Tag Archives: Germany

If you go for a walk in Bavaria


If you go for a walk in Bavaria, you might end up in a soft rain.

If you end up in the soft rain, you might see a full rainbow in the mist of the sky.

If you see a rainbow, it may be just as the rain is beginning to taper off.


If the rain tapers off, your kids might stop to dig a new canal off the town’s main creek.

If your kids dig a canal, a dog named Tinkah might come up and sniff you and help you begin a conversation with two lovely Bavarians named Fred & Ellen.

If you meet Fred & Ellen, they may invite you for coffee at their apartment not far from the creek.

[compliments to Laura Numeroff of “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” fame, of course]

And so we were thrilled to speak a little English with a great couple and to walk with Fred back to the apartment as the aging Tinkah rode in the car with Ellen.  They welcomed us in and broke out a lot of smiles and Apfel-Kirsch juice (Apple & Cherry).  The juice comes from a factory a few kilometers away that presses the apples they bring in from their yard.   Fred offered some to our kids and their eyes got wide when he poured a huge water-glass size cup nearly to the brim.  That first glass didn’t stand a chance.  Fred broke out a second big bottle of juice and graciously bent down to pour them more.  The kids polished off that next bottle too.  I think Will had three full glasses and Luke four.  An obvious grandfather, his eyes sparkled and crinkled watching the kids devour the fresh treat and react with joy at the flavors.

Ellen set the table with cups, saucers, sugar and milk.  Then, she came out with a pan full of apple strudel.  I’ll admit my mouth began to water as soon as I saw that beauty. The apples in the strudel had been picked from their tree the day prior.

All eight of us settled in at their table.  The kids practiced their manners and diligently fought their elbows’ desire to hang out on the table.  Ellen brought out a teapot of tea the kids could handle and coffee for a few of us.  Before long, Luke led the way by asking where the “toiletten” was.  For some reason, the other kids had a similar interest…

Fred & Ellen showered us with openness, generosity and strudel.  We finished off that pan of Viennese apfelstrudel.  They told us about wartime family experiences and shared stories of going to East Germany after the wall came down.  They shared maps and recommendations of cheap restaurants to enjoy (they knew about larger families) in the area and lakes to explore.


We left their welcoming apartment and jaunted down the street with an extra spring in our step.  The sun was shining now.  Then we noticed both of them out on their balcony smiling at us and waving.  We waved back and shouted “Auf Wuedersehn” as one.

Our family conversation on the short walk home was full of praise for their hospitality, their warmth and their grandparently ways. The kids explained how they would one day be grandparents.  Camille would learn about and join the kids in whatever activity they enjoyed.  Luke would have a zip line in his backyard for the kids.  They asked me if I was going to be a good grandpa. I sure hoped so.

In my heart, I held more words unspoken.  I am no longer as comfortable with bold pronouncements of far-off tomorrows.  I don’t know if it is the diagnosis of two years ago that adds weight to my thoughts sometimes. Or the hospital walls that held me for a time.  Or simply that years have passed.  I now realize my previous thought-life rested on a foundation of insidious assumptions and easy-going entitlements. I want to guard my heart from meandering back to that place.  I know that I desperately want to be one half of a happily married couple and a grandfather someday.  But I am grateful today to be made newly aware of who holds the answers to my future. I do not want to presume upon His many blessings and his gracious provision while it is called Today.

These days, I endeavor to stay in the “now” more than I did.  It is a constant returning to Today from the thoughts and fears that cloud the future.  I try to count the cost of my decisions, but I feel the sun on my face with a greater intensity these days.  I run from the rain less.  I know that today the Son has risen.  By its light – by His light – I can see today’s steps before me. It is more than enough.  I have seen the smallest iota of the goodness of His promises, I remind myself to trust in Him and to not lean on my own understanding.

I know I need forgiveness for my recklessly wandering thoughts and my greedy heart.   Help me to see the beauty before me today.  The rainbow in the misty sky is a promise. The trees breathe life.  Generous people surround me. The rushing river pours itself out and yet it keeps being renewed.  I can stand on his promises.  He came to give us life, and life abundant.  Surely, the best is yet to come.


Charmed, I’m sure

I’ll admit to previously having less interest in Germany than in other European countries.  I’m sorry!  I feel like I need to duck and hide when I say that, but I hadn’t given German(y) much thought.  As recently as June I declared that I didn’t like the German language.  Perhaps, I was a little too influenced by the Eastern German pilot training buddy of Brent’s who stood oh-so-close and kept spitting on me.  What I’ve found instead oozes charm, kindness, beauty, and surprisingly humor.

I love German!  The cadence strikes my funny bone fairly close to where the guy in Frozen in the mountain hut selling sunscreen resides.  And often words are either humorous or entertaining to say.  For instance, in order to exit the highway you take the “Ausfahrt”  — pronounced somewhere between “us fart” and “ass fart”  Try saying that with 4 ten and eleven year olds in your car without laughing. Yesterday, we had to turn around in Mr. Schmuck’s driveway on our way to Austria.  The poor Schmuck! (which actually means jewelry).  And the laundry … oh the laundry was a challenge.  I’ll tell you about that in just a minute.  I’ve found that several things are pronounced and mean the same in English.  Shoe is “Schuh” and pronounced the same.  Washing is “wasch” and pronounced “vash” and machine is “Maschine” and pronounced “machin-eh”.  Many words have that “eh” at the end or maybe an “en”.  Kind-eh fun-en.  :0)


I showed up last Saturday not even knowing how to count to ten.  Between our guide books, google translate and some kind English speakers we are getting along and learning.  So far our biggest disaster is toilet paper that ended up scented and decorated with flowers and some body wash that might be shampoo or shampoo that might be body wash.  The groceries to me seemed low threat because almost everything has pictures and is at least edible.  So what if your coffee milk is a little too sweet?  The laundry however was a more serious matter.

Several times on Monday I stopped by the communal washing machine and it was full.  So, I determined to wake early and haul our family’s three loads down three flights of stairs, through the underground basement hall, the shower room, the indoor pool, to the laundry room located just below the office before anyone else arrived.  Despite jet lag, I made it to the machine at 6 am.  No one else was there!

Hmmm.  No one else was there – to ask for help.  Besides feeling a bit creepy sitting on a bench in the basement downstairs from the office, I couldn’t read the settings on the machine!  This was serious!  One wrong selection and suddenly our clothes intended to last all year could end up pink or sized for Barbie dolls.  What to do?  I hadn’t brought my phone with Google translate because, even though I had prepared it the night before thinking that I’d want it for Facebook, I couldn’t see my phone in our darkened room without waking the kids.  Should I “Plegeleicht” the clothes?  How about “Extraspulen/Starken”?  Thankfully one English word shined amongst the choices:  “Dunkles/Jeans”.  Whew!


“I’ll wash the jeans and darks first, and then go find my phone,” I thought. So, I put a 2 Euro coin in the place where coins go — that much was obvious.  I knew how to put the soap in (I have vast laundry experience.)  But then, I was stumped.  A red button and a white button both lived next to the coin slot.  Buttons are meant to be pushed?  On the machine itself was a “Start” button, a “Startvorwahl” button.  In my pre-caffeinated mind “Startvorwahl” meant start now!  A grey button and an orange button with “Tur” next to it were also on the control panel.  In the end, I’m not sure what I did other than push each one at least once until it started.  After, I started the darks I sat on the bench in the quiet dark basement for a while.  I had heard that Germans had a lot of rules and I wasn’t sure what the rule was regarding leaving your laundry.  I didn’t want to be rude to our hosts.  Finally, I felt weird enough sitting next to the office in the near dark that I went back through the pool room, shower room, hallway, up the stairs, to the apartment.

Everyone was still asleep, but at least I found my iPhone.  Hurray!  I now had hopes to understand the machines with my translation app.  I quietly read until it was time to sneak back out the apartment and down the stairs, through the shower room, through the pool room, and to the laundry room. Still no one was there.  Unfortunately, due to the underground location of the laundry the translation app wouldn’t work — no cell service, no wifi.  Yikes.  Now I had a double problem.  I had a new load to wash without ruining and I was facing the dryer for the first load.  Here were my choices:


Wow.  Should I “mangle fecht” our clothes or “shrank rock” them?  Remember they were our jeans, so I couldn’t choose the no heat at all option, which I guess the Luften was.  I went with “Bugelfeucht” because it was under the general category of “Baumwolle” which sounded like wool to me.  I still don’t know the full translation, but from experience it leaves the clothes rather damp after running it twice.  That works, no damage done.  For the other load, I realized that it didn’t really matter.  They were mainly white, so if they got hot water they would be clean and if they didn’t, they would be a little less clean — a consequence I could live with.  For that load, I chose “Pflegeleicht” mainly because it was opposite Jeans/Dunkles.

Finally, my brain awoke enough to remember my phone had a camera.  I began snapping pictures of the dials and signs.  I went back through the pool room, shower room, hallway, up the stairs, to the apartment, carrying my remaining load (is it OK to leave my unwashed loads? I didn’t know the rule.)  At the apartment, the family was beginning to stir!  I typed the words into Google translate on my computer as soon as I’d finished making the pot of coffee.  Oops!  One sign said I was supposed to take my street shoes off on all those trips through the indoor pool.  The bench I sat on was for — shoe removal, not waiting for your laundry loads.  When I returned, down the stairs, through the hallway, through the shower, after taking my shoes off, through the pool room, and putting my shoes back on, I was better armed for the third load, and the office was open.  Within a couple of hours we had clean clothes and nothing was ruined.


Guess what else?  I love Germany!  We are in Oberaudorf, Bavaria only 3 kilometers from the Austrian border in the midst of the Alps.  The landscape includes beautifully green, forested mountains with both deciduous and evergreen trees.  Hiking trails lead to waterfalls, mountain peaks, farms of sheep that wear bells, cattle, poultry, orchards and bee hives.  The architecture is charming and the people are kind and welcoming.  God led us to the perfect place to begin our adventure.  The small town we are in is a German vacation spot, so tourists are normal, but Americans less so.  Our hostess speaks enough English to help warn us about Austrian tollways, but we are also inundated with opportunities to practice German.  The rural location adds to our feeling of safety.  Open windows and prolific walkers of all ages abound.  The baker and grocer are about 3/4 of a mile away.  I can now count to ten in German.  The kids are motivated to speak German.  “I just want to talk to them!  Most interesting to me is the familiarity I feel with this town.  It almost feels like a mix of Texas and Oregon.  The landscape and climate are wet, cool and lush, much like my experience of the Pacific Northwest.  We’ve already had a few glorious days of rain.  The part that reminds me of Texas is their pride of place.  On our hike, a farmer drove by in his European little van wearing his Bavarian felt hat with feather.  Liederhosen can be seen on men and boys around town and dirndl, the traditional dresses, are on display in several shop windows.  In my version of Google culture translate, I can see some farmers sitting in a gas station in west Texas with boots on donning their wranglers and western shirts.  Yes, I’m charmed.

So, Germany, I publicly apologize for my lack of attention.  You obviously haven’t been concerned.  I’m glad you are our first European stop.  Thanks for the kind welcome.

Fly your family “free” to Europe

8 Aug

All you have to do is join the military, accept the risk of getting stranded enroute and the flight’s free!

[please forgive the tardy post as we are working through wi-fi access challenges]

The military space-available (”space-A”) travel system allows military members (and retirees) and their immediate family to fly free on military aircraft that have extra seats.  If you are active duty, you can sign up as soon as you are on leave.  Then, show up for roll call prior to the flight.  Roll call is a published “show-up” time that occurs anywhere from 2.5 to 4 hours prior to departure.  You must show up at the passenger terminal prior to roll call to have your leave paperwork, military ID cards (for kids 10 and over) and passports checked. At roll call, pax terminal personnel call out the names of who made the cut for the flight.  The list is adjudicated based on what categories travelers are in and the date they signed up for travel.  For instance, a family member returning to Europe to rejoin their military spouse would be in a higher travel category than a military retiree.  When kids are out of school, the demand for space-A flights explodes and many “signed-up” travelers are left without a seat in this game of musical chairs.  If you are manifested onto the flight, you still run the risk of a maintenance issue canceling the flight completely or a maintenance or weather issue causing an in-air divert.  You also run this risk with an airline but the difference is that the US military does not owe a space-A traveler any transportation to their actual destination.  Any subsequent flights will require your action.  Overall, space-A travel is not quite equivalent to the contract one has with an airline ticket but it is a fantastic benefit.

Some aircraft types are more reliable or passenger-friendly than others.  Many aircraft have web seating along the sides of the aircraft (read “uncomfortable” for long flights) or have airline seats similar to what you’d find on a domestic airline.  Some have cruising speeds superior to airliners but others are famously unreliable due to maintenance issues.  Amongst many other types of aircraft, are C-21 Learjets and Army C-12s (King Air aircraft).  Propeller-driven C-130s are sometimes available but require several stops to get to further destinations.  I flew on a C-130 as a cadet and remember a red vertical line inside the cabin illustrating where propeller blade fragments would enter the aircraft during a materiel failure.  Far more prevalent are the KC-135s, KC-10s, C-17s and C-5s.  “Patriot Express” rotators are contract carrier aircraft that depart out of places like BWI airport in Maryland.  The Air Force’s Air Mobility Command (AMC) even has its own terminal gate at BWI.  Companies, such as Atlas Air or World Airways, compete for the government contract to carry troops throughout the world.

A wonderful resource to explain the ins and outs of space-A travel is www.spacea.net.
Our family’s hope was to maximize our chances of getting a flight by targeting four different East Coast bases—BWI in MD, McGuire in NJ, Andrews in MD and Dover in DE.  We also signed up at a dozen American and European bases in case of contingencies.  The travel schedule is published only 72 hours out.

As early August arrived, we watched carefully for those flights that would be easy to access with rental car return and allow us to arrive in time for our August 9th reservations in Bavaria.  McGuire had two flights on August 8th so we set our sights on that date.  The first flight of the evening was on a C-5, which is famously unreliable.  It is one of the largest aircraft in the world and can carry truly outsized cargo.  Passengers fly in the windowless “upper deck” above the cargo in airline-style seats facing backward.  I write “airline style” because the seats appear to be 1960s-era airline rejects…

On August 8th, we packed our duffels and backpacks at the Witkops’ beautiful home.  Frantic searches for a Kindle, boy shoes, jackets, and a T-shirt turned up their respective subjects and a pair of dirty socks in a bookshelf to boot.  We took some photos then loaded up in the rental van.



Three different traffic jams on I-95 cut deeply into our planned buffer in NJ.  We finally arrived at the Enterprise location outside McGuire and were grateful for a ride to the pax terminal.  We were fortunate to be the first ones called at roll call as we’d signed up weeks prior and our passports and IDs were checked again.  Our wonderful friends, the Simonsens, picked us up and graciously fed us a quick dinner.  We got just a few minutes with our dear friends, the Prices.  Both families were so kind to look out for us and deliver us back to security.  Our travel documents were checked one last time and we entered the gate area.  Our kids immediately began searching for pre-flight power outlets for their Kindles.


We loaded into one of the two buses that delivered all 73 space-A travelers to that behemoth sitting on that ramp. The passengers were nearly all young families. The C-5 was operated by the West Virginia Air National Guard and at least two loadmasters proudly displayed their WV ball caps.


As a passenger, you board the C-5’s “top floor” troop compartment via the longest air stairs walkup you’ve ever seen.   From the airstairs, we observed the pilots returning to the aircraft with several Papa John’s pizzas for the crew.  The troop compartment looks like it was taken from a Soviet-era warship.  Lisa termed its aroma as being “old gym”.  Perhaps Old Spice is taking notes for their next men’s grooming product.   Loud, motorized sounds were likely related to the stabilizer repositioning, the flaps being set, the APU (auxiliary power unit that supplies aircraft power prior to engine operation) operating and who knows what else.  Lisa looked to be wondering if she should be very concerned or mildly terrified.  With its maintenance reputation, I’ll admit to being somewhat dubious we would actually takeoff.  The loadmasters provided the requisite safety briefs including descriptions of both emergency oxygen systems.  But we taxied out smoothly and took off with no issues.  We were on our way!


Soon after takeoff, the loadmasters turned the lights down low, made sure the cabin was warm and the passengers settled in for the short night of an eastbound crossing.  Sleeping bags and loveys were quickly deployed by many families.  We kept our earplugs in due to the deafening engine noise inside the aircraft.  You had to lean within a few inches of someone’s ear to be heard.  Water was available in huge, plastic jugs tied to a metal railing. To fill your water bottle you stood on a large, metal grate suspended over the cargo floor some twenty feet below.   The kids slept well.  Lisa and I slept the best we could.  A few hours into the flight, the aircraft began to increasingly rumble.  The aircraft began to moderately pitch up and down due to turbulence and the loadmasters shouted for people to “buckle up”.  I was distinctly aware that we had our whole family tucked along the spine of this beast over the dark North Atlantic.  I’d experienced the feeling of remoteness over the ocean many times before but it had been barely a passing thought when I’d been a member of the crew and had radar and weather information at my fingertips.  The underlying uneasiness made me think of the intrepid crews and passengers that crossed the Atlantic by ship over the centuries.  I found myself praying that we’d find our way safely through these thunderstorms and make our destination of Ramstein Air Base without a divert.  Ramstein is just outside Kaiserslautern and about 90 minutes southwest of Frankfurt.

After a total flight duration of about 8.5 hours, we landed safely and exited the aircraft to enjoy the cool, fresh air of Germany on our faces.  The horizon was studded with rolling, tree-covered hills and the sky held grey and white clouds.


It was a gorgeous day to be in Germany and we were so grateful for the free flight!