“I don’t believe it!” cried Pat, looking over my shoulder. “It’s a Ku Klux Klan rally”. I turned and followed her horrified gaze. We were in northern Germany, standing in the downtown area of the ancient city of Munster in the middle of August 2010. What I saw in the far distance was not the Ku Klux Klan. Instead, it was a large number of chefs wearing white jackets and aprons together with the tall white hats for which chefs are famous. “Are they on strike or something?” I enquired, since time spent in 20th century England has conditioned me to expect labor disputes. “Is this a demonstration?” It was then explained to me that chefs from all over Germany had gathered in Munster to celebrate the feast of St Lawrence, the patron saint of chefs. We then kept seeing chefs. Chefs were parading. Chefs were in pavement cafés, enjoying the cooking of some other chef. Chefs were at a service for chefs in St Paulus, which is Munster’s magnificent 13th century cathedral. Chefs were everywhere. Some wore medals. Some carried banners. It was evidently their big day of the year.
St Lawrence was one of the seven deacons of ancient Rome. He was martyred in the year 258 AD at a time of Christian persecution. A Pope was martyred at the same time. St Lawrence was literally roasted to death on a gridiron. During his suffering, he is said to have shouted out “This side’s done. Turn me over and have a bite”. Perhaps it is this remark that endears him to the chefs of the world nearly 2000 years later. His name meant little to me, until I realized that the French had named the widest river in the world in his honor. Jacques Cartier arrived in what is today the Gulf of St Lawrence on the feast day of St Lawrence in 1535.
The St Lawrence Seaway today connects the Atlantic Ocean with the Great Lakes of North America. At various points, the great river forms the international boundary between Canada and the USA. As I have already written on this website, it was up this river that the British general, James Wolfe, travelled in 1759 on his way to the Battle of Quebec at which the French lost Canada. Mention is also made on this website of a visit by Pat and me in 1987 to the Niagara Falls. Now the Niagara River flows into Lake Ontario, which in turn flows into the St Lawrence River. Therefore the water tumbling over the Niagara Falls is quite likely to finish up in the St Lawrence River. Finally, there is St Lawrence University, the campus of which is at Canton in upstate New York. Towards the end of his life, Pat’s brother taught at this university, which is only 20 miles from the southern bank of the St Lawrence River. So there are many reasons why I should not have needed a gathering of chefs on the plains of northern Germany to remind me of exactly who St Lawrence was.
Returning now to Munster, the city itself stands on the strangely named River Aa. I guess that this short little river is competing for a position at the top of an alphabetical list of the rivers of the world. It springs out of the ground 10 miles to the west of Munster and, after passing through the city, soon joins up with the River Ems which eventually empties itself into the North Sea many miles away. Munster is the cultural center of the Westphalia region of Germany, but the region no longer exists as a political or administrative unit.
The city of Munster was founded 1300 years ago and is famous as the place of signing in 1648 of The Peace of Westphalia, by which the Thirty Years War was ended. Two thirds of Munster was destroyed during World War Two but, as with so many cities throughout Germany, it has been magnificently restored.
That restoration includes the cathedral of St Paulus, which I mention above. It was in that cathedral that I had the privilege of visiting the tomb of Cardinal Clemens August Graf von Galen (1878 -1946), known as the Lion of Munster for his incredibly brave opposition to the Nazis.
His tomb stands in the Chapel of St Ludger in the eastern part of the cathedral, where one can also see his bust and a quotation by Pope Jean Paul II inscribed on the floor in brass. Cardinal von Galen’s wartime criticisms of the Nazis were so dynamic that the Royal Air Force dropped copies of his sermons by air onto cities all over Germany. As a boy during World War Two, I could never understand why the German people tolerated the Nazis, but now I know that there was nothing they could do. Opposition by Germans to the Nazis during the war was simply a certain route to suicide. Courageous German Christians, such as Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Hans Wolfel of Bamberg, spoke out for years but they were eventually murdered. Cardinal von Galen spoke out even more forcefully and his survival until after the end of the war was surely a miracle.