There is a line of granite blocks running through Berlin, interrupted occasionally by a hotel or a subway building.
“When you look around, when you are observant of what is happening, you can see the marking of the former wall,” said Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. “It is right here present. You can follow it through the city, walking, see where it goes.”
Holding a piece of the Berlin Wall in his hands, Elder Uchtdorf recently spoke of his childhood in East Germany, the wall that once divided his country, pioneering Church members, and his visit to the city this May.
Elder Uchtdorf returned to Berlin May 13-15 to meet with President Joachim Gauck, the former president of Germany, and to visit sites of historical significance with pioneering Latter-day Saints in the country.
It was a brief trip that became very personal as it took him back to his youth and allowed him to see what the Lord has done in Germany, a unified land that now has two temples and 40,000 Church members.
“It was nice to go back there now and also think about what happened,” said Elder Uchtdorf.
As an 8-year-old boy, Elder Uchtdorf attended a youth activity in Berlin.
He still remembers “the smell of the tent, the smell of the forest,” and walking across the sandy ground, his feet sinking deep into the soil.
He was too young to be at the youth activity, held for youth 12 and older. But he had gone with his sister and no one had turned him away.
It was there, 70 years ago, amid a country still in ruins, that a kind person brought him a banana as a precious gift. For him it was “too strange a fruit,” something he had never seen or tasted before.
Holding up a photograph of young boys from the Zwickau Branch, Elder Uchtdorf explained “the Church back then did everything possible, even under these difficult circumstances, to have activities for the young people so they could stay together.”
Those activities brought about unity, gospel strength, and joy, he said
“The most important part was actually to see how the membership in this isolation back then focused on the spirit of the gospel,” he said.
The years after that photograph were filled with isolation for Latter-day Saints in East Germany, whose faithfulness brought about the construction and dedication of the Freiberg Germany Temple.
During his recent visit, Elder Uchtdorf joined with Frank Apel, a former district, mission, and temple president; Manfred Schütze, a former stake president and Area Seventy; Lothar Ebisch a former district president; Gerhard Grünewald, a former stake and temple president; and Holger Rakow, a former Area Seventy and mission president. Also with the group were full-time missionaries.
They walked by the wall memorial and the Brandenburg Gate and stood in front of the historic Berlin Dahlem meetinghouse. They visited the sobering spot in Plötzensee where Helmuth Hübener, a young Latter-Saint and a vocal opponent of Nazism, was executed. They talked and they remembered.
The members have demonstrated decades of “humble courage” and “loving persistence” which has moved the Church forward in Germany, said Elder Uchtdorf. “Kleine schritte helfen,” he said, translating, “small steps help.”
The young missionaries observed this from the pioneer members, Elder Uchtdorf said.
“There was a bridge between generations, and it was wonderful to see how they communicated and how they appreciated each other,” said Elder Uchtdorf of the pioneer members — who have witnessed eight decades of Church history in Germany — and the young missionaries — who were not alive when the Berlin Wall fell.
In the evening, Elder Uchtdorf gathered with the youth and young adults in Berlin and invited them to ask questions.
“Most of the young people raised their arm, not so much to ask questions, but to make statements about their gratitude for the gospel, and to express their testimonies,” Elder Uchtdorf said.
During his visit, Elder Uchtdorf also met with President Gauck, the former president of Germany, and presented him with a detailed collection of his personal family history spanning five generations of ancestors.
The meeting took place in President Gauckʼs office in the German Bundestag building.
James T. Burton, honorary consul of the Federal Republic of Germany in the state of Utah, and Area Seventies Elder Michael Cziesla and Elder Axel H. Leimer accompanied Elder Uchtdorf during this visit.
The pair had a “friendly, focused” conversation, he said.
The visit and return to Germany had important significance, Elder Uchtdorf said. “We are living in a time which begs for situational awareness of our history, the history of the Church, the history of the world. … This situational awareness will hopefully help us to see our purpose and also the plan of salvation and its blessings.”