Countries, Culture, Europe

Danke Der Chancellor

I doubt whether there will be many of us  in the UK saying Thank You Chancellor for his budget this week, but in Germany they are very much saying Danke Der Chancellor in 2021.

This year Angela Merkel ought to be enjoying a lap of honour after 16 years as Chancellor but in typically understated style she is having none of it.

And she looked suitably embarrassed after a six-minute round of applause from her Christian Democrats party in Hamburg at her last conference as leader.

Hamburgers all round

It was perhaps fitting that the conference should be in Germany’s second city, Hamburg, as it was there in 1954 that she came blinking into the world.

Before being taken off to Templin in Brandenburg, 56 miles north of East Berlin because her father was taking up a pastoral position.

Nobody’s clothes horse, the image of Hleb in From Russia With Love always sticks in my mind.

She wouldn’t want to be compared to a Russian spy, of course, but wouldn’t care a jot about being pulled up over her outfit.

She once rasped at a journalist who had pointed out that she was wearing the same suit twice: ‘I am a government employee, not a model.’

From Angela With Love

Frau Merkel has had little truck with the Russians throughout her decade and a half in charge of the EU’s biggest country.

She remembers only too well the challenges of growing up in the old Communist-led East Germany which is evident to anyone who has visited.

Communist icons: On the walls in Dresden

And can see as I did in Dresden that the mark of the Communist era is still all around them.

Among Frau Merkel’s many successes, of course, have been the consolidation of the fledgling Unified Germany, her leadership during the Recession of the last decade and integrating immigrants.

Ich bin ein Hamburger

While she was happy to pass on the credit for World Cup victory for her beloved Germany national team to Joachim Loew.

Frau Merkel has also been praised for her handling of the Covid-19 crisis and while there have been obstacles since, and remember this is a country at the centre of Europe, they are emerging from the worst of it now.

 

Our friends at the German National Tourist Office are looking forward to a reboot, or a Das Reboot if you will, and they will revive their Beethoven 2020 250th Celebrations.

We’ll take Berlin

And they’ll be telling us all about it in the next couple of weeks when we’ll also have the pleasure of reacquainting the friends we met in Dublim from Visit Berlin.

All of which will be music to die Ohren of my own kleine Frau, born in Moenchengladbach, who has a hankering to visit Berlin herself when all this is over.

 

 

Countries, Culture, Europe, Pilgrimage

Holocaust Memorial Day

It was a moral dilemma to test the wisdom of Solomon himself, if bombing Auschwitz would justify the loss of life.

A major consideration was that Hitler’s Third Reich would paint the Allies as anti-Semitic.

History tells us that bombs did rain down on Auschwitz but the damage and deaths to inmates and guards were collateral damage.

Behind the wire: Auschwitz

From a raid on a nearby industrial installation.

It was the Soviets who eventually liberated Auschwitz. 76 years ago today, January 27.

And in the the aftermath of the War the Poles decided to preserve Auschwitz.

Dramatic Dachau

Lest We Forget Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen and Dachau and the 20+ other Third concentration camps in tbs Third Reich.

Dachau may seem a strange inclusion in a Topdeck Oktoberfest bus booze tour.

But the first German concentration camp left a lasting mark on the Aussie and Kiwi (and one Scot) hard-drinkers.

Manassas battlefield in Virginia

War tourism is not for everyone and its critics decry it as mawkish, but it is for me.

And I would much rather visit the Flanders Fields and the Somme, the American Civil War Manassas battefield, Anne Frank’s House and Dresden than sit on a beach.

Although thankfully they’re not mutually exclusive for the curious visitor.

Old Town Krakow

My passion for history has thankfully been taken up by my family (they had little choice).

And the Son and Heir sought out Auschwitz on his trip to Krakow for World Youth Day.

Of course, you can only truly appreciate the gravitas of these concentration camps by visiting them.

But since we all can’t go we must rely on the witness testimonies of those who survived its horrors.

And those of us who pay our respects.

America, Countries, Europe

New Year fireworks… let’s have fun in ‘21.

Baby you’re a firework. Come on let your colours burst – Katy Perry

And boy did those colours burst, signalling that the world wants to have fun in ’21.

The Middle East led the way with the celebrations with some real actual human beings gathering… at social distance.

And rock gods Kiss even performing in Dubai.

Now New Year’s Eve is always going to be a challenge in crowd containment and resources.

But it is a depressing admission that we in the West can’t trust ourselves, and others, to social distance, or meet in pods.

Now, I love an oul’ firework any time of the year, so as Katy says ‘you just gotta ignite the light and let it shine. Just own the night.’

Dresden takes back the sky

Drum roll… in Dresden

Dresden: And Dresdeners have more reason than most to be wary of their sky lit up above them.

The older generation still talk about the red sky, the Allied bombers’ firestorm which razed their beautiful city to the ground at the end of the Second World War.

The resilient Saxons went on to rebuild their city, the Florence of the Elbe, brick by brick to the grandeur it is today.

The light show on the Elbe was the backdrop for the closing night of the German Travel Mart.

And a magical reminder of how light kills darkness.

Take me to the DC ball park

Me, George and my Travel pal Issy

Washington: They love a firework in DC… and that’s just a Donald Trump barbecue.

They put on firework displays for all their VIPs which meant the delegates at the American Travel fair, IPW.

At the Washington Nationals’ ball park.

Home run!

Disney get any better than this

Acting all Goofy

Orlando: And whatever you’re doing around 9pm of a night in Orlando then stop it and look up at the skies.

For that’s when the lights go on above The Magic Kingdom.

All of which you can see from your Four Seasons balcony. Magical!

Or Mickey in Da House

Anaheim: And in Disneyland too in California where Mickey, Donald and the gang like nothing better than a light show.

Mickey runs his own show which is in effect one of just a number of extravaganzas around the resort.

With Star Wars and Harry Potter getting in on the act.

Africa, America, Countries, Europe, Ireland, Music, UK

Rainy Days and Songdays – Student Bangers

Would you be willing to trade all the days from this day to that for one chance, just one chance, to come back here as young men and tell our enemies that they may take our lives but they will never take our stereos? – Braveheart

As students continue to be consigned to house arrest, they’ll only get through this with the staples of Uni, drugs and rock’n’roll.

No sex please, we’re British!

And so in a nod to our future parliamentarians, pioneers and care providers.

Here are some old bangers which got me through my young days.

And the places it took me too.

Tennessee waltz

With WC Handy in Memphis, Tennessee on my Deep South journey

On highway number 19 the people keep the city clean – Tina Turner, Nutbush City Limits

Nutbush City Limits and Tennessee (Ike and Tina Turner): And Nutbush was one to get everyone on their feet in the students’ union (alas no longer there).

I little thought then that I’d be bombing along highway number 19 on my Deep South American Odyssey 30 odd years later… The Promised Land, The story of the Blues and The King of Kings.

Mine’s a 99

Ninety nine dreams I have had, In every one a red balloon, it’s all over and I’m standing pretty, In this dust that was a city – Nena, 99 Ref Balloons

99 Red Balloons and Germany (Nena): You couldn’t qualify as a student when I were a lad if you didn’t march for the Fall of the Berlin Wall, Nuclear Disarmament or to Free Nelson Mandela.

And this anti-Communism clarion call by this German ball of energy played endlessly out of the window of the girls in the next flat.

The wall came down five tears ago and while I have still to make my mark on today’s wall, I have since visited behind the old Curtain.

Ich bin ein Dresdener

To see the revival of Dresden, the Venice of the Elbe, and learn about the Prague Spring and a nuclear bunker.

Mandela days

With my friend Siseko in Port Elizabeth

Are you so blind that you cannot see? Are you so deaf that you cannot hear his plea? Free Nelson Mandela, I’m begging you, Free Nelson Mandela – The Specials

Nelson Mandela and South Africa: And, no, Free Nelson Mandela wouldn’t be one for the dance floor although maybe we pogoed to it.

It really came into its own on protest marches, demonstrations and the Free Nelson Mandela concert at Wembley.

Where me and my old pal from Cardiff student days clung onto our old undergrad days for just one more summer.

And while I never got to meet The Great Man I did get out to his home province of the Eastern Cape in South Africa.

And stood in his Voting Line.

So, for every student in the land, turn your boom boxes up loud and channel your Labi Siffre

Your light will shine so brightly it will blind them.

Tell me what your University bangers and we’ll share

Countries, Culture, Europe, Pilgrimage, UK

Give us this Day – church is back in Germany

And again the Germans are leading the way.

With Chancellor Angela Merkel giving the green light for churches to reopen.

Worshippers will have to wear masks, respect social distancing, and there will be no singing.

Which will, alas, be taking the best bit out of the service.

Signs of peace are out and you will have to keep to your own marked territory at communion.

Pray de Cologne

Closer to God: Cologne Cathedral

Cologne Cathedral will be their guide with only 122 people allowed in for its reopening ceremony as opposed to the 20,000 who visit every day.

Now I’ve spent a bit of time in German churches.

Not as much as I’d like… wherever I travel I love to go where the locals play and pray.

Churchtown: Oberammergau

This year I was meaning to go to Oberammergau for the ten-year resumption of the Passionsspiele https://www.passionsspiele-oberammergau.de/en/home.

Passion of Bavaria

But the reenactment of the Passion of Christ which the villagers first put on in 1634 as a thank you to God for ridding them of the plague has been moved back to 2022.

Thankfully I did get to join the Bavarians at play as part of our walking holiday with www.topflightforschools.ie and www.topflight.ie.

When they had the drapes out for the 2020 Oberammergau which was due to start on May 16.

Everyone has a cross to bear

But they were that day celebrating a landmark anniversary of their fire service.

By dressing up in traditional lederhosen and parading through the streets.

With their buildings adorned with murals depicting their plague history.

Simple Christianity

Their churches by contrast are fairly simple affairs with small wooden crosses, a lectern and an inviting Bible on a seat when you enter.

Light a candle: Oberammergau

Which I did, taking a detour from the people milling through the streets and villagers to find a place of worship with its doors open.

Remember that!

Plague reminders

Now while it seems like 40 days and 40 nights since we last did Mass…

It’s as nothing compared with the resilient and God-fearing Dresdeners.

Dresden, a city rebuilt

Who saw their Frauenkirche levelled by the Allies’ firestorm in 1945.

And left in rubble all through Communist rule until the Saxons started rebuilding it when they got their province back.

Which you can read about in Dresden’s renaissance and https://www.dresden.de/index_en.php.

A day out in Oberammergau: Remembering the firemen

It’s an inspirational story, one of endurance, patience and redemption.

Here in Scotland it’s our Catholic Church rather than the reforming church which is first out of the blocks on lockdown xx (yes, the great resistors).

And of course in the absence of live sport never since the Holy Spirit dropped in on the Apostles will transubstantiation feel so exciting.

When the church doors reopen.

MEET YOU IN THE PEWS

America, Asia, Countries, Culture, Europe, UK

Pandemics… a gruesome business

And to think that just a couple of months ago an underground abandoned street from the Black Death was open…

And drawing in ghoulish visitors in Edinburgh.

It might just give us solace though to reflect that our forebears had it worse.

A city under a city… The Real Mary King’s Close

It wasn’t just that the residents of Mary King’s Close https://www.realmarykingsclose.com were boarded up, they didn’t even have Netflix.

You can see how they lived on a trip to the Scottish capital https://edinburgh.org where the Old Town seeps horrible history.

How they lived in the Middle Ages

The Eyam Plague Village Museum https://www.eyam-museum.org.uk, in Derbyshire in the English Midlands, is another example of how Medieval people lived with The Plague.

In their case sealing their village off in a remarkable feat of self-sacrifice from their neighbours.

Our pandemic will pass, and will become a chapter in history alongside the Plague of Athens and the Plague of Justinian.

Each of which you can trace as you follow in the footsteps of the Byzantines and Ottomans… https://athensattica.com and https://visit.istanbul.

And My Greek odyssey and Wham bam, thank you Hamam

So how will we chronicle these days in which we live?

Well, we have started already, curating the artefacts, masks, robes, PPE and everyday objects that we surround ourselves with just now.

And the everyday stories that inform and entertain.

It will come as little surprise then that it is the idiosyncratic, curious and super-efficient Germans who have been to the fore here.

Oh, the Cologne

Historian Rita Wagner has been curating a time capsule of the spring of 2020 for future generations for Cologne City Museum

Germans know from their own tragic war history that it is vital not to forget.

Cologne https://www.cologne-tourism.com, a city I know from my nearby Oktoberfest adventures, stands proudly with its cathedral at its centrepoint against the ravages of adversity.

Dresden too https://www.dresden.de/en/tourism/tourism.php Dresden’s renaissance

Oh, Vienna, it means something to me

While Wien University https://www.univie.ac.at/en/ (Vienna to you and me) put out an invitation to the public.

To contribute to their collection via email and the.’Corona Memory’ tag.

Take that, bug

One of my favorite objects is a crocheted coronavirus,” says museum director Matti Bunzl.

‘It is not only cute, it shows that objects are ambassadors of their time.”

Not so sure about ‘cute’ Matti but it does help to demystify the bug. https://www.wien.info/en.

Finns can only get better

Finland is the happiest country in the world and has a healthy recognition that death is part of life and life is for living.

And they too at the National Museum of Finland https://www.kansallismuseo.fi/en/.

We all love a fairytale

And wonderful Copenhagen which I visited on my cruse around the fjords with https://www.msccruises.co.uk wew.msccruises.ie and The call of the fjords.

Where when all of this is over it will all be in the one place in Vesthimmerlands Museum https://www.visitvesthimmerland.com/vesthimmerland/planlaeg-din-tur/vesthimmerlands-museum-gdk597684

America may have lost its moral direction in leadership through this crisis but that will surely be temporary.

As its own history shows as evidence in its Smithsonian Museums.

The jewel of the Smithsonian Museums

The National Museum of African American History and Culture https://nmaahc.si.edu is the jewel in the Smithsonian crown.

And they too are curating how we are living our lives now.

Whether long red ties and take-aways of diet Coca-Cola and burgers from up Pennsylvania Avenue will make the cut…

Well, we’ll just have to wait and see.

Visit https://washington.org and Easy DC.