Category Archives: Travel

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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They Silently Gather Around Me: Walking the Antietam Battlefield


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

As you know from yesterday’s article I am taking an extended weekend in the D.C. area and yesterday I took a trip up to the Antietam Battlefield which surrounds much of Sharpsburg, Maryland. It was a time of quiet reflection on a battle, on the lives of soldiers, and on our country. The Battle of Antietam was the bloodiest day in American military history, more Americans were killed and wounded on that day than any other single day. While the battle was a draw from a military point of view it was singularly important in that it stopped Robert E. Lee’s invasion of the North and gave Abraham Lincoln enough of a victory to announce the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. The announcement of that, and creative Union diplomacy helped turn the tide of the war by helping to keep England and France from recognizing the Confederacy.


It was my intention to walk as much of the battlefield as I could and I did. The weather was good but a bit warmer and sunnier than what the soldiers who fought there experienced on September 17th 1862. Even so it is my opinion that walking battlefields, be it on a staff ride, reenactment, or simply doing what I did yesterday helps one put the battle into a human context especially if one has a fair amount of historical knowledge and familiarity with a given battle. Being hot, sweaty, feeling ones legs, feet, and back hurt, dealing with waterlogged shoes, being assaulted by swarms of insects, and fighting your way through thrushes, reeds, and high grass along the banks of a creek or river, and drinking the bare minimum of water, and getting a little bit sunburned, is a good way to get a feel for what the soldiers experienced at Antietam or other Civil War battles. I am just glad that I was not wearing a wool uniform, carrying a heavy rifle, 60 rounds of ammunition and cartridges, and all my kit wearing what we would no call substandard shoes, if like the Union soldiers did we even had them. If you were a Confederate soldier at Antietam you might have been barefoot. Since I have been to war and lugged heavy amounts of gear around Iraq I can imagine that, even though I never had to walk as far there as I did today. That’s a good thing.


In his book The Forgotten Soldier, Guy Sajer wrote:

“Too many people learn about war with no inconvenience to themselves. They read about Verdun or Stalingrad without comprehension, sitting in a comfortable armchair, with their feet beside the fire, preparing to go about their business the next day, as usual…One should read about war standing up, late at night, when one is tired, as I am writing about it now, at dawn, while my asthma attack wears off. And even now, in my sleepless exhaustion, how gentle and easy peace seems!”

I am sure that many a Civil War soldier would agree with him. The fact is that reading the history of various wars is important, but whenever possible it is good to experience some of the discomfort of those who fought the battle. When I finished the last part of my battlefield experience my feet hurt and when I took off my shoes they looked pretty bad, but much of that was from the dirt, grass, and moisture that had found its way into my shoes. But unlike the soldiers at Antietam I could return to a safe and dry place and care for my feet, they couldn’t.


We are fortunate along much of the east and central parts of the United States to have many well preserved battlefields. I highly recommend those who have not gotten out to see them, walk them, and to remember those who were killed, wounded, or emotionally scarred for life. Walking the Antietam battlefield for the first time since 2001 I was able to sense the terrible reality that that battlefield was the bloodiest single day of fighting in American history. Depending on the estimate some 22,000 to 27,000 Union and Confederate soldiers were killed or wounded on that one day. As I walked through the Cornfield and the West Woods I tried to imagine how over 13,000 troops were killed or wounded in that part of the battlefield alone. I felt the same way along the Bloody Lane, near the Dunker Church, at the Burnside Bridge, and along the furthest point of the Union advance. Of course this is hallowed ground and the National Cemetery has in it the remains of over 5,000 Union soldiers.


The remains of nearly 3,000 Confederates were interred in a new cemetery on the outskirts of Hagerstown which was dedicated in 1877 as well as two other cemeteries. This is interesting to me because at Gettysburg the Confederate dead were exhumed and taken back to the south with many buried in Richmond’s Hollywood Cemetery.


The National Cemetery is guarded by Old Simon a massive granite statue of a representative Union soldier. The monument is 44 feet tall, and Old Simon, designed and sculpted by James Batterson is 21 1/2 feet tall and weighs 30 tons. The inscription is appropriate. It simply reads: Not for themselves but for their country, September 17, 1862.



The graves of the soldiers are laid out around the statue grouped in the states from where they came. There are a few individual monuments and a monument erected by the survivors of the 20th New York, a unit primarily composed of German immigrants that also has a monument not far from the Dunker Church. The inscription on one side has in German the words Zum Andenken an unsere Gefallenen Kameraden, errichtet von dem Ueberlebenden des Regts. (Erected to our fallen comrades by the survivors of the regiment)


As far as battlefield monuments are concerned there are comparatively few, just 96 as compared to Gettysburg which has some 1,300 of all types. Almost all of the monuments at Antietam, with the exception of the ubiquitous bronze markers that show the positions of units and describe their actions, are dedicated to units of the Army of the Potomac. These were erected by states, communities that contributed troops and veteran associations. There are only six monuments specifically honoring Confederates with Maryland having a monument to its soldiers of both sides.


 Of the Confederate monuments most are of fairly recent import. Georgia and Texas have monuments to all of their soldiers, while Mississippi has one dedicated to the 11thMississippi Infantry. All three of these stand within a hundred yards of each other on the southern edge of the Cornfield.


There is a monument to Robert E. Lee near the new Burnside bridge off Maryland Highway 34 as you cross Antietam Creek. It too is a rather new addition, being funded by William F. Chaney and dedicated in June 2003. Chaney had noted that he just wanted “even things up a bit.” The inscription on it furthers the Lee myth promoted by the purveyors of the Lost Cause and the Noble South saying “Although hoping for a decisive victory Lee had to settle for a military draw, Robert E. Lee was personally against secession and slavery, but decided his duty was to fight for his home and the universal right of every people to self-determination.”


A monument on the northern edge of the Cornfield is dedicated to Clara Barton who along with other nurses helped to care for the wounded of the battle and one near the Burnside Bridge to President William McKinley who was a Sergeant in the 23rd Ohio Infantry. Six monuments each with a cannon placed upside down into a stone, these are mortuary markers noting where six Generals were killed or mortally wounded. They include Union Generals Joseph Mansfield, commander of XII Corps, and division commanders Israel Richardson and Isaac Rodman. Three Confederate brigade commanders, George Anderson, William Starke, and Lawrence O’Brien Branch are marked by identical monuments.


There was an eerie pristine feeling when I walked the battlefield yesterday. There were not many people on it, especially compared to Gettysburg. This led to a rather solitary experience amid the quite, only punctuated by the calls of birds, the chattering of squirrels, and the assorted buzzing, chirping, and humming of insects. As I walked the Cornfield, the West Woods, the Sunken Road and Bloody Lane, crossed the Burnside Bridge, made my way to the furthest point of the Union advance, and paused in the cemetery I was continually reminded of Walt Whitman’s poem, Ashes of Dead Soldiers:

“Ashes of soldiers South or North, As I muse retrospective murmuring a chant in thought, The war resumes, again to my sense your shapes, And again the advance of the armies. Noiseless as mists and vapors, From their graves in the trenches ascending, From cemeteries all through Virginia and Tennessee, From every point of the compass out of the countless graves, In wafted clouds, in myriads large, or squads of twos or threes or single ones they come, And silently gather round me…”


Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under civil war, History, Loose thoughts and musings, Military, Travel

Whirlwind Trips

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I’m back from my whirlwind trip to Houston and my denominational chaplain training symposium. It was good to see my bishop and colleagues but the trip was exhausting and my time there too short because of how the trip coincided with my transfer just eight days before my departure and the scheduled Gettysburg Staff Ride this week. Thankfully I only had to deal with one time zone and I had no flight delays or glitches with anything along the way. Even so the schedule of the trip meant that I missed the first day and a half and the last day, in all I was in Houston for forty hours before I came home.

Over the past few days I have had little sleep and some really crazy dreams and nightmares, including one at about 1:30 in the morning on Saturday in which I thought that it was 5:15 Sunday morning and that I was going to miss my flight home. I ran to get packed then realized something was wrong. Looking at the hotel room clock I noticed the time and realized that it was not Sunday but Saturday. The adrenaline was pumping so hard that it took forever to get back to sleep, but I digress.

We discussed issues related to ethics, priestly vocation, grief and loss, as well as issues that we face in our various types of chaplaincy. It was definitely worth going but hopefully knowing the dates of next year’s conference and assuming that I am still in my current job I will be able to succeed in making this a less hectic trip.

Anyway, it has been a whirlwind weekend and the new week has begun.

Pray for me a sinner,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Fly the Friendly Skies

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I’m traveling to Houston today by air. Truthfully I have never been much a fan of flying. When I was younger I actually had a big fear of crashing, but after flying all around Iraq in all sorts of military aircraft, and occasionally getting shot at, the issue of crashing is the least of my concerns, notwithstanding the fact that two years after Judy and I had flown back from our tour in Germany on December 28th 1986 on it that the Pan Am 747 Maid of the Seas was blown up over Lockerbie Scotland.

When I was a kid flying was an adventure, it was something special, and the airlines were doing their best to give good customer service, even in coach, because they wanted to eliminate their competition, which was then America’s vast passenger rail system. Truthfully, I loved going across country by train. Yes, it took more time, but it was relaxing and you could see so much of this beautiful country.

But today, air travel for the most part is not to be enjoyed, and much of that is due to the way the airlines, the airports, and airport security treat you. The recent public relations fiascos involving U.S. flagged air carriers which included the outright abuse of customers showed this in all its ugliness. As far as airport security, I cannot tell you how many bad experiences I have had even in uniform. Honestly I don’t mind flying, once I get aboard airlines like Lufthansa, British Air, KLM, or Air France. I dread flying on United, pretty much abhor American, and approach Delta with trepidation.

As far as travel in the continental United States I prefer Southwest Airlines. First, since I have been in the military for almost 36 years I am used to the cattle car experience. I don’t mind not having assigned seating. Likewise, I have never had a bad experience on that airline, the customer service I have had has always been awesome. Two years ago I was flying to Houston for the same purpose that I am today. I was booked on Southwest and flew the first leg from Norfolk to Baltimore. I arrived at Baltimore and went to grab a beer while waiting for my flight to Houston when I discovered that I didn’t have my wallet. Some gentleman bought my beer as I dashed back to the gate. The gate agent sent people back into the aircraft to find my wallet and it wasn’t aboard. They contacted Norfolk as I made my way to the gate when my next flight was to depart. I told the gate agent there what was happening and he already had the answer. My wallet had been found by the Norfolk gate agents and they had already made arrangements to get me back to Norfolk, pick up my wallet and fly to Houston through Orlando, all at no extra cost. That is customer service. They went the extra mile to make things right even though they had done nothing wrong. I will never forget that.

So anyway, until tomorrow, please, if you fly… fly the friendly skies.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Living an Adventure: The Importance of Travel


Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Mark Twain noted: “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.”

I’ll be traveling this weekend, nothing really to write home about, just a quick trip to Houston for my denominational Chaplain training symposium. But that being said it gives me an opportunity to share a couple of thoughts about the importance of travel and getting out of one’s comfort zone. The fact is that two-thirds of Americans do not have a passport, and most have never ventured out of the country, many having seldom left the state or region that they are from.

I’m not one of them. I have visited much of Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, and lived as a child in the Philippines and as an adult in Europe. At an early age I was blessed to be a Navy brat and to live in a number of places and truthfully when my dad retired from the Navy I was upset because that adventure of moving and traveling was ending. Of course as an adult I have been in the military for nearly 36 years, and continued live that adventure and to satisfy my wanderlust. I really cannot imagine what it would be like not to travel and not to experience the world in its fullness.

Likewise, I can fully agree with Twain’s words, for as one travels, as one meets other people, and experiences different cultures it expands the mind and I think the heart as well. Like Hannah Arendt I find that living abroad is joyful and easy, she wrote: “Loving life is easy when you are abroad. Where no one knows you and you hold your life in your hands all alone, you are more master of yourself than at any other time.”

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Holiday Road: Reflections on a Great Vacation 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

We returned from a week in Munich with a side trip to Nuremberg last night. The week was the best real vacation we have had in our lives to date. We finally took seriously the idea that a vacation should not be about wearing ourselves out. I remembered a quote from a book I read in seminary by Leland Ryken who noted “worship our work, work at our play, and play at our worship,” and I decided to pay attention to our own misadventures in vacationing as well as a bit of humor.

Just before we got married we saw a screening at the Warner Brothers studio of the original National Lampoon’s Vacation movie. As the movie worked to its climax Chevy Chase who played the well intentioned yet inept father who after one disaster after another on the way to Wally World blew up at his family screaming “This is no longer a vacation. It’s a quest. A quest for fun. You’re gonna have fun, I’m gonna have fun… We’re all gonna have so much fucking fun we’re gonna need plastic surgery to remove our goddamn smiles!… I must be crazy. I’m on a pilgrimage to see a moose. Praise Marty Moose! Holy shit!” 

Unfortunately that is often how I approached vacation and for that matter rest and relaxation period. The last three years we have gone to Munich for the Oktoberfest and to see other things. The first year we were with a group of friends but the schedule was intense, and while we had fun we were exhausted within a few days. Last year we planned for two trips outside of Munich but while we were there we realized that we needed to take some time off and rest, so while we took a day trip to Salzburg, Austria, we eliminated a planned trip to Nuremberg. While I was disappointed it made the trip a lot less stressful.



This year we determined that we would pace ourselves. Knowing that we could not check in to our hotel until the afternoon of our arrival in Munich we visited the Dachau Concentration Camp which is not far from the Munich Airport. We made our trip to Nuremberg on Monday to see the Nuremberg Palace of Justice, War Crimes Trial Museum and courtroom. We got up at a normal hour, had breakfast and drove the two hours to Nuremberg. We had a good visit to the museum and courtroom and the walked around part of the old city, did a bit of shopping and lunch. Then we drove back to Munich, stopped at a clothing store that we used to frequent when we lived in Germany and made a trip to the Oktoberfest. 


The rest of the week we took our time. We visited museums like the Deutsches Museum, a science and technology museum, and the Bavarian State Museum, and then we would walk around town, spend time at sidewalk cafes just to talk and take in the surroundings, do some shopping and the go back to the hotel to rest before going to dinner at a local restaurant and then go back to the fest. On Thursday we met a German friend at her house just outside of Munich, taking a S-Bahn train to get there before we went back to the hotel, had dinner at a local restaurant before taking the subway back to the fest for a short visit. On Friday we rested and packed before we walked around the local area and spent some time at the sidewalk patio of the restaurant we had been eating at while waiting for our friends to get back from their expedition to a brewery on the outskirts of Munich to celebrate Judy’s birthday. 


Yesterday we came home, stayed up until about 11:00 PM and then slept late in order snap back into the time zone. Of course yesterday was a long day, getting up about 7:00 AM, having breakfast, checking out of the hotel, returning our rental car, getting to our flight and making the trip. Since we arrived at our house about 8:00 PM our time the travel process which included two flights took about nineteen hours and by the time we went to bed we had been up close to twenty-two hours. But when you make a transcontinental trip that is part of the deal. 


During the week we were on four flights lasting about 18 hours, not including layovers and checking in or getting through passport control and customs. We drove about 300 miles in Germany and used a lot of the public transportation, U-Bahn and S-Bahn trains to get around Munich proper. I walked about 50 miles during the trip, Judy a bit less. We ate as healthy as we could, took smaller meals, didn’t do a lot of snacking or junk food, and of course since it was Oktoberfest we had a lot of beer. 

The trip was amazing and as I said up front it was the best, most relaxing, stress-free, and refreshing vacation we have had up to this point of our lives. 

So until tomorrow. 

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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