Category Archives: Travel

I Miss…

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

We’ve been back from Germany for two days now and I have to say that while I am glad to be home that I miss being in a relatively sane country.

* I miss being in a country than can own up to its past and the criminal behavior of past leaders and which does not build memorials to them.

* I miss being in a country where people wrestle with their history and have through bitter experience realized that mythologizing history is dangerous and leads to great evil.

* I miss being in a country where religious fundamentalists don’t control the education system.

* I miss being in a country where civility is the norm and not the exception.

* I miss being in a country that is proactive about the environment.

* I miss being in a country that values the health of its citizens through its healthcare system.

* I miss being in a country where mass transportation is the norm not the the exception.

* I miss being in a country where cities and towns are designed so people can walk or bike safely.

* I miss being in a country where the vast majority of the population is horrified that a right wing political party that espouses racism, Naziism, and isolationism received 13% of the vote.

* I miss being in a country where time with family and friends is valued so much that most stores and businesses close early on Saturday and are closed on Sunday.

* I miss being in a country that is in the forefront of speaking out for human rights.

* I miss being in a country where scholars and intellectuals are not derided.

* I miss being in a country that values science and not just the gadgets and convenience that science produces.

* I miss being in a country where I can sit at a cafe or restaurant in a town square without having to breathe the fumes and deal with the noise of passing cars.

* I miss being in a country where I can watch in depth political debate and analysis on the news that is not nonstop propaganda.

* I miss being in a country where one can live life at a slower pace.

* I miss being in a country where my dogs are welcome in almost as many places as I am, including restaurants.

* I miss being in a country where I can feel safe almost anywhere and where violent crime, especially that committed with guns is not a normal part of everyday life.

I could go on, and for those who might say that I am being rather idealic in my view of Germany I will agree. Germany is not perfect, and it has problems but I do believe that the people and their leaders are much more committed to solving them than we are in the United States. As much as I want to be hopeful and positive in regard to our future of this country, I find it harder to be optimistic with every new day under the leadership of President Trump. There was I time that I thought that the United States could survive anything, but I now realize just how fragile our system is, and how right our founders were to warn about the dangers demagogues and an ignorant populace.

Anyway, until tomorrow, hopefully a better tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Miscellaneous Thoughts on Returning Home from Germany


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Yesterday was our last full,day in Germany. We spent the morning with our friends Gottfried and Hannelore before we set of for Munich so we could be ready for our flight home in today.
The past two weeks have been some of the best times we have had in a long time. We were able to see people we have gotten to know over the past couple of years in Munich, including or friends Linda and Holgar, and we were able to see old, long time friends like Gottfried and Hannelore who we have known now for about 32 years, as well as Hannelore’s brother Gerhardt, Gottfried’s fellow veteran Franz, and a number of others.

For us that is one of the most special things about traveling here, it is the relationships. We are at home with them and leaving is really kind of hard. Judy and I both love the area where Gottfried and Hannelore live in Hessen. I guess if we ever decided to live outside of the United States that we would find a way to live there. The quality of life is good, housing is comparable in price to where we live now, we know the language, culture, and as for me I love the history and being able just to walk through the forest, across the countryside, and even in the city without having to deal with neighborhoods that are designed more for cars than people. We like the mass transportation, the ability to travel by train, and the freedom not to have to drive everywhere. Likewise, it is more dog friendly, we could take Minnie, Izzy, and Pierre almost anywhere except a grocery store.

So every time we leave it is hard.

When we got to the hotel near Munich’s airport last night we took a short drive to the town of Erding for dinner. It was relaxing to sit in the town square and eat dinner without a lot of tumult and to drive back to the hotel as the sun set.

The last couple of weeks has helped me put some things in perspective. My distance from the seemingly endless political conflicts in the United States has been good. Even though I have kept up with the news I have not been as bombarded with the continuous drone of angry social media posts by people who I disagree with, as well as those with whom I agree. I have found over the past two weeks that it is possible to keep up with events without getting completely sucked in to the morass of hate and division that so characterizes life in the United States today.

I found it interesting to be in Loehnberg where Gottfried and Hannelore live during the German election on Sunday. Though there are political disagreements, I found that the people in the area are still friends regardless of their political affiliation. Most are willing to cross political party lines to vote for people from a different party who they know are good people. I think that part of this is because their political districts conform to city or county lines, and are not subject to the whims of politicians who want to make sure that they have a secure district.

In Germany the districts are smaller, the population is less, and there are more representatives in the German Bundestag than there are in the American Senate and House combined and those who run actually have to live in the districts that they are running for office in. Thus, even in a national election there is a distinctly local feel because voters tend to know a lot about the people they are voting for.

Another thing is that when it comes to campaign advertising there are no 24/7 campaign ads on television or radio. There are posters, speeches, rallies, interviews, and debated, but there is not the deluge of endless propaganda that we in the United States refer to as political advertisements funded by hundreds of millions of dollars of campaign donations that cannot be traced.

As far as politics goes it was one of the most embarrassing times that I have been overseas since 1979 and President Jimmy Carter’s “Malaise” speech. The President’s words and actions on so many issues are impossible to defend when people ask me about them, not that I even try because I agree with them. There was a time that regardless of their party or my differences with them that I would try to defend past presidents from the first time I travelled overseas to Europe in 1979 until last year, simply because I am an American and the President is still the President. However, I cannot do that with President Trump. Yes, he is the President, but his words and actions are so immoral, outrageous, and dangerous that I cannot as a Christian or officer defend them.

The President reminds me of a bit of James K. Polk in temperament, but Polk was a much harder worker, diligent, and well read than Trump, as well as well as disciplined, but I digress…

We got home this evening, had a bite of dinner and then went to pick up Minnie, Izzy, and Pierre and it is good to be back with our Papillon kids. I have Pierre snuggled next to me as I finish this article. Since I have been up since 5:30 AM Munich time it is time for me to crash for the night. I’ll try to continue some of these thoughts tomorrow.

Until then,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

So anyway.

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Filed under culture, History, Loose thoughts and musings, Travel

Life Unworthy of Life: a Visit to the T4 Euthanasia Center in Hadamar


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Yesterday was our last full day with our friends in Hessen before driving to Munich tomorrow so we can fly home on Thursday. It was a good day.

In the morning I went with our friend Gottfried to the T4 Euthanasia Center memorial at Hadamar which is about 12 miles from where he lives.

Hadamar had been a mental hospital for decades before it was chosen as one of six places where an euthanasia program ordered by Hitler was to be conducted.

Between 1941 and 1945 over 15,000 people, deemed to be “life unworthy of life” were murdered, either in a bus garage where they were killed with carbon monoxide gas, the gas chamber, or by lethal injection or intentional overdoses of barbiturates while laying in bed at night. The gas chambers at Hadamar ceased operations at the end of 1941 and were removed, making the killings in the next stages “up close and personal” killings done by medical professionals.


Those killed included men, women, and children deemed to have diseases, handicaps, or mental illnesses that kept them from being a useful part of the German economy, or a drain on society. Likewise, there were many people brought to Hadamar to be sterilized so they could never reproduce. The orders for this action came from Hitler himself and were based on what were in the early 20th Century very popular expressions of Social Darwinism which were not isolated to Germany. Sadly, there were those who expressed the same thoughts and conducted medical experiments and sterilization short of euthanasia in many Western countries, including the United States.

The victims included the handicapped, the mentally ill, those born with Down’s Syndrome or other neurological diseases, Jews, people with long term illnesses, children, people determined to be asocial, and during the war soldiers, including those of the Waffen SS who were determined to have mental illness, including what we would now call PTSD which made them unfit for active service.

The relatives of those killed received notification from the authorities that their son, daughter, sister, or brother had died of natural causes, certified by the doctors who had decided that they should die. Unlike the extermination camps in the East, or the concentration camps, the killing in Hadamar and the other T4 centers was conducted by medical personnel. Most of the up close and personal killing using lethal injection or barbiturates were conducted by nurses under the direction of physicians. When the first phase, that which used carbon monoxide gas in the bus garage was ended, many of the personnel involved were transferred to help run the extermination camps including Treblinka, Soribor, and Auschwitz in the east. Their service at Hadamar was little more than a training ground for their future employment.

I will write more about the T4 Program and Hadamar at another time. That being said I have to admit that the visit was chilling. In addition to being a memorial, with historical classes, seminars, and tours being offered, the campus is used for many other activities, including medical and educational programs. Likewise, unlike places like Dachau, which are not particularly scenic locations, Hadamar, located in rural Hessen is a place that one could never imagine mass murder ever have taken place. It is a beautiful and peaceful location, so the crimes that happened there, although numerically small compared to other camps are unimaginable.

Afterwards Gottfried and I talked and went back to his house. I went on a walk to the town hall, or the Rathaus to see the towns memorial to the Jews who lived there before the war and then I took a walk in the surrounding area and went back to the Jewish cemetery which I had visited last night as the grave stones could not be read in the dark. Those which were still legible were written in Hebrew and or German and most dated to the 1800s and early 1900s. As I mentioned last night the Jews who remained in Loehnberg were forced to sell their houses and belongings and were sent to the extermination centers. At least one survived and she helped dedicate the memorial at the Rathaus in 1991. One thing that I do like about Germany is that the majority of the people now have the opinion that the crimes of their parents, grandparents, or even great-grandparents generations need to be remembered, and the victims, and not the perpetrators be honored. I wish it was that way in the United States where we honor too many of the men who brought genocide to the Native American tribes, or enslaved African Americans and considered both the be less than human.

As I walked through the forests and meadows surrounding Loehnberg after my visit to Hadamar yesterday, as well as Dachau, the White Rose Memorial and museum in Munich, and the National Socialist Documentation Center in Munich I did a lot of thinking. I wondered about people who could excuse such terrible crimes in the name of love of country, or even worse because they really believed that God thought that their country and race mattered more than others. I began to think about Manifest Destiny and American Exceptionalism in the light of what happened in Germany, a people who believed for close to 80 years that God intended them to dominate Europe and even the world. Many of theological writings of the times in Germany and the United States.

But anyway, tomorrow we fly home.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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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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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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Saturday Football in Munich

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Judy and I arrived in Munich Saturday morning and then did a few things that we needed to do. Our hotel room wasn’t ready when we got there so we walked down to our favorite local restaurant and had lunch, meeting up with people we have gotten to know over the past few years there, before getting our room.

Judy was exhausted as she didn’t get any sleep on the flight so she took a nap as I picked up a few things that we needed for our stay that were not cost effective to pack for the flight. After I did that I took a shower and changed my clothes and proceeded to the hotel bar to watch football.

Of course, who wouldn’t watch football on Saturday afternoon? Actually, I seldom do, unless it something really special, but I digress, for you see the football I like the best is called soccer by Americans, and I love watching the high performing teams of the various European leagues as well as the Champions League. My love for the game began during my first tour in Germany and somehow I became a fan of Bayern Munich, and I have remained one since. The fact is that they are the European equivalent of a team like the New York Yankees. They have won about 26 Bundesliga cups, and four European Champions League titles. Many of their current and former players play on the highest level national teams in the sport.

While Judy slept I went down to the hotel bar to watch the Bayern game against Mainz. The outcome was not a surprise and Bayern defeated Mainz by a score of 4-0. I also got to watch highlights of other games going on. While I was watching the game I was able to join in the conversation with the others around the bar. For me it was really cool, since I was the token American and conversing in German with the local fans of Bayern around the bar. I have to admit it was a lot of fun, as was being able to converse with Bayern fans at the fest and at a local restaurant later. Most were taken aback by my ability to speak with the intelligently about the team, and the league in German, especially when they found out that I was American. One diehard even asked how I became aBayern Munchen fan which I had to explain went back to my first tour in Germany in the mid 1980s.

Today I will go to Dachau and in the evening Judy and I will go to meet a couple for dinner in one of towns just outside of Munich.

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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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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