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Yes, Zig Has Written About our Bavaria Trip!

Sunday May 30 - Mozart & Lohengrin

Up early for the Mozart’s Missa Solemnis at the Augustiner Church. Every place was taken twenty minutes before the mass began. We had prime seats. You should have seen the look of desperation on the faces of the late-comers. One woman saw people walking around the altar rail to be seated in the abbey choir. She so wanted to sit there but knew she didn’t belong. My heart hurt for her. I remember feeling excluded from something I really wanted to be part of.

The music soared above us from the organ loft. It was perfectly tuned to that space and had been for four centuries. The incense drifted up in fragrant clouds. The abbot was attended by two resplendent con-celebrating priests, a deacon who sang the gospel as well as the petitions, and church bells the size of small trucks that tolled the elevation of the host and the chalice. This was the setting Mozart had in mind for his Credo and Agnus Dei. The Missa Solemnis, or “Solemn Mass,” is a glorious piece of music, but when it is detached from the communion of faith it is at best a beautiful flower in a bud vase. When it’s used to hawk hamburgers or automobiles it’s an opulent peony stuck in a coke bottle.

You see, the Missa Solemnis is another treasure of the church. But, like the marble cherubs, its lasting value comes from its relation to a practicing community of faith. And the center of that community is the miracle of the Word becoming Flesh becoming simple un-leavened bread, that humble daily bread that sustains us on our pilgrim way.

And this was Trinity Sunday. As members gathered together as the body of Christ we were invited to join our individual concerns - joys and sorrows - with the offerings brought up and handed to the abbot. Like the humble bread and wine we believe that our private offerings will also be transformed on the altar, to something more beautiful and more precious than we could have ever imagined. And then we receive all these transformed treasures as we shuffle forward in communion with the other believers.

After the service it was poring outside and we didn’t have our collapsible rain capes. Tried to stop at our neighborhood grocery to buy supper fixings, but it was closed. So we had to eat at one of the nearby restaurants in the alley across the street. Durn :) Shared a meal of Paprika chicken and Spaetzle washed down with an amazing dark bier but without dessert. No room.

After dinner we took a quick trip out to Shoenbrunn palace for a look around. Only had time for one picture in the rose garden. We could see that you’d need to spend a lot of time there to see things, and we still had to get to the concert hall for Lohengrin.

A deformed beggar got on our car at one stop and got off at the next so she could shuttle back and forth along the line. I honestly cannot imagine how her leg could have been broken that badly on accident. She “walked” with her knee bending almost completely backwards. It reminded me of the movie “Slumdog Millionaire,” which introduced me to the fact that in some cultures children are horribly deformed intentionally so that they can be more pathetic and therefore lucrative beggars. Can beings with human hearts really do such things? Will selling another cherub fix this? Is the problem a lack of money?

The trip through Karlsplatz was just as upsetting as always. They don’t accost the pedestrians or anything like that but it’s just so sad. People buying and selling drugs, a greasy young man tying off his arm in a phone booth so he could find a vein. Shrill arguments over “turf” among these denizens of the deep. Depressing. All the self-inflicted wounds. Maybe the bicyclists are right. Maybe money would solve the problems. But then, maybe humanity needs something more. Paraphrasing Wittgenstein: “Any value that is of real value must come from outside.”

What a night to be seeing an opera like Lohengrin. Wow! The chandelier must have three tons of crystal. And the proscenium had the strangest curtain painting I’ve ever seen. Three nudes: one of them standing on his head. Must mean something. Those crazy Austrians. The Opera was Lohengrin, Wagner’s masterpiece, that most Teutonic of Teutonic operas. The bridal hymn, “Here comes the Bride,” is the most famous set piece in it. But it’s not an easy story to encapsulate. Else is the heroine who has been falsely accused of murder. She begs for a champion to fight for her honor. A mysterious knight sails up on the back of a giant swan. (Is that mysterious enough for you?) After proving her innocence with his sword he proposes marriage but requires that she not ask his name. You know how that is going to work out. The bad guy, Telramund, who accused her in the first place, and his really wicked wife, the red-haired witch Ortrud, who put him up to it plant suspicions in her mind. Why would this new husband put such conditions on her? He must have something really bad to hide. She can’t see that she’s being manipulated.

In this particular production Else is not just metaphorically blind, she is really blind. She can’t live on “faith.” She has to “know,” and asking the forbidden question brings catastrophe. It turns out that her husband’s name is Lohengrin, one of the knights of the Holy Grail, the chalice that caught the blood and water from Jesus’ side. Else dies of grief thinking she precipitated the catastrophe, but it was really Ortrud who tempted both Else and Telramund. Ortrud is evil and Wagner sees evil and darkness as powerful forces that must be powerfully opposed. Else and her Lohengrin represent what might be called Christian good, and tellingly, Lohengrin did not even kill Telramund when he had the opportunity. Christianity is weak. Loving your enemies and doing good to those who harm you is a morality for slaves. The old German Gods dealt with evil in a much more satisfying way: Kick butt and take names. Rambo, Dirty Harry, and Dick Chaney all would understand this morality.

It’s a hard call for me. But St Augustine would say that such a view ascribes to evil a strength it does not have. Evil is the absence of good like a shadow is the absence of sunlight. You oppose and “destroy” shadows with light, not with kicking butt and taking names.

We’d hoped to return to the Shoenbrunn Gardens after the opera but it didn’t end until 10:30pm, five hours of Teutonic opera! Gott in Himmel! Luckily there were three intermissions. Some champagne and strolls around the roof of the Opera House made it all bearable. The Viennese skyline at dusk has to be seen to be believed. And sipping champagne helps one believe.
Monday May 31 - Leaving Vienna for Passau and Linz

Up early for our last breakfast at the guesthouse: Vienna sausages that don’t come in little tins like the “pig’s lips” I loved as a child, several kinds of crusty bread, butter, honey, café mit shaum, and raspberry jam. Said goodbye and thanks to the nun who welcomed us in her old-order Amish-like black and white habit. This time she smiled at me. And it was a beautiful smile, people should smile more.

Bought tickets for Linz and Wels though we shouldn’t have; we could have used our German rail pass even in Austria. It would have saved us €57, about $60 to $70.

The Linz Cathedral had mostly nineteenth century stained glass made by the Mayer Studio of Munich. I’m looking forward to visiting them. I’ve seen their windows all over the US, with some especially fine ones in the Cathedral of Covington, Kentucky. They are enormous.

In Linz there are also twelve new windows made between 1992-1994 by Karl Martin Hartmann. They are composed of thousands of small squares arranged in electric color combinations. They are quite lovely though they don’t seem to hold any particular religious significance.

Then we went on to Wels, about 20 minutes away, to visit the church our train acquaintance had recommended. It was a walk of several blocks from the station. We asked a nun where the church was and she could only wave vaguely “that way.” We pulled our carry-ons over broken sidewalks and rough pavement in that general direction hoping we’d stumble on it. I remembered that Wolfgang had said it had an onion dome. Luckily the dome was taller than the surrounding shops and we found it down a little side street. And the church was open. Inside, there were some early twentieth century windows and some from 1956 but the crown jewels were two twelfth and thirteenth century windows behind the altar. Absolute treasures!

Then we caught the train to Passau. This is big sky country. You can see for miles across the green fields dotted with little homesteads and villages nestled among the low hills. Red tile roofs, of course, were everywhere. And each little village had their own May tree, a 90-meter spruce tree stripped of all the bark and branches except for the top 10-20 feet. In this section there are usually five rings carved in the bark then the branches are undisturbed for the last eight feet or so. It looks like a normal-sized Christmas tree perched atop an unbelievably tall telephone pole. Each village has its own version, with variations in the rings and garlands and wreaths attached to it. We asked the waitress in Klosterneuburg what the tree meant and it started quite a lively discussion among the staff and patrons. The upshot of the discussion was that they were put up on May First and they’ve done that for a long, long time. One man at the bar opined that they had something to do with the “Liberty Trees” that sprung up after the French Revolution. The waitress scoffed. That’s the way it is with traditions. We may not always know how the tradition started, but we always know why we continue it - because it’s a tradition!

The train to Passau stopped at every little station along the way and school kids and commuters got on and off. Kids are so full of life and mischief the world over. I love ‘em! We saw children I think would have been bullied in the US. Children who are obviously “different.” But they seem more accepted here. Even in the Vienna underground the people seemed amazingly tolerant. I only saw one example where a woman got off an underground car to avoid someone “strange.” It was that crippled girl with her leg bending backwards. But she was hard to take. A hundred years ago she could have made a living in a circus freak show.

As we rode between towns there were always lovely little villages on the horizon and gently rolling hills. And between towns there were elegant “wind farms” with dozens of gigantic three-bladed windmills generating power. And high over all there was a crystal blue sky with billowing cumulus clouds. Cooler today, but no rain, I hope.

And then we saw dark, dark, rain clouds on the horizon dead ahead. Drat.

This was now Bavaria. There were occasional stands of trees beside the fields of green wheat. And the churches had extremely tall pointed steeples with no overhang at all, like a grain silo wearing a dunce hat. And other churches with onion domes also had dunce hats perched on top. And we saw walkers carrying ski poles with rubber tips on them right beside the railroad tracks. They’d push off with each step and use their arms to help them move along. It probably keeps them in shape for skiing too. We saw solar water heating collectors on the house roofs. And then we rode along the banks of a swollen river as it rushed through the forested hills. Passau is known as the Venice of Bavaria because it was built at the confluence of five different rivers.

We arrived right at 5pm without a reservation and rushed out of the train station looking for the tourist information kiosk. The lady was just switching the sign from “open” to “closed.” I panicked and tried to get her to open up again for just a few minutes. She was adamantly closed. Wanted to go home for supper I suppose. She pointed at a little brochure carrousel outside the door and shut the door firmly. We found some hotel listings that looked affordable and managed to screw up enough courage to try calling on the telephone. Georgia did fine with the first one but was told they were full. The second call prompted a response she couldn’t understand and that was the end of it. Telephones in foreign lands are hopeless. You can’t see anyone’s face and pantomime just doesn’t work at all.

So we walked across the street to this swanky hotel beside the train station. Our brochure said they had a room for two people for €69. That was more than we wanted to pay but it would have to do. The desk clerk said they didn’t have that room any more. It was now €119. Georgia was deeply offended and said we’d find something else. She stomped off. I told the girl we’d probably be back.

Outside I asked where she was planning on finding this “other” room. We checked the book again and found a place on the banks of the Danube not far from the train station. There was no telephone listed and it was only open from April through September. We started walking along the river road and came to the hotel sign right at the entrance to a seedy-looking graffiti-filled tunnel under the road. We could see the river through the tunnel. Taking a deep breath and swinging our arms to bat down spider webs we entered the tunnel. We came out on the other side on a bike path. The tunnel, in fact, was for bike traffic! And just to our left only yards from the river was the strangest building I’ve ever seen. It resembled a reclining man. The glass doors in front formed the pillow for his head and opened into an entrance way that was only about 10’ wide but 25-30 feet tall all painted in graffiti.

It was obviously by the same artist who did the bike-path tunnel. We asked the desk clerk if they had a vacancy. She said that they did. I asked how much. She said it was €25 per person per night but the room was “very small.” “Small is okay,” Georgia said. The breakfast was extra but if we wanted it we could buy it in the dining room. Georgia complimented her on the cheerful red, white, and blue paint of the building. “You’ll see more colors inside,” she said, and we did.

Yellows and greens and blacks and all of them vivid. Avant gaarde design everywhere. The doors weren’t even perfect rectangles. More like lopsided trapezoids. The breakfast room was located in the mid-section of the reclining man (of course!) The entire hotel was only about 30-40 feet wide and the breakfast room took up the entire width. The room was probably 120 feet long with huge picture windows along the entire length facing the swollen Danube.

Once we were through the dining room we were in the sleeping sections. For the most part the sleeping quarters were on the right and the matching bathroom was on the left of the hall. Very odd. We unlocked our door and I couldn’t believe my eyes. She said “small,” but this was small! Our room was only about 10 feet deep and only about five feet wide! It was only just wide enough for a wall-to-wall bed with a little window facing the river like a porthole. I was captivated. The bathroom across the hall had a nice shower and toilet. So, alle is gut!

Except ... it was a cash-only hotel so we went out looking for a Banc-o-mat. Found one easily and asked for our normal 300 or 400 euros. The little screen proudly announced Transaction cannot be completed and popped our little card back out at us. I must have put in the wrong pin number or something. I very carefully entered the number and the screen cheerfully said “Transaction cannot be completed” and popped our little card back out again. The hotel only takes cash, which we have in serious short supply and it’s after 5pm - the banks are closed. And every time your little card is rejected it starts an “I wonder if this is a stolen card” file in the bowels of some financial institution somewhere.

If our cards are no good anymore ... this could be bad...


The bikers motel
May 31 (continued) - Passau

Her name is Diana and she works at the Republic State Bank on Euclid Avenue in Lexington Kentucky. I would like to publicly thank her! Before leaving Lexington I gave her our itinerary and told her that if I had banking problems I would send her an email. And I did. When we left the ATM machine we immediately headed for an Internet café. They are everywhere in Europe. You pay one or two euros for an hour or so on a good machine. I told her the banks were spitting our cards back at us. Was there some problem with the account back home? After sending the message we decided to try one more time and only ask for €60. It worked! Fantastic! I seem to remember that we had this problem in a little town in Italy once before. Maybe small towns are just less willing to give large sums of money. Diana will know.

Stopped at “Subway” and bought a veggie delight. It tasted exactly the same as in the states, even including the iceberg lettuce (ick) and the tasteless olives. What gives? Surely they could have better veggies produced close to home. We also noticed that there seemed to be a large number of chubby teenagers here in Passau. And there seemed to be more fast-food and “snack” outlets here than in the bigger cities. At least more per capita. They seem to be super-sizing themselves just as in the states. Oh, the boredom of teenage years and the lure of sugary and salty “foods.”

Consumerist culture is penetrating the backwoods of Europe. We saw huge advertising campaigns for bikini tops in Zurich, Salzburg, Vienna, and even little Wels and Passau. Perhaps a consumerist culture is especially penetrating in the backwoods of Europe, just as drug abuse seems more rampant in the backwoods of Kentucky. In the small towns, boredom is especially hard on the young. They feel like they are missing out on what everyone else is enjoying.

It’s a lie, of course, but then advertisers have never been particularly interested in telling potential customers “the truth.” “These cigarettes are poison.” “These potato chips taste great but will clog up your arteries.” “These clothes are going to look ridiculous on you.” “These shoes are going to give you bunions.” “You won’t be any more popular when you drink this carbonated sugar water and you will get cavities to boot.” McDonalds, Burger King, and Subway restaurants are everywhere. Haven’t seen a Wal-Marts, but Wolfgang (on the train) told us that Hofers, Aldi and Billa are using American-style commercial tactics to drive prices down, forcing suppliers to meet their prices or be blackballed. These artificially low prices are killing the small shops that were once the backbone of Europe’s food economy. We may be among the last travelers to be able to revel in the wonderfully made breads, artisan cheeses, olives, and fruits.

But then, many years ago I remember reading a story called “Quality,” about two cobbler brothers and their custom-made shoes and boots. The customer would stand bare-foot on a piece of leather and the brothers would get down on their hands and knees and trace the exact shape of the foot. That led to absolutely perfectly fitting boots and shoes that would wear almost forever. One faithful customer, pressed for time, went and bought a pair of “ready-mades” instead, and when they wore out bought another pair, etc. And then one day he realized it had been years since he had seen the brothers. He decided to stop and say “hi.” As he entered the shop the friendly smell of fresh leather and shoe wax greeted him like an old friend. But he wasn’t a friend, he had betrayed the brothers. One of them had died and as the other got down on his hands and knees to measure his foot, he said with a hint of sadness: “These are not our shoes.” “No,” the man said with some embarrassment and tried to make an excuse. The old man held up his hand, “No matter. Your boots will be ready in one month.”

And they were, but when he came to pick them up the shop had changed. There were now ready-made shoes in the window and a young man stood behind the counter. “Where is Herr Muller?” the man asked. “Herr Muller has died, I’m afraid, but I’m his nephew.” “You are going to sell ready-mades?” “Oh yes,” the young man said, “My poor uncles, they never could keep up with the times.”

The man left with his precious package. These would be the last pair of custom-made shoes he would ever have. They were warm brown riding boots, as supple as a pair of fine kid gloves. The soles were firm, but flexible, and he knew that they would fit perfectly. And he knew in his heart that it wasn’t his fault the world had lost another fine craftsman, but then why did he feel so bad?

It’s not just food of course. Consumerist culture is so popular everywhere. The entire world seems to have a love/hate relationship with it. I think that’s one of the reasons the disputes are so sharp right now between the Muslim world and the West. So many Muslims now live in the west and the Internet has brought western culture into every backwater and village on the planet. I heard a father in Tehran explain to an interviewer why Iran hated us so much: “We don’t want our daughters to be like Brittany Spears.” I don’t think he realizes that I don’t want that either and neither do the other American fathers I know.

As if these thoughts weren’t gloomy enough what should we see but two young fresh-faced, and well-clad young Mormons pushing bikes along the pedestrian walkway. As we watched, they stopped a group of young men and women heavily tattooed, dressed in black leather and multi-studded. America’s custom-made “non-conformists” being proselytized by America’s custom-made “religion.” In the backwoods of Bavaria. Sigh.


breakfast room of the biker's motel
June 1 - Passau

No word from Diana yet. But when the local bank opened I found a teller who spoke English and learned that indeed, it was the bank’s policy to limit overseas withdrawals to €60. We managed to find another bank that let us withdraw €300. Went back to the Internet café and found a message from Diana saying there was no problem with our account. I explained what I’d learned and told her I’d bring her a present, silky-smooth German chocolates. A banker is a good friend to have when you are overseas!

Visited the Cathedral and learned that there was to be an organ recital on the largest organ in Europe (the organ at the Mormon Tabernacle is larger!) and the largest organ in any Catholic Church in the world. There were 126 registers and 18,000 pipes, three manuals, and a pedal. The introductory remarks were special. I wished the social workers we met could have been there to listen.

He said, “Passau became an important town in Roman times because it was at the confluence of three rivers. The church was founded there in the fifth century. By 800 there was a bishop and cathedral. In 982 a second, larger cathedral was built on the same spot. In the 1600s, the second cathedral was destroyed by a catastrophic fire. The present building was completely rebuilt by German and Italian craftsmen.” He finished with the statement that “Many, many centuries of people have given their very best to glorify our creator.” He didn’t want the audience to separate these treasures from the Creator they were meant to glorify.

And yet, times are tough for ancient cathedrals. We joined the secular audience and paid our four euros apiece to hear a 30-minute concert on the largest organ in Europe. We heard Bach, and Caesar Frank, and the famous Toccata and Fugue: three treasures of the Church, played on another treasure of the Church. The sound filled that enormous space in a way that no one could possible capture in words, and yet, in all honesty, I found it disappointing. The church was packed. The music was enormous and yet the organist had probably played these same three pieces, every day at 12-noon for months. I don’t think his heart was in it. It was certainly competent but not inspired. But then the problem may also have been with the audience.

I remember someone once saying that if you had a problem with your church choir, or the organist, or the priest, the first thing you should do is pray for them fervently. Nothing will turn a lukewarm priest, or teacher, or music program into a ball of fire faster than a fervent congregation. The same, I think, is true at organ concerts. This audience was a dud. They sat on their hands. And I even saw people get up and start wandering around taking pictures and chatting during the music. At the end, Georgia and I were afraid everyone was just going to get up and walk out so we started the clapping. It was sad. Like trying to start a fire with wet matches. The tepid applause died out quickly and the audience filed out chatting, or hung around to take pictures proving that they’d heard the largest organ in Europe. Big whoop.

Do you see? This church was trying to do what our social workers recommended: sell the treasures of the church to the secular world. Know what? The secular world didn’t want them. They didn’t appreciate them. Trying to make ends meet by selling the treasures of the church is like Esau selling his birthright for bowl of lentil soup.

There was a little fair going on outside the church where we bought a bag of noodles from a local farmer. Mistook the €2 coin for a €1 coin so gave the man €4 for a bag of €1.50 noodles. He gave me the noodles and one of the €2 coins plus 50 cents in change. He smiled and said the German equivalent of, “Silly tourist, you gave me too much.” I love it! There are wonderful people everywhere.

After lunch Georgia went to visit a glass museum, and I headed off on a walking tour. Ended up on the campus of the University of Passau and saw the students and buildings. Right on the Inn River across the promenade from the Danube. Lovely spot. Saw a pedestrian bridge over the grossly swollen river. Even the sidewalks alongside the river were flooded. Wandered aimlessly through medieval streets. Saw a Roman Museum and medieval castle walls then a sign for the Marianhelf monastery.

It was an unbelievably steep climb. A girl passed me on her bicycle but she was huffing and puffing along only slightly faster than I was walking so we commiserated with each other in pantomime. At the entrance to the Marianhelf they had a “stations of Mary” made of lovely Lambert's glass laminated with silicone to half-inch thick plate glass. What a great idea for showing off Lambert’s exquisite glass. We will be visiting their factory toward the end of our trip.

I found the entrance to the chapel. It quickly turned into a long(!) descending staircase to a life-sized crucifix. The stairway was hundreds of steps long with windows all along the way and thousands and thousands of mementos left in honor of Mary’s help attached to the walls and resting on the window sills. They reached about half way down. I’m sure the petitioners got tired half way down and left their thanks then started back up. I wanted to see the crucifix up close, but was a little bit nervous at the prospect of having to turn around and start back up from all the way at the bottom. The crucifix really was lovely, and I gave thanks for all the blessings poured out on my family and turned to start back up. And then I saw another doorway. It opened out at the river. A secret passage! How cool is that?

Walked back to the glass museum to wait for Georgia. The museum was an old hotel, the Wilderman, where Empress Elizabeth II stayed when she was in Passau. Her bedroom was still kept as if she would be arriving again any day. There were five floors, with the top three now a museum. Georgia said she got lost in the maze of rooms and stairways and saw all kinds of glass from buttons, goblets, birdcages and huge pedestals of glass topped with vases of glass flowers. She said the Art Deco glass with paintings of goldfish, birds, flowers and designs were her favorites.

We ate our picnic supper in the reclining man’s “bread-basket.” Bread, champignon-flavored bologna, with cookies, milk and German chocolate plus red wine and hard little sausages that tasted like foot-long pieces of 7/11 beef jerky. But it was all wunderbar! The bread was a two-foot baguette, crusty on the outside, chewy and silky smooth on the inside with pea-sized yeasty holes, perfect for trapping bits of cheese and German mayo. With those little beef-jerky things they made the best hotdog buns you could ever sink your tooth in.

It was raining hard after supper so we bagged it. I worked on the journal and Georgia watched some German TV. A German bicyclist and his friend stopped to say hello and told us about his visit to the US on a “rolling tour” from Washington DC to Key West Florida. This weird hotel we were staying in, Rotel Hotel sponsors them and provides a bus to follow the cyclists carrying luggage and providing sleeping quarters along the route. He said he loved the trip and couldn’t decide whether he liked Miami, or Key West better. I’ve never been either place.

An interesting man. Didn’t know that tomorrow we’d be meeting a Romani and her daughter and a pony-tailed, would-be cowboy on the train to Munich...
Wednesday June 2 - On the Train to Munich

We never did learn her name. She was a pretty Romani woman, probably in her late 20s or early 30s, traveling with her daughter, Sophie Jeannette, who was six years old and very shy until she heard that it was okay to talk with us. “Americanisher,” I heard her mother say. At that point Sophie became a hopping fool—jumping up and down, singing, and full of vinegar. She walked over to me, leaned in close, just inches from my face, and studied me. I don’t think she’d ever seen an “Americanisher” before. It was charming. She was a little firecracker of a girl, a slim toy version of her plump mother. They both had jet-black hair and piercing black eyes.

They were on their way to a Romani funeral in Landau for an uncle who was one of the patriarchs of the clan. All the Romani would gather. It was like the funeral for a president. He had been one of five or six siblings, who all had huge families and who would all be there. The mother was dressed head to toe in black, “like a Muslim,” she moaned “because that’s what is expected.” It was a hard role for her to follow because she said she was a fashion designer and her husband was a German. It was going to be stressful because of all the crying that was expected of them. I said, “C’est la vie; that’s life, you know. Sometimes you laugh, and sometimes you cry.” She agreed with a wry smile.

The mother wanted to know if it was expensive to visit Disney World in Florida. She wanted to take Sophie on a vacation. I told her I didn’t know for sure but thought it would probably be around $2000 including the plane fare. She said that was too much. I told her about the Prater in Vienna, full of children having fun on lots of rides. It was much cheaper than flying to Florida. “Wien? in Oesterreich? No, no, no!” She didn’t want anything to do with Austria. She lifted her chin and wrinkled up her nose. The “Wieners” were all snobs and looked down on anyone with black hair, she said. Her grandfather had managed to survive Dachau only because he’d helped load and unload the Nazi gas chambers. I asked her if she’d had a chance to ask him about his experiences. She said that she hadn’t. He’d lost his mind after the war. Her grandmother still had a number tattooed on her arm. She said that the Austrians and Germans automatically assumed that all Romani were liars and thieves. She only managed to cope with this situation by telling people she was an Italian. She was honest with us, she said, because we were Americans.

Just then the conductor came through. Sophie and her mother immediately hushed. He was of medium height and very thin. Probably in his late 20s or 30s too. He had a foot-long red ponytail and wonderfully droopy mustaches. He was so excited to see our German Rail Pass and learn that we were Americans he forgot to stamp our ticket and we got an extra day of train travel. He loved Bavaria, and it was very important to him that we know we were not in Germany. He was not German. He was Bavarian. Those woods out there (pointing out the window) were Bavarian woods, and those woods (pointing out over-top Sophie on the other side of the train) were Bavarian wilderness. “Shortly,” he said, “I am traveling to America for the first time, in an airplane for the first time to Denver Colorado and then to the Dakotas where a Lakota-Sioux friend of mine is taking me through the Black Hills to a real pow-wow, not a tourist pow-wow!” He made Sophie look sedate, and she had reverted to the shy Sophie when the uniform appeared. But his ponytail took her place hopping around in excitement. He only broke off when we pulled into a station and he had to act as flagman. But after that he had to stop back by to wish us a, “Great trip in Bavaria!” We wished him a, “Great trip to the Dakotas!” too. His last words to us were “I am SO excited to visit America!”

And it’s true. So many people all over Europe, even the ones who hate and fear each other, want to love us. We really are a beacon of hope to a world of people longing to find peace amid diversity.

By this time we’d arrived in Landau and Sophie and her mother said their goodbyes and got off the train also wishing us well. The mother’s eyes were already moist as she thought of the hours of grief that lay ahead. Shy little Sophie made her way sedately down the train steps, hardly hopping at all.

Their seats were taken by two elderly brothers with their wives and two grandchildren traveling to Munich for a doctor’s appointment. One couple sat directly across from us. The man’s name was Medenus Renate but everyone called him “Oskar.” He talked and talked and talked to me even though his wife and brother and great-nieces pleaded with him that I didn't understand a word that he was saying. It was the oddest thing. But after about 20 minutes of this barrage I felt like I did understand what he was saying. There was a great sadness that made him tear up when tried to speak about what was on his heart. It involved either his brother or his son who had died.

We rode past a nuclear power plant sending up clouds of steam and he went on and on about the great amount of electricity we all need now (gesturing toward the train and the lights in the train). He looked very intense. It seemed like he was angry or upset at nuclear power but resigned to its necessity. I know that feeling, intractable problems seem to make resignation the most reasonable response. We can’t solve the problems we face, so let’s not think about them.

And then we rode through Buchenwald, a small town near one of the Hitler’s extermination camps. He teared up again but couldn’t speak. I’m pretty sure Tony Nemetz, my mentor in graduate school, was part of a group of GIs who liberated this camp in 1945. After seeing the inmates the soldiers went berserk, killing civilians and forcing the surrounding towns and villages to come visit the “work-camps” to see what their “civilized” countrymen had done to their fellow citizens. It was the stuff of nightmares for the prisoners, the liberators, and even the oppressors. That’s the thing about evil. It ruins everything it touches, including the people who perpetrate it: “Forgive them Father, they don’t know what they are doing.” But if you do survive and realize what’s been done to you, and what you’ve seen, and what you yourself have done, then you protect yourself by lying about who you are, or by going insane, or by weeping silently in front of a foreigner who can’t understand a word you are saying.

We arrived in Munich and made our way through the subway system carefully. It is much larger than Vienna’s. More like the Paris Underground but condensed and clean, instead of rambling along graffiti-covered passageways leading from line to line.

It was raining steadily as we climbed the stairs at our subway stop. Georgia’s map off the Internet showed us approximately where we needed to go. It was a beautifully tree-shaded neighborhood or would be shaded if it weren’t raining. We paralleled an enormous construction site where our guesthouse was supposed to be. Maybe this is it, we thought, and our entrance was on the other side so we found a way behind this castle of a building. In the middle of the block there was a single blank door next to an intercom. Georgia was all ready with her speech asking for the room manager. We push the button and waited.

“Wah wah wah, crackle, crackle,” says the intercom. Georgia quickly says her spiel.

“Wah wah wah, crackle, crackle,” says the intercom.

“I don’t understand,” says Georgia.

“—?” says the intercom.

We stood there in the rain wondering what would happen next. Five minutes of “nothing” happened. Georgia says to me, “You wait here; I’ll go look for another entrance.” Isn’t this what Tonto said to the Lone Ranger just before the Indians appeared over the rise?

Five minutes of nothing happened. It continued to rain. I waited another five minutes of nothing then pushed the intercom button. And waited.

“Wah wah wah, crackle, crackle,” says the intercom. I tried valiantly to reproduce Georgia’s spiel.

“Wah wah wah, crackle, crackle,” says the intercom.

“I don’t understand,” says I.

“—?” says the intercom.

I wondered what would happen next. Another five or six minutes of nothing happened. Nothing but rain, that is.

And then a burly workman in blue coveralls with a yellow rain-slicker came around the building and down the long sidewalk toward me. He said “Wah, wah, wah, crackle, crackle,” which I understood to mean “Fool; can’t you see that you’re standing at a fire-exit?” Then he asked, “Wah, wah, wah, crackle, crackle?” Which translates roughly as “Do you see a building number or sign where you are standing? No? Then it’s not an entrance, is it?” Then he said “Wah, wah, wah, crackle, crackle!” Which I’m pretty sure means, “I hope your mother gave birth to at least one child without brain damage!” He motioned for me to follow him but didn’t offer to pull either one of the carry-on bags. I hope he’s not expecting a tip.

Around the corner was an ornate entrance with a house number over the door and a giant sign. We walked through the glass doors and found Georgia standing in the lobby talking with three people, one of whom spoke English. We learned that this wasn’t our guesthouse. It was an old-folk’s home especially geared toward people suffering from various forms of dementia. I blushed like a schoolgirl when the burly workman looked at me and shook his head knowingly. I apologized again profusely in German. For the way we travel it’s important to learn how to say, “I’m so sorry,” in various languages.

The guesthouse we were looking for was near St Peter’s Platz, and not Havebergstrasse Platz as any fool who could read should have known. The workman finally accepted my apology and got a great story for his trouble about the crazy American who rang doorbells at fire exits demanding admittance. We found our guesthouse easily after that. Being on the right street makes a big difference!

I decided to go walking around in the rain to get my bearings in the neighborhood and work off my embarrassment.

Slept like a baby.


new friends on train to Munich
Thursday June 3 - Corpus Christi in Munich

Corpus Christi, the Body of Christ, in Bavaria is a national holiday called Fronleichnam. The religious celebration centers around the Real Presence, a Catholic teaching that, during the Mass, the humble bread (“which earth has given and human hands have made”) and humble wine (“fruit of the vine and work of human hands”) becomes transformed into the true body and blood of Jesus. It is, we believe, a reenactment of the words and actions of the last supper when Jesus elevated the bread and said, “This is my body.” He was obviously still sitting there when he said this but that simple piece of bread was somehow transformed by his words. He didn’t say, “This is like my body” or “a symbol of our fellowship.” We take his words literally. So for Catholics the feast of Corpus Christi is a very important feast day, and in a Catholic country like Bavaria it becomes a national holiday. We decided to visit the Munich Cathedral and take part in the procession.

We got there late that is after the service had already begun. The procession was moving around inside the Cathedral. It was an enormous procession with many Bishops and the Archbishop in attendance and a multitude of Priests, Deacons, Acolytes, and servers. The incense was thick, and from the outside I could see that there were even medium-sized saplings stuck in buckets of sand and wired to the enormous Gothic columns. The people were so packed that we couldn't wedge ourselves in. But we were also so caught up in the mood of the crowd that we had to find a way in.

There was a gigantic velvet curtain pulled back from the door where we were standing. I’m sure it was pulled over the door during the service to cut down on drafts. But with this crowd, the door was left open and the curtain pulled back so the greatest number of people could at least see what was happening. Perhaps we could wedge ourselves behind the curtain and find a way into the sanctuary...

Well, now we were inside the cathedral but we were behind these 15-foot maroon velvet drapes. Georgia was forced to the right by the crowd and I got caught in the undertow steadily pulling me to the left. I broke free more quickly than she did. I could see her 10 feet away but there were probably 12 people in those 10 feet. We couldn’t move closer to each without levitating. And anyway the procession was ending. People were starting to make their way out. As they would squeeze past me I would scoot forward into the hole they left behind. And so I edged upstream until I could see what was going on. That is, I could see the jumbo-trons that broadcast what was going on. We were in a religious mosh pit. All we needed was people throwing themselves on top of the crowd and “surfing” toward the altar! And then the archbishop blessed the throng and the deacon declared the Mass over. The organ burst into an amazing finale! It was much smaller than the organ at Passau, but the music was so much better! Another jewel sparkling in its proper setting.

But the trickle heading for the door had changed into a steady stream and the little shallow pools of empty space around us grew into sandbars on which we could stand together as the tide went out. And as each person left they would stop and pluck a leafy twig off the little trees planted in the sand buckets. We pulled one off as well and formed it into a small wreath, which now hangs on our bedroom wall.

We hung around the Cathedral taking pictures of the stained glass. Like Chartre it has a wide range of stained glass from the thirteenth century to the present. Walking around is like walking through a stained glass museum.

Later, at the Alte Pinakotecke - a “real” museum - we saw an amazing collection of Bruegels (the “Where’s-Waldo” painter of the Middle Ages), Albrecht Durer’s, Rubens’, and Rembrandt’s paintings. We walked our feet flat, and with the rain we opted for a long bus ride to the Olympic Park. Right next door was the BMW Welt where we took pictures of spectacular cars we’ll never be able to afford.

To rest our feet some more, we rode the U1 back to the center of Munich and visited the Hofbrau Haus. I have no excuse; I was fascinated by a beagle weaving in and out of the table and chair legs across the aisle from us. I must have 20 photos of him. The place was packed and deafening - maybe the restless beagle gave me something else to focus on besides the bedlam. And, oh yeah! Above the din, like a rich coconut icing on top of a German chocolate cake there was a lederhosen-clad ooom-pah-band on the bandstand, thumping away. If it hadn’t been so much fun watching everyone (and their beagle) I would have thought it all a madhouse.

Our huge wooden picnic table was thoroughly scarred by the initials of centuries of drunken revelers. We would have liked to talk with the 20-somethings who sat across from us but conversation was impossible. So we just drank “liquid gold” from rain-barrel-sized bier steins, rocked back and forth to your basic ooom-pah melodies, and photographed your odd beagle. Or oddly photographed your normal beagle.

Rode the tram back to St. Theresia’s Guesthouse through the rain.


window in a church outside Munich
Friday June 4 - Munich: Mayer and Son’s Atelier

Blue sky. Beautiful day for a trip to Mayer and Son’s Stained Glass Studio. Woke up early and hurried down to breakfast. I swear I could get used to breakfasts of bread and cheese, yogurt and fruit and cereal. And sausage, “hard sausage,” not your Jimmy Dean sausage with milk-gravy. And when we had an egg, it was always boiled, never fried or scrambled. Always fruit juice and coffee, of course. Yes, I could get used to this.

Number 25, Seidlstrasse wasn’t hard to find, but we did have to walk a lot. It wasn’t close to a tram stop. Mayer and Son’s Atelier was begun in 1847 by Joseph Gabriel Mayer. The building was built especially for the family business. Gabriel Mayer, is the current manager. His son, Michael C. Mayer, is co-director and the fifth generation. During its peak there were 600 glass painters, and hundreds of people who assembled, cleaned, and installed the completed windows. They are now down to four painters, with virtually all the design done by freelance artists. Susanne Tarraf was our guide. She was lovely, slim and so gracious. She introduced us to Michael and his father. And she showed us the various departments. There were lovely windows leaning here and there against the walls or hung temporarily from window sashes. They obviously live with their windows a while before installing them.

Mayer and Sons now seems to concentrate on executing the designs of others. Susanne showed us pictures of three especially lovely installations for two different churches, at St Florian and St Lukas. Horst Thurheimer and Hella De Santarossa were the designers for the windows at St Florian. It was a Catholic church twinned with a Lutheran church in a very modern planned community on the outskirts of Munich. There was a very modern looking cityscape painted across the back and a spectacular yellow window across the entire front behind the altar. To do the painting, the artist had to be suspended like a gymnast over the pieces of glass laid out on the floor. Michelangelo in reverse. The side altars dedicated to Joseph and Mary were three dimensional glass rods in reds and blues. Completely indescribable, and the pictures, unfortunately don’t really show the third dimension.

At St Lukas, the old windows had been destroyed and the church wanted new windows that “suggested” the old ones. Mayer still had the cartoons for one and photographs of the other. This allowed them to paint and silkscreen ghostly images of the original figures on amazingly vibrant red and blue glass. Stunning.

So much of the modern art glass in Europe is made without lead. Like the glass I saw at the Marian Helf in Passau it is laminated where a water-clear “caulk” binds the colored glass to clear plate glass. And rather than traditional painting, it seems that the paint is being applied with a silkscreen, to give a “photographic” appearance. Colors are either enamel paints, or etched “flashed” glass. That is a clear glass with an extremely thin layer of color “flashed” on one side. A pattern carved in a “resist” applied to the glass can be etched or sandblasted leaving the finished glass two-color without any lead line. The use of painting, silk-screening, laminating, and fusing make new art glass amazingly versatile. Combined with centuries old leading techniques it seems that glass artists are only limited by their imagination or their technical abilities. I think that’s why Mayer and Sons are emphasizing technical proficiency rather than design. Sometimes a lack of knowledge can be liberating for a designer. Freelancers can dream up things a knowledgeable glass-designer might reject out of hand. And Mayer and Sons prides itself on finding ways to bring any artistic visions to life.

We visited both churches and took lots of photographs. I wouldn’t have thought such installations possible if I hadn’t seen them myself.
Saturday June 5 - Trip to Dachau

Today would have been my brother Jim’s birthday. I wonder if he would have enjoyed visiting Europe. Golf was his main passion. I don’t know what he would have thought about our field trip.

Talked with two Tubingen students at breakfast. They were on a sabbatical of sorts, visiting Munich to see the churches and museums. When I was going to Mississippi State University we only took out-of-state band trips for football games. I can’t imagine what it must be like to have your college education grounded by thousands of years of great art and architecture.

But then we left to visit Dachau.

How was it possible? How was such barbarism possible in such a civilized country? And Bavaria, the most religious, and the most Catholic region of Germany. Years ago I read Hanna Arendt’s Adolph Eichmann in Jerusalem, which recounts the events of his trial. She was struck by what she called “the banality of evil.” That phrase resonates with me: Evil promises to be so glamorous and exciting. But the Devil is a liar, and evil proves to be banal and boring, and deadens your senses as well.

Dachau was huge. As we walked around we listened to an audio guide and looked at all the photographs. It left me numb. I can’t process the enormity of industrialized death. It’s not that it’s just too big for my little brain. It’s a problem of focus. People who made such plans - did they think they would never die? I know they drained all the humanity out of their victims (or tried to), but didn’t they realize that would drain all the humanity out of themselves as well? How can someone know that they will die and yet be responsible for the deaths of so many?

When I arrived at basing training at Lackland AFB in 1969 I was offered the chance to go to Officer’s Training School. My eyesight was not perfect so I was going to be a navigator. The paperwork was all done and my hand was poised over the signature line: “What does the navigator do?” I asked. “They tell the pilot which way to go,” the recruiter said with a bit of irritation. “Is that all they do?” I asked. “Well, they are also the bombardier,” he said. “You mean they’re the ones who drop the bombs?” “Yep,” he said. I tore up the application. “I’ll look good in stripes,” I said.

I wasn’t a pacifist. I knew I could kill someone if the need arose, but I also knew that I didn’t want to kill “bogeys” or “blips” on a radar screen. If I was going to grasp that godly prerogative - if I was going to extinguish someone’s life-breath - I thought it should be up-close and personal. What could be more personal than killing someone? And yet, here all around us was a huge military camp built only to dehumanize and “number” thousands and thousands of people day after day. Civilized human beings punched in on time clocks and killed people all day long then went home and read bedtime stories to their children. Unbelievable. I worry about our high-tech warriors stationed in Iowa who kill people in Pakistan by video game. What kind of schizophrenia does that produce?

Back in Munich we washed the taste of Dachau out of our mouths with a memorial Mass at Christkoenig and supper at the Augustiner Biergarten. I had half a chicken, a scad of French fries, a waffle with strawberries and whipped cream, and a litre of bier. And felt ashamed that my ethnic kin deprived 6,000,000 people of the same innocent pleasure. “Just following orders,” indeed.
Sunday June 6th - Leaving Munich

Before leaving Munich we visited the “Herz Jesu” church in Munich. It’s another one of Mayer and Sons’ installations. It is very difficult to describe the glass in this new building. It’s called “curtain wall” construction. There are a series of 4 x 8’aluminum frames (reinforced on the inside with steel) that support sheet after sheet of glass. Each individual frame is made of three different large pieces of glass sandwiched together. One is blue flash with a pattern of nails etched clear; one is clear with the pattern of nails sand-blasted on the surface; and one is the clear substrate holding the other two. As you walk the nails appear to be moving. When hundreds of these three-part frames are assembled the sheets create a movable wall across the entire front of the church. It must be 100 feet tall and just as wide with rollers the size of train wheels to support the weight. On Sundays, this wall splits in the middle to become gigantic doors. The “Heart of Jesus” wide open!

As we walked toward the tram stop someone called us. It was Michael Mayer out for a jog. He is a dark haired, slim, very good-looking young man. I asked if he lived nearby. It seems that he actually lives at the studio itself on one of the upper floors. I told him that we were in this neighborhood to see “Herz Jesu” and had seen St Florian and St Lukas as well. He was impressed and justifiably proud of their work.

One of the main sources of the glass Mayer uses is made on the border of Czechoslovakia in a town called Walsassan. That’s where we’re heading today. But as we arrived at the tram stop pulling our little carry-ons we saw our connection disappearing around the corner. Looks like it’s going to be one of those days.
The Last Week - Waldsassen

Lamberts Glass Factory is located in the town of Waldsassen close to the Czechoslovakian border. There is no direct train there. Marktredwitz is the closest we could reach by train. But trying to get there was really confusing. The train schedule showed two different trains leaving from the same platform at the same time that another train was arriving. It made no sense. Then someone explained that the train that was coming in was going to split and then leave for two different destinations. We just had to be sure to sit in the right section. We had to keep watching the destination board inside the train car to be sure we were in the right car.

In Marktredwitz we found the bus stop but there was no bus scheduled for Waldsassen. There was a small hotel/restaurant across the square so we went in to see if there was a taxi. The hostess called the owner of the hotel, who was also the restaurateur and the taxicab driver. I think he was probably also the mayor of Marktredwitz. Ha!

He dropped us right in front of the Hotel Pirkl in Waldsassen, just a few miles away. It, too, was a small family-run hotel/restaurant. Very clean and inviting. Warm and welcoming. Our room was excellent. Nice view of the Basilica across the square. Walked to the glass plant but it was closed up tight for the day. Glass plants typically do most of their work early in the morning when it’s cooler. So we just ambled all over town, poking around in the little markets and gift shops. It was lovely and peaceful. We found a “Kloster Kinder Garten” beside the basilica where children learned about global warming, solar energy, sun furnaces, solar heat collectors, plant species, circulation of water, etc, etc.

We had lunch at “Ziegler’s Brau Haus.” I thought we might be able to get a discount with the same last name, but in this part of the world the “Zeiglers” and “Zieglers” are about as common as the “Smiths” and “Smythes” in England. The pork shoulder, potato dumplings, red cabbage, and German wine would have been a bargain at twice the price anyway. It was delicious! In fact, as we made circuits walking around the town it seemed we frequently stopped at “Ziegler’s” for several dark and malty beers and snacks. Yum.

We celebrated mass in the Kloster Basilica with 10 nuns and two postulants. Saw photos on the wall of times when there were 30-35 nuns and 20 postulants. The church itself is glorious even without stained glass. The windows are clear but hand-blown as you would expect in the hometown of Lamberts. The most odd thing was posed skeletons in the reliquaries all around the church. They are dressed, presumably, in the finery they wore before dying. One is identified as “St. Maximin,” and another is identified as “the holy body of Gratian.” I couldn’t find an explanation. The original building was built in the 1100s and at that time holy relics were a tourist draw for pilgrims, a lucrative source of income for an out of the way monastery church. These are surely holdovers. Medieval Gracelands, I guess.

On our way to visit Lamberts we passed a cemetery and stopped to see if there was any glass used in the tombstones. We remembered how beautiful the stones were in Murano, another glass-working mecca. But Waldsassen’s cemetery was a bust. In fact, we were disappointed with the lack of interesting glass anywhere in the town.

Robert Christ, the man I had corresponded with has the bluest eyes I’ve ever seen. He was tied up with meetings and couldn’t give us the tour but introduced us to Manfred Misnik, whose English was impeccable. The tour itself was glorious. I love seeing glass blown! The three or four-man teams work in a complex choreography. One man tends the furnace and starts the ball on the long “pipe,” then hands it off to the leader who blows the ball into a long fat cylinder by a combination of blowing and spinning and reheating of the cooling glass. Then the top and bottom of the cylinders are cut off and the hollow tube is put in an annealing oven and the tube is cut lengthwise to allow the glass to slowly unfurl and cool into a flat sheet. It’s an industrial ballet taking place on a fiery stage reminiscent of Dante’s Inferno.

Each sheet is magnificent with its own character of ripples and bubbles and thickness. It is not an easy glass to work with because of the great variation, but the color and texture and clarity are unequaled. I wish I had a studio large enough to have a complete selection of all the glasses they produce.

I asked Manfred why there was so little fine glass on display in Waldsassen. “You don’t value a match when you have a lot of them,” he said. I guess that’s true. For them, the beautiful glass is too common to appreciate. They would need tourists coming to convince them that they had something special nearby. But Waldsassen was not an easy place to visit. Not much like Murano with it’s many water taxis and ferries from Venice. And Waldsassen has only the one plant, not many different competing studios like Murano. And I guess it’s true that Murano specializes in finished glass art: figurines, vases, bowls, and so forth. Every Lamberts’ sheet of glass is a work of art, but mainly the raw material for other artists and craftsmen. They are not intended to stand alone.

While we were there Manfred showed me the new technique of using a two-part silicone to “glue” the glass to sheets to normal plate glass. That was exactly what I had seen in Passau at the Marian Helf Convent. It is as close to “standing alone” as their glass has come thus far.

Their glass is also often etched and colored with enamels applied with a silkscreen technique. These “low-fire” enamels are then fused to the glass. It makes for some very interesting design possibilities. The replacement windows we saw in Munich are also perfect examples. The only thing that worries me, though, is that you are using (generally) large sheets of glass more as a transparent “canvas.” Traditional stained glass holds many small pieces of glass together with strips of lead or zinc. The wonderful texture and depth is created by artfully building complex geometries. Large silk-screened and etched glass panels can be very rich, but if (and when) they get broken how can they be repaired? I asked Manfred.

“Why should they be repaired?” he said. “Let each generation express its own artistic vision.” He conceded that there are glass marvels, like the ancient windows in Chartre that should be conserved and refurbished as needed, but denied that this was true for most stained glass windows. He thought most of them mediocre at best, and even if “excellent” they still should have only one life time. They express the vision of their time, and when their time was past, they should be replaced with a new vision. I wasn’t shocked. I don’t shock easily, but I was surprised. I wish I could hear a discussion between Manfred and Susan Treff our guide at Mayer and Sons in Munich. She gloried in the fact that their work would last 100 years and be so beautiful people would continue to conserve it for as long as art endures. It’s a very different point of view from modern glass guaranteed “for as long as the artist is alive.” When they are dead, you are on your own. It’s an attitude the artisans who built Chartre would not understand. They saw themselves, not as stand-alone “geniuses,” but as craftsmen taking their place in a long line of craftsmen—building on and repairing what came before, and trying to add to the wealth of beauty passed on to the future. The new artists, I think, see themselves more like painters and the glass is just the canvas - it’s the painting that’s important. The fact that the canvas is so fragile is just unfortunate.

Lamberts was offering classes in the new techniques. I asked if they were going to have a class on the ancient techniques as well. He said no, “The world doesn’t need more windows painted that way.” I guess that when you have fine examples of a particular style, you don’t need more. Leaded windows were the cutting edge of glass design in their time, but their time is past. The money would be better spent replacing such windows rather than perpetuating them. Maybe that’s the most reasonable view if your business is making the glass itself. Our tour lasted two hours, but the conversation will remain with me forever.

I do think he’s right about the mediocre windows of the world. We are asked to repair windows that should be replaced instead. But, my mentor in college, Anthony Nemetz said to me once that no one comes into the world at the beginning, and none of us will go out at the absolute end. We all come in medias res, in the middle of things, and we all go out in the middle of things. This insight has so many applications - one of which is in art. I think it a mistake to disparage the artistic vision of previous centuries. If you want to go further than your artistic ancestors went, then you have to go at least as far to begin with. And modern art glass is not automatically better for having been made with new glass. What makes a piece of art a good (or a bad) piece of “religious” art? In the Christian tradition, at least, part of the requirement was that it made God manifest to the viewer. And if I’m being honest, I have to admit that mediocre art we’ve lived with for a lifetime can sometimes present God more forcefully than a more modern window lacking that lifetime of associations. So if a church asks me to repair their beloved windows I’m not going to feel guilty doing it.

We’d brought some little bottles of Maker’s Mark Kentucky Bourbon with us to share with the people at Lamberts. I gave Manfred two little bottles and told him he didn’t need to share them with Robert if he didn’t want to. “I won’t then,” he said smiling, but he did. They said they’d drink them together at some special occasion. I learned later that Lamberts was sold to someone outside the family. Perhaps that gave them the opportunity.

On the day we left Waldsassen we got to the train station in Wiesau way too early so ordered a pizza and some beer from the tavern across the street. Our American English attracted some notice. As I said, this isn’t really a tourist destination. A group of high-school kids, boys and girls, walked past our table laughing and joking and making “Whoo-Whoo” noises like Apaches attacking the wagon train. Cowboys. That’s what we are to so many people around the world.

The train to Freising must have been traveling 150 kph. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to such speed combined with such quiet. The loudest part of the trip was the school children using the trains as their own private high-speed school buses.

When we arrived in Friesing we found our guesthouse then caught the bus back to the center of town. Pope Benedict had taught at the university there. It was a lovely German University town. We walked up these tiny winding streets toward the Monastery at the top of the hill. The view was very fine and there was some sort of inter-religious dialogue going on. We nodded to a very handsome Buddhist monk on the way up the hill. We visited several churches and saw even more fine glass that Manfred would not want to repair. We ate a quick bite from a vendor, then had a difficult time finding a bus that would carry us back to our Guesthouse. After questioning lots of drivers we finally found the right bus-stop.

After a nap we had a wonderful dinner on the guest-house patio. The inn-keeper sat another couple with us. There were way more people than tables so, “You get to meet some new people,” she said. And they were nice. I really do love seeing Europe on our own apart from tour groups. There is no way we would have left a tour group to accidentally meet some locals in the pub. Their English was not very good, but it was sure better than our German, though we did try. And “trying” is usually good enough. He worked for the railroads. She was a teacher, I think. We praised the trains and told him we wished there were some like that in the States. He said that the US was buying some of their trains and that maybe we’d be seeing them in the future.

We told them about the kids who thought we were cowboys. They blushed. It seems that Wiesau, where we had the pizza, is noted in Germany for being really backward. Poor kids. I guess the chance that they might ever get to actually see the US is very remote. They will forever get their opinion of us from the dreadful shoot-em-ups we export all over the world. It would be so much better if we could just persuade couples to travel around Europe on their own and have the inn-keepers sit other people down with them with the admonition “You get to meet some new people.”

What did we learn from this trip?

1. Be nice to the people you meet. Who knows when they might someday want to take you out to a glorious restaurant on the Falls of the Rhine.

2. If a vending machine in a bathroom spits out a little cardboard box you would be wise to check out the contents before leaving for the airport.

3. Little towns can put on amazing plays if they just practice for four hundred years.

4. German and Austria teenagers can be the same size as American teenagers if only they get enough McDonald’s and KFC restaurants.

5. It really is possible to travel all around Europe on the trains, trams, and buses (and the occasional taxi).

6. Civilization is very fragile and very expensive and the only thing that is more expensive is barbarism.

7. Breakfasts of bread, thinly sliced meat, fruit, yogurt, jam, coffee, and juice will power you through a day of serious walking.

8. At least in theory it’s a good idea to let each generation express its own artistic religious vision. But in the modern world that might mean looking for it spray painted in alleys rather than assembled in stained glass church windows.

And if I might repeat some lessons learned from our 2005 trip:

9. I learned that while it may be nice to have an expert with you on a trip so you don’t miss "important" things, it’s also really nice to see what you see, and enjoy the things you enjoy, and travel with someone you love and admire.

10. I learned that Georgia M. Zeigler is a very, very, pleasant person to travel through Germany, Austria, and Switzerland with -- or through life with, for that matter.

(The End)


at the glass factory

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