How do I talk to my father

Prof. Dr. theol. Uta Ranke-Heinemann


Speech on August 22, 2006 on the occasion of the 30th year of death
in the house of the church in Essen

Before I begin my lecture about my father, Gustav the Kargen, I would like to make a preliminary remark.

My son Andreas owns a collection of caricatures about my father. It contains a caricature from the Süddeutsche Zeitung from September 13, 1969, i.e. from the beginning of his term of office. The caricature is called: "Auf dem Feldherrnhügel". It was published again on September 4, 1973, towards the end of his term of office, in "Der Abend. Berlin" with the title: "The certain difference lies in the direction of view".

In this cartoon you can see my father on a pedestal, surrounded by generals and soldiers. Fighter planes fly overhead. All the military look at the fighter planes, only my father looks in the opposite direction. There you can see a small, white dove of peace. My father saw his political task in avoiding war. He said: "Peace is the real thing, not war".

But I have the impression that after his death my father's legacy is often and deliberately withheld, because his idea of ​​active peacekeeping and peacemaking no longer corresponds to the zeitgeist. And every appreciation of my father that does not take his peace thoughts into account is, in my eyes, a falsification of his legacy.

And now my lecture:

My father Gustav the Barren.
Speech on August 22, 2006 on the occasion of the 30th year of death in the house of the church in Essen.

Apart from the official speeches that are made on such an occasion, I would just like to say a few private words, unofficial things, so to speak. Because you can't really talk about your parents or your father, just as you can't talk about yourself. You have no objectivity at all. As the Chinese proverb says: the mother is not too ugly for a child, the family is not too poor for a dog. That's right (even though I had a lovely mother). In addition, my father was a person who made no fuss about himself.

My father was a silent person from childhood. Big sentences were never his style. He said: "I like people best who have nothing to say and yet don't say it". I understand it this way: that he suffered from people who talk at length about unnecessary things. Once a ministerial director resented him very much. Following his endlessly long speech, my father said: "The secret of boredom is to say everything at every opportunity," which pleased many exhausted listeners, but not the ministerial conductors.

My father was a master at the art of being brief. As a child, however, you sometimes would like to have it in more detail. Fortunately, my father found an interpreter for the outside world in my mother. That is why one speaks rightly of "mother tongue" not of "father tongue". Let me give you an example: once it was mentioned that he had met Cardinal Döpfner. I wanted to know from my father what impression he has of the cardinal. The answer was my mother, of course my mother. She said, "Dad thinks the cardinal is a good listener." My father stood next to her and nodded. And I thought: it must have been a lively conversation in which one, my father, is silent and the other, the cardinal, listens carefully.

So big sentences were not his style. Sometimes, however, he suddenly formed nonsense sentences, e.g. he said: "Here everyone only thinks of himself, only me, I think of myself". Or: "Parents should not marry until the children can support them". Or: "I love people who freeze while working and sweat while eating." Or: "Raising children is completely superfluous, the children become like parents." Sometimes he also said groundbreaking things. And when I am asked for a motto, I always think of a pearl from my father, a sentence that has actually helped me many times. My father said, "Anyone who doesn't know what to do is not worth embarrassing". Something like this is helpful if, for example, in full spotlight you're asked something that you have no idea about.

So big sentences were not his style. But small ones even less. He failed completely at small talk. This struck me especially at a state reception in Romania, when I saw the lady next to him struggling to keep a conversation going with him. All he had to do was look around himself how Foreign Minister Scheel was doing something that was excellent in this field, regardless of who he was placed next to. Afterwards I said to my father: the hardest fate a woman can meet is to be your table neighbor.

Not doing a lot of words is not the same as being unable to make a speech. It seems more akin to not being able to sing. In any case, my father couldn't sing at all. Once, says my grandmother, who we always call "Mädi", he came out of school very sad and said he was a bad person. Why that? In school they would have learned:

Wherever one sings, sit down,
bad people don't have songs.

Personally, I don't know anyone who was so unaffected by mass suggestion as my father. As for his aversion to the Nazi regime, his willingness to help Jews and Communists (Hitler: "Jewish Bolshevism"), his biographers have reported more extensively than I can. Here's just this: in his last few years there was one profession that, in my opinion, could have been more friendly: the press photographers. The flash hurt his eyes. He inherited a retinal detachment from my girl, my blind grandmother. But that wasn't the real reason. With his lack of vanity, he just couldn't understand why yesterday's photo wasn't enough for today.

I remember a press ball in Bonn. My father wanted to escape the photographers again. And while many people were waiting for him at the main entrance, he went with my mother through a kitchen door at the back of the building, then sat down inconspicuously and then immediately disappeared - because of the deafening noise - into a quieter adjoining room. The whole evening I was asked: "Is your father not here?". I said: "It is there, but not here, or rather it is here but not there." Afterwards I said to my father that you did that wrong. You'd better go in front of it conspicuously and then go out the back unobtrusively, then everyone will think you're there. This way you will make yourself a peaceful evening. But if you go in the back inconspicuously, everyone will complain that you didn't come at all.

Some think my father was so dry and called him "Gustav the Barren". In a way, that's not true at all. In his private life he was full of wit and self-irony. Some of it didn't dawn on me until much later. For example this: My sister Christa and I, then around 6 and 7 years old, came out of school sadly one day: "The other children can show off their father so nicely, but we don't." Then my father said: Yes, you can say yes, your father has a mortgage on the house. We were thrilled, of course had no idea what a mortgage was and told the class the next day: Incidentally, our father has a mortgage on the house. This increased our prestige enormously.

On this occasion I remember a sentence that my son Andreas coined when he was the same age as my sister and I. Following the election of the Federal President in 1969, a reporter asked him: Well, Andreas, what do you think of that, and he said: "Finally Grandpa is Federal President too".

By the way, my father's "mortgage", which impressed my sister Christa and me so much, was a purely virtual punchline, my father never had a mortgage because he didn't own a single house in his life, but a Rhenish villa with us Steel mills inhabited.

I would like to mention something that doesn't really belong here because it only concerns me personally. For me personally it would have been easier if my father had remained the incredulous skeptic he was before I was born, along with my grandparents, Mädi and Grandpa. But unfortunately he became a believer shortly after my birth through the Protestant pastor Friedrich Graeber. By skeptics I do not understand people who doubt the existence of God, but doubters who despair of the anti-understanding of the Christian churches. In the Christian churches, every change of denomination only leads from bad to worse. My father clearly recognized the eaves I would fall into as a result of my conversion to Catholicism, but not the rain in which I stood and was left standing in the Protestant church. To protect me from the intolerance of Catholics, he became intolerant himself and tried to prevent me from marrying my Catholic classmate Edmund Ranke. That cast a long shadow over our relationship. He saw that this could not go well when I became Catholic and tried with all his might to prevent it. And it didn't go well either. But one only becomes wiser through experienced damage, not through threatened damage. And you take damage there as there, because under both church roofs someone who starts to think and stops believing can be rained badly by some unpleasant rain.

My father has been dead since 1976. And we are getting closer and closer. I understand him better and better now - and I think he has now understood everything. And now I am happy that my father, my father and my mother were just the way they were, just like that. And I console myself in my discomfort over her death with a passage from a letter of condolence that the philosopher Descartes wrote to his friend Constantin Huygens on October 13, 1642, the father of the famous astronomer Christian Huygens. Constantin Huygens had lost his brother. And Descartes wrote: that the dead who passed away are passing over to a better life. We humans are born "for much greater joys (plaisirs!) and a much greater happiness than we can experience on this earth. And one day we will find the dead again, with the memory of the past, because in us there is an intellectual memory that is undoubtedly independent of our body. "Let it be convinced of this life after death" through natural and whole obvious reasons ".

What natural and very obvious reasons? I have thought about this sentence for 10 years, since 1996, because I did not understand: why please Descartes, the great doubter, is convinced in his letter to Huygens in October 1642 "for natural and very obvious reasons" of an afterlife and a recovery of the beloved dead, although on the other hand in May of the same year 1642 (in the 2nd edition of his Meditations metaphysiques) was convinced that one can prove the existence of God, but not the afterlife?

It was in that year that I finally figured it out: the French word Descartes uses for "convince" in his letter to Huygens is not the French word convaincre = prove from the Latin vincere = defeat, convincere = refute what means in the case of a crime: convict the criminal. But Descartes uses the French word here persuader. That’s where the Latin is suavis, the German sweet, the English sweet. So it is not a cold disapproval, but a sweet suggestion.

Descartes goes on to write in his letter to Huygens that he shares with most people the "weakness" that, as far as the hereafter is concerned, we are less impressed by what religion teaches us about it, no matter how hard we try to believe it, but to which our intellect does not come close to that which is suggested to our intellect also by "natural and very obvious reasons".

Indeed: If you research the book of the universe and decipher the eternity longing of your own heart, then you suspect that man emerged from love, namely from parental love, and is on the way to eternal love. The universe is full of sweet persuasion that we will find the beloved dead again, as Jesus said to the Sadducees, the doubters of the afterlife at the time: "God is not a God of the dead, but of the living. You are very wrong "(Mk 12).