Category Archives: Travel

I Have a Need for Speed: Driving the German Autobahns

no-limit-sign-autobahn

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have driven a lot of kilometers on German Autobahns. Back in the 1980s my cars wouldn’t get me much above 110 miles an hour. Since then I have tried to do better. Frankly whether people like it or not I do have a need for speed.

On American highways that is difficult to do and nowadays its not because our cars won’t go fast enough, it is because are not engineered well enough to make it safe. Likewise, factor in that many American drivers cannot drive nails much less highly engineered cars that are capable of high speed and people who even on good roads in optimum driving conditions manage to make driving unsafe for everyone else on the road. The fastest that I have ever driven in the United States was 114 miles an hour in a restricted HOV lane on I-64 in Norfolk early on a Sunday morning with no traffic. I dared not go any faster despite the fact my Ford Mustang was barely breaking a sweat because the road condition and engineering would have made it unsafe to go any faster.

The highest speed I ever got to in the 1980s was 110 in my 1985 Opel Kadett on Autobahn 3 heading north from Wiesbaden to the Netherlands. In the 1997 I got a rented Fiat Brava with a 5 speed manual transmission up to 130 on the same autobahn between Würzburg and Bonn. In 2006 I got up to 142 miles an hour in a rented 2006 VW Golf 6 speed manual transmission diesel on a Sunday morning between Nuremberg and Würzburg. This year I broke my record in a rented 2018 Ford Mondeo (the European name for the Fusion) up to 237 kilometers per hour or 147.2 miles an hour on Autobahn 4 between Weimar and Eisenach. The official specs say that the Mondeo with a 4 cylinder 2.0 liter turbocharged diesel engine with a 6 speed manual transmission tops out at 137 mph. Despite being fully loaded I took my vehicle to 147.2 mph, ten miles an hour higher than the specs. It wouldn’t go any faster. While driving on newer autobahns in what was once East Germany on a Sunday and on a national holiday it was easy to get a chance to squeeze every last ounce of speed from the car. On one stretch of the autobahn I averaged over 120 MPH for over an hour at a time.

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So, Lord willing when we go back next year I will try to get a faster car, I really do want to break 150 MPH. But then that’s just me. Judy says that I should take one of those driving courses that certify drivers who carry high value passengers. Not a bad idea.

If you drive the autobahns be aware that not all sections have unlimited speed limits. I think that there are more of these sections in the former East where the German government has spent a lot of money building new roads and completely reconstructing older ones. Most of these roads are 6 lane affairs and on a Sunday or holiday when most long distance trucks are not allowed to operate you can get your vehicle up to higher speeds in zones where there are no limits. Where there are speed limits in on the autobahns they usually are in the 100-130 kph range. Likewise, construction zones are usually limited to 60-80 kph.

Anyway, until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Back in the USA

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

After 18 days of traveling in Germany and the Alsace Region of Eastern France we returned to the United States today.

We have a very good time visiting friends, seeing many historical sites, and getting a chance to clear our heads and refresh ourselves as we go into what promises to be a very busy and stressful time as I go back to work while preparing to retire from the Navy next year. For me that will include managing a religious program while losing most of my enlisted support staff without replacements. That will make things difficult and hard choices may have to be made in terms of what we can support. In such a situation I have to keep my head in the game in order not to let people who depend on my leadership down.

I will also be doing all of the things that have to be done in order to retire, the biggest of which are the medical requirements, making sure that everything is ready for my assessment regarding my VA disability rating which should be pretty high, my GI Bill education benefits, and the beginning of a job search that enables me to make up any difference between what I make on active duty and my retirement/disability income.

In addition within the next couple of months Judy should be having the first of two knee replacement surgeries even as we try to finish up the work we have been doing in our house which we will have to squeeze into whatever time we have.

Over the next week or so I am going to publish articles about our trip and that I haven’t had time to do just yet, some are even in draft form already.

By the way, I have to shave the beard off Wednesday morning before I go to work, but this will be my post retirement look and I will have more time than 18 days to grow it out. Fear the beard.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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On the East Side: Berlin, 32 Years Later

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The last time we were in Berlin was in November 1986. At the time it was a divided city. When we last we here we had to have special permission and special paperwork to go to the city. Back then we drove the autobahn from Helmstedt to Berlin. At the inter-German border we had to first get our paperwork checked and stamped at the NATO border crossing center, Checkpoint Alpha.

We then drove a few hundred yards to the Soviet checkpoint where Soviet troops checked our paperwork. That part was interesting because the Soviets frequently rejected NATO troops for minor mistakes in the paperwork and would make them spend extra time waiting outside the guard shack. Fortunately for us the wait was minimal and with the necessary military courtesies exchanged, we were on our way.

It was 110 miles from Helmstedt to the Allied Military Checkpoint. On reaching Berlin we had to repeat the drill with the Soviets that we did at Helmstedt and the check in at the NATO checkpoint, Checkpoint Bravo which we passed again on Sunday when driving into Berlin.

Once in Berlin we found our hotel on the West side and the next day drove to Checkpoint Charlie before going into East Berlin. We made a second trip into the city on Sunday morning. East Berlin was the pearl of the Warsaw Pact but compared to West Berlin it was dingy, impoverished, and still showed the deep scars of the Second World War where pulverized buildings, still not repaired or restored covered blocks away from the Unter den Linden and Alexanderplatz. As Americans we were shadowed by Stasi agents everywhere we went. The beer was bad, and like anyone else we waited in long lines to purchase what little we could in the stores we shopped.

Conversely, West Berlin was an island of opportunity and opulence though surrounded by the DDR and its Soviet allies.

The closest we could come back then to the Brandenburger Tor was about 200 Meters as it sat in the middle of the Zone of Death, an appropriate term based on the number of East Germans who were killed or wounded trying to escape to the West.

The contrast today is amazing. The hotel we are staying in was then in the East. Almost everywhere we have been in the past two days once was in East Berlin and the change is remarkable. Much of the Unter den Linden is recognizable simply because the buildings were part of the government and diplomatic center of the city, monuments still stand where they were 32 years ago, but now it is hard to find what was the wall around the Brandenburger Tor and the Reichstag. We walked under the Brandenburger Tor and past the Reichstag where the Wall once stood. Not far away the Mall of Berlin practically sits in the former Zone of Death and was built where Berlin’s largest pre-World War Two Department Store, Wertheim once stood. It is now the heart of a reborn central shopping district which had been ravaged by Nazi rule, war, and Soviet rule. It really is hard to believe the difference now.

Now there are still signs of the War. We have seen a number of buildings, especially brick or stone structures that still have the pick marks and holes caused by bullets, or shell fragments. Some of these buildings are across from our hotel at Humbolt University’s old medical school and clinic complex. The Rumanian Embassy has similar damage.

Anyway, we remain on the former East Side tonight and should visit some more museums tomorrow including the DDR Museum and possibly the Berlin Wall Museum near Checkpoint Charle. We will be meeting our friend, Dr. Bishop Rink, the head of the German Military Lutheran or Evangelische Chaplain Service who we hosted in Virginia Beach during the summer tomorrow afternoon.

So anyway, until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Meeting Old Friends in Eisenach

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It has been a long day so tonight’s post is basically to check in. We left Wittenberg this morning after a nice visit to meet our friends Gottfried and Hannelore in the town of Eisenach for Judy’s birthday which is tomorrow.

On the way we stopped at the Buchenwald Concentration Camp outside of Weimar. It was another sobering visit to a site where man’s inhumanity to man remains fully on display. I will write more about that later and may combine what I write with my observations at Flossenbürg which I visited Thursday.

We arrived at the hotel shortly before they did about 3:45 and we spent the afternoon and evening conversing and reminiscing over dinner and drinks. Our friendship with them is special, we have known them since early 1985 when I was a young Army First Lieutenant stationed in Wiesbaden Germany. We got to know each other through the partnership program between the 68th Medical Group and Sanitäts Regiment 74. Gottfried, who had worked himself up through the enlisted ranks to become an officer was also a First Lieutenant and the Officer in Charge of a Medical Clinic in Mainz.

Over the years we have managed to stay in touch. We have seen their children grow up and have kids of their own. We know Hannelore’s brother and many of their friends. They are like family to us. Tomorrow we will have breakfast with them and then go over to see the Wartburg Castle where Martin Luther was hidden by his supporters after his defense at the Diet of Worms, an where he translated the New Testament from Greek into German. After that we will each head our separate ways, they to their home where they are dealing with repairs to their own home as well as the disposition of the home and business Hannelore’s aunt who died in April. We will drive to Berlin where we will remain until Tuesday.

We will get some pictures posted of the visit sometime soon as I keep getting backlogged on the articles that I plan on writing due to the travel schedule of the past few days. So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Christmas Angel Mecca: The Blank Kunsthandwerk Shop in the Erzgebirge

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

We are overnighting in the City of Chemnitz in the Erzgebirge Region of the southeast German State of Saxony. We are here because I had to make sure that Judy got to the workshop and store of the Blank Kunsthandwerk in Grünhainichen which is about fifteen miles from here. Tomorrow we will travel to Lutherstadt Wittenberg to our northwest. On the way there we will stop by the town of Torgau where on April 25th 1945, United States Army and Soviet Red Army troops met to cut Hitler’s Third Reich in two.

The Blank Workshop is a family run business that dates back to the aftermath of the Second World War. The founders, George Beyers and Kurt Lehnert founded it in 1955 but lost it when it nationalized in the early 1972 and the dozen or so employees made their iconic short skirt wooden Christmas Angels for export outside the DDR. Beyers, whose technical expertise led to the creation of the angels and many other wooden craft items was employed only to glue felt to the bases the creations he had invented. It was not until the reunification of the country that the company return to private ownership.

We discovered these hand crafted and delicate wooden angels in late 1984 while visiting Koblenz not long after Judy and I moved to Wiesbaden. Since we didn’t have the cash with us we were send the set of about 25 angels and a tiered stand for 300 Deutsch Marks, which were worth about $100 back then. Since then her collection has grown to over 100 standing figures and 100 hanging figures, the latter that adorn our Christmas tree. Of course the prices have gone up, gone are the days of virtual slave labor which is a good thing. When we first started collecting them they cost us about 5 to 7 Marks each. After the Wall fell and we began to collect them again they cost about 15-20 Marks each, while today, depending on the complexity a piece will cost any from € 20 to € 30, but Judy is always looking for deals on eBay and quite often scores. She also knows how to tell an original from a fake, which helps.

We got into town this afternoon and Judy was able to get a bunch of pieces that she didn’t have as well as 20 pair of replacement wings; as I said these are delicate. We were also able to talk with the girl at the shop about other items the Blank is coming out with and that other local craftsmen produce.

I was glad the Judy finally got to see this place. The fascinating thing is back in the 1980s we never could have visited the Erzgebirge Region or the Blank Shop. We were able to go to Berlin with special authorization and that was unforgettable, we will be in Berlin for the first time since November 1986 on Sunday.

The area is beautiful, in places it reminds me a bit of sections of the Shenandoah Valley, albeit with castles and ancient towns.

On the we here we stopped at the Flossenbürg Concentration Camp which I will write about another time.

So anyway, until the next time,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Flugzeug, Fußball, and International Friendship in Trump’s Amerika First World

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Sorry for the delay in posting, but the past couple of days have been quite full. Yesterday we had to exchange our rental car and afterwards went to the Deutsches Museum’s aircraft yard Flugwerft in Schleissheim just outside of Munich. After that we went to our favorite local restaurant, Zum Brunnstein, had a long and relaxing lunch and then did some shopping in the local area near our hotel, which despite being a very expensive 4 1/2 star hotel, is located in your typical working class neighborhood. This is because of its location near the city’s Ostbahnhof which makes it a travel hub for business people and tourists.

After that we went back to the hotel where I prepared for my epic trip to a Bayern München game at Allianz Arena. But before I do that I have to go back in time…

Back in 1979 I was traveling with an American Christian singing group in Europe when President Jimmy Carter gave his American Malaise speech. Back then I was young, and still idealistic about the hope and promise of the United States that was given life in the proposition of the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal,” as well as the ability of Americans to rise to the occasion in the midst of a real economic crisis triggered by massive inflation that had begun during the Nixon administration and the massive rise in oil prices after the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

There was also a crisis of confidence in the ability of the nation to do better in the future, a crisis of confidence in the American system of government, and deep divisions over the Vietnam War, and the Civil Rights movement which had expanded to women and homosexuals. Carter, whose deep Christian faith was always in evidence was castigated by prominent political activist preachers in the nascent Christian Right.

His speech was actually masterful, but he chose to use a harsh term to describe the truth about the United States in 1979, he talked of an American Malaise. That word was enough to cause his otherwise masterful diagnosis of the health of the nation to be mocked on both sides of the Atlantic. I will write about that speech soon because it is

At the time his words were mocked in many parts of Europe and as a nineteen year old college student traveling abroad I was embarrassed to be an American as I read in British newspapers the reaction to his speech. Of course I hadn’t actually heard or read the speech, only the reaction in the British tabloids which used it to slam the American President who they considered to be a non-Presidential commoner. Likewise, at the time I didn’t understand the nature of the Tabloids, or even the flagship British newspapers, and assumed that what I read was accurate. Based on those articles in the British tabloids, I wanted to hide the fact that I was an American, but if I had actually read or heard the speech I would have admired his honesty and candor.

Yesterday was different yet similar, however, instead of simply reading the reaction to the President’s speech at the United Nations, I was able to watch it and read its text, almost in real time. I watched in horror as Trump claimed to have done more than any American President during his first year and a half in office than any previous American President, only to be met with derisive laughter. One has to hand it to the miracles of modern technology sometimes, even when it exposes the American President, using his own speech as a complete idiot and buffoon.

So yesterday, instead of being a young and idealistic college student with little access to news in real time, I am almost forty years older and while still idealistic, I am much more world wise, with a lot more access to news as it happens than I was back then. Frankly, in 1979 I really didn’t know shit from Shinola about anything, even though I thought that I knew it all. Almost forty years later words of the late Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts” have become more than a nice quote. They are truth.

Thirty-nine years after President Carter’s Malaise speech I was again in Europe when the American President again, not only embarrassed the country, but did so on full display while speaking at the United Nations. As I read his words at Munich’s Hofbrauhaus before going up to the Bayern Munich match against Augsburg I wanted to hide, but I was at a table with a couple of Germans, a Pole, and a Dane, all Bayern fans. It is interesting how the a team like Bayern can bring together so many people from around the world.

I could have easily hid the fact that I am American, in fact my German is good enough and my accent a blend of Bayerische, Hessische, and Rheinländische Deutsch to pass myself off as a German. But I am an American and like it or not, for now, Trump is the American President and he has no shame. One of the men that I was sitting with asked where I was from, assuming that I was German. I surprised him by telling him that I was an American and as happens often here I was told by the man just how he loved the United States and Americans but how fearful he was of President Trump. Like other German friends he told me that I should flee to Germany to escape what is coming. The specter of the unthinkable still haunts many Germans, even as the struggle with their own nativist, nationalist, racist, and anti-democratic elements.

Sadly, neither the President nor his Cult followers have any capacity for ethical or moral reflection. While I was embarrassed at President Carter’s speech in 1979, I never wanted to hide my head in shame as as much as I did yesterday when I read and watched President Trump’s speech to the United Nations. I was ashamed, because unlike Carter’s speech which had much basis in the reality of the times, and maybe more so today, Trump’s message of an America First foreign policy upends the promise of of the Atlantic Charter and everything good that came after it. He praises dictators and compliments regimes that have more in common with Stalin, Mao, or Hitler than Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, or Roosevelt and routinely savages our actual friends and allies.

But anyway, it is now after midnight here and we will be getting up to travel north, first to the Erzgebirge Region of Saxony before going to Wittenberg where Martin Luther began the Protestant Reformation, then to Eisenach to meet our friends Gottfried and Hannelore before traveling to Berlin on Sunday.

So until the next time,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Der Münchner Wiesn 2018: a Parade, Bier, and Gemütlichkeit

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today was the beginning of Munich’s Oktoberfest, commonly known here as der Wiesn. This is actually a term from the Bavarian dialect which means the green which is a term used for the Theresienwiese, the lawn of the Nymphenburg palace grounds in Munich which hosted the first Oktoberfest on which King Ludwig I of Bavaria celebrated his wedding to Princess Theresa and a horse race.

The King invited the people of the city and thereafter it became a regular event and soon a national and worldwide event celebrating Munich’s heritage of community and beer, which helped bridge the otherwise insurmountable of German and other European cultural divide. Munich, with its beer hall culture is one of those rare places in Europe that a mayor, governor, senior civil service official, or military officer might sit next to a lowly peasant, worker, farmer, or even a beggar might sit together drinking beer, class differences cast aside. A number of historians have noted this fact.

Today, Munich is still home to a tradition that has grown far from the Theresianwiese to other locations throughout Germany and around the world.

We have visited Munich and gone to der Wiesn for the last five years, but today was the first time that we were here for the opening parade and the ceremonial tapping of the Festbier by the Mayor of Munich in the Hofbrauhaus tent.

After the parade we took seats in the beer garden area of the Hofbrauhaus tent where we had a delightful time with three German retirees, Dora, Ludwig, and Christa, and a mixed group of younger Germans and internationals. We stayed a lot longer than we expected. After we got back to our hotel I went down to the hotel bar watch the Schalke vs. Bayern Munich match. While there I spent the match chatting with two pilots from Qatar Airlines. Bayern won 2-0 and I look forward to Tuesday night when I see them play Augsburg at Allianz Arena.

These are some of the sights of this event.

Tomorrow we will take our rental car and visit historical sites around town which are normally out of the way.

I hope that you enjoy, I know that we are.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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