Saturday night, June 29
Icelandic Air flight to NY
Our European adventure has come to an end. As I head back to the states (2419 miles to go, according to the in-flight information) I’m aware of what a privilege it has been to have this experience: the time, and the ability to take such a trip.
I last wrote from Salzburg, Austria. After a day and half there, we headed for the Alpine mountain town of Murren, Swizerland. Getting there required several trains, a bus, and a cable car…and about ten hours of travel time.
Murren is surrounded by several of Switzerland’s highest peaks, and we had looked forward to hiking in some of the most beautiful scenery in all of Europe…and we did hike…we just couldn’t see the Alps at all! When we arrived, we learned that a heavy cloud cover had settled over the mountains. Since Switzerland is very expensive, and the only reason we were there was to hike, we actually considered getting on a train the next day and heading for somewhere else in Europe…anywhere the sun was shining. Online, I googled about 15 cities we could travel to in a day’s time (with our Eurail passes) and found that every single one of them was also experiencing cool and rainy weather. So we stayed and made the best of it and had some unique and memorable experiences.
We hiked both days we were there, and saw the beauty of Switzerland’s pastoral hills – cows with cowbells, sheep, green pastures, rapidly-flowing mountain streams. Every now and then we would glimpse the top of a mountain…The night before our first hike, Doug had read about the ways that dairy cattle are moved from pasture to pasture…and the little huts where cheesemaking takes place. We stumbled upon one of the huts the first day and had a nice conversation with the young man who is spending his summer there making cheese (in the winter he works at the ski resort).
The second day we took a long hike (and had the trail mostly to ourselves…funny how not many people wanted to hike in the mud and sleet!) That afternoon I heard the sound of cowbells from the hotel room. Looking out the window, I saw four different groups of cows being moved from one village to the other. They were paraded right down the main street of town, accompanied by the young people who care for them. We enjoyed the hiking and the overall experience…who knows? Maybe we’ll return someday.
Our last stop was Munich. Frankly, we chose it mostly because it was a logical place from which to fly home – but it’s a city with a lot to offer. The first day we took a tour of the famous Neuschwanstein Castle – the tour included a fun bike ride (and, yes, a hike, which ended up taking place in the pouring rain…)
The second day we took a tour of the Dachau Concentration Camp. It was a strange and obviously sobering way to end our vacation, but it was memorable and extremely worthwhile. I learned that 3000 members of the clergy were imprisoned there. They were kept in barracks by themselves and not allowed to mingle with other prisoners “because they didn’t want the clergy to spread hope through the camp.” They were treated worse than the average prisoner. I was haunted by the view of the main prison yard. Anyone who’s seen movies or documentaries about the Holocaust can picture scenes of the prisoners lined up in those yards for roll call every morning and evening. I was struck by other details and stories, too. We all know of the general forms of abuse and torture: families separated, numbers tattooed, work detail…but the torture was also personal, specific, and sadistic. For example, the prisoner’s uniforms had pockets but the prisoners weren’t allowed, ever, to put their hands in their pockets. Who thinks of something like that? We toured the inside of a barrack and learned that the mattresses were straw, and the beds had to be made each morning with military precision. The stripes on the sheets had to line up vertically and horizontally across all of the bunks in each barrack. Prisoners, many of whom did not speak the same language, all of whom were struggling to survive, had to coordinate this feat at 4 AM every morning. A poor inspection would result in beatings. Or worse. The concentration camp workers could take away names and possessions, but they could not completely rob the prisoners of their humanity. Solidarity was found – sometimes it was the way that the prisoners would sneak the weakest person to the best part of the food line (where they would receive soup with perhaps a bit of protein). One prisoner would teach another one survival tips. Prisoners who thought of trying to escape would think about how an attempt would result in further torture for the others. By the end of the tour, we could not speak.
We will visit my son in New York City and relatives in Pennsylvania on our way home. As I enter my fourth and final month of sabbatical, I send my warmest greetings to each of you.
Here are some recent pictures, first of the bike ride with Neuschwanstein in the background, then two from Dachau: