Interior of the Castle Church in Wittenberg
The last two days of our stay in Europe were spent traveling from Berlin to Frankfurt. On our way we stopped at two places that were famous for producing two German men who made enormous contributions to the cause of Christ in European history. The first man was Martin Luther. I need say nothing about the contribution he made. He is as famous in America as he is in Germany. But not that many Americans could answer what the town of Wittenberg had to do with Luther. The answer is that it was here that Luther threw down the gauntlet challenging the Roman Catholic Church on its practice of selling indulgences. He actually developed a tract of 95 statements against this practice and nailed it to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg in 1517. That set into motion a firestorm of charges and counter charges that nearly cost Luther his life. But what resulted was a movement that would not be stopped. A movement we know as the Reformation. Kathy and I visited the Castle Church and we would love to have given you a picture of the very door where this happened. But unfortunately because of a local war the church was partially destroyed and the door along with it within a couple of hundred years after the church was built. But the church was refurbished and contains the body of Martin Luther to this day.
The other man contributed to the cause of Christ in a very different way. His name was Johann Sebastian Bach. He wasn't a pastor, or reformer, or politician but a musician. And he is equally as famous as Luther all over the world. Kathy and I stayed overnight in a lovely old German "Ratskeller" hotel (that is its actual name) in Leipzig. We wanted to visit the famous Thomaskirche where Bach served as "Kantor" (or Music Director). He not only composed much of the great works which we all know while here but also wrote weekly choral music for his choir to perform at each Sunday service. Bach wasn't just a composer of great organ works, piano works, cantatas, motets, etc. He was an outstanding Christian who let be known that the greatest motivation for his productions was the Lord God. He wrote at the beginning and end of all his sacred works (and many of his secular ones as well) "Soli Deo Gloria" (glory to God alone). He was very much in tune with the spirit of Martin Luther and the Reformation that was still underway in his own time (in the early 18th Century). Bach was the cornerstone of the sacred music that helped inspire the spirit of the Reformation. He has also been an inspiration to us all.
Well, Kathy and I are in our room in Frankfurt preparing for a long flight back home (16 hours in the air, from here to Philadelphia and then on to Phoenix). We hope you have enjoyed sharing these experiences with us.
Bao-Bao eating her bamboo lunch
In Berlin, we were able to attend the concert on the square yesterday (Sunday). It was a wonderful experience in every way: the acoustics were something I have never heard before in an outdoor setting and the Staatskapelle orchestra performed on a special stage that had been set up right next to the Jumbotron, so we were not only watching a live performance but could see the video details up close as well. The skies were overcast but that made it more comfortable for the two or three thousand people who were there (it’s been warm here) and the rain held off until everything was finished. Kathy and I “rented” two folding camping chairs so we could sit in the square and not have to stand throughout the performance. We thought the chairs were a little expensive just for rentals, but, hey, this was Berlin and this was a special concert. So we paid the price. When I returned the chairs to the tent where I had gotten them they looked at me very strangely when I tried to return them and finally someone who spoke English said, “You bought them!” I was rather shocked to realize that I now owned two, rather nice, camping chairs. I would love to have taken them home as souveneirs but I had no intention of bringing them back as luggage to the US. So when we passed a fire department medical team that was sitting at a table at the back of the square I said “Anyone here interested in having two new chairs?” One of the medics stepped forward and said “Yes, I would love them.” So we at least made one German’s day!
We then went back down the street to the Museum Island where several of the best museums in Berlin stand (the buildings are cut off from the streets by a canal that encircles them). We had visited this same place yesterday when we saw the Pergamon Museum. But now we wanted to enter the Neues Museum to see the famous bust of Nefertiti. German archeologists discovered this famous plastered bust of a 14th Century BC Egyptian queen many decades ago. Looking into her face inside the glass case is like looking at a page in Vogue Magazine. She could easily have been a model whose face you would see somewhere on those pages. She looks so modern. The colors are still very vivid after 3,400 years. No wonder she is so closely guarded and in a case that is climate controlled.
Well, that was yesterday. Today (Monday) our target was the Berlin Zoo, considered one of the top Zoos in Europe. Plus they own a Panda. Bao-Bao was in rare form. She was lying in the grass on her back eating bamboo leaves. That was a thrill for Kathy to see her first Panda. But I am more impressed with the big cats. And they had plenty of them—lions, tigers, leopards and a whole host of smaller cats that we have never heard of before. The Berlin Zoo is a very impressive place with many ponds, wooded areas, restaurants and all the amenities that families look for when visiting a place like this.
Another place we paid a visit to was the Kaiser Wilhelm Church, or what is left of it. This prized cathedral of the pre-war Berliners was severally bombed during the last days of WWII so that the only thing they could save of it was the main tower and the vestibule inside of it. They are presently preparing the tower for its debut as a permanent monument sometime this summer. They have encased the entire structure in a scaffolding with a building wrap while the workers strengthen what is left of the building so it will be safe to visit. The vestibule can now be entered and the original beauty of the building can be seen in the wonderful mosaics on the floor and the wall sculptures all over the place. The one thing that really bothered me, however, was how they did the wall sculptures. First of all, this is a church building. But it is a church building dedicated to the Kaiser and therefore has battle scenes and scenes of the glories of the Kaiser’s reign. But then above those large wall sculptures are smaller sculptures of scenes from the Bible (Jesus raising the Widow of Nain’s son from the dead, for instance). You hardly notice the biblical scenes so high up on the walls because of the glories of the Kaiser below them. That is the way we foolish people do things—glory in our own accomplishments and give God the left-overs.
Well, we have two more days left before we fly back to the states. So we’ll see what we can share with you next before we bring this travel blog to an end.
The crowd gathered in the Bebelplatz for the opera Don Giovanni
We arrived in Berlin in the early evening of Friday, June 29. “Jill,” our GPS, was working wonderfully and we found our hotel with very little trouble. So we set to work planning our Saturday schedule. We began the day (Saturday) visiting the Brandenburg Gate. The last time Kathy and I were here it was 1972 (the year after we were married). The Brandenburg Gate was then the entryway into East Berlin and “the wall” was connected to it with guards, guns, and guard dogs everywhere. Today, of course, there is no longer an East Berlin and we were happy to see how much progress they have made cleaning up the place, rebuilding and incorporating it into one city.
We also visited the old Reichstag that housed Hitler’s Reich and was in ruins following the bombing of Berlin in the closing days of WWII. But they have rebuilt it and it now houses the new German government. But there was something more important we wanted to see so we set out walking east to the museum sector. There are several museums together in one spot and there was one we just had to see again—the Pergamon Museum. As you will remember, Jesus sent letters to seven churches in Asia Minor (today’s Turkey). One of them was sent to the church in Pergamum. On the acropolis above the town of Pergamum they had built a fabulous set of temples. Jesus made a statement to the church: “I know where you dwell, where Satan’s seat is….” There are many Bible scholars that think that the Alter of Zeus was this “Satan’s seat.” The Alter of Zeus is the temple that archeologists dug up and transported to East Germany many years ago. It was such a great find that they built a museum just to house this permanent exhibit. Also in this same museum is another permanent exhibit—the famous Ishtar Gate that Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, had built some six centuries before Christ. This is the same Nebuchadnezzar that conquered Jerusalem and took many citizens into exile. Among them was a man named Daniel. You can read his story in the book that bears his name in the Old Testament.
We ended our day in a place called Bebelplatz, a square immediately adjoining the Berlin Opera House. Our son Eric e-mailed us a note saying that an outdoor presentation of the Mozart Opera “Don Giovanni” was going to be simulcast and shown on a big jumbotron in the Bebelplatz. So we showed up at 8:00 PM and joined the huge crowd in the presentation of Mozart’s most famous opera. It was masterfully presented. They lifted a big jumbotron screen with a crane above the street so everyone in the square could see it. They had speakers everywhere and the sound system was the most fabulous thing I have ever heard in the open air. And the screen was sharp and clear. The opera was an adaptation of Mozart’s opera in the sense that it was produced in a modern setting. I was curious to see how this crowd would react to such a presentation. There were a few chuckles when one of the cast members lit up a cigarette, some more when another turned on a flashlight. But when one cast member made his appearance driving a BMW (that was the company sponsoring the event) I could hear a few groans and saw some heads shaking. So they may have taken a few too many liberties with Mozart’s original setting. They have scheduled another jumbotron concert for tomorrow (Sunday) at 1:00 PM in the same place. This one will present two piano concertos and a symphony by Tchaikovsky. I hope we are able to work that in also. If so, we'll tell you about it.
Jim and Laurie Barnes, our hosts in Prague
As we prepare to depart Prague for Berlin we want to express our appreciation to our hosts Jim and Laurie Barnes who have spent the last 15 years in this city with the Prague Christian Library. Kathy and I took them out to dinner to thank them for reserving their guest apartment for us during our stay in Prague. They told us their "story"--how the Lord brought them together and how He showed them where He wanted them to serve Him. It was an interesting one and helped us to understand more about the old saying "First you commit yourself to Him and THEN He will direct your paths." Pray for the Barneses and their 17 year old daughter Elizabeth as they continue their work among the citizens of the Czech Republic (former Czechoslovakia).
I mentioned in my last entry (see below) about Jan Huss, the Czech reformer of the 15th century who took up the cause of leading a reform movement within the Catholic Church of his day. This movement to cleanse the church of corruption and return it to its original dependence upon Scripture and Scripture alone as its only source of authority was met with stiff resistance from the entrenched forces within the established church. He was branded a heretic by the Catholic Church for his efforts and eventually burned at the stake. But the movement did not die. It continued to resurface not only among the Czechs but eventually spread to Germany and Switzerland and other countries. He served as an inspiration to Martin Luther who, 100 years later, took up his cause in Germany and eventually turned it into what we know today as the Protestant Reformation. Jan Huss was seen as a great hero among many Czechs, and monuments and churches still today reflect their love for their bold and courageous countryman. We saw some of the churches where the "Hussites" preached in an attempt to return their people to biblical Christianity. This was an important movement for us who consider ourselves part of a similar but later movement to restore biblical Christianity to a confused Protestantism that found itself enmeshed in traditionalism instead of relying upon the clear Word of God.
While it is thrilling to visit these great and glorious cathedrals and stand in awe of the architecture and the commitment of the people that once made them possible, we also have a great sadness that today most of them have become museums. We are saddened that in Eastern Europe (and much of Western Europe also) you have to buy a ticket just to see these "museums" and that the biggest thing that goes on in them today is the musical concerts they host on a regular basis. So they have become museums and concert halls--not what their planners and builders ever intended. But this is a reflection of the times we live in. Europe is one vast mission field. Most of these people care nothing about the church--not that they oppose it. God just doesn't matter to them at all! It will take another "reformation" to change that attitude. Pray for it!
On Monday, June 25, Kathy and I arrived in Prague, the capitol of the Czech Republic, to visit this last of the Eastern European cities we had planned to see. Our friends Jim and Laurie Barnes are playing host to us on this leg of the trip. They came to this city fifteen years ago to manage a Christian Book Store in an attempt to open up these very secular citizens to the claims of Christianity. All those years under Communism nearly destroyed the spirit of these people when it came to matters of religious faith. There are many great church buildings here and very few Christians. But according to Jim and Laurie things are slowly beginning to change. It's a strange journey, but the way it seems to work is that the farther each generation gets from an understanding of Christianity the more curious they seem to be of the old faith their families have deserted. And many seem to be in that "curious" stage at this time in their history so that they are open to hearing about Christian teachings.
We spent our first full day (Tuesday) exploring the great Prague Castle. Since the 9th Century it has been the seat of the central state and church. What makes it different from other castles all over Europe is that is now the official seat of the Czech president. In other words, it isn't just a museum piece from the past. This city is beautiful and goes back hundreds of years in its architecture. This city was almost completely untouched from the destruction of World War II and you see that continuity from the past everywhere. We have been in and out of cathedrals, basilicas, churches everywhere but the famous St. Vitus Cathedral, begun in 1344, is one of the most astounding structures in Europe, especially because of the magnificent stained glass windows everywhere. They are presently cleaning the blackened stone which has been stained mostly from the more modern age of air pollution. And you will see this cleaning going on in nearly all the great cathedrals throughout Europe.
Among the more interesting church buildings we have seen is one in the old city that looks like it sits right behind some modern buildings. It was one we wanted to go into so we walked around the buildings to find the entrance. To our amazement those newer buildings were built right up against the front of the church and you had to walk through the buildings to get to the front door. We could find no reference in the guide books about why such an unusual building technique was used. But we finally found a reference to the fact that this was the church in which Jan Huss, the great Czech reformer preached (he was the martyred reformer who inspired Martin Luther 100 years later when the Reformation actually began in earnest). The Habsburgs (traditional Catholics) built those buildings out of spite, since they opposed the reformation.
One other building of note: on the old town square sits a clock tower and the clock on the face of the tower is a most unusual one. It's a 15th century astronomical clock which shows not only the time but the phases of the sun and moon as they orbit around the earth (remember, these were the days when people believed in a geo-centric solar system). Among the other things this clock does is to open two windows and shows the 12 apostles parading by. Also, four figures on the clock represent vanity and greed (on the left) and death and lust (on the right). All of this is to remind us not to get too careless with time, for it is fleeting!
And so is our trip. We'll be home in just one week.
Salt carving of Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus fleeing to Egypt
This morning (June 24) we took another tour with "Cracow Tours" to the Salt Mines in town (by the way, there are several ways to spell the name of this town--all of which are acceptable and there are several ways to pronounce the name of this town--all of which are acceptable). The Salt Mines are not too far from where we are staying near the old city. They have been mining salt in this mine for over 700 years but today the place has become simply a tourist spot. What makes it so interesting for tourists is what the miners have done to the place over those centuries. Poles are a very devout people (90% are Catholic). And they have learned how to carve things out of solid slabs of salt. Among the things they have carved are statues of their leaders, scenes from their history and, most interesting of all, an underground cathedral. And on the walls of this cathedral they have carved scenes from the life of Christ (see above).
Following our tour of the Salt Mines we were brought back to our hotel and since it was only 1:30 PM we decided to take another tour--this time on foot (our favorite means of transportation), so we got out our map and found that they still have the old factory of Oscar Schindler over in the old Jewish ghetto area from World War II, less than two miles from our hotel. For those of you who have seen "Schindler's List," the movie Steven Spielberg made about Oscar Schindler who saved about 1,100 people from the gas chambers--part of it happened here in Krakow. When Oscar Schindler set up his enamelware fabrication factory he employed hundreds of Jews who were locked into a walled up area of town (the Jewish ghetto). In employing them as his workers he kept them from the gas chambers (where almost everybody went who were kept in the ghetto). They have made his old factory into a holocaust museum detailing the sufferings of the Jewish community in the Krakow ghetto. It is a wonderful use of this old building. It is, what must be for the citizens of Krakow, a very moving story of the sufferings of the citizens of the whole town, not just the Jews. The Nazis began the shooting war in Europe on September 1, 1939 when they set up their artillery opposite the city of Warsaw and nearly blew it off the map. The next day they marched into Poland and occupied the whole country. They began transporting every Jew they could find into controlled areas (called ghettoes) and eventually attempted to murder every Jew in Poland (and other countries too). That's why today the Jewish section of Krakow consists of only a few thousand Jews when originally it consisted of hundreds of thousands before 1939.
The truth of the matter is that although there were many like Oscar Schindler who attempted to save the Jews from extinction in Europe there were many more who just went with the flow and chose the easy route around their consciences and informed on the Jews and those who were hiding them. And that is why the last room in the Krakow museum (spoken above) has just two books in it--one, the book of "righteousness" and the other, the book of "shame." And their are many entries in each book with names, dates and places. Tell it like it really is they say.
Guard tower and barbed wire fence at Auschwitz
We came to the city of Krakow to see one thing: Auschwitz. Several years ago we saw the prison camp at Dachau, which was the first German prison camp built under Hitler's rule and served as the pattern for the rest of them. But Auschwitz-Birkenau is the most infamous prison camp of them all and has actually become a symbol of the Holocaust to the rest of the world. The reason it is referred to as Auschwitz-Birkenau is that they were located two miles apart and were linked administratively and ideologically. What happened is that Auschwitz I became a concentration camp and basically remained one and Auschwitz II (Birkenau) was built for one purpose: extermination. 80% of the people who came to Birkenau ended up in the gas chambers and ovens and the other 20% were assigned to work details. But unfortunately, even the 20% ended up in the ovens as more thousands of prisoners arrived and were recycled into the program. The scene you saw in the movie "Schindler's List" where the train pulled through the big gate and into the prison compound to unload the crying and fearful prisoners was actually Birkenau, not Auschwitz.
A former prisoner of war of the Nazis was asked if he still remembered anything from those times so long ago. He replied, "Remember them? I have spent my entire life trying to forget them!" Now the Poles have made sure no one forgets what happened here. They give you a very thorough tour of both of these camps and spare no words or descriptions to show their revulsion of what happened to their countrymen and many others from all over Europe. In some ways the camp grounds remind me of walking through a giant cathedral--you do so quietly and reverently, respecting the place you are in. This place is one giant cemetery. And everyone who walks on these grounds realizes the hallowed nature of this place. It is a very emotional experience for most of us. And they ask you to remember that, as you experience this for yourself, you may be standing next to someone who lost his whole family to these murderers.
For those of you who like to see justice served it might help to know that the Nazi SS commandant that commanded the German troops at Auschwitz was convicted of war crimes and brought back to the camp and hanged on a gallows in full view of the camp he had created. Not everything in life ends with such closure.
Tomorrow Kathy and I are planning a trip to the Salt Mines in K, and you might be surprised at what we have to show you from there.
Here is the dead end where we looked up and saw our hotel (Park Inn Radisson) just beyond the fence. Bud is returning to our car after getting directions on how to get over there in Polish!!!
We left Vienna around 9:30 am and arrived at our hotel in Krakow around 6 pm. We again were slowed down by road construction as we drove through Czech Republic and Poland. The roads that are not under construction are very good. We didn't expect them to be so good. It was a cloudy day, but no rain. We used our GPS only around big cities since it shuts down if it is left on too long. We saved it to help us find our hotel in Krakow. It worked fine mechanically and it led us to the right street, but "Jill" told us to turn left and the Radisson would be on our right. We were concentrating so hard on being in the correct lane to make the U shaped turn that we missed seeing our hotel which was on the right before the left U turn. We drove around and around. Kathy tried several things on the GPS, but still we couldn't see our hotel until we came to a street with a dead end. When we looked up to see how to turn the car around, there in front of us on the other side of this huge boulevard was our hotel. What a relief! Now the problem was how to get out of the dead end and across the boulevard. Bud stopped the car and saw a man standing up on the corner of the boulevard. There happened to be a staircase leading from where we were stopped at the dead end up to the boulevard above us. Bud went up to look around and asked the man how to get over to the Radisson. The man only spoke Polish, but with hand motions he showed Bud the route. We followed the man's directions and got back up on the boulevard. We honked and waved at the man and he waved back as we went by. God was answering our prayer for a straight path to our hotel! We are so grateful! This is only the second time that "Jill" has given us wrong directions, so we are going to "fire" her just yet! It was a very stressful 20 minutes as we went in circles. It was funny how God led us to the dead end where we had to look up and the hotel was right there in view! There's a good lesson in this for all of us! When you come to a dead end in life, look up and let God show you the way!
After we checked in, we walked about 25 minutes into old Krakow. We ate dinner on the big square, walked around the square, and met a couple with two small children from Australia. We took pictures for each other and chatted with them for a few minutes. We also needed to get some more Polish money so we can pay cash for some tours that are offered in English. We are going on a tour to Auschwitz tomorrow (Sat.). The bus picks us up and returns us to our hotel. This isn't how we usually do things, but the language barrier makes getting around a little more difficult. This is a 6 hour tour and includes a documentary film. It is all in English.
Thanks for all your prayers! God is answering every one of them.
Interior of Stephansdom (St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna)
Among the top attractions in Venice has got to be the Stephansdom (St. Stephen's Cathedral). It sits in the very center of the old city, dominates the skyline and has a tower that can be seen all over Vienna. It's cornerstone was laid in 1359 and it became one of the greatest examples of Gothic architecture in Europe. It survived some of the darkest days of Vienna's history from military threats to natural disasters but during the last days of World War II, in April of 1945, it caught fire when sparks from another fire ignited its roof. It contained one of the largest bells in the world in its north tower. In the fire it plummeted to the stone floor and broke into smithereens. 40% of the entire structure of the church was destroyed. It has since been rebuilt and the bell has been recast. It can be heard today all over Vienna. When we read that an organ concert would be held this week Kathy and I immediately got tickets. The church possesses a "giant" organ composed of four manuals, 125 registers and nearly 10,000 pipes (information given only for you pipe organ enthusiasts out there). The concert was on Wednesday evening and it was spectacular. The organist was Svetlana Berezhnaya, a Russian and a master of the keyboard. Neither of us are experts on organ technology but let me say that when she opened that instrument up it sent chills down our spines--the combination of a great instrument in a wonderful acoustical setting combined with great artistry and beautiful selections of music from Bach to several Russian composers made the event unforgettable.
We also took the opportunity to tour the Spanish Riding School which features the famous Lipizzaner stallions. Horse lovers all marvel at these exquisite animals. If you have ever seen them on TV or film you will remember them as being all white and ridden in an elegant style by well-trained horsemen (but now, after 400 years of tradition, we can no longer call them "horsemen." About six women are presently riding or in training. I'm sure THAT change did not come about easily!). As I mentioned, they are all white in performance but they weren't born that way. They are almost always born gray and as they mature they eventually turn white--most of them, that is. But as genetics would have it there are also some black and brown horses that come out of the breed that do not turn color. They hold on to these as "good luck charms," so says the tour guide.
Kid's Corner: Would you like to become a Chief Rider of a performing Lipizanner? You can start training when you are 16. They prefer you have no training in riding horses so that you don't bring any bad riding habits with you. You start as an "eleve" and work your way up to "Riding Candidate," then "Rider," then "Chief Rider." The top position is "First Chief Rider." This Rider is in charge of all the Riders and the performances. These men and women make this a life long career. The stage where the Lipizanners perform is a huge area that people say looks like a wedding cake. It is all white with very fancy decorations. When I saw it, that is exactly how it looks. We didn't get to see a performance because they only are held on weekends. I guess we'll have to come back again some time!
Der Staatsoper (Vienna Opera House)
We arrived in Vienna, Austria after a long drive from Venice, Italy. Central Austria is very green and beautiful with some very high mountains. The autobahn is always in excellent shape. When you drive the speed the Germans, Austrians and Italians drive you had better have some good pavement under you. Actually, I have never seen roads in such good shape. But since most of the good roads are toll roads I guess they have the money available to keep them in them in top condition.
We arrived in the big sprawling city of Vienna at rush hour so it was quite a chore trying to find our lodging place in a huge city we had never before visited. Fortunately, we had our GPS system up and running (we call her "Jill"). Without that we would have no idea how to find our goal--not even a good city map would be very helpful in such a complicated place. We found our hotel not far from the central city. It was actually a building with small apartments. We rented ours for four nights. It is very comfortable with a furnished kitchen, bathroom and a large bedroom with a couch, TV, twin beds and a large boudoir. The added plus was air conditioning--it is hotter than usual for this time of year and humid. Since we have our own kitchen we went shopping for supplies for breakfast. But we couldn't pass up a dinner of Wiener Schnitzel from a nearby deli that made only food dishes to go.
On Tuesday morning we set out on foot for the center of town--that's where all the famous old sites are to be found. We visited the Stephansdom (St. Stephen's Cathedral)--more about that tomorrow. We went on to the Staatsoper (the opera house). It's one of the most extravagant opera houses in the world and we took a tour through the entire building. Actually, Eric, our opera- singing son tried to find us tickets for a performance of the opera Don Carlo by Giuseppe Verdi which is playing while we are here but he couldn't find a seat under $100 per person and knew his tightwad dad wouldn't go for that. So the next best thing was the tour of the opera house. That was much cheaper and it was worth every penny of the price. Following that we got on a "hope on--hop off" tour bus that takes you around the central city. As its name suggests, you can get off at any point and see up close whatever you find interesting and then hop on another later bus and continue your tour. We've done that in several places in Europe and it's a great idea. We also walked--a lot! That's the cheapest way to see the city. But we didn't have to walk all the way back to our apartment because they have a wonderful subway system (Ubahn). Tomorrow we will use it again because we have tickets to see the famous Lipizzaner Spanish Riding School: the stables and behind the scenes places and equipment. We'll let you know how that turns out tomorrow.