Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Wieskirche and Christmas in Germany

It was Christmas 1988. I was in law school, and my former wife and I were living in a tiny apartment in West Vancouver, British Columbia. A program aired on either PBS or CBC entitled "Christmas in Germany." Loretta Swit, who hosted the show, went all around West Germany (this was a year before the fall of the Berlin Wall) during the month of December visiting various places and relating German Christmas customs and traditions.

Nearing the end of the show, she visited Wieskirche in southern Bavaria, considered to be a masterpiece of Rococo art and architecture. She mentioned that Albert Schweitzer, the famed theologian, physician, organist and philosopher, once played the church's magnificent organ, and there was a short segment where the church's organist played for the film.

Picture of the interior of the church (Internet)

We recorded the show, and every year thereafter, we sat down together as a family and watched it at the beginning of Advent. Particularly for the older children, it became a cherished tradition.

I thought of them today as we drove under cloudy skies the short 30-minute drive to Wieskirche. I wanted to see it myself, but I also wanted to see it for them. As we approached the church, we drove through what looked like park land. The grass here is so unbelievably green - even as we approach the 1st of October. Then there are the luscious trees, both deciduous and coniferous. The leaves are just starting to change. I would imagine that in 7-10 days, the colors here will be - if you're really into fall - orgasmic.

Organ loft




Very old graffiti carved into the pews

What was particularly cool is that, a few minutes after we arrived, there was a short organ "meditation," and we got to sit in a pew listening to Jeremiah Clarke's "Prince of Denmark March" while gazing at the rococo explosion of color around and above us.

I did record it, but the WiFi limitations of where we are staying are such that I cannot post it to YouTube. But here's a lovely recording for anyone who may be interested.

Cloudy, cloudy day, paint your palette blue and grey (and orange)

Guest house

Herr Koepke at the souvenir stand

Then, it was on to Fussen ... the subject of my next post.

Guten Tag from Bavaria

We flew from Amsterdam to Munich on Monday, and when we went to pick up our rental car, we received a huge free upgrade to this awesome BMW. I've never driven a car like this, and I don't expect to ever again. It's been fun.

There was one slight problem, however. When we opened the trunk and looked at our four bags, there was a bit of a moment of, "Are we going to have to switch cars?" It's only a two-seater, you see. Mark said afterward that he would have been willing to carry his duffle on his lap in order to keep the car, but fortunately we didn't have to resort to that. I realized that if we unpacked our duffles, the two of them could then fit into the space that was occupied by one. Most of clothes were in those packing cubes, so we were able to stuff them in. The result:

From the airport, we drove to our first stop, Andechs Monastery, an hour's drive southwest of Munich. I am currently reading a novel that is set there, and I'd read that they have good beer that is made there at the monastery, so that's where we had a late lunch.

Monday was my birthday, and for some reason, Mark had it in his mind that Monday was the 27th, not the 28th. I had wondered why he hadn't said anything all morning and into the afternoon (and was, frankly, a bit irritated). On our way to Andechs, we passed a pile of pumpkins at the side of the road. (Don't know whether their indigenous or an American import.) "Look, Joseph," Mark said, "they're getting ready for your birthday tomorrow!"

Pumpkin pie became a tradition for my birthday since my oldest daughter's birthday is four days before mine. It became a tradition with Mark and me as well. Four years ago, I had an extremely disappointing birthday. I had been served with divorce papers a month before and I had also just met Mark. We were driving back from a visit to his family in Portland, Oregon on my birthday. I didn't hear from any of my kids, and we stayed that night in a dumpy motel in Baker, Oregon. Mark, bless his heart, made a semi-secret trip to Safeway and, after dinner, brought the pumpkin pie with candles and whipped cream around the corner from the bathroom, singing "Happy Birthday."

Two years later, we were on Maui on my birthday. Mark took me to the Four Seasons for dinner. When it came time for dessert, the server brought out a beautifully presented piece of pumpkin pie. Mark had bought the pie at Safeway and taken it to the restaurant that afternoon. It was one of the best birthday presents I had ever received. (I'm really big on thoughtful gestures.)

Meanwhile, back to Bavaria ...

"Um," I replied, "my birthday is today." 

"Oh my god!" Mark said with a horrified look on his face. He was profusely apologetic. For some reason, he had gotten it into his head that Monday was the 27th and not the 28th. Amongst the many things he said was, "I am such a schmuck. That's German for shit-head." I had to agree at that moment.

But by the time we arrived at Andechs, all was more or less well. I forgive you, Mark.

The monastery church.

The monastery beer. I had a wheat, Mark had dark.

One of the dining halls. They have a cafeteria set-up. You get your food and your beer, then find a place to sit. For some reason, there were a bunch of Italians there that day.
I had pork roast with, as can be seen, an extremely (delicious) layer of fat and fried crispy exterior.

Mark had this: pig knuckle. It took him a day to get over it.

After Andechs, we drove on to our hotel in Hopfen am See, a tiny place outside of Fussen, Germany. the skies were overcast, but that made the view of the mountains in the distance (in Austria) from our balcony all the more enchanting.

A lone fisherman on the lake Tuesday morning

On Tuesday, we took a beautiful drive across the border into Austria, then back into Germany. On our different way back to the hotel, we stopped at Linderhof, a tiny castle in the middle of nowhere that was the first of three built by King Ludwig II of Bavaria. His most famous castle is Neuschwanstein above Fussen, visible in the distance from our balcony. Ludwig was a fascinating character. He was a romantic who loved Wagner's music and was one of Wagner's greatest supporters. He was almost certainly a homosexual. 

And, Ludwig was eccentric. But he was also aloof and became more and more a loner. He loved nothing more than to be in his castles and other residences in the mountains. In the process, he drove his ministers to distraction, and they finally had him declared insane and appointed a relative as regent in Ludwig's place. Shortly thereafter, Ludwig died in mysterious circumstances in a few feet of water in a lake in eastern Bavaria.

Linderhof is the only one of the three of Ludwig's castles that was completed during his lifetime and in which he actually lived. The setting is spectacular, and the weather gods favored us yet once again with beautiful blue skies.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Amsterdam: Riding Through the Polders

We experienced a special treat today - a bike-riding tour through the polders north of Amsterdam with our guide, Jelte. We tracked him down after our fabulous foodie tour with him on Thursday to ask if he might be available for a private tour this weekend, and he was free today. He arrived at our apartment at 10:00 with bicycles. 

"What would you like to do?" he asked. As soon as he mentioned riding in the polders in the countryside, my hand shot up. He had very considerately made arrangements for Mark to ride along in a crate with a seat in front of the cyclist that is usually used for freight. This way, Mark could experience a tour he otherwise would not have been able to.

The rest of this post is just going to be pictures. Most of them have been enhanced with filters. I don't apologize for this. It is so difficult to convey what we see, particularly when riding through countryside that is as flat as a pancake and where the cloud-scape is amazing. Filters highlight what we have seen. In this regard, I liked a quote by Vincent Van Gogh that we saw painted on the wall of the Van Gogh museum the other day:
"Instead of trying to render exactly what I have before my eyes, I use color to express myself forcefully."
I'm not Vincent Van Gogh, obviously, but I enjoy creating art through my humble iPhone pictures.

Lunch in Durgerdam


When we arrived back in Amsterdam, we concluded our tour with a visit to Cafe Papeneiland for one, last piece of heavenly apple pie with oodles of whipped cream.

We are ready to move on to Fuessen, Germany at the foot of the Bavarian Alps, but this city of canals, trees and beautiful buildings ... It's been a wonderful few days. I love this place.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Our Daughter's Blog Post About Mark's Cancer

"[Mark's cancer has] been a part of his life for a while now. My life, too. Almost like a person. Like an unexpected guest who shows up on your doorstep, telling you they are going to be a part of your family. You can't say no. So you let that person in. You let cancer into your life and tell it to go in the corner and keep its mouth shut, because it's easier to ignore something when it's silent. You forget it's there. But the thing is cancer never leaves the house. It's there, in every room, every conversation, every hug. You feel its presence."  ~ Rachel Broom
I am extremely proud of Rachel and thankful that she is our daughter. You can read the entire post by following this link.

Amsterdam: Of Markets, Museums and Men

We awoke to brilliant blue skies this morning here in Amsterdam. Our first stop would be breakfast at the cafe where we stopped yesterday for pie, followed by a visit to the flower market.

Our corner of Amsterdam

This exotic beauty eyed us from a bench across from our table.

Three eggs over toast with bacon and cheese. A bit too much fat, but we survived.

View of the Nieuwe Kerk as we left the cafe this morning.

The flower market was a bit of a disappointment. When Mark was here almost 20 years ago, he came in the spring, and the place was overflowing with beautiful flowers. There weren't many there today, however. What there were a lot of were tourists and tacky souvenirs, although I did find an authorized Delft store where I purchased an addition to the Christmas ornament collection.

One of the many things I love about the place we're renting is that it is close to everything, whether on foot or by tram, but there aren't tourists right around it. We are several blocks off Dam Square and several blocks from the Anne Frank house. Though we sometimes see tour boats wending their way through "our" canal, we don't see dozens of people following someone with a toy attached to the top of an antenna. Actually, it's Saturday evening here and there is a lot of traffic on the canal. We're hearing tooting of boat horns.

After going to the flower market, we came back to the apartment via tram because I forgot the tickets to the Rijksmuseum - the ones we didn't use yesterday because our guide was soooo boring and Mark wasn't feeling well. Actually, he wasn't feeling all that bad, but we've learned that there are benefits to playing the cancer card: rather than hurt the guide's feelings yesterday, I simply told her that Mark wasn't feeling well.

As it turned out, we had a fantastic experience today at the Rijksmuseum. There were no lines whatsoever. We rented the audio tour thing and set it to the 90-minute highlight. It was perfect. 

My favorite part of the museum was the "Old Master" section with these huge paintings by Rembrandt and others of Dutch men. (Some may ask, "Why is it always about the men?" To those I say, "Isn't it obvious?") Imagine, guys ... all that lace, and it was totally ok.

Mark picked up this postcard at the flower market.

Ninety minutes, as I said, was perfect. When I was in France on my mission in the mid-80's, I learned a word that was dear to missionaries' hearts: "marre." The French say, "J'en ai marre," which, loosely translated, means, "I've had enough," or "I'm sick of this." Missionaries could relate to, "I'm sick of this." (Try trudging up and down staircases in apartment buildings and being rejected one door after the other.) 

Well, I came up with the phrase, "museum marre," meaning, "I've had enough of this museum. I can't take any more. Let me out!" Ninety minutes prevented museum marre. Any more than that and I would have been nervously asking where the nearest exit was. 

From the museum, it was back to our apartment for a little rest before heading out for an early dinner at an Indonesian restaurant near our place that had received good reviews. I had chicken satay (with peanut sauce). I'm pretty sure that this dish, prepared while I was in law school in Vancouver, BC by a Dutch friend who grew up in Indonesia, was what made me sicker than a dog. Luckily, a "few" years have passed since then, and I did just fine ... so far.

From there, back to our apartment for happy hour, blogging and people watching from our window.

Late Saturday afternoon. People throng the outdoor tables at cafes along the canals.

Late afternoon light

Our building is the black one in the middle of the photograph

We are on the second floor up. This morning, our property manager swung by to ask us if we would mind if a mover came into our apartment to help lower a washing machine (i.e., outside) from the apartment above us. Would we be home, she wondered? "Is there somewhere we could leave keys?"  The look on my face must have conveyed something, because she said, "Maybe I call the moving guy and confirm, yah?" I nodded. After a not-brief discussion, she hung up and said, "No problem. He doesn't need your apartment." Good.

I *love* Amsterdam.

Tomorrow, we get to go on another tour with Jelte, our foodie guide from Thursday. Because we enjoyed him so much, we tracked him down. Result: He is going to give us a private tour of the city tomorrow. What a wonderful way to complete our visit to this beautiful, enchanting city! On Monday, we fly to Munich.