SEEDS OF FREEDOM Preacher uses packets to dramatize a united Germany


Herbert Brokering hands out packets of flower seeds as small symbols of the great changes taking place in East Germany.

Brokering is a Lutheran clergyman and teacher who was in Germany when the Wall cracked last November. He's just returned from another trip this summer as East and West Germany prepared for the unification slated now for Oct. 3.

The seeds from the "old" East Germany come from "the people's own seed industry" in Erfurt, a city where horticulture has been established for years, a city, this Lutheran clergyman notes, where Martin Luther studied and became a priest.

The "old" packet contains Mittagsblume, a kind of lavender-colored daisy. The package is small, cheap and unassuming, and it sold for a price fixed by some flower seed commissar.

The "new" seeds -- Sonnenhut, splashy flowers that look like black-eyed Susans -- come in packets that are big, bright and glossy, and printed in Hanover, West Germany.

"This is the difference after July. This will sell," Brokering says of the splashier packet. East and West Germany unified their economic and monetary systems July 1.

"Suddenly, overnight, they brightened it up . . . Hanover, West Germany, is printing the package to make it more marketable."

Free-market competition had come to East Germany. The old package is a bust.

"They say it's too dull," Brokering says. "But now you want to fascinate people. Now you have to make it prettier. So suddenly it's bigger and prettier, and slick. And now you can charge whatever the people will pay . . .

"Now you have a picture of two ways of packaging before and after July 1," he says.

"Kind of interesting, isn't it?" he says. "It's a kind of a thought. It's the same seed."

Herb Brokering has a way of making a couple of packets of flower seeds into a parable. He has a reputation for being an inspired teacher.

"Herb never does things the way you usually do them," says the Rev. Edward C. Keefer, pastor of Divinity Lutheran Church in Towson. "He's a very gentle, creative kind of guy."

Brokering led workshops at Keefer's church last week. He'll lead an "open forum" on East Germany tonight at Zion Lutheran Church, the downtown church at City Hall Plaza.

"He's excellent at getting people to communicate who normally wouldn't," Keefer says. "He's good at breaking the barriers you set up around yourself."

Which are qualities that have served him well during the four decades or so he's been visiting Germany. He's only been back in the country two weeks since his last trip.

Brokering first went to Northern West Germany in 1948 for the Lutheran World Federation to work a year and a half with Baltic refugees in Lubeck near the Soviet Zone. His ancestry is German. His father had been an immigrant from Hanover in 1906.

Brokering was a young pastor in New York in 1953 when he went to Berlin for three months to haul rubble and build a "peace road" with 30 young people who had been enemies with each other only a few years earlier.

From 1960 to 1970, he was director of confirmation education for the American Lutheran Church. He went to study confirmation in East Germany.

"I learned a whole lot about flexibility from them," he says.

Brokering really got into East Germany when he helped make a film: "Where Luther Walked." That put him in touch with all the Lutheran cities, which are mainly in East Germany, in touch with the police force and the mayor.

"I said what will I do now that I've been admitted into these cities. I said I will do pilgrimages. I've done 40 since 1982. And these pilgrimages are really grass-roots journeys."

He was in Germany last November when the Wall broke open.

"For the youth of East Germany," Brokering says, "the Wall opening and the border breaking down was a thing for both freedom and fear.

"And they used it as a sort of analogy in their thinking. They related it to their faith. It was something like the Children of Israel going through the Red Sea. What do you do with your freedom?"

What he now calls "Old East Germany" has, he says, attributes and characteristics that are going to stand out and make it "still a unique part of a unified Germany.

"I think some of the people in that part of Germany, in those cities, and in those churches, and in that society, will bring a unique consciousness to the new Germany.

"And some of this consciousness will come slowly and will appear over a period of time. Not yet, but it will emerge. I think it will have wisdom in it and it will have mercy in it . . . I think they can help Germany be humane, reflective, gentler, historic . . .

"I think for a long while there will be a dialogue between the two Germanys within a unified Germany. It's a kind of necessary introspection for a people who need an inner dialogue."

Tonight at Zion Lutheran, Brokering says, he's going to tell some stories of the Wall and stories that he learned this summer, "so it will be the story of East Germany for the last 10 months."

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