Tag Archives: Germany

Xanten, “Earland” and the beauty of the Pumpenmeister

The Wingfields, or more likely their kids, took us to the perfect kid activity near Xanten:  a kind of small theme park that we could use in the States.   

 Will writes about it below…

OK folks, here’s a German word that sounds very funny!  The word is spelled Irland but sounds like “Earland”.   So what’s so funny about that?  Irland means Ireland.  Why do they call it that?  I have no clue, maybe the Romans had a say in that.  Oh yeah, I forgot, the Romans were there. 

In the present, Irland is a fun theme park—no coasters, but pedal-powered carts, hay bales, huge Legos (my favorite), water, volcanoes and a variety of slides.  There were slides that looked like you were falling straight down. I actually screamed (so did my sister, but louder than me).





The pedal carts were awesome.  The first one had a huge track made of tires.  We had all kinds of races; half races, long ones and short.  After that we went to the slides.  The slides came from a fake helicopter and a fake airplane.  The first one I went on was mild and short just to get the concept.  Then I went on the one we (me and Luke) called Death Falls (dun dun daa!).  So terrible yells could be heard coming from that dreaded tube. 

Moving on, we went to the helicopter and rode the one me and Luke called Death Falls 2.  You could not hear screams because it went so fast.  Then we went to the airplane.  The one we went on was called Death Falls 3.  Girl (not boy) screams could be heard.  Then we went to lunch.  At lunch, Mom asked us to find the girls.  She thought they might be at the warehouse so that’s where we went. 

To our surprise, inside the warehouse were piles of Legos!  And big ones too!  All thoughts forgotten, we marched to a place and started to build a massive fort!  It even had a door that I made with many blocks.  Once it was very high, I remembered the girls.  Where were they?  The question was soon answered.  In the corner, the girls were building a house.  Problem solved. We continued and finally we were done!  It was taller than Dad (and Mom)!  Then we had to leave.


Great work writing, Will!

The cathedral in Xanten, or Xantener Dom (“Dahm”), was almost completely destroyed in WWII.  Allied bomber pilots used the easily recognized twin towers of the Dom as a visual reference to turn away from the Rhine river and go home.  They also knew that German anti-aircraft guns were nearby.  They’d release their unused bombs in the vicinity so they could climb higher and be more maneuverable.  After the war, the town debated and took the decision to rebuild the Dom completely.  Many German cities did not rebuild their historic centers or cathedrals and replaced buildings with modern counterparts.  I understand this is the reason why you probably don’t hear of many American tourists headed to see the historic center of Hamburg. 

The Xantener Dom cornerstone was laid in 1253 and construction took 281 years.  It was a federal government project…   Today after the post-WWII reconstruction, you can buy pieces of the original cathedral.  Stonemasons actually live on site and are still reproducing historic parts of the Dom and its outlying buildings.  Amazing.

The Wingfields are members of the church and their son Elee is even an altar server in the German mass.  Lee had been invited to be a bell ringer but had not yet begun.  All across Europe, church bells are rung to call people to services.  After attending the mass in German—good job kids for hanging in!—we were able to see the vestry in the back of the church.  The vestry’s original painted ceiling survives and is over 500 years old. 

Then, Lee arranges for us to get a chance to ring the bells to call people to the next service.  It’s like something from a Disney movie, two ropes disappear into the high ceiling of the cathedral and someone has to yank these ropes up and down to ring the bells.  One rope has three small “subropes” to help people divide up the workload.  The other rope is really a good ab workout.  And you guessed it, some of the kids end up flying up off the ground as they cling to the rope.  The bells are quiet inside the church but we know from hearing them that the bells are calling out to the town.





[sorry for the iphone shots, but here’s a kid getting airborne]  

We are able to meet the street Pumpenmeister too.  Neighborhoods used to have water pumps where residents would come draw their water. The pumps became social hangouts, akin to office water coolers, over time. After the war, the pumps finally became obsolete as a source of water. The social aspect of the water pump is so important that they still install fake pumps in newer neighborhoods to imitate the old system! 

The street Pumpenmeister is a related concept to the Burgermeister or town mayor. The Pumpenmeister is responsible for social coordination on the street.  They organize get togethers and parties. There is a carefully orchestrated care plan for funerals and such that Pumpenmeisters employ. The position rotates along the street with one year terms.  Husband and wife each get separate turns. Now, that’s some thoughtful German organization!

We literally met the Pumpenmeister as she brought around a scroll that served as an invitation to a party.  Lisa and I find we just can’t say the word Pumpenmeister enough. 

Another day, we hit the Archaeological Park Xanten.  The Romans were here in Xanten and this park celebrates their memory with a museum and a reproduction of an amphitheater.  They still hold gladiator exhibitions here and a biannual Roman Festival complete with a full pitched Roman camp and martial arts.  For the peeps, it sure doesn’t hurt to have a playground and bouncy dome too!





Never enough time with good friends, and our visit was over before we knew it and it was time to go on to London!


Lee—brave soul—did a masterful job squeezing six Mesquits, six rolling duffels, six backpacks and himself into his Volvo XC90 and we were off to the train station at 0530.  Once there, we waited at the train station with other passengers sneaking sidelong glances at our family and travel baggage in the commuter queue. An announcement was made in German and everyone started scurrying off the platform. Hmmm.  We grabbed our bags and stumbled along after them.  One man stopped to ask Ana if he could help her with her bag up the next flight of stairs.  But the little lady wouldn’t let someone else touch her bag—tough girl.  We’d guessed right, it was just a platform change and we made it in time.  After the car and train ride, we arrived at the airport and took a SkyTrain to get to our terminal.  Next, was an EasyJet flight to London Gatwick.  Europe has a few budget airlines and this was our first flight on one.  They each advertise very low fares, sometimes as low as about $20.  You have to read the fine print because each checked bag is at least $20.  The airline also wants $7 to $12 dollars per seat to pick your seat onboard or wait till 7 days prior and check in for a randomly assigned seat.  RyanAir made headlines a few months back when a person without access to a printer on their vacation showed for their return flight and the airline wanted hundreds of dollars to print out their boarding passes.  The EasyJet seats don’t allow anyone to recline but everything worked out fine. 

We landed at Gatwick and found the ticket office for trains.  We make quite a sight all of us with our bags in any given line.  I asked the kids to go wait out of the way and sent them towards an advertising sign.  As I was finishing buying the ticket the sign came crashing down.  A police officer came rushing over to make sure everybody was okay.  Everybody was, since it was a light banner-style sign.  No worries, it’s just us! 

The kids were understandably tired after about 8 hours of travel and an early wakeup.  We took a snack break in the terminal.  Then, a train to Clapham Junction where we transferred to another to arrive at Wimbledon Station. 

I began to hear, “Daddy, when we get there, is it a long walk to the apartment?” 

It wasn’t long at all and we were glad to find our place not far from the tube station.  A few hours later and I was able to go meet my mother as she flew in to Gatwick to join us.  What a great memory for us and we couldn’t wait to get out and see more of London!


Oberfell nestled beside the Mosel river

Oberfell is a picturesque town of about 1800 people in a few streets of tidy houses between the Mosel river and a steep hillside.  We are in wine country and the vines are everywhere.  We wander down by the river and find a restaurant.  Vines encircle the sign and patio and they can barely hold the clusters of grapes.  The hillside is steep enough that you are working to run up to the top of town from the river.




[villages along the Mosel]


[river right down the hill]


[cafe courtyard and church in town]




[backyard view up the slope, looking at Horst & Andrea’s place]

We walk down the street in the morning to get bread and rolls at the town baker. 


The baker lady sees Camille and Ana with me, and though she has no English, she manages to get across something like “choco-bröt ist gut fur kinder.”  She takes two tiny rolls studded with chocolate chips out of her display case and the girls erupt in huge smiles.  “Danke!” they say simultaneously.  The baker and I laugh uncontrollably at the happy sight. 


[soon, everybody wanted to go the baker’s in the morning]

The valley walls are narrow and steep enough that the sun doesn’t reach into our windows until 10 in the morning.  In the evening at about 1600, the air begins to cool significantly and we reach for light jackets. 

We are so fortunate to stay in this fantastic Ferienhaus Mosella.  Germany is very precise with the names of lodging so you can tell a lot by what they call the place.  A Ferienhaus is a holiday home.  And we are treated to the privilege of hanging out with the wonderful Horst & Andrea.  They greet us with a delicious bottle of local white wine and sweets for the children.  We talk about kids and school and jobs and travels and wine.  Homeschooling is absolutely novel to them as we’ve heard from other Germans.  No wonder, it’s illegal here.  To them, we must be the craziest loons this side of the Pecos.  Wait till they see my ‘Merica pants. 

We ask if there was WWII fighting in the area of this serene, little town on the river.  Horst’s father was only 16 in 1945 and was about to have to serve in the WWII German army.  The war ended before he was required to join up.  HIs father saw American artillery setting up on the valley top across the river.  One artillery shell fell short of its target and fell into the valley just next to the town but did not hit any houses.  The town behind Oberfell had SS troops in it and the townsfolk figured the American artillery had them in their sights. 

I run one morning and end up in the highest street of the small town.  Stomping downhill I come by the church’s graveyard and notice a name I recognize on the stone.  Sure enough, Horst’s family members are buried right there just stone’s throw from our place.

The route is part of a pilgrim’s route in Germany that people still travel.  Many pass through Oberfell for this route alone. 

A bell chimes over and over.  When we look out the window, we see the bell is attached to a truck.  The truck sells eggs and inches down the town streets advertising its wares.

Our kids were not so sure about playing with non-English speakers when we first arrived in August.  But now we can see they are up for the challenge and head over to play with the two small girls in our shared backyard.  One girl is 10 and the other seven and soon everyone is up in a tree.  Their son, 12, is on their back patio and before long Luke and Will are inside their house playing Minecraft with him. 

The first day the kids are all a bit shy around each other.  They can demonstrate they can each count from 1 to 12 in the others’ language.  By the second day, Camille is using more and more German words and though it’s not pretty they are all getting their point across.  The boys have fewer words they need to get out.  Seems like men, and little men, are like that worldwide.  I can see the girls in the backyard talking, smiling at each other, and playing together.  They do not speak the same language, so as a man, this is beyond me as they are somehow having full-on conversations. 

Their girls have guinea pigs named “Punnt” and the other “Knupf”. There are rabbits named Flicker and Sabrina.  The girls had pets so the big brother also wanted a pet.  His parents got him two mice.  They are females—named Uncle Henry and Ferdinand.  The German name for guinea pigs is “Meer schwein”, or ocean pigs. 



[Ana with Victoria in green and their friend Sarah]

One day, as soon as they are home from school the 7 year old runs over, holds out one of the little animals to our girls and says, “gihn-ee pig?”  A wonderful way to invite someone to play!

One afternoon the girls run over with their girls for the pizzeria/gelateria to get ice cream overlooking the river. Here’s just a quick shot I got of the shop’s deck the next day with the water in the background.


The local villages hold an annual competition for village of the future.  Oberfell has won this year’s competition and Horst invites us to the town’s  get-together since the winning village has to host the ceremony.  The town’s mayor had been instrumental in getting a home built for older folks. Several of the burgermeisters (mayors) mill about, all dressed up and shaking hands before the town’s orchestra strikes up.  Next, we are treated to a dance by the town’s 9-11 year old girls, including Horst & Andrea’s daughter, Charlotte.  Both songs are from the movie Grease!  Go greased lightning! 


We are all sad to see the cute girls leave the stage and the speeches begin from behind the podium.  They give an exhaustive rundown of each village and a few stats about each one.  The towns are broken down by size.  It is a lot of German and I start to space out.  But it is clear, that they take this competition quite seriously.  Our kids are about the only children in the audience and they are hanging in there but we’ve all had enough so we beat a hasty retreat back to our cozy house. 

We decide to tour a local castle renowned for its interior—Burg Eltz.  You park the car and walk 45 minutes on a path through a pine forest.


A Dutch couple is walking out and stops to ask if we are Americans (probably pretty easy to tell since the kids are running and playing).  Once we confirm we are, he asks how so many Americans know about this place.  Hilarious and I wasn’t sure myself.  I’d read about it as one the world’s famous castles.

The medieval castle is located between Koblenz and Trier in Germany and is still owned by a branch of the same family that lived here in the 12th century.  The family still has flowers put out for visitors.

You round a corner and suddenly the castle is right in front of you rising from a rocky outcropping in a horseshoe of the river Eltz, a tributary of the Mosel river.  It’s a magical sight.  A basin lies around the castle within a wooded valley and provides the fortress with a commanding view.  The castle was also placed here for commercial reasons as the confluence of the Rhine and Mosel rivers formed an important trade route.  Castles could be used to protect trade routes and as a base to collect taxes from merchants. 



Burg Eltz was designed more for looks than for strategic defense.  It’s a grand home, instead of a medieval fortress, and provides a glimpse of the life of German nobility from centuries past.  The first foundations of the Burg were put down in 1157.  To share the costs, three family branches of the Eltz family collaborated to build three separate structures within the Burg Eltz.  The three sides of the clan—‘The House of the Golden Lion,’ ‘The House of the Silver Lion,’ and ‘The House of the Buffalo Horns.’   


[Burg Eltz later in the year]

You just don’t see a lot of crests based on squirrels, rabbits, ducks , beavers or guinea pigs, do you?       Go Oregon Ducks and Oregon State Beavers!

In 1815, the House of the Golden Lion had outlived one clan and had the resources to buy out the other.  So, the castle’s current owner in chief lives in a nearby town and has a normal day job. 

The castle has survived centuries of history with little military action or damage. The castle was besieged by the archbishop of Luxembourg in the 1300s over a dispute within the Holy Roman Empire.  A siege tower was erected outside of Burg Eltz and bombarded it with heavy stone balls.  He severed all the supply lines to the castle, forcing the knights to concede. 


Skillful diplomacy brought about the castle’s survival during the Thirty Years’ War of the 1600s when the French destroyed most of the Rhine castles.  During the early 19th century, a relative of the family was well connected to the Napoleon’s French army.  As Napoleon took possession of the German countryside he had many of the castles destroyed. This family member convinced Napoleon’s staff to let Burg Eltz survive. 



[fantastic dragon gargoyle on the drainspout]

Unfortunately, no pictures allowed inside, but I did scrounge up a few from online. 

burg eltz interior 1

[window seats all throughout the house since much of the castle would have been dark]

The boys are mesmerized by the weapons and armor when we first enter the armory from the central courtyard.  Hanging on the wall, you can spot medieval weapons from even the Turks.  The Knights Hall depicts panel paintings with scenes from the Old Testament.  The Knights Hall is still adorned with the Eltz family coat of arms. 

IMG_7280[weapons on the wall in the gift shop attracting the attention of two of the small people]

Over 80 rooms, 40 fireplaces and 20 toilets were constructed over 400 years in eight different towers. 

The master bed is on a raised platform and shrouded with a heavy curtain.  You climbed a few steps to get up into bed.  This design kept you closer to the heat near the ceiling and away from the cold floor.


The three families lived in separate wings of the castle and would meet in a large “conference room” to iron out common problems—kind of like condo organizations today.  A carved jester and a rose adorn the table in the large room.  In those days, jesters could say anything to the king—“fool’s freedom”— reminding them they were free to discuss anything.  The “rose of silence” meant that nothing could leave the room.  Better than Vegas. 

A chapel is built into a bedroom but no one is allowed to live above a chapel because that would be living above God.  So the chapel had to built out into a “bay window” architecturally so that God was mainly above the chapel ceiling. 

The treasure chamber below displays an extensive collection of treasures collected by the Eltz family for nearly 900 years. 


[the family also has a statue commemorating the brave St John of Nepomuk who was thrown off the Charles Bridge in Prague for keeping his oath of confession]


[Here’s a suit of armor worn by a member of the family when he was knighted.  Notice how much smaller they were back then, and the suit is even on about a three-inch platform.  Glad the picture cut off that I’m on my tippy toes…]

Golden drinking vessels, anyone?  And yes, those really are cups shaped like boats.  


The boys loved seeing these—a gun and an axe!  It’s a boys dream.  I kept a close eye on those little people to make sure no one tried to play with these.


Back in Oberfell, nothing wrong with a little German bakery choco-brotchen every now and then!





From young on-base America to the oldest city in Germany


Spangdahlem Air Base has the typical, wonderful American air base facilities—a base exchange (mini-mall), huge gym, outdoor recreation for renting equipment, tennis courts, child development centers, neighborhoods, you name it. It’s a town in and of itself.  Of course, for the pilot, it’s all about the beautiful iron on the flight line and the 10,000 foot runway.

I even drive by and see many young families out on a Saturday morning at a car trunk sale in the bowling alley.   People are out in their sweatpants with the kids early on a Saturday morning.

The morale and welfare folks have a family fitness challenge event underway and other people are all over the football field and soccer fields doing various athletic competitions.

The kids have been telling us, “You’ve got to see the Lego movie.”  One night, we find a place to rent the movie, and it’s the kids’ first movie in a while.  “Everything is awesome” rings through our apartment.

It’s also great to be able to spend our stowaway US dollars.  We end our search for tennis balls and pick up a few so we can play a little tennis on the base courts. 

Our family gets the chance to attend the small base chapel on a Sunday morning with a handful of other families.  The pastor, Sean, is a real encouragement and describes his son who his now at West Point.  It turns out we have mutual friends.  Several of my friends have ben stationed here and we loved seeing where they lived, even though they had moved on.

Spangdahlem is a Cold War base built in the early 1950s.  The US military has closed most of its European bases and its more difficult than a few decades ago to get an overseas assignment.   

It is still amazing to find this slice of Americana smack dab in southern Germany.  The opportunity to travel and even live overseas must be one of the unique advantages to military service. 


[washer, and a dryer!]


[ah, good ol’ directions in English]

I can’t help but drive by the flight line.  No surprise, I find I miss the flying and the camaraderie of military life.  Twenty-one years somehow flew by!  Lisa tells me she misses the on-base neighborhood we enjoyed in New Jersey.  I know we will find a community soon to put roots down into and that thought brings us both joy. 

We hardly leave the base at all.  It is comfortable here, but we remind ourselves we are not on this investment of family time for comfort.

I am glad we have not planned many days here on base!  Time to get back out to the adventure. 

Trier is likely the oldest city in Germany and was founded in or before 16 BC.  But there is a plaque on one of the medieval buildings in the main square that pays homage to the founding myth of the city’s Assyrian birth.  In Latin, the message says, “Thirteen hundred years before Rome, Trier stood / may it stand on and enjoy eternal peace, amen.”  Not far from this plaque, is a market cross that has stood here for over a thousand years. 

Trier was a residence of the Western Roman Emperor, after the Roman empire was “split” into two halves for administrative efficiency.  I write that like I know it, but I learned about such a split from Lisa and the kids as they did the history portion of their Classical Conversations curriculum last year!  In the 4th century AD, Trier was one of the five largest cities in the known world with a population of about 80,000. 

The Porta Nigra gate is the best preserved Roman city gate north of the Alps. 




This city gate was built between 186 and 200 AD.  It was part of a system of four gates controlling commerce and providing security to the city.  On the city side of the gate, the remnants of Roman columns have been left.  This colonnade would have stretched about 100 meters and had a “crowning cornice and parapet” to cover this Roman street approaching the gate. You can even glimpse parts of the old Roman road to the next city climbing into the surrounding hillside. 


The gate is enormous and it’s not difficult to imagine the imposing impression this would have made on a visitor coming upon this vestige of Roman engineering and strength.  There was a gigantic iron portcullis that could be dropped as well as open archways to launch attacks from. 




We’ve come across many Roman ruins that are torn apart by locals repurposing the building materials for other structures—like their own homes.  By the early Middle Ages (sometime around the 5th to 6th centuries) the gates were no longer in use for their designed purpose.  The Porta Nigra had some of its iron works removed and the damage is still visible.  The gate was built without mortar, utilizing iron spegs to keep the sandstone blocks together.  But the Porta Nigra likely survived because a Greek hermit chose one wing of the gate as his hermitage.  The monk’s name was Simeon and he took up residence in 1028.  He lived here for seven years before passing away and becoming beatified.  To honor him, a monastery was built right next to the Porta Nigra and the gate itself was converted into a church. 



About 1802, Napoleon ordered the monastery, the church dissolved and the gate returned to its Roman-era appearance.  What we see today, dates back to the end of this ‘renovation’ in the early 1800s. 


[I find a State of Oregon flag hanging up on a side street and have to get a picture with it.  Camille is looking suitable impressed. ]

Those Romans lived in style, there were three separate Roman baths here.  They intended to make this the largest network of Roman baths anywhere in the world.  The huge project was never finished, and when Constantine pulled out of Trier in 316 AD the Romans left behind over a mile of unfinished bath tunnels. 

The Roman amphitheater is built into the city wall.  The hillsides around the amphitheater would have been lined with stone seats but all the stones were hauled off through the centuries.  They still put on gladiator exhibitions here.  Which almost requires me to include the classic line from the movie Airplane—“Do you like movies about gladiators?”

IMG_7246 IMG_7249 IMG_7247

The amphitheater would have seated 20,000 spectators when it was built the 2d century.  There are ground-level rooms where the gladiators prepared for battle. 

We crack up reading about the “vomitorium.”  The vomitorium is a passageway built under or behind a tier of seats to allow crowds to exit rapidly after a performance.  The Latin word vomitorium derive from a verb meaning to “spew forth.”  The kids love learning about something gross sounding but it’s also amazing to see how we still design many stadiums and theaters in this fashion. 

Beneath the amphitheater “floor” there is an underground cellar where animals, feed and props were stored.  The Romans had trapdoors and false floors so that things could pop up from below.  They would stage mock naval battles.  Particularly impressive, we see the deep circular shafts that are now full of water below the floor.  Each one had a large counterweight in it.  When they needed to quickly raise a large or tall artifice they’d drop the counterweight down the well shaft.  Amazing.  The Romans would keep prisoners sentenced to death alongside exotic wild animals like African lions or Asian tigers.  A moveable platform would bring them up to the amphitheater for the showdown. 

IMG_7245 IMG_7244

We run by the oldest cathedral in Germany as we are out of time.  I love to see the old churches and castles but we are certainly learning that too many and you just burn out the small people.  Better to just see a few things at a time.  They are doing so well on this big trip. 


We find a great playground near the back of the palace of Trier and the kids are off to the races.  Young mothers sit near us with their strollers and try to keep on a sharp eye on their own little wigglers. 

Trier sightseeing time is over and we pile into the welcome car seats to drive to the picturesque Mosel river valley.  We’ve booked a place in a small town called Oberfell.

We pull up to Horst and Andrea’s house to get the key and they walk us down the house which is right behind their place.  She opens the door and asks, “where are the kids?” 

We bring them to the door and the family is so friendly.  They have kids the same ages as ours but our kids are still a bit hesitant to try and bridge that language barrier. 

The whole family walks us down to the house that used to be his parents’ place.  Horst & Andrea have left out for us a bottle of Mosel wine, sweets for the kids and even candy on each bed. We are in a tiny German town on the river with our car parked on a very quiet street.  Good thing we left Spangdahlem!


[the view out our front window]

A fairytale of a walled city

We will miss Jolana & Jan but it is on to the next part of our adventure.  We do the familiar bag  loading calculus, let the kids get their nests built and settle in a for a journey back west.  We’ll practice our German via the coffee break German podcasts.  It feels good to be headed back to a language we’ve practiced a tiny bit.  Czech has been interesting, Polish a challenge and Hungarian is nothing like the language of its bordering countries.  Of course, that doesn’t really matter to us because we don’t know those bordering Slav languages anyway!

Every time I load up we clean everything out of the car again.  The cupholders and under the seats are treasure troves of legos, plastic animals and remnants of snacks that we keep trying not to eat in the car.  I bet that all sounds a bit familiar. 

The drive will take all day so we plan a stop about halfway at a small, walled town—Rothenburg ob der Tauber.  The name means something like “red fortress on the Tauber river”.  It will be about 3.5 hours there and another 3.5 after. 


[one of the entrances into the walled city–people actually drive right through here and under the arch]


Through these travels, we are consistently reminded of the pervasive power of stories to capture the imagination.  A few places we’ve visited are known because stories were told about them through the ages.  People are encouraged to visit Auschwitz and places like it so that the story of what happened there will live on.  Stories and myths are celebrated and passed along to satiate an appetite that must be hard-wired into us.  Of course, Jesus taught so many of his principles in parables.  Many of the buildings, churches and museum relics we’ve seen have certain elements that attract attention because of the story that’s involved.  For instance, we all know of Loch Ness and we all know why it is the most famous loch in Scotland.  Over 600 lochs reside in Scotland but I wonder how many others we could name.  The ancient sword in Vienna’s museum has more value because it may be associated with Charlemagne.  That same museum boasted a unicorn horn (read “narwhal’s tusk”). 

For the same reason, wherever we go, people explain what part of their village or their special interest is in a movie or a book.  Our own guidebooks expose us to the fame of many of a place.   The Harry Potter books and films are a link for our kids to many different places. 

As I check a few Rothenburg facts online to explain what it was like there, I stumble across—sure enough—the town was used in a “Harry Potter Deathly Hallows” film and was the fairytale village seen in the movie “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”.  The brief Harry Potter scene of Gellert stealing the wand of Gregorovitch takes place in Rothenburg ob der Tauber. 

We spy a plaque at an ice cream place bearing a Rick Steves endorsement on our way into the town square.  He possesses a rare ability to communicate the nuances of traveling tips and specifically encapsulates European history into bitesize chunks for an American audience.  We frequently find his guidebooks in our hands and see them in others at many sights.  His success has even changed the experience of certain, smaller sites somewhat akin to a huge mutual fund finding it difficult to invest in a small company without changing the whole picture.  Another shop has his picture displayed on the door showing he’s been in the store.  


Rothenburg ob der Tauber is a top German tourist board site, an UNESCO world heritage site and also a stop on the Romantic Road, Germany’s north-south scenic route in the southern part of the country. Promotion-minded tour agencies devised the 350-kilometer stretch in the 1950s.  Brown signs bearing the “Romantische Straße” (often in Japanese too) mark sites such as Neuschwanstein, Wurzburg, Nördlingen and Rothenburg ob der Tauber.

The original Käthe Wohlfahrt Christmas store displays its festive wares right down the cobbled street from the Old Town square.  There are more ornaments than you can shake a stick at.  No pictures allowed in most of the store.   A ten foot tall wooden Christmas pyramid carousel spins with motor power rather than candles.  There’s a Christmas museum too with fully decorated Christmas trees.  With the kids trying not to combust from all the Christmas energy in the place you keep looking over your shoulder worried that some hidden Elf security force isn’t about to storm out and stop everyone from touching the nutcrackers. 



The Marktplatz—Market square—clock puts on an hourly show much like Prague’s Astronomical clock.  But this one is far simpler—two windows open revealing two men drinking from tankards. They both drink till one falls over—the loser.



From the town’s tourism website, “Every hour on the hour between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m. the clockwork figures on the clock above the Ratstrinkstube entertain the public with the key scene from the legend of the Master Draught.  According to the story, former Mayor Nusch saved the town from destruction at the hands of the troops of Imperial General Tilly by winning a wager by drinking 3 1/4 liters of Franconian wine in October 1631. What is known for certain is that the women of Rothenburg and their children assembled in the Market Square to beg Tilly to spare the town.”

This threatened destruction of the town took place during the Thirty Years’ War as the villagers stayed the hand of the Catholic Tilly from burning the village.  To commemorate the event, people flock to the annual Meistertrunk festival.

Another great Rothenburg story is that the Americans bombed it in WWII but senior leadership advised army commanders on the ground not to use artillery against this culturally important city if at all possible.  A contingent of US troops marched in under the white flag to present terms to the Germans for their surrender.  The Americans announced that if they did not return to their lines in three hours that US artillery would begin to demolish the city.  The Germans deliberated and surrendered despite Hitler’s orders that no unit should surrender no matter what. 

This is the place to see a wealth of buildings from the middle ages.  We can’t stay for the night watchman’s tour but wish we could.  We are traveling this much and still can’t see it all.  Better to pick and choose your focus, just like so much of life!

But we can do one of the things we do best—run all over the place and enjoy the atmosphere. 


So we set out on exploring the wall that encircles the tiny town. 


The kids run ahead, then run back to us to show us some tucked-away corner.  We run up and down stairs and into dead-ends on the wall and have to backtrack to find the part that continues on.  It is all just plain fun. 




The kids, especially the boys, frequently have to pause to take some shots between turrets and arrow slits to defend the city. 



We climb medieval towers via sloping stairs and stoop beneath wooden beams to run along the walls. The boys are still discussing which of their sisters was hit by incoming artillery and why.  There are plaques everywhere celebrating the people and groups who donated to rebuild the walls (after WWII or just general repair).  The townsfolk are friendly and they know a thing or two about tourists.







The on the road planning is nonstop, obviously, for next lodging places and attractions to see.  We’ve got a few days before we can check into the small town in the Moselle valley that we’ve found.   Nuremberg was primarily booked up but we were able to get a few days at the affordable base TLF at Spangdahlem.  “TLF” is a great military acronym for “temporary living facility.” 

It’s a challenge to get a reservation at a base because the “standby” traveler is understandably not their priority.  They must keep rooms open and allow room for official business travelers and families moving in or out until relatively late in the game. We rightly get the leftover rooms, so you don’t know until just a few days prior.

We drive by signs for Kaiserslautern and its Ramstein Air Base where we started our European portion of the adventure about six weeks prior.  Finally arriving through the darkness after a hideous traffic jam, we drive up to a brightly lit gate bearing the name of Spangdahlem Air Base.  The American flag is prominently displayed here.  After our last three years living on base for the first time—at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey—it feels like driving up to your own neighborhood.  The American guard even speaks American!   And he gives clear directions to the lodging office on base.  Can’t hardly wait to go to the BX!

The room is great—strong wifi, two bathrooms, beds for everyone and English directions on the washing machine—and even cheap.



Thank you so much for your thoughts and prayers!  We received news that my lab results are all within the normal range.  It had been three months since my last check.  Thank you God!  We are so grateful.  Without realizing that it was really there, I’ll admit to feeling like a boulder has been lifted from my shoulders.  Thank you again for reading and joining us on this adventure. 

How to spice up your next museum visit

1. Find the nearest informational plaque and stand right in front of it.  If your siblings can still almost read it, lean on the plaque.


2.   Step in front of the interactive touchscreen.  Instead of clicking on the “next” screen, drag your finger across the screen and enjoy the cloud that forms behind your finger.  Start doing faster and faster loops.  Keep doing this until the museum guard asks where your parents are.


3.  Sit on the low brick wall placed in front of the preserved section of the underground city wall with your coffee.  Let the same guard who spoke to your child come tell you that you cannot sit on the perfect-height-for-sitting wall.


4.  Bounce the coin in your hoodie pocket over and over and surprisingly violently, for fun.  Accidentally bounce it out of your pocket and let it roll across the suspended walkway you are standing on.  Watch as it rolls off the walkway and into the ancient city excavation below.  Try to help your dad apologize to the guard in a foreign language.  Don’t be surprised if the guard tells you that you are not going to get your coin back.


5.  When the museum seems to drag on FOREVER and ever and you are hungry for a snack just drape yourself across your parents.  Any bag or backpack they are carrying is actually designed to also be a handhold.   Transfer as much of your weight off of your feet and onto their bag.            Alternative method–Link your hands up around their arm or shoulder.  Hang like a sloth on a tree branch.


6.  Get really excited about the arms and armor exhibits.  Ignore any suspicious stares from museum guards.  Pick your weapons and suits of armor since you are actually living in a Ranger’s Apprentice book.  Try to figure out which one looks like a saxe knife.  Point at the suits of armor over the railing but neglect to notice the laser beam you are breaking.  Pretend you don’t notice the audio alarm that is going off (again).  Do this three times.  Try not to make eye contact with approaching museum guards.


7.  Max perform the audio guide.  Make sure you know how to turn it on and off, rapidly.  Then see if you can break your record.  Continue till it powers down and won’t come back on.  Then, give it to your parents.


8.  If any of the material seems a bit slow paced, get as far ahead of your family as you can.  Go several rooms ahead in the museum.  Consider it a challenge.


9.  As you tour the underground salt mine, really get into enjoying the salt.  Lick your hand, drag it along the mine wall for yards and yards then lick it again.  Any wooden beams that are painted white should be similarly enjoyed.  Do this as long as possible or until your parents notice.


10.  When the guided tour is in the relatively small confines of the king’s bedchamber, strike.  Employ a silent, but deadly, attack from your GI system.  Take note of others’ faces to see why anyone might be avoiding that area of the room.  Prepare your defense ahead of any possible recognition contingency–“whoever smelt it, dealt it.”




Overdosing on “Mad” King Ludwig’s castles (are pics visible now?)

You’ve likely heard of the famous Neuschwanstein castle in Bavaria.  Lisa’s brother gave us a 37-million-piece  jigsaw puzzle of the castle that we throughly enjoyed.   You might have heard how this German castle inspired the Disney castle.  As an American, it makes perfect sense to me why someone in Germany would build their castle based on the greatest ‘Merican amusement park known to mankind.  Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?  No, sir.


Please forgive the completely unnecessary Animal House reference and my pointing out that Animal House was filmed at the University of Oregon.  Wish the Ducks  had a real statue with the phrase, “Knowledge is good.”  I will try to restrain myself from further ostentatious Oregon pride by skipping a lengthy explanation of the Oregon-classic movie “Goonies”. 

Now back to our regularly-scheduled Europe, I’d seen Neuschwanstein briefly on a NATO trip a few years back.  Reading the guide book now, I can see there were horse carts and trams to take you up to the high castle.  But when we visited, we were in a hurry, didn’t ask many questions and ended up trudging up the steep, 30-minute hike.  No worries, just a good workout.  I remembered how the interior had underwhelmed me compared to the jaw-dropping mountain setting and castle exterior. 


neusch and hohen

Actually this aerial shot was not taken from any ultralight I brought on the trip–just available from Google Images but it shows the proximity of the two castles.

We want to show the kids some of the castles of Europe and what better way to start than with Ludwig II’s castles?  Crown Prince Ludwig II ascended the throne at age 18 (in 1864) after his father died from an illness.  Two years later, Prussia absorbed Bavaria and Ludwig’s power was nipped in the bud.  He retreated into his love of music, architecture and art.  Ludwig was a passionate patron of Richard Wagner.

Our first visit of the day was to Linderhof palace.  He inherited the castle from his father and completely renovated it in the over-the-top Rococo style. 


This is the only castle he finished during his lifetime.  His family had at least fifteen castles.  Ludgwig idolized the French Sun King Louis XIV as the embodiment of an absolute monarch that expressed his ideal of a God-given right to rule.  This was no longer possible in the Europe of Ludwig’s day so the themes selected seem a longing for days gone by.  The French palace of Versailles inspired the Linderhof renovation.  As you enter Linderhof, there is a statue of Louis XIV gloriously mounted on horseback beneath a sun emblazoned on the ceiling.  

linderhof entry-foyer

The banner entwined within that sun is “Nec Pluribus Impar”—roughly translated as “not unequal to many”.  This was Louis XIV’s, the French Sun King, personal motto.  Our guide offered an explanation as something along the lines of being capable above others or better than others. Nearly every portrait in the castle proudly displays a portrait of a French monarch, and his mistress.  A sculpture of a French king standing on the vanquished (or our guide told us, the people) flanked the marble fireplace.  Ludwig had a dining room table that rose into the room so he could dine alone.  Servants would prepare the meal and completely set the table downstairs.  The hall of mirrors where he liked to read at night presented images of the candles around him into infinity.  He would often read all night long and sleep during the day.  The rococo style includes “3D” cherubs reaching out of their frames and into the next.  His bedchamber contains tapestries of people offering their homage to the great French monarchs. 

The grounds are nearly as impressive as the palace interior. 




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Check out the clan in the lower right of this photo.

Ana says, “Linderhof was his most royal castle.”

You’ve gotta know you’re padding your resume for later being known as ”mad” when you build a grotto, complete with electrical waterfall, for your own private opera screenings.  Yes, that’s a miniature ship in the lagoon.  King Ludwig loved Wagner’s operas.  Powering this grotto’s lights (and heating the water) was the reason the first electricity was generated in Bavaria.  Sometimes he would have his servants paddle him around on that small boat in the lagoon.


It sure brings into focus what those crazy colonists (and later the Europeans themselves) were rebelling against.  It makes you wonder how we ended up with leaders like George Washington.  He stepped away from public life when others with his reputation, power and fame were doing all they could to keep a tight grip on it.

We drove over to visit the next Ludwig castle of Hohenshwangau.  This castle was first mentioned in letters in the 12th century.  It was a knights’ castle before the family bought it in the mid-1800s.  Ludwig’s father bought it and began to rebuild the dilapidated castle.  Its walls hold romantic murals of the deeds of the royal family and of leaders from the area. 

hohen interior

Once his father passed away, Ludwig moved into the king’s bedroom.  His bedroom still has the telescope pointed toward Neuschwanstein as he observed the ongoing construction for 17 years.  There are nude, bathing beauties on his bedchamber walls (and his father’s secret door to the queen’s room).   Ludwig was engaged at one time but never married.  He even had stars in the ceiling that actually illuminated at night.  


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Tourists meander in the street amid a disorienting crush of fellow tourists, idling tour buses and horse drawn carriages at the visitor’scenter trying to get their tickets to Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein.  It is big business.


The family still lived in the Hohenschwangau gift shop building till the 1970s and they still own the castle. The tour was fast and short on details but the queuing system and ticket distribution was state-of-the-art.   The tourist dollars are flowing in to visit these works of art.

Ludwig did not finish the interior of the Neuschwanstein, because he only lived in it for 170 days.  To design the castle, he had the rough plans drawn up by a theater set designer, then taken to an architect.  He designed the latest technology of the day into the castle—running water, flush toilets, and auto-rotating spits for cooking.  He put so much of his personal funds into his simultaneous castle projects that he was constantly having to take out new loans.  As he neared insolvency, his creditors considering seizing the castles and Ludwig threatened suicide. 

Neuschwanstein is one of the most popular tourist destinations in all of Europe with 1.3 million visitors a year, often more than 6,000 visitors each summer day.  Access is limited to 35 minute guided tours.  His last year of life was consumed by imagining and working on an even greater castle, Falkenstein.

In 1886, he was removed from power and was found mysteriously drowned in a lake a few days afterward.  The people of Bavaria were furious with his fiscal irresponsibility.  But within six weeks of his death, tourists were paying to go through the castle.  Ludwig’s younger brother had been ruled mentally ill years prior so the art of ruling fell to an uncle as regent.  The people of Bavaria still benefit daily from the tourism produced by these magnificent structures.  



Hike like the Bavarians!

It started when the kids, walking along the creek, looked up at the highest peak they could see above the trees.

“Dad, can we climb that one?”

We talked about how it would not be easy but that we would see if it was possible.  We asked our hotelier couple for advice and he told us the name of the peak was Brünnstein.  In halting English, he mentioned that it was “dirty” along the way and that we should drive closer to the peak before starting out, for the “kinder”.  He is a father of four as well and understands the limits of smaller lags.  He suggested we park in a lot closer to the peak.

So we loaded up in the car on a bright morning and wound through tiny towns on our slow climb in elevation.  It was an easy, weekend morning and people were out for drives, and bike rides.  As you enter a town, clinging to the hillside, a radar display would show your speed.  Cafe tables were within inches of the road.  We passed a wedding reception full of guests sitting outside and sunning under a large cafe canopy.  We continued to drive higher.

We finally found a parking lot and this detailed hiking map.  Good work by the Bavarians!  We would be tackling about a 2000 foot elevation gain over 5 kilometers each way.  An ambitious effort for our clan.  The sign references Brünnsteinhaus and we guessed that the summit of Brünnstein was just past this “haus”.

The path climbed above the parking lot and over well-engineered drainage culverts.  We watched our car disappear through the trees.  Emerging into a view of the valley and the towns we’d driven through, a few mountain bikers labored slowly past us.


Will found a “walking” stick right away. We trod up to a sign that directed two different paths to Brünnsteinhaus.  The trail numbers were clearly delineated and adequately marked along the way.  Decision time.  Should we go the faster way (likely steeper) or the slower way (likely less challenging)?  We made up our minds to go steeper on the way up.


The kids got out ahead of us and conspired together.



We entered into a darker path besieged by tree roots and denser foliage filtering out the available light.  I stowed my sunglasses.


We frequently encountered barbed wire at turn points.  Wooden steps were built to allow hikers access over the barbed wire.  We discussed the fun of tetanus shots and encouraged the kiddos to take care.  The barbed wire keeps the grazing cattle from wandering. Over a rise, we spotted a deer that bounded away.  The patterns of our shoe soles filled more and more with the adhesive mud.



Frequent breaks kept us all in the game.  Here’s Will really getting into one of those short breaks.

Of course, our small ones had brought their Harry Potter wands.  Sometimes you have to do quite a few spells when you are out in woods.  You have to constantly be prepared to fight off any lurking bandits.



With the muddy trail too narrow for two-abreast hiking, big brother stayed out in front.  I was the same way as a kid.  If a smaller sibling got out there, it was a race.

Ascending slowly on the narrow trail, we moved aside for another couple and heard a native English speaker!  It was the first one we’d heard.  A short conversation revealed he was a Colorado native now living in Munich.  His German wife looked at us and said, “Why are you here?”  I loved that.  I think she meant why were we Americans in a non-touristy area normally reserved for Germans.  Perhaps we were the bandits ruining the party!

A hiking couple, passing us on the way down, stopped to try and communicate something to us.  I picked out, that around the next “sale” was something at least a “meter” long that we should be careful for.  It could “poke” the kinder.  I was grateful but as he walked away, a bit unclear if it was a sharp root, barbed wire or a large snake.  We warned the kids, rather generically, and continued on the steepening trail with Dad in front.  Around the corner, we found what he was attempting to get across.  The narrow path was pinched between a rocky face on one side and a drop off down the slope on the other.  A 3-4 meter cable was anchored into the rock for hikers.  We started on the cable gingerly as a Middle Eastern couple waited behind us.  She was in a head shawl and modest dress of some type (an abaya?).  At a few points, you had to cling to the cable and try your footing in various spots to ensure a strong foothold.  A small plaque mentioned a name and a date.  Had someone passed away here?!  We kept the kids marshalled into the cable and away from the dropoff.   Luke had slid his hand along the cable and had cut himself.  The helpful hiker had benn trying to warn us about a sharp wire sticking out of the cable at one point.  After some trying moments, we all emerged safely into the light of an opening in the trail.  The boys stumbled off the trail through mud and manure, the girls carefully picked their way through.  Luke’s hand was bleeding so we bandaged him up.  The kids understandably felt torn between a confident self-reliance that they’d overcome that section and a wariness of coming down this same way.  We took a break and noticed the Middle Eastern couple must have turned back.  We tried to calm down the mama bear.  I didn’t blame her one bit.


The trail opened up further into more cattle grazing and we enjoyed cow bells. We rounded a corner and came upon a bench and a wooden carving of Jesus on the cross overlooking the valley.



Ana exclaimed, “Everytime I look at a cow they are pooping!”  Later, Ana stepped in a cow-provided trail biscuit, “EEeww, get it off, get it off!”  Will stepped in one a few minutes later, but didn’t seem to mind.



In a couple of areas, we traversed grates placed over steep sections of the trail.  Twice, metal grates ferried us over small waterfalls.  Then I caught a glimpse of the Brünnsteinhaus.  Or rather, I saw what looked to be 40-50 people at tables on a kind of ledge.  Had all these people hiked the way we’d come?  How come many didn’t look sweaty at all?  Hey, they’re cheating!  How can you come out to the woods and end up with a huge beer like that guy has?  Is this legal?  Are we disturbing the entire mantra of getting out into nature when you end up enjoying a big slice of cake like that couple has over there?  There were kids everywhere and we’d seen no kids on our trail up.

We sidled by tables full of folks enjoying the day and sat by a small playground on the hillside.  Kids played, swung and giggled and we broke out our sandwiches.  I looked up at the 200-300 vertical feet left to go to the summit.  Were these people enjoying the veranda and the sunny tables and the beer going to continue on to the summit?  I wasn’t sure our little tribe was going to have the energy either since we still had a long hike back down.  We already had about 2.5 hours of strenuous hiking under our belt. This was quite challenging to my mindset as I realize I’ve always liked to go out into the woods and reach the summit, or the goal.   I was more used to a crumpled-up PB&J and a Nalgene bottle of warm water with a great view.  This was a mild earthquake to my assumptions.



Lisa and I discussed it, it was clear that wisdom must keep us from going higher on this sunny day where we’d spent a lot of energy on the way up.

Those beers over there and sitting at those tables was beginning to look pretty darn good.

After the kids played for a while, we decided to amble on over.  We finally got a seat at a table with a magnificent view and we had enough Euros for our own beer and cake!  Hmmm, these Europeans might be onto something with this concept.  Refreshing local “weiss” beer too, after that challenging hike.  Lisa said it was the best beer she’d ever tasted.





But, here in Europe, Visa is not everywhere you want to be!  We were not surprised that the mountain house didn’t take credit cards but neither do several locations throughout our travels.

We laughed and recounted all our adventures on the way up and everyone seemed to walk a bit taller.  But we also decided not to go back down the way we’d come!  The Middle Eastern couple were there, evidently coming up another way.

Leaving Brünsteinhaus after a great rest, the sweat had begun to cool on my back.  It was time to start moving again, into the late afternoon.


We stepped lightly across the grass of an alpine meadow and found the easier trails that others must have come up.  We went slowly because the mountains were so breathtaking that we kept forgetting to watch our step.  Others meandered across the meadow, taking other paths to their own destinations.



Happy cows!
We stepped over the wooden steps of a barbed wire fence into a tiny corral.  The trail took us within feet of a curious horse.  The girls were delighted.  Ana neighed to the horse who responded with his ears.  We diverted our eyes as a family ahead of us helped a toddler use the facilities under a tree.  We followed them and all discovered wild raspberries!

The longer path was indeed less steep.  We sang a few songs and talked as a family to keep all of our minds in the game.  Will began to sit down whenever we stopped.  Lisa’s sock kept disappearing into her shoe.  Someone’s foot was hurting, then it was someone else’s.  We trudged a little slower and took more breaks.  The girls were elated by the discovery of grazing horses on a hilltop.  “Daddy, take some pictures!”

Our view of the valleys grew slowly flatter.  Isn’t it interesting how the climb is always far more interesting than the easier descent?

That beautiful sight at the end of a hike finally emerged from the trees—our car!

A morning run along the creek

There is an old saying about wherever you go, you cannot escape yourself.

I run one morning, buoyed by just being on the trail and able to run.  God is so kind.  I didn’t realize that I once subconsciously wondered if my running days were over.  Dangerous bloodwork numbers once slapped me into an ambulance and two blood transfusions.  Several doctors huddled to narrow the possible scenarios.  I spent my first-ever night in a hospital bed.  One of the doctors flipped on my hospital room lights early the next morning with two huge needles and not nearly enough anesthesia for a bone marrow biopsy wakeup. There was no snooze feature option.  I ended up covered in sweat and learned a bit more about pain.  The pain experienced is different for everyone, but I felt radiating, electric pain down my legs and in my lower back as the needles went deep into the back of my hip.  When they extract the marrow, the vacuum the syringe creates makes me want to scream.  That afternoon, he came back for the appointment he’d set for Lisa and I.  He had a kind face.  He dropped himself into a spartan chair and drew the curtain around us with eyes carrying weight and sadness.

When you are with your spouse and the earnest doctor looks into your eyes and explains how you have cancer.  When you don’t even know what Multiple Myeloma is.  When that punch collapses your windpipe and there’s nothing to punch back at.  When the walls close in. When you have to remember to breathe and your chest tightens around your heart.  When you are partially relieved they finally know what it is, however terrible it may be.  When you sit in that bed, hooked up to those monitors and hold onto your wife.  When the tears begin to burn at the corner of your eyes.  When you have to ask your spouse to leave the room because you realize right then nothing on Earth can hold you.  When you begin to glimpse the horizon of losing your grasp on hope.

That’s when you run.  Run for help.  Oh please, help.

I ran right to my Father, like a child.  Just like when you were small and scared and you didn’t know what to do so you just dropped everything and ran for safety.

A few years back, we were enjoying a park with baby Luke at the end of a Reagan Airport’s runway in DC.  Luke was playing in the grass on that bright day and a plane took off seemingly right over us.  Ear-deafening noise directly over his head.  I just watched him because I’d seen the plane coming.  His face melted into pure terror and he forgot all about his toy and started tearing across the grass towards me as fast his little legs could carry him.  He wrapped himself around my legs, then looked up.  I will never forget it.

Many have a similar cancer story.  And everyone is dealing with something.  I know I am not unique in being challenged.

I now have scars to remind me.  Scars on my arms from the peripheral catheters they surgically installed.  They lay you down on a metal table and a surgeon spears your arm.  I later learned the catheter was over a 18 inches long and ran from the inside of my arm to just above my heart.  The peripheral catheter delivers the killing drugs of life.  Thank God for those researchers in their labs and the physicians that care for us all.

My lower back is marked by a few round biopsy scars.  I’m only at five bone marrow biopsies though, I’ve read of a man with over thirty.  The doctor or PA must find a large bone close to the the skin so they lay you on your stomach and go in through the back of your pelvis/hip at your lower back.  I am grateful for these scars.  Amazingly, they help me to remember.  How can I wander at all from those painful days?  The truth is that I forget sometimes.

When I was weak from recovery, I would see the runners on the road and would be so envious.  Running is freedom. Freedom from walls.  A temporary respite from the immediate in front of me and a chance to slow down time.  I wondered if I could get that freedom back.  Our home’s one flight of stairs would send the blood pounding through my ears.  During the nightly story, the kids would ask if I could read louder—I couldn’t.  I couldn’t draw enough breath to sing.  In church when the worship songs finished, I would immediately deflate down into my seat.  I would unsuccessfully fight off afternoon naps and I hated my fatigue.  I’d cram a pillow over my head to block out the days’ noise, struggle with my thoughts and try to relax for a few quick restorative winks.  I’d pray for energy and try not to extrapolate my current situation, baldness, and weakness into an infinite future.



So I run this morning along the trail, I just run and it feels like freedom.  And I try not to let my willing heart carry me past the strength of my legs.  Because it wants to.  What a wonderful time to be outside.

It is exquisite here, and quiet.  There is peace and the sound of water over rocks.  And despite the shape of these Alps, it could be a trail in New Jersey or Oregon or Nebraska or Texas.


Somehow, I can get concerned about saying the right thing, or doing the right thing or even what people might think, but then I remember I have a Father who loves me.  My thoughts can become my reality.  I build sandcastles in my head and forget they are not necessarily even true.  And then, I remember—but for the grace of God.  He was there and He knows.  He will be there.  I can’t ever be good enough and I don’t need to be.  Somehow He loves me though I don’t deserve it.  I will never fully grasp that mystery but it sustains me.

Near the end of the Return of the King, J.R.R. Tolkien has Sam ask the wise Gandalf, “Is everything sad going to come untrue?”

What a beautiful way to try and paint the idea of a redeemer who exists outside of our understanding of time.

Ellie Holcomb’s “As Sure As the Sun” shines through my earbuds and I smile and run a little faster.  My shoes crunch the gravel but I look up.

There is good news
There is good truth
That you could never change
No matter what you do
You are loved
More than you know
More than you could hope for
After everything you’ve done

As sure as the sun will rise
And takes away the night
His mercy will not end
His mercy will not end

There is good news
There’s a promise
That no matter where you go
You will never be alone
In the dark
In the doubting
When you can’t feel anything
Oh, his love remains the same

As sure as the sun will rise
And takes away the night
His mercy will not end
His mercy will not end

Even through the night
Silver stars will shine
Hope of glory’s light
That will wake us once again

As sure as the sun will rise
And takes away the night
As sure as the sun will rise
His mercy will not end
His mercy will not end

Grüß Gott!



The German way of saying hello is “Guten Tag” (good day, literally).  But in Bavaria, it’s Grüß Gott.  The German ß is pronounced like an “ss” and I discovered it as an alt-S on my keyboard.  Grüß Gott (“Gruss Gott”) means “may God greet you.”  In the mornings, it is said quietly as you pass people on the sidewalk.



I was curious about the mysterious chalk message scratched on many doors here and found it in our Rick Steves’ travel guide.  This house blessing is done on Epiphany (celebrated Jan 6th). Epiphany is the Christian holiday celebrating the Magi’s adoration of the baby Jesus.  Epiphany is observed more strictly in Catholic Europe than in the US.  The message is “20 + C + M + B + 14”.  The letters are the initials of the three wise men Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar— and also stand for the Latin phrase Christus mansionem benedicat (“May Christ bless the house”).  The small crosses between the letters remind all who enter that this house has been blessed in this year (20 + 14).  On many Oberaudorf doors, the previous year is smudged out and the new one written over it.  The European Epiphany holiday includes gift-giving, feasting, and caroling door-to-door—often for a charity organization.  Those who donate get their door marked up in thanks.  Seven months later, nearly every door in this small town proudly sports this inscription.

I understand Europe has many holidays, many of them religious.  We’ve witnessed a few of these store and bank holidays already.  I’ve read the churches in Europe are often dying, but you wouldn’t guess it by the frequent state religious holidays.




We have loved our place in Oberaudorf.  The pictures just above are from the view off our balcony. The picture below is the front office.


We slumber beneath individual duvet comforters only and on top of a fitted sheet.  The windows are covered by a rolling, plastic shutter people lower at night.  The shutter is hoisted and dropped into place by a thoughtful canvas strap inside the window casing (you have to look closely in the shot below). The “garage door” shutter keeps light and noise out.  In the mornings, people  let in the morning sun by rumbling their shutters up.


The oversized, screen-less windows sport ingenious handles.  The window is locked closed while in the six o’clock position and in the “swing open” position at three o’clock.  The twelve o-clock position allows the top of the window to be tilted into the window providing ventilation and the security of a locked window.  Our patio door works the same way.


Active lifestyles are king here.  Kayaks on cars and people on bikes enjoy the winding roads. The hometown hero is Bastian Schweinsteiger who plays for the German national football (soccer) team.   He is a professional player and helped Germany capture the World Cup last month.  His footprints are on display outside the town’s tourist information.  His dad’s sports store—Sport Schweinsteiger—is next to the ice cream store and the bakery in the heart of town.   He doesn’t carry the tennis balls we were looking for but we did buy a soccer ball from his store.  We struggle in our German to tell him we enjoyed watching Bastian in the World Cup and the dad brings out autographed shots of his famous son.  We spot a couple wearing Schweinsteiger Bayern Munchen jerseys snapping a selfie in front of the store.


Our walls hold a Bavarian calendar that has a monthly scene of life through the year.  August’s page displays this great shot of rafters enjoying beer and greeting naked people frolicking on the river’s beach.  Too bad, I didn’t see any sign-ups for such trips!


The family “ski lodge” hotel includes the swimming pool room, 80s style fitness room, ping pong room, and a sauna.  I enter the sauna area one evening to use the men’s restroom.  The sauna itself has a glass door and glass wall.  I lock eyes through the glass door with a naked man and woman sitting in the sauna.  Without meaning to, I immediately turn to read any signage on door assuming I’ve entered a private area. No such sign is posted.  It’s just good ‘ol, naked Europe!

We love the lodge and its playground but the trail down by the town’s small river is somehow ours.  We walk and run alongside the trout facing into the current.  Sometimes there are rainbows.  But mainly it is a gravel path with the sound of rushing water.  Trees, footbridges, a candle shrine to a beloved daughter, a few houses, chickens and sheep border our trail.  There are worn, granite rocks to build kid bridges and “secret” places to dig.


On the day before we check out, the family who runs the place comes to our door and delivers a picture book of the area and a delicate coffee mug.  Bavaria is a treat.


A few German tidbits

Luke pointed out one day, “You seem to be drinking more beer here, Dad.”

Me—“Well, yes, uh, yes I am.”
We are in Bavaria after all.  I almost feel like it would be unnatural not to enjoy a few of the delicious, tall cool ones around here.  I’m supporting the local economy, right?  I’m sure it’s for the good of the people.  These Bavarian beers tend to be weiss (wheat) beers and “dunkel” (dark) weiss beers.


I’ve been here almost two weeks so I’m confident I can speak about an entire country with some authority.  I am a monolingual American after all.  Forgive me for not getting pictures of more of these things but they are fleeting.  I’m working on it.  Many of these noted differences should be a good opportunity for you to laugh at a guy who does not speak the language (especially former exchange students and anyone who took German in HS and college).

We enjoyed dinner out at a local gasthof (seems to mean informal restaurant) near the train station and sat outside on a cool evening.  The waitress had spent a month in New York and must have been sent to our table because of her excellent English.  She wore a traditional Bavarian dress as a uniform.  She asked what we wanted for drinks and asked me right away if I wanted a beer.  It seemed to be assumed.  I clarified I wanted a small beer as I was driving and I think she asked, “Oh, a half liter?”  The liter mug seems to be the norm around here.  Will cracked us up by saying, “I don’t like beer yet.”  The waitress laughed and said, “You will, you will.”

Our friends, the Mantzes, were kind enough to lend us a book on Culture Shock in Germany.  Of course, I’m not done with it yet.  I am an American after all, and only pretend to care about other cultures…      Not true, not true.   I took the kids down to the creek and we ended up building a little pile of rocks in the creek.  We received some smiles from passing locals on the trail and a couple looks that bordered on the stinkeye.  I read in the book later that the Germans generally prefer it to be quiet between 1-3 in the afternoon.  We may have been violating that time frame and we are not the quietest crew.  It might also have been related to the fact that we all had on red, white and blue body paint and were chanting “USA, USA, USA!” for a few hours.  Sundays, no one mows the lawn and nearly every store is closed.  Even in this vibrant, small town, most stores close on weekdays between about 12 and 2.

On the highways, I’ve seen sedans and hatchbacks pulling tiny, economical trailers that hold a couple of beds.  I have not seen one full-size pickup yet.  They are woefully behind in their King Ranch truck quotient.  Also, no Jeeps for these mountain roads.  Not a surprise when gas costs about $8-$10 a gallon.  I’ve heard the drivers must pass a rigorous educational course and it shows on the tight roads.  You’ll also see motorcycles with sidecars and people actually riding in them.  Everywhere, are the ‘wagons’ (station wagons) whether Audi, BMW, VW, you name it.

I now know where 80’s music goes to live forever—German radio.  While driving, we’ve heard the best musical decade on several stations.  Bring it on, you know the 80’s were the best.  Flock of Seagulls, anyone?  Police, Whitney Houston, Steve Winwood, vintage U2, Journey—it’s a musical time capsule.

Rest stops are something to behold.  Compost bins, decent restaurants, beautiful picnic tables but you do have to pay for the rest rooms, generally.  We saw reserved parking spots for women (or maybe it was mothers) near the park for children.  In some places, we’ve seen seven different recycling bins for various products.

They label their trails with precision.  There were metal trail signs, just like road signs, with time to hike instead of miles.  Faithfully placed trail markers guide hikers through any confusing areas.  You frequently hike through fields that hold farmers’ cows and horses.  Barbed wire was wrapped around several parts of the trail since the land was also used for grazing.  The trail was challenging and a few parts in America would have had legal notices on them warning of imminent destruction or the like.  Of course the unintelligible signs (to us) along the trails might have been legal notices for all we knew.



At the local grocery store, you pay separately for the bakery.  Apparently, so people can get their fresh bread fix without having to wait in the full line?  A few American brands have made the shelves; Palmolive, Kellogg’s, Miracle Whip.  I’ve already described how you’ve got to show up with a Euro or 50 cent Euro coin to unlock a grocery cart.  The wasps fly right into the bread case since it’s near the door.  No effort was made to stop them from setting up shop on some good-looking pastries.  We saw this in two separate places and no one seems to mind.  They must not have received the memo that you need to design a grocery store around two enormous aisles of soda, chips, crackers and snack foods.

There are approximately 87 different types of sausage, wurst and other types of meat at the deli counter.  I don’t speak any German and the explanatory names are lined up at the front edge of the display case.  The meats are distributed throughout the case with very little relationship to the signage.  I do a lot of pointing to get the specific wurst I want.  I don’t want to hold up the line to ask her to write out the name of the item.  The funny thing is that I get exactly what I’m asking for and still don’t know what it is.  Each one we’ve tried has been fantastic.  We are playing a lot of ‘learning German’ apps but I need to find one on German meats identification.  This could be the next big thing for all the confused American travelers—a Meat Facebook.  I think I need to find a venture capitalist to get this thing off the ground.

I’m sure you’ve heard German before but I had missed how long some of their words can be.  The name of our hotel is 12 syllables long.   Overall, it sounds familiar to our ‘English’ ears.

The playgrounds have real teeter-totters and actual zip lines.  We even found some kind of hamster wheel thing the kids love.  Kids over the age of four actually play on the playground equipment.





A few typical European items?—We have a very small fridge in our flat so we are going to the grocer every couple of days.  It looks like we are not alone.  Lots of folks are biking to and from the little store with a small bag, likely for the bakery or the grocer.  Going to the bakery in the early morning for fresh bread and pastries seems to be a male activity.  Men and teenage boys bring back the goodies.  The food is simply fantastic.



Exquisite chocolate and candy, as Will will attest. The Happy Hippo shots go out to all the aircrew that love these things.





When we were first getting in to our apartment, we saw a couple walking their small dog into the door next to ours.  As I was fumbling with the key, I think it was the man’s bright yellow Crocs (shoes) that caught my eye.  I looked up to see he was wearing a dark pink jeans jacket and a matching pair of capri pants.  I almost forgot all about the key.

Lisa just saw a man biking down the road wearing yellow pants.  I’m not sure if they were rain pants or not.  But the other day, at the ice cream shop she did point out a man sitting with his sons while wearing white shorts with grey flowers on them.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that…

He inspired me.  What a wonderful country!  It made me wish I’d brought my American flag pants and my ‘Merica T-shirt.  Anyone got the number to Amazon Europe?