THE GERMANIC NATIONS
The Germanic Nations here include Germany, Switzerland, and Austria, as those wherein the dominant language is Deutsch. Their location is Central Europe, where they share common borders as well as language.
During my travels there, Germany was divided into East and West. I only traveled in the West. By all accounts, East Germany, the Democratic Republic, was far the poorer, less developed, less clean, etc., typical of the Communist Bloc. West Germany, the Federal Republic, was a typical western power, prosperous, clean, efficient, and free.
My first visit to Germany was in October, 1977, with Betty, on a lecture tour. We flew from London to Frankfurt, and were met by company representatives there, who entertained us. I gave a seminar at a chemical plant in nearby Ludwigshafen. Events at German companies are terribly formal. We must meet all the managers. The lectures are very formal, without interpreters, so it can be assumed that the audience understands English well enough. But then few questions are asked, so I wondered whether anyone understood what I was saying. I found out later that they did, in fact, understand well, but are reluctant to express themselves, either in German or in English.
The beverage of choice there is bier (beer), either pils (pilsener) or alt (old). I preferred the alt, as it is rich and smooth. But it can give you a headache the next day. One evening we were entertained at a seiderhaus, where we drank hard cider (crystal clear, no bubbles) by the half-liter. One thing I noticed immediately on my first visit, which persisted on each subsequent visit: the German people have a collective amnesia about WW II. They never talk about it at all—as if it never happened. Those born after the war are quick to let you know their birth date, whenever the subject comes up, and the older ones simply have nothing to say—period. I am not the only one to notice this phenomenon—others have pointed it out as well.
Leaving Frankfurt after our first visit, we boarded a train in the evening for Duesseldorf. The train stopped at Köln for a few minutes, where I happened to see the Köln cathedral illuminated by floodlights. I jumped off the train and ran down the track to a point where I could get a clear picture of the cathedral with my camera, so impressed was I with the spectacle. I’m sure Betty was worried that the train would pull out without me, but it didn’t, and I got my picture, a little blurred, as it was a time exposure.
A few years later, a colleague who lived there drove me to the cathedral, so that I could see it close up. It is dominated by two massive towers, which tell an interesting tale. During one of the Allied bombing runs late in the war, a bomb exploded near the left tower, blasting away part of the stone which supported it. The citizens rallied to the cathedral with bricks and mortar, shoring up the tower as best they could, worried that it would topple. Their work was effective, in that the tower still stands. And in their memory, the brick they put in place that night still remains exposed as it did then.
My mother’s second husband, Carl Higgins, was an intelligence officer in WW II, assigned to debrief German military personnel after the war. A colleague of his painted a picture of Köln from across the Rhein (Rhine), in black and white. It showed the cathedral in the distance, and a twisted and broken bridge spanning the river—the aftermath of war—reminiscent of El Greco’s later works done in the same tenor. As soon as I saw the painting, I recognized the cathedral.
Most of my trips to Germany—and there were several—started or ended or passed through Düsseldorf, as it is the center of the German chemical industry. My second trip there started rather inauspiciously. I came down with the flu on Easter Sunday in 1983, which kept me home from work all the following week. Yet, I left for Düsseldorf the following Sunday, arriving Monday morning to a cold and wet scene. My hotel was the Ramada, near the Rhein, but across the river from the city. It was a lonely spot, and the weather was terrible.
One afternoon, as I walked along the Rhein, I came upon a herd of sheep grazing on the fresh green grass along the banks. There must have been a hundred or more, complete with shepherd and sheep dog. I have never seen a dog work like that. He knew his job, patrolling the edges of the flock, keeping them together, back and forth, in constant motion. Whenever the shepherd would whistle, the dog responded immediately to the command, and there were several different commands. It was a marvelous thing to watch, but I could only think how tired the poor dog must be at the end of each day.
With the exception of my first visit, all of my trips to Germany seemed to be in the early spring. My memories are of rain, hail, wind, cold, and loneliness. Strawberries and asparagus were featured in the restaurants. On that April trip in 1983, I still wasn’t feeling well. It was customary that whenever I gave a seminar in a German plant, we had lunch in the executive dining room. There, they would break out the aperitifs, and the best wines, which were welcome. I felt better in the afternoons, and managed to survive. At the end of that week in 1983, I flew to Lissabon (Lisbon), where I would meet Betty the next day, and the rest of the trip was great.
After a conference in Frankfurt in 1985, I was driven to Düsseldorf along the Rhein. My host stopped in Mainz to see the cathedral there, and we had lunch at the Johannesburger castle and vineyards, home of the wines of the same name. We also stopped to tour a small castle along the river—I believe it was called Schloss Mausen (mouse); and Schloss Katzen (cats) stood across the road.
In April of 1987, I arrived in Düsseldorf by train from Basel, Switzerland. I hadn’t had any breakfast on the train, as I didn’t know how to get it, so I was hungry when I reached Düsseldorf. Fortunately, I was picked up at the station by my host, and we went directly to lunch. Seated across from me on the train was a member of Interpol, the international police force. We had an interesting conversation, but I don’t remember what it was all about. That afternoon (Friday), I met a client at our company offices, and then spent a rainy Saturday alone in my hotel, waiting for my Russian visa to arrive. It arrived by courier at 2 P.M., whereupon I walked downtown in the rain for lunch. That afternoon, I walked to the nearby church for Mass. The next morning, I flew to Frankfurt where I met the rest of our group, and continued to Moscow.
After my seminar in Düsseldorf in 1977, we rented a car and headed for Heidelberg for the weekend. It was my first experience driving in Germany, and was warned not to “camp” in the left lane. Little did I realize that I would be passed by cars going from 100-120 mph (150-200 km/h). It was a frightening experience. We arrived late in the evening, and had trouble finding our hotel, the Zum Ritter (Home of the Armored Knight). We couldn’t park near the hotel, anyway, having to find a garage a couple blocks away and haul our luggage from there. The Zum Ritter dated to 1493 or thereabouts, and sure enough, there was a suit of armor in the lobby. Our room was very comfortable and charming. The cathedral nearby chimed the hour quite loudly, all night and day, but beautifully.
Heidelberg was the seat of the Holy Roman Empire during the 14th and 15th centuries, and the castle remains from the period. We took a castle tour while we were there, and found it most interesting. Most of the castle is in ruins, but some rooms and sections have been restored. Among them is a wine cellar containing the world’s largest cask—some 100,000 gallons—where local winemakers used to bring some of their produce as tax. The building is made out of red sandstone, and some of the remaining (or restored) windows are leaded rose-color glass—very attractive. It was a cold, rainy day, so we sought refuge in the weinstube where we lunched on goulashesuppe und weiss wein, and were warmed by a ceramic stove. On Sunday afternoon, we drove to Frankfurt for our flight to Amsterdam.
I returned to Heidelberg prior to going to Russia, to meet with Herr Doktor Schulz and his wife, Frau Schulz, who would be accompanying us there. They had a lovely apartment overlooking the Neckar River opposite the old city. While there, we walked across Die Alte Brücke (the Old Bridge) spanning the river, to dine at a downtown restaurant. The bridge is dominated by two cylindrical towers which wear helmets like those of the Kaiser’s troops in WW I. It was a marvelous evening.
After one of my visits to Soest, I traveled by rail from Amersfoort, Netherlands, to Hamburg, in the north of Germany. I arrived Saturday noon, and called a cab for my hotel, only to discover that it was across the street from the station. I found the city to be cold and crass. The only interesting site was the remains of a bombed-out church. Spending the rest of the day walking around, I was not well pleased with the prospects there.
Sunday morning, I went to church, and found a restaurant across from a boat landing featuring scenic trips around a lake called Die Alster. I had lunch, and tried several times to flag the waiter to pay for my meal, but he was very busy and kept ignoring me. I wanted to catch the next scheduled boat trip, so when the time approached, I left my estimate of the cost of the meal on the table and headed across the street to the boat. This got the waiter’s attention, and he followed me across to the boat with his bill—it seems I underestimated what I owed and had to settle.
The boat ride was about an hour, on a nice spring day. Afterward, I decided to walk all around the lake and see some more. It took about two hours (probably five or six miles), at the end of which my feet hurt. So I stopped along the way for a bier at a stand.
The next day, I met my contact and ran the seminar there. I recognized a German dialect there which my grandfather used to speak—he came from Danzig, on the Baltic sea, not very far away. After my seminar, we dined on smoked fish and weiss wein. The next day, I left the city.
Chiemsee is the largest body of water lying wholly within Germany. (Bodensee, or Lake Konstanz, is larger, but is shared by Switzerland.) It lies about halfway between München (Munich) and Salzburg, Austria. We were there in the spring of 1984—off-season—so the place was comparatively empty. We checked into one of the resort hotels by the lake, and had dinner there. It was the season for boch bier, and the speciality of the area was dopple-boch, so we ordered a round of half-liter steins. It was very creamy and smooth, but heavy. Our conversation lasted into the evening, so we ordered another round. That night I had some difficulty negotiating the stairs to my room, and woke in the morning with a big head. Then I found out that dopple-boch bier has twice (dopple) the alcohol content as boch bier—10 percent! No wonder I felt the after-effects of consuming a liter of the stuff.
That day I had to give a seminar at a chemical plant in nearby Trostberg. After the seminar was over, I retained the car we had rented at the Munich airport, and drove on to Linz, Austria, where another seminar would follow on the next day.
My only stay in Switzerland came in June, 1979, on a stopover on my first trip to China. I chose to fly in an easterly direction all the way around the world, and at that time, we were free to choose our own routing, with stopovers. (In 1983, I flew around the world in the opposite direction, stopping at Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and London.).
My Swissair flight arrived in Zürich on a Saturday morning, and I didn’t want to waste any time. So after checking in at my hotel, I followed the recommendations of a colleague who had visited the city, and took a cable-car to the high plain on the south side of town. There, I set about walking amongst the farms, watching the farmers cut and harvest hay that fine June day. As in the old tradition, the men worked the machinery, and the women and children followed behind with rakes to collect what had been left behind.
Eventually, I came to a country inn, with a veranda. A rather large woman came out to take my order. “Ein bier, und der menu,” was my request, to which she responded, “Klein oder grosser?” holding her hand above the table to indicate the height of a klein (small) and grosser (large) bier. I ordered “Grosser.” From the menu I chose kraut and knackwürst, and enjoyed my feast with black bread in the afternoon sun.
After lunch, I strolled through a forest, and struck up a conversation with a woman hiking, who addressed me in German and French before switching to English. (In this world, there are bilinguals, trilinguals, and Americans.) Eventually, we went our separate ways, and I returned to my hotel. Next morning, Sunday, I attended Mass nearby, and walked downtown to a restaurant for lunch, by the Zürichsee. I can remember an argument over the check, because I was unaware that you had to pay for the bread you had consumed with your meal—the waiter counted the pieces left to determine what you had consumed. After lunch, I checked out of the hotel and took a bus to the airport for an afternoon departure on a 17-hour flight to Beijing, with stops at Athens and Bombay.
In the spring of 1987, Ibra and I were in France, finishing a project on a Thursday. I had to be in Düsseldorf by Friday noon, and would leave from there to Moscow on the following Sunday (Palm Sunday). So I asked him to drive me to Basel, where I would catch a train to Düsseldorf. We approached Basel from Mulhouse, France, and were stopped at the Swiss border for customs inspection. There had been a series of bombings in Paris attributed to Arab terrorists, and so the customs authorities were being careful—especially considering that Ibra was Lebanese. They took everything out of the car for inspection, before letting us proceed.
Ibra dropped me off at the Hilton downtown, and waited to be sure I had a room, because no reservation had been made. Then he headed north across the German border on his way back to the Netherlands, because Germany had better roads and cheaper gas than France. I checked in at the Hilton, and walked across the street to the railway station to find my way around, determine the scheduled departure of the early train up the Rhein, and buy my ticket. Then it was back to the hotel for dinner and early to bed, as I would have to check out by 0630 in the morning. There was no time to see much of Basel, and I was tired anyway from my travels. The morning train followed the Rhein quite closely, past castles and vineyards, and the Lorely, storied in a song my Grandfather Shinskey used to sing. The remainder of the trip is covered under Düsseldorf above, and under Moscow.
Österreich literally means the Eastern Kingdom, having been part of Germany at various times, particularly during the two world wars. It was liberated by our troops at the end of WW II, and for a short time was occupied jointly by the US, the USSR, France and Britain. In 1955, it regained its independence and became a bulwark against communism. My first visit came in 1984, and then Betty and I went there on a hiking trip in 1997.
Leaving Trostberg after my seminar in 1984, I joined the autobahn near Salzburg without entering the city, and continued east toward Linz. I stopped for a break near Mondsee, where I parked and could look into the town. There I could see the church where the Von Trapps were married in the film, The Sound of Music. Continuing on, I became sleepy about halfway to Linz, and pulled into a rest area. There, a young woman with a little girl approached me and began speaking in German. Then in English, explained that her car was out of gas, and could I drive her to the next station where she could purchase some. This I did, and reversed direction twice until we had returned to her car in the rest area. This took an hour or more, so that I was late for my meeting in Linz.
I arrived at my hotel on the Donau (Danube), checked in and found my host in the restaurant overlooking the river, waiting for me. We had a pleasant dinner, and discussed the next day’s seminar. Linz is principally an industrial center, or at least, that is all I saw of it the next day. When I finished, in the early afternoon, I headed for Salzburg for the weekend, having arranged with my host to book a room for me there. When I asked him how I could find the way to my hotel, he was not very helpful: “Follow your nose!” In retrospect, this was not bad advice.
Leaving the autobahn, I followed signs into downtown Salzburg, and went around in circles a couple times before finding the right exit. Then as I began wondering how I would find my hotel, I saw it right ahead, Der Goldener Herst (The Golden Stag). Parking was another problem. But eventually, I settled into a rather small but cozy room on the second floor. The city lies below two cliffs, Monksburg und Nonnburg, home of monks and nuns respectively. It was the latter place where Maria entered the novitiate for a time, before she was sent to govern the Von Trapp children. I saw what I could of old Salzburg during the rest of Friday, finding a church nearby for Mass. And I booked a tour for Saturday.
The Sound of Music Tour was guided by a young lady wearing a hooded cape against the snow which began falling early that April morning. It made all the famous landmarks, beginning with the water-castle at Anif (which appears in the opening scenes of the movie), the gazebo where the young couple danced, the two different houses used in the movie (one for inside scenes and the other for outside scenes), and the wedding church at Mondsee. It was a marvelous tour, with the snow continuing throughout the day. After returning to the city, I bought Betty a wool cape with pewter buttons, red on one side and loden green on the other—it was April 29th, her birthday. I also bought myself a felt hat in loden green, with an Osterreich eagle affixed. That evening, I attended a concert of Strauss waltzes (or was it Schubert?) by a string quartet, and fell asleep.
Next morning, the snow still clung to the hillsides above an elevation about 500 feet above the city. I went to Mass, and afterward walked up to Nonnburg. Not much of the abbey is opened to the public, but I could walk through the cemetery. From that vantage point, I could vaguely make out the outlines of some snow-covered peaks appearing through the clouds—the Hohe Tauern (High Towers) to the south. The range includes the highest mountain in Austria, Grossglockner, at 12,455 ft. My photograph of the range taken that morning failed to reveal the peaks.
In the late morning, I drove east through the Salz-Kammergut, a string of lakes backed by snow-covered peaks. St. Gilgen is a beautiful little town, with a gleaming blue lake and a ski lift. I stopped for lunch at another resort town, Bad Ischl. Then I continued past Ebensee, Traunsee, and on in the general direction of Vienna, where I would spend the next couple days.
The Hotel Europa is a small, elegant place close to the heart of Vienna. From its address, I could tell where it was on the stadtplan (city map), but couldn’t seem to get there. Vienna is a very old city, and was once protected by a circular wall against the invasion of the Turks in the 16th century. In 1857, the walls were removed and replaced with a boulevard, the Ringstrasse. I navigated the Ringstrasse, looking for an exit near my hotel, but couldn’t find one in the right direction. At one point, I found myself facing a bus head-on in a narrow street—I was going the wrong way and had to back out! It seemed that every street in Vienna had the same name: Einbahn Strasse (One-way Street). After about three attempts, I gave up and parked as close to the hotel as I could get, walking the rest of the way. Then I found out that the roads surrounding the hotel were closed while a new gas pipe was being laid. After checking in, I asked the receptionist what to do with my Avis car, and was advised to call Avis and have them pick it up—which they did, to my great relief. That evening, I walked to St. Stephen’s Cathedral, a mammoth Gothic structure whose main tower reaches 450 feet into the sky; its patterned tile roof is particularly striking. When I entered, a small group had gathered for evening Mass.
The next day was May Day, a holiday for the labor unions and the communists, so no work was scheduled. In the morning, I took a tour of Schönnbrunn Palace, former baroque residence of Empress Maria-Theresia. It is a beautiful place with many magnificent halls and rooms, an extensive art collection, and memories of Mozart who performed there regularly, beginning at age 12. Its name means Beautiful Fountain, so naturally, there is a fountain as the centerpiece of 500 acres of parks and gardens. That afternoon, I walked about the old city, visiting as many churches as I could, including St. Stephen’s. I must have visited six or seven in all.
Next day, my host took me and his girlfriend to a little town on the Hungarian border, called Roost, where storks roosted in chimney tops. Special platforms were made for them, to avoid their nests interfering with the operation of the chimneys. New wine was being offered by all the local vintners, so we walked around town sampling their wares. At the end of the afternoon, we stopped at the airport to pick up Anna, who would accompany me through Czechoslovakia. I was supposed to have retained the rental car for use there, which I didn’t, so she rented another, which she eventually returned to Austria. The next day, Anna and I drove to Bratislava, Slovakia, only an hour or so from Vienna.
In 1997, Betty and I signed on to a tour with the Over-the-Hill Hikers from Sandwich, for two locations in Austria. In early September, we flew SwissAir to Zürich, then Austrian Air to Salzburg, where we boarded a bus to Alpbach. This is a little village nestled in the Alps south of Salzburg. Our hotel was across the street from a beautiful church, gilded inside, and surrounded by flower-bedecked graves outside. Every house in town had window-boxes dripping with cascade geraniums and other flowers in profusion, some reaching down to the next level of the building. Hills rose on both sides, green from recent haying, up to where the forest began. Behind our hotel rose Gratlspitze, a jagged mountain about 6400 ft high—the valley was at about 3000 ft.
We were there for a week, during which time the group climbed the Gratlspitze, and Gatlinberg at 7954 ft., from which we could see glaciers in the distance to the west. Each peak was surmounted by a cross. I passed up a couple other hikes, not wanting to leave Betty alone. One day, she and I packed a lunch and walked to Inner Alpbach, an even smaller village about four miles away—it was a delightful walk in warm, sunny weather, and there were benches where we could stop and rest and lunch. On a rainy Sunday, after Mass, we organized an informal tour to Rattenberg. One evening, there was a band concert in town, by an oom-pah-pah band. They put on a good show, but got out of their element when they tried to play “Stars and Stripes Forever.”
One evening, the hotel was given over to a wedding, so our group was invited up the hill to a chalet for dinner. We hiked the half-mile up through the hay-fields to find our hosts offering schnapps. Inside was a single room with tables on one side and the kitchen on the other. There was no electricity—just oil lamps and a wood fire for cooking. Dinner was baked potato, pork chops, and sauerkraut—my favorite—with plenty of wine provided. Desert was, of course, apfel strudle. Drinking continued on into the night, accompanied by an accordianist playing and singing German songs—it was great fun! We walked back to the hotel by lantern light, singing Auf Wiedersehen, Sweetheart.
Next, we bussed to Fulpmes, another picturesque Alpine town, closer to the Stubai glacier that we had seen to the west. The next day, we took a chair lift partway up Erfolspitze, where I left Betty and continued with the hikers to the summit. The last ascent was through a chimney, assisted by a vertical cable, to a height of about 8800 ft. On our descent, we stopped at a hütte for lunch, and watched paragliders take off from the top of the ski lift below us.
On another day, we hikers started for the Franz Zenn hütte at about 7000 ft elevation, by way of a trail that would keep us above treeline. We stopped for lunch at a tiny cabin manned by a caretaker, who provided kässe-brot (cheese sandwiches) consisting of a huge slab of butter and a quarter pound of cheese on black bread. After lunch, the weather began to deteriorate, and so did the trail. We reached a point where the trail had several narrow bridges staked to the hillside, slippery when wet, and it was raining. Our guide then turned us around, and we retreated the four miles to our starting point, in the rain, to take a more direct route to the hütte.
We were now split into groups of four, as we had to be transported to the trailhead by a single car. Wearing raingear, we then wound along the switchbacks up the mountainside in chill wind and fog. Soon above treeline, the mountain looked like a moonscape, with grey broken rock everywhere, a cold stream rushing by, augmented by an increasing downpour. I began to fall behind the others, chilled to the bone, but eventually we could see our destination—a forbidding black building looming from a saddle in the mountain ahead—in that atmosphere, it looked like the gates of hell. But once inside, we removed our raingear, found our (cold) rooms, and took a hot shower. The hütte even had its own hydro-power supply. I had brought a bottle of schnapps along, but there was a bar and restaurant, so we soon were warm and full, safe from the chill rain that continued to fall into the night.
We awoke to a snowy landscape, and after a hearty breakfast, assembled for our trek upward. Since snow was now falling, our guide told us to put away our raingear in favor of fleece. We then marched off into the low clouds, unable to see much beyond the rocky trail underfoot. After a couple hours of steadily upward grade, we took a break on a pebbly plain. The sky began to brighten a bit, whereupon the guide advised us to don sunglasses, although we still couldn’t see our surroundings. Eventually, a series of faint streaks began to appear below us to the left, which turned out to be crevasse lines in a glacier. In a few minutes, the clouds began to clear, exposing a series of glaciers below us, before us, and above us, gleaming white against a deep blue sky. Using my video camera, I swept the scene across about 120 degrees of the horizon—it was fantastic! We didn’t walk on the glaciers, but traversed the rocky slope bordering the nearest, higher and higher, until we again entered the clouds. The guide was keeping a fast pace, so that with my eagerness to film the scene, I was falling behind.
After another hour, we approached the summit of Die Operatum at about 9600 ft, also known as the “snowless mountain,” covered with about two inches of fresh snow. The final approach required us to traverse a gorge that fell away hundreds of feet almost vertically. The path was little more than the width of one boot, with a cable attached as a handrail, about 40 feet across. On the return trip, I left my camera running and bouncing, as I used both hands on the cable. It was all downhill after this, back to the hütte and down to the trailhead.
One day during our week at Fulpmes, Betty and I took the train to Innsbruck, about an hour away. On the way, the train crossed a tall, curving trestle above a deep, heavily wooded valley. From there we could see the Europe Bridge, said to be the highest span in Europe, that our bus had driven over on our arrival. Innsbruck is a beautiful old city, with the baroque Sankt Jacob’s Cathedral at its center. We arrived just before noon, and heard the bells toll the hour. Austrian churches are beautifully decorated, especially the heavenly scenes painted on the ceiling.
The city rests on the banks of the Inn River, with a beautiful range of white, limestone mountains as a backdrop. We strolled about the old section, mostly window shopping, eventually stopping for lunch in a sidewalk café. The Swarovsky crystal shop was extensive, with one entire department devoted to Christmas ornaments. Betty bought a couple angels to bring home. After we were tired walking, we returned to the station for the train back.
On our last day in Fulpmes, Betty and I had lunch downtown in a sidewalk cafe, where we watched a couple paragliders float back and forth across the face of the mountains on the air currents. We walked back to their landing field then, to watch their descent. Some were up for two hours or more, and glided to a perfect touch-down. We noticed autumn crocuses blooming in scattered patterns in the hayfields. Next morning, we had to rise before dawn for a bus ride to Innsbruck and an early flight to Zürich and home.