Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Some Castles in Germany


Our first sightseeing excursion of the tour was a cruise on the Rhine River. There were castles, churches and towns on either side. The castles and castle ruins are the highlights, appearing one after another with little property surrounding them. (Eleventh-century Sooneck Castle is above, and Reichenstein Castle from 1192 is below.) These mostly anonymous medieval landowners were always jousting with their neighbors for more land.


I've had this unread book on my shelf for 22 years that I bought in the 1980s after hearing a review on the radio. It's a biography of the non-anonymous Frederick the Great, King of Prussia. We music majors knew about Frederick because he was an excellent flutist and notable patron of the arts. We visited his palace on the tour, Sanssouci in Potsdam. Sanssouci means "without worries" and this palace became a headquarters for intellectuals and Frederick's sophisticated friends. Voltaire lived here for three years. Frederick's tomb is on the grounds, and visitors leave flowers and potatoes on it. Why potatoes? Because Frederick brought the plant to Germany to feed the hungry poor. He forgot to tell them right away that they were supposed to eat the bottom part of the plant. They were eating the leaves and not liking it very much.


The other palace in Potsdam is Cecilienhof, where the Potsdam Conference starring Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin, and later Truman, Attlee, and Stalin, took place. It was in this palace that they signed the Potsdam Agreement after World War II.


Another superstar king was Ludwig II (sometimes referred to as Mad King Ludwig). He built

three famous iconic German castles, and we visited two on this tour. First, Linderhof with its man-made grotto and countless priceless porcelain vases. This castle, decorated in exaggerated Rococo style if tht's possible, features a waterfall fountain outside Ludwig's bedroom window. (see right.)

Linderhof's man-made Venus Grotto, a ten-minute walk up a steep hill, was a retreat for the king where he had his buddy Richard Wagner's opera, Tannhauser, performed while he floated around the man-made grotto lake in a boast shaped like a scallop shell. (Think Botticelli's "The Birth of Venus".)


Ludwig's other famous castle, Neuschwanstein, also has a grotto inspired by the work of Richard Wagner, but it also features a bigger tribute. The singer's Hall, a fancy Rococo auditorium, is decorated with murals depicting scenes from Wagner's operas. Ludwig loved music and he loved reading: both of these castles feature upholstered reading nooks. This is the famous fairy tale castle that inspired Cinderella's place at Disneyworld. We missed out on the "money shot" photo of the castle because of clouds, but there were still plenty of photo opps on the property:

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Back from Germany!

There are things that make life wonderful, but those things are not the same for everyone. For me it has always been music, art, a good story, and good friends. In recent years it has become clear to me that travel is one of those things, too.

from the Rhine cruise: Ehrenfels Castle Ruin

I've just returned from a tour of Germany organized by professionals instead of by me, and I had a great time. I'm tired physically, but my mind is re-traveling to all these places, sorting them out and selecting the favorites. I never thought I would enjoy such a tour with the early wake-up calls and limited time at interesting sights, but I was wrong. We got to know almost all of the other 41 people on the tour, eating with different groups for breakfast and supper. We saw lots of sights and were kept on time by our amazing tour director Renske. I could never have planned such an interesting tour on my own, nor could I have stayed in such nice hotels. Renske told us some great stories from the history and culture of the various regions (one of my pillars of a beautiful life, remember). The food was great--either the hotel meals or the places we tried on our own. It was such a nice change to get my nose out of the travel guide and put the control in her (and Globus's) hands. Our excursions (included and optional alike) were planned efficiently around times they are least busy (and not closed for local holidays or renovation). This is stuff the average tourist wouldn't know.
(Furstenberg Ruin 1219)

The transportation was always figured out for us whether it was by bus, boat, or train. Our amazing driver Enrico took us through cities and mountains, and down hundreds of miles of highway, making it look easy all the time. He had the responsibility of loading our luggage on the bus almost everyday, and I know first hand some of those bags are HEAVY.

Rhine River tour boat

So I'm a changed person. Tours are now an official kind of travel, one of my five pillars of beauty in life. Now it is my task to sort through my just-under-one-thousand photos and sort out all of the castles, churches, towns, cities, markets, and statues we saw!

Flower stand in Munich

East Berlin

Friday, September 12, 2008

Hoist the Jolly Roger: International Talk Like A Pirate Day

Sadly, scallywags, I'll be in Germany (Cologne and Berlin) on International Talk Like a Pirate Day (where it is something like Sprechen Sie wie ein Pirat Tag). While I'm gone, I hope my readers will check out Cap'n Slappy and Ol' Chumbucket's page, http://www.talklikeapirate.com/ for tips on how to celebrate this festive holiday. At the very least, visit http://www.piratequiz.com/ where you can get your own Pirate Name.

If you're way too serious for any of this silly pirate stuff, I would recommend Pirate Wisdom: Lessons in Navigating the High Seas of Your Organization by Elisa S Robyn, Ph.D. and Cindy L. Miles, Ph.D. (iUniverse, 2006). I heard one of the authors speak at a conference thinking this would be a fun topic to finish off the busy day of listening. How surprised was I when this pirate metaphor turned out to be a well-thought-out philosophy on getting things done at work (or at school or any organization) without going through the usual procedures. Consider the sailboat that needs to sail into the wind. Sailing directly into the wind would require too much energy and would take too long (folly), but a zigzag pattern would eventually get the sailboat there more efficiently. This is called tacking upwind. Imagine approaching a challenge at work this way, and you've got the idea of Pirate Wisdom. You'd eventually get to the solution even if you didn't go directly from point A to point B.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Cape May Stage: Doubt

Cape May is lucky to have two professional theater groups in town. The other night I attended the Cape May Stage production of John Patrik Shanley's "Doubt". The beautifully-restored Robert Shackleton Playhouse was packed for this show. I'd been wanting to check out this group, but with all the cultural activities available in Cape May now, it took a while to get around to this theater. I'm glad I waited, not only because I got to see a great production of "Doubt", but because Cape May Stage donated half the proceeds from the evening to the Beach Theater Foundation. I'm already a frequent filmgoer at the Beach Theater.

The play started around dusk, and from across the street the Robert Shackleton Theater looked so cute lit up with a line of people waiting to get in. It was September, but it could have been a picture on a Christmas card. Right behind where I was standing to take this photo, a barbershop quartet in Hawaiian shirts was warming up in the Rotary Gazebo. It was nice to see the theater close-up so that I could inspect the amazing award-winning restoration work that was completed a few years ago. Before Cape May Stage took over the building, it was a sad-looking welcome center that sometimes hosted small events. Now it is a gorgeous theater with stadium seating and a palette of muted colors.
The play was a thought-provoking experience, exploring the concept of doubt in a Catholic school. With only four actors, the story was rich (after all it won the Pulitzer Prize and the Tony Award for Best Play). I'm no theater critic, but the acting was good, the characters believable, and the scenery was minimal but just right. The audience surrounding me was spellbound by the performance and rewarded the actors with a storm of applause.