Our neighbors recently had us over for an evening of card games. When the late evening sun poured through their west window, my attention turned from cards to capturing this beautiful still-life portrait.
What was supposed to be the last leg of the trip wasn’t.
We woke up to the news that our flight home was canceled. Off to the airport, we went anyhow to rebook. It was chaotic at our airline’s booking counters, to say the least. But with a lot of patience on the part of all of us, it all worked out despite being there several hours.
Lufthansa worked with each group member and allowed us to pick our seats. Three members of our group were six feet eight inches or taller and needed lots of leg room. We were also given vouchers for an excellent hotel, dinner that evening, and breakfast the following day.
We did have to arrange on our own for yet another Covid-19 test since that requirement was still in place when we traveled. That process was equally chaotic. Though it took much too long, we all tested negative again.
Despite the confusion and frustrations of this day, there was a very positive upside for my wife and me. The open evening allowed us to meet some new friends.
Marie-Helene has followed this blog for a few years. She and her husband Oliver lived near Frankfurt and offered to come to say hello. Now that we had an open evening, they took us to a UNESCO World Heritage site, Mathlidenhohe in Darmstadt.
According to the World Heritage Convention, the historic artist colony is at the city’s highest point. The “finger building,” as locals refer to the art nouveau tower, serves as the centerpiece for this most unusual and striking community where much of the architecture is the art.
Our hosts led us on a walking tour of part of the area. We climbed the “finger building” that often serves as a wedding venue. From the building’s pinnacle, we had marvelous views of the city.
The golden dome of the Russian Orthodox Church reflected the evening sun just below the tower. We saw other public and private buildings that made this neighborhood the artistic wonder it is.
Particularly striking was the nearby Waldspirale. It was a sprawling apartment building that spiraled upward into an expansive structure. Erected in the 1990s, it was constructed so that nothing looked level, but everything was. The building even had a green roof where large trees grew. I found it an astounding piece of architecture.
All too soon, we had to return to our hotel in Frankfurt, where we dined with our friendly hosts. We bid them farewell with hugs and words of gratitude for their kind hospitality.
The next day it was off to the airport and a long flight home. The plane left as scheduled this time, and the flight went well. After gathering our luggage, we had a two-and-a-half-hour ride home, and just like that, our European adventure had ended.
Our last full day in Europe was supposed to be one of travel, enjoying a medieval town, and preparing for our flight home early the next day. It didn’t turn out that way.
The plan was to get our required Covid-19 tests before leaving Oberammergau. Unfortunately, a miscommunication occurred, and our 78-year-old tour guide had to scurry around and find testing for our group of 39. She found a mobile testing operation, but there was a problem. Since members of our group were scattered in three hotels, not all the hotels would allow the testers to enter. Fortunately, our hotel was not one of them.
Typical views of Bavarian countryside and a trucker with a sense of humor.
We paid our 40 euros, did the paperwork, got our tests, and waited for our results. In an hour, we learned we were good to go, but others on our tour had to wait and wait for their tests and results. We left close to lunchtime, which put us well behind schedule.
Our excellent bus driver expertly maneuvered us along country roads. We even encountered a closed road with no advanced warning. We had to go several kilometers out of the way on narrow country roads to reach the autobahn.
Sandra, our guide, kept her calm and used her travel wisdom to get us to a proper place for a much-needed lunch break. The highway cut through pristine farmland and along rail lines, biking, and hiking paths. Windmills topped ridge lines, and acres of solar panels occupied areas along the roadway.
We finally arrived at our only tourist objective for the day, Rothenburg, Germany. Rothenburg is the best-preserved medieval town in Europe. The photos show why.
Unfortunately, we ran late since we didn’t leave Oberammergau on time. Consequently, we only had an hour or so to survey the town, and even then, a thunderstorm sent us hustling back to the bus. We didn’t do Rothenburg justice. I could have spent days exploring the old walled city.
From there, it was on to our hotel near the Frankfurt Airport, where we were to depart the following day. As we all know, the best laid plans don’t always work out.
As we neared the end of our tour of Austria, Germany, and Switzerland, we finally had a good part of a day free. We chose to walk the streets of the beautifully adorned buildings of Oberammergau, Germany.
According to the tour company, the day’s highlight would be the Passion Play, held every 10 years since its inception in 1634. Even before seeing the lengthy play, my wife and I found marvels of our own.
After a hearty breakfast in our quaint hotel, we strolled around the picturesque village admiring the architecture, many frescos, lovely gardens, and personable town folks. The blue sky and warm weather made it even more enjoyable.
In Bavaria, it’s common for shopkeepers and farmers alike to live in the same building as their businesses and animals. The shops in Oberammergau were no exception.
The homes are tidy and most designed around the pride of being located where they were, at the base of the Alps. They decorated their buildings with themed frescoes and flowers, potted and planted.
Their gardens were as lovely as they were productive. Artistic patterns of hedges surrounded flower and vegetable gardens while many roofs donned solar panels. These were more examples of how green Europe is.
St. Peter and St. Paul Catholic Church was as beautiful as any others we had seen on the trip. The graves in the cemetery surrounding the old church were well-maintained and decorated with flowers to remember lost loved ones.
Even though our seats were reserved, we were advised to arrive an hour ahead of the 2:30 p.m. start time. Long lines had already formed as we passed through security.
The Oberammergau Passion Play began when villagers prayed that if no more people in the village died from the plague, they would perform a play of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, now known as Holy Week. Their prayers were answered, and they kept their promise. The 2020 play was canceled because of the pandemic and rescheduled for May into October this year.
Of course, the play is in German, but English booklets are provided to follow the dialogue as long as there is light. The original text has been revised over the years, and with the addition of the poignant musical score, the play is performed more as an oratory.
The Oberammergau auditorium and two of the young actors who also worked at a restaurant during the dinner break.
Most of the actors and vocalists are local residents. Their performance and singing were equally outstanding. Since no video or cameras were permitted, I didn’t take any photos during the five-hour play.
That’s right, five hours! The play is broken into two parts. The first two and a half hours are presented in the afternoon with a three-hour break for dinner. The play began again at 8 p.m. and ran until 10:30 p.m.
Our tour company arranged for meals between acts at a restaurant close to the Oberammergau Playhouse. Ironically, the man who played Pilot owns the restaurant where we ate. His son, who plays John, also is part owner. He actually worked between the two acts that evening. We were impressed with their acting and their hospitality.
It had been another inspiring yet long day for us senior citizens. We couldn’t imagine what the next couple of days would bring.
Our seventh day of sightseeing started on a somber note. A short drive from Munich is the World War II concentration camp of Dachau. It was a last-minute addition to our itinerary.
As sobering and humbling as our visit was there, I am glad we stopped. Everyone must visit at least one of these sights where the worst imaginable human behavior occurred to innocent people.
It wasn’t easy to experience where these unfortunate folks had walked, slept, were tortured, and killed. But it’s a walk that we all should make. We cannot forget what brutal fascism did to millions of people.
We saw the reconstructed barracks, the crude toilet facilities, showers, and the furnaces. We saw where thousands were lined up and shot to death in a ditch designed to channel the blood away from the corpses.
Reading about the Holocaust is one thing. Observing its horrors first-hand is something else altogether. Such atrocities must never happen again. And yet, they have, and they are, perhaps in not the exact numbers, but global peoples are suffering at the hands of tyrants even today.
Dachau is a stark, loathsome place, full of the horrible treatment of human-to-human history. Only a few of the barracks that housed the prisoners were reconstructed. The officers’ quarters remain today, serving as a museum to the dark deeds done there.
I was surprised to learn that Jews were not the only group of people persecuted during the 12 years Dachau existed. Any individuals and congregations of people who did not follow the Nazi line were imprisoned at Dachau, located just a short distance from Munich, where the Nazi regime had its headquarters.
More Jehovah Witnesses per capita were murdered at Dachau than any other religion. Even prisoners of war from other countries were detained there.
The various memorials to those who died and suffered at Dachau.
Different memorials have been constructed to honor those who died and suffered there. The monument to the Russians who died there is actually built outside the camp’s parameters. So infuriated were the Russians at the atrocities they brought soil from Russia on which the memorial is built.
We left there in a somber mood. That changed as we drove on the Romantic Road to where it turns off to Hohenschwangau in southwest Bavaria, Germany. There, Mad King Ludwig built the Neuschwanstein Castle, so unique and dreamy that Disney used it as the model for their theme park castles.
On the way into the village, we stopped at a rural church surrounded by hayfields and croplands. In fact, farmers were cutting and raking hay as we disembarked the bus. Of course, we had to explore the church before heading to Hohenschwangau.
We could only view the castle from afar, but Ludwig had built another less opulent one overlooking the village. It’s appropriately named Hohenschwangau Castle.
It was on to a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Church of Wies, designed in the late 1740s. Ornate couldn’t begin to describe the beauty we saw. Designed by Dominikus Zimmerman, the work is a masterpiece of Bavarian Rocco.
I wasn’t nearly sophisticated enough to fully appreciate what I was seeing. I just know it was magnificent. One fact I do know. Though the ceiling looks domelike, it is actually flat.
Our final destination for the day was Oberammergau, where we had just enough time to check in at our hotel, have dinner, and walk around the inviting town. The next morning we would discover just how lovely the town and its people were.
After my Anabaptist cave experience, I figured it was downhill from there for the rest of the trip. Emotionally, that may have been true. A walking tour of Salzburg forced me to refocus.
Even on a cloudy day, the city was beautiful. It was Mozart’s birthplace, after all. Though he preferred the livelier Vienna, the old town still claims the master as its own. The city honors the famed composer in numerous ways.
Our tour began in the lovely Mirabell Gardens. Filled with flowers, statues, and fountains, I could have wandered there much longer than we did.
The gardens were only one of several locations in Salzburg where scenes from the famous 1965 movie “The Sound of Music” were filmed. From the gardens, we could see the abbey where Maria served and then left for the Von Trapp family.
We dodged service vehicles delivering foodstuffs and materials to local cafes, shops, and restaurants in the morning. They have to vacate the pedestrian streets by 11 a.m.
We crossed the Salt River and stopped to admire all of the love locks fastened to the wire mesh fence on the sides of the bridge. Lots of lovers had stood where we did.
We wound our way through picturesque narrow cobblestone alleyways with quaint shops, cafes, and bakeries tucked neatly away. One old baker even waved to us from his second-floor apartment above his business. We strolled by Mozart’s birthplace announced by its flashy golden letters and bright gold paint.
Our local guide had lots to show us in a short period, so we tried to keep pace with her. She finally turned us loose in the 16th-century Residence Plaza and the adjacent Mozart Plaza, where we could relax and watch horsedrawn carriages pass by. I tried to imagine myself back in Mozart’s time and contemplated the untold persons who also lingered here so long ago.
For a light lunch, we found a cozy cafe with my favorite amenity, a water closet. When you get to be my age, you’ll understand. We always enjoyed the many opportunities to dine outdoors. We liked to people watch as much as we did the food.
All too soon, we found our way back to the bus and headed for our next destination, Munich. Many of my fellow travelers used the road time to nap. Not me. I didn’t want to miss anything.
We arrived in Munich late afternoon and again found ourselves following our learned guide around the old central city. We passed beer gardens and a marketplace and strolled through a beer hall.
We marveled at the size and beauty of St. Peter’s Church. Then it was off to Marien Plaza to watch and listen to the huge cuckoo clock that activates its wooden characters at 5 p.m. at the town hall. I was impressed with the universal display of the Ukrainian flags we saw in nearly every city center.
There we also saw the Marian column that dates back to 1638. It serves as a reminder that Munich was spared during the Thirty Years’ War.
I thought it would be nice to have dinner with my wife in a nice restaurant. And that’s just what we did. We enjoyed our fish dinners and an extra-large glass of wine.
It had been a day steeped in beauty, awe, and history. We also welcomed a comfortable bed for much-needed rest.
This was the day of all the days of our trip that I had most anticipated. Visiting the Anabaptist Cave, or Tauferhole, near Baretswil, Switzerland, was a dream come true.
But there was a catch. Long before our group ever left for Europe, our tour organizer had asked me to share my story of how and why I became Mennonite. Mennonites were some of the most radical of the early Anabaptists during the Protestant Reformation. To be able to share my personal story in that historic, sacred place meant more than I can say. I only knew that I would strive to keep it short and to the point.
We left beautiful Lucerne for the quaint village of Baretswel, Switzerland, where we would meet our local guides at the Reformed Church. Our group enjoyed the scenic morning drive, and after a break of necessity, we followed David and Ruth to where the bus could no longer go.
From there, we hoofed it up the hill through meadows full of wildflowers and marvelous fragrances. We passed dairy cows grazing and huge wood piles curing for next winter’s firing. We regrouped in the shade of the forest near the top of the hill before heading out on the trail to the once-hidden cave.
Once into the woods, the incline lessened. More concerning was the steep drop-off into a ravine created by eons of erosion from a stream flowing from and beneath the cave. Fortunately, a wooden handrail had been erected in recent years at the most dangerous spots.
I quickly explored the deepest reaches of the cave, which were no more than a few hundred feet. Once the entire group assembled, save one who declined the hike for physical reasons, our tour host Ed took over.
We sang a couple of meaningful songs, and another member of our group, a Hospice chaplain in Indiana, shared a meditation. It perfectly set the foundation for my sharing.
To the relief of those who know me, I kept my talk to one type-written page, only once veering from the script. I told about coming of age during the Vietnam War in the 1960s. Though my grandfather had served in World War I and my father in World War II, I had no desire to participate in that political conflict.
The week after I met my wife-to-be, Neva took me to the Sunday church service at Beech Mennonite Church near Louisville, Ohio. The sermon was on nonresistance, one of the primary principles of peace churches, which the Mennonite Church still proclaims.
It was what I was looking for, and I gladly accepted. I joined the church nine months later, just a couple weeks before our marriage. Neva has stood by my side for 51 years through thick and thin. I am forever grateful to the late Wayne North for preaching that subject that drew me into the church.
Following my sharing, we sang some more, had a prayer, and took communion together. Had it not been for our ancestors who believed in nonresistance, adult baptism, and service to others to highlight a few critical points, we would not have been there on that special day. It was indeed a bucket list experience.
All too soon, we walked back down the path to the awaiting bus and bid our new friends goodbye. We were off to Innsbruck, Austria. On the way, we stopped along the Rhine River for a late lunch break.
When I learned that Liechtenstein was just across the river, I climbed the many steps to the river levy to at least grab a quick photo. After descending the stairway, a school group bicycling along the levy stopped to rest. Their observant teacher had them wave to me before we left for Innsbruck.
Our stop in beautiful Innsbruck was all too brief. We walked the cobblestone streets around the Old Town section of the city, viewing markets and the Golden Roof home of Emperor Maximilian.
My wife and I strolled along the Inn River, enjoying the pastel-painted homes. The snow-covered Alps hovering above made it a picture-postcard moment.
We knew that the fourth day of our tour would be jam-packed. We couldn’t imagine just how filled the day would be with one wonder after the other.
The day dawned with a bright blue sky and high expectations. We left our hotel in Lucerne and headed into the Swiss Alps. The lovely weather made the incredible scenery all the more amazing.
My wife and I chose seats close to the front of the bus to get a good view of where we were headed. We weren’t disappointed. Snow-capped mountains soon came into view as we traveled along the well-maintained highway system that included several long tunnels.
The scenery was green in more than one way. Farmers made hay and cattle grazed on slanting pastures that ran far up the mountainsides. Hiking and biking paths led away from cities and towns far into the country and highlands. The efficient train systems did as well.
I secretly wanted the bus to stop multiple times so I could take photos without window glare. Of course, that wasn’t going to happen. The bus did stop at one pull out to view the valley and Lungernersee below. As beautiful as that was, the best was yet to come.
We stopped at Interlaken for long enough to know that I want to return someday. I could breathe in that fresh mountain air and those incredible sights for a long time. Skydivers entertained us as they swooped overhead beneath their colorful parachutes, landing in a field right in front of us.
Jungfrau’s 13,642 ft. peak shown brightly in the morning sun. It was all I could do to board the bus. Still, even more fantastic scenery awaited.
Our glorious journey continued as we wound our way through the breathtaking Lauterbrunnen Valley. Unfortunately, we had to absorb all we could from the bus as it passed through the charming village. I was able to get a few shots of the famous Staubbach Waterfalls. It was a scene I had seen many times, and now we were passing right by it.
Soon our very capable bus driver turned onto a more narrow road, and up we climbed to Grindelwald at the foot of Eiger Mountain. It was lunchtime, and while most of the others on our bus opted for a restaurant or cafe, my wife and I grabbed some munchies at a grocery store and sat on a bench that overlooked the famous mountain. The blaze away, but the air was cool, the Swiss goodies tasty, and the company at my side couldn’t have been more pleasing to me.
All too soon, we again boarded the bus and headed for the lovely Emmental Valley to visit the oldest operating Mennonite Church in Langnau. Our hosts shared about their growing church and then invited us to wander the cemetery across the street. Familiar last names appeared on the headstones. Many American Mennonite families can trace their family tree to this location.
From Langnau, the bus navigated more narrow country roads to the Trachselwald Castle, where Anabaptists were imprisoned in the 16th and 17th centuries. The view from the castle was likely more appealing for us than it was for those early martyrs.
We wound our way to the farm of a descendent of Hans Hasselbacker, who was imprisoned in the old castle. His namesake relative greeted us and showed us his farmstead, which has the house and barn connected in true Swiss fashion.
With the sun nearing the horizon, we drove country roads back to our hotel in Lucerne. It had been a great day, made even better by the news that we had a new grandson born late May 14 in Rochester, New York. Welcome to the world, Teddy!
As I look back on it, the third day of our European adventure was one of the trip’s highlights. I was too tired to fully appreciate it then, but I enjoyed each moment as we crammed as much history and sightseeing into the day.
It was a short bus ride from our suburban hotel to the heart of Zurich, Switzerland, a global financial center. Indeed, we saw no skyscrapers, only well-maintained office buildings a few stories high. The many church steeples reached higher than the buildings.
Our main objective was to discover the locations of the beginning of Anabaptism in 1525. Today Anabaptist churches are considered peace churches. With nonresistance as a fundamental principle, today’s Anabaptist churches would include Amish, Brethren, Conservative Mennonite, Hutterite, and Mennonite, to name a few.
The Limmat River with the twin steeples of the Grossmusnter, a statue of Urlich Zwingli, the City Hall across the river, and a typical street in Zurich.
In Zurich, the first Anabaptists met and were baptized as adults. Shunning infant baptism infuriated both the established Roman Catholic Church leaders and those of the burgeoning Protestant religions led by reformers like Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli.
Consequently, the early Anabaptists were hunted down by Catholics and Protestants alike. Some were drowned, while others were burned at the stake. Felix Manz was the first Anabaptist martyr, and we visited the spot where he was drowned in the Limmat River that runs through the heart of Zurich.
We also visited Manz’s mother’s home, where Conrad Grebel baptized Manz and others considered the Zurich rebels. We also saw the homes of Zwingli and Grebel. It was mind-boggling that these structures still stand, much as they were in the 16th century. Of course, they have been updated and some repurposed. Zwingli’s home is a theater, while Grebel’s is a bar.
After a pleasant lunch in Munster Plaza, our local guide gave us a brief tour of the Fraumunster Church. He focused his time on sharing about the Chagall stained glass windows, which were beautiful. The pastel frescoes added a complementary contrast to the glorious colors of the Chagall windows.
Please click on the photos to enlarge them.
Just like that, we boarded the bus again for Lucerne. On the short drive there I was impressed by the many tunnels that the Swiss have built. Their lengths vary, but they all are clean and help maintain the natural beauty of the lovely countryside. In the states, it is most common for roadways to gouge out giant hillsides to avoid building expensive tunnels that must be maintained. The Swiss do a magnificent job with their commitment to preserving natural landscapes and building efficient infrastructure that enables vehicles to move from one location to another.
We arrived in Lucerne late afternoon and immediately began to explore the Old Town section. We enjoyed walking the cobblestone streets, viewing the many frescos on the old buildings, and listening to a school band play lively street music. We walked across the famous Chapel Bridge, too.
On the way to our hotel, we stopped to view the noted Lucerne Lion Monument or the Lion of Lucerne. It is a rock relief hewn in 1820-21 in memory of the Swiss Guards killed in the French Revolution in 1792. It was pretty impressive.
We stayed at the Grand Europe Hotel, which faced the beautiful Lake Lucerne. The lake lured me down to its edge that evening at dusk and again the following day after sunrise. The famous swans of Lake Lucerne added an exclamation point to an already gorgeous scene. Mount Pilatus stood mighty in the background.
After all of the walking and trying to absorb all we had seen and learned this day, we were exhausted. We needed to rest well because the next day would be even more exciting.
We left our hotel in Viernheim, Germany, and headed to Schleitheim, Switzerland. Our bus traveled along and then through the Black Forest. As we climbed a mountain pass, it began to rain. We soon stopped for lunch at an alpine complex of buildings that clearly was a stopover for tourists. Besides restaurants, we passed through gift shops displaying intricately made cuckoo clocks. I found one that cost over $12,000.
From there, it was a short distance to the Swiss border, where our driver had to exit the bus and show several documents before we could enter the country. After a brief delay, we were on our way and soon arrived in Schleitheim, a rural Swiss village where Anabaptists met in February 1527. Though no list of participants remains, scholars are certain that Michael Sattler participated in this meeting of the minds to clarify the beliefs of these radical reformers.
The Schleitheim document contained several main articles that gave form and direction to the young movement. Sattler most assuredly wrote the manuscript that included instructions for adult baptism, the ban, communion, separation of church and state, pastors in the church, nonresistance, and forbidding the taking of oaths.
The Schleitheim Museum is housed on the top two floors of the town’s community building. Because our group was too large, half went upstairs while the rest of us were told to look around. So, we did.
When I opened a large wooden door, I startled three local ladies who were using looms to make scarves and other clothing items. Once we explained who we were, the women relaxed and graciously showed us what they were doing. I found plenty of photo opportunities in the large workspace.
The same was true for the museum. All sorts of antiques had been saved, from the sign on the railroad depot to the first hand-drawn fire engine. Of course, there were old documents, books, and bibles from the time when Mennonites flourished there.
After leaving Schleitheim, we wound our way through gorgeous farm country, where big round bales of hay had just been stacked. I tried to capture the scenery through the tinted bus windows.
Soon we arrived in Schaffhausen at the Rheinfall, a cascading waterfall that draws lots of tourists. A few of the tour boats that take you closer to the falls were operating. It was a beauty to behold, but I had a hard time believing we were standing on the banks of the Rhine River.
We left that beautiful place and headed to Zurich, where we would spend the night.