It has been almost a month since we have come back from Stuttgart, Germany. We were there to visit with the YWCA Germany, one of the oldest associations in the region. We were also there to attend the 11th Assembly of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), whose theme was “Give us this day, our daily bread”. Hanne Braun is just one person who has indelibly remained etched in our experience of this visit. She is the President of the YWCA of Germany, and a former World YWCA Executive Committee member from 1979 to 1987.
Almost two months ago, Hanne Braun visited the World YWCA Office in Geneva, together with 10 other YWCA women members, volunteers and friends. They took a 5-hour train ride, and spent a week orienting, sharing and experiencing together the fellowship with the ecumenical family. In addition to sharing the programmes of the YWCA of Germany, she brought some gifts for all of us in the World Office. We received an umbrella with the Map of Stuttgart, clearly showing the key features of the city, the venue of the LWF Assembly as well as the YWCA Building. This was meant to prepare for the journey we were to take the following month! Just in case we did not have someone to assist, all we had to do was to open the umbrella! It was a practical, humorous and inviting gesture, given with love and in the spirit of sisterhood.
Hanne Braun is a long-standing leader within her church and her community. With her background in social work, and her personality and passion, it was just a joy to spend time with her in Stuttgart. She mobilised the YWCA women to contribute as volunteers and resource persons of various kinds in the LWF Assembly. She assisted with worship, Ursula Lüders met guests at the train station and was in the Women’s Networking Zone, her husband volunteered with the village groups and took photos of the events where YWCA women were involved; Bea was at the registration desk and several other YWCA women assisted as volunteers. The two of us were official guests of the LWF Assembly. It was with confidence that we delivered the World YWCA message to the Assembly, calling the LWF communion to continue working for gender justice and echoing that we share traditions and neighbourhoods. It was true, as we felt the presence of the YWCA in this event. We just needed to turn around, and Hanne Braun was a whisper away among the local communities, or a step away with the pool of YWCA volunteers.
Amidst the thousand of things to do, in addition to caring for her mother, Hanne Braun found time to give us a tour of the YWCA history in Germany, the connection with the church and its mission with? Diakonia. It was a powerful experience for us to spend time with Ursula Lüders in the Women’s Networking Space, together with other women leaders from the church in Germany. Equally enriching was sharing breakfast with Rev. Esther Peylo, a theologian and journalist, working with the local parliament and General Manager of the Association for International Work with Youth (Verein für Internationale Jugendarbeit –VIJ – e.V.), part of Diakonia work of the Association of Evangelical Churches in WürtembergHanne also introduced us to Ruth Lauterstein who received us with warm hospitality at her home. Ruth arrived in Stuttgart from Uruguay many years ago, and from being a beneficiary, she became a staff member of the centre for information for women (Fraueninformationszentrum – FIZ), a division of VIJ e.V.
On Sunday afternoon, after the beautiful and moving service at the Stiftkirche in Stuttgart, Hanne offered us lunch and took us together with Annette and Arja, two friends from the YWCA of Germany, to visit the Rosenstrasse 76 exhibition in Bad Mergentheim. This is an amazing and very touching exhibition which aims at sensitising people about the ever present issue of domestic violence. After this, Hanne took us on a tour of the neighbouring areas of Stuttgart, which fascinated us with its beauty, culture and long history.
The tour of Stuttgart, in Hanne Braun’s car took us to the top of the hill. As we stood therewe marvelled at the ingenuity of human kind and the inner strength to reach new heights in science and technology. We equally nestled in the spirit of the knowledge that with us is a woman leader, who has spent her life reaching to the spirit within. Touching the lives of sad, lonely migrant women in Europe, arranging for language classes, providing child care, and a roof for those coming from afar. She remained in the trenches, understanding the dark and invisible world of commercial sex workers. Some of them exploited and abused because they are foreigners. As we walked down the hill, Hanne Braun took us through the red-light district of Stuttgart, so we could have a feel of what her commitment to women’s rights mean. We saw, we shared, we reflected. As we nestled into our beds for that evening, we recommitted to our service for women and girls. Hanne Braun had just re-kindled the spirit. Just the knowledge that together it is possible to reach new heights in our nourishment of the human spirit, especially for women and girls, survivors of violence, abuse and exclusion.
The five-hour train journey to Geneva was a possibility of reflection on the time spent with Hanne Braun. Her presence filled the room as she assisted in the communion service at the installation of the new LWF Leadership; her laughter had warmed our hearts as we found our ways in the streets of Stuttgart; her humour livened our souls as she recounted her days as a World YWCA Executive Committee member in the era of apartheid. She inspired us for the future with her elaborate plans of bringing the Rosenstrasse 76 exhibition on domestic violence to the 2011 World YWCA World Council to be held in Switzerland. If anything, join us in Zurich next year and enjoy a moment with Hanne Braun, one of the amazing, committed, humorous and visionary women leaders of this movement.