Denmark and Germany, September, 2007

 

Denmark, September 8, 2007

 

Greetings from Denmark,
 
We are in Billund, Denmark, a midsized town in the center of the Jutland Peninsula. This is the home of Legoland and the Lego toy empire. Today we attend the wedding of Anders and Anne Larsen. Here wedding parties go late into the night. For a guy like me who wants to be home by 9:00 and tucked in by 10:00 it will be a stretch to be out until 2:00 AM or thereabouts.
 
On Thursday at noon we arrived at the Düsseldorf, Germany airport after a long overnight flight. We then drove 570 kilometers to Flensburg, Germany, an industrial city on the border with Denmark. It was a bad plan to travel overnight and then undertake such a drive. I was too tired to handle it comfortably but I stuck with the plan because we had already paid for a hotel room in Flensburg. It did work out okay.
 
We rented a car from the same car rental company that we had used last April. This time we had reserved and paid extra for an automatic transmission vehicle so Cheryl can drive while I cycle. We were supposed to get a Peugeot 307 but the only automatic transmission car they had on hand when we arrived was a Hyundai Santa Fe so they upgraded us to this fine SUV. It is a diesel so I have had to shiver with apprehension as I have refueled. So far I have picked the right pump.
 
Some of my ancestors come from the northwest corner of Germany known as the Schleswig-Holstein region. Before we fly back next Friday I hope to spend a day cycling that part of the country.
 
Yesterday we took it easy in the morning trying to get adjusted to the time and place. I assembled my bike and we drove across the border into Padborg, Denmark, a place where Cheryl spent a month carousing with friend, Bodil, about 39 years ago after graduating from high school. While I set off on my bike she looked up some old sites (maybe old male acquaintances too for all I know). I had an enjoyable 50 mile ride into a stiff wind before we met in the town of Voyens and then drove to Billund.
 
Last night we had dinner with the Larsen family and stayed out till !0:00 PM. They live 30 kilometers from here. The wedding is in Give, about 15 kilometers down the road. Mette, Roar and Niels were not at the dinner because Niels was sick. We missed seeing them but tonight we will sit with Mette and Roar at the reception. Niels will be with his fraternal grandparents.
 
Jorge, Anders, Jesper and I had a fine time visiting. This Larsen clan is full of very knowledgeable, worldly people and we can talk business, politics and current affairs for hours on end. Even though the Danes have a much more socialized form of government than we do, they are capitalists at heart and quite successful at that. Jorge told me that they still have a great deal of appreciation for the United States because of the effort and sacrifices that our parents made to liberate Europe in WWII.
 
It is cool, windy and rainy here today so we are relaxing this morning at a nice bed and breakfast that was recommended to us by Rick Steves in his travel guide. It is a splendid place to be and I will cycle to one of the coasts tomorrow unless the weather is awful. On Monday I hope to ride up to Arhus where we will spend the night with Mette, Roar and Niels. Cheryl has a cold but is enjoying the chance to spend time with her Danish family. It is good to be here.
 
Best wishes,
 
John

 

Billund, Denmark - September 9, 2007

Hello,
 
It is a very quiet night here at our B & B near Billund. Ghostly quiet actually. I think we are the only guests and we are actually located on a farm in a small forested enclave. It is nice.
 
However, there is no entertainment so I must take care of that myself. I am listening to a David Baldacci novel about terrorists and U.S. intelligence agencies. It is real complicated so when I keep falling asleep I have to back track and listen again to what I missed. We are still tired from a long flight and a very long wedding celebration.
 
This is Sunday. Yesterday was the big day. It was raining and cold in the morning so I just enjoyed quiet time here while having to make a trip into town to find a replacement hair dryer for Cheryl. She fried the one she brought on the European 220 current. She thought she had turned the switch but must have "fogged out" because she was wrong and the thing is now in the trash. I had to spend about $55 to get a new one in town. Things are quite expensive here.
 
The wedding was at 2:00 PM and we had a hard time finding the Church but made it with 15 minutes to spare. I do like the simple way they do weddings here. The bride and the groom and their respective parents sit at the altar for a 40 minute rite. No surplussage. No one putting on airs.
 
There were about 75 people at the wedding and the reception. All nicely dressed. All friendly and happy and many of them fluent in English. The celebration begins right after the wedding and continues until 3:00 A.M. when a final meal is served and the survivors go home. It was at a very nice rural restaurant/reception center about 12 kilometers from the church.
 
At the reception party they begin by serving cake and champagne and coffee in one crowded room while the guests arrive and bring in their gifts. Then after about an hour and a half we move into the intimate banquet room where 7 tables are set up with about 12 persons at each table. The head table has the bride and groom along with their parents. The parents are split up. Jorgen sat with the bride's mother, Margaret, while Bodil sat with the father, Per.
 
Cheryl and I sat with Mette (the toastmaster), Roar, a young woman lawyer from Copenhagen, and accountant from Copenhagen, a young Australian foreign exchange student and about five other nice Denmark people. Mette looks great. Her son was born about 16 months ago but she still looks like the 16 year old who lived with us more than 15 years ago. Roar is looking good too. He has been running and got rid of a belly that he brought with him when visiting about two years ago. At the time I was wondering if he was having one of those male pregnancy things going on.
 
They seemed to begin the dinner about 6:00 and it lasted until 11:00 when we retired to a different room for coffee and Cuban cigars and Jamaican rum.
 
During the dinner we eat and drink slowly while about 20 toasts and skits are occurring, all announced by the toastmaster, Mette, who did a fine job. After each long toast which usually included much story telling we got a translation from the folks at our table. The lawyer from Copenhagen was a best friend of the bride and she had spent a fair amount of time in California and she now does business in English so she speaks the language with no accent at all. She could have been from Iowa for all we would have known.
 
Oh, yes it was much too long an ordeal for a guy like me who likes being in bed by 9:00 P.M. and asleep by 10:30 P.M. But, I held up well and the night did go by pretty fast. It all works out well for us because we like and respect these people so much and they are very good to us.
 
At 11:00 we moved out so they could set the room up for live music and dancing. I had coffee but none of the whiskey or cigars that were offered. My brother, Jerry, would have enjoyed this part if he could have lasted so long and been here.
 
Just before midnight they begin the dancing with the bride and groom. During the first dance the young men surround the groom, lift him up and cut off his socks to symbolize that the marriage is forever. The young ladies cut off the veil for the same purpose. These families are committed and you leave knowing that this marriage will last.
 
Of course, they have had about 6 years to figure this out. Anders and Anne met at some political event where somehow they were in sleeping bags across from each other. How that came to be I could never figure out but soon they were in the same bag and things never changed. I do believe that they are meant to be together.
 
The Larsen family is politically involved. Denmark has a socialists background. The tax rate begins at about 50% and for successful folks it goes to 70%. Mette, the lawyer, thinks that the Denmark tax rate should be reduced but my U.S. tax rate should be increased. Hell with her, I say.
 
I made this trip for Cheryl. She really, really is attached to this family and they are real fine people. However, I had always said that I wanted to be able to leave the reception after midnight and I would cycle each day during the trip. We did get away about 1:00 A.M. and that was a blessing.
 
Throughout the night we were able to reconnect with Soren and Anya who were not able to bring their baby Camilla. We also spent more time with Jesper, Ditte and young Eric. Mette is always a blessing to be around and I do enjoy her husband, Roar. 
 
Bodil's oldest brother, Sven, is a teacher and turns 60 in December and will retire. He speaks very fluent English and was great to visit with. Her younger brother, Torbin, was there with his family. I never had a talk with him but Cheryl did. Hell she talked to everyone.
 
This morning we rested. Then about 11:30 A.M. Cheryl went to meet Jorgen and Bodil for lunch with the bride and groom and the bride's family. I went for a 50 mile cycle ride towards the west coast. We both had a fine time.
 
It is time to say goodnight.  Best wishes from here. Tomorrow I ride to Arhus. We will spend the night with Mette, Roar and young son, Niels, at their new home.
 
John

September 11, 2007 - Wilster, Germany

Greetings to All,
 
Tonight I am in Schlesweg-Holstein, Germany, in the city of Wilster. This is generally the area where some of my ancestors, the Holzhauer's came from. Bodil tells us that Holzhauer means "wood chopper." That seems to be in line with what our German-English dictionary has to say.
 
On Monday Cheryl drove up to Arhus where Mette, Roar and Niels live. It is a city of about 500,000, the second largest in the country. We became familiar with it two years ago when we visited here for Mette and Roar's wedding.
 
I had the best part of the bargain. I got on my bike in Billund and rode across rural Denmark 70 miles to get to the home in Arhus. It was a cool, overcast, windy and rainy day but one I will remember for years and years. My route took me through the countryside where potatoes, corn and cattle predominate along with many modern windmills generating electrical power. The roads were very narrow but well paved and there was very little traffic. It was quite exhilarating most of the time.
 
During the ride I got hit with two rainy storms that lasted about a half hour each. As the first one arrived I stopped on the narrow road near a lovely Danish farm and put on all my raingear including shoe covers, jacket and pants. About two hours later I had just removed it all when the second storm hit. Then I just put on the jacket. I was wet but still quite happy to be on the road.
 
In Denmark you can cycle anywhere you want to go. In the cities there are good bike paths along the roads. In the country you ride the roads with impunity and respect. Riding a bike is a way of life over here.
 
Oh, I did have a problem getting to the Arhus house. My great map ended about 15 miles south of Arhus and I decided to not buy another map. Dead reckoning and memory had to be enough to save some Danish Kroners and it did work out. I ended up being just about 2 miles off with my dead reckoning but I found the house about 3:30 in the afternoon. (Oh yes, I didn't ask for directions either. Men don't do that especially in foreign countries, we are such fools.)
 
We had a fine evening and early morning with Mette, Niels and Roar. Mette fixed a tasty lasagna for supper. The house is new and the price per square foot was probably about $350. Everything is overpriced here.
 
Roar just started working for a small company of 23 employees who design and peddle software to small companies doing business on the Internet. Mette is a full fledged medical doctor who is deeply into Parkinson's research and teaching at the university. They live modestly and carefully. They own one small Peugeot car that Roar uses to commute to work. Mette cycles 4 miles each way to work dropping off 16 month old Niels at day care on the way.
 
In Denmark 95% of the women work. Families need two incomes to survive. The value added tax on goods is 25% and income taxes go up to 70%. Cars are taxed at 180% so you don't want to buy a car very often.
 
Roar and Mette both seem healthy, happy and well adjusted. Niels was the typical toddler.
 
This morning we left Arhus at 7:45 as Roar and Mette headed off to work. We drove south to historic Christianfeld and then over to the East to Tonder. We decided to proceed down into Germany.
 
At the German border I got on the bike and rode 42 miles south to Friedrichstadt, another old German city, where Cheryl walked, toured and waited for me. Then we loaded up and drove another 45 miles south to Wilster, a small, old city. We had spotted a hotel on the Internet but spotting it among these old cobbled, narrow streets took about 45 minutes of searching. We have a nice old room with our own toilet and shower.
 
The West coast of the Schlesweg-Holstein area of Germany is low lying farm country. I is similar to the flat farm ground of Illinois where my Holzhauer ancestors settled in the latter 1800s. Today there are thousands of electricity generating windmills spread across the land taking advantage of the strong winds coming across the sea. There is a dike built at the seacoast to hold back the ocean.
 
I want to find a phone book to see if the Holzhauer name appears. I also want to cycle as much as possible as we head south to Düsseldorf. We will take a ferry across the Elbe River tomorrow. Where we will stay is not yet determined.
 
The Germans are similar to the Danes in being stoic and not especially friendly. It's okay once you get used to it and being here with Cheryl makes things easier because she is fearless when it comes to interactions with strangers who speak a different tongue. In every situation both of us are friendly and keep smiling and things seem to work out.
 
We are well. We are content and glad to see new territory.
 
Best wishes,
 
John

Düsseldorf Airport and beyond, September 14, 2007

Hello to all,
 
While we are waiting at the Düsseldorf Airport I will start a note that is likely to me sent after we touch down in Moline. I'm too cheap to buy 30 minutes of Internet time for $3.95 Euro.
 
The last two days of our trip were spent slowly touring down the northwest portion of Germany. The land in this area is very low. There are long stretches of dikes along the seacoast and on both sides of the Elbe River to hold back the water. Some of the land seems to be at or below sea level.
 
There are thousands of windmills in the windy areas along the coast but when we got 20 miles inland they disappeared. On Wednesday we crossed the Elbe on a ferry. It was a very cool, rainy day. For the most part we have seen little sunshine during the entire trip.
 
Farmers raise corn here along with lots of specialty crops of fruits and vegetables. They are also quite a few dairy and beef herds but no large feed lots. The fields have to be drained with well placed ditches to make the land useable. Farmsteads are very, very neat. I can't remember Grandpa Holzhauer being very neat and tidy.
 
Tuesday night we were in Wilster, an old smaller city with quite a bit of charm. Wednesday night we were in the larger, industrial city of Bremen, quite old and quite charming. Also the home of Mercedes-Benz. Then last night we were in Krefeld, a city of about a quarter million inhabitants, near Düsseldorf, Essen and Dortmond. There are about 5 million Germans living in the nearby cities.
 
Krefeld is old and dirty and not worth a visit. It was founded by the Romans but now it has little charm compared to the fine small towns throughout the region and the better large cities.
 
We did have a new housing experience last night. We stayed in a "vending machine" hotel. It was an Etap operated by Accor. You check in with your credit card and get a key code and room assignment. The room was pretty basic but quite adequate. The toilet and shower were individual modular units of fiberglass that appeared to be built for use on cruise ships.
 
I rode very little the last two days because we needed to cover a few too many miles. I did end up with about 250 miles for the trip so I felt quite happy about having brought the bike. Northwest Airline has not argued about the size of the case and it has gone on the plane for free, as planned. I know the case does exceed their size limits for free luggage by just a few inches so I am always ready to pay a $75 oversize fee if need be.
 
The German people are average in friendliness and courtesy. We know very little of the German language and use a dictionary on a routine basis. I get Cheryl to do most of the talking when it comes to ordering food. The food has been good on all occasions. One very good thing here is that they don't super size their servings in Europe. I'm quite sure that neither of us gained weight on the trip.
 
Smoking is more prevalent here in Germany. They sell cigarettes from vending machines that are located just about everywhere. When I was lost the other day in Cuxhaven I found one right at the corner in a purely residential neighborhood. It has to be hard to stop children from smoking under these rules.
 
Germans tend to be stockier than other Europeans. Still, there are very few obese people. Here they walk and cycle to get around. Bicycles for everyday transport are all over the place. Bicycle lanes and paths take you everywhere you might want to go. Young and old cycle all the time. It is very good to see.
 
Europe is nice and I do appreciate the way folks live here. They are careful and frugal because they have fewer resources than we Americans have. They have ideas that we can copy in the future.
 
 
Here are the Larsen's. Soren, Anya, Jesper, Ditte, Anne, Anders, Bodil, Jorgen, Mette, and Roar. The reason for the trip. Quite a remarkable family.
 (click to enlarge)

 

We are now on the ground in Detroit and all is well.
 
Best wishes to all.
 
John