Category Archives: travel

Back in the USA

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

We are back in the USA after our two week pilgrimage to Germany. It was good for us, especially for me when I intentionally disconnected from media for several of the days there except to skim the headlines. Today was much like that. We drove from Karlsruhe to Munich, caught our late flight back which was delayed due to weather in Munich and having to go further north to avoid the effects of Hurricane Lorenzo. We got into Washington about 40 minutes late. Our friend David picked us up at the airport and we are resting.

We will head back home to our Papillons tomorrow and begin the process of readjusting to insanity of Trump’s America, preparing to transfer my duties to a new Chaplain as I really enter the preparation to retire from the military and prepare for life as a civilian in the spring.

I will write some of my observations of Germany, Europe and our trip in the coming days. There are problems there too, different but similar in some ways to what we are going through. And I think as I ruminate on them over the next few days I will jot them down here. As I have said before, I believe that we are in one of those epochs of history where the old order is giving way and we go from crisis to crisis, some of which could be disastrous for humanity in general, but especially those who resist totalitarian systems of government. I was looking at my Twitter feed for about 10 minutes before I had to get off it it.

I have now been up over 28 hours, driven about 200 miles and had a ten hour ride in a Lufthansa Airbus 350-900. Before I go to bed I will read my daily comics and another chapter or two of the book That Was Dachau, 1933-1945. 

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Munich Update

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Yesterday was our first full day in Munich. We got up relatively early, had breakfast and went to the opening parade and tapping of the Bier at the Oktoberfest. Following that we did some shopping and since Judy had walked and stood three to four times as long as at any time since her first knee replacement surgery we took her back to the hotel.

I then went down to the hotel bar to watch the second half of the Bayern München game against Koln, Bayern won 4-0. Then I went to the Lidl grocery and picked up a few things before going back to the hotel and picking Judy up for dinner at our favorite local Bavarian restaurant, Zum Brunstein, which is always like a visit to home away from home. After a wonderful dinner we went for a nightcap at the hotel bar.

When we went back to our room I thought I was going to watch a German crime drama and post a blog, but jet lag hit and we crashed. We slept late, I had a light breakfast of fruit and coffee, Judy is resting while I make pilgrimage to Dachau and the Concentration Camp Memorial.

I am writing on my iPhone while riding the S-Bahn to Dachau.

When I finish this trip and return to the hotel, our plans are to go back to Theresienwiesn where the Fest is held for beer and a wonderful Bavarian Rotisserie Chicken dinner, before heading back to the hotel. Tomorrow we’ll probably do some shopping and I might make a trip to the Dachau labor sub-camp memorial or the Sophie Scholl museum. I do plan on making those trips, but we are pacing ourselves.

So until the next time, from Munich,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Finding Tipperary 10 Years After Iraq

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Ten years ago today I stepped off a plane with the man who had been my body guard and assistant for the past seven months in Iraq. War had changed me more than I had every imagined that it would. Even though I was physically home I wasn’t and over the next decade the war remained with me, and in some ways it still does.

I have written about my struggles with what I sometimes describe as the “Demons of PTSD” and while I am doing much better now than even two years ago I still suffer from it. But being a historian has allowed me to find connections to other men who have suffered from their experience of war, came home changed, and struggled for their existence in the world that they came home to.

The words of those men have helped me to frame my experience even in the darkest times often in ways that my faith did not. One of the things that I struggled with the most and still do is sleep. When I was conducting my research on the Battle of Gettysburg I got to know through biographies and their own writings a good number of the men who fought that battle who are now remembered as heroes. One of these was Major General Gouveneur Warren who has shattered by his experiences during the war. He wrote to his wife after the war: “I wish I did not dream that much. They make me sometimes dread to go to sleep. Scenes from the war, are so constantly recalled, with bitter feelings I wish to never experience again. Lies, vanity, treachery, and carnage.” 

About every year around this time I feel a sense of melancholy as I reflect on war and my return from it. Today I was reading a number of George Santayana’s Soliloquies in England, in particular one entitled Tipperary which he wrote in the time shortly after the war. I think that the first time that I heard the song was when I saw a Charlie Brown special where Snoopy as the World War One Flying Ace alternates between happiness and tears as Schroeder plays the song on his piano.

In Santayana’s soliloquy he comments on the wounded officers that he sees singing the song in a coffee house and he wonders if they understand how different the world is now. I love the song, the chorus is below.

It’s a long way to Tipperary
it’s a long was to go
It’s a long way to Tipperary
to the sweetest gal I know
farewell to Piccadilly
so long Leister Square
It’s a long way to Tipperary
but my heart lies there

Santayana wrote:

“It had been indeed a long, long way to Tipperary. But they had trudged on and had come round full circle; they were in Tipperary at last.

I wonder what they think Tipperary means for this is a mystical song. Probably they are willing to leave it vague, as they do their notions of honour or happiness or heaven. Their soldiering is over; they remember, with a strange proud grief, their comrades who died to make this day possible, hardly believing that it ever would come ; they are overjoyed, yet half ashamed, to be safe themselves ; they forget their wounds ; they see a green vista before them, a jolly, busy, sporting, loving life in the old familiar places. Everything will go on, they fancy, as if nothing had happened…

So long as the world goes round we shall see Tipperary only, as it were, out of the window of our troop-train. Your heart and mine may remain there, but it s a long, long way that the world has to go.” 

In the same work Santayana mused on the nature of humanity and war, making one of his most famous observation “only the dead have seen the end of war.”

In the United States we live in a world where war is an abstraction and the vast majority of people have no clue about it or its cost. When I hear the American President make wild threats of war and the cavalier attitude of his sycophants toward it I realize that Santayana was right, only the dead have seen the end of war.

When I returned to the United States in 2008 it was incredibly hard to readjust to life in a country that knew not war and I was reminded of the words of Guy Sajer in his book The Forgotten Soldier. Sajer was a French Alsacian of German descent who spent nearly four years fighting as an ordinary infantry soldier on the Eastern Front. When he returned home he struggled and he wrote:

“In the train, rolling through the sunny French countryside, my head knocked against the wooden back of the seat. Other people, who seemed to belong to a different world, were laughing. I couldn’t laugh and couldn’t forget.”

A similar reflection was made by Erich Maria Remarque in All Quite on the Western Front:

“I imagined leave would be different from this. Indeed, it was different a year ago. It is I of course that have changed in the interval. There lies a gulf between that time and today. At that time I still knew nothing about the war, we had been only in quiet sectors. But now I see that I have been crushed without knowing it. I find I do not belong here any more, it is a foreign world.”

I have to admit that for the better part of the past decade when I get out of my safe spaces I often feel the same way. I don’t like crowed places, confined area, and other places that I don’t feel safe in. When I am out I always am on alert, and while I don’t have quite the hyper-arousal and hyper-vigilance that I once lived with, I am much more aware of my surroundings and always plan an escape route from any public venue that I happen to find myself.

As I read and re-read Santayana words I came back to his observation of the officers that he saw in the coffee house and I could see myself in them:

“I suddenly heard a once familiar strain, now long despised and out of favour, the old tune of Tipperary. In a coffee-house frequented at that hour some wounded officers from the hospital at Somerville were singing it, standing near the bar; they were breaking all rules, both of surgeons and of epicures, and were having champagne in the morning. And good reason they had for it. They were reprieved, they should never have to go back to the front, their friends such as were left could all come home alive. Instinctively the old grumbling, good-natured, sentimental song, which they used to sing when they first joined, came again into their minds.

It had been indeed a long, long way to Tipperary. But they had trudged on and had come round full circle; they were in Tipperary at last.” 

I too am now in my own Tipperary on this side of the Atlantic. I have been reprieved, at least temporarily,  but as Santayana noted  “it s a long, long way that the world has to go.” 

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

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Filed under History, iraq, Military, philosophy, PTSD, to iraq and back, Tour in Iraq, travel

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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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 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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Oktoberfest Pilgrimage Live Blog: A Visit to Beer Land

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“Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” Benjamin Franklin

One of my favorite comic strips is Stephan Pastis’ Pearls Before Swine. A few months ago one of the main characters appropriately named Rat, since he is a rat, decides to open his own amusement park called Beer Land. The series of strips is amazingly brilliant, especially to true beer drinkers. I think the strip from that series that I most enjoyed was this one, because of the way Pastis linked a ride at the strip to the syrupy Disney ride It’s a Small World.

Today we did a bit of a road trip and took the U-Bahn from Munich to a small town on the outskirts of the city called Erding, for a visit and tour of the Erdinger Weisbier brewery, the largest brewer of wheat beers in the world. Before heading to Erding we had taken a short visit to the historic Marianplatz where we were able to see the famous Glockenspiel at the old city hall, or Rathaus.

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Now Judy has incurred a couple of injuries to her knee, ankle, and a couple of years ago had to her Achilles’ tendon repaired. As such sometimes a lot of walking causes her a lot, I mean a lot of pain. We tried to go out some yesterday but after a few minutes at Marianplatz but she was in such pain so we went back to our hotel until later in the evening when we went to dinner with our friends.

This morning she was in less pain but she knew if she didn’t get some European style crutches that she would not do well and possible be confined to the hotel for must of our remaining time here. For those that don’t know, European or as they are referred to in the United States Canadian crutches are far superior to the type most of us know and loath so much. They provide the user much more mobility and less pain to the armpits and shoulders because you do not swing from them.

So while she hung out with our friends I googled where to find the crutches in Munich. The word for crutches is krucken and they are sold at stores that specialize in equipment for those recovering from injuries as well as those with various physical disabilities called a Saniatshaus. The closest of these was about two miles away, so with google maps to guide me I set off. I walk pretty fast so it didn’t take that long to get there and when I did after the normal greetings with the lady at the counter I asked for a pair of crutches, which she showed me and allowed me to even pick the color. They cost about 34 Euros, which isn’t too bad, and for that quality I would have payed more in the U.S, had I gotten them at home. I made my way back by hailing a taxi to save time. Had a nice conversation about Munich, beer and the Oktoberfest with the driver and he delivered me back just city meters from where Judy and some of our friends had gathered. Since we were waiting on some of the rest of our group we had a beer at an outdoor cafe across from the Rathause where we saw the Glockenspiel do its thing when the clock stuck eleven.

Once all of us were gathered we boarded the U-Bahn to Erding a trip of about 45 minutes. Once in Erding we caught a city bus to the Erdinger brewery. We got our tickets for the tours and bought a couple of items in the gift shop and then went on the tour. The tour took about an hour and a half and was amazing.

I was impressed with how well a large brewery can make great beer using only the natural ingredients of hops, barley or wheat malt and water. There are no added sugars, food colorings known to be carcinogenic, Bisphenal A (BPA); cheap filler grains such as rice and corn as well as high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, and mono sodium glutamate, and even propylene glycol (a component of anti-freeze) are found in many mass produced American beers. This is because of the observance of the strict Bavarian or German beer purity law the Reinheitsgebot which stipulates what are acceptable ingredients in beer. Frankly the difference in taste is amazing as well as the effects, especially the morning after. But I digress….

As I mentioned the tour was informative and enjoyable. At the end of the tour, which cost 12 Euros per person we were provided freshly baked Bavarian pretzels, two large Bavarian Weiswurst, which are a mildly spiced and finely textured pork sausage and three half liter glasses of whichever of the eight styles of Weisbier that Erdinger brews.

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It truly was a visit to Beer Land and I am sorry to say that at each stage of the tour I kept thinking about that comic, but no, I didn’t see the German kid beat up the French kid for his Hefeweizen.

So Since this a religious pilgrimage, I will close with a quote from one of my favorite rebellious theologians, the eminent Doctor Martin Luther:

“Whoever drinks beer, he is quick to sleep; whoever sleeps long does not sin; whoever does not sin enters heaven! Thus let us drink beer!”

Have a great day.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under beer, civil rights, faith, History, nazi germany, Religion, travel