A tale of two trips – to Basel

This week I have made two trips to the beautiful city of Basel.  One trip was for pleasure, the other was a work related event (which was also pleasant).  Monday morning saw the departure of two of very good friends.  With the Euro-airport so nearby it is the arrival and departure place of many folks who come for short visits.  IMG_20160712_095414

On Monday the girls and I were able to drop friends off at the airport, and then spend a few hours walking around Basel.  Each time I visit Basel I see more and more – becoming familiar with the sights and sounds of a busy city.  On this short visit we were able to quickly get to places of interest now that we have got our bearings.  We went to part of the University, the Botanical Gardens, the RathausRathaus and one of the old city gates – the Spalentor.  This looping tour took us though narrow side streets and even into a tourist trap store selling trinkets at a high cost.  The girls decided that they had, over a few visits, walked most of Basel, and would now like to have a city crest to pin to their walking sticks at home as a trophy, or sign of accomplishment.  When we entered the shop in search of the small shields and another woman with a young girl were leaving, we overheard the shop clerks saying, “that makes three English speakers today!”  The girls and I found the crests we were looking for (for a small fortune in CHF!) and began talking to the staff in all the languages we knew of.  After speaking, German, English and French the women behind the counter finally asked were we were from so they could add us to their private game of ‘count the tourist’.

The following day, I returned to Basel for a meeting with friends and colleagues in the Anglican Church in Basel for our educational meeting.  These meetings are of really value, as it can be a lonely job being the only Anglican minister in town.  Not only is there some fellowship and prayer together, but we also take turns presenting and discussing various topics for educational purposes.  This particular gathering was to hear about the Christology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, as there had recently been a global symposium on the life and work of Bonhoeffer.  It was good to stretch our brains and think critically about the impact of what was then a very young Bonhoeffer and his contribution to theological thought.  With our topic and surrounding discussions I could help thinking about my own lecture that I am to give at the University of Freiburg regarding the celebration of the Reformation and the links with the Church of England and wider Anglican Communion.   I hope I can match the quality of study given by my esteemed colleague that joined us in Basel.

Over the two different days of visiting one of the things that impressed me most was hearing how much my eldest daughter had learned about Basel from her school classes.  The bridges, and surrounding geography were recalled in detail and it was like having our own private tour guide.  There is, of course, always more to explore in Basel, and in Freiburg…but that is for another day and another journey.

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Long Journey

This morning in my German integration class we started a new chapter on transportation and holiday.  The instructor asked each person about any recent trips that they may have made, where did they go, and for how long.  One family had said that last year they travelled by bus to Holland for a week long stay with family.  The bus trip was several hours long given a lot of stops and sights to see.

Two men in the class spoke about their last journey and how long it took.  This is when I heard of an incredible journey.  One man in the class travelled from Iraq to Libya on a 15 day bus ride as he looked for work.  After working a year in Libya he was joined by his wife and young children, but things were getting worse politically for them so they joined hundreds of others and took a small boat across the Mediterranean to Italy.  On his mobile phone he passed around photos of their dangerous journey where they sat legs intertwined so that more people could fit in the motorboat (and it helped to prevent people from falling overboard).

Another young man got up and showed the class on the map his journey to Germany.  He left Iraq on a bus, but then spent the majority of his days walking with dozens of others with just his backpack to carry all his belongings.  It took him 27 days of 15 hours of walking a day to cross just one of the countries on his long journey. It wasn’t until reaching Austria that he was loaded onto a train and sent to Germany where he now lives happily.

Each day I have a coffee break with these men who like to refer to me as ‘Uncle Chris’ as I am the most ‘senior’ student.  The students speak of hope, life, family, and new friends and opportunities.  They always smile. They always work hard and come to class attentive and eager to learn.  Some of them pick up languages at an astonishing quick pace.  One would never know the background stories of these men, and many others like them, if we hadn’t asked the simple question – What was the last trip you made?

Recently, the BREXIT vote and outcome has made all the headlines, but we must remember those migrants and refugees who struggle to find a new life, be it in Germany, or elsewhere in the world.  The stories are many, the journey is long.