Showing posts with label GERMANY. Show all posts
Showing posts with label GERMANY. Show all posts

Europe by Car - Best Honeymoon Ever!

 Harley Street house                                              Port of Dover                               

It was a beautiful sunny day as we set off on our honeymoon from our house in Harley Street in Marylebone, London on Saturday September 13th, 1980. We made it to the English coastal town of Dover around dinner time. Luckily, we found a charming hotel called the Spinning Wheel and spent the night. We hadn't booked a single hotel in advance and took our chances each day. For most of the trip, we did pretty well and only once did we end up in less that ideal accommodations. Not bad for a three week road trip!

The next morning, after a leisurely breakfast at a picturesque cafe in Dover with a magnificent view of the ocean, we found ourselves in a long line of cars and trucks to catch the ferry that would land us in Belgium, where we began our sojourn across Europe. It was smooth sailing as we pulled away from the white cliffs of Dover on the car ferry, and studied the maps to determine the best route to our ultimate destination, Venice, Italy.  

Arriving in Brussels in the late afternoon, we drove around the city to see the sights and found the Hilton Hotel that overlooked the Parliament building. Although Belgium is beautiful, we had no time for sightseeing the next morning and pushed on to Baden Baden, Germany.  

Driving our new Volvo, we listened to music suitably romantic for honeymooners. Our favorite CD was that of Anne Murray, a Canadian singer, that included her song "SnowBird", which was our favorite.

Hotel Haus Reichert in Baden Baden, Germany

Thanks to the amazing highway system in Germany, where speeding along at 80 miles per hour is your only option if you want to survive, we made it to Baden Baden by dinner time. Not having booked ahead, we were fortunate to find a lovely place in the heart of town, the Hotel Haus Reichart. This quaint family owned establishment was the perfect place for us. The room was cozy and comfortable and the staff were friendly and very helpful in guiding us to the best nearby restaurant. 

Our next stop was the picturesque town of Oberammergau, Germany, a picturesque little village located in the Bavarian Alps in southern Germany, just to the north of the Austrian border. In 1632, the area was hit by an outbreak of bubonic plague, so the village promised that, every ten years, it would perform a play about Jesus if only God would protect them from the plague. It is recorded that the death rate then dropped dramatically. Oberammergau has since kept its promise. Its Passion Play was first performed in 1634 and it continues to be performed in every year with a zero at its end. In September 2020, it was performed for the 42nd time.

Photo is a picture of the cover of the book we bought about the Passion play

The play runs for seven hours and takes over 2000 people to put it on. In order to participate, one must be a resident of Oberammergau by birth. What is remarkable is that the entire population of the village is only 5,000, which means that every family is involved in the production while continuing its normal life. Yet, when we saw the young man playing the part of Jesus riding his bicycle down the main street of the village, it seemed almost blasphemous. 

The village is also famous for its woodcarvings and its painted houses. We bought a charming carved statue of the Blessed Mother Mary, which we still have (Photo on the left.) Every house has a religious painting on one wall. The paintings are beautiful as if done by a master painter. Combined with the overflowing flower baskets, the village is one of the most picturesque villages in Germany. 

Blessed Mother

The next day we set off for one of Bob's favorite places, a ski resort town in Saalbach, Austria. He had many fond memories of going there in his twenties with his skiing buddies and couldn't wait for me to see it. Again, thanks to the super highway system, we made it to the Hotel Saalbacher Hof in time for dinner. 

Hotel Saalbacher Hof Saalbach, Austria

The hotel offered a fun and entertaining meal which was highlighted by music and men in costume performing a dance called schuplattling. It is a type of Austrian folk dancing where the dancers stomp, clap and strike the soles of their shoes (Schuhe), thighs and knees with their hands held flat (platt). 

Schuheplatting performance

They picked Bob out from the crowd and tried to teach him how to do it. It was the funniest thing I had ever seen Bob do, especially since he had several beers with dinner, which helped to instill in him a false sense of confidence as a novice schuplattler. He gave it his best shot and the guys were all very nice to him. The crowd even gave him a round of applause for his efforts. After dinner and all the dancing, we made our way to the indoor spa and hot tub so Bob could rest his weary bones and get ready for trekking into the mountains the next day.

The town of Saalbach sits in the shadow of the Gross Glochner, the highest mountain in Austria and the highest in the Alps east of the Brenner Pass. Like most ski resort towns, the ski lift runs all year long, taking people up into the mountains with well marked walking trails leading down. We were not really prepared for hiking in the mountains and didn't have the proper gear, but we went anyway. 

Gross Glochner

Looking back on it, we must have looked quite out of place, with Pat in her chic French pantsuit and Bob wearing his favorite shirt and trousers. Making our way down the mountain, we were frequently winded and out of breath, taking frequent rests at many of the benches along the way. Perhaps the most vivid memory was watching all the senior citizens in their lederhosen, passing us by, like cars in the fast lane speeding past the slower cars. They were obviously in better physical condition than us. At that time, Pat was 30 and Bob was 43 and we certainly couldn't keep up with those spry people in their 70's and 80's.

Hotel Londra Palace

After spending two nights in Saalbach, we drove over the Alps and down onto the plains of northern Italy. We arrived in Venice at the Hotel Londra at 4:00pm, exactly as planned. We set out immediately to inspect the famous old city, travelling its canals being serenaded by singing gondoliers. 

Walking in St Marks Square, we admired The Doge's Palace and quenched our thirst in Harry's Bar. Yet we hated Venice. Grand as its buildings undoubtedly were, the place was crowded with too many tourists and very overpriced. Even the water in the canals looked dirty; not very romantic at all and certainly no place to spend one's honeymoon. Our solution to the problem was quickly to leave Venice and to drive all the way across northern Italy from east to west, finally arriving at the little Italian frontier town of Ventimiglia on the French border. 

Trailer for the film "The Day of the Jackal"

The town looked familiar because Bob had seen it depicted in "The Day of the Jackal", a recently released film based on the novel of the same name by Frederick Forsyth, one of Bob's favorite authors. It was the border point through which the Jackal smuggled into France the weapon with which he intended to assassinate President De Gaulle. Unarmed as we were, we passed smoothly through the border point and into France. We were finally on La Cote d'Azur.

We never planned to visit La Cote d'Azur during our honeymoon, as our original plan was to spend at least 5 days in Venice, Italy. The picturesque French coast is little more than 125 miles in length. It's beautiful and offers magnificent beaches, a deep blue sea, and plenty of sun. Many of the rich and famous already live there or visit frequently. 

Located in the southeastern corner of France, it's known by the locals as La Cote d'Azur, in recognition of the azure color of the adjacent Mediterranean Sea. The English call it either the French Riviera or simply the South of France. It was always included in the Grand Tour of Europe, undertaken by every young English aristocrat in the 19th century. 

Beginning at the French/Italian border, we drove westward into France, along fine boulevards with the sea on our left and some of the world's finest hotels and restaurants on the right. Drivers should guard against the distraction provided by the spectacle of many topless lady windsurfers and water skiers bobbing about on the water.

Carlton Hotel in Cannes

During the rest of our honeymoon, we based ourselves at the Carlton Hotel in the town of Cannes, world famous because of its annual film festival. The hotel faces the sea and guests can simply walk across a boulevard to access its private beach and be served magnificent food and drinks all day by  well groomed waiters.  Many years later, in 2013, the Carlton was the scene of the world's largest jewel heist. The lone robber, who was never caught, escaped with jewels worth $136 million.  

We hired a boat with a driver to take Pat water skiing. However, it had been 17 years since she last skied and she had difficulty getting up on the skis. Once that was finally accomplished, the driver of the boat kept shouting at her to "bend zee knees". Needless to say, the next day Pat was sore all over from her exertions but she had a great time skiing in the Mediterranean. 

Mixed flowers in the field in Grasse

Up in the hills, only ten miles behind Cannes, lies the town of Grasse, known as the center of the French perfume industry. As we drove through the hills with our car windows down, the scent of an immense variety of fragrances permeated the air from the many locally grown flowers. It was a truly remarkable experience.

Comte de Grasse
This area also produced the legendary Comte de Grasse. He was the French admiral who greatly aided George Washington in his victory over the British at Yorktown in 1781, which ended the American Revolutionary War. You can read more about this on our website under the title "Cape Henry, Virginia - The Battle of the Capes".

St. Tropez
Although Cannes was our base, there were many other places for us to visit on La Cote d'Azur, which ends in the west near the fishing village of St Tropez, hometown of Brigitte Bardot. 

Brigitte Bardot

In the 1950s, Bardot starred in a series of films which made her an international superstar. St Tropez used the publicity to promote the area, turning it into a fashionable tourist resort. Bardot has lived her whole life in St Tropez and is now in her mid-eighties. Meanwhile, St Tropez, in 2017, showed its gratitude by erecting a statue of her in front of the cinema. 

Brigitte Bardot bronze statue

Of all the other places we visited on La Cote d'Azur, by far the largest was the city of Nice.  Conspicuous on its seafront is the luxurious Hotel Negresco, whose great chandelier was originally intended for the Czar of Russia. Alas the Czar came to a sticky end in the 1917 Russian revolution and he was unable to take delivery of his chandelier, which has therefore spent the last century hanging in the Negresco. The famous hotel was also featured in the movie The Day of the Jackal.

Hotel Negresco in Nice

Czar of Russia Chandelier in Hotel Negresco

La Cote d'Azur is home to another country as well as France. Apart from the Vatican, it's the smallest country in the world with less than one square mile of land area and only a couple of miles of coastline. It lies between Cannes and the Italian border and is the Principality of Monaco, the capital of which is the town of Monte Carlo. 

Grimaldi Royal Palace in Monaco

The Royal palace of Monaco, perched high on a rocky promontory, began life as a fortress in 1191 to combat piracy. Granted the land by German Emperor Frederick I, Monaco has been ruled by the Grimaldi family since 1297. They were one of the aristocratic families of Genoa who were originally traders and suppliers of money, ships and soldiers to many European monarchies.   

Over the centuries, the Grimaldis have fought several wars to keep their land and sovereignty. In 1793, on the heals of the French Revolution, the Grimaldi royal family was driven from their home and the palace fell into disrepair, at one time being designated as a Poorhouse. 

In May of 1814, under the protection of France, the Grimaldi royal family once again ruled Monaco. Renowned as collectors of all things beautiful, which included 700 works of art by Old Masters such as Raphael, Titian, Michelangelo and others, they continued their centuries old tradition to fill the palace walls and galleries with all things beautiful. 

Monte Carlo Casino

In 1854, a plan was hatched to generate income and save the royal family from bankruptcy. Princess Caroline, the brilliant business-minded spouse of Prince Florestan, came up with the idea of creating a casino and turning the area into a highly desirable destination for the wealthy elites of Europe to spend their money. Under Princess Caroline's direction, the Monte Carlo Casino was created. Original investors included the Bishop of Monaco and the future Pope Leo XIII. With the Church's money and blessing, Monaco became the glamourous destination of the rich and famous. 

In the 1890s, a song very popular in London music halls (vaudeville theaters) was "The man who broke the Bank at Monte Carlo." The song was inspired by the success of a British gambler who won too much money at this casino. A film of the same name, which depicted the story of how he did it, was released in the 1930s. 

We did not enter the casino and try to emulate the formidable gambler. Instead, we dined in a restaurant atop a building that overlooked the harbor, with a bird's eye view of all the pricey yachts moored there. As we strolled along the harbor, we spotted a US Navy ship, the USS Discovery. It was a public relations type of vessel used to promote goodwill for the USA around the world. At the time, Pat was on active duty in the US Navy, and we stopped to see the ship. Sadly, it was getting late we didn't get to go onboard, but it was fun to see the ship up close and to chat briefly with some of the crew. 

In 1956, Prince Rainier III married the stunning American actress Grace Kelly. The fairytale wedding drew thousands of tourists to the tiny principality. Tourism is still a mainstay of the economy. Sadly, Princess Grace died in a road accident in September 1982 while being driven in a car by her daughter Stephanie. Prince Rainier III was still head of state at the time of our visit. He died in 2005 and was succeeded by his son, Albert II.

For most of his life, the great author Somerset Maugham lived on La Cote d'Azur. He called Monte Carlo "a sunny place for shady people". That's because so many of its very wealthy residents are there simply to avoid taxes in their own countries. There is no income tax in Monaco and low business taxes.

We arrived on La Cote d'Azur by accident and have never returned. Yet the memorable part that it played on our honeymoon is something that we have remembered all our lives.   

On our final leg of our trip, we drove to Paris from Cannes. Before we were married, we did a 9-week Novena of the Miraculous Medal. We each prayed for a specific miracle and both were granted by the time we got back home. 

Miraculous Medal

The Miraculous Medal is a fascinating story about a young French girl named Catherine Laboure. She became a nun and lived in a convent in Paris, where she experienced several apparitions of the Blessed Mother Mary. The young nun was told to get the Miraculous Medal made and gave specific instructions about how it should look. This is where the novena was created. 

Catherine Laboure's body in glass case

Catherine Laboure's body is lying in a glass coffin in the front of the chapel. Her body has never decomposed and lies "uncorrupted" and on display.

Click on video link below showing the Chapelle de la rue du bac.

Our goal was to go to mass at the Chapel of the Miraculous Medal (see video above) and to give thanks for our many blessings and the miracles granted to us. Before leaving our hotel, Pat had a premonition that they would lose the camera and not to take it. Bob insisted on taking it along. The camera was in a plastic bag with all the rolls of film from their entire 3-week honeymoon. Bob carried the bag and put it in the back window area behind the seats in the cab. They got out of the cab at the chapel and watched the cab pull away with the camera bag in the back window. It was lost forever and never recovered. We often wondered if someone ever found it and developed the film. At least we still have our memories of the best honeymoon ever!

Munster Germany - Where a Miracle Happened

Click on player below to see Pat's video about the parade of chefs.

“I don’t believe it!” cried Pat, looking over my shoulder. “It’s a Ku Klux Klan rally”. I turned and followed her horrified gaze. We were in northern Germany, standing in the downtown area of the ancient city of Munster in the middle of August 2010. What I saw in the far distance was not the Ku Klux Klan. Instead, it was a large number of chefs wearing white jackets and aprons together with the tall white hats for which chefs are famous.“Are they on strike or something?” I inquired, since time spent in 20th century England has conditioned me to expect labor disputes. “Is this a demonstration?” It was then explained to me that chefs from all over Germany had gathered in Munster to celebrate the feast of St Lawrence, the patron saint of chefs. We then kept seeing chefs. Chefs were parading. Chefs were in pavement cafés, enjoying the cooking of some other chef. Chefs were at a service for chefs in St Paulus, which is Munster’s magnificent 13th century cathedral. Chefs were everywhere. Some wore medals. Some carried banners. It was evidently their big day of the year.

St. Lawrence being grilled alive
St Lawrence was one of the seven deacons of ancient Rome. He was martyred in the year 258 AD at a time of Christian persecution. A Pope was martyred at the same time.  St Lawrence was literally roasted to death on a gridiron.  During his suffering, he is said to have shouted out “This side’s done. Turn me over and have a bite”. Perhaps it is this remark that endears him to the chefs of the world nearly 2000 years later. His name meant little to me, until I realized that the French had named the widest river in the world in his honor. Jacques Cartier arrived in what is today the Gulf of St Lawrence on the feast day of St Lawrence in 1535.

St. Lawrence Seaway
The St Lawrence Seaway today connects the Atlantic Ocean with the Great Lakes of North America.  At various points, the great river forms the international boundary between Canada and the USA.  As I have already written on this website, it was up this river that the British general, James Wolfe, travelled in 1759 on his way to the Battle of Quebec at which the French lost Canada. Mention is also made on this website of a visit by Pat and me in 1987 to the Niagara Falls. Now the Niagara River flows into Lake Ontario, which in turn flows into the St Lawrence River.  Therefore the water tumbling over the Niagara Falls is quite likely to finish up in the St Lawrence River.  Finally, there is St Lawrence University, the campus of which is at Canton in upstate New York. Towards the end of his life, Pat’s brother taught at this university, which is only 20 miles from the southern bank of the St Lawrence River.  So there are many reasons why I should not have needed a gathering of chefs on the plains of northern Germany to remind me of exactly who St Lawrence was.

Returning now to Munster, the city itself stands on the strangely named River Aa.  I guess that this short little river is competing for a position at the top of an alphabetical list of the rivers of the world. It springs out of the ground 10 miles to the west of Munster and, after passing through the city, soon joins up with the River Ems which eventually empties itself into the North Sea many miles away.  Munster is the cultural center of the Westphalia region of Germany, but the region no longer exists as a political or administrative unit.

Peace of Westphalia: The Swearing of the Oath of Ratification of the Treaty of Münster (1648)
The city of Munster was founded 1300 years ago and is famous as the place of signing in 1648 of The Peace of Westphalia, by which the Thirty Years War was ended.   Two thirds of Munster was destroyed during World War Two but, as with so many cities throughout Germany, it has been magnificently restored.

St. Paulus Cathedral, Munster, Germany
That restoration includes the cathedral of St Paulus, which I mention above.  It was in that cathedral that I had the privilege of visiting the tomb of Cardinal Clemens August Graf von Galen (1878 -1946), known as the Lion of Munster for his incredibly brave opposition to the Nazis.

Cardinal Clemens August Graf von Galen
He was the bishop of Munster, a German Count, and a Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church.  He was made a saint in 2005.

Cardinal Clemens August Graf von Galen

His tomb stands in the Chapel of St Ludger in the eastern part of the cathedral, where one can also see his bust and a quotation by Pope Jean Paul II inscribed on the floor in brass.  Cardinal von Galen’s wartime criticisms of the Nazis were so dynamic that the Royal Air Force dropped copies of his sermons by air onto cities all over Germany.   As a boy during World War Two, I could never understand why the German people tolerated the Nazis, but now I know that there was nothing they could do.

Opposition by Germans to the Nazis during the war was simply a certain route to suicide.  Courageous German Christians, such as Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Hans Wolfel of Bamberg, spoke out for years but they were eventually murdered.  Cardinal von Galen spoke out even more forcefully and his survival until after the end of the war was surely a miracle.

This piece, written by Bob, was originally posted on our website on August 23, 2010.

Neuschwanstein Castle Germany - What Would King Ludwig Have Thought?

Assassination of Lincoln

Assassination of Garfield

Assassination of McKinley

John F Kennedy motorcade in Dallas
For over a century, every US President elected in a year with a zero at its end has died in office. Whether as a result of ill health or of assassination, this statistic applies to Lincoln (1860), Garfield (1880), McKinley (1900), Harding (1920), FDR (1940) and JFK (1960).

Although it was Reagan (1980) who finally reversed this grim trend, even he was lucky to survive a 1981 assassination attempt. So let me contrast that with something much more agreeable that always occurs in a year with a zero at its end.

Oberammergau is a picturesque little village located in the Bavarian Alps in southern Germany, just to the north of the Austrian border. In 1632, the area was hit by an outbreak of bubonic plague, so the village promised that, every ten years, it would perform a play about Jesus if only God would protect them from the plague. It is recorded that the death rate then dropped dramatically. Oberammergau has since kept its promise. Its Passion Play was first performed in 1634 and it continues to be performed in every year with a zero at its end. In September 2010, it will be performed for the 41st time.

Map showing location of Oberammergau, Germany
Pat and I were in Oberammergau for performance in September 1980. The play runs for seven hours and it takes over 2000 people to put it on.  In order to participate, one must be a resident of Oberammergau by birth.  What is remarkable is that the entire population of the village is only 5,000, which means that every family is involved in the production while continuing its normal life. Yet, when I saw the young man playing the part of Jesus riding his bicycle down the main street of the village, it seemed almost blasphemous. The village is also famous for its woodcarving and its painted houses.
Painted buildings in Oberammergau
We also visited two magnificent buildings nearby, namely Neuschwanstein Castle and Linderhof Palace. They were both built by King Ludwig II of Bavaria in the latter part of the 19th century. In 1886, Ludwig was declared to be insane and was arrested. His death the following day was declared to be suicide. It now seems likely that he was not insane and that he was murdered, but this is not the place to consider that.

Neuschwanstein Castle
Neuschwanstein Castle stands on a mountain top and is today said to be the most photographed building in Germany. "Schwan" is German for swan. Ludwig loved swans and the swan motif appears repeatedly throughout the castle.  By English standards, this is no castle.  English castles are protected from attack by moats, drawbridges, high battlements and slits in the walls through which the defenders can shoot arrows. It would be so easy for attackers to capture Neuschwanstein Castle, which is simply a fairy-tale residence on top of a mountain. Nevertheless, it is lovely and Ludwig included features ahead of their time by 19th century standards. Venting, plumbing, steam engines, central heating, electricity were all introduced and contradict the medieval appearance of the building.

Linderhof Palace in Bavaria
Linderhof Grotto

Linderhof Palace is even closer to Oberammergau. Ludwig modeled it after the Palace of Versailles, even though it is much smaller. Under the building is a grotto illuminated by changing colors through which Ludwig liked to be rowed, while listening to the music of his favorite composer - Wagner.

Disneyworld Castle
Some years later, Pat and I settled in Orlando, Florida and naturally took our children to Disney World. Neuschwanstein was Walt Disney's inspiration for the castle he built in the Magic Kingdom at Disney World. In fact "Neuschwanstein" is the word that comes to mind as soon as one glimpses what Disney has built in the swamps of Central Florida.

Disney World is full of crowds and of long lines of vacationers patiently awaiting admission to the various attractions.  As I stood in the hot Florida sunshine with excited crowds swarming past me, I asked myself what King Ludwig would have thought of all this?

This piece, written by Bob, was originally posted on our website on November 2, 2008.

Regensburg Germany - A Frustrated Retirement

Map of Regensberg, Germany

What did April 2005 have in store for the old German? That month he was to celebrate his 78th birthday and, considering his unfortunate early days, his life had turned out rather well.  At the age of 14, like all his contemporaries, he had been conscripted into the Hitler Youth.  After two years, he was conscripted into the German armed forces and, after another two years, World War Two had ended and he found himself in a prisoner of war camp from which he was released after a few months.  He then entered a seminary and this eventually led him to a distinguished career as a catholic theologian and university professor.  A part of that career which particularly satisfied him was his 12 years as professor of theology at the University of Regensburg.  Pat, our youngest daughter Anna and I visited the Bavarian city of Regensburg for the first time in November 2010 and we had no difficulty in understanding why the old German liked it so much. Regensburg stands on the River Danube at the point where its tributary, the River Regan, flows into it.  Two thousand years ago, the Romans used the Danube to mark the northern frontier of their empire.  Consequently, Regensburg was an armed Roman encampment at that time, then known as Castra Regina. It had existed as a Celtic settlement several hundred years before that.

Regensberg medieval bridge

Later, in medieval times, Regensburg became a wealthy city as its merchants benefited from the trade moving up and down the Danube.  What they built at that time provides us today with an unspoiled example of a medieval city center.  Remarkably enough, the city escaped damage during World War Two.  Indeed, it suffered more damage during its capture by Napoleon in 1809 during the Franco-Austrian War.

Bob and daughter, Anna, in front of Napoleon's house
We saw the house where Napoleon stayed at the time. In the city center, we saw the statue of King Ludwig I of Bavaria on horseback.  He had fought alongside the Napoleonic armies and was king of Bavaria from 1825 until 1848, when he was forced to abdicate. This was partly because of his relationship with a courtesan called Lola Montez, who was very unpopular with the locals.

Life-size statue of King Ludwig I
Ludwig was a great admirer of all things Greek, so he built on the banks of the Danube just outside Regensburg a replica of the Parthenon in Greece complete with 52 Doric columns. Called Walhalla, it memorializes the Bavarian war heroes of that time. The Greeks appear to have reciprocated Ludwig’s admiration because Ludwig’s son, Otto, was chosen to ascend the newly created throne of Greece as its first king in 1832.  Yet, just as Ludwig finally lost the throne of Bavaria, so Otto finally lost the throne of Greece.

Scottish church romanesque portal

We came across in Regensburg something called the Scottish Church (Schottenkirche), the construction of which was completed in about the year 1200. In fact, this church was founded by Benedictine monks from Ireland, whom the locals mistakenly thought came from Scotland.  One Celt must look very much like another in Bavaria.

The splendid atmosphere of Regensberg is further enhanced by its striking Gothic cathedral, which took some 250 years to build during the Middle Ages.

Stained glass windows and altar
St. Peter's Cathedral Regensberg
The stained glass windows dating back to that time are an important feature of the cathedral. I admired in particular the silver high altar, which was donated to the cathedral in 18th century.  The price of silver increased by about 50% during the latter part of 2010, an increase which I predicted.  As I gazed at the silver high altar, I thought enviously about its increased value before I dismissed such thoughts as unworthy.

Silver altar in St. Peter's cathedral

Pope Benedict XVI
Certainly the old German would never have allowed his mind to entertain such vulgar commercial thoughts, even though he had always loved the cathedral.  His elder brother had been the choirmaster there for thirty years and the cathedral had been an important part of his life during the years when he was teaching at the University of Regensburg.  During those years, the old German had lived in a small house in the Regensburg suburb of Pentling, close to where his parents were buried.  He had kept that house for his retirement, which had been much delayed by his work in Rome.  By April 2005, he had already made several unsuccessful attempts to retire.  He described his years in Regensburg as some of the happiest in his life and he must have been anticipating his retirement there with pleasure.  However the plans of the old German were frustrated in April 2005, when he was elected Pope.  At the age of 83, Joseph Ratzinger today continues to serve in that capacity as Pope Benedict XVI.

This piece, written by Bob, was originally posted on our website on November 14, 2010.

Baden Baden and Stuttgart Germany - A Tale of Two More Cities

Like Metz and Trier, about which I have recently written on this website, Baden Baden and Stuttgart are about 50 miles apart, as the crow flies.  While Metz and Trier are joined together by the River Moselle, Baden Baden and Stuttgart are joined together by the Black Forest. Both Baden Baden and Stuttgart lie in the German state of Baden Wurttemberg.  In fact, Stuttgart is the state capital.  It’s an area where German is spoken with a Swabian dialect, which German speakers from elsewhere sometimes have trouble in understanding.

Hotel Haus Reichert
Pat and I first visited Baden Baden during our honeymoon thirty years ago. We returned last month, April 2010, and stayed in the center of town at Hotel Haus Reichert. Built in 1843, this really neat hotel is a short walk from the casino, theater and spas.  Just as we did on our first stay in Baden Baden all those years ago, we headed for a spa. The word Baden is the German verb meaning “to bathe”.

Caracalla Spa
On this occasion, the thermal bath that we selected was the Caracalla Spa, named after a Roman emperor. Even the Romans used to bathe here 2000 years ago.  We soaked ourselves in pools of hot spring water surrounded by marble pillars.  This experience is highly invigorating, and was particularly kind to my stiff old septuagenarian limbs.  Unlike the famous Russian novelist and compulsive gambler Dostoyevsky, we did not visit the casino.  After his losses at the Baden Baden casino in 1867, he wrote his masterpiece “The Gambler”.   Had we followed his example, we may have had a bestseller on our hands!   However, we found that Baden Baden had changed little in the last thirty years.  In fact, it has probably changed little since the 19th century, when it attracted regular visits from European royalty including Queen Victoria, Kaiser Wilhelm, Napoleon III and the Queen of Prussia.  Baden Baden still oozes style in its formal gardens and its architecture.

Stuttgart is much different.  It’s a far bigger city than Baden Baden.  The center of the city was built on flat land alongside the River Neckar, but Stuttgart is surrounded by mountains. As the city has grown, it has climbed up the surrounding mountainsides. The ring road, which encircles the city, must of necessity spend much of its time passing through tunnels under mountains.  The state parliament buildings and government offices of Baden Wurttemberg are located here in the New Palace, the construction of which was not completed until 1807.  On our first visit to Stuttgart in May 2010, Pat and I decided instead to visit the Old Palace which was originally a castle with a moat, built in the 13th century and once home to the Dukes of Wurttemberg.

Stuttgart State Museum
It presently houses the Wurttemberg State Museum, whose exhibits include treasures and burial objects from the grave of the Celtic prince, Hochdorf.  Hochdorf is also the name of a little town on the outskirts of Stuttgart, where the prince was laid to rest in the 5th century AD under a large burial mound.  Archeologists excavating the grave in 1977 obtained these exhibits for the State Museum.  It was a surprise to me to learn that, all those centuries ago, there were Celts in what is today south western Germany.  I thought that Celts and the Celtic language originated in the British Isles in parts of Wales, Ireland and Scotland.  Even today, one of Scotland’s most famous soccer clubs is Glasgow Celtic.  The Irish language is actually a Celtic language.  So is the Welsh language.  Yet it seems that the Celts were well established in the vicinity of Stuttgart long before they moved on to settle the northern and western fringes of the British Isles.  In fact, they were a thorn on the side of the Roman Empire long before they moved on.

Friedrich Schiller Denkmal
Having been made aware of my ignorance of Celtic origins by Hochdorf, my education in Stuttgart continued.  Wandering in the city center, I came across a fine statue.  The plinth on which it stood simply bore the inscription “Schiller Denkmal”, without further explanation.  I wondered who this Mr Denkmal was and what he had achieved to merit such a fine statue?  I had no idea.  Perhaps Denkmal was another Celt?  It took me some time to figure out that Denkmal is the German word for monument, and that this monument was a tribute to the great German poet and playwright, Friedrich Schiller (1759 -1805) who was born nearby.  My intellectual humiliation increased when I discovered that Schiller denkmals are everywhere. A dozen major German cities have a denkmal to Schiller.  There are denkmals to Schiller in Austria, Poland, Russia, Switzerland and the Czech Republic.  There are even denkmals to Schiller in the United States in Cleveland and San Francisco.  Stuttgart is a fine city, but I left it deeply conscious of the gaps in my knowledge.

This piece, written by Bob, was originally posted on our website on June 1, 2010.