• Joachim Reppmann

Jay Becker: PEACE - PIPE ("Friedenspfeife")

Updated: Oct 23, 2019

Since 2010, Dr. Jens Peter (Jay) Becker, Kiel, Germany, is publishing an AMAZINGLY successful cultural blog. (in German)

My grandpa was a member of 'Schlaraffia'. I still have an old photo of him at a ceremonial meeting, sitting there in an odd little paper hat next to the mayor, Dr. Wittgenstein. He was the one who allowed the architect Ernst Becker-Sassenhof free rein for his new buildings in our town. He was thrown out of office by the Nazis in 1933. The arrival of the Nazis also meant the end of the men’s society 'Schlaraffia' there. It wasn’t only 'Schlaraffia' that was closed down at that time; the Freemasons’ lodge “Anchor of Harmony” also lost its building in Weser Street and was forced to sell it to the Homeland Society in 1935 so that the Homeland Museum could be set up there.  Today, a sign reading “Masonic Lodge” is once again affixed to the outer wall. When my father, proud as could be, showed it to me just after the building had been reconfigured, I was surprised to see the transformation of the museum space where I had played as a child on Sundays while Grandpa sat at the museum’s ticket booth. In the uppermost floor there was a sky-dome that looked like it had been designed by Schinkel for The Magic Flute. I’m grateful to the Masons for my beautiful experience of a staging of Mozart’s Magic Flute in the theater on Goethe Square. I no longer have any recollection of the opera, but I haven’t forgotten that all the people there were wearing evening dresses and tailcoats. The National Socialists didn’t close down all fraternal societies, Masonic Lodges, and charitable organizations. One example is the Rotary Club, which initially excluded of its own volition Jewish members, communists, and prominent non-Nazis. The Rotarian Thomas Mann received the following letter from his Club president two months after the Nazis’ seizure of power: Dear Professor, your lengthy absence from Munich prevents us from talking to you concerning your membership in this city’s Club. But you will certainly have followed recent developments in Germany carefully enough to understand that we consider it unavoidable that you be removed from our list of members. With sincere best wishes, Rotary Club of Munich, the President. The Nobel Prize laureate was cut to the quick: What is going on with these people? he wrote in his diary of April 8, 1933. All he could do at that point was to wonder about the mental state of these people who have expelled me—who was once the pride of their organization—without a word of regret or gratefulness, as if it were simply a matter of course. A few years earlier Mann had said during a keynote lecture at the Munich Rotary ClubWhat are Rotary’s most deeply-held principles? What is the intellectual foundation on which it is based? Is it not simply the complex of humanitarian ideas on which it was constituted and which inspires it—the unified ideas of freedom, education, humaneness, forbearance, willingness to help, and affection, that constitute the essence of humanity and the ideals of citizenship? This is the perspective from which I view our association. At the end of the ’30s, the German Rotary Clubs were to disband voluntarily. But Rotarians in general are known to have a completely different view. One need only cast a glance at the small American city of Keokuk, Iowa, where the unified ideas of freedom, education, humaneness, forbearance, willingness to help, and affection continue to exist. The city was named for a famous Indian chieftain who is buried there. In this blog he has already appeared in the posts “Noble Savages” and “Tecumseh in Dresden.” This last post is about an exhibition of works by the Dresden sculptor Ferdinand Pettrich put on by Astrid in 2013 for the Dresden State Art Collections. Keokuk was a man of peace and equanimity. One year after his adversary Black Hawk instigated the Black Hawk War, he made a speech warning his tribe against waging another war. The whites were simply too powerful: “Their cabins are as plenty as the trees in the forest, and their soldiers are springing up like grass on the prairies. They have talking thunder, which carries death a long way off, with long guns and short ones, long knives and short ones.” In October 1837 Keokuk and a delegation of Indians visited the government in Washington, where he signed a treaty concerning an exchange of land. And he smoked the peace pipe there. To be more precise: he presented the Minister of War Joel Roberts with a peace pipe; it is not known whether it was actually smoked. Before that, the Minister awarded Keokuk a silver peace medal, which he wore with pride and which is visible in numerous photographs and paintings; one of these is a picture by Charles Bird King that was painted after the ceremony. The symbolic act of 1837 had consequences for Keokuk in the twentieth century, when the city’s Rotary Club proposed a similar ceremony: to send a peace pipe to each of the Rotary Clubs worldwide. But the new president, W. J. Fulton, who had just returned from a trip to Europe, decided against sending peace pipes by mail. Instead, he sent 496 letters to all those Rotary Clubs in December 1931. Given the lack of such a huge quantity of pipes, the intent was to have a symbolic smoking of the peace pipe. This was not enough for many of the Clubs, however, even though they did not receive an Indian peace pipe in the mail. As an example, the Rotary Club of Munich, which was to expel Thomas Mann from its ranks one year later, declared the idea delightful and wrote: When your letter was read to us at our last luncheon, we unfortunately did not have a suitable pipe available and so had to content ourselves with cigars. According to the History of Keokuk, Jacques Marquette was the first to describe the Indian peace pipe (also known as the calumet) and the ceremonies associated with it: In May 1673, Marquette, Joliet, and five boatmen in two large canoes moved up Lake Michigan and to the headwaters of the Fox River and crossed by portage to the Wisconsin River, and on June 17 first saw the Mississippi River opposite the present town of McGregor, Iowa. On June 25, they landed near the present town of Toolesboro, the first known whites to set foot there. They entered the Indian village and smoked the pipe of peace near the present Iowa River. They passed on down the Mississippi to the mouth of the Arkansas River before returning to Canada. Historians and journalists have unearthed the 196 responses to Keokuk’s peace pipe initiative—from Berlin to Jerusalem, from Buenos Aires to Cape Town—and are now presenting this significant find as part of a 330-page bilingual (German-English) editionEvery symbol counts,as Carol Kahn Strauss, the long-standing director of the Leo Baeck Institute in New York, says in her afterword to the book. You can have a look at The Peace Pipe Letters and a video introducing the topic here. The year 1931, in which the Keokuk Rotary Club circulated its “postal pipe of peace,” seems to be a fitting one for the notion of promoting peace in the world, or for symbolic demonstrations showing that people are taking this ideal seriously. In that very year, during a French diplomatic mission to Berlin (the first since 1878), Prime Minister Pierre Laval and Foreign Minister Aristide Briand were greeted with shouts of Vive la paix and Vive la France. And in that same year, two individuals who truly deserved the Nobel Prize for Peace, Jane Addams, President of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, and the philosopher and educator Nicholas Murray Butler, were granted that honor. From today’s perspective, all of this unfortunately seems to have more the nature of a swan song.    In conclusion I would like to mention yet another book that has a reference to the pipe of peace in its title: The Sacred Pipe. The book originated with Black Elk, who experienced the Battle of Little Big Horn as a child and was injured during the massacre of Wounded Knee. Here is what he has to say on the subject of peace: The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes from within the souls of men when they realize their relationship, their oneness, with the universe and all its powers, and when they realize that at the center of the universe dwells Wakan-Tanka, and that this center is really everywhere, it is within each of us. This is the real peace, and the others are but reflections of this. The second peace is that which is made between two individuals, and the third is that which is made between two nations. But above all you should understand that there can never be peace between nations until there is first known that true peace which is within the souls of men.  This is something we might all ponder carefully.


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The question that confronts us today is the same as in 1931-32: Do our leaders have the capacity to reach beyond their grasp, to challenge us to seek the higher angels of nature, to choose "Be informed! Be informed!" rather than "Be afraid! Be afraid!" In the end, however, we know that world peace is too important to be left in the hands of our leaders. Peace starts in our own back yards when we speak our for understanding when their is disharmony, food security where there is hunger, health care where there is disease, education where there is illiteracy, conservation where there is environmental harm, sustainable development where there is poverty ... and when we write letters across border to build goodwill and better friendships. - William Tubbs (2019)

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