Bavaria and Beyond, Germany and the Czech Republic

December 28, 2006 - January 6, 2007





After flying to Frankfurt, we met up with our friend, Hans Jörg (our compatriot from our August trip across the island of Flores, Indonesia) who graciously put us up at his house and proceeded to take us on an eclectic tour starting in Bavaria, Germany, to the Czech Republic. This was not your ordinary tourist itinerary, instead, we were treated to a nine-day sampling of interesting (and sometimes obscure) places with historical, cultural, or religious significance. In a few short days, we got a small glimpse into the complex history and wonderful culture of this part of the world.






In Germany, fairy tale castles seem to perch on every mountaintop. The World Heritage Wartburg castle overlooks the town of Eisenach, birthplace of J. S. Bach.



In beautiful Bamberg, the interior of the Kirche St Michael is painted with an herbal compendium on its ceiling, and there are amazing frescoes depicting the philosophy of death.




Dresden is celebrating its 800th anniversary this year. Many of its beautiful baroque buildings have been restored after much of the city was leveled during the carpet bombing by the Allied forces in February 1945. The 18th century Frauenkirche (background) was recently reopened after being completely rebuilt.




Remnants of former Nazi glory are still visible in Nuremberg at the massive Nazi party rally grounds (above), designed to hold 500,000 people, and the unfinished congress hall (left). The Autobahn Hindenberg now crosses the Bridge of Unity (below), with a swastika still visible in its stonework. Visiting these places left us feeling somber and awestruck by the scale of Hitler's 3rd Reich.
We had a sad sad visit to the village of Terezín, and the Terezín memorial, in the Czech Republic. The 18th century town, originally a fortress, is beautiful, with a central square flanked by 4-storey buildings, a church, and several shops. But by 1941, the town itself had become a concentration camp for Jews, and the original inhabitants were forced to move. This "town behind bars" became a reception and transit area for Jews, eventually, more than 140,000 men, women and children from Germany, Czech, Austria, Netherlands, Denmark, Slovakia and Hungary were deported to Terezín under the Nazi plan for the "Final Solution of the Jewish Question." The inmates were forced to perform music and theatrical events as Nazi propaganda for the international community, in an attempt to deceive the public regarding their fate. Many perished in the deplorable conditions at Terezín, and more than 87,000 inmates were transported to gas chambers at Auschwitz-Birkenau, where few survived. Most sobering was the collection of children's art -- so sad, so poignant, such brutally honest portrayals of that horrific time.






There are still a few places where you can see the division between east and west Germany. At Point Alpha, guard towers and a portion of the fence still stand where Americans guarded the border until 1992. At Mödlaveūth, Little Berlin, we walked along the concrete wall that divided a village, separating relatives and friends. Up the road, the border divided a printing house in two -- east and west. Under cover of darkness, the residents moved the press to west Germany and when the east Germans discovered the move, they barricaded the eastern half which remained unused until 'reunion' in 1989.






We crossed the Czech border on New Years night in a driving snowstorm and found a cozy family run hotel in the town of Jachymov. There was a young man in the bar beckoning with his chess board, and I enjoyed three games of chess on my birthday over the local Czech beer (the original Budweiser!).

Out of the tourist mainstream, we were charged only 13 euros each, which included a yummy breakfast of fresh bread, various cheeses, and sausage. What a find...





Prague. The Castle! The Bridge! The Clock! The Puppets! The Gnomes! My Umbrella!






One drizzly morning, as we were standing on one of the many stone bridges that cross the Vltava, a huge river that divides the old city of Prague in two, taking photos of the beautiful scene, a sudden gust of wind scooped my umbrella out of my grip. In an instant, it spiraled up and over the bridge and landed, handle up, in the water below. I watched with dismay as it twirled in the current, then slowly began drifting down stream. The three of us searched for a way to get down to the river, but the steep rock walls prevent any access. Then I noticed a man standing on the shore of an island, next to some wooden boats. He pointed to my umbrella, I mimed my dismay, then he gave me the thumbs up. Mark raced across the bridge to talk with him and discovered he was a policie fully armed, dressed in a black jumpsuit, ready for any disaster. He said five minute, made a quick call on his cell phone, and the mission--Umbrella Rescue--began. We could see the purple umbrella picking up speed, now a half kilometer away, floating under another bridge. Soon it would pass under the famous Charles Bridge and be out of our sight. But then, we saw a police boat racing towards it, crew at the ready. Our policeman, and his three colleagues who had joined the on-shore team, kept in close radio contact with the patrol boat. Tension mounted as our agent monitored the situation. We clapped and laughed as the patrol boat team scooped up the umbrella, motored up to us, and made a successful hand off. With a firm grip on the soggy umbrella, we all shook hands and said dekuji and na sheldanou!











Dubrovnik, Croatia (plane) ► Frankfurt, Germany (car)Schweinfurt (car) ► Jachymov, Czech Republic (car) ► Dresden, Germany (car) ► Vysoka Lipa, Czech Republic (car) ► Prague (car)Nuremberg, Germany (car) ► Schweinfurt