“Clean Worship” Assembly in Frankfurt
IT WAS like living in the woods in the new world for four days during the international assembly at Frankfurt am Main, August 24-26. Fourth in a series of weekly conventions that began with London and ran through France, Holland, Scandinavia, Finland and finally Austria the last week of September, it proved the largest, the most unique of them all, the outstanding convention on the European continent in 1951.
For this assembly in West Germany the Sports Stadium in Frankfurt-Niederrad was rented, an idyllic place amid the City Forest of Frankfurt, on the edge of that metropolis of 500,000 dwellers. That large football bowl with its 35,000 places for sitting and standing room was not enough for the crowd expected, and so the nearby Cycle Racing Bowl was also rented, which offered seating for 10,000 more. But to provide seating for all attending, benches were built and installed in the great oval of the stadium, their total length amounting to 10,000 meters of benches.
June 12 at a gathering of companies from Frankfurt and Offenbach the work of hunting rooming accommodations was begun. By 428 company publishers and 24 pioneers quarters for 8,731 persons were found in private homes and for 594 in the hotels. Several hundred quarters were also arranged for in Mainz and Wiesbaden, many kilometers away. All were badly bombed cities, and the quarters obtainable were insufficient. So a tent arrangement for mass housing was projected, and many thousands of square meters of grounds at the City Forest were rented for this. Frankfurter firms supplied the canvas tent covering and stakes and foremen; Jehovah’s witnesses supplied the workers, men and women who carried out instructions, dug the stake holes and did the erection work. All together, 559 workers, mostly pioneers, took part in this construction, beginning July 23. Additionally, 325 helpers from the surroundings of Frankfurt offered their services week ends. For sleeping quarters 21 tents were erected, with a total of 45,837 square meters of area. The smallest was 40 x 8 meters, and the largest tents were 220 x 40 meters, with a height of 12.7 meters. More than 27,000 slept in these tents, and still there was room for others. There were three camps, each called by a Bible name.
In front or to the north of the big tribune of the Sports Stadium stood Camp Gilgal, also the vast cafeteria tent, Barak Street dividing them. Still farther north and beyond the junction of the railroad tracks and the public highway (Moerfelder Landstrasse) lay Camp Gibeon. At this camp conventioners brought and set up 584 small tents of their own, which offered shelter to 1,968 persons. Eastward from the Sports Stadium and beyond the Cycle Racing Bowl and Moerfelder Highway lay Camp Goshen. Like the three camps, the streets were also given Biblical names, such as David St., Mizpah St., Deborah St., Watchtower St., etc. Each camp was outfitted with large washing and toilet facilities, for which the volunteer workers made excavations, erected structures including 320 meters’ length of community washbasins, and installed piping. The city fire department installed needed feed-pipes and water connections, running the supply line by twining a big firehose about a bridge built over Moerfelder Highway and thus conveying water over this thoroughfare. Brothers of ours stood constant guard at this water-supply bridge to prevent any sabotage.
For bedding in the camp tents 347 tons of clean straw was bought, and this was spread out three feet high. Of course, after being slept on for several nights this was pressed down to a nice mattress thickness. Men’s and women’s quarters were strictly separate. The interiors of the tents were sectioned off rectangularly by lanes, and sections numbered and lettered, so that sleeping places could be assigned out and each one locate where he was to sleep. The tents were fitted with loud-speakers. For the spoken word to be heard here and over all the convention site, 4,200 meters of cable were laid, 17 loud-speaker columns set up and 6 individual loud-speakers. For illumination 6,500 meters of cable were laid with 360 locations for lights. The tenters brought along their own blankets. Thus 36,026 were provided with lodging, including those who put up at hotels and elsewhere.
Nowhere in or around Frankfurt was there a kitchen adequate for providing hot food to such thousands of conventioners. So the Society built its own kitchen. For this, 51 kettles with a capacity of 300 liters each were obtained, some for gas, some for coal consumption, some for steam. But from where the steam? At a worker’s happy suggestion the National Railways were appealed to and a locomotive was rented and rolled onto a siding near the Sports Field railroad station. On the bank alongside it a big kitchen tent was set up to shelter 40 steam kettles. A large-caliber pipe was then run from the locomotive’s steam dome to the kettles connected in series. But would this system work? It was the first attempt of its kind in Germany, yet it worked! In 15 minutes each unit turned out a kettleful of cooked food. During the three days there were 49,700 servings of breakfast, 75,700 of dinner and 58,050 of supper at the cafeteria.
For baked goods, ah, they installed, too, their own bakery, in the basement of the tribune building of the Sports Stadium. A week before convention four brothers began baking. In a lent dough machine they had to work up tons of dough, to bake enough for 132,675 portions of Saxon Stolle cake, 120,855 of streusselkuchen (crumb cake), 8,050 of plum cake and 10,000 Berlin pancakes. From large bakeries in Frankfurt 230,000 rolls and 28,500 loaves of bread were supplied.
The cafeteria covered 8,000 square meters of area, roofed with tenting. To put through 30,000 eaters in an hour there were 50 serving stations, and corresponding lines of tables, each table 50 meters long and at which we stood to eat. Conventioners were all told to bring along their own knives, forks and spoons. This made work lighter for the dishwashing department of 576 helpers.
Tuesday morning the Society’s vice-president and the Canadian branch servant landed at the Rhein-Main airport outside Frankfurt and a large group of preconvention workers from “tent city” turned out to welcome them. Next day at 12:25 p.m. the president, N. H. Knorr, and his secretary, M. G. Henschel, arrived at the airport, and German branch servant, Erich Frost, and a still larger welcoming committee of hundreds from the tent city gave them a grand reception. Brother Knorr’s arrival was announced over the airport loudspeakers and three news reporters buttonholed him for an interview, for which F. S. Hoffmann, the Gilead graduate servant of the Wiesbaden Bethel home, acted as interpreter into German. The Neue Presse, the Frankfurter Rundschau, and the Nachtausgabe thereafter reported his arrival with pictures and long accompanying articles.
From the airport Brother Knorr and his party went to the convention grounds, inspected the kitchen and its locomotive steam boiler, the bakery, the cafeteria and the camps, and then drove out to the Society’s branch office for West Germany, at Wiesbaden-Dotzheim, about 27 miles from Frankfurt. There he and other North American representatives of the Society stayed and enjoyed sweet association with the German Bethel family of 104 members. The transformation which the German brothers had wrought in the windowless, doorless, looted building for leasing which they had contracted at Brother Knorr’s last visit in 1947 was marvelous, and now a printing establishment and shipping department and branch offices were functioning there in spick-and-span quarters.
For days ahead, the rising tent city was a place of interest for early arriving foreign conventioners, news reporters and others. But on Thursday, the day before convention, the main body of the German conventioners began pouring in in their tens of thousands. There were some 100 special omnibuses with the groups from various companies. Thirty special trains of 800 to 1,000 passengers each had been arranged for with the National Railways, and from 10 a.m. till past the following midnight these arrived one after another and discharged their loads of high-spirited German brothers at the Sports Field railroad station. A large sign, in German, “Jehovah’s witnesses in the Stadium 24-26 of August,” high above and across the road met their glad eyes as they marched onto the grounds. There was a standard-bearer for each group, who held aloft on a pole the identification of the particular company he represented, such as “Jehovah’s witnesses—Munich—so-and-so group”. The whole band trooped along with their standard-bearer and got their lodgings together. This served for good order in arriving but still more so for a prompt, orderly departure without mishap or delay at the close of the convention.
Many others did not arrive by special train or bus, but came by motorcycle, bicycle, private car and on foot. From 24 different lands they came. There were witnesses of Jehovah who had risked their liberty or even their lives to cross the border secretly from Communist East Germany into the American zone of West Germany. Yes, about 500 of them got through and they reported and registered at a special tent reserved for them. Many of them arrived, weary, worn, and financially “broke”. They were given free meals and at night a straw bed. One brother and his 74-year-old mother trudged 11 days to get here, sleeping nights in the woods and parks in order to avoid Communist police. Many expressed their willingness to return, for the truth must continue to be preached in East Germany and Jehovah’s “other sheep” be gathered to his Right Shepherd. What these East zoners had endured and seen made them determined fighters, unwilling to flee or quit. In the year following that infamous night of August 30, 1950, hundreds of witnesses were arrested in East Germany and the branch there at Magdeburg was shut down. Despite this, there are now 17,256 witnesses active in that zone. The 36,500 in West Germany brings the total to over 53,000 Kingdom publishers in all of Germany.
On Friday, August 24, at 5 a.m. the buzzer at the Wiesbaden Bethel aroused the family and they prepared to make the early special train for the convention. Some were able to go by car. It turns out a sunny day. For the full length of the convention grounds Moerfelder Highway has been blocked off to all public traffic to prevent conventioners from being run down, and police stand guard.
You enter the stadium and there you find the great bowl jammed with conventioners, nicely and colorfully dressed. Hundreds are even sitting out on the race track. Wonderful! to find them all there well before the hour. They are determined to miss nothing, but to get all they can out of the sessions. Out in the green football field toward the western end is the speakers’ stand in a beautiful setting of flowers and evergreen plants, and fronted by large, standing white letters in a semicircle which spell Jehovas Zeugen. Up in the tribune stands to the west of the central balcony is the orchestra, and there a large orchestra of 150 instruments performs under a skilled director. Look! there are 80 violins, 10 accordions, a guitar, together with drums and cymbals and the brass and woodwind instruments. And, as at London, a man in a white shirt out in the field directs the singing. At one end of the stadium is a large sign, in German, “Clean Worship Assembly,” and along the length of the tribune stands and opposite, across the football field, along the gallery wall are the large signs with the 1951 yeartext: “Praise Jah, you people, because Jehovah our God, the Almighty, has begun to rule as king.—Rev. 19:6, NW.” Over in the Cycle Racing Bowl (across the street and to the northeast of the stadium) there are large numbers of conventioners, to listen in on the loud-speakers. All together, there are upward of 30,000 here, and at the very start of the assembly. The tent city there on the grounds helped greatly to this end. And to facilitate travel between Frankfurt and the Sports Field the National Railways considerately offer a six-coupon card which entitles you to six trips for just one German mark (20c), and these cards are obtainable in the Traffic tent and at the railroad stations. Yes, and the German Government postoffice stamped all outgoing mail with the cancellation stamp: “FRANKFURT (MAIN) CLEAN WORSHIP ASSEMBLY OF JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES, 24 to 26.8.51.”
At 9 a.m. punkt! the assembly opens and the vast attendance sang full-throated in praise to the eternal God, celestial King. The entire morning was devoted to a fine array of four speakers, the second of which, branch servant Frost, gave the address of welcome as convention chairman. During the morning Brother Knorr was interviewed by eleven news reporters and men from Life and Time magazines. Radio men came, and he made a tape recording answering their questions for a six-minute broadcast, his replies being translated into German. Even a reporter from The Stars and Stripes (European edition of the U. S. armed forces) was there for an interview, and on August 28 this newspaper published a 4-paragraph report with a baptism picture.
The high point of the day was the president’s afternoon talk on “Making Your Mind Over for New World Living”, which was interpreted into German. By this talk he, together with eight other speakers who had served at the London assembly at the beginning of the month, was bringing feature talks of that international gathering to the Frankfurt assembly. The delivering of the same talks in the many lands by the Society’s representatives worked toward uniting the brothers in all these lands in a oneness of mind. Those who understood both English and German got the speeches with double blows through the force of both languages. There were 34,547 listening to Brother Knorr, a thousand of whom were over at the Cycle Racing Bowl and 5,000 in the cafeteria. When he walked off the field there was a battery of camera fans and moving-picture takers at the exit to stay his progress for some shots.
Besides the platform service-meeting demonstration in the evening, one of the speeches was a report on experiences and activities in Communist East Germany by the Society’s representative stationed in Berlin, American zone. This thrilled the listeners. Next day column one of the front page of the Abendpost announced the arrest of six witnesses of Jehovah near Treffurt while trying to cross the border from the East zone to attend this convention.
Saturday morning, August 25, the baptismal discourse was given from the platform in the Cycle Racing Bowl by assistant chairman E. Schwafert, who is also factory servant at Wiesbaden branch. Thousands were here while others were at the stadium. At his propounding of questions regarding their faith and dedication to God the baptismal candidates stood in their places on the north side (toward the large swimming pools to their rear) and answered with a firm, unanimous Ja! You could hear their Yes! in German anywhere in the bowl. There were many witnesses to the mass baptism, and among them many photographers and professional newsreel men. In less than two hours 50 baptizers immersed a grand total of 2,373, baptizing 1,545 women and 828 men, the oldest being 87 years of age and the youngest 8 years.
For those not detained by the baptism, the morning hours were devoted to field service in preaching the good news of God’s kingdom orally and by printed page and also in advertising the public address on that intriguing theme, “Will Religion Meet the World Crisis?” Badges worn on coat lapels and shirtwaists, though small in size, roused great interest and stirred up many inquiries. The workers went out by buses, special trains, etc., to Frankfurt, and places beyond, such as Wiesbaden, Mainz and Darmstadt. This same morning Brother Knorr held a pioneer meeting in the cafeteria, and this was attended by a thousand conventioners. Here about a hundred full-time workers signed applications for attending Gilead School.
For the afternoon the skies clouded over. After two preliminary speeches the convention set itself to hear Brother Knorr’s talk on “The Triumph of Clean, Undefiled Worship”. Toward the end of it there were some stray drops of rain. Some few brothers withdrew to cover and some umbrellas went up, only to come down again when the drops ceased. We must have been on the fringe of a rainfall, for in Frankfurt just two kilometers away it rained heavily this afternoon. And now Brother Knorr came to the high point in his delivery as he released the new German book, the translation of “Equipped for Every Good Work”. This was greeted with a loud cheer and applause, as was also the announcement that copies were there in quantity for distribution. There was a mass exodus from the stadium, and a swarming to the distribution places, and 18,000 were placed this afternoon. Our attendance had now climbed up to 38,226, surpassing the number at the great public meeting in London. Now came experience accounts by pioneers, Gilead graduates and circuit servants, followed by a speech in German by the registrar-instructor of Gilead School, A. D. Schroeder, and a speech by the Canadian branch servant, P. Chapman.
Now those in attendance looked forward to the final day of the assembly, and we leave our readers to look forward to a report of the same in our next issue.