The solid oak door opens heavily. The visitor, a tall, gaunt, middle-aged man, enters a small anteroom, a kind of passage and reception room. For a moment, the darkness of the almost windowless medieval walls surrounds him. Then a second door opens, behind it a partially shaded path, a row of brick windows (so it seems) and the sunlight that falls into the garden in its last rays of day. The visitor steps over the threshold. In that moment, he sees in the whole place. He has stepped into a cloister. With a slight smile, the only sign of recognition of the once-familiar place, he surveys the ancient stone flagstones, the elegant Gothic pillars and pillars that culminate above him in a pattern of recurring pointed arches. He sees the old tree in the middle of the garden, the gable of the church towering on the right side, the door at the end of the left side of the corridor that closes the way to the former monastery kitchen.
„Basically a reflection of life, like a cloister“ – the gentleman in the cloister ponders. „A self-contained path inside a monastery. A tour that opens in one direction or the other depending on the time of day: here the door to the dining room, there to the meeting room, there the corridor to the bedrooms and library, the gate that leads outside to the fields and to the fish ponds and finally the portals into the church, one into the chancel, another into the nave. Life is a cloister – to eat, to pray, to work, to study, to consult, to reflect, always through the cloister, a circular route through the day and through life.” The monks have long since left. The monastery is a boarding school. The visitor remembers. He was here himself as a student. Every day through the cloister, school, prayer, leisure, eating, sleeping. It’s been a quarter of a century. He starts his path, down the hallway to the left and then to the right in the middle of the path. There is the fountain house. The water pours out day and night into three stone bowls that stand on top of each other. “Strange” – another thought – “the cloister, the cycle of life, it always leads past the fountain, as if life were always coming back to its origin, to the constantly new and yet always the same flow of water .” The visitor stands in front of the fountain for a long time. He will write a poem about this moment. The visitor is Hermann Hesse, the Maulbronn monastery. The year is 1914. It has been 25 years since Hesse fled Maulbronn. The strict upbringing of the Protestant boarding school had taken its toll on him. His novel „Unterm Rad“, in which he processes his experiences in Maulbronn, was his first major success as a writer. Now he has returned once more. In his poem about this visit he writes:
Enchanted in the green valley of youth
I stand leaning against the mossy column shaft
And listen, as in its green bowl
The tinkling fountain stretches the vaults.
And everything has remained so beautiful and still.
Only I got older, and the passion
The dark source of the soul in hate and love,
No longer flows in the old wild power.
Having left the fountain, the visitor has returned to the fountain. Everything has remained as it was, but at the same time everything has changed. The cloister, symbol of time, has been crossed again. The visitor is there as himself and at the same time as someone else.
The view extends far over the water surface. This time it is the surface of the lake that lies deeply blue and peacefully in front of us. The water between the Golan and the Galilean mountains, known as the Lake of Tiberias or the Lake of Galilee, is the starting point of the great migration described in the Gospel. Capernaum at the north end has the best view of the lake. The place is not named accidentally. Here in the north settled the Israeli families who descended from Jacob’s sons Zebulun and Naphtali. And from here the light was to emanate that would one day shine over all of Israel as a sign of the renewed rule of God. Here at the water, at the lake from which the Jordan flows into the desert, from where the way to Jerusalem starts, Jesus begins his mission. The origin lies in the water. Walking along the lake, Jesus meets the first companions. Their names have been handed down to us: Peter, Andrew, James, John. They are names of people of bygone times. It could also be our names. Because we can see ourselves standing by the lake, looking at the water, our hands on the nets that mean our daily work. We can imagine how the wanderer sees us and comes towards us, hear how he speaks to us. He asks us to go with him into the unknown of a long journey away from the lake. Like the disciples, we see our nets laid on the shore and us in the boats. One last look around, the lake deep blue behind us, just like the past, an impression that was many years ago and yet hasn’t faded. For like the disciples we will return again. The hike is a circular route. After everything the disciples have seen and heard, after the farewell, death and resurrection of Jesus, the gospel shows them standing by the sea again, again with the nets in hand, launching the boat, going out, the depths below them, the waves at the bow, the wind over the water (John 21). And Jesus meets them again. Everything is the same and yet everything is different. The place where they were called away is also the place where their calling catches up with them. The promise given back then to follow Jesus is now being called for. It’s good to come back, not to cherish a distant memory, but to renew it. We’re back on the water.
One last look at the fountain. The visitor in Maulbronn slowly turns around. Only a few minutes later he is back in the present. Hesse writes in retrospect:
The soul that longed for eternity
Now bears impermanence as a dear burden
And is on the track of youth
Once more quietly and without resentment as a guest.
Now sing, water, deep in your bowl.
Life has long been a fleeting dress to me.
Now romp, youth, in my valley
and feast on the dream of eternity!
The place of youth was the place that promised eternity. The cloister had meant the cycle of this life. Eternity was a dream. Too much lived life has passed over this dream. And yet the longing returns. The promise of the beginning has not lost its power. The visitor can feel them again when returning to the fountain. Over his life lies the promise and lies a promise.
The disciples took this promise with them from Galilee. „We will go with you“. And in that promise is a promise. The origin of wandering carries within itself a lasting value, an eternity of fidelity that lies in the covenant between God and man. The lake becomes a place to commemorate the promise. Just as there is a „then“, there will always be a „tomorrow“. The longing returns to us with the wind over the waves.