Monday, May 31, 2010

The Journey

Terra firma. Feet on the ground, and it's familiar ground. I love to travel, see new places, meet new people, try new adventures. But I also love coming back. Something about the return is magical. We circle the bases and head on home to what is familiar. When I left Denver it was cool and windy. Now it is warm and windy. Flowers greet me, as does a stack of mail. We're the same, but different. Family, lovers, friends, animals,  work, gardens, joy, sadness await us. I leave my favorite travel poem behind as a reminder of the grand journey and new friends.

     As you set out for Ithaka
hope the voyage is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
angry Poseidon - don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
wild Poseidon - you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.
Hope the voyage is a long one.
May there be many a summer morning when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you come into harbors seen for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind -
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to gather stores of knowledge from their scholars.
Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.
Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.
And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.                                                   C. Cavafy 

The Last Dinner

Within twenty four hours we move from The Last Supper to our Last Dinner, with Zurich sandwiched in-between.
We love Zurich, with its old world-new world friendly alliance in the city. The streets aren't exactly lined with gold, but I suspect many of the pocketbooks that make their way in and out of stores are. This would not be an inexpensive place to live. Yet for all its upscale Prada, Tod, Ferragamo, Chanel, Burberry stores lining the streets, it takes only a walk around two tiny cobblestone corners and one is in the old world, staring up at the largest clockface in all of Europe on one of Zurich's old churches. Another cobblestone walk away and one's feet are treading the area where the guilds once sold their wares.
Charlemagne is revered here and if you so desire, the history of Germany, France, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium is all yours for the asking, wrapped in with the history of the Holy Roman Empire.
The Chagall windows in the ancient Fraumunster Church are breathstoppers. Apparently, the town did not have the money to pay Chagall for the design he presented, but one patron stepped up and paid for the large three-paned window and the two side windows. What an enduring legacy.
Have to give a shout out to the I-Phone here. Someone asked where Chagall was from. 'Russia,' 'Israel,' 'France.'  Within a minute, the answer appeared.  All educated guesses, as Russian-French artist of Jewish origin is the answer.

The Last Dinner: This group dresses up extremely well. Fresh clothes, saved for the last night festivities. And men in jackets. Even more sartorial splendor than I guessed earlier.  Dinner is at the Restaurant Zunfthaus zur Waag, and we have a room of our own.  Up on the second floor, we move from stained glass models of various guilds hanging on the four walls.  Candelabras are placed carefully on the long, white linen clothed table. Between the lit candles flickering in the soft wind sit bouquets of flowers. Even with the windows open, the smell of springtime, nature in her blossoming glory, wafts through the room. Pampered pilgrims, indeed.

Voices are busy, people move in and out of conversations and memories. Yes, I do remember when Kevin Kelly tried to convince me that a sign posted on the walk in Hohenschwangau said "Beware. Dangerous insects that bite in this area."  I think the sign really said "Do not walk on the wall." What's a little translation error between new friends?
And then there was the motorway restaurant, as they are called all over the world. The place where David, Mike and I decided it was better to grab a take-out sandwich from the souvenir shop than go for the highway specials.  Who would have thought the motorway restaurant would charge .90 euro ($1.20) each for five pats of butter?
Not Isabelle, 'oldy-worldy' vision momentarily shattered, as she called out to her tablemates "It's fine. Let me pick up the tab for your cholesterol."
Dinner was the place to remember Bob being the one to finally ask in a Reformation-proud town, "Why are there no pictures of Luther anywhere?" and Judy's savvy question to Peter a few days prior, "Given the fact that we'll be at the play until very late tomorrow evening, do we really want to leave the hotel by 8:00 to get to the monastery?"  Oh, did we all love her for that.
You know how things go: people try to remember the names of the various castles and places we visited, but the image of BJ, so intent on getting the perfect shot, stumbling over the cobblestone, skinning her knee, but saving the shot and her camera is stamped in the memory box.
I want to tell people Sharon -- oops, excuse me - Emily Soup's - story about the Church contemplating the pez-type dispensers for the host/wafer at Communion time. "Just trying to accommodate those people who want things pure," she said.
Or June's comment in response to talk about phallic symbols in Europe. "Yes, but we have Texas," she chuckled... And now she has a cuckoo clock that might make her three cats happy.
And for those who weren't with us when we had the discussion, I want to announce:  The Yellow Pages are so much more interesting than you realize. Seriously. Just ask Mike. You want to know how any given category gets its name? Ask Mike. Not kidding. Fascinating.
Stories, so many stories. Rafael and Lina, almost killed in a battle between their cab driver and another driver on their very first trip to France as young architectural students.
Jerry and Jean have finished with one set of suitcases, and when we leave town in the morning, they will be setting off on a cruise. Off with the walking clothes, pack away the rain gear, they are into shorts and easy living on the boat trip to Amsterdam. Hope Jerry finds newspapers and that Jeanne's intern will help her with the plights in Peru.
Adrienne and Jack have four more days in Zurich, and we know Adrienne will spend the better part of a day trying to explain the travel funnel that some women carry with them. And Jack will probably check to see if the military has figured out that women need these at times.
And David has his moment at the head of the table, when far at the other end, none of us can remember the name of 'the man' in Georgia O'Keefe's life. Her mentor, sponsor, lover, and, finally, her husband. The man who took over 500 photographs of her. What was his name?" Silence.  And then, booming voice from the far end of the room. "Alfred Stieglitz. Pronounced Steeglitz," from a smiling David.
Stan, Margaret and Marianne are off to Portugal. I swear Margaret and Marianne looked more like twins at the end of the trip than they did at the beginning. Truly. So different and so similar. We must have a reunion on October when Margaret comes from her home in Switzerland to visit her sister in Denver.
I'll never forget peeking out my window in one of the hotels to hear Stan tell Roland, our beloved driver, that his RV is four feet longer than our bus. As he explained to me later, "I flew planes for Fed Ex for decades. An RV is nothing."
Speaking of travelers, after tonight Peter and Margrit are free! Peter's voice will come back, as he will not have to herd the cats and repeat 'be on time' until he is voiceless. And Margrit won't have to bring up the rear, making sure we're all where we are supposed to be.

Oh, and the food was magnificent. With all the chatter and laughing between courses, we had time to savor each bite of the meal. Our last dinner was the type of meal that makes mindful eating easy. The presentation, such works of art, made it difficult to remove the first bite. And the delicate flavouring slowed down the senses, putting those little taste buds into 'take your time' mode. The rich chocolate mousse gave us reason to be happy we had a slight walk home. There's more, so much more. But that's the tale I have for now.
Life is good.

The Grand Inquisitor

What a quick transitions, from The Last Supper to our last supper. And a day in Zurich between the two. Warning: Proceed with caution. This is a digression. Feel free to click and escape.

Somewhere on the journey between Etall Monastery and the Passion Play, The Grand Inquisitor popped into my mind and won't go away. As you may recall, The Grand Inquisitor is a chapter in the long novel, and also a stand-alone book, in Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov. I'd rank it as one of the most powerful little pieces of writing that exists. I know people who have left the church and others who have become devout because of this slice of writing. I know people who read it at least once a year, and I think I'm going to join that group.  In fact, given the great controversies confronting the Catholic Church and the Vatican today (actually, considering all the religious controversy in all the traditions) I might even put it in a 2010 'must read' category for thoughtful people. But I'm not in charge of anyone but the person doing this chattering, so I'll re-read it for sure.
Essence:  The story within the story takes place in Seville, Spain during the time of the Inquisition. Christ comes to town, slips in quietly, raises a girl from the dead, and quickly ends up in a prison-type room. The Cardinal visits him and basically says:  The Church no longer needs you. We know, based on your actions during the three temptations of the Devil that you choose freedom over everything. The people are not strong enough to have freedom. It is now the responsibility of the Church to guide people, to tell them what to do.
Note: that's not a quote, but a very rough, hard-core synopsis of the essence of an intricate, puzzling, deeply complex narrative.
It's the visit to the monastery, articles in newspapers, conversations with people, and observations of quotes from the people of Oberammergau producing the Passion Play.  Many people are disenchanted by the role of the Church, as defined by those at the highest levels of hierarchical command and see a schism between the actions of the Church leaders and the teaching of Christ. It may be true that there is nothing new under the sun, but there is always something new in the way we put the pieces together.
Therein lies, for me, the gift of travel, of seeing the world, meeting new people, peeking into other places. There's such deep resonance between and among ideas, thoughts, knowledge. There is nothing linear about these experiences; they bounce off one another, circle back in time, cut across disciplines, blur boundaries, and defy captivity. The abstract becomes concrete; the concrete presents new ambiguities; the whole is so much grander than its parts.

My Mind Wanders and Wonders

Do you remember reading Shirley Jackson's The Lottery? Way back in junior high and maybe again in a short story course, it was the one story that captivated even the most reluctant of readers. The event of the Passion Play has pushed that story front and center in my mind.
When The Lottery was published in The New Yorker in 1948, the magazine lost many of its faithful subscribers and Jackson herself received lots of nasty mail. It was banned for years in many places. Most people were horrified by the tale, but, ironically, some of the letter writers wanted to know where these lotteries were being held and if they could go to watch.
Plot Summary:  Every year on a certain day all the townspeople in the village gather and one person is ceremoniously stoned to death.  This particular year it will be young Tessie, who questions the idea of the lottery, who is chosen to be stoned. And the first stone, so big it takes two hands to hold, is picked by one of the village's friendly, kind woman. She then persuades others to pick up their stones.
It's definitely worth re-reading, as it is not easy to pull those tales stored long ago out of the memory bin. Even The Simpsons and South Park have had contemporary versions of The Lottery, but that's a whole other story.
What's the connection between The Passion Play and The Lottery?
I keep thinking of these villagers who, decade after decade, gather to honor an ancient tradition and ritual, to re-enact the death and resurrection of Christ. The play is both symbolic and real, and embedded in its heart is the concept of sacrifice.
I wonder what the Passion Play means to each of the 2,000 plus people who perform in it; I wonder why one has to be born in Oberammergau or have lived there for at least twenty years in order to participate. So many traditions, rituals, ceremonies, carried on. Its difficult to separate the play from the town itself; in many way the play is the town. Does the Passion Play have relevance for the community members? Do the young people know, care, and understand the significance of the five days or even understand why the play is performed every ten years?  In some far off future, will the play still be performed because 'we've always done it this way'?
The horror of the action in The Lottery, of course, is that it's not a play; it's real action, real stoning to death of real people. Nobody really remembers why. It just is.  And I keep wondering what would have happened if at the time of the Black Death the townspeople had said, "please, please, free us from the death of so many in our town. We will sacrifice one person every ten years if you do so."
And we so rarely question the rituals and traditions associated with some of our holidays. Christians readily embrace Easter with all the glory of the resurrection surrounded by rabbits and eggs. Ah, it's beautiful to bring the story of the resurrection in line with the re-birth of nature in the spring, the joy and magic of fertility and procreation.  All those images thrown together in one big basket with a chocolate bunny, chocolate cross, and jelly beans. How many people stop to think about those pagan and Christian rituals playing against one another on Easter Sunday?  Just put on your Easter bonnet and get on with it.
And we won't even get into Halloween, aka All Hallows Eve.
Clearly, this blog reveals far more about my mind than it does about the village of Oberammergau, its visitors, and its Passion Play.  My cup runneth over from this Passion Play.
Just want to share a few photos from Oberammergau - photos of the woodcarver, whose skills and handicraft, long hours of carving, are paying off this year; photos of some visitors; photos from around town.

Promises to Keep

"No more death. Send the Plague somewhere else. Send this Black Death out of our town and we will perform a passion play every ten years. We promise. Please, spare us Death. We beg you."

Imagine how many priests, mayors, common people prayed to the church, to their God, to all forces of good and God to be spared the Black Death? Imagine...So many promises, so many promises not kept. 'But we have promises to keep,' spoke the village voice of Oberammergau. The Black Death had arrived in 1633 claiming 80 people in the town; the first Passion Play was performed in 1634.  Promise keepers. Signed, sealed and delivered forty-one times.
And we are here to witness this 41st production of the promised Passion Play. Half a million people will show up this year for the decennial tradition; 150,000 of those people will be from the United States.

Revisions occur every decade, and, so far, the revisions occur for all the right reasons. My synopsis.
In 1680, a decision was made to perform on years that end in zero (now there was a smart committee),
In the early years the play was staged in rhyming verse; in 1810 a monk created the prose version (the monks have always been the translators, the keepers of the prose. Think Beowulf, for example).
Fifty years later,1860, a priest (Josef Alois Daisenberger) revised the script, and it's the Daisenberg script that has been used until recently.
1950 - It's post World War 2, and given the horrors of the war and the Holocaust, Oberammergau officials are a bit queasy about some of the text. But people don't like change, and it takes another fifty years for significant change.
2000 - Revisions in text occur, but not enough to satisfy many members of national and international Jewish organizations.
2010 - Revisions in the text occur, this time the revisions are greeted with joy and acceptance. And for the first time, the play will end when the skies have turned dark. It's more dramatic, of course.

Well, how can a play performed every ten years except 1940 and 1770) not change over time? The miracle is that it is still about the last five days of Jesus' life. There are tableaux vivants (living scenes) between acts that depict Old Testament tales, visions of Adam and Eve, but the story itself is all about those five days.
Five days in which the history of humankind in the western world is transformed. 
The basic music used today was composed for the 1820 Passion Play, but it too has been revised. As you know, the script has been revised several times, most significantly, for this year.

By now the Passion Play is an industry of sorts. All of Oberammergau is engaged in the play, one way or another. The woodcarvers get ready for nine years in preparation for the influx of people. Chefs prepare, keepers of the fields cultivate and prune. Hotels renovate or expand.The play, once performed in a graveyard next to the church, now has a beautiful, simply stage in a theatre setting for a large audience. Townspeople audition, grow beards, rehearse and rehearse more. It does take a village.

Saturday, May 29, 2010


"If you board the wrong train, it's no use running along the corridor in the wrong direction."
Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Oh, it's complex. That's why I've always admired the King James version of the Bible. Stamped right on it for everyone to see is "The Revised Standard Edition."  Why can't our history, philosophy, psychology, biology texts have similar stamps...just a quick reminder that what you are learning now isn't what someone else was learning some other time."  There's nothing inherently good or bad about revision; it's the intent of the revision that has those attributes.
Revision is different from perspective, distortion or first-person narrator.  I fell in love with Emily Dickenson when I first read "Tell the truth, but tell it slant." That's my motto, also.  Sort of the 'it's my story and I'm sticking with it' version of narration. But don't slant the serious things, matters of the heart and conscience. It's one thing to say 'Oh I had a small taste of the Cherry Garcia when you really slammed down the whole pint," but a very different thing to say 'I had no idea any abuse was occurring' if you had even a small, quickly passing thought that something was not right. At least that's my philosophy

Anyway, on the road to Oberammergau to the Passion Play, we stopped at the Ettal Benedictine Monastery, founded around 1300. Based on the rule of Benedict (6th century) a model of balance, monasticism and the cloistered life. 
It's a gem; castle-like in appearance, and once housed hundreds of monks. Now it has a private boarding school, the between high school-college years, with about 380 students.
The monastery and its foundations have been rocked by recent accusations of the sexual and physical abuse of over one hundred young men in the past. To me, the monastery's response has been inadequate and, as the present pope was once bishop of this area, he has been tied to the cases, and subject of 'what did he know and when did he know it and what did he do about it?' interrogations from the press and other concerned people. It has not helped that Pope Benedict XVI, just last year, reinstated four excommunicated bishops, including Richard Williamson, who denied the Holocaust.
The church is beautiful, gilded, baroque....lavish, one might say. Theatrical in presentation, with significant statues of Our Lady and the child Jesus and Saint Scholastica (tradition has it that she was the twin sister of Benedictine and founder of the Benedictine Nuns.  A stunning image in the coat of arms reveals a unicorn owing down in front of the Ettal Madonna.
The main altar, built in 1968, complies with the Second Vatican Council, bringing the altar closer to the people, symbolizing and acting upon a renewed pledge to the closeness of the liturgy and the priest to the community.
So you can imagine what the revelations about sexual abuse have done to this community. Some people, are shaken, alienated, and angry. Others are disenchanted or sad, still committed to a belief in Jesus but not this organization called the Church.
I approached the monastery in a voyeuristic frame of mind, and was quickly unsettled by the extravagant symbols of wealth on the walls, ceilings, altars, light of the recent scandals it all appeared just a bit much.
So I decided to walk out early and survey the grounds on this misty, rainy day. But I took a right on my way out, and walked through a gallery with statues and memorabilia written in German. Suddenly I saw an anti Nazi writing, with the names Bonhoeffer and Mayer on it. Well, it turns out the Ettel Monastery was a refuge for Bonhoeffer and Mayer during the time they were fleeing the Nazis. Bonhoeffer had been part of a failed plot to assassinate Hitler, and was a wanted criminal at that time. Bonhoeffer wrote parts of this Ethics book while at the monastary.
Bonhoeffer had studied at Union Theological Seminary in New York for a year under Reinhold Niebuhr. Bonhoeffer loved Harlem and became friendly with many African-American ministers and integrated the African-American church stance on social justice into his belief system. 
Reinhold Niebuhr is a renowned theologian, to whom is attributed the saying that is the core of Alcoholics Anonymous.

          God grant me the serentity to accept the things I cannot change,
          the courage to change the things I can,
          and the wisdom to know the difference.

Another day, another lesson in history and revision. I came to the Ettal Monastery carrying conflicting thoughts, weighing the beauty of the ideas of Benedict and his sister (traditional or alleged) Scholastica against the scandal of the present. Now I have more knowledge about Ettal, knowledge that will keep me trying to put the pieces into a coherent whole long after leaving Germany. At the least, I have my own standard revision of Sheila's understanding of the Ettal Monastary.

I give the last word on this to Bonhoeffer:

 "It is very easy to overestimate the importance of our own achievement in comparison to what we owe others."      

Who Are We?

You are probably wondering who is on this trip? Who are they and why are they here? I certainly was when the unexpected opportunity arose for me to join the group. I had only met one couple prior to joining the group of 21. I had heard no tales about anyone, the 'oh, she once was, but now is' or 'he made his money doing ...' Nothing. Nada.
I inferred they would be people who love to travel and people who are passionate about theatre (I know, what else would one think about a group of people going to Germany to see a play?) The Passion Play is a once every ten years event, so it's hard to say 'Oh, I'll go in ten years when I have more health and wealth.' Who can make those projections? Well, I've been eight days with the group and this is what else I can add:
Almost everyone seems to have a flair for drama. Find us an empty stage, and I bet you'd find a play in process in two hours.

The good news is that everyone is easy-going. Not a high-maintenance person in the group. Nobody who needs a softer bed, a better shower; no-one who sits on the bus pouting because it's too far to walk to the castle and no-one who needs more time in order to make a fashion statement twice a day. There's usually one - and that one never lets you know after the trip that what was lost and took hours of delay in the search for (fill in your own blank): glasses, sunglasses, gloves, room key, hat, souvenirs, vitamins, rain jacket, umbrella was found right in the bottom of the suitcase. Not a pampered pilgrim in the crowd.
What great luck to fall into a group without one. This is all assuming that no-one thinks I'm the token high maintenance person.

Everyone likes a laugh and can laugh at themselves. Well, I think we can all laugh at ourselves. Not everyone has been tested, but those of us who have seem to know the joke is often on us.  Our leader likes us to be on time all the time. Showing up is an important part of the trip and a German way of life. We're pretty good.
No-one complains about the weather. Not that we've had weather to complain about, but these are hearty souls, the 'There is no bad weather, only inappropriate clothing' philosophy reigns here. And there is appropriate clothing all over the place.  I'd say I've seen a large suitcase or two. Some sartorial splendor, for sure.

We have invisible characters with us. Two members of the original group had to cancel (remember, that's how I got here), but they are with us all the time in spirit.  "He would love to walk through a town this clean."  "She would be crazy about all the cute dogs. And the gardens at this castle."
Nobody minds eating. Three meals a day and counting in between. Nobody minds eating dessert. Almost everyone likes to walk. Almost. Lots of plant lovers, examiners of roots, vines, buds and blossoms. Strong, sturdy behinds. Seriously, any group of people who can sit in small chairs for six hours watching a play spoken in German is one resilient group. Not one complaint hauling onto the bus the following day to cruise from Germany, through Austria, Lichtenstein, and into Switzerland. No pampered pilgrims here.
People are smart. People are funny. We have one major group photographer, and several serious contenders. We have several accents: British, Scottish, German, Spanish. We have twins. Who came first? "I did,' says one. "She was above me in the comfortable position. I had to get out."   ...."Oh, of course she went first, she always has to be the first one."  Still laughing.
We have people who like to sit up front in the bus. And, oh, what a bus. And we had one of those fabulous drivers who keeps the bus stocked with candy, a driver who calls ahead to make sure we don't get stuck in traffic jams.
We have phones, gps's, i-phones, computers, cameras, watches, kindles, IPods. Everyone has adapters. We are a high gadget group.
Hard to make a judgment like this, but I suspect we have lots of products on board. You know, the creams, moisturizers, foundation, hair gel, hair spray, body lotion, curlers, curling irons, lipsticks, eyeliner, sunscreen, salve and gloss...just have a feeling.
We have scarves as fashion statements. And some shoes.
We have professional, sexual, gender, religious, size, age, diet, political, relationship diversity. So much diversity on the face of things. Under the surface: a core of common goodness on which the diversity balances. That's the way I see it.
As a group, we've probably made North Face happy over the years.
I think we have an extremely high proportion of people who may have done well in their lives and now are focused on doing good,  people who share their good and their gifts with the world.  Actually, we have a robust cross-section of humanity on this pilgrimage. Chaucer's Pilgrims, the 21st century version. We just need a Chaucer-type narrator. And I need images from our serious photographers for this page.
Curious. Funny. Adaptable. Passionate. Playful.  But I'm not naming names, for now.

And Then They Came...

In case you haven't noticed, I've been an abject failure at posting during this trip. It's true, there have been days when I've had no access to the internet and days that I haven't wanted to pay the high prices. But those two excuses don't account for my lack of notetaking. But today is the last day, and I've signed on for a couple of hours so let's see what I can remember.
Sitting in Zurich right now, facing out on the Fifth Avenue of Switzerland, way past Heidi land and into the big city. The tradeoff for writing a couple of notes on the blog is that I don't go into stores I can't afford in Zurich or in Denver...or anywhere else. And what is it that I think I need anyway?

Back to Nuremberg.  What a complex history.
The land of medieval walls, bratwurst, Christmas markets and gingerbread cookies.....unofficial capital of the Holy Roman Empire, some say, for about 500 years.  The phase, some say, of the First Reich.
Second Reich: Unification of German States, 1871.

Fast-forward to the mid-twentieth century and imagine this scene: Third Reich.
A bright, breezy day, and from afar one can hear the sounds of the opera.  People, all ages and stages in their lives, are gathering in the field for celebration.  A grand stage, where the sun could beam down on the narrator.  No, it's not the Christmas Market, the flower market, and gingerbread and honey market. This is where the National Socialists , after listening to Wagner's opera 'Die Meistersinger von Nuremberg' would stage their huge party rallies. Clan, even, perfectly mechanized marchers, seemingly on auto-pilot.  (I know, it's ironic; Ludwig II loving and supporting Wagner, only to have someone like Hitler attracted to Wagner's work.)
Opera and marching, all in a day's entertainment, at Zeppelin Field.

Then there are the famous 1935 Nuremberg Laws, which defined who was a Jew, based on heredity. German citizenship was then only given to ethnic Germans. One has to wonder who saw what red flags, predicted the horrors that would come of a city/country with such laws. Another irony, I suppose, in that the Nuremberg Laws said the Jews could not fly the Nazi flag, but the Zionists could fly their own. flag. That Zionist flag is now the flag of Israel.

And it came to pass that in 1942 the Nuremberg Laws formed the basis for the plans for the Final Solution of the  'Jewish Question' by determining who would be transported from Germany and other Nazi occupied countries to the concentration camps.

We know all too well what follows. All too well. But never well enough.

January 1945 - 90% of the old city of Nuremberg is destroyed after the air bombings of the Allies. Why Nuremberg? Let us count the ways, but settle on its historic importance to Hitler and the Nazis.
November 1945 - The Nuremberg Trial begins? Why Nuremberg? See January 1945. And it was a trial in which the American 'innocent until proven guilty' reigned as overarching moral force. I will spare you the long, somewhat laborious facts of the trial, but have a feeling you'd love to know more. Over a million pages from the trial are archived at Harvard; and the Nuremberg Project resides there so take your googling fingers to the website, or, if you are fortunate, visit some of the places where the historic data reside. I've just read The Nuremberg Legacy, and it's a good read.
And it came to pass that saying "I was just following orders" was not sufficient.
After the war, much of the old city was restored to look like the original. The art work from the kunstbunker was brought back and put into place. But rebuilding for people, for their homes, their work, their lives came first. And then came church restoration.
But what about the restoration of thinking, pondering, telling and re-telling history? How does a city, a whole community, address its darkest years? That is the wonder of Nuremberg today.
My sense is that the community itself went through the five stages of grieving, and has passed out of denial, bargaining, all those things we do when we suffer a loss (German identiy) and have finally come to acceptance.

As I mentioned in an earlier blog, the city is educating its young to know its past, is archiving events, and opening the records for the world. It's not a pretty or easy thing to do, but it's being done. It's true that one will occasionally hear something to the effect that 'anti-Semitism was alive and well before Hitler came along.'  Ask any Spanish converso, mention the Inquisition, or look at some of the Ivy League medical school legacies on admitting Jews, and religious views that held the Jews guilty for killing Christ. Guilty for a long, long time.
In some ways, the city provides - no, it forces, a tough self-reflection. Who am I? Where would I stand and when do I fall? It's harsh. Powerful. And it doesn't let one go very easily.

"THEY CAME FIRST for the Communists,

and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.

THEN THEY CAME for the Jews,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.

THEN THEY CAME for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.

and by that time no one was left to speak up."

attributed to Pastor Martin Niemoller

Let's hope we'd speak up if called upon.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Passion Play

Highlight of the trip is the Passion Play - an all day event that includes six hours of the play with lunch before and dinner in between.
I have a copy of the script and am eager to read it this morning. Lots of changes, probably bringing the script closer to what it was before the anti-Semitic pieces got layered on over the ages.
Prior to he Passion Play, we'll stop at the Ettal Monastery - one of those modest little places housing the not-so-modest Benedictine monks of the area. It's also one of the monasteries under siege in the recent Church scandals. One of the 'who knew what when' scandals that has forced a bishop to step down and the Pope to have to defend himself. 
Quite an adventure as layers of history are added to the narrative of  people, places and events from the past. A good reminder that history is always in the making.

Oberammergau is a pilgrim destination, especially during the Passion Play years. No hiking boots, but solid sneakers and my bright red O'Cebreiro poncho will be in my backpack or on my back.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

It's Always Something

Just half a year ago I was frantically trying to differentiate between the Henry's of England, figure out the fate of Henry VIII's wives, declare personal victory over the War of the Roses and understand Shakespeare's Richard the Second.
Now I'm in Bavaria, and everyone is obsessed with King Ludwig II.  I might have known about Ludwig way back when I also knew about Bismarck, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and other fine facts that got me through Modern European History.
Here's my brief take on Ludwig II: He was a wildly romantic, introverted young man who built several castles, but not all of them were completed. Freud would have loved Ludwig II, as he built a magnificent castle, the Neuschwanstein Castle, high on the hill, looking down at his father's Hohenschwangau Castle.

Remember poor Telemachus, Odysseus' son, when his father makes his heroic return home after twenty years? How is a son supposed to top that? And poor Oedipus, fated to try to replace his father, ultimately becoming the son and husband of Jocasta?  So poor Ludwig II. He built himself a bigger castle, a castle that peers down on his father's, but the fates don't hand him a life of triumph. Instead he is destined to build many castles, fall in love with the music of Richard Wagner, and spend his life trying to surround himself with images from Wagner's opera. Looking for Tristan and Isolde? The Ring trilogy? Parsifal? Go no further than Neuschwanstein Castle, the Linderhof Palace or its grotto, Nymphenburg...All things Wagner.
When Ludwig II first heard Wagner's Lohengrin, he immediately sent for Wagner, rescued him from poverty and became his patron. Some would say Ludwig II was obsessed with Wagner, and surrounded himself in what is commonly called the 'fairy tale confection' of the Castle Neuschwanstein. Wagner had the opportunity to create beautiful music for his patron and for the world.
Legend has it that Ludwig II was extraordinarily shy, and though he had a bed and bedroom built for Wagner, Wagner never slept at the palace. Actually, the members of the court were very jealous of the time and energy Ludwig II devoted to Wagner, and Wagner was sent to Munich.
There is much written about the inner turmoil of Ludwig II, the Catholic King, with homosexual tendencies. Others say he was simply mad. In his late thirties, Ludwig was diagnosed as officially being mad, although no physician ever examined him officially. Within days of the diagnosis, the royal stamp of madness, Ludwig II and his physician were found dead in a lake close to one of his palaces. Mutual agreement death, suicide, intentional murder? We don't know. But how do we ever know what happens to tortured souls? 
We've been to three castles built and completed, in varying degrees, by Ludwig II. In addition to his obsession with Wagner, Ludwig was King Louis of France obsessed. Gilded mirrors, garish gold suns, all the symbols from the grandeur of Louis are imitated in the Linderhof Castle. How big is too big? Can't tell in this scenario.
But one senses there is a deeper story here, a sad, maybe even tragic tale of a young king, lonely and isolated from the world.
Only last fall, the psychic grandiosity of Henry 8th's mind was puzzling me, but I think I've found an equally interesting man in Bavaria. Not Wagner. Ludwig II.