tourguide. He is a Palestinian, confessing muslim and by nature contra Israeli government and especially at loggerheads with Netanyahu. He had been an exchange student in Germany (Erlangen/Göttingen) with DAAD and learnt some German. He contends that his maths and physics is better than German grammar, but honestly, that does not say too much. His regular filler was “einfach mal”. So, looking back, Jesus was just born in Bethlehem and just crucified in Jerusalem just as we were just going to this or that place before just going to eat or go to sleep. It was all a matter of “einfach mal”. It was not long before Angelika and I realised it was just a matter of just doing just this or just that. You get the message.

The tour was packed. We were forty tourists from across Germany – from Hamburg up north to Dortmund in the West and Greifswald in the East and the Schwarzwald down south. The advert of “Trendtours” is “unterwegs mit netten Leuten” and that pretty much nails it. They were interesting people and good to get along with. We had some fascinating encounters with a number of them and I can imagine, we will keep contact with some of them. A soldier told of his expedition across the Sahara. A adventurous lady climbed Macchu picchu. Another couple had served the old DDR-mission in Syria for nearly a decade. Another found Las Vegas to be the most spectacular city in the world and so on. There were a number of teachers in the group, an architect with his wife, plenty retirees and some families too. A nice mix of beans. The sun was setting and we were ready for our tour of Israel.

Arriving in Nazareth, we unpacked in the hotel: “Mary´s Well Nazareth”, settled down, had a bite and then went off to listen to a Christian choir from Bethlehem singing in one of the churches down town. It was close to the well, where the holy virgin and mother of God – blessed Mary – daily picked up water for her godly household. The place is quite covered with marble or other serious bricklaying material. Not much of the old pathways to be seen, but right into the third and forth centuries many of the old buildings had graffiti spelling Mary´s name on walls, buildings and structures.

The choir was very Palestinian. I could not make out a word. There was a lot of solo singing – in oriental style – with loudspeakers, fancy lighting and even mist machines and accompanied with traditional violins, lyres and string instruments. It was not really my style, but I was impressed by the huge crowd of seriously distinguished guests. The men looked like from the best Lutheran church councils and the women were stylishly dressed in black, with veils and lots of jewelry and finery. They could have been members of any Lutheran women´s league around the world. The men wore no hats. They had enough hair – grey, dense and well kept. They all wore warm clothing, because it was chilly and we were sitting outside the church of the Annunciation. We felt most welcome in their midst, even if we only found places right at the back with the old men. We left somewhat around 10h00 and made our way back to the hotel.

Most shops were only now closing down for the night. Many men were eating out on the street cafes. Obviously enjoying the break from Ramadan fasting. Others were busy redoing the political graffiti on the roadside. Women and children were out in numbers giving them oral support. It probably was a good time – after the motivational Friday prayers in the mosque – and during the start of the Sabbath, so that the cleaning process by the Jewish authorities would be sometime in coming. Our guide´s symphathy clearly was with them, still, I had the feeling, they were but a radical minority, who where sponsored by foreign religious fanatics, while most others just walked by, went about their business in their little shops, cars and on the pavement. At the ice cream parlour next to our hotel, we got some lovely sweetness before calling it a day, just as Eyad had recommended. Next door we also found an ATM. That made it easy to load up with at least some shekels for the coming days. Most

The walk through downtown Nazareth had us very ready for the coming day. Surely, we were going to have some fascinating days in this more or less holy land. I was looking forward to some pure pomegranate juice

About Wilhelm Weber

Pastor at the Old Latin School in the Lutherstadt Wittenberg
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