Vienna, Austria

Vienna, Austria

Sunday, September 15, 2019

The Center of Attention

Alejandro sent me this photo he found on the internet.  (The photographer was uncredited.)  It is an aerial view of Mexico City's main plaza, the Zócalo, illuminated with the lights for the upcoming Independence Day celebrations.  This is the focal point of the festivities. 

The lack of traffic on the streets or of people on the square would indicate that the photo was taken very late at night.  I am sure that as I write this, the enormous plaza is filling up with people.  By tonight, the eve of Independence Day, the Zócalo will be jam-packed with thousands.  

The large building with several courtyards in the lower left hand corner is the National Palace.  At 11:00 tonight the President will appear on a balcony facing the Zócalo and ring the bell which was rung on September 16, 1810 to begin Mexico's fight for independence from Spain.  The President will then give the traditional "Grito de Independencia"... the Cry of Independence.  

¡Vivan los héroes que nos dieron patria y libertad!
¡Víva Hidalgo!
¡Viva Morelos!
¡Viva Josefa Ortiz de Domínguez!
¡Viva Allende!
¡Vivan Aldama y Matamoros!
¡Viva la independencia nacional!
¡Viva México! ¡Viva México! ¡Viva México!

Long live the heroes that gave us our fatherland and liberty!
(He then lists the heroes of the War of Independence.)
Long live Hidalgo!
Long live Morelos!
Long live Josefa Ortiz de Domínguez!
Long live Allende!
Long live Aldama and Matamoros!
Long live national independence!
Long live Mexico! Long live Mexico! Long live Mexico!

¡Viva México!

Friday, September 13, 2019

A Holiday Weekend

Mexico's Independence Day, September 16th, is one holiday which is never changed to make a long weekend.  However, since the 16th falls on a Monday this year, as I write this Mexicans are heading home from work and looking forward to a "puente", their term for a three day weekend.

Last Sunday evening, my friend Alejandro and his family went to the Zócalo, Mexico City´s main plaza, to see the Independence Day decorations.  The square was crowded with people, but not nearly as many people as will be there this Sunday.  On the eve of Independence Day the President of Mexico appears on the balcony of the National Palace, and rings the bell which was rung 209 years ago initiating Mexico´s fight for freedom from Spain. 

Here are some pictures that Alejandro sent me of the holiday lights.

The bell represented in lights is the bell which Father Miguel Hidalgo rang in the wee hours of the morning on September 16, 1810.

The eagle and the serpent, the emblem of Mexico

The two men pictured in lights are Ignacio Allende and José María Morelos, two other heroes of the War of Independence.

And finally a video which Alejandro took...

To my Mexican readers, happy Independence Day, and enjoy your weekend!

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Munich Music

I thought that I was done writing about my visit to Munich, but then I realized that I had some videos that I wanted to share with you.  In most big cities around the world you will find street performers, but it seemed as if there were more musicians playing on the streets in Munich than anywhere I had been before.  Many of the them were probably immigrants.  There were a number of them who were playing unusual Eastern European instruments.  And there was even one performer all the way from South America.

So here is a sampling of the music of the streets of Munich...

Monday, September 9, 2019

My Last Day in Munich

A week ago today my trip was coming to an end.  It was my last day in Munich.  It was a gray, chilly day.  Originally I had thought about visiting the Olympic Park, but this was the type of day that was best spent in a museum.  However, most museums are closed on Mondays.  Looking through my guidebook I saw that the Deutsches Museum was open daily.  It is supposedly the world's largest museum of science and technology, not exactly my cup of tea, but I figured that I might as well check it out.

I put on my rain jacket, grabbed my umbrella, and walked across town to the Isar River.

The museum is located on an island in the middle of the river.  I had to stand in line for about 20 minutes for a ticket.  This was the first time on the trip that I had a long line to enter an attraction.  

There was much that was of little interest to me.  I passed by rooms filled with power tools and machinery.

The aviation exhibit included an early airplane of the Wright Brothers.

They also had an example of the kind of plane flown by Baron von Richthofen ("the Red Baron") during World War I.

I thought the exhibit on mining in the basement might be interesting, but the endless stretch  of tunnels proved to be wearisome.

Recreation of a salt mine

Heading to the upper floors, I found some exhibits that were more interesting for me.

There was a glassblower at work, which is something that I have always found fascinating.

His beautiful work was for sale.  I did buy one very small item that I figured would make the journey home without breaking.  (Obviously not the glassware pictured below.)

The kid in me enjoyed the displays of technical toys.

An early German version of our "Erector Set".

Early Leggo sets

Cool antique building blocks

I was a geography teacher for a while, as well as a Spanish teacher, so the cartography section was interesting to me.

A reproduction of a world map from 1239 places Jerusalem at the center of the world.

This is a reproduction of the oldest known globe of the earth.
The original was made in 1492 in Nuremburg, Germany.

There were several screens with live weather satellite images.

Yes, Munich was definitely cloud-covered.

And Hurricane Dorian was battering the Bahamas.

After several hours at the Deutsches Museum, it was time to return to my hotel and pack my bags.

Farewell to Munich

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Lest We Forget

Germany is not all schnitzel and "oom-pah" music.  There is the dark side, the horrific era of Nazism and the Holocaust.  Now, more than ever, with the turn toward the right wing in many countries, and hate groups crawling out from under their rocks, it is important not to forget the lessons from the not-so-distant past.  So, a week ago today, a took a short train ride from Munich to Dachau, the site of the first Nazi concentration camp.

It is located ten miles from Munich, and was established shortly after Hitler took power in Germany.  It operated from 1933 until it was liberated by the Allies in 1945.  It was first used as a camp for German political prisoners... Communists and Socialists who opposed the Nazi regime.  After 1938 Jews were brought to the camp.  After World War II began, and German troops occupied other nations, Poles, Czechs, Russians and other nationalities were interned.  Homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, Romani (gypsies) and other "anti-social" groups were also imprisoned.  It is estimated that during the twelve years of its existence more than 200,000 prisoners passed through Dachau.  It was primarily a forced labor camp rather than an extermination camp.  Nevertheless at least 30,000 prisoners died here from malnutrition, disease, suicide, gruesome medical experiments, and summary executions of prisoners for even the most trivial violations of camp rules.  As the Allies pushed in across the areas of Nazi conquest, prisoners from other camps were brought to Dachau until the overcrowding and hygiene conditions were unimaginable.  Typhus and malnutrition were rampant.  When the Allies liberated the camp there were around 200 deaths per day.

Today the former camp is a memorial to the victims of Nazism.

The gate house through which prisoners entered the camp

The iron gate bears the infamous slogan, "Work makes you free".
That slogan later appeared at other camps, including Auschwitz.

Most of the guard towers around the camp are still standing.

The entire camp was surround by a moat, an electrified barbed-wire fence, and a concrete wall.  Any prisoner venturing into the "no-man's" land in front of the moat was immediately shot.

There were thirty two barracks.  They were torn down, but are marked by their foundations.

Replicas of two barracks have been built.

The recreation of the interior cannot begin to portray the horror of the place when it was crammed far beyond capacity with prisoners.

The maintenance building, one of the few original structures remaining, now houses a moving museum that details the rise of Nazism and the history of the camp.
The large open area between the building and the barracks was were the prisoners were forced to stand each day, sometimes for hours on end, while role call was held.

 The crematorium was where the ashes of the dead were incinerated.

Late in the war, a gas chamber was built.  It was tested out once, but never used again.  No one knows why.

The ashes of the dead were thrown into a mass grave.

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."-
philosopher George Santayana

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Off the Beaten Track

Most visitors to Munich take a day excursion outside of the city to Neuschwanstein, the fairy tale castle built by "Mad" King Ludwig of Bavaria in the late 1800's.   

(image taken from the web)

As beautiful as the castle is, the more that I read about it, the less appealing the excursion sounded to me.  It is a two hour train ride and then a bus ride to the castle.  Tickets should be purchased ahead of time because you are assigned a time slot.  You are required to take a guided tour through the castle.  With the hordes of tourists that descend upon Neuschwanstein, the tour groups are usually made up of about 60 people.  You are herded through a few rooms of the castle on a 30 minute tour, and no photography is allowed inside.  It sounded like too much of a hassle.

Before leaving on the trip I was looking for someplace else that would be a worthwhile excursion from Munich.  The city of Augsburg, just a 30 minute train ride from Munich, is one of the oldest cities in Germany, and has a number of places of interest.  So last Saturday morning, I walked over to the train station, and hopped on a train to Augsburg.

Augsburg is a pleasant city of over 300,000 people.  It was founded in 15 B.C. as a Roman outpost.  Throughout the Middle Ages and Renaissance it was one of the most important trading and banking centers of Europe.  It was at the forefront of the Protestant Reformation. (Augsburg was largely Protestant while nearby Munich was staunchly Catholic.)  The Peace of Augsburg in 1555 guaranteed religious freedom in the city.

There were tourists in the city, but almost all of them were Germans.  The level of tourism was manageable; I never felt as if I were engulfed in a crowd of visitors.  

The number one attraction is its city hall which was built in the 1600's.  It is considered one of the most important examples of secular Renaissance architecture north of the Alps.

It is certainly an attractive building, but it is the interior that makes it worth a visit.  Upstairs the city fathers created a lavish assembly room called the "Golden Hall".  

The ceiling, which is nearly 6000 square feet in size, is covered in mural paintings and gold gilt.

Number two on the list of places to see in Augsburg is an usual place called the "Fuggerei".  The Fuggers were one of the wealthiest merchant and banking families in Europe.  In fact, they were the bankers to the Holy Roman Emperors and the Popes.

The family patriarch Jakob Fugger constructed an enclosed settlement in 1516 for craftsmen and laborers who, through no fault of their own, had fallen on hard times.  The rent for one of the row houses in the "Fuggerei" was one guilder per year.  The only requirements were that the family be Catholic and pray three times a day for the Fugger family.  It is still administered by members of the Fugger family, and it is the world's oldest social housing complex still in use.  The residents, the majority of them today are senior citizens, still pay the equivalent of one guilder per year... about 88 cents.

Although people still live here, tourists may visit the "Fuggerei" and several of the rowhouses contain museum exhibits.

One of the houses is furnished the way it might have been back in the 1500's.

Another is furnished as a typical residence of today.  Of course everything has been updated with modern conveniences.  Not a bad place for 88 cents per year in rent!

The chapel of the "Fuggerei".  I wonder if the residents today are still required to pray three times a day for the Fuggers?

On the main street of Augsburg, the former palace of the Fugger family still stands.  It would seem that the Fuggers are still bankers because part of the ground floor contains the offices of the "Fugger Privatbank".

There are also numerous old churches that are worth visiting.

The Gothic Cathedral contains a number of medieval stained glass windows that survived the bombings in World War II.

I mentioned that Augsburg was on the border between Protestant Germany and Catholic Germany.  That duality is exemplified by the Church of Saints Ulrich and Afra.  One part of the church is Lutheran, the other is Catholic.

To top it off, I had a tasty lunch in the Ratskeller Restaurant in the basement of the city hall.  My schnitzel was a cutlet marinated in mustard and horseradish, breaded with pretzel crumbs, and fried in butter.

I had a thoroughly enjoyable day in Augsburg, and I do not regret missing the tourist pandemonium of Neuschwanstein Castle.  Ironically just a few days later I read an article encouraging travelers to shy away from the over-visited tourist sites and go to lesser known places.