Category Archives: Travel

The Banality of the Trump Administration: Reflecting on the Fall of the Berlin Wall, 30 Years Later

 

 

 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Thirty years ago the Berlin Wall came down. It was something that I never saw coming until the popular uprisings against the Warsaw Pact allies of the Soviet Union began in the fall of 1989. Just three years before we had made the trip via the Helmstedt corridor Autobahn to Berlin in November 1986. We made two trips into East Berlin while there, traveling through Checkpoint Charlie.

On January 19th 1989, East Germany’s leader, Erich Honecker proclaimed:

“The Wall will be standing in 50 and even in 100 years” 

He could not have been more wrong, just like most of us who served on the west side of the inter-German border during the Cold War. But despite the fall of the Wall, there are still many things that divide the old East from the West. Berlin itself is much more like the West, cosmopolitan, liberal, and open. Drive through other parts of the former East and it is still like a different country. Walls in people’s minds are often harder to breach than physical walls.

i was reminded of that when I saw a video of Trump’s Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, Monica Crowley standing next to a preserved portion of the Wall last week saying that “Walls are good.” She obviously didn’t care about the enslaved populations that the Berlin Wall was supposed to keep in the county or the hundreds if not thousands who did trying to escape, killed by the East German Volkspolizei or the STASI after being tortured. For an American official to be standing at such a site praising its merits is incomprehensible to me and show the depth of the Trump Administration’s moral depravity. But then, the President would have probably loved Honecker, like he does Putin, Kim Jun Un and Rodrigo Duterte.


Last year we got to go back to Berlin and most of our time was spent in the former East. It was a far different experience. I think that Berlin is now one of my favorite cities in the world. The change is remarkable. It’s such a different world, and I look forward to going back again.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

 

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A Last Night in Germany: Thoughts on Returning Home

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Tonight is our last night in Germany with our friends and it was rather restful. We took the S-Bahn train to Karlsruhe for a bit of shopping for Judy and stopped in an Italian coffee and ice cream shop for lunch. Judy has now developed a taste for Cappuccino, which I like as well. Much of the time we had no internet or LTE connection which wasn’t a bad thing because we spent time with each other.

A word of warning for others who visit areas of Germany that are not in major cities, LTE and 5G Service can be sporadic at best. This can be extremely frustrating at times. Thankfully our friends near Karlsruhe have a WiFi connection in our name connected to their internet service.

After our visit to Karlsruhe we went back to our friends house and while Judy rested, I went for a ten kilometer walk punctuated by a visit to a local pilstube, or bar where I had a couple of beers and spoke to the bartender and regulars. Of course I was the on foreigner there, which is par for the course in many small towns. Until I identified myself as an American, without speaking English, and explained that my wife’s family was from the area, I was able to pass myself off as a German.

Tonight we will have dinner with out friends, and I will do as much packing as I can before going to bed. It has been nice being with our friends; they have three of the same kind of dogs that we have and all are sweet. It is nice to have a sweet dog on your lap when you are away from home.

We will drive to Munich in the morning, drop off our rental car and then check in for our flight. Depending on the time I might get another post off before the flight or when we get back to the United States.

Before bed I have been reading a book that I purchased at Dachau, entitled That Was Dachau 1933-1945 by the Czech historian and former Dachau inmate, Stanislav Zamecnik, published by the International Committee Of Dachau. I am getting close to the halfway point in it but it is well worth the read if you can can get a copy. I will be writing more about Dachau in the future going into far more detail about the policies, laws, and atrocities committed than I am mentioning now. However, it is now late, and after a wonderful time with our friends it is time to go to bed.

Until sometime tomorrow, Central European or Eastern Standard Time I wish you all the best.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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A Day in Hessen: Friends, Fulda, and Train Rides

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

We spent most of the day going back and forth on a regional train from our friends house to the City of Fulda where we visited the magnificent Cathedral, spent time with each other and pretty much stayed disconnected from the world, except for me checking the German Bundesliga soccer scores.

I will write more about some of the history Of the places we have been another time.

We left the house after breakfast and got to Fulda about 12:30. we walked through the town, had lunch, continued to walk and to see the old baroque inner city. I had not been there since 1996 and Judy had never been there. It was a wonderful time with our friends. We left about 5:30 and as the sun set over the beautiful countryside I saw a rainbow from my train window and was able to get a picture of it. We got home about 8:00 and had a light dinner with some wine and spent time with our friends talking about the events of the day and watching the news, while I also caught up on my daily comic strips and skimming the news from home. 

Tomorrow we will have breakfast, pack and begin our journey to see our friends in Karlsruhe, while stopping in places where Judy’s mothers family emigrated from first to Russia then to the United States. They are one the way to our friends house.

It will be another day of mostly being disconnected from from the problems of the world, not that there is anything wrong with that.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve

 

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Munich: Day One After a Long Two Days

 


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

it has been a very long day since we got up Thursday morning. We have been up about 30 something hours with a bit of fitful sleep on our flight over the Atlantic to Munich Germany and Oktoberfest. Despite the length of our day and the amount we have traveled it has been a good day and more.

Our puppies are safely ensconced with our friend Emery in our house. Izzy and Pierre have been their usual over the top best friends, while Minnie, though friendly has gone back into here autistic shell. Not to worry, she warms up to people and will be fine, even if it comes down to basically jealousy. Judy misses Minnie and I miss the younger two as we go to sleep tonight.

We arrived a bit late on our Lufthansa flight because of the winds created by the now dissipated Hurricane Humberto. However, from that point everything went great. Judy had her last physical therapy after her knee replacement surgery on Monday, and instead of bringing her old German made forearm crutches from home we stopped at the store where I got the original pair and got a new pair for far less then we could purchase in the U.S.

Following that we went to the hotel, put our stuff away and took an early dinner at our favorite local restaurant, Zum Brunstein on Munich’s Orleans Straße, where over the years the staff have become like family. After that we went for an early nightcap at the hotel bar where we met two wonderful bartenders, one from Nigeria, the other from Turkey, and a German front desk clerk. At each place Judy gave away her hand made earrings and bracelets to the servers and  bartenders . We find that wherever we go it is better to be a giving visitor, than ugly Americans. The fact that my fluency in German helps, Judy, though more limited in German due to her hearing loss l makes friends because of how sincere and friendly she is. So today was a day of connecting with old friends and making new friends, even meeting a man from Norfolk at the hotel bar who naturally became part of our circle of friends. Hopefully, he will go with us to the opening parade and tapping at the Oktoberfest.

Before I went to sleep on the flight last night I watched the film Groundhog Day dubbed into German with no subtitles. I find that doing things like that helps my understanding of the language and increases my vocabulary. But I digress.

We will get up early tomorrow to get ready to go to the parade, and the tapping. Eat lunch which will probably be the half a rotisserie grilled chicken and potato salad topped with a couple liters of beer. After than we will probably do some shopping. I imagine that Sunday will be the day I go to Dachau and its sub-Camp , in a northern suburb or Munich.

So with the Z Monsters after me I will sign off until tomorrow. 

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

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Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime: Thoughts on Another Trip to Germany

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

within the next hour or so we will be in the air for our pilgrimage to Munich and other parts of Germany.

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.”

Sadly, a majority of Americans never leave the county and many have never travelled more than a hundred miles of their birthplace. Maybe that is why we have become such a bigoted and unwelcoming country. Mark Twain was absolutely correct in his observation. Maybe I am different, but my mom, brother, and wife can testify that I was born with the gift of wanderlust, a strong desire for or impulse to wander or travel and explore the world. 

I have never liked vegetating in one place. I am a born explorer, and I like to get off the beaten track. I do that a lot. St. Augustine Of Hippo wrote: “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” I love reading and I love traveling. I also love writing and taking pictures.

We are in traveling in Germany for the Oktoberfest, as well as to see friends, and for me, another chance, to visit 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 9:30 in the evening here and we will be landing at 12:30 PM Central European time, or 6:30 Eastern Standard Time.

Have a nice night,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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“One Giant Step” at 50 Years

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I remember it like it was yesterday, and it was 50 years ago.  It was the stuff that dreams are made of the stuff that inspires a generation.  A tiny and fragile Lunar Module, the Eagle piloted by Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Bud Aldrin landed on the Moon’s Sea of Tranquility. Within hours the two men had made the first walk on the Moon.  Armstrong made the statement “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”  In orbit above the Moon Astronaut Michael Collins piloted the Command Module ColumbiaIt was the stuff that legends are made of and help point humankind to higher and nobler goals.

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x8rlwp_cbs-news-apollo-11-moon-landing-jul_shortfilms#from=embed

Shortly after he became President, John F. Kennedy promised to have a man on the Moon by the end of the decade.  His comments supporting the Apollo mission before a joint session of Congress are quite remarkable especially in light of the state of the technology available at the time.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ouRbkBAOGEw&feature=player_embedded

“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important in the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.”

The United States wholeheartedly threw itself into the race for the Moon and though Kennedy, struck dead by an assassin’s bullet nearly six years prior did not live to celebrate the occasion it was something that in a time of war and deep political division united the Nation. It did not matter if one was a conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat the Space Program and in particular the Apollo missions made us glad to be Americans. In the midst of trying times marked by racism and riots, political assassinations, anti-war protests and social unrest.

It was an amazing event which could have ended in disaster but instead helped us as a nation to aspire to higher and nobler goals. The landing on the Moon inspired many to study the sciences and Astronaut camps attended by children furthered that desire.  The invention, innovation and ingenuity sparked by the program helped birth more invention many times providing the basis for devices that are ubiquitous today but unthinkable except possibly to the writers of Star Trek then.

We dreamed and aspired to great things.  We were Americans then.  Now we have become a collection of deeply divided hatred filled special interests.  The last Space Shuttle mission that of the Atlantis will end tomorrow and no one knows what will follow.  But does it matter?

It probably doesn’t matter anymore because we have stopped dreaming or envisioning a hopeful future.  The Moon, Mars and beyond, forget that we need to sacrifice, well everyone but the people that put us in the mess we are in.

What does a space program matter when we are so divided against ourselves?

Our politician’s pundits and preachers of all political leanings and persuasions, but more so Republicans than Democrats drive that poisonous wedge deeper every day and many willingly indulge in the “us against them” mentality promoted by those that beg us to listen to the “three hours a day every day.”

That Unholy Trinity of politicians, pundits and preachers seems so bent promoting their ideologies and theologies that they forget that they all have a responsibility to a nation that is greater than their respective faction, special interest and even religious views.  Now we have politicians signing statements written by special interests groups and there are an ever growing number of them, as if they were the Constitution, binding them and their fealty to unelected and unaccountable power brokers who have only their ideology to promote.  To see politicians shamelessly entering into such pacts to win a nomination or primary makes me wonder what they will do if they are elected to the offices that they aspire.

Back in 1969 the country was a mess, but when the Eagle touched down on the Sea of Tranquility we were Americans again, at least for a few days.  We took a moment and believed again and we achieved again.  Unfortunately I don’t see anything at the present that will make us so again at least in the near future.  I fear for our country. Maybe it’s just my PTSD “Mad Cow” getting to me; maybe it is the fact that as a historian and theologian I know where the path we are traveling under President Trump ends.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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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.

a4-a72-kreuz-chemnitz-5e1f2299-a166-4e13-bf68-b891c60f68ea

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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