MCC worker returns to Germany 60 years after service

Anne Buller returns for anniversary of center she founded but didn’t know still existed

Aug 24, 2015 by and

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Anne Buller of Bluff­ton, Ohio, returned this summer to her old neighborhood in Germany to celebrate a ministry she started 66 years ago but only recently learned was still operating.

Anne and Harold Buller arriving in Europe in 1948 with Mennonite Central Committee. — Anne Buller

Anne and Harold Buller arriving in Europe in 1948 with Mennonite Central Committee. — Anne Buller

Buller and her late husband, Harold, traveled to Berlin in 1948 with Mennonite Central Committee. The newlyweds established a neighborhood community center before moving on to other MCC work in Europe. For one reason or another, they never followed up on what happened to the center.

That is, until Buller was talking with a visitor last year in Bluff­ton. She said she often wondered what happened to the Nachbar­schaftsheim Kreuzberg. The visitor suggested she search online.

“I discovered it was a full-fledged, thriving center,” she said. “So of course you can imagine how excited I was.”

She shared about it at First Mennonite Church in Bluffton, and fellow member Bill Suter told her she had to contact the center.

“I said, ‘They wouldn’t care what an old lady has to say,’ ” Buller said. “He said ‘OK, then I will write.’ And of course they were very excited to learn that there was a lady who could speak about the beginnings.”

Her timing couldn’t have been better. After the center was up and running, MCC handed it over to local organizations in 1955. The 60th anniversary was July 3, and she was to be the guest of honor.

Buller, her children, her siblings and her siblings’ children — 17 in all — made the trip.

A changed city

Anne Buller receives a bouquet after her speech at the community center’s 60th anniversary celebration.

Anne Buller receives a bouquet after her speech at the community center’s 60th anniversary celebration.

The center’s building, built in the Kreuzberg neighborhood in the late 1800s as an officers’ club, avoided bombing through two wars. It hasn’t changed much, unlike the rest of the city.

“It’s a big thriving city now which I don’t recognize at all,” Buller said. “So much of it was in ruins. Many times we had this old beat-up MCC VW that we drove along the streets. Many times we’d be the only car driving the main streets.

“When we landed at the airport [in July], I said to the taxi driver, ‘What’s going on? There are a lot of cars here.’ He looked at me like, ‘What’s with you? It’s like this all the time.’ ”

At the celebration, Buller was asked to say something to the group, which she expected to be a couple dozen — 50 at the most.

“There were 250 people in that auditorium, that room where we had the original opening festival August 3, 1949,” she said. “The mayor of that part of the city and dignitaries, and then Anne Buller was supposed to get up and talk. Fortunately, I had the wisdom of writing something up and translating into good German. . . .

“I got a standing ovation of I don’t know how long. It was absolutely unbelievable.”

Caring for people

About half of Berlin was destroyed when the Bullers arrived, which meant they faced the challenge of convincing government officials that an intact building should be used for a neighborhood center. The one they eventually located seemed perfect.

Anne Buller and her children on her first visit to the Nachbarshaftsheim in more than 64 years. — Anne Buller

Anne Buller and her children on her first visit to the Nachbarshaftsheim in more than 64 years. — Anne Buller

“But when we found it, they were using it for 100 terminally ill patients, which it was not suited for,” Buller said. “We determined that if we did nothing else, we would do them a favor of finding a place that would give better care.

“That’s another big miracle that eventually, little by little, we were able to find places where they were able to take care of the patients.”

The Bullers established several projects, including a library, sewing room and recreational activities.

“I can’t help but be very excited about it and thanking God that an MCC project started by people who didn’t know beans about what they were doing has grown to this proportion,” Buller said. “They have dozens of wonderful activities they do every week.”

In addition to those original activities, today the center offers church services and English and kindergarten classes.

“Our main aim was that whoever entered that building would feel welcome and cared for as best we could,” she said. “To my great joy, that is exactly what they are doing now.”


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