Tuesday, June 25, 2013

good to be home

Doin' laundry in Berlin
This trip was an amazing, amusing growing experience.  I am thankful for everyone who helped us make this possible -- all those who prayed for us, encouraged us, who contributed to the Sabbatical fund, and who filled in for me while I was gone. 
If you were following my entries, you probably noticed they were a little rough, and the spelling kept getting worse and worse.  Well, trying to post entries from your smart phone when you have to type one letter at a time and your internet connection keeps going out on you was a bit of a challenge.  Also, trying to find time to sit and compose these little messages when you are on the move and tired, sharing your room with people who want to sleep, or having to leave in half an hour to find something to eat made it tough as well.  So I kind of gave up once we got to Berlin... sorry, but it made the rest of my trip a lot easier.

At The Circus
But here's what happened in Berlin:
The first night, after a six-hour train ride, we were tired and just took a cab to our hostel (we're pretty sure the cabbie took the scenic route).  Our hostel was a wild, bohemian place appropriately named The Circus. 

En route to Alexanderplatz
The next day we needed badly to do laundry, so that took the afternoon.  When it cooled down for the evening we went walking through the city.  We found ourselves in Alexanderplatz at the famous radio tower, so we splurged and rode up to the observation deck.  Besides the amazing sprawl of Berlin itself, we noticed lines of blue lights moving down far off streets and wondering what so many parades of police were up to that night.  We found out on the way down the elevator when we heard a couple talking in German about how hard it was to get around the city with Obama here.  We suddenly realized we hadn't seen or heard the news in 2 weeks, and so were oblivious to the fact that our own president was there in the city to give a historic speech. 
Over Berlin
Wandering further downtown, we reached Unter den Linden and crossed the bridge. Soon we could see the Brandenburg Gate, and it was surrounded by temporary fences, police guards, and news trucks.  It was late at night, but there were tourists hanging around the area and we could approach very close to the podium where Obama would speak from the next day. 
At the Brandenburg Gate
the night before President Obama's speech
Back at the hostel, we decided we'd try to go down and see the hoopla, despite the fact that the temperature was in the 90s.  My brother Paul had a mishap with his electronics (the hostel staff had mistakenly stored them in the refrigerator rather than the safe for the night), and stayed back.  Brian and I found that we couldn't get within a couple of blocks of the Gate, so we finally gave up and returned to the hostel.
A portion of the Berlin Wall
remaining on Bernauerstrasse
Our final day in Berlin was spent at the amazing museums on Berlin's central island.  We bought a ticket for all 5 museums, but only went to 2 of them before we (especially Brian) were all museumed out.  I was awed to see many of my favorite paintings in their selection of Caspar David Friedrichs and Max Klingers, and delighted to see with my own eyes some of the most important antiquities in the world, including the Ishtar Gate and Stele of Hammurabi.  The Uruk exhibit at the Pergamon museum (there's an ad for it in this month's Biblical Archeology review) was also pretty amazing, at least for the quantity of materials on display.
From a painting by
Caspar David Friedrich
Since Brian and I were supposed to take a flight out at 6:20 in the morning, we just decided not to sleep that last night.  So we were pretty wiped out on all 3 of our return flights, and it didn't help that the last flight made a stop in Orlando to refuel (Tampa was closed because of thunderstorms). 

Paul takes a shot
at the Ishtar Gate
Coming home felt so good, though -- back to friends, family, and familiar turf.
I learned many things I will never forget on this trip --
  • how huge Martin Luther's influence still is, and how large his presence is still, especially there in Wittenberg
  • how even the legendary German transportation system can get tripped up by a natural disaster
  • how different people can be in their response to foreigners, some irritated and others ready to drop everything to help you out
  • how much beauty there is in Germany, its fields and mountains, its ancient architecture, and its people's efforts to live responsibly on this planet
  • how great it is to go off and spend quality time with family members
  • how much I missed my family members who couldn't come
  • how great it is to have a home to come back to, and people you love.
  • how large this world of ours is, how unpredictable every day, and how our good God blesses us all in different ways with the same love and grace.
Thanks to all of you for following this adventure. 

Pastor Scott

Sunday, June 16, 2013

in the halls of insanity

Today we were tourists at what my dad refers to quite correctly as a tourist trap.  Happy Fathers Day, by the way.

On the way to Neuschwannstein
 But it has been my dream for many years to see Neuschwannstein, and today we made it up to mad King Ludwig's favorite castle.  True, as we were waiting at the base of the castle for our tour to begin, it felt just like being at Universal, waiting to get into the Harry Potter ride.  Except there are no mountains or Alpine lakes at Universal.  And fewer people speaking German.

A view from the trail up to the castle
But the story of the castle itself is a kind of morality play.  Obsessed with the mystical operas of Richard Wagner, he had this castle built as a shrine to this musicians works.  In a way, this is no more a real castle than the Hogwarts at Universal.  Not built to defend the land or to lead a nation, this place was really just one very fancy and expensive work of art.

Another view from the trail to Neuschwannstein
On the tour we passed through amazingly ornate rooms decorated with scenes from Wagner operas, including a majestic golden throne room lined in gold, simulating a Greek Orthodox cathedral, a cave-like grotto complete with stalactites, and the kings bedroom lined with secret doors, where 4 wood carvers worked for 14 years to complete the work.  In her thick German accent, the tour guide carefully explained that it was in that bedroom that the king received news that he had been declared mentally ill and unfit to rule.  Ludwig had many enemies who saw him bleeding the coffers of the nation in order to build his fantasy castles.  Most likely, one of them did him in, for days later his dead body, along with that of his psychiatrist, were found in a nearby lake.

Nearby stands Neuschwannstein's sister Swan castle
Today this is one the most visited places in Germany.  Days later, we would be in Berlin and meet a group of bicycling Berliners who asked us what we'd seen in Germany.  When we mentioned this castle, they laughed and said, "Of course."  This is an almost-obligatory stop for foreign tourists who want to see how extreme the indulgence of one powerful madman can become. 

Not that we were looking, but back in Munich (so close to Dachau) we expected to see remnants from another, far more dangerous madman.  We found there only one lonely memorial to the Hitler's victims, tucked away in an overgrown corner that was being surrounded by a parking lot.  In Berlin we would see signs that Germans are dealing with their Nazi past that were harder to avoid.
On Unter den Linden in Berlin --
a monument to Jews who were affected by World War II

Is it always mad to want to escape the world, like Ludwig; or re-shape it, like Hitler?  When our desire to control reality impacts others in a negative way, the sin inside of us becomes a force of evil that can take on a life of its own.

Friday, June 14, 2013

is Jesus there?

The view from our backyard at the Ballwein Haus Pension,
where we stayed on Moostrasse in Salzburg.
 Yesterday was our trip to Berchtesgaden, and Hitler's retreat center up in the mountains.  The beauty of the bus trip up, with incredible alpine views and quaint Bavarian villages, was a stark contrast to walking through Hitler's underground bunker.  We stopped at the end of one tunnel and stared down into a deep shaft that Nazi workers had carved deep into the mountain, and could only then grasp that there were miles of these passages, some which are still unexcavated.
An overcast day at Hitler's mountain retreat,
the Dokumentation Center at Obersalzburg.
Things lightened up after an exhilarating bus ride down the mountainside (memories of the Virgin Islands came back to me).

The bus and train station at Berchtesgaden.
We got to the bus station and just as we were wondering when the last bus for Salzburg was coming, a young man with a turban and a big full beard came over to us and told us it would arrive in 20 minutes.  Well, we were a little startled, but then had a good laugh, saying that he looked a lot like Jesus, and maybe he was Jesus, and after all, he came with good news and a prophecy of the future.  Then when he got on the bus, we smiled and said we'd better do the right thing and follow Jesus.  But there was more truth in our words than we knew, for even up in that remote mountain retreat where so many horrible plans were made, Jesus was with us today, as he has been for all our trip.  How has Jesus been with YOU today?

Thursday, June 13, 2013

of kids and kings

St. Michael's Church, and Ludwig's
final resting place (unless they decide
to move him again...)
Today is the anniversary of the death of Bavaria's "mad king" Ludwig II.  Yesterday we were at his tomb in the basement of St. Michael's Church here in downtown Munich.  For 2€ you too can go into the sepulcher.  A fellow visitor pointed out to us the fresh lilies left there by the community of Schwanngau, down south near his famous masterpiece of a castle, Neuschwannstein.
We popped in at the Hofbrauhaus
to soak up the atmosphere
(if not the beer)
We will be visiting the Schwanngau region and Ludwig's famous castle in a few days, and I'm sure it will be a highlight of our trip.  He is still revered and famous here for his irrationally ornate building program and his patronage of the arts (especially the operas of Richard Wagner).  Beside his casket, finely decorated and surrounded with recent memorials, lay less revered coffins of dozens of family members, some who died in childhood.  How different is the memory of humans from the memory of God.  Orlando di Lassus may give way to Michael Jackson in human memory, but God remembers every peasant, prince, and unnamed child just as fully, and with just as much love.
Hanging out at the royal palace capped off our stay in Munich.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

in memory of each other

Marienplatz, Munich
I feel kind of  bad for Orlando di Lassus, the great medieval/Renaissance composer whose commemorative statue here in Munich has been turned into a shrine to Michael Jackson.

Shrine to Michael Jackson
Nothing against the King of Pop, its just that people get a little extreme about such things.  But I really feel bad for the fellow whose statue is next to Orlando's, which has become a shrine to Michael's chimp, Bubbles.

Hi from the Pope.
A reporter for a Buddhist newspaper stopped us at the outdoor food market to explain the controversy brewing over a piece of art being displayed there.  It depicts a Buddha statue turned on its side, with the words Made in Dresden stamped on the bottom.  Intended by the artist to draw attention to the international Vietnamese Buddhist community, the statue is considered disrespectful by many traditional Buddhists.

How hard it is for us humans -- to grieve, to communicate in new ways, to live in close quarters without offending or hurting others.  Care in dealing with our brothers and sisters and a healthy dose of forgiveness are surely necessary ingredients for the spiritual survival of humanity.
Shrine to Bubbles the Chimp

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Luther slept here

Here we are again, at the Leipzig train station.
More travel excitement on the way to Erfurt -- the trains out of Wittenberg Sunday morning had been cancelled, and the buses to the next train stop weren't running because of the flooding.  We milled around the bus station until we met up with some traveling students who were also going south, and decided to share a taxi ride to Pratau, where we picked up a train to Leipzig.  When we got into Erfurt, the rain was pouring down like on a Florida summer afternoon.  We reached the tram stop on our corner, trying to keep our luggage dry and took turns running out into the downpour trying to find our night's lodging.  My brother Paul finally found it a block away, and we ran all the way there, just as the rain was beginning to let up...

The view out our window
into the courtyard of the Augustinerkloster,
Luther's old stomping grounds in Erfurt.
We decided to spend an extra morning in Erfurt after spending a night at the monastery where Luther studied.  The town is charming, with colorful buildings and more history than we can take in in just one visit.  What a contrast to where we are now, in the metropolitan heart of Munich.  Here we see people from every conceivable culture mingling and working side by side.  We are staying at the YMCA, a crowded, loud but happy contrast to the quiet, austere monastery.  Back in Erfurt it felt like a secluded, storybook retreat from reality.  Here on this street of hotels and ethnic restaurants (there's a Uyghur restaurant we want to try) we could be in almost any big city around the world.

The view from the Erfurt citadel
UPDATE (June 25): I think Erfurt was our favorite place on the trip.  It was a wonderful small town, safe and fun to walk around, with a market bridge over the tiny river downtown.  We climbed the citadel for a view of the whole city, and were surprised at how big it really was. 

Luther is served some wine by an under-dressed Mona Lisa
at Pavarotti's restaurant in Erfurt.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

in Luther's footsteps

Statue of Katie Luther in the Luther Haus courtyard.
We spent the morning in Martin Luther's old house.  When the Lutheran Reformation put the local monks out of business, they gave the former monastery to Martin and Katie.  They ran it as a boarding house, with Katie as its hard-working caretaker.   Here were creaking floorboards and ancient heavy doors, and we passed through these rooms that once echoed with their laughter but have now been filled with displays, portraits, manuscripts, and countless items from historic treasures to mere memorabilia.
Example of an indulgence,
from the Luther museum at Luther Haus.

There was an example of an indulgence like the ones Luther protested, and a coffer like the one in which the questionable church fundraisers collected coins.  So many of these paintings I've seen in history books, so many of these pamphlets I've read in English - it was all  so familiar, but now there is a human context to it.  Luther's robe stood all unfurled in its display case, and I know people were smaller back then  but could he have really been that short?  This man who stood in the way of popes, kings, emperors, just one man, but a man who turned out to be the wind of a storm front - was just one small man like you or me.
Luther's robe in display case -- kind of small...
Never think that God has no use for one small, simple person.  The words encircling the tower of the castle church are familiar: Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott, "A Mighty Fortress is our God." 

We were allowed into the church today, despite all the renovations going on, for a concert benefitting local flood recovery efforts.  The sounds of Renaissance music and familiar hymn tunes filled the air of this ancient sanctuary where Martin Luther and his sidekick Philip Melanchthon were buried. Their tombs remind us that even with a museum full of evidence of his superstar status putting even Elvis' Graceland to shame, Luther was and is in the hands of God, loved and forgiven, and offered grace, yes, just like us.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Lutheran Disneyland?

A Wittenberg street with the Castle Church tower in the background.

Brian's impression of Wittenberg: "This town feels like Disneyland."  I remember our visit to Disneyland - we couldn't ride Space Mountain because they were renovating.  Here they are renovating the castle church, so we couldn't stand next to the famous doorway where Luther supposedly posted his theses.
The Castle Church door,
commemorating Luther's posting of the 95 Theses --
no Admittance

But later, standing in the courtyard of the Lutherhaus, where Martin and Katie lived and boarded visitors from all over the world, a shiver went down my spine, something unlike anything I felt at Disneyland - "This is it," I thought.  This is really where it all happened.  These are the rooms they worked in, the doorways they passed through, the hallways, alleyways and chambers where the Reformers had conversations that would change the world.  Yes, this town has the charming feel of a made-up medieval dream, but every now and then you pass a house that has not been renovated in a while, and the cracks and crumbling cornices, the century's dirt and strange architecture remind you that these are no facades-that this beautiful, storybook village was the battlefield for the soul of the modern world.
In the courtyard to the Luther Haus.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

I'm in Wittenberg

The view from our room at the Luther Hotel in Wittenberg
My son, brother and myself arrived in Wittenberg today.  The area around the town is flooded, and they have officially cancelled the Luther Wedding festival that was supposed to be this week.  I'd show some pictures, but this site doesn't seem to want to upload from German Internet.  I will keep posting what we're doing and try finding a way to get pictures up.
UPDATE: It's June 25th and I'm back home now and have decent Internet, so I will add pictures to the blog and try to fill in some details I didn't get to when I was on the road.  Here is the first email I sent to my wife Susan from Germany, which gives an idea of the time we had getting here.  She read portions of it at church:

Finally reached the hotel
Had a rough time getting here
Bus ride from airport to train station was awful
Brian wanted pizza from pizza hut, BUT didn't eat much as it seemed to be topped with tuna - then
Train was late
Then we accidentally sat in first class (and got kicked out)
Then missed our stop and since it was an express it took us all the way to Leipzig
So we took a slow train back
But missed the fact that the last connection was by bus
So we missed the bus 
But walked into this little town
And a nice lady from the fire station
Gave us a ride into Wittenberg
But on the way she told us the festival has been canceled due to all the flooding
We passed flooded fields
And saw sandbags along the road into Wittenberg

Flooding on the river Elbe in Wittenberg
So far, except for Veronica who gave us the ride, Germans seem to be easily irritated people...at least easily irritated by us
But we're here in our room and it's a beautiful little town and we will make the most of it
Paul just took a shower (just survived an attack by the shower head)
and Brian's sound asleep (but we will wake him up to go eat soon)
So far I have not been able to get my debit card to work at the ATM
But I will give it another try once we find another one nearby
Paul got his to work so we do have some money
This wifi is very slow
So I doubt the phone calling will work
Will try once I get the phone charged.

Anyway we are alive and surviving and will soon venture out after some vegan food
Miss you very much
Tell George we love him too
And tell everyone we said hi
Love ya

The Luther statue at the town square in Wittenberg
where the festival wasn't taking place.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

for the road ahead

Rick Steves' guide to Germany has been the
cornerstone of our planning.  Great advice for the
budget conscious - and he's a proud Lutheran!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

a community of grace

This morning I worshipped with our friends at Grace Community Church.
Pastor Jeff Olson played guitar and led the service, which included communion.
They are a mission congregation of a small Lutheran denomination,
holding services in the cafeteria at Wiregrass Ranch High School.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

blessing the children

Children from the Little Pioneers Daycare celebrate graduation day
at Atonement.  As my last official act before my Sabbatical,
I shared a blessing and opening prayer for their ceremony on May 31.