4/25/2007

High in the air over Lake Ontario, Canada

 

Dear Friends and Family,

 

Cheryl and I are headed to Europe and as I write this note we are passing over Lake Ontario and will soon be over the Atlantic. Jerry and Dorothy are to join us at the Munich Airport. They should be in the air right now and are behind us. We are flying United Airlines from Chicago direct to Munich. They are flying American Airlines and will pass through Heathrow Airport in London.

 

We were in O’Hare Airport at the same time but their flight was being delayed. Bad weather across the United States raised havoc with the airlines. We were supposed to fly from Moline to Chicago but United actually bused us to O’Hare because of the high winds and all the flight delays. Jerry and I talked briefly on the cell phone in Chicago and then the connection was lost. They may miss their connection in London but we will simply sit tight at the Munich Airport and wait for their arrival whenever it might occur.

 

We have a two week trip planned that will have us spend three nights in southern Germany, three nights in Salzburg, Austria, three nights in Prague, Czech Republic, one night in Nuremburg, and two nights in Munich. We will see plenty and we will learn. Parts of our trip will be in that part Germany where my father ended up in WWII. He was with the troops liberating Dachau at the end of the war. We will visit that site at the end of the trip.

 

I am presently listening to an audio book novel by Alan Furst set largely in Berlin, Paris and Moscow 1937 through 1940. It is a sobering prelude to the trip. Dachau is in the story as well as all the events that were part of the holocaust in its earlier years. However, I am primarily interested in seeing things as they now exist. An easy going, gentle trip is what I seek. It will be interesting to see how it turns out.

 

More later.

 

John

 

4/27/2007

Klais, Germany

 

Hello,

 

We have made it to a small hotel in the Bavarian Alps at the southern tip of Germany.

Cheryl and I made it into the Munich Airport at 10:00 in the morning on the 26th and Jerry and Dorothy followed just two hours later. I’m the designated driver for the trip and I rented a little Peugeot wagon that carries the four of us and our luggage quite nicely. We were all tired but in very good spirits.

 

It took about 100 miles of driving to get us here since we added some extra miles by making a wrong turn or two and by getting off the autobahn to see the countryside up close. I had no sleep on the flight over so the drive was stressful as we familiarized ourselves with German road patterns and German signs and I had to get used to shifting gears and a new car. All in all we did fine, especially after taking an hour long coffee/café break in the small town of Kochel on the Lake. The weather is especially good with sunshine and temperatures around 70 degrees.

 

Germany is neat and clean. There is seldom any trash lying around. All real estate seems to be well maintained. The people at the Munich Airport were extremely efficient and everyone dresses much better than the typical American. We speak no German and the waiters and hotel keepers speak little English in this area but we get along fine. My supper would have been more filling if I could have read the menu.

 

Prices are higher here than in America. We knew they would be so we don’t gasp at paying six dollars per gallon for gasoline and one hundred dollars for a modest hotel room. It is the cost of visiting a foreign land.

 

Well we will soon be off this early Friday morning for a day of touring the local sites. Cheryl and Dorothy have some things in mind. Jerry and I will be their willing companions.

 

Best wishes from Klais.

 

John

 

4/28/2007

Klais, Germany

 

Hello,

 

It is mid morning here in Klais and we will soon journey south to Mittenwald for a leisurely day of touring. Yesterday was a busy one so today we will take it easy.

 

We are in that part of Germany known in the past as Bavaria so we have been touring the castles built by King Ludwig II of Bavaria in the late 19th century as well as a beautiful church in the small village of Wies. The buildings are impressive but a wasteful use of resources. Ludwig was quite eccentric and his castle building became unpopular. By the age of 41 he had been declared insane and was murdered while being held captive by his own government. He managed to build two elaborate castles influenced by French buildings and he had plans for many more before he met his demise.

 

I find that I care very little about monuments but really enjoy the overall environment. Europe is much more mature than the United States. The land is more densely populated and buildings are older. Resources are more precious so everything is well tended. Waste and deterioration are not evident. It just feels warm and comfortable to be here.

The hotel that we are in was once a castle of some sort. Our room is spacious and comfortable. It reminds me of a room in an old farmhouse. We get a free breakfast each morning in the dining room and we have been having dinner there each evening. The food is fine but my choice of a meal last night was a mistake for me. I need to take more time trying to decipher the menu.

 

This is a slower time of year for tourists. The hotel is less than half full. The roads are pretty easy to traverse. I haven’t had any trouble driving and the Peugeot is quite a good car except for a weak A/C system. We let Jerry relax in back and smoke his pipe so he is getting spoiled.

 

Our exercise has come with a considerable amount of walking but today I hope to return from Mittenwald on foot. There is a bicycle path between Klais and Mittenwald that should be a good route for me. I’ll see if I can find my way home while the others bring the car back.

 

We are all in good spirits and send you our greetings.

 

John

 

4/29/07

Klais, Germany

 

Hello,

 

It is early Sunday morning here in Klais and we are preparing to move on to Salzburg, Austria. The hotel owners will miss us since they have had only a modest business during the last few days. The couple is about 40. They speak very little English but we have still bonded well and will remember them for good hospitality and hard work. Last night they fixed us porterhouse steaks along with a huge platter of vegetables and fried potatoes. It was our best meal so far.

 

Yesterday we spent six hours wandering around the town of Mittenwald just southeast of here near the Austrian border. We enjoyed their shopping plazas, central church, violin museum and just the overall ambiance of a southern German town. For centuries the town has been known for violin making so Cheryl and Dorothy toured that museum while Jerry and I, well we just lazed about people watching.

 

We hiked out to a narrow gorge to see a waterfall and then took a cable car up to the top of the mountains. My pilot brother didn’t enjoy the cable car experience but all of us appreciated the views from the top while having a fine cup of German coffee.

 

I felt adventurous so I decided to hoof it back to Klais along a bike path. It ended up being eight miles and I ran the first six. They have great cycling paths in the area.

 

We all continue to feel good and we look forward to seeing the Eagle’s Nest on our way over to Salzburg.

Goodbye for now,

 

John

 

4/30/2007

Hallein, Austria

 

We are staying in a nice hotel near Hallein, Austria, just a few miles south of Salzburg. It is cozy but more modern than the remodeled castle that we left behind us.

 

On Sunday we simply drove at a leisurely pace about 200 miles to get here from Klais. Most of the drive was off the autobahn so it was slow but it put us right in the middle of things. We took a coffee break in a small town in the late morning. About 100 local horses and riders in all sorts of local dress gathered for a parade so we lingered to watch and shoot some photos. While we drank our coffee we spoke to a fellow who was getting his accordion from his auto. He then stopped to serenade us with Clementine and Q’ue Sera Sera.

 

The weather is just perfect. The sun has been out each day and we have more days of sunshine ahead of us. The temperatures are much higher than I anticipated reaching the 70’s each day.

 

Our diesel Peugeot still has almost a half tank left. We must be getting great mileage. The road is full of many small station wagons like ours most of them made in Germany, France or Italy. There are very few minivans and not many SUV’s. There are quite a few high end Volvos, BMWs and Mercedes.

 

German war memorials are ever present in the small towns. We are accustomed to seeing memorials in our small towns listing U.S. casualties. Now we are looking at similar memorials listing the casualties from the other side in the battles. It is a bit unsettling. Did you know that good Pope Benedict was a German soldier in WWII shooting at Allied planes in southern Germany?

 

The Austrians speak German and are very nice. They keep their grounds clean. You just don’t find litter anywhere. It must be “verbeiten” but it sure is inspiring. In Austria they work shorter hours but live longer healthier lives. Socialism rules in Vienna but there is a strong conservative movement in opposition. We will learn more as the next few days go by.

 

Today we tour Salzburg. The city has about 150,000 residents so I should be okay driving around its streets.

 

More later.

 

John

 

 

5/1/2007

Hallein, Austria

 

Hello Friends and Family,

 

The Cruise’s toured Salzburg yesterday and inevitably that means visiting many of the “Sound of Music” sites.

 

Most of the day was spent downtown but before going there we stopped by the gazebo that was featured in the movie and we drove by the lake and mansion where it was supposed that the Von Trapp’s lived. The movie was far from accurate as to the actual lives of the Von Trapp family but the overall theme was correct. Baron Von Trapp, a decorated veteran of WWI, gave up all his property to leave Austria and immigrate to the United States rather than serve in the Nazi war machine that he so detested.

 

Downtown Salzburg is a place where I could live for awhile. The city has roots that go back at least as far as the 8th century A.D. It is old, lively, historic and quaint at the same time. Even though this is a low season tourist wise it was pretty crowded with tourists, many of whom seemed to be from Italy.

 

 

This is a totally Caucasian community. Of the many thousands of people that we have seen there have been no Africans, maybe a couple Arabs, and probably a few dozen Oriental tourists. We have not yet had the opportunity to meet or visit with any other Americans.

 

Among the downtown buildings the Catholic Cathedral needs to be mentioned. It is the typical huge, opulent church that had to be built with the money and sweat of thousands of peasants over the years. It contains many graves of the rich and famous that get to have crypts dug into the walls for their everlasting resting place. Viewing the original foundation walls in the basement was interesting. They were still in good shape after 12 centuries and they seemed to be about 10’ thick.

 

 

The downtown extends more than a mile so we spent much of the day just walking and looking. The city lies on the Salzach River and the downtown is on the south side of the river with the north side consisting of some gorgeous gardens and many fine residences. We enjoyed strolling through the gardens but even more we enjoyed having our mid-day coffee in an outdoor café. Cheryl can go on rather endlessly when it comes to touring a new city but the rest of us like to have our coffee and soak up the atmosphere at a very leisurely pace.

 

That’s all for now.

 

John

 

5/1/2007 (early evening)

Hallein, Austria

 

Hello,

 

May 1st was a delightful day for us here in Austria. May Day is a public holiday here. They close down their businesses and have festivals everywhere. The premier event is the raising of the May Pole. The pole is a newly cut fir tree from the local forests. The one erected in the village next to us is about 70’ tall. They trim off all bark and branches except for the top 6’ or so. Then they parade the pole to the festival grounds and the men of the village go through an elaborate ritual of raising the pole while drinking beer.

 

 

Everyone has a great time and I know they are still partying as I write these lines.

 

We began the day with a 50 mile drive into a peaceful valley to the town of Hallstatt. It is built into a mountain overlooking a natural lake. The town is one of the oldest in Europe with a history that precedes Roman times. Now it has about 1,000 inhabitants and an active salt mine up in the mountain overlooking the town. We just enjoyed meandering around the town, touring the church and bone house and having coffee at a lakeside restaurant. 

 

Oh, the bone house, you need to see for yourself.

 

You see, here in Europe cemeteries are not eternal places. Usually a body gets to occupy a plot for ten years. If the family renews the lease the time can be extended but usually the plot is reused after ten years. For many years in Hallstatt they would dig up the bones and the skulls would be bleached in the sun, decorated and stored in the bone house. The longer bones would be stored below. This practice is going out of use now because more and more people are electing cremation.

 

The town is charming and. It sits at about 4-5,000’ so it was a bit cooler than Salzburg. The valley lies between mountain ranges making it seem very similar to many places we love in Colorado but here they must get much more rain because the valley seems to be green and fertile.

 

Jerry and Dorothy are having a good time.

 

 

So are Cheryl and I.

 

Boy oh boy, the roads are full of hundreds of cyclists. Inside I am pained because it is not me pedaling up these mountain roads and coasting down into the verdant valleys. I am certainly going to return to central Europe with my Ritchey bike very soon to tour from town to town on these scenic but strange byways. Lodging and food is costly but it would still be well worth it to be here on the bicycle.

 

There is very little new construction going on anywhere that we have been. Here they simply preserve what they have. They also have little or no population growth because many young couples would rather play than raise children and they have come to see immigration as a negative experience. Germany has a negative population growth. Austria and France have very, very slight growth rates.

 

I’ve been having some problems with headaches and jaw pain. It is something I have been fighting the last two months since having oral surgery including a small bone grafting job for an implant. It is something that makes you feel more vulnerable when you are far from home and your doctors. For a couple days I feared that I might have to leave the group and head home ahead of time but during the last 24 hours things have turned around and now I am confident that I will be okay. Thankfully that has occurred before we enter the Czech Republic. I have decided to just walk for exercise during the trip and not over stress the body.

The food has not been great but that is partly our fault. If you can’t read the menu and understand the customs it is hard to choose the food that you would like to eat. I have had a couple enjoyable meals but there have been some significant mistakes too. We get a nice breakfast each morning as part of our guest house lodging and then we eat little or nothing until dinner. We just have coffee about noon. All four of us are happy with that routine. We love eating but no one wants to go home weighing more than when we came.

 

I particularly love European coffee. They brew it dark and full bodied. Even though they are stingy with the cup sizes and they charge an arm and a leg for it, it is still a fine experience.

 

Tomorrow we leave early to drive about 300 miles to Prague. Jerry and I have convinced Cheryl and Dorothy to skip by the cathedral where Julie Andrews married the Baron Von Trapp so we can get into Prague before rush hour. We may make a side trip to the medieval town of Cesky Krumlov if we feel that time will allow it. The roads in the Czech Republic will not be as good as Germany and Austria which have had outstanding roads.

 

Best wishes to all.

 

The Cruise Group

 

5/3/2007

Prague, Czech Republic

 

Hello to all,

 

An early east sun has awoken us this Thursday morning in our hotel about 1.5 miles from downtown Prague. We had a relaxing night after a fairly long day of driving through Austria and the Czech Republic to get here.

 

Austrian roads continued to be impressive and Austrian views were attractive. Things are much different on the Czech side. This country spent forty years under Communist Party rule after WWII with the Russian boot and tanks being the enforcers. So it is just now recovering from that fiasco and it has one of the up and coming economies in the EEU. In fifty years it will be in fine shape.

 

Right now things are just a lot rougher around the edges. Communist era buildings are ugly and depressing. Cars are older. Roads are poorer. There is more trash and more dilapidated, abandoned property. Alcoholism is higher than in the Western European countries. Crime is high. Children are left in state run orphanages by parents who are in prison for drug crimes or other felonies. Still, things are improving all the time. South Korean automaker Hyundai is building a huge plant in the country and as we entered Prague we saw office buildings bearing the signs for Dell Computer, and many other major American companies.

 

It was 1989 when the Czech’s peacefully booted the Communists out of power in the “Velvet Revolution.” Since that time the country has been split into two new countries, also a peaceful event. Czechoslovakia became the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The Czech Republic is better off than Slovakia.

 

This area of Europe has been home for Celtic tribes, Germanic tribes, and Slavic tribes. Naturally the tribes fought each other for land and control for centuries. Even in recent times the fight was evident: after WWII three million Germans living here were forced to relocate to Germany even though they had been here for centuries. This forced relocation left property abandoned and untended and really limited the recovery of the economy after the war. But in Europe tribalism has always been important and ethnicity means much more than it does in the US.

 

We visited the medieval town of Cesky Krumlov on our way here. It is the second most visited town in the Czech Republic following Prague. It had typical old fortifications, moats, castles and the like. After the Germans were expelled it fell into great disrepair but now is being revived because of tourism.

 

The above is a view of part of the town from fortifications.

 

Today we will stroll to old town Prague and explore. We have to avoid gypsies and other thieves. Personal possessions will be well secured. The car will remain in the parking garage at the hotel for our three days here. Car theft and thievery from cars is a significant problem here.

 

As for us four people: Cheryl is her usual self and a very dedicated, thorough tour guide. She has none of the “Cruise” anxiety so she is really the leader much of the time. Dorothy is in good spirits and complements Cheryl with mapping and planning. In a strange place when you can’t understand the language we are often at wits end. Dorothy bails us out. Jerry, well he too is in good spirits and his experience in Europe, Russia and other places helps a lot. At least, when we are lost in space or in any situation he is willing to step in and ask questions of the locals. Me, I just hide behind my role as driver and hope for the best. My jaw pain and headaches are diminished and hopefully a thing of the past. I look forward to continuing our explorations.

 

Internet access is harder to come by here. I have to walk down the block and stand in the street to send and receive messages so there is no chance to do research in the room but we will stay in touch as best we can.

 

Best wishes from Central Europe.

 

John

 

5/4/2007

Prague, Czech Republic

 

Hello,

 

It is another nice morning here in Prague. It will be sunny and warm. We are fortunate to be up on the fifth floor of this hotel with a large corner window facing northeast. The view of the city from here is not attractive but it is still a view. Across the railroad tracks there is a long line of abandoned buildings and for the life of me I can’t tell what they were ever used for. Below us the electric tram runs on a main corridor to the heart of the city. It is only 6:30 A.M. but there is a lot of traffic moving by.

 

Yesterday we walked and walked as we toured Old Town Prague and the Prague Castle areas. Old buildings, old churches, old roads, narrow alleys and old bridges are everywhere. Now it is one huge tourist destination and I was quite surprised at how crowded it was. Prague has about 1.2 million residents and there must be another couple hundred thousand tourists here right now. That could easily get up to half a million come July and August. It is a major tourist destination, something that is good for the Czech Republic and a real shot in the arm for the local economy.

 

As for me, I’m glad to see it once but wouldn’t go out of my way to come back. In Germany and Austria I feel some attachment to the people and the land. Here I feel like a total stranger just passing through at a pretty quick pace trying to not leave too much of my money behind.

 

We saw no gypsies or thieves in the crowds. We did watch the changing of the guard outside the palace because it seemed to be the thing to do. It was rather mundane. Mostly we enjoyed having our coffee and our lunch at a secluded, courtyard restaurant. Prices are reasonable and the local waiters are accommodating. The younger folks all know a smattering of English.

 

Jerry has a custom of buying a vase in each new country that he visits so today he has to fulfill that plan by finding something appropriate. We will be visiting the New Town area on foot and seeing new things as the day goes by. We do have hundreds of digital photos that will remind us of this place as time goes by.

 

 

I could send you photos of the usual old buildings or monuments but this one really has the most meaning. In the cobblestone pavement that you see are 27 white crosses that represent 27 Protestant nobles, intellectuals and merchants who were beheaded in 1621 after rebelling against the Catholic Hapsburgs. Central Europe has seen centuries upon centuries of war. In early times it was a struggle between tribes. In later times it was a struggle between religious factions and it has always been a very bloody struggle.

 

We are all well.

 

John

 

5/5/2007

Prague to Nuremburg

 

Hello,

 

This will be a short note this morning. We are getting up early to leave Prague and drive southwest into Germany. Traffic in the city is bad so we want to drive out by 7:30 A.M. It is Saturday so much of the business rush hour will be gone, or so we hope.

 

We visited the New Town area of Prague yesterday with our primary destination being Wenceslaus Boulevard where recent events in Prague history have occurred such as the uprisings in 1968 and 1989 against Communist rule. The bullet holes in the columns and the facades of the buildings were roughly patched by the Czechs so they stand out as vivid reminders of this subjugated, rough period of history.

 

As we approached the area there were thousands of students gathering for a protest. It was an organized protest of a new government accreditation standard that is to go into effect next year.

The students don’t want a national standard and in this nation it is common to go to the streets in Wenceslaus Boulevard to let off steam and demonstrate.

 

 

Jerry shopped for his vase and selected one that appeared unique and reasonably priced.

 

We enjoyed our normal coffee shop breaks just to absorb what we were seeing.

 

Anyway, we will stay in Nuremburg tonight but we will actually drive past Nuremburg for almost an hour first to spend the afternoon hours visiting the medieval German city of Rothenburg. Then we backtrack to Nuremburg, the city of some 500,000 where the war crime trials were held after WWII.

 

We do move at an easy pace so we are rested and continue to feel well.

 

Best wishes from here.

 

John

 

5/6/2007

Nuremburg, Germany

 

Friends and Family,

 

Dad was here in Nuremburg in 1945. He fought with the troops that took the city before heading southwest to Dachau and Munich. It is so hard to imagine what he must have been thinking, feeling and experiencing through those hard days of WWII. I know that all four of us have him in mind as we work our way through this part of Germany.

National Socialism, Nazi party roots are deeply imbedded here. Hitler lived much of his life in Bavaria and Austria and southern Germany. Many of the Nazi Party leaders also came out of this area.

 

Today Nuremburg is a thriving city of 500,000 people. We arrived here about 3:00 P.M. after a very pleasant drive from Prague to Rothenburg and then to Nuremburg. We left our hotel in Prague at 7:30 A.M. and had a fairly easy drive out of the city to the autobahn. It took about 10 miles of driving to clear the city but once on the autobahn we could really roll.

 

It was a great highway with no speed limits most of the way. I drove about 130 kilometers per hour most of the time moving between the right and left lanes to pass trucks, campers and some slower cars. On the autobahn you have to watch the rear at all times if you are in the left lane because the fast drivers can come up behind you moving as fast as 160 kph or more. The Peugeot is a good car in all respects except that the wind seems to affect it too much.

 

We spent two hours in the old city of Rothenburg. Late in WWII the Allies bombed the town heavily so much of its medieval look is actually postwar construction. It is a tourist draw and obviously they make money on the tourists with all their shops, hotels and rented rooms. The best view of the city is from atop the ancient walls.

 

It rained much of the day, our first rainy day of the trip, so we enjoyed hanging out in a pleasant restaurant for coffee and soup. Being back in Germany is a delight. Everything is so much neater and cleaner than the Czech Republic.

 

We wandered the huge downtown commercial district here in Nuremburg. They claim to have eight kilometers of pedestrian shopping with spacious walkways and open plazas. I’m not a shopper but I truly enjoyed seeing it. I know that it will take Iowa City a couple centuries to develop anything like this even though our city planners and wishful thinkers would like our downtown to look like Nuremburg.

 

Supper ended up being at a more expensive, unique restaurant in the middle of the district. Cheryl got the recommendation from a Rick Steve guidebook and it was a good one. The restaurant has a doorway that is low and inconspicuous and then a steep stone stairway that takes you deep underground into an old cellar that has been rebuilt into a high class medieval restaurant. It opened at 6:00 P.M. and we were first to get seated.

 

In this part of Europe dining is a leisurely experience. They never bring you the bill until you ask for it. Everyone expects to take their time and to enjoy a meal. We have really become accustomed to this pleasant routine.

 

We have seen few Americans but last night there was a group of four at the restaurant here on business selling roof and wall coatings of some sort, competitors to Jerry and his company. They were from New York and a woman in the group had Jewish German roots. Her grandparents were concentration camp survivors.

 

Today we will visit the Nazi Documentation Center near the rally grounds here in Nuremburg. It is supposed to explain the rise and fall of National Socialism. Then we will visit Dachau in the afternoon. Dad was there for the liberation of Dachau April 28, 1945. It will be a chilling day.

 

Again, we are all doing well. Off we go to a sidewalk café for coffee and a light breakfast.

 

John

Part of Nuremburg commercial plaza

 

Our tour leader

 

 

Monday, 5/7/2007

Near Munich, Germany

 

Hello Friends and Family,

 

It is the end of our trip and time to write a final report about what has been a good, happy excursion into new territory. We will retain memories of the last 12 days for the rest of our lives.

 

Yesterday was Sunday as we got moving in Nurenberg.  Our goal of having a light breakfast and coffee at a sidewalk care faded away as we realized that the cafes were closed on a Sunday morning. On every hour we heard loud church bells ringing across the city.

 

Our hotel was near the huge, modern train station, the hub of mass transit for the city so we ended up walking over there and finding a McDonalds open. So our coffee and breakfast ended up being mundane but satisfying.

 

The next stop was the Nazi Documentation Center that is really a large museum built into one of the few remaining Nazi built monuments, the Congress Hall. Hitler and his team, including architect Albert Speer, had designed and planned a vast complex of monuments, buildings and rally grounds at the southeast side of the city to demonstrate German power and German pride. It was all to be on such a vast scale that it would surpass anything else that was ever built. The war effort interrupted the construction and only the Congress Hall and Zeppelin Field remain, neither of which were really finished.

 

The Documentation Center opened in the late 1990s and is a long series of exhibits designed to give an objective description of the National Socialist Democratic Party (Nazi Party) movement including the circumstances that existed at the time and how it all seemed to coalesce. It is hard to imagine how Hitler and his henchmen could rise to power and destroy a significant part of humanity in such a short time but these exhibits do tell a pretty detailed story and they leave each visitor better informed as well as chilled to the bone.

 

It is too much to take in just one visit. We all have a pain threshold regarding this awful time and at some point we just want to look away and run from the building. The four of us made earnest efforts to see and learn but I’m sure that we could learn even more if we ever return.

The Congress Hall with the Documentation Center at the lower right hand portion.

 

We had a little extra adventure after leaving the Documentation Center at noon but I will mention that later. We had a hundred mile drive on Autobahn A-9 down to Dachau and this particular autobahn is wide, fast and full of hard charging cars. I ended up picking up the pace and drove 90-100 mph much of the way and even in a small car it seemed like a comfortable enough speed in the middle lane. The right lane is for slower vehicles and the left lane is only for “those who dare” because there the cars are coming by at speeds of 120-140 mph.

 

We made it to Dachau just before the gates were to close and before the rain came. We made a very quick tour of the grounds and buildings inside the gates and took photos of ground that Dad must have walked upon in 1945. Visiting a concentration camp is required of all German school children but visiting a camp in this day and age is an empty experience because what you miss is the people, the suffering and the carnage. All of that is left to your imagination and study of the photographs taken at the time of the camp liberations.

 

Dachau is historic in part because it was the first German concentration camp and the model for more than 70 others that followed shortly after. Tens of thousands political prisoners, Jews, other minorities and undesirables were murdered at Dachau and it had a crematorium that was never used but it was not one of the major death camps. Here there was a small chance of survival and fortunately about 67,000 near dead people were liberated April 29, 1945. The Nazis built the primary death camps in Poland.

A memorial wall on the roll call grounds where the inmates had to assemble each morning for counting. They were forced to stand to be counted dead or alive and they could be kept there for hours if there was a problem with the count.

 

After Dachau we meandered over to our hotel in a small country town near the airport. Today we will visit downtown Munich and then relax here and pack our bags for an early flight tomorrow morning. We have no Internet access here so I will try to send this note from Munich or the airport tomorrow. It should be our final memo of the trip.

 

Oh but there is a bit more that I must add. No matter how carefully you plan and how cautiously you proceed on a trip like this, or in life itself, things can still go wrong. I made a big mistake yesterday.

 

After leaving the documentation center and with my head still in the clouds I drove us to get some diesel for our almost empty diesel Peugeot. I pulled into a nice Shell station and it was my turn to pay for the fuel so I jumped out and thought that I was carefully selecting the right hose. It was green and something gave me assurance that green meant diesel.

 

Halfway through the process I realized that I was very, very wrong. I put in 32 liters of unleaded gas and boy were we in trouble. Fortunately for us we were in Nurenberg and we got some help from several locals. We had to call the rental car company and get the car towed to the local Peugeot dealer where they will have to drain the tank today. We then took a taxi to the Nurenberg airport where they gave us a new, smaller Renault and went on our way. All of this took about three and a half tense hours as we worked through the mechanics of it with the help of the Germans. The language barrier made things difficult but a customer at the gas station came to our rescue at the early moments and placed the first call to the rental car company using his cell phone and getting things in motion for us.

 

We sat waiting for the tow for about two hours but the tow truck operator was very helpful too. He was an independent contractor but he used his phone to work with the rental company to make arrangements for us to get the replacement car. We helped load the car onto the truck bed and since we had all the luggage and four passengers Jerry and I rode up on the truck bed sitting in our disabled car as we went through the streets of Nurenberg to the Peugeot dealer. Obviously I was quite chagrined.  

 

The tow truck driver was about 40 years old and he told Cheryl and Dorothy that he was the son of an American serviceman and German woman who had been placed for adoption as an infant. He seemed to wish that he had gone to America instead of being left in Germany.

 

Some good things can be said about the fiasco. We were wise enough to not start the vehicle with the bad fuel in it so there should be no damages other than the cost of draining the tank etc. I expect to pay dearly for the mistake. The tow itself cost over $250US. We all kept our nerves steady and relaxed and though the situation was trying we got through it just fine. I will lose some sleep over it but not too much. No one was hurt, not even the car and life will go on. Still, we will be real careful today to be sure there are no last minute problems as we plan our return home.

 

We wish all of you the best and hope to see many of you in the near future.

John