Denmark and Germany, September, 2007
Denmark, September 8,
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
Billund, Denmark -
September 9, 2007
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
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
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
September 11, 2007 -
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
We are now on the ground in Detroit and all is well.
Best wishes to all.