Category Archives: Loose thoughts and musings

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 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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Filed under Foreign Policy, Loose thoughts and musings, national security, News and current events, Political Commentary

“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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Filed under Loose thoughts and musings, travel

Another Pilgrimage to the Church of Beer

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today we fly to Germany for the Oktoberfest in Munich and to see old friends who live in the state of Hessen, not far from Wiesbaden and Limburg in the Taunus Mountains.

This our fourth trip in as many years to Munich for Oktoberfest, and ever since the first trip we have tried to see and experience different things besides the Fest. As a historian who has spent much of my life researching and writing about Germany from unification until the end of the Second World War, I can always find something to see and do and still have time for some revelry and great beer. Last year we got to Salzburg Austria, Nuremberg where we went to the Nuremberg Trial museum and the actual courtroom where those trials occurred. We visited the Dachau Concentration Camp, as well at the Deutsches Museum, which is similar to the different parts of the Smithsonian.

Last year we had great weather, this year it looks like the weather won’t be so great. The first four or five days temperatures will be in the 50s for highs, 40s for lows with a lot of rain in the forecast, you win some and you lose some but we will enjoy ourselves. Heck, we’ll even see Neil Diamond’s 50th anniversary tour concert while in Munich. I have some plans for things I want to see both around Munich and near where our friends live, and on the way up to our friends we’ll get a chance to see the town where at least part of Judy’s mother’s family was from. While in Munich I went to see the memorial to Sophie School and the other anti-Nazis of the White Rose circle, and while with our friends visit the memorial to the victims of the Nazi T-4 Euthanasia program at Hadamar. Depending on what time we have and the weather I have some other things I would like to se as well.

But anyway. I will keep posting while we are away, so until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Padre Steve’s Reading Rainbow: Some of the Most Important Books in my Life

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I think that it important to read, and read, and did I say read?

Barbara Tuchman wrote:

“Books are the carriers of civilization. Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill. Without books, the development of civilization would have been impossible. They are engines of change (as the poet said), windows on the world and lighthouses erected in the sea of time. They are companions, teachers, magicians, bankers of the treasures of the mind. Books are humanity in print.”

Since I write about a lot of topics and because I am a historian as well as a stand up theologian, I read a lot and I frequently quote from other people in anything that I write. Sometimes I find that those who have gone before me have said things I want to say much better than I could on my own. Thus I am not afraid or ashamed to give attribution to them, after all, it is only fair.

But today I want to share some of the books that I think are important for anyone seeking to understand our world. In a sense, this is my Reading Rainbow moment.

Most of my picks deal with history, military, diplomacy, civil rights, politics, as well as baseball. Despite the fact that I am a priest I don’t have many books on theology, religion, or faith on my list, but then the fact is that I don’t see a lot, including many of the so called classics that hold up over time. So today just some of my reading rainbow.

Here they are in no particular order:

The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman

Street Without Joy by Bernard Fall

A Savage War of Peace by Alistair Horne

A Bridge Too Far by Cornelius Ryan

Battle Cry of Freedom by James McPherson

The Hot Zone by Richard Preston

The Nanking Massacre by Iris Chang

Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T.E. Lawrence

Hero: A Life of Lawrence of Arabia by Michael Korda

Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality by Danielle Allen

A Soldier Once… and Always by Hal Moore

To Kill an Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

The Centurions by Jean Larteguy

The True Believer by Eric Hoffer

The Past that Would Not Die by Walter Lord

The Autobiography of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass

The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt

On Tyranny by Timothy Snyder

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William Shirer

The Summer of ’49 by David Halberstam

Men at Work: The Craft of Baseball by George Will

Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Why Don’t We Learn from History? By B.H. Liddell-Hart

They Thought they Were Free by Milton Mayer

Once an Eagle by Anton Meyer

Conduct Unbecoming: Gays and Lesbians in the U.S. Military by Randy Shilts

The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Boenhoffer

Black Earth: the Holocaust as History and Warning by Timothy Snyder

This Republic of Suffering by Drew Gilpin Faust

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

Forever Free: the Story of Emancipation and Reconstruction by Eric Foner

The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk

The Wounded Healer by Henri Nouwen

Nuremberg: Infamy on Trial by Joseph Perisco

In the Name of War: King Philip’s War and the Origins of American Identity by Jill Lepore

On Being a Christian by Hans Kung

The Crucified God by Juergen Moltmann

The Mystery of the Cross by Alister McGrath

Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power by Rachel Maddow

War is a Racket by Smedley Butler

The Iowa Baseball Confederacy by W.P. Kinsella

The Forgotten Soldier by Guy Sajer

The Boys of Summer by Roger Kahn

American Scoundrel: The Life of the Notorious American Civil,War General, Daniel Sickles by Thomas Keneally

Lincoln at Gettysburg by Gary Wills

Ordinary Men by Christopher Browning

Perpetrators Victims Bystanders: The Jewish Catastrophe 1933-1945 by Raul Hilberg

And the Band Played On by Randy Shilts

Lincoln’s Lieutenants: The High Command of the Army of the Potomac by Stephen Sears

The Nazi Doctors by Robert Jay Lifton

Sorry, no descriptions or intros included, but trust me. They are all worth the read. Anyway, those are just some of my favorites on from my Reading Rainbow. Yes, there are plenty more, but that’s all for now.

Have a great day and as always,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, Loose thoughts and musings, philosophy

Strong Beer is the Milk of the Old: Brewing the Padre’s Pils

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The great author of the Protestant Reformation, Dr. Martin Luther, in old age noted: “We old folks have to find our cushions and pillows in our tankards. Strong beer is the milk of the old.”

There is truth in that statement. The monk theologian of Wittenberg knew his beer.

Yesterday was a lot of fun. I got to brew about ten barrels of what will be called The Padre’s Pils at Gordon Biersch. I had a great time with our master brewer, Adam Gurtshaw and the experience helped inspire me to learn the craft of brewing when I eventually retire from the Navy so that as a brewer I can help out at whatever craft breweries are located wherever we eventually decide to retire.

You see I really don’t want to own the brewery, nor to I want to be in charge of anyone or anything when I retire, but I would like to be able to help out or substitute as need be. As I have told people for a number of years, I have the Sam Weinberg * retirement plan, in that I plan to have no responsibilities when I retire from the Navy. I don’t want to be in charge of anything or anyone, but I digress…

Today was cool because I got to learn about brewing and doing it was fun. It is something that I could enjoy doing. There is activity, combined with some science, and artistry to craft a great beer. I wouldn’t mind doing that as a way to keep busy when I retire and maybe supplement my income a bit by helping out in different breweries.

So in about four weeks or so this beer will be tapped at the Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant in Virginia Beach. Unless something unexpected happens I should be back from the Oktoberfest in Munich in plenty of time for the release. I’ll let you know of the official release date when I have it, and when I do come on down and enjoy this or any of the other great beers that Adam brews.

So until we can drink together I ask you to consider the words of Martin Luther:

“Whenever the devil harasses you, seek the company of men or drink more, or joke and talk nonsense, or do some other merry thing. Sometimes we must drink more, sport, recreate ourselves, and even sin a little to spite the devil, so that we leave him no place for troubling our consciences with trifles. We are conquered if we try too conscientiously not to sin at all. So when the devil says to you: do not drink, answer him: I will drink, and right freely, just because you tell me not to.”

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

* Sam Weinberg was played by Kevin Pollack in the film “A Few Good Men.” His quote “Sam Weinberg I have absolutely no responsibility here” is my post retirement plan.

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Filed under beer, Loose thoughts and musings