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Talking Germany

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The value of values, with Ellen Ueberschär

Thinking for yourself

Ellen Ueberschär 1“He helped to start a new way of thinking, encouraging people to use their own brains and think for themselves.” Was he a very German figure? “Well, he had strong opinions. He was impulsive and uncompromising. Those are German traits. He certainly triggered developments that divided Germany through to the present day.” It’s Ellen Ueberschär – my latest guest on Talking Germany – speaking about theologian Martin Luther, the central figure in the Protestant reformation.

Ellen Ueberschär 2Ellen Ueberschär is herself a trained theologian and a prominent member of Germany’s Protestant Lutheran Church and this idea of people “thinking for themselves” is at the very heart of what she stands for. But, as she points out, the reformation divided the country. What, I therefore wonder, about the other great German division – a divide that she experienced not through the history books but at first hand? “Well, I spent my formative years in communist East Germany. And there’s no doubt about it: we were trapped in a country that we didn’t like.”

Ellen Ueberschär 3We’re currently marking the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, I point out. The question is still: are we overcoming the divisions that existed between the people of the two former Germany’s – east and west? “If you compare people in eastern Germany with their neighbours in say Poland or the Czech Republic, then things have gone well. But that’s not always the comparison people make. People still spend too much time talking about what they can or can’t buy and too little talking about freedom.”

Ellen Ueberschär 4For Ellen Ueberschär, that freedom is central: “My father had an interesting expression for how we used to live. He always said that we were “hedgehoging” behind the Wall. What he meant was that we didn’t have a clue about what was going on in the rest of the world. But I was lucky. I had an open-minded family, open-minded parents. I learnt to have my own opinion.” To think for herself. “You know,” Ellen Ueberschär adds: “I thought more than many people in the West about my existence, about who I am. About values.”


October 27, 2014