A few days ago we marked 20 years of the formal signing of the Czech-German Declaration. I was seven at the time. In view of these and other circumstances I must admit that I have not really felt, over the existence of this declaration, that the lofty phrases in it, or its bonuses for the Czech Republic, have a solid material impact on me. But then I saw a different thing unfolding.
There is a church in a seemingly God-forsaken village near the Polish border, in eastern Bohemia. It was a ruin in 1990, a wreck of a building filled with rubble a few metres high. The walls were a mess. Upon the blast of a German panzer faust, the tower clock stopped at twenty minutes past two in 1945. The nave and aisle had lost their roof. This was why the Christmas midnight services under star-studded skies were both an unforgettable experience and an exercise in freezing: in several places of the destroyed church building there were charcoal barrels provided so the congregation did not come to grief, in a freezing winter night.
At the start of the 1990s, enthusiasts arrived at Neratov from near and far to try to restore and repair the local Church of the Assumption of Virgin Mary. A baby in the pram, I watched my dad and mom clear wheelbarrows of rubble from the church. But in some cases, enthusiasm alone will not work without a major help from outside. Herein came the helping hand of the Czech-German Future Fund, which provided funding to help restore our church. Now its walls are in good repair. Grass no longer grows on the floors. A new, partly glazed roof enables the visitors to maintain visual contact with the heavens.
Today the Neratov church is a regional tourist destination. Thanks to a fortunate reconstruction effort, its ambient atmosphere is unique. It is a minor yet convincing proof of the benefits of the fund and the declaration. It serves to me as an answer to those who still dismiss anything that comes over from Germany as a bad thing (such as in light of the migrant crisis in Europe). The Neratov church also dispels the conventional wisdom about us Czechs being unable to interact. On the contrary, is proves that where is the will there is a way to achieve many things that seemed unthinkable in the past.
It is just a snippet, a grain of sand, but we might as well heed the call. If we want to, we can work together on bigger things and build a Europe we could be proud of.