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Cullman, Alabama, about fifty miles north of here, was founded by Germans. A brief history: 

Cullman was founded by Col. Johann Gottfried Cullmann, a German refugee from Frankweiler (which was then Bavaria) who came to America in 1866. While working at a bookstore in Cincinnati, Ohio, he began formulating ideas of a special colony of working people – specifically a place for immigrants from countries such as his native Germany. He read about the vast unsettled lands in the South, and bought passage on a boat to Florence, Alabama. There he met with Governor Patton and presented his idea. The Governor furnished men and horses for him to explore available lands in North Alabama.

He finally met with Lewis Fink, the land agent for the great South-North Railroad (later the L&N), which had just built a line through the wilderness from Decatur to Montgomery, After a careful survey, he contracted with the railroad for 349,000 acres with the stipulation that Col. Cullmann would pay for all advertising of the land and other expenses incurred in bringing the desired immigrants to the area. Col. Cullmann found the area to be perfect for his dream colony.

Cullmann then went back north and began to advertise for colonists. In April of 1873, the first five families came by train to the spot where Cullman now stands. Each was allotted a plot of ground. The colony quickly grew, with American citizens and German immigrants moving to the area.

Not long after, German Benedictines came and founded an abbey – St. Bernard’s. I’ve mentioned the famed “Ave Maria Grotto”several times – if you’ve traveled on I-65, you’ve seen the billboards. Trust me – it’s not a cheesy roadside attraction – it’s well worth your time!

The history of Saint Bernard Abbey is a rich one. In the 1840s monks from Metten Abbey in Germany, a monastery founded c. 700 A.D., came to America to plant the Benedictine monastic life in the United States and to minister to the growing German-speaking immigrant population. St. Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, became the first foundation, and in the 1870s monks from St. Vincent were sent to Alabama to serve the needs of German Catholics here. In 1891 those monks gathered to establish St. Bernard Abbey in Cullman, Alabama. One year later, 1892, a school was opened at the new abbey.

The town continues to celebrate its German heritage, although for most of its history, the county was bone-dry. I think the county still is, but a few years ago, the city of Cullman voted to allow alcohol sales, which meant for the first time in its history, the town’s Oktoberfest could serve…beer. 

There are other dry counties in Alabama (some with “wet” towns in them, making them “moist”), but I always wondered if the persistence of Cullman county’s anti-alcohol laws was rooted in anti-German/immigrant/Catholic/Lutheran sentiments….

Anyway.

As part of the town’s Christmas celebration this year, they brought in some Germans from Germany to construct an enormous Christmas pyramid! We dashed up there to see it on Saturday, and here are some images – note, if you can, the different themes for each level. It’s lovely! More (in German) on the construction here. 

Here’s the website of the company that constructed it – and makes them on a smaller scale!

And if you head to my Instagram page, you can see video. 

(Our humble not-really-a-pyramid from Germany presented for contrast)

 

 

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This is a repost from last year. Still worth a read, I believe. 

 

In addition to the woman-and-the-Reformation specific material I’ve been reading, I’ve also been looking at a few books that cover the Reformation in general. Since today is the day the Reformation is in the news, I thought I’d talk about them a bit.

First, Carlos Eire’s massive Reformations.  Some of you might know Eire as the author of two affecting memoirs, including Waiting for Snow in Havana.  His day job is that of historian, being a professor of history and religious studies at Yale.

Reformations EireReformations is aptly titled, for as Eire points out, there is no single “Reformation” with a single source and direction, but rather a number of movements that erupted in the same era.

It’s a survey, yes, but it’s worth a look for a couple of reasons. First, history cannot be apprehended as an objective entity in the present. History is a story and is always remembered and told from a point of view. I am interested in Eire’s point of view, so I’m going to read his book on this topic.

Secondly, history may explore events that happened long ago, but we in the present are continually discovering new information that shifts or even radically changes our understanding of those events. History is also written with varied resources and methodologies. Forgotten or newly embraced methodologies shed new light on old narratives.

So it is with the Protestant Reformation. It’s helpful to periodically take stock and reevaluate this  set of events so complex and usually narrated from such entrenched, specific perspectives.

I’ve only read through the Luther material in the Eire book, but I do intend to finish it if I can renew it from the library enough times (700+ pages of text). If you are at all familiar with the basics, you might be skimming parts, but Eire does highlight some elements with which I was not familiar, primarily those related to Catholic life on the Continent before the Reformation, and particularly reform movements within Catholicism that sought to strengthen Catholicism, rather than break it apart – and succeeded, especially those in Spain. Very interesting.

The material on Luther himself provides not much new to me and draws on standard sources (Bainton, for example) with surprising frequency, but what the general reader might find most illuminating is, indeed, the juxtaposition of the pre-Reformation material with Luther. Given the liveliness, breadth, depth and seriousness of Catholic reform happening in Europe pre-1517, it makes it all the more tragic that the particular, peculiar and narrow theological stylings of one individual gained so much traction and came to dominate and shatter the landscape.

Brand Luther is a very interesting book that offers one angle on how that happened. Historian Andrew Pettegree surveys the Lutheran movement in great detail, but through the particular prism of the history of printing.

Even if you only have the vaguest familiarity with Luther, you probably associate his movement with the still relatively new technology of moveable type. Pettegree explores that relationship in great depth, making clear that this association was no accident. Brand LutherLuther came from a craft/business family background and knew what he was doing. He was quite particular about how his work was presented, knew that this was a powerful tool, and was deeply involved in making his work attractive, easy to read and accessible. And the printers loved him, of course – well, those of whom he approved that is. Luther and his controversies were a boon for the printing industry, and the particular political and economic arrangements of Germany only helped deepen the bond. In most other areas of Europe, printing was centrally controlled by stronger central governments. The political patchwork that was “Germany” meant that even if your local Duke had more Catholic sympathies and refused printers permission from printing Luther’s works, the neighboring duchy which was going all in could flood the area with Luther’s tracts nonetheless.

An interesting side point. Luther’s works were immensely popular and millions were printed and sold over just the span of a few years. His theological and political arguments, his Bible translations, his catechisms and his works for the laity were the bread and butter of German printers for decades. One gets the impression from histories of the Luther movement that the Catholic response to all of this was characterized by not much more than ineptitude and short-sightedness. There may have been some of that, but what stands out from Brand Luther is the sheer marketing force and ingenuity that Luther exerted. He saw right away that if his cause was to succeed and if his life was to be preserved, he had to take this beyond academic circles to the popular arena. Therefore, he wrote in German rather than only in Latin, and he wrote works specifically directed at laypeople. This is what the Catholic side could not or would not understand.  And, to come back around the printers – Pettegree points out that it got to a point at which Catholic writers had plenty of responses to Luther ready to roll, but printers were uninterested in taking them on because they didn’t sell.

As I was reading Brand Luther,  I toyed with a slightly different take on this early period of the Reformation and the fire it spread – and so quickly- through German lands at the time. There are countless reasons for this wildfire: the authentic appeal of Luther’s ideas of “freedom” from Roman Catholic religious ritual and spiritual sensibilities, real, scandalous and problematic Catholic corruption, the support of secular rulers, disdain of Rome as a foreign power, and the new technology. It’s all there. But what struck me in the reading was, honestly, the titillating, profitable appeal of scandal and taboo-breaking. When I read Luther’s best-selling bold, cocky, profane and dismissive invectives against almost every aspect of Catholic life that every person reading him would have grown up knowing and holding as sacred, and contemplate the violent, scatological images of clergy and religious practices that were printed and distributed by the thousands,  it doesn’t seem like a culture in which there is calm-truth seeking happening. It feels frantic, taboo-shattering, dam-bursting and addictively scandalous. And that, as we know, will always, always sell.

(By the way – this is being posted in the leadup to October 31 – “Reformation Day” – the day Luther supposedly nailed his 95 Theses on the Wittenburg church door. The 500th anniversary, no less. Both Eire and Pettegree point out that there is little evidence that such an event happened on that date, or even happened at all, at least to any fanfare or notice. FYI.)

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Pope Emeritus Benedict’s birthday is this coming Sunday..if you’d like an simple, free introduction to his thought, take a look at the book I wrote a few years ago, now out of print, but available in a pdf version at no cost. Did I mention, “free?”

Here. 

Pope Benedict 90th birthday

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— 1 —

Well, if you are a Catholic, it’s a bonanza kind of day. It’s First Friday and it’s the first Friday of Lent. Both of the sons I have at home right now go to Catholic schools – one elementary and one secondary – and both will be having Adoration and Stations of the Cross on Friday at school. So tonight, we had a brief talk about how that’s a lot of praying, and a great opportunity to pray for a lot of people.

 

— 2 —

It’s also the memorial of St. Katharine Drexel. I wrote about her in the Loyola Kids Book of Saints:

"amy welborn"

"amy welborn"

— 3 —

Currently reading:

Barchester Towers

The Unbanking of America

The Astronomer and the Witch. 

— 4 —

The first because I’m on a Trollope kick, and I have to say that I can see why readers pick Barchester Towers as their favorite. It is tight and lively, and not quite the discursive experience as other recent Trollopes I have read like Miss MacKenzie and Rachel Ray.  The characters are quite a bit more vivid and the humor more pronounced. Really, the Stanhope clan and Obadiah Slope are terrific creations.

I had assumed there was a BBC adaptation, so I went in search of one and found that indeed there was – a combined production of The Warden and Barchester Towers featuring lots of familiar faces including, quite memorably, the late, great Alan Rickman as Slope, in his first major television role. It’s hard to think of a more perfect match of actor and role.

I’ve watched bits and pieces, mostly to see Rickman as well as satisfy my curiosity about how the Stanhopes – the family of an Anglican vicar who’ve been living in northern Italy because  the vicar caught a cold of some sort and needed a bit of a rest cure. Twelve years later, they’ve been called back by the new bishop, and between them, Slope, the new bishop and his wife and a host of other characters, sparks are certainly flying, plans are being hatched – and sabotaged. The television adaptation is mildly entertaining, and it’s always fun to see how a good character translates from page to screen, but in this case, reading the book is a far more satisfying experience. The television adaptation can barely skim the surface, and at times does get things wrong.

In the novel, Slope and his sometime ally and sometimes enemy Mrs. Proudie, the bishop’s wife, are presented as adherents of the plain, more evangelical wing of the Church of England, people who are appalled that the trains run on the Sabbath and are unimpressed by chanting and other forms of music in the liturgy. In television terms, this gets translated into a kind of rationalism – Slope’s initial sermon, which causes scandal because he takes a stand against high church liturgy – becomes a paean of sorts to rationalism.

So, as I said, I’ve skipped around a couple of episodes, but enjoy the book much more.

— 5 —.

The Unbanking of America?  I read an interview with the author at Reason, the libertarian website, and was intrigued, as I always am, by the thought of someone who presents ideas that are opposed to Conventional Wisdom. I won’t rehash her arguments – simply know that the author is an economist who spent a few months working at both a check-cashing business and payday-loan business, and found that they fill a gap in the financial lives of many that banks just don’t anymore.  It’s like a long Atlantic Monthly or New Yorker article that you can knock off in a couple of hours, and I always enjoy that – grow my brain a bit without too much commitment, and thanks.

— 6 —

Did you know Johannas Kepler’s mother was tried as a witch? I didn’t, and this book is the story of that set of events – as well as a fascinating look at, of course, Kepler himself, and the very lively intellectual world of early 17th century Germany.  I’m just about halfway through and will talk more about it when I finish, but really, if you are even talking to someone who’s all about separating science and religion and who wants to tell you about that glorious time when scientists like Kepler finally busted the superstitious Age of Faith apart, invite them to consider what Kepler (and others) was really about – how he was a profoundly religious man who was all about discovering more about God via studying his Creation.

Oh, and about the witch business – it happened when Kepler was an adult, after he had started producing important scientific work, and when the accusations came to his attention, he rearranged his life to travel back home and work in his mother’s defense.

— 7 —

I was clued into this via, of course In Our Time, which had an excellent program on Kepler which featured the author of the Astronomer book as one of the guests.

Other recent listens have been programs on:

Parasitism – good, but not fascinating.

The Gin Craze – fantastic social history. 

And, just yesterday, a great program on Harriet Martineau, the 19th century British writer. If you listen to any of these programs – try this one first.

Just one note about Martineau. She was a prolific writer, primarily of descriptive and analytical essays reflecting her views on political philosophy and economics. I think it’s accurate to describe her as an early sociologist of sorts.Indeed, she spent two years in the United State and wrote about it – books of which I was vaguely aware, but now have put on the (very long) list.

What might interest you is Martineau’s conflict with Charles Dickens.

She had written for Dickens’ journal called Household Words, but over time, differences between the two developed. Martineau, a devotee of Adam Smith and Malthus, felt that Dickens’ view of what we’d now call the impact of the Industrial Revolution was simplistic, sentimental and uninformed by a coherent political philosophy. She didn’t appreciate his views on women and she was offended by his personal life.

But what caused the final split was Dickens’ anti-Catholicism.

Martineau herself was a strong, unwavering Unitarian, but in 1854, she was surprised that story she had written for Dickens, a story about the sacrifices of a Jesuit missionary, was rejected. As she wrote in her autobiography (written when she thought she was dying…but then she lived for twenty more years, and it ended up, indeed being published after her death.)

Some weeks afterwards, my friends told me, with renewed praises of the story, that they mourned the impossibility of publishing it, — Mrs. Wills said, because the public would say that Mr. Dickens was turning Catholic; and Mr. Wills and Mr. Dickens, because they never would publish any thing, fact or fiction, which gave a favourable view of any one under the influence of the Catholic faith. This appeared to me so incredible that Mr. Dickens gave me his “ground” three times over, with all possible distinctness, lest there should be any mistake: — he would print nothing which could possibly dispose any mind whatever in favour of Romanism, even by the example of real good men. In vain I asked him whether he really meant to ignore all the good men who had lived from the Christian era to three centuries ago: and in vain I pointed out that Père d’Estélan was a hero as a man, and not as a Jesuit, at a date and in a region where Romanism was the only Christianity. Mr. Dickens would ignore, in any publication of his, all good catholics; and insisted that Père d’Estélan was what he was as a Jesuit and not as a man; — which was, as I told him, the greatest eulogium I had ever heard passed upon Jesuitism. I told him that his way of going to work, — suppressing facts advantageous to the Catholics, — was the very way to rouse all fair minds in their defence; and that I had never before felt so disposed to make popularly known all historical facts in their favour. — I hope I need not add that the editors never for a moment supposed that my remonstrance had any connexion with the story in question being written by me. They knew me too well to suppose that such a trifle as my personal interest in the acceptance or rejection of the story had any thing to do with my final declaration that my confidence and comfort in regard to “Household Words” were gone, and that I could never again write fiction for them, nor any thing in which principle or feeling were concerned. Mr. Dickens hoped I should [94] “think better of it;” and this proof of utter insensibility to the nature of the difficulty, and his and his partner’s hint that the real illiberality lay in not admitting that they were doing their duty in keeping Catholic good deeds out of the sight of the public, showed me that the case was hopeless. To a descendant of Huguenots, such total darkness of conscience on the morality of opinion is difficult to believe in when it is before one’s very eyes.

Even worse, at some point later, was the publication in Household Words, of a rabidly anti-Catholic, scandal-mongering piece of fiction called The Yellow Mask. 

The last thing I am likely to do is to write for an anti-catholic publication; and least of all when it is anti-catholic on the sly.

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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In addition to the woman-and-the-Reformation specific material I’ve been reading, I’ve also been looking at a few books that cover the Reformation in general. Since today is the day the Reformation is in the news, I thought I’d talk about them a bit.

First, Carlos Eire’s massive Reformations.  Some of you might know Eire as the author of two affecting memoirs, including Waiting for Snow in Havana.  His day job is that of historian, being a professor of history and religious studies at Yale.

Reformations EireReformations is aptly titled, for as Eire points out, there is no single “Reformation” with a single source and direction, but rather a number of movements that erupted in the same era.

It’s a survey, yes, but it’s worth a look for a couple of reasons. First, history cannot be apprehended as an objective entity in the present. History is a story and is always remembered and told from a point of view. I am interested in Eire’s point of view, so I’m going to read his book on this topic.

Secondly, history may explore events that happened long ago, but we in the present are continually discovering new information that shifts or even radically changes our understanding of those events. History is also written with varied resources and methodologies. Forgotten or newly embraced methodologies shed new light on old narratives.

So it is with the Protestant Reformation. It’s helpful to periodically take stock and reevaluate this  set of events so complex and usually narrated from such entrenched, specific perspectives.

I’ve only read through the Luther material in the Eire book, but I do intend to finish it if I can renew it from the library enough times (700+ pages of text). If you are at all familiar with the basics, you might be skimming parts, but Eire does highlight some elements with which I was not familiar, primarily those related to Catholic life on the Continent before the Reformation, and particularly reform movements within Catholicism that sought to strengthen Catholicism, rather than break it apart – and succeeded, especially those in Spain. Very interesting.

The material on Luther himself provides not much new to me and draws on standard sources (Bainton, for example) with surprising frequency, but what the general reader might find most illuminating is, indeed, the juxtaposition of the pre-Reformation material with Luther. Given the liveliness, breadth, depth and seriousness of Catholic reform happening in Europe pre-1517, it makes it all the more tragic that the particular, peculiar and narrow theological stylings of one individual gained so much traction and came to dominate and shatter the landscape.

Brand Luther is a very interesting book that offers one angle on how that happened. Historian Andrew Pettegree surveys the Lutheran movement in great detail, but through the particular prism of the history of printing.

Even if you only have the vaguest familiarity with Luther, you probably associate his movement with the still relatively new technology of moveable type. Pettegree explores that relationship in great depth, making clear that this association was no accident. Brand LutherLuther came from a craft/business family background and knew what he was doing. He was quite particular about how his work was presented, knew that this was a powerful tool, and was deeply involved in making his work attractive, easy to read and accessible. And the printers loved him, of course – well, those of whom he approved that is. Luther and his controversies were a boon for the printing industry, and the particular political and economic arrangements of Germany only helped deepen the bond. In most other areas of Europe, printing was centrally controlled by stronger central governments. The political patchwork that was “Germany” meant that even if your local Duke had more Catholic sympathies and refused printers permission from printing Luther’s works, the neighboring duchy which was going all in could flood the area with Luther’s tracts nonetheless.

An interesting side point. Luther’s works were immensely popular and millions were printed and sold over just the span of a few years. His theological and political arguments, his Bible translations, his catechisms and his works for the laity were the bread and butter of German printers for decades. One gets the impression from histories of the Luther movement that the Catholic response to all of this was characterized by not much more than ineptitude and short-sightedness. There may have been some of that, but what stands out from Brand Luther is the sheer marketing force and ingenuity that Luther exerted. He saw right away that if his cause was to succeed and if his life was to be preserved, he had to take this beyond academic circles to the popular arena. Therefore, he wrote in German rather than only in Latin, and he wrote works specifically directed at laypeople. This is what the Catholic side could not or would not understand.  And, to come back around the printers – Pettegree points out that it got to a point at which Catholic writers had plenty of responses to Luther ready to roll, but printers were uninterested in taking them on because they didn’t sell.

As I was reading Brand Luther,  I toyed with a slightly different take on this early period of the Reformation and the fire it spread – and so quickly- through German lands at the time. There are countless reasons for this wildfire: the authentic appeal of Luther’s ideas of “freedom” from Roman Catholic religious ritual and spiritual sensibilities, real, scandalous and problematic Catholic corruption, the support of secular rulers, disdain of Rome as a foreign power, and the new technology. It’s all there. But what struck me in the reading was, honestly, the titillating, profitable appeal of scandal and taboo-breaking. When I read Luther’s best-selling bold, cocky, profane and dismissive invectives against almost every aspect of Catholic life that every person reading him would have grown up knowing and holding as sacred, and contemplate the violent, scatological images of clergy and religious practices that were printed and distributed by the thousands,  it doesn’t seem like a culture in which there is calm-truth seeking happening. It feels frantic, taboo-shattering, dam-bursting and addictively scandalous. And that, as we know, will always, always sell.

(By the way – this is being posted on October 31 – “Reformation Day” – the day Luther supposedly nailed his 95 Theses on the Wittenburg church door. both Eire and Pettegree point out that there is little evidence that such an event happened on that date, or even happened at all, at least to any fanfare or notice. FYI.)

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Welcome Catholic Herald readers!

For those of you interested in pursuing the question of the impact of the Protestant Reformation on women, there is a wealth of resources.

As I said in the article, the weight of scholarly opinion now tilts to the view that the impact of the Reformation on women was largely negative. Any “gains” from an increased respect for the vocation of marriage (which was not, of course disrespected in Catholicism anyway!) and an emphasis on literacy (for Bible-reading) were outweighed by the constriction of woman’s proper sphere to the domestic and the stripping of the feminine from the spiritual realm. I am in the process of writing another, longer and perhaps even more heated article on this subject that will be appearing in another online venue next week or the following, so look for that.

Here are just a few resources you might find interesting. They treat not only the specific issue of the Protestant Reformation’s impact on women, but also women in pre-Reformation Europe as well as women in the context of early modern, or “Counter-Reformation” Catholicism.

Don’t be put off by the thought of reading a scholarly, academic book on this subject. Those that I’ve highlighted here are well written and completely accessible to the non-scholar. They tell intriguing stories, the reading of which will illuminate not only the past, but the present as well.

Note that these works are not by Catholic apologists, but rather by historians and even Lutheran theologians.

Nails in the Wall: Catholic Nuns in Reformation Germany looks specifically at the experience of "amy welborn"religious women in Strasbourg. Historian Amy Leonard expertly establishes context and writes very well. What I particularly appreciated about Leonard’s work is her fair-mindedness. She gives individuals the benefit of the doubt and trusts them in their own account of their actions. That is to say, when a Dominican nun expresses deep faith, Leonard doesn’t inform us that there must be more to it than what the woman is saying, and it is probably sexual. I would say if you’re interested enough in this topic to want to read one book – this is a great one.

Women and the Reformation contains very helpful introductory chapters on Catholic and Protestant women, then tells the stories of several of them.

The Holy Household: Women and Morals in Reformation Augsburg by Lyndal Roper is a bit more technical in thesis than the others. Roper is arguing a point about the role of the guilds in shaping Reformation notions of gender and domesticity, and therefore, she suggests, the shape and direction of the movement itself. You may not have deep interest in that particular argument, but Roper’s examination of women and the Reformation in Augsburg can be appreciated even outside the context of her thesis.

Women and the Counter Reformation in Early Modern Munster.  Interesting in a lot of respects, including Laqua-O’Donnell’s use of women’s wills to explore their spiritual priorities.

Devout Laywomen in the Early Modern World is an anthology edited by Alison Weber. The articles deal mostly with what we would call post-Reformation issues, but of course most of the time the scholars must consider the Reformation in establishing context. I am still working my way through this excellent collection, but one of the more striking articles so far has been “Nursing as Vocation or Profession? Women’s Status and the Meaning of Healing in Early Modern France and England” in which historian Susan Dinan compares nursing in both countries post-Reformation and finds that the forced collapse of women’s religious life in England was detrimental to nursing as a profession, health care in general and women’s role in it. “Devout laywomen did important work inn France serving the sick and poor. They were trained as professionals, usually lived in supportive communities, and did valued work in their towns and villages. Their liminal status between nuns and wives offered them a place that women in Protestant nations did not have…”

A Companion to the Reformation  has helpful articles reflecting newer scholarship.

I’ve been reading a number of scholarly articles – as many as I can with the limitations of access – about various aspects of the period. For example, this article on the controversy over declaring Teresa of Avila a co-patron of Spain got me thinking about the role of authoritative female figures in the spiritual and social landscape.

More to come. It’s a fascinating subject, and a good entry point for thinking about the realities and mythologies of the Protestant Reformation.

 

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Time flies so quickly, doesn’t it?  Two weeks ago, I was getting ready for us to travel to Germany.  A week ago, I was in Germany, getting ready to leave, and now, here I am.

Traveling – hours and hours on the plane, the stress of making connections – gives us plenty to complain about, but I confess when I am in the midst of it, I try hard not to do so.  I’m still so bowled over by the reality of waking up on one side of the ocean and going to sleep on the other that in my soul, I really don’t think I have the right to complain (much) about an inconvenience here or there.

(And there were a couple…the lesson is, I suppose, with all of these code-shared flights now, just make sure, if there are changes made, that they are made across the board. What happened, in short, was that a couple of weeks before we left, I noticed that our final Atlanta-Birmingham leg had been changed.What? Why? I don’t know, but it had been changed so that we would be sitting in the Atlanta airport for SIX HOURS waiting to connect to come home. The original flight still existed and there were seats, but we weren’t on it anymore. Weird. . So I called Air France – which was where the communication on which I’d noted this change had come from – and it was changed back.  The customer service rep had no idea why my original reservation had been changed, and worked hard to fix it. All was well until we arrived at the Munich airport last Sunday.  I guess…we weren’t on the plane.  We were but we weren’t? I never really understood. For a few minutes it was iffy, but I wasn’t worried because, well, I knew we’d get home eventually, and if it was later…oh well.  I was curious as to why it happened though, and the explanation I got was that since the change had been made with Air France, it hadn’t gotten into the Delta or KLM system. That seems….odd. What are you supposed to do, call all three every time you need to make a change? Anyway, it worked out, and we got home just fine.)

Random notes:

  • The weather was great.  I had anticipated being frozen, and indeed, had inquired of a skiing friend here  about the possibility of borrowing some of her outerwear.  I’m glad I didn’t end up doing so, for in the end, what we had was more than adequate.  I stepped off the train in Garmisch, expecting to shiver, but the fact was, I had to take my coat off.  Immediately. The highs were in the 50’s every day we were there except for the last one, it never rained, – and yes, we froze in Munich, but again…we were in Munich!  And we could go inside when we needed to! No complaints.
  • I have never been a fan of German food.  I don’t hate it, but nor do I love it, and I wasn’t particularly looking forward to the food part of the trip, and, as usual, I wondered how the boys would deal.  Well, I should have remembered that every country seems to have its version of the “pounded, breaded and fried cutlet” so yes, it was Schnitzel almost every meal for them, and that was fine.  For our sit-down dinners, I ended up with an excellent pork roast once, a great salad one night and that lovely Turkish meal.  The other nights we ended up snacking on cured meats and cheeses, for the most part.  I had a good goulash soup for lunch in Oberammergau and for our first meal, my daughter took us to her favorite doner kebab shop in Garmisch.  At other meals, the boys had brats or pizza.  But seriously – schnitzel in Germany, chicken Milanese in Italy….they even unearthed it on a menu in this seafood place in Progreso, Mexico earlier this year – and loved it so much, they ordered seconds. (That was a crazy meal.  It was the best food we had in Mexico, and it was fantastic, and it was a lot, and I paid 14 bucks for it all.)
  • I have no background in the German language at all, and was mildly irritated by the fact that I couldn’t look at signs and such and sort out the meaning, as I generally can with Romance languages.  It’s just a whole lot of consonants to me.  Oh, I know, it makes sense.  Someone explained the logic of German to me – words are just added to in order to make new words? Or something?  I will say, though, that all those amusing videos about the purported harshness of German seem to me to be rather unfair now –  hearing it spoken all around me for a week, it came across as much gentler than I expected.
  • All the public transportation ran like clockwork.  We rode buses all around Garmisch – had a free traveler’s pass – and trains from Munich and back, and a train to Innsbruck. My daughter says it’s so prompt that if a bus or train is, by some chance, late, she gets worried that someone died.

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Well, we’re back, and already super busy, so a quick wrap-up.

Saturday morning, we all (including my daughter) took the train up to Munich.  We’d be flying out on Sunday morning, she’d go back to her home in the south at the same time.

We arrived in Munich about 10:30, found our hotel, checked our bags, and set out into the very cold Munich morning. That day was the coldest we’d experienced – including our time on the Zugspitze, it felt at times. I didn’t have big plans for the day, which is good, since it was so cold, our program  quickly evolved into: Walk in one direction, duck into a warm place, venture out again, walk…find warmth. Now. 

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What did we see?  The lovely architecture of the very clean city of Munich. Mobs of people.  By early evening, the streets were more crowded and challenging to navigate than Times Square.

The New Town Hall – with the glockenspiel wedding feast revolving at noon, and then carolers at 5:30.

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Christkindl markets everywhere. More sausages, schnitzel and gluhwein.

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The Medieval Market:

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We eventually found our way to the Alte Pinkothek Museum, much of which was under renovation, but the open sections of which had some wonderful works of late Medieval and Renaissance art. It was warm, too.

The major task after that was to find Mass.  We would be leaving too early in the morning to go on Sunday, and I really didn’t want to wait until Birmingham at 6pm to go. I had attempted to find Saturday evening Masses in Munich before we left, but without real conviction, since I didn’t know the city and didn’t know where we’d be in the early evening.  I just rested my hopes on the fact that there are lots of Catholic churches in Munich, and the odds are that we’d be near one or two of them around 5 or 6 o’clock.

And we were – St. Peter’s Church, the oldest parish in Munich. 

Mass celebrated ad orientem, Communion at the altar rail – some received kneeling, others standing.  The music was marvelous.  A male schola sang, mostly a cappella. There was little chant and no Latin, but the music was solid, substantive German liturgical music. It just shows, I supposed, what “inculturation” can mean when there’s, you know, an actual culture to build on.

We got some pizza for the boys, and then headed back to the hotel.  My daughter and I would eat at the Thai restaurant I said I’d seen across the street from the hotel. What? No German food? Well….I’d been eating German food all week.  My daughter lives in Germany. I figured she’d appreciate a change, and she agreed.

Trouble was….it wasn’t a Thai restaurant I’d seen.  It was a Thai grocery.  

So now, at 8:40 pm, we are faced with the task of finding an open restaurant outside the city center. Not as easy as it sounds in Munich.  We walked down one street, then another, found a couple of Italian restaurants which didn’t interest us, passed another small Christkindl market, saw a McDonald’s in the distance, shuddered, and then, in the nick of time, found a tiny little Turkish restaurant called TuDoRa…and it was great. 

Marvelous server. Other customers who greeted each other warmly with hugs and great shouts of joy. A fellow who picked the lute on display off the wall and started to play.

The menu was in Turkish, so I asked the waitress to recommend something.  She asked me if I preferred meat or vegetables, and I said the latter,so she brought me a lovely plate of grilled and wrapped things, brought my daughter falafel,and it was all quite wonderful – one of the best meals I had in Germany.

…..

We got ourselves up the next morning, arrived at the airport in plenty of time, took off at 9:45 am (Munich time), and were in Atlanta by 2 (Eastern) where we watched a drug dog at the Atlanta baggage claim dig into a wrapped-up box owned by a man who looked like a cross between Owen Wilson and Dolph Lungren and who told the agent that the box contained what everyone brings from Munich – herbal tea bags and whole chili peppers.

And then back in Alabama by 4, where we were driven home by a taxi driver with an 18-inch monitor propped up in the front passenger seat, on which he was watching the NFL.  While driving.

Welcome home!

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The main activity of the day was a hike through, above and down around the Partnach Gorge. 

First, we rode the bus to the Olympic ski stadium  – Garmisch-Partenkirchen.  Hitler forced the two towns to consolidate in order to strengthen his bid to host the 1936 Winter Olympics in the area – there weren’t enough hotel rooms in either one alone. It worked.  The town was to host the 1940 Games as well, but of course starting World War II ended that idea.

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You walk around to the right, and start walking up a road/path. Past goats.

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Past this.

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By then, you’re walking by flowing water, and before too long you arrive at a ticket booth, where you pay a few Euros, and start walking through the gorge, which gets deeper (or higher) as you go on.  It’s quite something, and I’d also love to see it in the winter.

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Most people get through and then retrace their steps, but at my daughter’s advice, we took a rather strenuous twenty-minute hike up the mountain, where we stopped, had a snack at the restaurant up top, saw the hotel that’s being constructed, and then started back down another way that took us across the Gorge this time.

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This picture cannot in any way do the height justice.  I’m usually pretty okay with heights, but this was a little….high.

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Can’t capture the scale from this angle and with my camera.

And then back down, back past the goats, then back here to shop, pack up, eat, pack up some more, and get ready…..

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Waiting for the bus at the Ski Stadium.

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Today was Innsbruck day.  My daughter was working, and she’s already been once, so it was good day for us to go.

We originally thought we’d take the bus.  Daughter said it was cheap, faster than the train and there was free wi-fi.  But when I finally got around to looking up tickets, the soonest we could leave was noon.  It turned out that the train, while a little longer (about 80 minutes) was just a euro more expensive total, round trip for us.

So, after returning the rental car…

(what preceded returning said rental car? Well….getting car out of the overnight parking lot under a grocery store down the street, taking daughter to her workplace/residence, remembering…”OH! GAS!”…finding a gas station, figuring out the pump and what kind of gas, filling up, returning the car, walking back to the apartment, grabbing breakfast pastries….all by 9 am)

….we walked to the train station, bought tickets, found our train at the platform, and settled in.

So what to do in Innsbruck?

Yes, there are a few things to do – there are historic sites, nice churches, Olympics things (although the ski jump is closed for the season…not that we’d jump, but I guess you can go see it and maybe there’s a museum) and an Old Town section…the first thing on our docket was…

…the zoo.

I’d read about it last night, but not mentally committed to it until we pulled into Innsbruck.  I’d not mentioned it to anyone, either, until someone finally asked, “Hey.  What are we going to do in Innsbruck, anyway?”

So yes, there’s the difference between traveling with kids and without.  I just felt, at that moment, for that afternoon, the leg-stretching and freedom afforded by a zoo visit was important.

It’s the Alpenzoo, and it’s fairly interesting, the population being composed only of Alpine animals.  Plus, it’s built on the side of a mountain, lending not only authenticity, but…exercise.

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The views were spectacular.

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The structure to the left-center – the large cobra-like thing? The Olympic ski jump (1964 & 1976)

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You can get there any number of ways. It’s not far from the city, so you can certainly walk it, especially in this part of the world where people out for an evening stroll do so with walking sticks in hand. You can take the bus, but you can also take the funicular – so we did.

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The funicular station as seen from the zoo entrance.

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The funicular descending.

(The funicular continues up to the top of this mountain, and we considered doing that, but by the time we finished at the zoo, it was 3pm, we’d already done the Zugspitze anyway, so…nah.)

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(Not shown: a lynx up in a tree, wolves, a bear, beavers, bison, otters, various other mountain goat creatures and lots of birds, newts, salamanders and such. Marmosets were hibernating.)

For the rest of our time, we strolled around the Christkindl Markets – Innsbruck has several, spread through the Old Town. The boys ate schnitzel, I had a cup of guhlwein, we walked.

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I was intrigued by the juxtaposition of imagery…the Blessed Virgin , a steak house and Geox…

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Part of the town was decorated with these rather odd, sometimes creepy and crudely-made fairy and folk-tale reliefs.  Along with light projections.

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It’s a great atmosphere, although about 99% secular. I also learned that my expectations of finding unique hand-made items at a Christmas market were, at least in this case…way off.

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But if I was looking for a cannoli-like thing almost as big as my head…they had me covered.

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