A Reluctant Charismatic in Bavaria

Why was I reluctant to become a Charismatic? I was already a Christian. I had been a believer since about 1981, though I had done some regrettable flirtation with the „historical-critical school“ of Bible scholarship in late undergraduate and early graduate school. The details of the story are extensive and had their turning point in of all place Flensburg on the German-Danish border in spring 1995. The short version is that I had been raised Baptist and taught a strict „cessationist“ theology of miracles. While on graduate school exchange program in 1994-95, I fell in with a lively and international group of Charismatics and Pentecostals in Kiel, Germany. They did not buy into „cessationism“, not one iota. I found this confusing and at time even troubling. Our disagreement on this point of faith led to some…tense… discussions. Nevertheless, it was with some members of this group that I attended a „Lobpreis- und Gebetskonferenz“/ „Praise and Worship Conference“ in Flensburg that spring. During worship time on… a Friday evening, if memory serves, people around me, including my friends, started speaking in tongues and I was freaked right out. When my friend Torsten asked me what I thought of the service so far, I said „Dies ist ein heidnischer Ekstasekult mit christlicher Oberfläche. Ich bin hier weg!“/ „This is a heathen ecstasy cult with a Christian veneer. I’m outta here!“

Only I wasn’t. At the base of the stairs, on the way out of the building, the Holy Spirit spoke to me, audibly, as HE had only one other occasion prior to that night.

„Turn around right now. These are my people and I am not letting them be deceived.“

I felt a powerful wave of conviction, turned around, went back to my seat beside Torsten, and sat there in something of a baffled state for the rest of the night. The conversation on the way home I do not recall in word-for-word detail, but I do recall that I told everyone in the car what the Holy Spirit had told me when I set out to leave the building and that I was in the uncomfortable position of needing to revise my entire understanding of the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit- real 1st Corinthians 12 and 14 stuff.

Twenty years later…at an international Christian gathering called the MEHR, organized and hosted by the Gebetshaus Augsburg (Augsburg House of Prayer), I was ministering as a translator, having come all the way from Texas just to translate for them.

The blonde-haired blue-eyed woman sitting next to me in the simultaneous interpreter’s booth looked genuinely startled at what I had just told her in the break. The LCD computer monitors showing the stage allowed us to watch the worship band from the Gebetshaus Augsburg and the accompanying lightshow (it was dazzling). There was no need to interpret during worship, and so we had time to converse. Her name was Susie, she was from the north of Germany. She told me something of her life story while we were waiting on the next speaker to start and listening to the worship band play: She had moved to England after her time as a missionary in Asian, specifically Tibet, and had gotten married to a Bolivian man she had met through her church. We had both taken our headsets off and set them down on the table next to the control box for our audio feed.

“Do you really mean that? I’ve never heard an American say that before!”

So, I repeated what I had said (auf perfektes Deutsch selbstverständlich): “God loves your people and His history with you did not end with the rise of Hitler and the monstrous evils of the Nazi regime. The Lord wants to restore you, to heal you, to use you to bless other nations. Like with all peoples of the Earth.” 

I’d said variations of this to other Germans I had met and worked with over the years, and there had been many. I was by education one of a dying breed called “Germanic Philologists”- survivors of teenage Tolkien poisoning who had gotten fascinated with Old Dead Germanic Languages and not gotten the memo that the job market for that academic profession had died about 1985. But Susie, the fellow interpreter at the MEHR 2015 Conference in Augsburg, Germany, she had never heard my prepared remarks before. Don’t mistake “prepared” for insincerity, friend. I prepared these remarks about my love and God’s love for the German-speaking peoples of Europe precisely out of a sincere love.

“You mean, you, an American, you see something to love in us, Germans? What?”

I held up my hand and began to count off on my fingers. “Bach, Beethoven, Schumann, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Goethe, Schiller, Klopstock, Heine, Storm, Fontane, Mann, Doppler, Herz, Mach- can I name a few more Germans whose names have become units of measure in the physical sciences? Like Fahrenheit, perhaps? There’s a lot you can and should be proud of in your history.”

 The clear expression of incredulity on her face only grew clearer. “And you think these all matter in spite of the Holocaust?”

“The Holocaust is not the totality of your history. For a long time, being a Jew in Europe meant being German- well, you know, the 200 plus different states that became what is now Germany. There were periods of persecution long before the Nazis but there were also long periods where ethnic Germans and ethnic Jews lived in a peaceful sort of symbiosis. Where did the first pogrom in Western Europe take place and when?”

“In the First Crusade, here. In the Rhineland.”

“Nope. Spain. In 1066 in Granada. It was instigated by Muslims. 1,500 Jewish families were wiped out over night practically. And who stopped the Crusade pogroms in 1096? The U.N.?”

 She smiled. “Germans stopped Germans from killing Jews, I know. But it should not have happened in the first place.”

“No, it shouldn’t have. But time and again when waves of anti-Jewish violence broke out in German-speaking lands the Middle Ages or the Renaissance, it was Germans that started them and it was other Germans that stopped them.”

Susie shook her head. “To me, this is incredible. I’ve never heard anyone talk about us like that, about Germans like you do.”

“No one?”

“Well, no. Sure, I’ve heard Americans thank us for our part in the Cold War, but there’s always the Nazi ghost in the background. We’re always just one question away from ‘What did your grandparents do during the War?’ ‘Oh, they gassed Jews at Auschwitz, of course.’”

“Or they tried to start a student revolt against their own government,” I added.

“It wasn’t enough. Not the military resistance, either.”

“They weren’t nothing. They didn’t come out of nowhere. They were more German than that shrieking Austrian maniac, for sure.”

She shook her head. “No, you don’t get the depth of this. We are taught that the Nazis are really who we are and who we want to be. We are taught to hate ourselves for being German, my generation.”

“But you had nothing to do with it, and God knows that. I don’t believe in collective guilt in perpetuity.”

“No, not guilt forever, but for how long?”, she asked. “Some people said after the war that Germans would bear the guilt of the Holocaust for a hundred years. And that sounds right to me. What else do we do with the guilt of our parents and grandparents?”

“Glaubst Du an die Kraft der stellvertretenden Buße?”, I asked. “Und glaubst Du, dass Gott einem ganzen Volk vergeben kann und will, wenn seine Heiligen um Vergebung beten und Buße tun?”

Which means, I asked essentially if she believed in the power of vicarious repentance and if she believed that God could and would forgive a people if the believers among them ask for forgiveness and repent.

“What do you mean, vicarious repentance?”

“The idea that a person who is right before God can intercede for the sins of his nation. Like the prophet Daniel. He wasn’t even born when the nation of Israel was conquered by the Babylonians in judgement for their sins, yet he comes before God and says ‘forgive us’ as if he had been part of it all. That’s our main ministry here, really, vicarious repentance.”

To be continued….


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Departures II

Photo by Westafrikan Koffi on Pexels.com

When I had left the States to take up the post of „Graduate Assistant to the Director of the Austria-Illinois Exchange Program at the Vienna School of Business and Economics“ (yes, that was the full title) in September of 1997, Susan and I had already been engaged for months and were planning to wed in on the 8th of August, 1998. We were not planning for either of us to visit the other in the interim. We were doctoral students in the humanities, for cryin‘ out loud! Flying was expensive and…then as now…grad student life and money don’t really go together. Not even at Big Midwestern Research Universities ™.

All this being true, it was with great surprise and delight that I learned in one of our November phone calls that Susan was able to find an affordable flight to come and visit me in Vienna for the Christmas-New Year’s Holiday. I picked her up at Vienna’s Schwechat Airport- which at the time was the first airport Susan had seen in which policmen armed with submachineguns were on patrol and there were no waste bins to be seen.

„That’s odd. Why are there no trash cans? And why do those cops have…are those Uzis?“

„No. Steyr, I think. Why? Abu Nidal is why. There was an attack on the El Al counter back in 85? I think it was 85. About this time of year, too.“

That was our pre-9/11 introduction to the kind of airport security that would later become standard for airports in the U.S. and Europe. But in ’97? It was a mark of the heightened security at Schwechat that I had to wait for her beyond the gate area. In Indianapolis, my mother and brother had been able to walk with me right to the departure gate.

Photo of the Gloriette at Palace Schönbrunn in Vienna by Eliska Trnavska on Pexels.com

We spent those glorious days at the end of December together in the snow-flecked Vienna air. We went to the Bellvedere and Schönbrunn Palaces (the „Gloriette“ at the latter shown above), which is also home to the oldest zoo in the world. Their lion got really close to edge of the enclosure and roared at the setting sun the day we were there. We revelled in the art availablee to us in the city- we went to the Dali Museum and the Kunsthistorisches Museum (where we had an enounter with a German tourist I may recount later) and to various Christmas related events with my International Baptist Church family. When we went down to look at the Vienna Synagogue, we were again greeted by policemen armed with submachine guns. They took the threat of terrorism against Jewish targets seriously then, and still do. Still should. And we went to mass at Stephansdom. Which was a deeply powerful event, even for two then-Baptists. In 1997, Susan had not yet converted to Catholicism and I was still formally a member of the Southern Baptist Church, though already more open to Charismatic, Holy-Spirit-focused Chrisitanity than is usual for the SBC.

And then came the day I had to take her back to Schwechat for her return flight.

It was New Year’s Eve, 1997. We were at a party at the home of Pastor Donnie Bond of International Baptist, and had to leave at around 4:30 to get her to the airport on time. We took public transit lugging Susan’s suitcase through the underground, up escalators, and to the boarding desk. And every second hurt. I could not show it at the time, of course, wanting her to leave well, have a good flight, and enjoy pleasant memories of our Christmas in Vienna together, but raking the edge of my conscious mind the whole time were the ragged claws of impending sense of loss. The minute she walked through those gates to the departure area, we would not see each other until July, two weeks before our wedding.

So, after a mercifully short and loving parting of our company, she walked at haste through the gates and I stood there and watched her until she was completely out of sight. Then, feeling stunned, I made my way back to the underground, eventually taking the U4 back to the Pastor’s house, back to the New Year’s Eve Party Susan and I had left together. Coming back alone was difficult.

My friends, Greg Crutchfield and Elena Todorova must have noticed that I was suffering from Susan’s departure because they asked how I was feeling.

„Can we just stay together for a while? I can’t go back to my apartment right now. Not alone.“

So, they and a couple of other of the younger set from IBC- mostly fellow exchange students attending either the University of Vienna or the Business and Economics School- stayed with me for several hours after Susan’s departure and we rang in the New Year in downtown Vienna. I did not take the Straßenbahn 38 back to my apartment in Grinzing district until after 1AM- one of the last available streetcars. Only then did I weep.

Photo by Tereza Godina on Pexels.com

The empty cathedral in that photo? It’s kind of how my life felt for a few days after Susan left. I still had an apartment, a job, a church community, and so on, but the most significant person in my life, my wife-to-be, was gone and for the next several months she was only present as an electronically attenuated voice brought to me via wires and radio signals.

Over the years, God has used this event as a key for understanding grief in a Christian understanding. Every departure, whether seeing friends depart for the mission field knowing that you won’t see them or the final departure from this life in death, does leave us feeling empty and in pain, in one degree or another. And that is real. Denying the reality of loss is not holy or godly, it’s simply embracing unreality- lying to yourself about your loss and your emotional pain coming with it. What do we hear from St. Paul on the point of mourning our losses? „…Do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope“ (1 Thessalonians 4:13). Jesus himself, in the opening statement of the Sermon on the Mount pronounces „Blessed are those who mourn“ not „Blessed are those who pretend that they have nothing to mourn“. We have the promised comfort of the Holy Spirit („…for they shall be comforted“) and the hope that Paul talks about in those next verses in 1 Thessalonians 4 and in 1 Corinthians 15. We can mourn losses. And departures. We have to to live honest to our hearts and honest to God.

Departures: I

This particular story begins in February 1997, in the Foreign Languages Building at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, more specifically in the tiny retangular room that served as the graduate student lounge on the second floor, right off the reception area. I was in a conversation with some other graduate students in the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures when another of our fellow students, a young lady whose main focus of study was foreign language teaching, if I recall, entered the room. She greeted all of us by saying „Anybody want to go to Vienna?“

Photo of the Karlskirche in Vienna from Pixabay on Pexels.com

You do. Came a voice in my head, so loudly and clearly that I nearly shouted „What?“ in response (which would have been weird). It was an insistent voice, masculine, and definitely not my own or any voice I had heard anywhere or anywhen but moments when the Holy Spirit had spoken to me. Like in Hamburg. Or Bloomington. So, hearing that, I asked my fellow grad student, Kristen, what was going on.

„No one applied to be the Graduate Assistant to the Austria-Illinois Exchange Program this year.“

„No one? Really? That’s odd,“ I responded. Then I added, musiing aloud, „I did my undergraduate exchange year in Vienna…“

„Well, if you’re at all interested, you should go talk to Kalinke about it. You’ll probably get it if you ask. They need someone for next year and the deadline passed last week.“

„Kalinke“ was the Department Head. She was also a world-renowned expert on Old Norse Literature and one of the reasons I had transferred to UIUC from IU. We had a good working relationship, and so it was not at all surprising that Kristen’s prediction proved right. I went to Dr. Kalinke’s office, expressed my interest in the position, and was told I had it if I wanted it.

Ja, würde ich gern machen. But have to talk to my fiance, Susan, about it first,“ I said. „If she has no objection, then I’ll take it.“

Photo by Simon Berger on Pexels.com

That conversation had to wait until after I had taught my afternoon class, done my afternoon raid on the library, retrieving the Hoffmann von Fallersleben edition of Theophilus: Niederdeutsches Schauspiel aus einer Trierer Handschrift des XV. Jahrhunderts, and taken the 503 to the corner of Green and Neil, from which point I hurried down the shaded sidewalk past the row of aging three-story Victorians to get to the aging three-story victorian that held my garret apartment. Eager to call Susan and discuss the possibility of going to Vienna for a year, with all it would entail for our relationship, I dashed up the stairs into the dark-paneled and sharply angled confines of the third floor of the house- a converted attic, really-deposited my bookladen backpack on the armchair, grabbed the phone from its charging station and dialed Susan’s 812-number. She picked up quickly and to my surprise, after the initial pleasantries, the moment I said, „There’s some thing we need to discuss,“ she said in reply:

„You’re going abroad, aren’t you?“

„How did you? Never mind, I know how,“ and I explained to her the opportunity presented by the events of that afternoon, and concluded saying, „But I will only go if you have no problems with it. It will mean we can’t hold the wedding until next year, when I get back, but we can take time and pray about it.“

„I don’t need to. I think this is from God, and that you need to do it. You said the Holy Spirit already told you that you should go. What else do you need to hear?“

She was right. What else did either of us need to say? The Holy Spirit’s leading was already clear, so we wound up the conversation clear on the decision. I would tell the Department that I’d take the position the next day. Then, in September, I would leave for Vienna for a year. And we would get married in August of 1998.

We knew it would be difficult, and it was, but the hard part came not in the countdown to my departure that summer, nor when I left from Indianpolis to Vienna (through Chicago O’Scare) but when Susan came to visit in December.

Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger on Pexels.com

And that will take some more telling….

How I became less reluctantly Charismatic

Under the Sankt Martin Tor in Wangen, Bavaria. Me giving thanks for the oriignator of my familiy name.

So, in a previous post , I mentioned how the Holy Spirit had confronted me with my aversion to the exercise of the gifts of the Spirit, in particular, speaking in tongues, at a Praise and Worship Conference in Flensburg (up on the Danish border) back in Spring of 95. What I did not explain is just how dull I had been in paying attention to the role prayer and the Lord’s answers to prayers had played in my life. That dimension of Christian living had profound implications for the question of “cessation of miracles” and should have shaken my convictions on that point…if I had taken time to reflect on it. I should have, since God had already given me more than ample reason and opportunity for such reflection.

Back in Spring of 94, in an empty apartment in Bloomington, Indiana, I had heard the voice of Holy Spirit telling me not to put a knife into myself. I will not explain those events in detail here, but instead my response to the fact that the God of the Universe had stopped me from taking my own life. My response was not immediately flinging myself into ministry out of gratitude nor was it an emotional outpouring of tear-filled repentance for the thoughts and actions that had led God to intervene in my life. It was to pray more. And those prayers were for specific things to happen for me: That I would get summer teaching (I did), that I would get funding for a conference presentation at the first ever International Medieval Congress at the University of Leeds (I did) and that I would get the appointment as the fellow for the Indiana University-University of Kiel Exchange Fellowship for the next year (I did). By the end of that summer, I knew I was going to be in Kiel in the coming academic year.

Then there was the business with the flight. My mom and my brother took me to the Indianapolis Airport (the old one, with the Adam’s Mark Hotel near it) on a sunny day, and – believe it or not, you who were born after September 11th, 2001, they were allowed to accompany me to the gate. We were a good two hours early (even then I always wanted to be very early for flights), and there was another flight to New York- my connection- already boarding. When we got there, the gate agent said, “Mr. Martin, you’re on the flight to Hamburg?”

“Yeah, is there something wrong?”

“Yes,” he answered, “there’s been a delay with the flight you are scheduled for out of New York. But there’s another flight, an earlier flight. But we have to get you on this flight. Let me see what I can do.”

He tapped rapidly at the keyboard and in a few minutes he asked me to hand him my already-issued boarding pass, which he then exchanged for a new one. And with a much hastier round of leave-taking from my mother and brother than I had planned, I was on the plane at the gate within minutes. I had a longer-than-planned layover in New York, then arrived early in Hamburg the next day. This of course meant that my luggage did not arrive with me and after filling out the requisite forms with the airline’s baggage desk, I realized I needed to find the bus to Kiel, like NOW. The schedule I had read back in Indiana had told me that there were buses from Hamburg to Kiel only at two hour intervals, and if I missed this one, the last before noon, I would not be able to meet the people at the University Foreign Student’s Office, get into my housing, and so forth.  For a moment or two, I stood there in the baggage claim area, not knowing which exit to take to get to the bus.

Go out that door right now, said an audible voice in English. Only no human being was standing within thirty feet of me and the human beings close enough for me to hear were not speaking English. I did what the voice had said, and right outside “that door” was the bus to Kiel. I barely had time to put my carry-on bag into the overhead bin when the bus took off. If I had hesitated….

When I got to Kiel, having taking a taxi to the Christian Albrecht’s University’s campus, I had another shock waiting for me in the Foreign Student’s Office. My acceptance letter for the exchange program had never arrived. It had gotten lost in the mail. Thankfully, I had made a photocopy, which I then presented to the office’s director. He hastily made some phone calls to Bloomington and to their student housing…a place called the Studentendorf. The housing manager was not happy to hear about me. Since my letter had not arrived, university housing had assigned the room that was supposed to be mine to some other student. A man from South Africa. Only, he had not arrived and had not sent any notice that he would be arriving, either. So, having no one in the apartment, just then, they mercifully decided to let me stay in it until matters could be cleared up.

Remember that group of Charismatics and Pentecostals I mentioned in the post linked above? Well, my apartment was in the middle of them. Right where God wanted me to be. And this was all before I had really devoted much mind space to the “divine action in the here and now” question.

My being among those people, at that conference where the Holy Spirit confronted me, even my being in Kiel had all been engineered by the hand of God. And more divine handiwork was to come in he next quarter century.

A Reluctant Charismatic in Bavaria Continued

A Reluctant Charismatic in Bavaria, II

MEHR Conference in Augsburg in 2015

Here: A photo of me and my daughter at the MEHR Conference in Augsburg, 2015

The conversation with Susie was ended a few seconds later when the worship music ended and the moderator began speaking, meaning I had to start interpreting. About three hours later, my wife, daughter and I made our way from the Augsburg Convention Center back to our very tiny hotel room downtown. That particular night it also rained torrentially, so we were drenched by the time we got there, having practically swum through the streets to the front door of the IBIS hotel, just down the street from the Main Rail Station. We got ourselves as dry as we could as quickly as we could and also got to bed as quickly as we could in that cramped cubical of a lodging.

The MEHR that January was our first family visit to Augsburg, a sort of scouting mission for what would become our journey to and life in Germany starting in 2015.  Our journey to Augsburg, the one that brought us here to live for soon-to-be six years, really began one night in Austin House of Prayer in 2011. Austin House of Prayer had been founded by friends of ours from a church in Austin called Hope Chapel. Both of these Charismatic Christian communities  played important roles in our lives from 2005 to 2015, and still do, so it’s likely you’ll read more about them here in the future. For now, what you need to know is that it was part of the 24/7 prayer and worship movement influenced by the International House of Prayer in Kansas City, was located in east Austin, and was where we were at nearly every Friday night in that era of our lives. In 2011, though, we had only recently resumed out involvement at AHOP, having been there only sporadically from 2005 to 2009. In that interim period, we had been involved in the Round Rock House of Prayer, but it had folded and, since we were still committed to a life of prayer and worship, we went back to AHOP when we felt the time was right.

As providence would have it, that night in the autumn of 2011 was when we heard the words „Augsburg House of Prayer“ or „Gebetshaus Augsburg“ for the first time. Two friends of ours, Michael Michel and Thomas Cogdell had recently been on a sort of reconnaissance trip in Europe, searching out the spiritual landscape for a possible future ministry. They showed a cell phone video of worship and intercession time at this “Gebetshaus Augsburg” that night.  As soon as we heard about it, well, I wanted to be there. I mean 24/7 prayer in the model of the International House of Prayer in Kansas City and it was German?

“Why am I not there?”, I asked Susan as Thomas finished their presentation.

“Yeah, why aren’t you there?”, she replied.

When the presentation was over that night, I approached Thomas and peppered him with questions about this “Augsburg House of Prayer” and whatever connection AHOP might have with it. In his answers, he explained that he and his wife, Amy, had been praying and seeking the Lord’s will concerning the work of promoting reconciliation between the various streams of the body of Christ in the world as part of the commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017. The Cogdells other members,  friends and acquaintances of the AHOP community, were at that time planning the first of a series of international meetings at key sites in church history where representatives of various Christian constellations—here meaning Catholic, Lutheran, Evangelical, Orthodox and Messianic Jewish—would observer periods of prayer and repentance and forgiveness together.

I immediately offered my services as German translator for these meetings ministry that might take place involving German-speakers.

“You speak German?”, Thomas asked.

“You could say that. I did my doctorate in German with a focus on the depiction of Jews in medieval and early modern German literature,” and I gave him a quick summary of that work, including that which touched on the most relevant topic for the potential ministry project: The historical relations between Christian and Jews in the 15th and 16th centuries.

By the end of the conversation, we were both excited about the prospects of working together for Jesus in this particular often-neglected and deeply needed area of ministry. By the following October, he, I and a small group from AHOP were preparing to go to what would become the first meeting of the Wittenberg 2017 Initiative. It was held in the ecumenical community of Ottmaring, near Augsburg. That community had been formed in the 1950’s as an intentionally inter-confessional group of Christians living out a ministry of Protestant-Catholic reconciliation in a nation where the rubble of the most hideous period of their history had barely stopped smoking. The messages of reconciliation and forgiveness lived out in Ottmaring and in communities like it over the past seven decades have, I think, been of decisive importance in healing nation that had been at war with its neighbors and itself for the 12 horrific years between 1933 and 1945. Here are some pictures from their chapel, a room built to celebrate the various streams in the body of Christ. The top image if from the alcove dedicated to the Catholic stream, the second that dedicated to Messianic Judiasm.

The result of the meeting was the birth of the Wittenberg 2017 Initiative as a reality and not a concept. There’s a more detailed history of Wittenberg to be found here, at the ministry’s now-archival website.

(The site also contains extensive audio archives of teachings given there which I recommend.)

Following the 2012 meeting in Ottmaring, the second meeting was held in 2013, took place at the Abbey Volkenroda n the German State of Thuringia. It had been the site of a bloody massacre of monks by some of Thomas Müntzer’s followers during the so-called “Peasant’s War” phase of the Reformation, and had served various other purposes, both sacred and secular, through the intervening centuries. Nearly 500 years later, it had become the eastern location of an ecumenical group called “Die Jesus Brüderschaft”, and contact with them was what led us to choose the site for the 2013 Wittenberg meeting.

Another year passed after that, and we continued to pray, seeking to know if we should and then, when we would, move to Germany for ministry.

Then, in 2015, while walking in Old Settler’s Park in Round Rock, we got very clear direction from God to sell our house, leave everything behind and move to Augsburg to be part of what God was doing in Europe.

Now, five years- plus a bit- later, we’re still here.

That provides an insufficient, superficial and brief answer to the question of „Why Augsburg?“. To answer it in greater depth will require more blogging…and I will get right to that. After a Bier.