Medieval Towns, Cathedrals, Monasteries, and a Jewish Cemetery: a Day in Hessen


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

We are enjoying our time with our old friends in Germany and the past two days have been rather relaxing. Today we got some shopping in and I got to take a lot of pictures in the city of Limburg which is about twenty kilometers from where our friends live. I got some nice pictures of some of the old buildings as well as the cathedral which has a different look from most other cathedrals in Europe especially its exterior. While the earliest church dates to around 910 A.D. the current cathedral was completed about 1230 A.D. It is dedicated to St. George. The architecture is mostly Romanesque but the area around the high altar is Gothic. It and the city with its timbered houses are well preserved and have pretty much avoided the ravages of time, it is beautiful and well worth hour or so trip from Frankfurt should you be in the area. We also were invited to the last remaining tower from the old city wall which is on the Lahn River and now maintained by the local German Navy veterans chapter. There is much naval and maritime history maintained in it and our visit there with Gottfried, his wife Hannelore, another old friend, Franz, and a member of the local group who opened it for us was quite nice.


Yesterday, (Sunday) I made a trip with my friend Gottfried to a former Benedictine monastery at Altenburg. Founded in 1178 the church itself was completed in 1268 and dedicated to St. Michael the Archangel. It was plundered during the 30 years War and though the monastery burned in 1952, the church survived. The monastery has been renovated since. The church is still active but for the last 200 years has been a part of the Evangelisch (Lutheran) Church. We arrived toward the end of the sermon during the service and I found it interesting to see how much of the liturgy in German, both Catholic and Evangelisch that I remember and easily I can worship in that environment as compared to most American churches.


After we returned from Limburg this afternoon I took a late walk in the town and in the surrounding countryside at dusk and didn’t finish until night had fallen. While I was walking I came upon the Jewish cemetery which is in the forest outside of town. Loehnberg had a small, and sometimes itinerant Jewish population dating back to the early 1600s. In 1927 there were three families in the town, the Sternberg, Halberstadt, and Sieligmann families. I am going to try to find out more about them, but Edith Sieligmann at least survived and was invited back to the town in 1991 for the dedication of a memorial panel in the Rathaus, the current town hall which the Nazis had forced the family to sell at a minimal price. The cemetery is in the forest surrounded by a fence and locked after by the town. Since I saw it as it was getting dark I could not read the grave stones but hope to get a walk or run out that way tomorrow as well as to see the memorial panel in the Rathaus, where I might find more information.


In the morning here we will be going to the Hadamar T4 Euthanasia site where thousands of people, mostly people who were physically handicapped, or mentally disabled in some way, including young children were killed. The T4 sites were the first facilities opened for the purpose of killing in Nazi Germany. Their gas chambers and gas chamber experts became the men who operated the extermination camps, including Auschwitz in Poland.

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A View from Germany: The German Election and the Cloud Cuckoo Land of American Politics

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It really is amazing to observe the serious business of politics of another country during an election that matters and then observing how ridiculous the American President is making himself look from overseas. I commented to my German friends that it seems that the President lives in a Cloud Cuckoo Land of his own alternative reality.

Now let me put some perspective on this. In the summer of 1979 I was traveling across the United States and to Britain and the Netherlands. Back then the world was in crisis mode, the Iranian Revolution had shaken the status quo of the Middle East, the Soviets were on the march in Afghanistan, and the United States seemed moribund. The country was still reeling from Watergate, the Vietnam debacle, and a continuing economic crisis. Interest rates were over 20%, gas prices were high, the economy struggling, it seemed that the Japanese were buying up everything in the United States, and President Carter could not get along with his Democratic majority in Congress.

While I was in the U.K., President Carter gave his now infamous Malaise speech. The reaction overseas was hard to describe, people in the U.K., the Netherlands, and other Western European countries who still believed in the United States were aghast, they found his negativity almost incomprehensible. The dollar dropped in value overnight and having a very limited amount of money with me I found it most disheartening. In fact when I was asked about the speech by people that I stayed with in the U.K., I didn’t know what to say or how to defend it. I was embarrassed. Don’t get me wrong, now 38 years later I admire Jimmy Carter but still cannot understand why he said what he did back then, it didn’t help us at all.

So I have been in Germany the last 10 days. The German election was in its final week, and yesterday the Germans voted. It was a tough election, the “Grand Coalition” of the CDU/CSU and the Social Democratic Party had proved unable to meet the challenge of the refugee crisis coupled with economic fears, especially in states that made up the former East Germany. In that area, as well as in the traditionally conservative state of Bayern, with the exception of big cities like Munich, the new, Right Wing AfD, or Alternative for Germany Party did well. In the east it got over 21% of the vote, in Bayern close to 15%. In the rest of the country it didn’t do so well. The thing about the AfD is that while it initially began as an anti-European Union party, then became an anti-refugee party, which in time became much more racist, anti-Semitic, and pro-Nazi, even using many of the terms used by the Nazis as they climbed they way to power in the late 1920s and 1930s, and suggesting, quite wrongly that Germany should stop criticizing Hitler’s Third Reich. Also doing well in the east was the revitalized and rebadged Communist Party, now called “Die Linke” or “The Left.” Overall the AfD received 13% of the vote nationwide and became the first party of the far right to gain seats in the national parliament, or the Bundestag going back to when West Germany was founded during the Cold War.

I watched the election returns with our friends on two different German television networks, and was fascinated with the discussion and analysis, and I had read election coverage in different German newspapers of various political leanings since I arrived. Last night, from about six o’clock on I was immersed it the German political debate, and I found it to be much more serious and deeper than ours. The reporters asked hard questions to the leaders of all the parties and didn’t let any of them off the hook. Likewise all the parties signaled that they would not work with the AfD, even the SPD which appears to be choosing the political wilderness of being in the opposition along with the AfD and Die Linke.

There are no television and radio advertisements for any party allowed, though campaign posters, rallies, and debates between different political factions are quite common. By reading the literature of the parties, seeing news coverage or rallies, and seeing the campaign posters one easily could tell what the message of each party was. The remarkable thing was just how racist and fear mongering the AfD campaign was. Even on their campaign posters the basic message was the Islamists are coming for your women. They took advantage of the perceived failure of the Grand Coalition in dealing with the refugee crisis and by blaming immigrants and the EU for Germany’s problems.

So at the end of the day the Angela Merkel’s CDU/CSU took a beating, many, almost 1.3 million of its voters chose the FDP, or the Free Democrats who are more socially progressive and business minded as a protest, while another million chose the AfD. The SPD, the Social Democratic Party’s losses, while fewer in number were catastrophic many of its voters migrated to Die Linke or the AfD, the SPD garnered just over 20% of the vote, an all time low for the party. Since no party has a majority of the Bundestag membership, it will be up to the CDU/CSU to form a coalition. Since their former Grand Coalition partners, the SPD are going to the opposition it appears that there will be a Schwarz, Gelb, Gruene Coalition of the CDU/CSU which had 33% of the vote, the FDP with almost 11%, and the Gruenen, or the Green Party, which got about 9% of the vote. The leaders of all three parties have vowed to work for democracy and fight against the extreme right of the AfD. It will be an interesting but complicated coalition and the parties will have to find ways to cooperate and a governing program while satisfying their base, which was something that the Grand Coalition could not do.

So what will matter in the next election in 2021 will be how this coalition works, and if the AfD which has no positive program can hold itself together in the Bundestag. Likewise the SPD, long a bastion of German center-left politics must recover what it lost as an opposition party, while not giving legitimacy to the AfD or their traditional nemesis on the left, the former Communists.

As for now Chancellor Merkel must now build a coalition and she has invited the SPD to participate. In one of the shows I watched tonight the leaders of the Free Democrats and the Greens appeared to be supporting a coalition with the CDU/CSU in order to halt the growth of the extreme right. We won’t know for a few days what the final outcome will be but it appears that most analysts are predicting a Black, Yellow, Green, or Jamaica coalition (the colors of the Jamaican flag) of the CDU/CSU, the FDP, and the Greens.

But turning to the United States and how ludicrous President Trump’s words and actions are, and how they are hurting us overseas with our long time allies, with the exception of the neo-Nazi AfD which has mimicked Trump’s anti-immigration, racial, and do-it alone rhetoric with building a wall, getting more border police, and deporting immigrants, even those determined not to be a threat. As far as the blatant racism of the AfD leaders, one has that while Thomas Botang, a member of the German Nation Football (soccer) team is a good player that he would not want to live next door to him because Botang is black. But I digress…

Since I have been here the President has made multiple new threats against North Korea which has only prompted them to respond in kind, and has spent much of his time insulting anyone who criticizes him. While he described Klansmen and neo-Nazis as “Good People” in the aftermath of Charlottesville, he has been quick to berate African American sports figures over their political protests regarding Black Lives matter, which by the way is still a constitutional right whether he likes it or not, and by disinviting Gold State Warriors basketball player Stephan Curry from the White House. His rambling speech in Alabama on Saturday in which he told NFL owners that they should fire the “sons of bitches” that protest during the national anthem and criticized the league for trying to make the game safer for players was met with more open protests from players and owners, and scoffed at over here.

I mean really, watching the political circus and train wreck that is the Trump administrative from afar is even more disconcerting when you are across the ocean and visiting sites made infamous by leaders who led their county to disaster in two world wars, one of who engineered the single most evil genocide in history. I am sorry but watching from over here, and discussing the matter with German friends and others, I am becoming more and more convinced that there is something seriously wrong with him. I do not know if he is a sociopath, if he is mentally ill, or if he in the early stages of some form of dementia, but something is not right with a world leader who acts this way. Ronald Reagan, Barry Goldwater, Gerald Ford, Dwight Eisenhower, and Teddy Roosevelt all have to be spinning in their graves. Richard Nixon is probably joyful that Trump may end up making him look good by comparison.

Watching these events from overseas with less access and time to follow them as much as I would in the States has made me shake my head as I cannot believe that we have come to this. Likewise, not being as connected in the moment hasn’t been a bad thing, and I probably will cut back on some of my online activities and try not to get caught up in whatever crisis de jure the President. one of his family members, advisors, surrogates, or media advocates have cooked up to distract us from the Muller investigation.

But anyway it is late. We did have another good day in Germany yesterday, and since it is later here I am going to wish you a good night as we have plans tomorrow that will keep me offline much of the day.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Home Away from Home

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Neil Diamond once expressed a thought that I often wrestle with in his song I am I Said, dealing with the subject of what is home. We great day today with our German friends in the town of Loehnberg which is near the cities of Limburg, Braunfels, Weilburg, and Wetzar in the German state of Hessen. This morning we went with our friend Gottfried to see the town and the castle which belonged to the House of Hessen and Nassau, then we went to Braunfels to see the town and castle, and finished in Wetzlar.

All are fascinating towns from a historic and architectural point of view, many of the houses and buildings have the exposed wood beams that one might find in Tudor period houses in England, while the churches all show different aspects of Romanesque or Gothic design; the castles also represent the periods that they were built well. Laneburg, which is here in Loehnberg was built in the 1300s and destroyed during the Thirty Years War. It has been restored and is used for many events but the city has tried to capture what it was while renovating it. Weilburg was one of the principle castles of the House of Hesse-Nassau, along with Schierstiein in Wiesbaden.

The area is mostly an agricultural center with mines for precious stones and mineral springs scattered throughout. The Lahn river winds its way through the area creating a river valley with steep hills on either side flowing to the Rhine where it ends.

It is a beautiful area, Judy and I have been coming here since 1985 and truthfully it feels the most like home away from home than anywhere we have ever been. Part of this is because of our friends Gottfried and Hannelore and their family, through which we have gotten to meet and know a good number of other people in the area. Likewise, having lived in and visited the area many times I understand the dialect of the people here better than any place in Germany with the possibility exception of Bayern.

When Gottfried Judy and I returned home I decided that I needed to walk and I got in about 10.5 kilometers in 90 minutes walking up and down the hills of the town and on the trails that meander through the town, the farmlands, and the forests around it. The weather was beautiful and had we not had a planned dinner engagement at a great brewery restaurant in Braunfels I might have continued until it got dark. It was exhilarating. But I digress…

We had a great time at dinner, the restaurant, Brauhaus Obermuhle was excellent and I had a great Kuferschnitezel, which is a schnitzel a different type of gravy than I have ever had toped with onion rings. Now I am not a fan of onion rings but combined with the pork cutlet, spices, and gravy, it was an amazing taste experience. Likewise, and probably more importantly, I drank one of every beer they brew except the Hefeweizen so I can give a full report to my brewmaster and friends at Gordon Biersch when we return home. The Pils was very good, and I had a blonde bock and a brown bock, followed by a dunkel, and a Saison. The Dunkel wasn’t bad but was a bit sweet for my taste, the Bocks were both excellent as was the Pils and Saison.

Anyway, when we were finished we returned home, talked on a wide range of subjects and eventually turned in for the night. Judy and I a both continuing to expand our German language abilities and except with each other we spoke little English, and even then I would find myself addressing her in German. Honestly I think that immersion in a language and culture is the best way to learn and appreciate foreign lands. As I have said before, I have gotten good enough over the years and because speak with a mixture of the Hessische and Bayriche dialects, most Germans don’t realize for a while that I am an American.

Tomorrow I will get a long walk or run in and we expect to travel to the university town of Marburg which is significant for a number of events that you will get to hear about tomorrow.

So have a great day, or night, or whatever,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Road Trips, Ancestors, and Friends

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today was a travel day. We left Munich this morning and drove to the town of Hochstadt, which is near the city of Speyer near the Rhein River. Hochstadt is composed of two older towns, Oberhochstadt and Niederhochstadt which were merged in 1978. It is a town surrounded by vineyards where most of the businesses are associated with growing grapes, or making wine. It is also where Judy’s some of Judy’s mother’s relatives come from, as did that of Elvis Presley, whose family name in Germany was Pressler, plenty of them in Hochstadt and there even is an Elvis Presley Strasse there.

Her part of the family left Niederhochstadt for the Ukraine in 1801 during the Napoleonic wars at the invitation of Catherine the Great who had invited Germans to settle parts of Russian earlier. They stayed in Russian until 1870 when they emigrated to the United States and settled in Nebraska in a largely German community. They were pretty insulated as both Judy’s grandmother and mother didn’t learn English until they went to school, her mother over 50 years after the family settled in Nebraska. By the way, the next time someone bitches about immigrants who haven’t yet learned the language, let them know that this was common among almost every group of immigrants that came to the United States, including the white ones from Germany, Italy, Poland. France, hell I could list almost every non-English nationality or ethnic group that came to the United States from Europe in the 1800 and 1900s. But as always I digress, not that it wasn’t important…

That visit was interesting, the town has a population of only 2,500 or so and so we went to it, got out of the car and started asking questions. The cool thing about knowing the language and the culture of Germany is that I feel comfortable being polite and asking people questions and it takes them a while to figure out that I am American, but anyway I digress again. The cool thing about this visit was just how helpful people were, in fact one older woman, who was really helpful was surprised as hell to find out her birth family name, Peter, was the same as Judy’s ancestors there. We both drive and walked around the town, finally stopping in the cemetery where we saw a good number of gravestones marked with the last name Peter. For Judy it was very special and though she told me, I can only imagine what a feeling it was to walk the same streets and by the same buildings that her ancestors walked over two centuries ago.

After that we drove up to our friends Gottfried and Hannelore who we have now known over thirty years. We first met when I was stationed in Wiesbaden as a young Army lieutenant. We will be with them until we drive back to Munich on Wednesday. They are wonderful people and we had a great night sharing stories and photos from the past decade.

Anyway, have a great day and hopefully, internet connection permitting I will will have something tomorrow.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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A Stamtisch, a March, and a Memorial: Time in Munich

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Just a short post before turning in for the night and getting ready to drive from Munich to see old German friends in the area north of Wiesbaden, in the German state of Hessen where we spent much of my first tour in Germany from January 1984 to the end of December 1986. My friend has battled prostate Cancer for a few years and told me that his doctor has given him bad news. I can only imagine that it has spread, so this part of our visit may be more somber than usual.

Today was a good day, we slept late, had a last dinner at our favorite restaurant here where one of the women Judy has become friends with sat us at the Stamtisch which is a table reserved for customers that are regulars. Today we shared it with a number of older German men, all locals and had a nice talk. Afterward Judy went back to the hotel while I went went walking. Today I left the S-Bahn at Rosenheimer Platz, which put me near where the Burgerbraukeller once stood. That place, where Hitler and the early Nazis gathered to overthrow the Weimar Republic on November 9th 1923 was the beginning point of what is now known as the Bier Hall Putsch. Hitler and his storm troopers marched from there, across the Ludwigsbrucke, through the Isar Tor, to Marienplatz and the Rathaus, and from there turning North up Theatnerstrasse, to Residenzestrasse to the Odeonsplatz where they were met by a contingent of well armed police. The Nazis began a fight when the police refused to give way and were repulsed with casualties. Hitler was uninjured but was arrested, tried, and convicted for his role in the putsch, serving a minimal sentence of nine months in prison, free to receive visitors and write his book Mein Kampf.


It is always weird for me when I go to these places, to think that not even one hundred years ago that Hitler and his followers attempted to overthrow the German government right where I was walking. Of course Hitler changed his tactics to get enough of the vote so that President Paul von Hindenburg was persuaded to appoint him Chancellor, and of course the rest is history.


This was the second of two days where I walked and visited places that are important in history so that we do not forget. Yesterday I went to the National Socialist Documentation Center near the Konigsplatz. This is a great place to go for anyone serious about studying the Nazi era. Like all museums in Germany it pulls no punches about the country’s Nazi past and just how evil it was while also confronting the same threats from similar people today.

I wish that I could have spent several days there doing nothing but studying and reading original documents and records from the era. The center is build where Hitler and the Nazis made their headquarters in Munich in the years before the seizure of power, the Brown House. Around it the Nazis either occupied or built other buildings to house various party offices, including the SA and SS. I walked around that quarter of the city, and also went to the Monument to the Victims of National Socialism, which are commemorated by an eternal flame. I only wish that more Americans could take this in and then apply the lessons to our own genocide of the Native American tribes, American Slavery, and America medical experiments in Eugenics, Medical sterilization, and infectious diseases which involved human subjects, mostly African Americans. If we did we might have fewer memorials to the perpetrators of these crimes and more things about remembering the crimes and the victims, rather than hundreds of monuments dedicated to the mythologized and sanitized past in which we remember the perpetrators as military heroes or great Americans, even those that rebelled against the United States in a war that cost about three quarters of a million lives.

But anyway. The hour is late, and yes I have more to write about my time in Munich, including a this evening at the Neil Diamond 50th Anniversary Tour Concert at the Olympia Halle, but tomorrow is a travel day.

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A Thought from Afar about President Trump’s UN Speech

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am still in Munich, and apparently based on the German newspapers that I have seen over the past day or so, President Trump made a speech at the United Nations. A speech that when I read it was frightening and not because he was threatening to obliterate North Korea and threatened Iran. Except from being over the top on his comments about North Korea, much of the speech could have been written by the speech writers of about every U.S. President since Harry Truman. There were appeals to human rights and condemnations of totalitarian states, but there was a major difference that I noticed that basically negated all the norms boilerplate in the speech.

What I mean was the American President basically laid down a new, or let us say an old rule down for nations. He basically said look out for your own interests and only work with nations that agree with your point of view. Of course if you look at history the worst times have come when nations have done exactly than. His words were not the smart or intelligent words of a leader committed to the principles of American Presidents since Franklin Roosevelt, or even the Presidents who had been a part of the generation that brought forth the Declaration of Independence, or the Constitution. Instead they were the words of Manifest Destiny and a green light for nations to follow their own manifest destiny regardless of whether it is just or squares with the principles of generations of American Presidents, statesmen, and diplomats. They were nothing more than the American President telling the world that I am going to do what I want to do and if you are with me then fire, but if not, prepare to be destroyed, and his words basically gave every despot in the world, even those in North Korea and Iran to do what they feel is right.

That is what I took away from his speech. It was over the top and frightening in terms of his threats to North Korea and Iran, but it unsettled long term and stable allies, while empowering Russia and China to do what the want. By every measure of diplomacy and statesmanship the President’s speech at the United Nations was a disaster. Of course neither he or his most devoted supporters will see this, but it is true, one only has to look at his Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General John Kelly during the speech to see exactly what I am saying today.

Since it is late my time and I am fairly tired after a pretty good day in Munich I will save my musings on what I saw today in Munich until tomorrow.

So have a great day,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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“A New Way of Seeing Things” the Value of Travel

Judy with one of the barmaids that she has gotten to know the last four years at Oktoberfest

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Mark Twain once wrote: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

We are in traveling in Germany for the Oktoberfest, to see friends, and for me to visit some historic sites. I have to admit that I do love traveling. If I had unlimited time and money or was paid to travel I could easily imagine spending at least six month of every year away from home, preferably with Judy and our Papillons, all who travel well.

For me travel is an adventure and it always has been. When I was a child and my father was in the Navy I was crushed when he retired because there would be no more moving to new places. Even as a child I was infected with a wanderlust that I have never tried to treat. Even when I go to a familiar place I try to find new places to go, especially to when history was made. This week was no exception, and yes there will be more before this trip is over.

Judy and I also like meeting people who come from different places than us. At Oktoberfest this is easy because in addition to the Germans, there are people from around the world. For us those are some of the most interesting and pleasant experiences because we didn’t even try to script them, and in some cases, both at the Fest and a local restaurant near our hotel, there are people who now know us and give us friendly greetings. Of course it does help that we speak German, but even without that simple acts of kindness, friendliness, respect, and thankfulness go a long way to make the experience great.

I think that traveling as much as we have has been very influential in how we see and relate to the world and why we just shake our heads when we see people who have never been out of the bubble of home declare themselves experts about people they have never met and places they have seen. The prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness of some people bolstered by their ignorance saddens me because I know that a simple change of perspective is often all that is needed to open people’s eyes and minds to a bigger and better world. Of course travel is not a magic wand, there are some people whose prejudices, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness is only reinforced by traveling.

But Judy and I are not tourists. We want to experience where we are. Tourism focuses on seeing sites or doing certain activities will traveling, and that is okay to an extent, but it is more important and richer to discover what makes a people and a place what it is, to experience hospitality, and to extend a hand of friendship. Henry Miller wrote, “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.”

When you travel, especially to a foreign county it is somewhat humbling, not that there is anything wrong with that. You discover that things that were simple at home are either more difficult or different, and it doesn’t hurt to learn both how and why the locals do things. Learning those things has helped us back at home, because we talk much of what we learn with us because we found that it works. We love the mass transportation system, we like the smaller stores, and I like being able to do a lot of walking because the cities and towns are designed for it, unlike much of the United States.

There is a saying here in Bavaria, or as it is called here, Bayern, that “Im Bayern geht die uhren anders,” or in Bavaria the time goes differently. This is because even their fellow Germans often find the ways of Bavarians perplexing.

But anyway, that is all for today, it’s almost one in the morning here and we need to get up a bit earlier than we did today when my lack of sleep cause of the six hour time difference between here and now finally caught up with me.

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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