Tag Archives: travel

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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Preparing for Another Trip to Germany

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Later this week we will be flying to Germany for what has seemingly become an annual pilgrimage. While there we will be seeing friends as well as enjoying the Oktoberfest in Munich, seeing historical places, and exploring towns where Judy’s ancestors came from in the Rheinland-Pfalz, Baden-Württemberg, and the Alsace in France.

While in Munich I plan to again visit Dachau and the Sophie Scholl museum at Munich University and hopefully a number of other sites. I have a ticket for a soccer match between Bayern-München and Augsburg at Allianz area.

Outside of Munich it looks like we will visit the Flossenbürg and Buchenwald Concentration Camps Southwest of Berlin. We will stay in Wittenberg where Martin Luther began the Protestant Reformation, and the Wartburg Castle in Eisenach where Luther was hidden after his defense and excommunication before the Imperial Diet at Worms. In his ten months of hiding he translated the New Testament from Greek into German.

We will visit friends in Berlin. It will be our first visit to the city since November of 1986, before the fall of the Berlin Wall. It will be interesting to see the redone Reichstag, walk under the Brandenburger Tor, as well as see the the Berlin Monument to the Holocaust, the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, the Bendlerstrasse Museum to the German anti-Nazi resistance, the Berlin Holocaust Memorial, and the Wannsee House.

From Berlin we will stay with friends near Karlsruhe one the Rhein River near the French Border for a few days before returning to Munich for our flight home.

I’ll be writing and posting about those things and more in the coming weeks, but for now I will wish you a good night.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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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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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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