The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Conversing in German

'I swore I would never speak German again.'

Karen Donfried still recalls when, as a child, she accompanied her father, ELCA pastor Karl Donfried, to visit his colleague in East Germany. Passing from one side to the other of the divided country, their car was searched thoroughly. Heavy suspicion hung in the air.

“As an American, that experience shocks you — to go from a world with democracy and free speech to a place where those things aren’t taken for granted,” said Donfried, a member of St. Luke Lutheran Church, Silver Spring, Md., with her husband and two children.

Next month marks the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall on Nov. 9, 1989. Relations between the U.S. and Europe have changed radically since Donfried was young — fluctuating at times between extremely friendly and quite adversarial. But thanks to the German Marshall Fund, born from an endowment made in 1972 by then-chancellor Willy Brandt, there remains an open line of communication across the Atlantic. As the GMF’s executive vice president, Donfried plays an integral role in that dialogue. She joined the staff in 2001 as senior director for policy programs.

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February issue


Embracing diversity