Tuesday, May 31, 2005

SALZBURG: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Everywhere you go in Salzburg, at least in Old Town, Mozart (1756-1791) beckons you: to buy his chocolate Mozartkugeln (= Mozart balls!), ride his bus, buy his souvenirs, and listen to his music. For the natives, Salzburg is Mozart. Salzburg is NOT The Sound of Music to them, even though one in eight tourists is American and is probably there because of the movie (but that's another post).

Mozart was born on the fourth floor in this modest house (below left) on Getreidegasse No. 9, the most frequently visited place in the city (up to 5000 visitors every day in high season). His mother bore 7 children here, of which only two lived--Mozart and his sister, Nannerl, 5 years older (back to her in a minute). The Mozart Monument (below right) was inaugerated in 1842 and was attended by Mozart's 2 sons, Carl Thomas and Franz Xaver.

We couldn't resist a candlelight dinner-concert in Salzburg's magnificent Hohensalzburg Fortress on Sunday (another post for that castle alone!) to hear Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, one of his most famous works, along with some Haydn and Dvorak. The chamber concert was cozy for maybe 200 of us. As you can see, we were close enough, in the second row, to watch the great camaraderie amongst the 7 players. A night to remember forever. BTW, Mozart's given name on January 27, 1756, was Johannes Chrisostomus Wolfgangus Theophilius Mozart. Thank God they called the 1984 movie simply Amadeus, the name Mozart called himself from age 14 on! He died in 1791 at the young age of 35. Makes me want to see the movie again.

Now, a brief word about Mozart's sister, Maria Anna Walburga Ignatia Mozart, called Nannerl. She also was a composer and a pianist and played many duets with Amadeus in their touring years together. However, because of the place/role of women in that day, her performance life basically came to an end at 16 when she was of marriageable age. According to what we read in the Mozart museum, none of her compositions were kept. Since she, too, had been considered a Wonder-Child, it makes you ponder what her concerts would have been like!

I told Donica that while we're playing W.A. Mozart on earth, God is playing Nannerl Mozart in heaven! Sounds fair to me.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Spargel

White asparagus!

Just before we left for Germany in March, Donica's mom (who had lived in Germany years ago for 5 years with the Civil Service) told us to make sure we ate lots of spargel when it came in season.

It's in season now, from May to June, and we're eating it every chance we get! In fact, this is a picture of it on our train trip yesterday from Hannover-to Munich-to-Salzburg. I've even bought it in the grocery store twice and cooked it for us. It's bigger than green asparagus and has to be peeled. Kinda fun, especially for what you get out of it.

Had to share this food trivia since it has been such a nice, delectable surprise!

Friday, May 27, 2005

The Sound of Music

No sooner does one weekend come and go before another is at our doorstep! Man alive--tempest fugit!

Today we're off to Salzburg, Austria, days 7 and 8 of our Europass, and because Donica is taking the American holiday, Memorial Day, we have an extra day to relax while gadding about. Besides being the 1965 scenery for The Sound of Music movie, Salzburg is the 1756 birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. I never connected the two but now I wonder if there was any of Mozart's music in the movie? Hmmm. Trivia worth checking out. (Amy?)

It's gonna be hot, in the mid-80s! Even hotter than Hotlanta, according to weather.com! Even Hannover will be hotter, in the high 80s, before dropping to the low 60s on Monday with rain. Ay caramba. But then we are in Gemini, when spring moves into summer. So there you have it.

Because of the extra day this weekend, we're really gonna try to relax. We are reserved for a 4-hour Sound of Music bus/coach tour tomorrow afternoon, in Salzburg and its environs. But other than that, I think we'll just take things as they come. Spontaneously.

That really sounds like music to our ears!

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Yes, She Really Does Go To Work!

For two months now I have wanted to take you on the tram ride to see what it is that we both see whenever we ride to City Center (where the train station is) or when Donica goes to and from work. Finally! I took 2 hours today and rode the tram, getting on and off to take better pictures, just to do this show-n-tell. Solvay Pharmaceuticals, where Donica works, is familiar to almost everyone here in Hannover because it's a BIG company. And this is exactly what you see at the Clausewitzstrasse stop from the tram. This is the first stop from City Center after you come out from underground and thus is a good place to start the 10+ minutes to our stop for the long block to our apartment home.

There's a long stretch of business/commercial and apartment buildings, some of which are a combination of the two (our apartment building, for instance, has a realtor's office on the front ground level). There's at least one church, a school, a hospital, various shops (including ice cream!), and an assisted-living building under construction...most of which I've captured in the photo album.

The cozy, shady houses as we get closer to home blow me away. I stare at them every time I go by. They are obviously well-established and manicured and would fit in so perfectly in several areas of Atlanta. Or let's just say Atlanta would be impressed.

I have particularly enjoyed watching the trees and flowers bloom as we've been here throughout the spring. It was sad to miss Atlanta's spring, especially the dogwoods, but I've felt more than replenished by the beauty here. The family life is so wonderful, as evidenced by the bikes you see everywhere, for adults and kids alike. Sometimes it's clearly grandparents with their grandkids, going for ice cream, or just riding around. I love it and wish Atlanta were compact enough or neighborhood-friendly for bike-riding. (Sigh) Donica and I have actually talked about getting an old clunker for use whenever we're here.

After hearing the conductor say "Kaiser-Wilhelm Strasse," it's time to pay attention for the next stop, which is ours: Grosser Hillen. And there indeed you see that Donica really did go to work!

The Blind Leading the Blind

After several weeks here in Hannover and riding the tram almost every day, I continue to be amazed at how many blind travelers I see. They get on and off the tram by themselves; they walk across the streets and up and down the sidewalks, their long, white canes in front of them. By themselves.

One day Donica and I were in a neighborhood restaurant and saw two blind people come in together for take-out. Both had their walking canes and both were as nonchalant as any other two customers, including us. I watched them leave and cross the street together.

Perhaps just as surprisingly is how matter-of-fact and ho-hum this appears to be to the sighted Hannoverians. Everyone goes about their own business, not as insensitized bystanders but as true believers in the fully capable independence of their blind neighbors. If ever help/direction is given, it's the usual kindness expected of anyone: "There's an empty seat to your right (in German, of course)." And the response, "Danke!"

This triggered research for me (but of course!) and led me to this wonderful article on teaching blind persons cane travel...by a blind instructor. I'm appalled at the "constant discrimination" against blind instructors by sighted instructors and the lack of commensurate remuneration, in spite of the success of many blind independent travelers taught by blind instructors.

Talk about getting an education!

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

PRAGUE 4: Prague Castle

From Charles Bridge you look across the Vltava River to the west bank and see the Prague Castle with its massive St. Vitus's Cathedral smack-dab in the middle. The history of Prague actually begins with the Castle, founded in the 9th century, and includes a palace, gardens, 3 churches and a monastery. Since 1918 it has been the seat of the president of the Republic, complete with the Changing of the Guard every hour. But to start with, be advised that this is not a "castle" in the Scottish sense of castles from last posts. Today, after several rebuildings, it's more like an enclosed little Renaissance city/compound than a bulwark, even though some castle trappings still exist when you get up close and personal.

At the west end of Charles Bridge, you enter the Little Quarter through the Bridge Towers where Prague's second Church of St. Nicholas stands on the Square. This was where we took our tour break for lunch before tramming up the hill to the Castle. The Little Quarter was founded in 1257, built on the slopes of the Castle hill with magnificent views back across the river to Old Town. I'm guessing we didn't even scratch the surface of all that can be seen there!

Once at the Castle, our tour guide took us through the gardens and had us enter the courtyard at a side entrance rather than through the main gate. It afforded great views of the environs of the Castle before seeing the majestic St. Vitus's Cathedral. What a cathedral! Work began on it in 1344 by order of John of Luxembourg but wasn't completed until the 19th and 20th centuries. Besides housing the crown jewels, this is also where the tomb of "Good King" Wenceslas resides. As you'll see in my photos, if you take a look, the flying buttresses that surround the exterior of the nave and chancel, supporting the vaulted interior, are spectacularly decorated, just like the rest of the cathedral. The gargoyles, like at all the great cathedrals, protect from evil spirits and function as waterspouts.

What can I say about the interior of the Cathedral! Sometimes you feel like if you've seen one you've seen them all. That's true but it's not true. When I stand inside each one, it's its own story and history. Donica buys the books to help us remember what's distinctive about each one. I think of the amount of time and energy, let alone money, spent on building these edifices, and marvel. How can one comprehend it all, especially at a time when they didn't have the sophisticated technology we have today!

Before leaving the Castle to begin the long descent on the old Castle steps to the metro, as full of artists and vendors as at Charles Bridge, is Golden Lane. These picturesque artisans' cottages were built inside the castle wall in the late 16th century for the Castle's guards and gunners. Franz Kafka, as well as other well-known writers, lived there with his sister, in No. 22 (the blue cottage), for a few months in 1916-17.

And there you have it! Another "from here to there and back again" weekend excursion. Another memory to have and hold forever. Prague: The jewel of Bohemia.

PRAGUE 3: Jewish Quarter

Just north of Old Town and the Charles Bridge, on the eastern banks of the Vltava River, is the Jewish Quarter that was once a confined ghetto from the Middle Ages where Prague's Jews were obliged to live. For centuries they suffered from oppressive laws, like having to wear a yellow circle as a mark of shame. As a pretext for a massacre, Christians often accused them of starting fires and poisoning wells.

In the 1890s the city authorities razed the ghetto because the area's complete lack of sanitation made it a health hazzard. What was saved was this Jewish Town Hall from 1570 (above), several synagogues, and the Old Jewish Cemetery.

One of the synogogues, this Old-New Synagogue from 1270, is the oldest synagogue in Europe, surviving fires and massacres. Today it remains the religious center for Prague's Jews. A stone's throw from the synagogue is Europe's oldest surviving Jewish cemetery, barely the size of a football field, with its densely-packed gravestones. For 300 years, founded in 1478, this was the only burial ground permitted to Jews in Prague. People had to be buried on top of each other because of lack of space, up to 12 layers deep. Today over 12,000 gravestones represent an estimated 100,000 people thought to have been buried here, the last one being Moses Beck in 1787. The two most famous "residents" are kabala master and golem maker Rabbi Löew (died 1609), and financier Markus Mordechai Maisel (died 1601), who was banker to Emperor Rudolf II and was once one of the richest men in Europe.

I had originally assumed this cemetery was about the Holocaust and WWII. But no, sad to say, the prejudice goes back a lot farther than that! The Holocaust has been for ever!

You know by now how much I love cemeteries. So peaceful and calming to my frenzied spirit. This one, however, fits into a category all by itself. Though strangely "photogenic," (it was as though every stone beckoned me to take a "this do in remembrance of me" photo), it elicited a great blanket of sadness over me. Donica perceptively commented that the disarray and upheaval of the markers symbolically represent Jewish history throughout the ages. And as I reached out to touch a gravestone, my body wanted to heave in sobs.

Years ago as a teenager, I heard Dr. Bob Pierce from World Vision Int'l say, "Let my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God."

Let's just say this cemetery broke my heart and left it in upheaval and disarray, just as I'm sure it did Yahweh's years ago, and most assuredly still does today.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

PRAGUE 2: Old Town

Now we're talking! As in all these European cities, we do indeed head straight for the old City Center as quickly as possible. And as elsewhere, here are the Town Hall and Church prerequisites:

The 1338 TOWN HALL (below) is the main attraction of Old Town Square because of the astronomical clock (last post) that chimes on the hour and gives its little centerpiece show of the Apostles processing through the windows at the top, as seen in my photos.

There are two main CHURCHES in the town square. The one on the left (below) is the Church of St. Nicholas from 1735 and the one on the right is the Church of Our Lady before Tyn from 1365. Nicholas started out Protestant and Tyn started out Catholic (or the other way around--I'm so confused) but over the years switched because of all the history related to Jan Hus and the Hussites and the influence of John Wyclif during the Reformation. It's a dizzying history which is hard for me to follow but a good read for those of you who get it.

The other main attraction of Old Town is the 1357 CHARLES BRIDGE that takes you over the Vltava River to the Little Quarter and Prague Castle. Actually, Charles Bridge is part of Old Town and the Little Quarter by virtue of connecting the two sides and is considered Prague's most familiar monument. Today it is pedestrianized and most of the statues are copies of originals kept elsewhere. Because of the 30 statues, plus all the vendors midst the pedestrian traffic, I created a separate album for it alone. It's where Donica bought an art print for our collection from a Belarusian fugitive. As we left, he said, "Don't forget me and don't forget my country!"

One thing we definitely noticed over this weekend, at the end of May, was not only the heat (mid-high 70s) but the added number of tourists, more than we're used to. It's renewed our commitment to take our week's vactions in early spring and late fall!

But then again, who's complaining! We'll take Europe any which way it comes on a weekend.

PRAGUE 1: New Town

When I did my research on Prague last week before our trip, I found out there are four main sections of the city around which tours are devised: New Town, Old Town, Jewish Quarter and Prague Castle. So that's how I'm organizing this weekend!

Since we stayed in New Town, "one hundred steps away from Wenceslas Square" (according to our hotel's brochure), that's where I'll start. Come to think of it, our 4-hour "all-in-one" Insider Tour walk also started here at the square and followed the same route I'm taking, so I'm in good company. Wenceslas Square, which used to be the horse market, is New Town. At the top end, the National Museum, built in 1890, spreads its wings across the breadth of the square. That's a bit of a misnomer since it's not a square at all but is 825 yards long and 65 yards wide, lined with hotels, restaurants, clubs, and shops--the consumer side of the city (thus New?!).

In the shadow of the Museum, St. Wenceslas sits astride his steed since 1912, carefully watching over the street below. Too bad they're working on the statue (cleaning it?) because we're missing the Czech patron saints who stand with him on the pedestal below. Sadly, this is the the same "Good King" Wenceslas of our Christmas carol who was murdered by his brother in 935 (just one of many family feuds) and who was later canonized, becoming Bohemia's best-known patron saint. Interestingly, several countries have Christmas carols about Wenceslas but not the Czech Republic. (Is that like a prophet having no honor in his own country?) Well, at least they have a statue.

In my own time, 1969, the year I was married, a student, Jan Palach, burned himself to death here on the square in protest over Soviet occupation. There are at least 3 markers around the city bearing witness to this event, captured in my photos, so he made his mark, even if he didn't change history/politics at the time.

If you like the hustle and bustle of city life, you'll love New Town-slash-Wenceslas Square. You know me, though. I head straight for Old Town...next post!

Monday, May 23, 2005

The OMIGOD Prague Weekend!

Just as I suspected, the train ride into the Czech Republic was absolutely spectacular! At Dresden, Germany, before crossing the border, we picked up the Vltava River on our left side, all the way into Prague.

Where did those cliffs come from? And how far do they go? What castle is this and where in the Czech Republic? Perhaps a detailed map will someday tell me, but for now, I haven't a clue. I'm just delighted my camera captured them on a moving train!

These sights mesmerize me. I'm sure we have hundreds of places in America that astound Europeans, perhaps in the same way. The Grand Canyon, Arizona desert, New England shoreline, the Great Lakes, Colorado Rockies, California sequoias...to name a few. Do we take what we have for granted? Do the Europeans do likewise? I'm sure.

I've spent the entire day, it seems, organizing photos and making albums to put into my posts. It reminds me of chinese cooking: the prep time is longer than the actual cooking! And the albums are still publishing as we speak.

Time is everything right now, which is so appropriate. This astronomical clock on the side of the Old Town Hall is one of the main attractions in Prague. And yes, it tells time, even if it is an hour ahead/behind because of not calculating the time change. Guess they didn't worry about such things in 1490!

Assuming my albums are ready by tomorrow, I'll tell you about the appeal of this great European city, population of just over 1 million, covering 200 sq miles at its outer limits. This is Bohemia at its best.

Actually, I'll tell you whether my albums are ready or not! You know me!!

Friday, May 20, 2005

Off to Prague!

Formerly part of Czechoslovakia and landlocked in the middle of Europe, the Czech Republic is about the size of the state of New York. It gained total independence from the Soviets in 1993, splitting from Slovakia, and joined NATO in 1999 and the European Union in 2004. It lies south of Poland, the two countries sharing their borders with Germany's east side. (How's that for a short history, Amy! Don't worry--history doesn't do anything much for me either until I'm going there or am standing in it!)

Prague is the capital of the Czech Republic and that's where we're going this weekend, using days 5 and 6 of our Europass. We'll train first to Berlin, 1-1/2 hours east from Hannover, and then will connect with another train to Prague for the remaining 5 hours. It's a long trip but during daylight hours for scenery we've not yet seen. Besides of which, we love the European trains! It'll be worth it, I'm sure, both coming and going.

We can hardly stand it. They say Prague is a must-see city. Pinch me. Of course, it doesn't hurt that this is where Martina Navratilova was born in 1956. She's the Czech-American tennis player (defecting from then communist Czechoslovakia at age 18) who won nine Wimbledon women's singles championships, more singles titles than any other player. (I was going to add that she's many a lesbian's wet-dream, but that's probably WTMI!) Hmmm. Maybe hers will be my next biography?

Another bon voyage and I-love-you tip of the glass.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

A Sunday At Hannover's Lake

When we returned from Scotland on Saturday, 4/30, we had a rare next day, Sunday, free, here in Hannover. And what do Hannoverians do on Sunday, especially when the weather is unseasonally warm and sunny? They go to the lake!

I had read it in all my books: "Maschsee Lake has something for every taste: action, and tranquility, swimming and sailing, bicycle riding, walking and inline skating." But I had only seen it from the Town Hall cupola (4/15 post) when I walked the Red Thread (above photo). It seemed so far away.

What a nice surprise, then, to take Donica out to see some of the sights I wanted her to see, ending up behind Town Hall at the Masch pond, the bridge, park and then, voila, the lake! There it was, not far at all. And that's where we spent the rest of our day.

What a spectacular day! What a family day! What a lovers' day! What an R&R day (after a week of vacation)! The photos tell it all. Nicholas would have had a blast, especially on our little one-hour cruise around the lake.

To top it off, as we were leaving, scores of soccer fans were arriving for a Hannover soccer game (that we went home to watch on TV). The stadium angles off one corner of the lake. What a view! Notice the soccer scarves (it was in the 70s at 6p but I'm guessing the later evening was cool enough for them). Sports fans, I'm sure, are the same the world over. Donica was very tempted to see if we could buy tickets, just for the halibut...but decided getting sleep was more important for work the next day. Decisions, decisions.

Masch Lake or Maschsee Lake (see = lake, so adding lake is redundant) is artificial, BTW, "but what difference does that make," as one book says. (Yes, Susan, the water is still real--a family joke)!

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Can't Tell a Book By Its Cover

My friend, Peggy, has just down-sized herself from full-time to part-time status. So everytime I ask her what her hobbies are, I think maybe I'm going to hear a new one pop up. But, no, she always says the same thing: "I like reading biographies."

That got me thinking. The only biography I can remember reading was the audio version of Dolly Parton reading her own story (Dolly: My Life and Other Unfinished Business). It was a hoot, especially hearing it in her own distinct, childlike voice. But it was also very interesting. I found out, for instance, why she wrote Whitney Houston's cover of her song, "I Will Always Love You." I realized right then and there that you can never tell a book by its cover.

So I told Peggy I would really like to read Jane Fonda's autobiography, My Life So Far. All the reviews and articles I had read told me she was a woman I might want to know--not the same woman she was yesterday or years ago. Therefore, I chose her book for my long journey back to Hannover Sunday and Monday (24+ hours without the time change).

Oh my. I've only read the first 111 of 579 pages but can hardly wait to get back to it. What an amazing woman, I don't care what any Vietnam veteran says. She's honest, courageous, vulnerable, human, and finally coming into her own. Someone I want to be like. Definitely not a Monster-In-Law!

Thanks, Peggy, for whetting my appetite!

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

The Hart Family Cottage

There is always a way to get from here to there! And that's exactly what we found out at our family business meeting on Saturday in Michigan.

What could have been a contentious, frustrating environment, because of the complexity of what waits for us as we 6 sibs face retirement, ended up being a gracious, enlightening, inspiring time. We all had new eyes, as it were, to see outside the box. It was actually very cool and we all felt it. I liked part of Ruth's quote from Rumi in her report: The soul: a wide listening sky with thousands of candles....

As Ruth says, we're in that "upside down" time when our kids need to put money where their mouth is in order to keep what we all value. Reminds me of senior citizens who once parented their children and now are "parented" by them.

Anyway, we are now ready to have a Hart Cottage Association of close to 50 members, 18 years and older, who will run and fund the cottage instead of just 6 sibs. That assumes a buy-in from the members involved, of course, but talk about taking the weight off our shoulders!

We love this place and will fight for it. Our kids (and grandkids!) love it, too, and will fight for it as well. There really is always a way to get from here to there!