Safari

It’s not every day you wake up to a giraffe out your front door, or go to sleep with cape buffalo bedding down in front of your tent, or hear the “huff huff” of a lion as you’re falling asleep. Such is the gift and beauty of safari.

Tanzania is one of the premier destinations for wildlife safaris, with over a third of the country designated a wildlife sanctuary. Hundreds of thousands of people (80% of all visitors to Tanzania) come every year to view the most spectacular wildlife found everywhere.

We actually began our safari experiences back on Monday with a walk in Arusha National Park. Now, there is something particularly arresting in being told you are required to take an armed ranger with you, in case you encounter anything aggressive. Actually we were quite grateful, because he told us much more than we would otherwise have been able to know about such a beautiful landscape. We saw baboons, warthogs, and Cape Buffalo (which can be quite aggressive when solo, and we walked within 25 feet of the herd to get back to our vehicle).

Our major safari began Wednesday with a drive into Serengeti National Park, one of the great treasures of the world. It is the time of the Great Migration, when almost 2 million wildebeest, zebras, and other animals make a 400-mile trek from the Serengeti north into Kenya, following the greener grass. It was extraordinary, to see thousands of animals walking in a line, all heading north; to see hundreds of thousands in herds, scattered out to the horizon. It’s an extraordinary, amazing sight, and we’re so grateful to be able to witness it.

During our time in Serengeti National Park, we stayed in “camp” lodges (I give it quotes because this is serious “glamping” — our tents had toilets, showers, lights…). It is an interesting experience when they tell you in the briefing, “Don’t leave your tents at night…” and then, that night, to hear cape buffalo bedding down right outside, not even 10 feet away. (Conley and Asher were convinced they were going to die; being in the next tent over, I was quite certain we all were going to!) We all thought their snorting was a lion, and it was only in the morning, when Conley and Asher discovered the buffalo patties they left as presents, and the rather large depressions in the grass, that we realized it was “only” buffalo!


This is not roughing it…

For our final day we travelled to Ngorongoro Crater, which bills itself as “The 8th wonder of the world” — and it might be right. It is a caldera, a volcano that collapsed into a crater, and home to an incredibly rich, concentrated variety of wildlife. (Of course, that richness also brings an incredible concentration of Land Rovers bearing people like us, there on safari.)

Things get busy when there’s something to see…
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Tanzania, part 1

July 9, 2019

If you’ve been here before, you’ll understand when I say: There’s just something about African smiles. They are wide and welcoming and joyful, bright and warming, and they are used at all times; there is just something about African smiles, they steal your heart.

We arrived at Kilimanjaro Airport after a long, overnight flight, on about 4 hours of sleep. I have to admit, I was becoming more nervous the closer we came to landing — not just about being in a new country that’s unfamiliar to me, but because in planning our trip I had entrusted my family to two people I’d never met, Abraham and Monica. As minds will, mine ran through all the worst-case scenarios: what if we’d been scammed? What if nobody was here, what would we do? I’m not a person to typically worries, but I had some concerns.

When we made it through customs (our first taste of “African Time”), we were the next-to-last group out of the airport, and I was the last of our group — and there, smiling warmly despite waiting the 1 1/2 hours for us to get us through customs, were Abraham and Monica. I was so relieved I wanted to grab them both and say, “You’re real!” I don’t think I did (4 hours sleep, remember) but I’m pretty sure I hugged them. After all, we’d been talking and planning and dreaming together for about 2 years, and now we were finally meeting each other!

Our trip from the airport into the city of Arusha introduced to Tanzanian traffic, which quite something to behold. I leaned over to Amy at one point and said, “Can you see why renting a car wasn’t really ever on the table?” We’ve realized there are no stoplights, no stopsigns, just a couple roundabouts. Passing is apparently permitted — and encouraged — everywhere. Motorcycles are omnipresent, and bob and weave around and through and amid every little gap. Then there are people crossing the street, walking so close to the van that you’d swear they just lost their toes. But what amazes me most is, somehow this works. Somehow they know how to dodge and pass and insert themselves into traffic so they can turn — it’s pretty astonishing.

Our first full day was Sunday, and we were warmly welcomed to worship in a local parish. It was a big day for them: Confirmation Sunday, a Bishop of a neighboring diocese plus an Assistant to the Bishop of their own diocese were there; they blessed a wedding anniversary; and a well-known politician was there. Plus us, and we were very warmly welcomed and given seats of honor at the front. The service lasted 5 hours! Three choirs, including a dancing one; the Bishop preached (and so I didn’t need to); neighborhood children were hanging in the windows, watching and listening. Jonah was adopted by a little 2-year-old named Christian, who grabbed his hand during the procession into church and stayed with him, and with us, for the whole 5-hour service. (At one point Christian fell asleep on my shoulder which, if you know me at all you will not be surprised to hear — I did not mind in the least. 🙂

After worship the congregation auctions off produce that people brought from their gardens, and we were given a jug of milk and a bag of avocadoes. We gave the milk to someone walking by (we picked the oldest-looking woman we could find) but took the avocadoes with us — delicious! We were invited, with the other VIPs, to a lunch held in the unfinished basement of the church — they are growing too fast and are expanding, and we enjoyed sitting down to a traditional Tanzanian lunch (including chicken leg!). While 5 hours is long (note to Christ Lutheran folks: no fair grumbling about our service lengths any more! 🙂 we were really grateful for the welcome and the experience.

The next day, Monday, we visited a Maasai village. Tanzania has begun this really fascinating program of “Cultural Tourism,” where groups offer the chance to experience the local culture. This wasn’t actually through that program though; instead, our guide, Peter, has a long-standing relationships with a particular Maasai village that he has a real heart for. When people come to Tanzania and want to experience the Maasai culture, but not the touristy way, he takes them to the friends he’s made. It was an extraordinary gift to be there — we mostly met the wives (yes, plural) and children of one man, who was off at the cattle market. Peter likes to bring treats for the kids, so he stopped to by white sandwhich bread — which they devoured, it was such a special treat. The kids were incredibly cute — running up to the car, shaking our hands, smiling. They were at least as fascinated by us as we were by them, and so were the mothers; they wanted to know who was who (married, parents, etc.). When they learned that my dad, Dr. Tim, was the elder of the group, he was immediately the one they deferred to; they wanted him to pray for healing, pray over the brother who was sick; ask him about a little baby who refused to open her eyes. (Note: we didn’t tell them that his “Dr.” title is a Doctorate of Ministry, not MD!)

It was fascinating to see their village, and the kids were fascinated by our watches, Amy’s sunglasses, her hair, pictures of themselves on our cellphones. The hard thing was the flies: there is no running water, and hygiene is harder. The kids were surrounded by flies, who landed on their faces and the kids didn’t even notice them any more. That part was hard — not to mention the lack of school, medicine, water, so many things we’ve come to take for granted.

When we left the village (the kids were curious about the van and one stood at the edge, about to come in, when she accidentally triggered the automatic door closer — they all ran) Peter took us to the Maasai cattle market. Again, we were astonished at the access he provided — he is so well known among the Maasai community (he is not Maasai himself) that we walked right into the market, right among the cattle, Jonah got to pet one and hold the horns of another (the Maasai men were visibly amused by our discomfort and lack of experience with cattle). We spoke with seveal men, we were right in the midst of things. It was an extraordinary experience.

Today we visited the Arusha Lutheran Medical Center and the Plaster House. Our congregation has a long relationship with Dr. Mark and Linda Jacobson, medical missionaries in Arusha (and one of the reasons I was so eager to come to this particular city). We met with executives and got a tour of the Medical Center, and appreciated hearing what a difference they make in the lives of Arusha; it’s extraordinary what they do with the resources available.

The Plaster House is another ministry the Jacobsons are involved with; it provides temporary housing for children who need surgery for things like club feet, burns, flourosis (because groundwater in this area has too much flouride, it can make children’s bones brittle), hydrocephalus. One absolute highlight was a little girl, about 4, who the moment she saw us threw out her arms and started running — with one foot in a cast! — to hug us. The Plaster House does extraordinary things and touches a lot of lives and I hope to be involved with them.

As you can tell, we’ve had a very full couple days! Tomorrow we leave first thing in the morning for our safari experience: the Serengeti, during the Great Migration. Can’t wait!

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Ah, Vienna

I studied for a semester in Vienna when I was in college. In the grand scheme of things four months isn’t that long, but it was a formative time for me, and I was looking forward to sharing it, and the stories from my time there, with my family. I’m delighted to say that they loved Vienna too!

We spent three days there and saw just about as much as it’s possible to see: museums (the Kunsthistorisches / Art History Museum is wonderful!), palaces (2!), churches, Roman ruins, architecture, amusement park, gardens, art… About the only thing we missed that disappointed us was a concert, as the Vienna Philharmonic is on break for the summer.

Highlights: Wurst “mit Hot Dog” (stuck inside a baguette), touring the Imperial Apartments at both palaces, climbing the tower on the Cathedral for a panoramic view (and mild claustrophobia/dizziness from the spiral staircase), a restaurant owner who’d been serving for 40 years and had a whole lot of personality, the Butterfly House, touring the Ring on a Tram (streetcar), the Riesenrad (Giant Ferris Wheel).

This also wrapped up our time in Europe, and marks a significant change in our adventure: from Vienna, we fly to Arusha, Tanzania to experience Church there, join parishes for worship, learn about the culture, and take a safari.

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On travelling as family

The next important phase of this sabbatical was to share these adventures with my family: Amy, Conley, Asher and Jonah came to Berlin.  And was I glad to see them!  My plan — that I had carefully pictured in my head — was to be waiting outside the glass at Tegel Airport waving as they walked off the gangplank.  Great plan, right?  Yeah, I thought so too.  And so I got to learn something new: Germany’s train system is terrific, except when it isn’t.  This was definitely the latter: we had to switch out of two trains having mechanical difficulty, subsequently missed a transfer, took a bus the wrong direction (I misunderstood the instructions) and… got there just as they were waiting for Jonah’s bag.  Not my perfectly crafted plan, but good in its own way.

So we enjoyed three nights in Berlin, and loved it.  We saw the Aquarium, the Zoo, the German National History Museum (fabulous!), the Brandenberger Tor, Unter dem Linden, Holocaust memorials — we kept ourselves busy.  And Berlin is a great town for doing so, it’s fast-paced and ambitious and lots happening.  It’s terrific.

We then traveled to Nürnberg (Nuremberg) by way of Eisenach, the town where Martin Luther holed up in the Wartburg while translating the Bible into German.  (Fun fact: Eisenach is nowhere near the route to get from Berlin to Nürnberg; in fact I even had a train conductor do a double take and say, “Are you on the right train?”) The goal here was to experience a Luther site all together, so that we could have that shared first-time experience.  As a second goal, there is a terrific Bach Museum in Eisenach.  With a 4-hour layover we set out to see what we could do…. which turned out to be the Wartburg.  Bus schedules, walking paces, etc. mean efficiency is not the most important goal when travelling as family.

The Wartburg, however, was really cool.  They’ve kept the “Luther Stube,” the little room where Luther stayed while working on his translations.  That was a neat moment.  Note: when travelling with teenagers, it’s probably inevitable that this pinnacle experience becomes “Being in the room where Luther’s butt was perched.”  So there you go.

After our time in Eisenach we continued to Nürnberg, but really we were aiming just a bit outside, to Rückersdorf, where a friend from seminary (now a Lutheran pastor in Germany) and her pastor husband live.  They offered to host us for several days, and this is one of the experiences I was most looking forward to: not just seeing Bettina after 20 years, not just meeting and getting to know her family, but the chance to see, first-hand, a little bit of daily life in a small German town, to chat with active pastors about ministry in their contexts.  We were all expecting this to be a highlight of the trip!

Bettina and Volker and their girls Rebecca and Marieka welcomed us warmly — and since Jonah speaks the international language of “silly,” he and the girls bonded right away. Neither of them speaks English, and Jonah speaks a tiny bit of German (hello, goodbye, numbers, colors and a couple songs) — but that didn’t matter at all. They quickly became friends. We got such a kick of it — they’d be playing something, Jonah would say something in English, the girls would say something in German, and then as though they had decided something they’d all get up and go play something else! At times, knowing both their languages gave a fun insight: sometimes Jonah and Rebecca would each be saying the same thing, in their own languages, not knowing what the other one said.

One story I particularly enjoyed: one dinner, Jonah said something silly (of course) and Rebecca, perfectly timed, gave a sarcastic “Ha ha.” Us grownups about fell over — we would have sworn she understood what he said, but instead, she had come to know Jonah: she knew he’d be silly and say something silly (later she told Bettina she’d guessed it would be something different) and reacted appropriately. Fabulous!

We had the chance to explore Roman ruins nearby, Nürnberg (itself a fascinating town; the museum about Nazi propaganda, and the rallies Hitler held there, was incredible and deeply disturbing), and their little town. We attended Volker’s church, got to join a German dinner party, lived in a German house — this was such an incredible gift, the chance to experience a bit of small-town German culture. We loved our time there, and loved being with them. Bettina, Volker, Rebecca, Marieka — thank you from the bottom of our hearts!

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On the power of candles

We had planned for everything. We were prepared for everything. But not for candles and prayers.

Horst Sindermann, member of the Central Committee of the GDR

Throughout my time in Leipzig there has been a particular moment that has held me fascinated. It was October 9, 1989, when 70,000 protestors came up against a wall of specially-armed police and riot police of the Stasi (secret police). This was East Germany (GDR), where dissent and protest were unallowable and had in the past (most notably July 17, 1953 but also just days before!) been put down with violence and death. Now this crowd, armed with candles and chanting “Wir sind das Volk!” (We are the people!) washed up against a line of riot shields and… they did not shoot. The police gave way.  I’m fascinated by moments that go right, and want to know why — what happened?  It should have been a bloodbath. Why was this the moment that changed the world?

The results of this moment echoed throughout East Germany and the world.  While limited protests were happening elsewhere, this was the largest and the one covered by the media, including the East German media.  This moment inspired and encouraged protestors throughout East Germany, most notably in Berlin.  Just a month later the wall fell and we remember those iconic, unimaginable images of people dancing — yes, dancing — on the top of the Wall, that symbol of terror and oppression for so many years.  These repercussions, these ripples that circled out from this decisive moment, led a speaker to name Leipzig “The City of Heroes.”

Many of the concerts I attended in Leipzig, and worship my first Sunday there, have been in the Nikolaikirche, what one of my sabbatical advisors says “gets my vote for the most beautiful Lutheran church in the world.” And it is gorgeous. It also might deserve our vote for the most consequential Lutheran church in the world, because those protests grew out of the Church, most notably this church.  Back in the 1970’s they began holding “Peace Decades” (10 days of prayer vigils and services) every November out of a growing fear of the arms race. In 1982, they moved these to every week: every Monday, people gathered (under the theme “Swords into Plowshares”, quoting Isaiah).  This went on for years.

These gatherings for prayer became one of the few times various opposition and protest groups (environment, denuclearization, emigration, reform, etc.) were able to meet under the same roof, and became a key coordinating point.  As can imagine, the varying goals and preferred tactics for these groups, most notably those advocating to for the right to leave East Germany and those advocating to stay and reform the nation, often came into conflict, a tension point the Stasi and GDR deliberately fanned for their own purposes.  

Meanwhile, Gorbachev was talking openly of perestroika and glasnost, and there was a feeling that reform might be possible.  Groups began holding small-scale marches out of the Peace Services, marches which were quickly shut down. The police started blocking all accesses to the Nikolaikirche, trying to discourage the Peace Prayers. They broke up the marches, sometimes violently. They spread rumors about them — that they were hooligans, violent criminals, they wanted to undermine society. They arrested and detained many.  They set dogs on the protestors and beat and hurt many.

But Leipzig was also the host of biannual trade fares, events which brought the GDR much-need “hard” (i.e. western) currency.  Coincidentally, these fares also brought in western media, and the GDR was particularly paranoid about their international image; they counted on projecting a strong, united front: of course their people were content, hard-working, fulfilled.

The tensions grew as small-scale marches were attempted out of the Peace Prayers.  They escalated drastically on October 2 when the police violently broke it up.  On October 9, the next prayer service, noone knew what was going to happen.  Those who entered the church didn’t know what would happen when the left the building.

The Stasi sent a number of their stooges to fill the church in advance to make a ruckus and break up the services.  Almost 600 of them filled the church before afternoon. By that night the church was filled to overflowing. The preachers that night (yes, plural, there were at least 3 sermons) preached about non-violence, imploring, emphasizing, pleading people to remember that violence only begets violence.  The texts were the Beatitudes: Blessed are the peacemakers.  Blessed are the meek.  

Inside were people wanting to leave the GDR, and people wanting to stay.  They expected when they walked out those doors that police with dogs and batons would be waiting for them.  But what they didn’t know is that outside, 30,000 people had gathered with candles. They received them into their midst with open arms.  They began their march. They came to the police cordon.  And the police gave way.

I have a theory — I think it’s because the Stasi stooges heard what the people were actually saying; they heard Jesus preach on the Beatitudes.  Because they actually got in conversation with the people who’d been so demonized, about whom such terrible rumors had been spread by their superiors, because they actually went they disovered that what they’d been told, was wrong.  They were sent to disrupt, and instead they listened.  They discovered these were people just like them.

When I visited the Zeitgeschichtliches Forum (Forum of Contemporary History), when talking about that night in October they had a clip of some western journalists who were covering it. One western reporter said he saw a moment, after the marches. Later a group of protestors met a group of police out on the Ring road and asked them, “Why didn’t you shoot?” The journalist got a lump in his throat as he reported their response: “What should we do? They were our children.”

At the head of this post is a quote that I love-love-love. The police really were prepared for everything — in fact, they had just developed extensive plans for a “pre-emptive strike,” rounding up anyone known to be an agitator (remember the Stasi were spying and keeping files on everybody) or who might be, to whisk them away into concentration camps. They had all the plans in place — and never executed them.

They really did prepare for everything. One of the tensest moments was when the protestors came to the “Runde Ecke,” the Stasi headquarters (and hub of all the state’s eavesdropping and spying on its people). The Stasi stood ready with shields, truncheons, guns, ready for the violent attach they fully expected. The protestors put candles on the steps. The Stasi didn’t know what to do. They weren’t prepared for candles and prayers.

It does make me think — I believe in the power of prayer, and I believe in the power of candles. I’ve seen what they can do. What regular vigil would we start? What might God be calling us to pray to change in our world, our nation, our state, our city, our neighborhood, our homes right now?

 

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Bach again

There was such a charming moment in tonight’s performance of Bach Cantatas. From “Erschallet, Ihr Lieder” (Resound, you songs), BWV 172, written for Pentecost. After a beautiful opening where you can hear the rush of wind (same word in Greek and Hebrew as “spirit”!) in the strings, there came this delightful duet, this absolutely charming conversation between the “Soul” (soprano, the higher voice) and the “Holy Ghost” (alto, the lower voice). And then, to make it even better, the oboe comes in over everything with the melody to the hymn “Come, Holy Ghost, God and Lord”, ELW #395.

Here’s a clip, and the lyrics (they’re sung in German, this is the translation given at tonight’s performance); see you if like it as much as I did!

Soul (Soprano)

Come, let me wait no longer,

come, you gentle wind of heaven,

waft through the garden of my heart! 

 

Dearest Love, who are so sweet,

the abundance of all delight!

I shall die if I am without you.

 

I welcome you in faith,

highest love, come within!

You have ravished my heart.

Holy Spirit (alto)

 

 

I will refresh you, my child

 

 

 

Receive from me the kiss of grace

 

 

 

I am yours, and you are mine!

I especially loved the end, when the Holy Spirit keeps repeating: “I am yours, and you are mine… I am yours, and you are mine… I am yours, and you are mine…”

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St. John’s Passion

Bach’s Passion settings have this way of sneaking up on me — we often encounter them in a concert setting so I’m appreciating the music, following the story, listening for his ways of “painting” the words, appreciating the counterpoint — and suddenly I discover he’s led me right into the story, and it has turned into worship. That’s the power of Bach’s musical creativity and storytelling.

Last night I attended a performance of Bach’s St. John’s Passion by Solomon’s Knot, and it was exquisite. There was one moment, though, that night me in particular, because I realized Bach did something extraordinary with his storytelling — he flipped our expectations, and made it completely about me and my journey following Jesus.

The moment is #32, “Mein teurer Heiland” (“My precious Savior”). In the scope of the Passion story (Jesus’ arrest, trial, crucifixion and death) Jesus has been hung on the cross; he has announced “It is fulfilled”; and he died. There’s a long moment, a silent moment (it’s best when the conductor leaves space — silence is good!), a desperately empty moment. And then the bass soloist steps forward.

Now, by this point we’ve gotten used to the rhythm of “recitative” (story-telling) and “aria” (a lyric, poetic break for commentary). Bach uses these Arias (think: songs) to break the narrative, to pause things, to comment and to wax poetic. It’s Bach’s way of pointing out, and exploring, the dramatic and emotional content of what is happening.

But when the bass soloist begins, it is not a commentary; he sings the most personal, and poignant, moment of the entire piece — rather than comment on Jesus dying, rather than telling us what the emotional content is or what we ought to be feeling, he simply asks a question. But not just any question, he is asking my question, your question, the question we all have about Jesus’ dying: Is it for me? Can this really be for me?

My precious Savior, let me ask thee

since thou upon the cross was fastened

and said “It is fulfilled”,

am I made free from dying?

Can I through this thy pain and dying

the realm of heaven inherit?

Is all the world’s redemption here?

Meanwhile, in the performance I attended, the chorus stepped up behind the soloist. And again, by this point we’re used to the chorus: in his Passions, Bach has the chorus sing verses of familiar (in his day) hymns. The chorus, then, is Bach’s way of naming and incorporating us into the Passion: for his original hearers, confronted with this great drama and all its Baroque frothiness, the familiar hymn tune draws them in, anchors their participation (even if they didn’t sing along, I’m not sure), it seats them right in the middle of what’s happening.

The chorus doesn’t usually step up behind the soloist, though. And this time the chorus sings, softer, while the soloist is still singing his — my — our fundamental question. Again, it’s a hymn tune. But it’s not an answer; they don’t answer the soloist’s question:

Jesus, thou who suffered death

livest now forever,

in the final throes of death

nowhere other guide me

but to thee, redeemer mine,

O thou, my dear master!

Until by the end, they sing, together:

(Soloist)

Thou canst in pain, indeed, say nothing

but thou dost bow thy head

and sayest in silence, “Yes.”

(Chorus)

Give me just what thou

hast earned,

more I cannot wish for!

Bach took our expectations — all the patterns he’s built up in us — and flipped them on us, to make this deeply personal. The soloist is naming our lived experience, the question we, all of us, ask (or sometimes are afraid to ask out loud): is it true? Can it really be? Is this really for me? And the chorus, who seem like maybe they’re answering the question, but no — they point us right back to where together, we are living out the questions and together, we are living out the answer. They simply say: Yes. They simply say: Trust. It is, after all, an action verb, to trust Jesus; it is betting our lives, over and over, on him. The chorus doesn’t answer the question, they point the way to the only answer: turn to Jesus.

Here is a livestream of the performance I heard, at least until they take it down June 30. The aria (#32) starts at 1:45:21.

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Differences

My ancient, implacable enemy.

One of the things I love about travelling is the ways you learn about your own culture.  Since “culture” is really just our lived experiences, especially the unobserved “defaults” — we drive on the right, we say (for some really, really odd reason) “Have a nice day” (as if a “pleasant,” “untroubled” existence is the goal of life — but that will be a whole ‘nother post someday), we light sticks of dynamite on the fourth day of July every year.  Culture.  Default — and the best (only?) way to see our default, is to notice when it’s not.  Which is the joy of travelling!

So just for fun, here in no particular order are some “defaults” I’ve run headlong into — the lived, expected experiences of Germans that differ from mine.  

  1. Doors: I have successfully managed to try to open 5 out of every 6 doors the wrong way.  I have no idea why, you’d think I would learn, and this is probably revealing something deep-seated and wrong about me, but no…  Every. Single.  Time.  Today I prided myself on pushing a museum door the right way, then remembered I’d already come through it and tried the wrong way first.  Sigh.
  2. Bike paths: My first day in Leipzig I nearly died in a tragic bicycle<->Tim accident.  Simply because there is an “express” bicycle lane along the sidewalk, and it so happened that on the particular blocks I’d walked, the signs announcing it were facing the wrong way.  (This is an issue, I think, but beside the point.)  Now, nobody else was in grave danger — they knew about the Bicycle-bahn.  Which is the whole point: everybody “just knows.”  Defaults.
  3. Silverware: the fork stays in the left hand, the knife stays in the right.  No cross-over needed.  Makes a lot more sense, actually.
  4. Bathrooms: paying to use the WC (restroom) took some getting used to.  But then — and I’m not kidding — I saw a restroom automatically wash and wipe the toilet seat.  Completely.  Automatically.  Boom — I’m a convert.
  5. Tabletop trashbins: This is genious — adorable little trash bins in the center of the table for butter wrappers, napkins, yogurt tops.  Yep.
  6. Loan words that aren’t: This is such a mean thing to do.  German likes to borrow words from other languages and, even when they don’t, since German and English share a common root there are words in German that sound just like or very similar to English words…. except when they’re not.  And that’s the trick — there are German words that sound like they should be loan-words or cognates (shared) but aren’t.  So faul sounds just exactly like “fowl.”  Except it means “lazy.”  Bar means pocket money (short for Bargeld).  Bier sounds just like “beer” but means… “beer.”  So all is good.
  7. Vending machines: German vending machines have managed an evolutionary leap above ours; to whit, I give you exhibit A; why yes, that is beer surrounding, and wine following, Coca Cola.
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A few funny little things

June 14, 2019

As I’ve been wandering I’ve enjoyed collecting funny little details – a corner of a painting here, a funny little face there. In no particular order, and for no particular purpose, are some that I’ve gathered.  Feel free to enjoy as I have; I’ll probably continue adding to this gallery as I continue to wander!

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Weimar

I enjoyed Weimar very much — terrifically twisty cobblestone roads, suprising squares around just about every corner, lots of visitors and lots and lots of people walking in the Old Town. It is the city, par excellence, for the Fab Four of German culture: Goethe, Schiller, Herder (a pastor!), Wieland. Ok, so most call it “Weimar Classicism” and I admit, I went not knowing much about it, or about those big four heavyweights, only that Weimar is at the heart of German culture. And since the goal of this sabbatical is to learn and discover, that sounded just about right for me.

There is a library there, an absolutely gorgeous building called the Herzogin Anna Amalia Bibliothek (the “Duchess Anna Amalia Library”). Honestly, I didn’t think there was any way I’d get in — they only allow 290 visitors per day, and you buy a ticket for a particular time. I went expecting to be turned away but was able to get a ticket for right then — fabulous!

The library is a beautiful oval room, decorated in a Rococo style. It’s been (amazingly, wonderfully) rebuilt after a massive fire in 2004 which destroyed thousands and thousands of books (the videos and pictures are heartbreaking!). It’s been recreated to match what it was, including busts of various royals, authors, thinkers, etc. Naturally, there are busts of the Fab Four: Goethe especially, also Schiller, Heider, Wieland.

Here are two pictures I took in the library, in two adjacent corners. Compare these to the pictures above, and you’ll probably notice what I did — these giant stone plinths don’t fit. They break the flow of the room, they are literally in the way (blocking the way), they break the whole feel. Not only that, but the people whose busts are displayed are already in the library elsewhere: Goethe (now at 81, after he’s lost his teeth — apparently he hated this one) and Schiller (I didn’t check, but since he died young — only 46 — I’m guessing this exact bust might be the same one elsewhere). These were, obviously, erected later — after Schiller had died, when Goethe was at least 81 or right after he died. Pretty striking, right?

It’s something I noticed several times in Weimar: in Schiller’s house & museum, but especially in Goethe’s. The information guide (which tends to be really excellent, by the way) takes pains to emphasize when you get to Goethe’s study (“the heart of the house”) that it is “untouched, just the way it was the day he died in the next room.” A talkative couple came up behind me as I was standing at the door to the study and I overheard him saying to her, “Das heilige Zimmer” — “The holy room.”

Now I don’t have nearly enough data points to draw legitimate conclusions. Except that any kind of hero worship, of worshiping a human being, of any kind of cultlike attachment to another person — that always makes me nervous. It makes me nervous in my own country (no matter the President — I saw it with Obama and it made me nervous, I see it with Trump and it makes me nervous), it makes me nervous in other countries, and in Germany, there’s a particular historical example that can’t help but come to mind. Again, I don’t have enough data points to draw legitimate conclusions– but things like this do make me nervous.

Posted in Sabbatical