Write Again . . . Mein zwei heilige abends
Published 8:15 pm Monday, December 22, 2014
Note – Today’s column first appeared in December 1979, and is included in the book “New View — A Collection of Columns 1970-1984.”
Regensburg, Germany, is an old, stately, beautiful city located in Upper Bavaria alongside the historic Danube (Donau) River.
It was there that I spent a great part of two and half years of my life, from November of ’59 to April of ’62. I was assigned to the 11th Armored Cavalry, which had a battalion stationed at an old military post (Kaserne) in that city.
Regensburg has quite an illustrious past. There is a portion of a wall still remaining which was constructed when Roman legions occupied the city (they called it Ratisbona) before the birth of Christ. And we Americans think a city 200 years old is ancient!
In the center of the city is a towering cathedral of Gothic architecture, which was built in the Middle Ages. This church (kirche) is, in a sense, the focal point of this predominantly Roman Catholic city.
A couple of my most memorable experiences while stationed in Europe took place in that church.
It was my good fortune to attend Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve in both ’60 and ’61. Even though the church was quite large, one had to arrive at least an hour ahead to even find standing room.
Regardless of one’s religious affiliation or views, a Catholic Mass held in such a majestic, yet somehow austere, setting, is a truly impressive and moving experience.
Many American servicemen would attend, although we were greatly outnumbered by townspeople.
As I recall, it was always cold inside the cathedral. No one took his or her cold-weather clothing off.
There were two choirs that sang during the service. One was an adult men’s choir, and the other a boys’ choir known as the “Regensburger Domspatzen.” These boys were widely known and traveled throughout western Europe, and even now I thrill to hear them on record.
The Mass always ended with the men’s choir and the boys’ choir singing “Silent Night” (Stille Nacht).
We young American soldiers, three thousand miles or more from home, many away from our families at Christmas for the first time in our lives, were gripped by emotion that is difficult to describe.
I think I shall seldom hear anything so pure, so exquisitely beautiful, so powerfully poignant, as “Silent Night” as it was sung at Midnight Mass, in an ancient cathedral in Germany, those Christmas Eves almost two decades ago.
Beautiful memories — a young man’s Christmas memories — of another time, in another land.
APROPOS — “Every man’s memory is his private literature.”
— Aldous Huxley