MUNICH, April 19 -- On the square outside the Church of Our Lady, beneath the Gothic towers soaring above central Munich, Christina Ott and her friends joined a crowd of proud but surprised residents, unsure how to respond to the election of their former archbishop as the new pope.
"We asked ourselves, 'What do we do now, as Germans?' " said Ott, 44. The group decided to attend an evening Mass at the Church of Our Lady, usually a sparsely attended service. Tuesday night, it was standing room only. Then the friends strolled across the square to a pub, where "we drank four times to the pope," she said.
Men in traditional Bavarian costumes fire six salute shots in Marktl am Inn, Germany, after Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, a native of the small town, was chosen as the new pope.
(Michael Probst -- AP)
"At first, I didn't want him to be pope," Ott added, citing the new pontiff's traditional stands on church doctrine. "But then, when I saw him up there on television, I thought, 'He's the one.' "
It's been almost 1,000 years since a Roman Catholic pope, Victor II, hailed from a German-speaking land. Though a third of Germany's population is Catholic, the country is better known in Christian history as the home of a religious revolutionary named Martin Luther, who inspired the Reformation and the rise of Protestantism.
To most Germans, Ratzinger is a well-known but distant figure. He was born in a small mountain town called Marktl am Inn, attended a seminary in Traunstein and worked as a theologian in Regensburg -- all in Bavaria, in southern Germany. He served as archbishop of Munich from 1977 to 1981, but then left Germany for Rome.
In a survey for the newsmagazine Der Spiegel this month, 36 percent of respondents were opposed to Ratzinger becoming pope, compared with 29 percent in favor. By Tuesday night, however, instant polls conducted for German television networks indicated that Germans were warming up to Benedict XVI, with more than 60 percent saying he was a good choice.
"I'm really happy, but I didn't think he'd be named the pope," said Michael Schwarz, 42, a Munich businessman who met Ratzinger at a conference 18 years ago in Bavaria. He said the new pope had long been mischaracterized as an out-of-touch, inflexible ideologue, when in person he had shown himself to be "relaxed and very warmhearted."
Schwarz also observed that a plain-spoken, if old-fashioned, pope was perhaps the right person to bring Catholics back to the pews in Europe, where church attendance has eroded steadily in recent decades. "He's straightforward," he said. "There are too few people like that in the world."
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder called the selection of Ratzinger "a great honor for our whole country," but some Protestant leaders were not so enthusiastic and recalled theological disagreements with him.
"We consider the election of Ratzinger is a catastrophe," said Bernd Goehring, a leader of the German Catholic ecumenical group Church from Below, the Reuters news agency reported. "It is very disappointing, even if it was predictable. We can expect no reform from him in the coming years."
Some German Catholics said they were surprised that the selection of a hometown priest didn't stir greater public enthusiasm. At one pub across from the Church of Our Lady, patrons crowded in to watch a soccer match and ignored the live television reports from the Vatican.
Ferruccio Fiordispini, 43, an Italian marketing executive working temporarily in Munich, suggested that people in his country would behave differently in such a situation.
"I'm a little disappointed, because I don't see much happening in the streets," he said. "I know it's raining, but at least the bells should be ringing."
On Wednesday, he promised, he would make sure that his colleagues at work had a bottle of champagne to celebrate.
Whitlock reported from Madrid.