Grapes from Thorns

Location: Cincinnati, Ohio

Sunday, December 31, 2006

Kennedy Museum

I found this link on website of the German magazine Spiegel about the new Kennedy museum in Berlin. Thought you might enjoy it. Also, at top is a photo of the Starbucks near the Brandenburg Gate and the crowd milling about it. Actually, I believe some of the people at least were waiting for a tour to begin. And around the corner from the Starbucks is the Kennedy museum.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Foggy old London town

Yesterday was filled with trains, planes, and automobiles and was quite a travel adventure. My goal was to fly to England from Germany to spend Christmas with my English relatives.

On Thursday, I had learned that because of heavy fog planes were not landing or taking off at Heathrow. So I called British Air and tenatively arranged to fly Hamburg to Dusseldorf to Birmingham instead. But after a train and bus ride from Lueneburg and I arrived at the airport quite early and discovered that my original flight, Hamburg to Heathrow, had not yet been cancelled as it had been the previous two days. The woman at the counter suggested that I wait until 3 p.m. and then come back to seem them about the flight. So I had a beer in an airport bar and read and waited.

At 3 p.m., they were pretty sure that the plane was going to fly from Hamburg. If I stuck with the Birmingham option, that was their last flight to England and if it got cancelled I was stuck for the night in Hamburg. So, I decided to go with the Heathrow flight.

We boarded almost an hour late, at 6 instead of 5:10. Once we were onboard, the captain told us that we were going to have to sit at the airport for another nearly two hours because of delays in London. He said they had boarded us because if there was a window of opportunity for going earlier they needed to be able to take advantage of it. If anyone wanted to get off and try another option they were free to do so. As far as I could tell, no one got off.

We got lucky. We only sat on the ground for about an hour. The flight to London was uneventful and I got some reading done. They had told us on the ground in Hamburg about how limited the visibility was and that the landing in London would be done by instruments. So, because conditions were unusual, people were a little nervous. As we began our descent into London, I kept trying to see out the window from my aisle seat. I could not really see much but as we got lower we were soon flying through the fog. It was quite thick. I never did see any of the lights of London. I only knew we were going to land when the sound of motors made that kind of tapering off sound and the nose of the plane lifts up just a pit.

We bounced but not very hard and the plane quickly stuck to the tarmack and reversed engines. Because there had been so little indication we were close to the ground there were a couple of gasps through the plane. Most of the passengers applauded (me too) as the plane was braking, something I have never seen. We were probably the first plane to land in 24 hours. The fog really was phenomenal.

All of the regular spaces at the airport were taken up by planes that had not been able to take off so buses came to pick us up and bring us into the terminal. On the bus, there were some jokes. One guy said: I've had harder landings than that when they could see what they were doing. Several people noted that Heathrow, the busiest airport in Europe and British Air's hub, only has two runways and there are plans for a fifth terminal.

Soon, after a bus ride to Reading, and a ride in my cousin's car, I was safely ensconced in Eddleston Manor, the name we've assigned to my English cousins's home.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Merry Christmas

This is probably my last post from Deutschland since I am leaving in the morning. Fog in London is kind of making a mess of my travel plans but things will work out I'm sure.

I'm posting a photo of some brave students who went caroling the other night at the Weihnachsmakt in Lueneburg. They had not rehearsed and were kind of rusty at first but improved quicly. Since not everyone could remember all the words to many of the songs, they had to write them down on the spot and share them. Their best performances were, not surprisingly, Jingle Bells and Rudolf. They did gain some attention as they sang in English and even some scattered applause and lots of smiles. It was fun.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

In the news

My adventures in Deutschland have caught the attention of two journalists in the Queen City, Rachel Richardson, a former RWC student who now works as an internet editor for the Enquirer, and Rich Shivener, a reporter for the Community Press. Below are links to the pages and below that is the full version of my responses to Shivener's questions. Above is a photo of the memorial in a Lueneburg city park to the dead of the Franco-Prussian War, the German war off unification in 1871. It was in the news, too, back in the 1870s.

Q: How did the idea of this academic, overseas affair come about?

A: This program is part of the University Study Abroad Consortium (USAC), based at the University of Nevada-Reno, and the University of Cincinnati is a member of the consortium. Because of that, UC faculty are able to apply for a variety of positions around the world and are then selected on a competitive basis from faculty applications from other USAC universities. Germany was a good fit for me because of my teaching experience and my historical expertise.
Q: What classes are you teaching?
A: I am teaching two upper division courses - one on the History of World War II and another on the History of the Cold War. These are classes that I teach at UC’s Raymond Walters College. Here in Germany, the USAC program is based at the University of Lueneburg, which is a growing and changing institution of about 10,000 students. When I arrived I had an office in the foreign language department courtesy of the chair who is a New Zealander. My students are from all over the US and I do have students from places as divergent as Australia and Poland.

Q: What's your objective while you're there? A: Germany is an ideal location to teach these courses. My goal is to try to put the students in touch with history in the place where it happened. Here in Germany, remnants and legacies of both the cold war and World War II can still be found. Lueneburg escaped destruction by bombing during the war but many of the other cities visited by students, such as Hamburg, Luebeck, Hannover, Dresden, and Berlin, still bear the scars of war. Some students have traveled to the Normandy beaches and to Bastogne, scene of the Battle of the Bulge. Two former concentration camps are near Lueneburg, Bergun-Belsen and Neurengamme. Visits to Berlin and other places can put the students face to face with the cold war. Lueneburg was a front line city during the cold war and the main campus of the university where our classes are held was actually a base for the British Army. The nearby bridges over the Elbe were mined so they could be destroyed in the event of Soviet attack. I’ve heard local people tell the students of those times and of the days after the collapse of the Soviet Union when crowds of East Germans came to shop in Lueneburg driving their smoky, noisy, little Trabants. These moments are priceless for the students.

Q: Are you a stranger to Germany? A: I’m not a stranger to Germany or to Europe.

Q: If not, how many times have you visited? What compels you to go back? A: Having cousins in England has made visiting Europe easy over the years but beyond that I was in Germany last in 2000 when I visited a friend of mine for a couple of weeks who was teaching at the University of Wittenberg near Berlin. I’ve been to Europe several times since then, twice to teach for RWC’s excellent study abroad program – once to teach a course on the First World War and the second time to teach a course on the Second World War. I keep coming back for several reasons: European culture, the ease of travel, the friendly people, and especially the history. Lueneburg has been a particularly great discovery. It was an important city in the Middle Ages when it was at the center of the salt trade for the Hanseatic League. The wealth of that era can still be seen in the city’s beautiful architecture. Also, I feel comfortable traveling in Europe in part because I was in France and Britain during and after Sept. 11, 2001 and can never forget the warmth and sorrow of the people I met at that terrible time.

Q: What problems have you run into since your arrival? A: I have never really had a bad experience in Europe. Sometimes the language issue is a difficult one but if you are patient and friendly it all works out. Americans just should not expect everyone to speak English. On this trip, I have taken an intensive German language course at the university so I’ve reached a level in which my language skills are somewhat useful. USAC has a very capable and helpful staff here at Lueneburg that has helped make the transition easy. There are some little inconveniences when you travel in Europe. All the stores close at 5 or 6 and don’t open on Sunday so you need to plan a little for food and other items or just get along without. Berlin has just created quite a stir by expanding its shopping hours. Also, many more people smoke here and there are no non-smoking areas in bars and restaurants. I have even seen people smoking while riding their bicycles which seems an odd combination to American eyes.

Q: What do you think students traveling with you are gaining from this trip?A: Obviously, being able to visit the scenes of these important historical events is very valuable. But there are other reasons I think travel is extraordinarily valuable to American students. Frankly, many Americans tend to have very parochial attitudes about the world. Study abroad can open their eyes to other viewpoints and broaden their understanding of the big and complex world beyond America’s shores. Given that the United States will continue to play such an important role in the world, it is really essential for Americans to have a sophisticated understanding of international issues. Often, other peoples oppose American policies for completely rational reasons, not because they are anti-American (a belief I often hear in my Blue Ash classrooms). Germans know much more about America and American politics than Americans know about Germany. While the students and I were glued to our laptops watching the recent election results via the internet, numerous Germans stopped to ask about what we thought it all meant. And they have their own opinions, too, and like to talk about politics.

Q: How will this trip affect your teaching back here? A: Travel always has positive impacts on my teaching. Doing research in the archives in London or standing on Omaha Beach in France or at Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin, adds depth and complexity to my understanding of historical events. This trip, in particular, has brought home to me the destruction of the strategic bombing campaign on German cities. I am also learning much about how the Nazis operated in a rather small town like Lueneburg. There is a museum in Berlin for the Stasi, or the East German secret police, and that has brought home to me the experience of people behind the Iron Curtain. Those are things that I will definitely bring back to the classroom. Also, my improved German language skills should help with my historical research in the future and research always enhances teaching.

Q: It's no question that Germany is definitely different than Blue Ash or Raymond Walter's College. What will you miss the most about Germany?A: Obviously, I’ll have to be honest that I will miss the beer! I also like the ability to get along without a car. Everything I need in Lueneburg is within walking distance and the nearby train station can whiz me off to Munich or Berlin. Hamburg, a great city, is only 20 minutes away. Unlike Cincinnati, these cities have subways to make travel in the city easy and quick. No fighting the traffic on I-275 or hunting for parking places. Also, many Germans of all ages ride bicycles, a very practical and healthy mode of transport. In every German city I have visited, there are bicycle paths marked out on the sidewalks and the bikers definitely have the right-of-way. By contrast, riding a bicycle in the Cincinnati metro is dangerous. Most of all, I am going to miss the students I have met here, both German and American, as well as other Germans who have been so helpful to me.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Visit to Wismar

Wismar is a historically important Hanseatic city on the Baltic coast. I traveled there over the weekend, probably my last long trip during this visit to Germany. In the 1300s, Wismar was a founding member of the Hanseatic league and that richness is evident in the city's architecture. But it has a different spin than some other Hanse cities in that it was controlled by Sweden for many years. Swedish ownership of Wismar has given it building with different architecture and more color. The Swedes brought rounded gables to the city, a change from the stepped gables dating from the earlier Hanseatic era. The central square is the largest in northern Germany and is very impressive.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Himmler's last reckoning

In the Nazi regime few people were more infamous than Heinrich Himmler. He was largely responsible for the concentration and death camp system and was the leading organizer of the Holocaust. In the final days of the war, he was captured in Bremen and brought to British headquarters in Lueneburg. He was take to the house above on 31A Uelzener Strasse (street). It is a non-descript house that I walk past often on my way to and from the university. The British were apparenlty questioning and holding Himmler at this house on May 24, 1945. At some point, he swallowed a cyanide capsule and thus killed himself.

Some historians have suggested that he was killed by the British so that he would not talk about diplomatic contacts he had had with British officials. For the most part, these ideas have been thoroughly discredited.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

My colleagues

The other night most of my colleagues and I met at the Weinachsmakt in front of the rathaus. Weinachs means Christmas and translates roughly as sacred night so Weinachsmakt is Christmas market. All over Germany these markets are set up in the town square. Along with all kinds of things to buy, there is plenty to eat and drink, including gluhvine (there needs to be a oomlaut over the u), a kind of hot spiced wine. Above, you can see most of us have a glass of gluhvine. As we drank and ate, a trumpeter was playing Christmas tunes from the shadows high up on a ledge near the clock on the front of the rathaus.

Scenes of Lueneburg

A week from tomorrow, I will be flying to London to spend Christmas with my English relatives. Then it is home to Cincinnati on Dec. 29. While I am looking forward to being back in the USA, I am going to miss Lueneburg. I thought I would share a couple of more photos of the altstadt. At top is a view out of old brewery that is now a museum. At bottom is a photo of one of my favorite buildings, now the chamber of commerce but it was built in the 16th century as a brewery. You can kind of detect a brewery theme. I am in Deutschland afterall.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Wolfenbüttel's literary treasure

I traveled to Wolfenbüttel recently, a small town not far from Celle. There is a fabulous library there that has one of the largest collections of medieval manuscripts in the world. It has a research room plus a museum in what was probably the library's reading room years ago. They have several books that are over 1,000 years old on display. Amazing really, at top.

The city is home to the largest ducal palace in northern Germany. Very impressive from the exterior, although I chose to tour the library rather than the palace.

Monday, December 11, 2006

St. Johannis: A city landmark

St. Johannis is the big boy among Lueneburg's churches. Built in the early 1300s, it dominates the town's skyline. On the hour when St. Michaelis, St. Nicholai, and St. Johannis toll the hour, St. Johannis's deep baritone bells ring out very distinctively. The beautiful church also looms over one of the main squares in town, Am Sande. But it looms with just a little lean to the right as you can see in the top photo. The story is that the designer of the church had to go work on some other project in northern Germany and when he returned to see that the tower was leaning, he killed himself. Don't know if that is true but it is a bit of local folklore. The massive and beautiful organ in the church is a historical relic itself and is said to have been played by Bach when the young maestro lived in Lueneburg as a young boy.

Stumbling across history

Today there is a wintry-chill in the air with a strong wind blowing. Not a bad day to discuss a chilling subject.

On the streets of many German cities (I am not really certain how widespread the practice is) are something called "stumble stones." They record that certain people once lived at this address and that they were deported by the Nazis in World War II. They usually then note where they were killed. Above, you can see the bare outlines of the fate of the Badens and Weinbergers. "Hier Wohnte" means "Here lived." The Badens once owned a shoe store in Lueneburg. As the stones say they were deported to Riga in 1941 and 1942 and "ermordet" or murdered in Minsk, an out-of-Germany killing site for many German Jews. The Weinbergers, apparently a mother and her children, were deported in 1943 and murdered in Auschwitz.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Sensational Celle

We had a group tour to Celle, not far from Lueneburg recently. It is a beautiful place and has a historically significant palace, a home of the Hannoverian royalty. There is, in fact, a large painting of George III of American revolution fame (as well as Georges I & II as well). Rather than providing him, I thought I would offer a photo of bewitching German princess instead. I trust no one will complain.

At top, is part of our group listening to our guide talk about the history of Celle. In the middle is a photo of the royal palace that makes the town so important. In the foreground is a statue of a horse and trainer. Once a year in the summer, they have the Parade of the Stallions to show off the beautiful show horses in the area.

Celles's architecture is quite different that Lueneburg's. It almost looks Bavarian but really its roots are in the Baroque period, making it brighter and more elaborate than the Hanseatic architecture at Lueneburg.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

"Bye-Bye, Blockheads"

I had to share a story from today's English-language edition of Spiegel, German's major newsmagazine, kind of the Newsweek of Deutschland. If only the American press would speak so clearly and accurately.

Bye-Bye, Blockheads
By Gerhard Spörl
Appointing John Bolton as US ambassador to the United Nations was truly an irony of fate. And now that phase is finally over. The neoconservatives are finished in the United States. It would be interesting to know how Bolton, Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld feel today about what they have done in the Middle East.
Does anyone remember Paul Wolfowitz? He was that clever little man with the soft, slightly monotonic voice, the man who believed the Iraqis would welcome US troops as their liberators. He was the Pentagon's No. 2 man, the then secretary of defense's deputy, and he now heads the World Bank.

Brandenburg Gate

One of the most famous landmarks in Berlin is the Brandenburg Gate. Built in 1791 by Emperor Frederick Wilhelm II to represent peace, it was a featured backdrop to much Nazi parading. And during the Cold War, it was integrated into the Wall as it was constructed across Berlin. The photo on this side of the gate is from the former East Berlin. Directly on the other side of the gate is the Berlin Tiergarten, a large green space that runs for quite a distance. On the other side of the gate, and to the right, is the historic Reichstag, Germany's famous parliament building. It has been refubished and expanded to provide for the new German government since unification.

The street behind me as I took this photo is the famed Unter Den Linden, or under the Linden trees. Just across the open space in front of the gate a Starbuck, which was packed the morning I visited the gate. Next to the Starbucks is a museum dedicated to the Kennedy family in general and to John F. Kennedy in particular. I was running out of time for my train or I would have gone through the museum.

A note about his famous line when he spoke to thousands in Berlin. His "Ich bin ein Berliner" electrified the crowd and brought a thunderous response. While his reputation has been tarnished since in America by evidence of his sexual exploits, he remains a hero in Berlin. Since the speech many have enjoyed pointing out that the statement is not grammatically correct, that a "Berliner" is a kind of jelly doughnut made in Berlin. However, I learned on this trip to Berlin, from a Berliner, a different story. Berliners don't call the jelly doughnuts "Berliners." They call them "pfannkuchen." So, in Berlin, what JFK said was correct and the best way of adding emphasis to his statement that he was a resident of Berlin. Just for the record...

Monday, December 04, 2006

Berlin IV

At top is a photo at Checkpoint Charlie, one of the several checkpoints between East and West Berlin during the Cold War. It has now become a tourist destination and besides the still-standing little hut at the checkpoint there is a great museum. It shows all the stresses and strains on world peace that occurred here and also details the efforts of East Berliners to escape to the West. At the checkpoint were a number of young Germans, probably students, dressed in WWII-style American army uniforms.. The young lady above, for example. After I took this shot a couple of young Italian women took turns getting their photos taken with her. There were, in fact, lots of tourists around, including a large group of Chinese. Checkpoint Charlie remains a place of great interest. I also took a photo of the famous sign, see the photo above in the middle. Nearby is the only still-standing section of the Berlin Wall, also see the photo above at bottom. After my tours of museums, I did not arrive at the site until it was dark but it was still only about 5:30 p.m.

Friday, December 01, 2006


Totensonntag was last Sunday. It is always the fifth Sunday before Christmas and on this day the Germans remember their dead. It is for all the deceased, not just for war dead, like the America's Memorial Day or Britain's Remembrance Day.

Not knowing it had been Totensonntag, I took advantage of some beautiful weather on Monday to take some photos around Lueneburg. My time here is drawing short and I wanted to make certain that I had some photos of some sites. I walked along the busy street where the city's memorial to all the victims of the Third Reich is located. This time, there were several large flowery wreaths laid at the memorial. The wreaths from from the Lueneburg branches of Germany's political parties and also from the city. The memorial itself is ringed with coffin-like blocks of stone, one for each year from 1933 when the Nazis came to power to 1945 when the war ended. The dark mound-like memorial, almost grave-like, states that it is dedicated to the Nazi's victims and has a kind of free verse poem asking that people despite their political persuasion or nationality, find a way to live in peace. Dating from before the end of the cold war, it naturally asks that Soviets and Americans, live in peace. The ribbons on the flowers in various ways send the same kind of message. The top photo's wreath ribbon reads "No More War." Another pledges opposition to fascism.