Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Gift of Making Memories

The fourth Sunday in Advent... I took the Advent Wreath into the "sick room" (Peter and the Grippe) tonight so that we could light the candles together.  And, it was time to give him another cup of tea and catch him up on the activities of the afternoon (since he slept through it all).

Katarina came upstairs around 3 pm and we baked Christmas cookies.  Now, I am "making do" with the whole baking scene.  Remember, we don't want to buy things that we aren't willing to leave behind, so I didn't buy a rolling pin or Christmas cookie cutters - have a blue moon million at home.  Instead, we used the 10 inch cylindrical, pottery vase as a rolling pin and a drinking glass to cut out the dough.  Katarina is only 3 years old ... she'll get over any baking nightmares I might have created in her young life.  Boy, she is bossy!  (And, I know bossy.)

 Katarina rolling dough.  Note the crown.
Don't know if the kitchen is big enough for a queen and a princess!

First, she tells me that we need a little "mehl" so that the dough won't stick.  I am so on top of this - here comes the flour.  Then she says, we only needed a little and this was a lot.  Next, she is sure that she needs to roll out the dough but confronts me on the use of a vase as not what she needs.  I show her how to use it as a roller and she looks at me and sighs.  Clearly, I have a lot to learn about baking but she takes the vase/roller and goes after it.  All of a sudden, she realizes she needs an apron.  Viola~ I have one but she cannot tell me enough times that it is too big for her.  I wrap and roll it up so it is above her feet which subdues her anguish.  You can imagine her comments over using the drinking glass to cut out the cookies.  And remember, I am being chastised in German the whole time.  She also knows Italian - but today, the only Italian word she used was grigio as she described the color of the silver/gray sparkles.  She said they were the same color as my hair.  Nice.  Wendell, I need you.

I believe I know who will remember more of this day.  Below - the results of our efforts.

The Gift of Health

Uh oh... I should have known something was up - or shall I say about to come up.  Peter wasn't feeling too good when we went to bed and sure enough ... around midnight... "THE GRIPPE!" struck.  After a final up and down at 4 am, Peter finally fell sound asleep.  At 9 am, I slipped out to find some Zwieback and ginger ale. On a Sunday morning in Germany, this is not an easy task since stores simply don't operate on Sunday. Fortunately, the gas station in Traunstein was open for business and lodged between two kinds of cookies and above the beer and wine (always available), there were two packages of mini-klassic Zwieback.  I took them both and later felt guilty when I realized that someone else might need some today too.

Our landlord, Walter, is a doctor and when he returned home from church this morning, I asked him to come up and check on the Sweet Pete.  After a few minutes consultation, he assured us that Peter would live (whew!) and that the entire house had experienced this inconvenience during the week - even the good doctor.  This explained why Katarina and her brothers had not been up to see us since last weekend.  We thought it was because their mother worried that they had interrupted us too much (something we overheard her say to them last Sunday).  After Walter went downstairs, little Katarina tip toed to our door - at least as much as a 3 year old in ski boots can tip toe - so that she could see "the Petschauer" (her name for Peter).  I took her to the bedroom door and let her peek in.  She smiled sweetly and waved to him - no doubt improving his life expectancy seven-fold.
Homemade chicken noodle soup and Zwieback.

The Gift of GIFTS

Yesterday, a package arrived from home.  Sweet sister Kelly sent us a box of gifts, wrapped with love.  As we opened the ones that said "Open Now!" we thought about the joy of past Christmas mornings with our family.  Stocking gifts are perhaps the best.  Nothing is wildly expensive in them (with the exception of the roll of stamps that Dad usually slides inside) but every item is a reminder of how lucky we are.  No doubt, Kelly spent as much to mail the box as she spent on the gifts ... but there will never be a way to tell her how much this package meant to us.  My father sent us a prettily wrapped box containing a ziplock bag - filled with the shredded remains of a check I had mailed for him "to handle a piece of personal business." 

Later in the day, we had a Ya Ya Christmas celebration.  At 5 pm (our time), 11 am (Boone time) - we skyped with our dear friends at home.  There were champagne and wine toasts on both ends of the call and presents to open as well.  The conversation reassured us of the well-being of our dearest friends - especially as they reported the expected arrival of their children and family members from all over the country.  We have known these kids forever and love each of them so much.  Hannah from Colorado, Mason from Tennessee, Walker from Florida, Davis from "off the mountain in Louisburg." Will, who returned home from New York as a fragile bundle of broken bones in July, is recovering well from an accident.  From a picture his mother sent us - he reminds us that being young has its advantages and the care of parents can work miracles!

We are so grateful for our friends and so amazed to live in these times.  Merry Christmas!
Our little Christmas tree - the candles are real!

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Gifts of Freedom - Day 4

Another day in Berlin and all of the questions and thoughts about being free collided when we saw the preserved portion of the Wall.  I simply wept.

Martin Luther believed that a person who had religious faith was a free person.  He provided a means for people to discover that faith when he translated the Bible and began public schools.  His philosophy freed people.

The cities of Vacha and Eisenach experienced the aftermath of the Second World War differently - one as a closed city and the other an open one.  Their access to political discourse was vastly different, as were their economies.

Berlin experienced personal and political difference every day as a city divided following WWII.  The personal courage of Kennedy on October 27, 1961 to declare that West Berlin would remain free when US and East German tanks faced off at Checkpoint Charlie ... sustained a crack in that wall ... and helped lead to the crumbling of it less than 30 years later on November 9, 1989.  Germany was reunited in 1990.

There is a powerful outdoor display telling stories about the Wall - where the wall once stood.  And the Topography of Terrorism is a library and museum that chronicles the cruel ideology of the Nazis, the horror and outcomes of WWII, the trials at Nuremberg, the split of Berlin, and the lessons of terror.

Spent and silent, we managed to find our way to an intimate private museum that housed works of Käthe Kollwitz - one of my favorite artists and social critics of war.  Her work is not what one would call "cheerful" but it is strong, independent, truthful and courageous.  It gave me hope.
Check Point Charlie
I was leaving the American Sector.
Preserved portion of the Wall - underneath this section are excavated interrogation rooms used by the Gestapo.

One of my heroes - Käthe Kollwitz.
Dusk on the vibrant and lovely Kurfürstendamm in Berlin.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Gifts of Freedom - Day 3

Berlin.  Oh my.  Peter was born here!  But, he left as a 3 month old baby and returned in 1986 for a week.  Obviously, he had no idea where anything was.  The hotel concierge became our best friend. 

We set out to learn what we could about Berlin's treasures but knew that we would only have a short time on this trip.  Museum Island was a must - primarily because of Nefertiti.  Brandenburg Gate and the Bundestag... as well as Berlin's noted transportation system.  We used every form of transportation with the exception of taxis and planes.  It was marvelous although I have to say that it took us until the second full day to connect the maps between the S/U Bahns and the Trams.  Once that was done, Berlin was our oyster!

Walking through the snow to the Neues Museum (full of the Egyptology and the beautiful bust of Nefertiti) and the Altes National Galarie (Peter von Cornelius wasn't there - darn it - foiled again!), Peter pointed out the damage from WWII.  I had not even noticed but, of course, there were the pock mocks of gunfire and repair of whole sections of columns.  In the effort to move ahead, it is easy to forget that this city was destroyed because of a terrible ideology.  And yet, there is this sacred space for art.... and especially the heritage of humanity.  How else can we explain the existence of ancient papyrus with translations of the Illiad?  How else can we pass along to others the beauty and dignity of Nefertiti?  We took the day and visited just two museums (had lunch at the museum cafe) and then moved on to the Brandenburg Gate and Bundestag.  Our day ended with the Christmas Market on the Alexanderplatz and a very nice dinner in the hotel.  The antiquities, the art, the architecture --- we were full!
Nefertiti (okay - this is off the website - you can't take pictures)
The Altes National Galarie (we took this picture)
Brandenburg Gate (and this one)
Bundestag (And this one. It was snowing!)

The Gifts of Freedom - Day 2.5

We left Eisenach around noon in a nice steady snow with Berlin as our next destination.  Our trusty ole' Bavarian Panzer (the 10 year old Mercedes) handled the roads well.  It ought to - it weighs a ton and has the required snow tires!  Not only were we delighted we spent the night in Eisenach because of its historical significance, its nearness to the A4 proved to be extremely valuable.

The trip took the entire afternoon and as I mentioned in the introduction to this trip - we had no delays.  We drove through snow... up hills, over hills, and down mountains.  We were steady and never fast by German standards.  The result?  At 4:30 pm we were circling the southeast outer ring of Berlin.  The problem? We only had directions to the hotel from the northwest side of the outer ring (Tegel Airport).  We followed signs that pointed to Zentrum but after 45 minutes of never finding our way (no map) ... Peter pulled out our trusty cell phone and called the hotel.  We were close enough (within blocks) that the receptionist had us at the front door within 8 minutes!  Hooray.

By the way --- BERLIN IS HUGE!

We were a little frazzled and while we would have loved to have taken the city by storm that night, we chose to have a wonderful dinner at a recommended neighborhood Italian restaurant and return to the room for a good night's sleep.  We were wise on all accounts.  The restaurant was a 10 minute walk away in a wonderful neighborhood - Il Pane e le Rose.  (The Bread and the Roses)  Of course, it was dark and snowing and of course, German parents were out with their children in prams and on sleds.

We rested well.
Street in Berlin - in snow
Room in the Leonardo Royal Hotel Berlin -- 78 Euros/night plus an awesome breakfast!
Il Pane e le Rose

The Gifts of Freedom - Day 2

Where to begin? 

Eisenach survived WWII and because of its historical significance, survived the East German/Soviet period, as a tourist town.  The architecture is stunning and ranges from the 11th-century (Wartburg Castle) to the present (Opel/GM Motors and Bosch).  The residential and city squares with the remaining Nicolaitor and Nicolas Church along with the Luther Haus, St. George's Church, old town castle and Rathaus enchanted us.  A visit to the Luther Haus (legend has it, he lived there for 3 school years) allowed us to imagine the home of a wealthy burger during late 15th century.  Frederick the Wise served as Luther's protector when he returned to Eisenach some years later and translated the New Testament into German.

Now - this is a big deal.  It has so much to do with the literacy of the German people.  From this text, standardization of German language can be traced.  It became the book from which the German people (men, women and children) learned to read/recognize certain words.  Further, it provided the moral code for families and communities;  and it provided a common tool in the establishment of schools.  Luther established the first public schools!  Of course, we are talking about five centuries of a habit of literacy - longer than the United States has been a country.  It is interesting that the despair over the end of printed newspapers is not a source of discussion here.  Plenty of small town, national and international newspapers exist with multiple newspaper/tobacco stores in every town.  Newspapers are still posted on walls and in cases near the Rathaus and people still stand in front and read.  The same is true in coffee houses - which provide newspapers for customers to read while there.  It is a culture of rampant literacy.

Reading is fundamental to freedom.
Peter inviting me into the Luther Haus.  Notice the beautiful round glass in the windows on the first floor.
St. Georg's Kirche - note the neo-Romanesque ceiling, the tiered galleries.  Luther preached here. Johanne Sebastian Bach was baptized here and, along with multiple family members, served as an organist here. 
Eisenach architecture

The Gifts of Freedom - Day 1.5

Okay - as foreshadowed - there was more to the story about the hotel.

When last I wrote, we were arriving in Eisenach (Martin Luther, New Testament, regularized the German language, etc.) and since we had no reservations, dusk was nigh (4:45 pm) and snowing - we drove to the center of the city and stopped at the Schlosshotel.  Sadly, there were no rooms in the tiny inn.  (This story sounds vaguely familiar...)

We asked for other hotels and the friendly receptionist offered several to us.  Peter and I agreed that one in particular seemed close by and rather than move the car, we decided to walk to the Bachplatz and try our luck there.  Yep!  I am talking about "those Bachs."  This town has been on the map a while.

After a 10 minute walk, we found the Bachplatz and the Bach Haus Hotel.  The warm light coming out of leaded glass windows in the restaurant reminded us of 19th century London in a Charles Dickens novel.  Little did we know that we were in Tiny Tim's and not Scrooge's neighborhood.  We stepped in and a tall, creepily quiet young man mumbled hello to us.  Peter inquired as to a room and he said that he had one for 80 Euros.  Peter said fine and filled out the paperwork. We asked about parking and he told us where to bring the car and we headed up to the room to check it out.

Well - I don't think anyone else was staying in the whole building and despite its recent renovations, the clean and adequate room looked for all the world like a no-name motel on the highway.  My heart sank because we now had a room (and the other place was full) but I just didn't like it.  As we walked to the car, I told Peter that Eisenach was such a charming and historic town, it was hard to imagine staying there, and would he be willing to look at another place?

Over the years, Peter has come to know that I have ... well, how do I say? ... expectations.  So, even though it is now dark (5:15 pm) and snowing hard, with an all out Christmas Market in the center of town (ferris wheel, music, gluhwein and lots of people), he lets me step into the Apotheke and ask someone else about hotels.  The clerk was incredibly knowledgeable about such things and after running down a list of all of the places to stay, she indicates that the "tip top" address sits just around the corner.  I asked Peter if we could just check out this one place and that is all I would ask him to do.  Resigned, he agreed.

We walked into the Steigenberger Hotel Thüringer Hof and I melted.  The lobby, the Christmas tree, the windows looking out to the plaza... it was beautiful.  Now, this is not a poor little me story - but we are on a kind of budget that I am trying ever so hard to respect.  So, we walk up to the receptionist and ask if she has a room.  She is delighted because indeed, she still has one room left with a view that she can offer for 132 Euros.  I look at Peter and he reminds me that we have a room for 80 Euros that we have already filled out papers for.  I look at the receptionist and ask if she has anything for less and she asks my budget and I say 100 Euros.  She says, well I do have a room for 112 Euros - and Peter says "book it."  We run up to the room and low and behold - it was THE ROOM - it was glorious with a view of the plaza with big windows and a HUGE marble bathroom.  We finally got one of the rooms that Cindy, Allen, Don and Janice got in Athens (Greece)! 

What to do about the other room?  Peter is delighted with this one but he was not looking forward to going back to the Bach Haus.  I told him - no worries.  This would be my responsibility.  So, we trudged back to the dark and dreary Bach Square and I went in and in my Ameri-Deutsch explained that this was my one night in Eisenach and I simply wanted to be closer to the Christmas market and was very sorry but we would not stay with him that night.  He nodded his head (like he was 60 years old but he couldn't have been more than 30) and that ended that.

I sat up that evening and watched it snow through the beautiful windows of our room.  Peter slept soundly and all was good in the world.
Hotel Lobby

Daybreak in Eisenach.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Gifts of Freedom - Day 1

So much freedom - personal, political, and philosophical.   Our travels to Berlin put us in touch with these ideas.

We decided on Monday that we would travel to Berlin on Tuesday.  We made reservations (Leonardo Royal Berlin Hotel near the Alexander Platz - we can recommend it!) and proceeded to make arrangements to travel the next day.  The trip north would include a detour to Vacha to obtain copies of birth records that Peter translated for a friend and then misplaced.  The drive was over new ground and after Nürnberg, it began to snow.  Little did we realize that we were about to enter into a 5 day transportation nightmare for Germany - wrecks on the autobahn, late trains, and grounded planes - all due to heavy snowfall.  Somehow Micky's travel angel found us and we slipped through the magical portal which allowed us to drive swiftly and quietly, and without a single delay.

After 4.5 hours, we reached Vacha at 2:55 pm.  We had called the records clerk that morning and she told us that she would leave for the day at 3 pm and the office would not be open the next day.  Whew!  While Peter was in the office, I looked around.  Even though a lovely hotel sits in the square, the town continues to suffer from Soviet times.  Desolate, lonely and gray.  When Peter came out of the building, I said that we should move on.  He seemed a little surprised but after he told me that one of the women in the building had immediately flirted with him - asking his age and his business in town... etc.  I became even more certain that we should leave.  Hmmrrph!  Even a coffee house was hard to find.

So we pushed on to Eisenach which is a town that lies northeast of Vacha and closer to the autobahn that we would use the next day.  In one of those "Aha" moments, my historian husband said that he thought he knew something about Eisenach but he couldn't quite pull it up.  All of a sudden, he spurted out "Oh my goodness ... this is the town where Martin Luther went to school and under the protection of the prince - he translated the New Testament into German." 

Well, obviously we needed to spend the night there.  And so we did...  in a beautiful hotel with a room overlooking the park and the old gate - The Nikolaitor.  It snowed during the evening and was absolutely stunning.   The story of the hotel will be told in the next post!

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Gift of Activity

We have been busy -- in a wonderfully selfish way.  First, there is the activity of the season.  Church for the second Sunday of Advent.  Thankfully, this Sunday we had a different priest who is ever so much happier than the Romanian priest who presided over the first Sunday of Advent mass as if it were a funeral.  This guy was a Franciscan from Italy who sang mass and I truly enjoyed it.  Then, Marianne came for Sunday dinner of exquisite (if I do say so myself) roast chicken and risotto.  The key to perfect risotto - take some of the chicken drippings and stir in just before serving.  YUMMY.  Recipe here:
This simple but delicious roast chicken is based on a recipe in Olives and Oranges by Sara Jenkins and Mindy Fox.

Source: Saveur

1  4-lb. chicken
1 lemon
22 fresh sage leaves
3 cloves garlic
6 tbsp. unsalted butter,
   at room temperature
Kosher salt
2 tbsp. olive oil
Ground black pepper, to taste
8 sprigs parsley
2 small onions, quartered
2 carrots, cut into 2" pieces
Fleur de sel
1. Heat oven to 475°. Rinse chicken under cold water; pat dry with paper towels. Peel lemon, avoiding white pith. Finely chop lemon peel, sage, and garlic together; place in a bowl. Add butter and 1 tsp. salt. Stir to combine. Quarter the peeled lemon; set aside.
2. Using your fingers and a small, sharp knife, loosen skin of chicken from breasts and thighs. Slip butter mixture between skin and flesh, spreading it evenly. Rub skin with oil; season skin and cavity with salt and pepper to taste. Stuff with quartered lemon, parsley, and 1 quartered onion. Tie legs together with kitchen twine, if you like.
3. Put remaining quartered onion and carrots into center of roasting pan and place chicken on top of them. Roast for 20 minutes, then reduce oven temperature to 400˚. Continue roasting until an instant-read thermometer inserted into thickest part of thigh (without touching bone) reads 165°, about 1 hour more. Transfer chicken to a platter; sprinkle with fleur de sel; let rest for 10 minutes before carving.

Then, Peter decided that he need to get out of here and go somewhere warm for a while so we booked a week in Marakesh, Morroco in January.  This is our Christmas gift to one another.  I asked for a special New Year's celebration - and reluctantly at first (but now all about it), we bought tickets to a concert and gala dinner in Salzburg (waltzing and fireworks!) at the Stiftskeller St. Peter.  

And this morning, when we woke, Peter asked me when we might go to Berlin and I said, why not this week.  Before I knew it, we had a hotel and directions and tomorrow morning we will depart.  There is a wonderful detour to Vachau to fetch documents for friends that Peter misplaced and then on Wednesday, we will arrive in the capitol city of Germany - where Peter was born.  More will follow on this event.
Finally, tonight St. Nikolas and the Krampus (devil) visited the 3 children in the house.  This has to be one of the most frightening and powerful memories of the month.  St. Nikolas has a golden book and reads the good and the bad from the past year about each child.  In kind households, the Krampus stays well in the background and is only called upon to serve St. Nikolas (give me the presents, etc.)... but in some homes, the Krampus plays a larger role and is used to "scare kids straight."  In this village, few if any call upon the Krampus in this manner but there is something universal and primordial about this figure.  I actually had tears come down my cheeks during this visit.  I don't think I was scared but there was a fear that came over me.  

Angst and action - one promotes the other.
Atilio and Christian hearing the "good and bad" from St. Nick.  Krampus in the background.
Atilio (7), Christian (9), Katarina (3)

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Gift of Anticipation

December ushers in a time of wonder, excitement and anticipation.  Watching children shout out to one another the identity of each figure in the Krippe in Traunstein is a powerful reminder of storytelling.  The smell and sensation of an oncoming snowfall is undeniable, while the flirtations and laughter around the Christmas Market gluhwein stall suggest that the night lasts longer than the lights.  It is the expectation of things desired and the thrill of the unknown.  It is taking risks in a world of human safety;  it is trust and love.  This is Christmas to me... and I adore it.