At a special meeting with Latter-day Saints in Hamburg on Oct. 13, President Thomas S. Monson said that over the years his wife, Sister Frances J. Monson, has told him she was certain he has German blood somewhere in his ancestral line because he loves the German people so much and feels so at home with them.
His love for Germany and its people was evident as he addressed members in four special member meetings in Hamburg, Oct. 13; Berlin, Oct. 14; Munich, Oct. 20; and Frankfurt, Oct. 21.
President Monson told the Church News that he has enjoyed going to Germany over the years. "Each time I visit Germany, whether in the east or the west, I feel I return home a better person," he said.
He has had key roles in much of the development of the Church in Germany since his call to the Quorum of the Twelve in 1963. Just five years into his call as an apostle, he was given a special assignment for the work of the Church in Europe, during which time he went behind "the Iron Curtain" to minister to the Saints of the German Democratic Republic, or East Germany. It was a bold undertaking at that time; he was the first apostle to visit some places. "I had some concerns when I made those visits behind the Iron Curtain, but I had no fear," he said. On his numerous trips, he ministered to the Saints in various areas of eastern Germany, giving compassionate service, inspired counsel and apostolic blessings.
President Monson was instrumental in gaining permission from the DDR government for the Church to build the Freiberg Germany Temple, which was dedicated in 1985, and in helping further the growth of the Church in other parts of eastern Europe that had been under communist control.
Addressing members in Hamburg on Saturday afternoon, Oct. 13, President Monson said, "As I pondered the opportunity to meet with you here in Hamburg, my thoughts returned to the very first time I visited this lovely city. It was in July of 1968 — 42 years ago. We were able to attend the opening event of a glorious youth conference. The park where it was held was filled with beautiful flowers of every color and variety. When darkness fell, we viewed a spectacular water pageant, with gigantic sprays of water and beautiful lights working in unison to the accompaniment of an orchestra. It provided a wonderful setting for the noble youth who came from all over Germany for this event. ... Those young people who were at the youth conference so many years ago have most likely raised their own families by now and are probably grandparents. Perhaps some are even here today. My, but the years have flown, for in some ways it seems like just yesterday the youth conference was held."
To members gathered in Berlin on Sunday, Oct. 14, President Monson said, "I cannot begin to express my gratitude for the privilege of being here with you today. Flying into Berlin this morning, I was reminded of the multitude of times over the years I flew into West Berlin and then crossed through Checkpoint Charlie into East Berlin. My first visit here was during the latter part of July in 1968, over 44 years ago. It was in November of that same year that I visited in G?litz and made promises to the Saints there that they would one day have all of the programs of the Church made available to them."
He said that 22 years ago, on Oct. 20, 1990, he and Sister Monson made a visit to Berlin, which was different from any of the previous visits. "Upon arrival in Berlin, Sister Monson and I got into a taxi and asked the driver to take us to the Berlin Wall. He didn't move. My German is not very good, but I tried again, and he still didn't move. Finally, he put his hands in the air and said, 'The Wall is kaput!' We had known that much of the Wall had come down, but we thought some portion of it would have remained. The man drove us to where the Wall had been, and it was gone. A great change, a miracle, had occurred."
He spoke of a meeting held on Oct. 21, 1990, in which "our members from the East and from the West met together, and some of our newly reorganized units joined together those who had previously been separated by a Wall which no longer existed."
He described how, at one point in that meeting 22 years ago, all the children were invited to walk up the aisles and assemble in the front comprising a children's chorus. "They sang 'I Am a Child of God.' The children of American servicemen sang one verse in English, and the German children sang the next verse in German. The final verses were sung in German by all of the children. Every heart was moved," he said.
"That meeting is one which I will never, ever forget. In a way it provided the final fulfillment of the promises made 22 years previously in G?litz."
In Munich on Oct. 20, President Monson spoke of the "joyous day" that found him, once again in the land and among the people he loves. "I have longed for this opportunity and express gratitude to my Heavenly Father that circumstances were such that I could make this trip," he said. He referred to the demands of the office of the President of the Church and said that he desires "to be out among our members as often as I possibly can."
He recalled his first visit to Munich, in November of 1968. "When I returned to Salt Lake City after that initial visit, I recorded in my journal that I saw some of the most beautiful countryside I had ever witnessed as I drove to Munich with the mission president, who at that time was President Orville Gunther. I echo the same sentiment today — namely, that you are surrounded by some of the most beautiful countryside in all the world."
He spoke of the times over the years that he has returned to Munich, including a visit in 1972 when he and another mission president, Blaine Peterson, went to look at the Olympic stadium to determine if it would be suitable for the area conference to be held in Munich in 1973. "The facility was perfect, and a little less than a year later we had a wonderful area conference there, with 15,000 members in attendance," President Monson said. "The Tabernacle Choir provided the music for the conference, and Church President Harold B. Lee presided and participated in the meetings."
In Frankfurt on Sunday, Oct. 21, at the last of the four special member meetings, President Monson said, "Since I arrived in Germany just over one week ago, I have had nothing but wonderful experiences. Memories have been rekindled. New memories have been made. I anticipate making even more during future visits."
He spoke of his first visit to Frankfurt in 1968, and noted he has returned many times for conferences, meeting with missionaries, seminars for mission presidents and other events.
"During the summer of 1985, we traveled here for the groundbreaking ceremonies for the Frankfurt Germany Temple in Freidrichsdorf. Two years later, in August of 1987, I had the privilege of returning for the dedication of that magnificent temple."
President Monson has often quoted the poet, James Barrie: "God gave us memories, that we might have June roses in the December of our lives." Addressing the last special meeting of Latter-day Saints during his visit, President Monson said, "Many of the roses in the bouquet I have so far assembled came from my visits among you in Switzerland, in Germany and in Austria."
During the meetings, which were broadcast to various meetinghouses throughout Germany, Austria and Switzerland, President Monson urged members to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, make wise decisions that will lead them back to the presence of their Heavenly Father and care for one another.
While in Germany, President Monson took the opportunity to revisit some sites of interest, particularly those pertaining to the history of the Church in which he played a part. One of the places he visited was the mountainside overlooking the Elbe River near Dresden where, early on the morning of April 27, 1975, he offered a dedicatory prayer upon what was then the DDR, expressing gratitude for the Church in the land and pleading for a way that the faithful members could have the blessings of a temple. At that time, the nearest temple was in Switzerland.
President Monson commented to the Church News that he tries to return to that site each time he visits that part of Germany.
While on this visit Elder Teixeira presented President Monson with a framed photograph of the spot where President Monson dedicated the land.
At a dinner President Monson hosted on Oct. 15 in Dresden, the city that served as headquarters of the Church in the German Democratic Republic during the days of communist occupation, he met with several of those with whom he worked closely and who oversaw the activities of the Church during that time. Among those attending were Henry Burkhardt, former president of what was then the Dresden Mission, and the first president of the Freiberg Germany Temple; Frank Apel, first stake president in the German Democratic Republic, and his wife, Helga; Gunther Schulze, who served as a counselor to President Burkhardt, and his wife, Hannelore; Gottfried Richter, who also served as a counselor to President Burkhardt, and his wife, Erika; Rudi Lehmann, who was the first patriarch in the stake; Lothar Ebisch, who was the physical facilities manager and was involved in construction of the Freiberg temple and different meetinghouses, and his wife, Helga; Manfred Heller, who was the contact person between the Church and the government of the German Democratic Republic, and his wife, Gisela; Manfred Schutze, first president of the Leipzig Germany Stake and now an Area Seventy, and his wife, Helga; Elder José A. Teixeira of the Seventy and president of the Europe Area, and his wife, Filomena. Sven Apel served as translator.
During the dinner, President Monson expressed "great delight in once again being with such dear friends." He extended greetings as well, from Sister Monson, indicating she sent her love and best wishes to all.
While in Germany, President Monson visited the Freiberg and Frankfurt temples. In the Freiberg temple, he met its temple workers and Hungarian members who had just attended a session.
During a brief stopover in Salzburg, Austria, on Oct. 18, President Monson met with Erwin Roth, a Church member who, with his business partner, August Schubert, has printed President Monson's biography, To the Rescue, in the German language. Brother Roth presented President Monson with the first copy, titled Zur Rettung, which had come off the press the previous day.
Of President Monson's visit to Germany, Elder Teixeira said, "What a wonderful blessing it has been for all of us to have him here among us and speak to congregations in Hamburg, Berlin, Munich and Frankfurt. Clearly, President Monson is a man of deep affection for the German people and that love is returned by the people in Germany."
Reflecting upon his travels in Germany and meetings with members, President Monson said, "What choice memories I have of countless visits to this beloved land!"
President Monson was accompanied by Elder and Sister Teixeira, who were with him throughout his travels in Germany. At various points, they were joined by Elder Patrick Kearon of the Seventy and first counselor in the Europe Area Presidency; Elder Kent F. Richards of the Seventy and second counselor in the Europe Area Presidency, and his wife, Sister Marsha Richards; Elder Manfred Schutze, an Area Seventy, and his wife, Sister Helga Schutze; and Elder Louis Weidmann, Area Seventy, and his wife, Sister Silvia Weidmann.
— Gerry Avant