From Yoga to Twenty Below: Religion and Radicalism

Last weekend’s Religion and Radicalism conference was quite something. Under normal circumstances, it requires a little more effort than usual to get here – to Herrnhut, Saxony. On this occasion, the effort was significant. For those who evaded Malaysian elections, slashed feet, dreadful German immigration officials, lambing season and so on, the day of travel revealed … a Lufthansa strike. From Kiev to Oslo, from Helsinki to London, people scrambled to find other options. Eventually, people managed to get here over the next day. The result was that once here the appreciation was much higher.

The paper sessions were absorbing, generating new ideas and at times vigorous debate:





In the evenings we gathered in our apartment for drinks (the amusement was largely due to this map) …


… and took instructions in yoga:


Amazing what a few drinks will make people do at 1.00 am:


Even so, ageing bones make the lotus position just a little more difficult:


On Sunday afternoon we had a special treat: the wind chill knocked what was already the coldest ‘spring’ day on record to -20 Centigrade:


It was our day for trekking, exploring the early days of the Moravian Brethren, Zinzendorf’s Schloss, and the stone circles used for quiet gatherings in the forest. The circles were used to meet and discuss community problems in the 1700s:


With weather like this, I’m guessing not many problems would have been that urgent. Meanwhile, we made the most of it and plunged down steep hillsides:



On return, there was nothing a little bit of thawing wouldn’t restore to its old self.

Yet, despite it’s apparent remoteness …


… it is a place to which people seem to come from all corners of the globe. They even had flags out for us:

IMG_0308 (3)a

Or, more closely:



How to look like an ageing rock group … in Herrnhut

To whet your appetite for the full report on last weekend’s Religion and Radicalism conference in Herrnhut, where the temperature dropped to almost -20 degrees. We were out on a trek through the frozen landscape:


The kind of shot they produce these days of ageing and wiser rock groups.

Wolf in the forest today

While taking a long hike through a local forest this afternoon, in the teeth of a bitter wind and some driving snow, we came across a long run of these:

wolf print 01

They ran for a few hundred metres along a track deep in the forest, spaced out at an even distance, here in the Oberlausitz region of Saxony, which is close by the Czech and Polish borders.


‘Look at those tracks’, I said. ‘Do you think they’re from a wolf?’

‘Nah, that’s a big dog’, she said. ‘Shit, it’s big though’.

‘Are you sure?’ I said.

‘You can see that it’s on a lead’, she said.

I wondered about the absence of human footprints along a muddy track and the  long lope between prints. She wondered about the size of the middle pad and the long claw marks at the front of the print, not to mention the size of an animal that would leave such deep prints.

Back at our lodgings by dusk and slowly warmed up again, we decided to check on wolves in this area.

The results: this is the favoured area for wolves returning to Germany, after an absence of 150 years!

Why? It is a relatively sparsely populated region, with 20,000 hectares of forests, open country, moors and heathland. And there’s plenty of game, since too many deer roam the forests. In fact, a wolf pack lives right here, initially a handful but now with cubs born every year. It all began about ten years ago, when a pair decided to cross the border from the mountains in Poland and set up a new home hereabouts. They mated and had two female cubs. Now known as One Eye and Sunny, they found mates, reproduced, and so the pack has expanded year by year. The young males born have set out to find new territory, roaming throughout the eastern parts of Germany and then as far as Jutland and the Netherlands. And now they are meeting up with some of their Mediterranean cousins from Italy and France. Apparently, a wolf can travel up to 200 km of an evening.

Given the German propensity to have everything managed, neatly and carefully, there is a ‘Wolf Office‘ right here, with all the information you might or might not want.

So yes, they are wolf tracks. A match for the wild boar spoor we saw yesterday.


In search of Zinzendorf

Since we are on the old estate of Count Ludwig von Zinzendorf – the plump 18th century landlord with the gift of the gab, a slight messiah complex and a desire to shelter persecuted radical reformers (who built Herrnhut in 1722 on his estate) – we decided to seek him out.

Not a poor man, by any stretch of the imagination, the manor house in Berthelsdorf is sumptuous, if run-down:

Actually, that’s just one of the barns …

Across the road is the local church, at which a spiritual awakening happened on 13 August 1727:

The revived and tiny community at Herrnhut (of 300) was moved to send missionaries (well before anyone else) to such comfortable places as Greenland, Africa and the Far East.

But I couldn’t help wondering whether Zinzendorf was moved in another way:

It’s a fair bet that this convenience has changed little since since 1727, but is this a relic?

Eventually we found him in ‘God’s Acre’ (Gottesacker):

But then who is this, resident in the graveyard?

In search of Nineveh

I was told the real ‘city’ was hereabouts, so I set off on my bike to find Nineveh in the drizzle and mists of an early East German spring. I passed through dank and dangerous forests:

Past mist-enshrouded fields:

To find the great and bustling city:

For the skeptical …

Satisfied that the inhabitants had indeed repented of their sins, I returned home:

With the Unitas Fratrum (Herrnhuter Brüdergemeine) in East Germany

The village of Herrnhut, close by the Czech and Polish borders …

… is a damned good place to be, even if getting there entailed riding bicycles along icy roads by snowy fields and hills. But the locals are a friendly bunch, speaking German, Czech and (if over 30) some Russian.

Many good things may be said about Christian communism, not least its ability to provide ridiculously cheap accommodation. But given that Herrnhut is the spiritual home of the worldwide Unitas Fratrum (Herrnhuter Brüdergemeine), they have a knack of finding any flag in their collection.

In honour of our stay here, of course.

Zinzendorf and a bicycle tour

Received my copy of Arena Magazine today, where I found, in my regular column, a travel story on Herrnhut, deep in the south-east of Germany. Title: ‘In Zinzendorf Territory: Deep in the Snow and Christian Communism in Herrnhut’ (a pre-print may be found here). Anyway, someone with more than a passing artistic skill penned this illustration straight out of the story:

Arena is definitely worth a subscription – an independent left voice in the land of Oz.

As for me, I am off to the annual conference of the Australian Association for the Study of Religions in Tweed Heads. Haven’t been for more than a decade, but we’ll be doing our ‘Marxism and Religion’ panel again there. To get home, I will ride – a mere 700 kms. Click to enlarge to see the full route:

Given my propensity to find remote spots to pitch a tent for the night, the posts won’t be as regular for a week or two.