The Foreign Service Journal, June 2020

80 JUNE 2020 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL Laura M. Fabrycky is a Foreign Service spouse, mother of three and the author of Keys to Bonhoeffer’s Haus: Exploring the World and Wisdom of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Fortress Press), which was released in March. She last wrote for the Journal in 2016, “Road Trip to Syria, 2011.” I n recent years, after multiple Foreign Service assignments, I have come to recognize how rarely I saw the histories of our host countries as stories on their own terms, especially ones I could learn from as an American, and not merely as local curiosities or intellectual entertain- ments. Berlin opened my eyes. It is full of captivating stories, some closely entwined with our own. In fact, since World War II, some of the greatest expressions of American rhetoric, from President John F. Kennedy’s famous “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech to President Ronald Reagan’s “Tear DownThis Wall,” belong to this great city. Our family lived on Berlin’s southwest side from 2016 to 2019, and our children attended the specially chartered bina- tional and bilingual John F. Kennedy School. As we settled into our new home in the fall of 2016, however, I was feeling strangely alienated from our home back in the States because of the partisanship that was cleaving our nation. My hope was renewed by a very local story, one about the World War II–era German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1916-1945). Learning about Bonhoef- fer’s life, how he assessed what it meant to be German and what that responsibil- ity meant for him, would prove to be a unique source of nourishment for my civic imagination. During our first year in Berlin, I visited his former family home—the Bonhoeffer- Haus—many times. Each visit offered new angles of discovery and meaning, especially during the final reflective pause in the top- floor bedroomwhere the Gestapo arrested Bonhoef- fer in 1943. Since 1987, when it was officially memorial- ized, the Bonhoeffer- Haus has been a place for visitors to learn about his life and think responsibly about their own. Though I had read a few of Bonhoeffer’s devotional writings and a biography, it was not until I saw this house and culture in situ, and listened to Germans interpret his local REFLECTIONS Engaging Our Host Country’s History BY LAURA M . FABRYCKY legacy, that I began to truly relate to Bonhoeffer’s story, and what I could learn from it. Eventually, I asked if I could volunteer there as a guide. To my amazement, I was welcomed and issued a key. It hung on my keychain alongside my U.S. govern- ment–issued house and official post office keys, tokens of my responsibilities to particular places and their stories. For the remaining two years of our Berlin tour, I walked more intentionally in the pages of another people’s history, guiding English-speaking visitors from all over the world through Dietrich Bonhoef- fer’s incredibly brief, light-filled life. Learning to tell his German story— amid the tumult of the first half of the 20th century—required that I pay better atten- tion to my own American habits of heart and mind, and to how I narrated our nation’s civic stories. For one, my German colleagues at Bonhoeffer- Haus told a more com- munal story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer than I knew, depicting him less as a singular hero (as we Americans prefer our heroic tales) but rather as a man who was marked by his belonging to others. By all accounts, his destiny as the sixth of eight children born to Dr. Karl and Paula Bonhoeffer, a well-to-do family in Berlin’s Grunewald neighborhood, should have been secure and comfortable, with a future full of bright accomplishments. Like his parents and siblings, he was intellectually and emotionally gifted, Laura Fabrycky gives a tour of the Bonhoeffer-Haus in Berlin in 2019. COURTESYOFLAURAFABRYCKY Laura Fabrycky at Bonhoef- fer’s desk during her first visit in November 2016. COURTESYOFLAURAFABRYCKY