Archive | September, 2019

Lessons I Learned While Traveling Through Countries Along Baltic Sea

16 Sep

During our two-week cruise of the Baltics, we visited Holland, Denmark, Germany, Russia, Finland and Sweden.   I never realized how close these countries are to each other, just hours away across the Baltic.  And I never realized how intertwined their histories made their peoples and languages and flags!  The architecture repeats itself in every city as influences of Sweden, Denmark, Holland, German and Finland structures can be found in all the cities, and a combination of these styles.

I met many tour guides.  Some were better than others.  But several gave sound advice that I want to remember forever.  In fact, I need to share them.

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Typical steps of unexpected heights!

We spent two days in St. Petersburg and had an excellent guide on our first day.  A retired engineer, she was now guiding tourists through the maze of royal palaces.  Her excellent advice: “Be aware of steps/stairs of unexpected height.”   I think it was her engineering background speaking. But it was so true.  With the cobblestone streets and the old buildings, many times we faced stairs and steps of unexpected height.

Often as we crossed the street or entered a building she would intone, “Be aware of steps of unexpected heights!” Her words resonated through my mind many times during the nine-hour day of touring.  I think, thanks to this lesson, we never fell, we were always aware, no matter what country we were in.

Another day in St. Petersburg, another tour guide with a different message. (She was a retired college professor.) “Don’t demonstrate your water bottle.”   I think what she was really saying is don’t make a big deal out of things.  It was very hot when we were there. Unexpectedly warm.  And many people had water bottles with them.  I kept mine on the bus. But others, especially older adults, needed their water.

However, at certain places, you are not supposed bring a water bottle in.  However, with the heat, they were making exceptions.  So, our guide said.  “Water bottles are not allowed, but don’t demonstrate your bottle. Put it in your back pocket and go through security.”  I guess if the guards wanted to take it away, they could. But not hiding, while at the same time, not making an issue of it, was the best policy. Thus several of our comrades on the tour kept their water bottles with them throughout.

In Denmark, I learned two important lessons.  The guide we had on a day when it was pouring rain, told us that in Denmark the saying is, “There is no bad weather, only bad clothes.”  I concur.  I had packed our Land’s End raincoats and good walking shoes.  We stood in the rain, without getting really wet, as the water skimmed over our coats, while others were drenched.  Meanwhile,  all around us, the Danes walked freely without umbrellas, ignoring the weather and  just strolling through town in the rain.

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He was wearing good clothes as he splashed in the puddles.

I especially enjoyed seeing a young boy dressed in his very good rain clothes and boots splashing through all the puddles in a park as his Mom pushed his stroller as she ambled along next to him.  Good clothes do make a difference!

I will admit, the first tour guides words resonated with me during the rain in Denmark. As we walked the cobblestones and the steps of unexpected heights, I looked down and carefully placed my feet on the wet and slippery walkways.

The Danish tour guide’s other lesson was that umbrellas are not needed because they don’t work. Also true.  I had an umbrella at the beginning of the day. While we walked the streets of the city, it seemed fine.  But by the time I returned to the ship, the only place for that twisted and ragged umbrella was the trash.  You do not need an umbrella in Copenhagen or Arhus.  You just need good clothes!

I loved our tour guide in Stockholm.  She had an attitude that I appreciated.  The problem with most tours is that some people are always late, taking up time from everyone else.   She kept a steady pace wherever we went, shouting back to the slower walkers, “You can’t get lost, there is only one way to go …straight.”

She told us outright, when we left for a short period of time on our own, after she showed us the main square, that if we did not make it back to our bus at the assigned time, she would assume that we were staying in town.   We were adults and we could find our own way back.

And I appreciated that she said that, but then her soft side showed.  We had one woman on our tour who walked slowly using a cane.   When she and her husband were not back at the bus on time, our guide said, “I am just going to check the corner to see if they are coming.”  We all agreed that was a great idea.  And it was, as the couple were slowly moving up the hill and being careful on the steps of unexpected heights.

 

 

Seeing A Surviving Synagogue in Lubeck, Germany, Made My Day!

11 Sep
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The Holestentor, gate to the old city of Lubeck.

When we toured the UNESCO Heritage site of Lubeck, Germany, I loved the oval-shaped, island city which is surrounded by the river Trave.  I never thought I would enjoy being in Germany.  I carried my grandparents’ and parents’ distress about the destruction of our family in Europe during the war. But I hoped that Germany of today is not the Germany of the 1930s and 40s. So I went with an open mind.

Of course. I had to ask our tour guide about Jewish Lubeck.  She was open and sincere and had knowledge.  I am sure I am not the first person to ask her. She informed me that before the 1800s Jews were not allowed to live in the old city.  But afterwards, when the French took it over, Jewish residents moved in. But they had to leave again after the French and Napoleon were defeated. Jewish residents did not move back until 1848.

She told me that the synagogue in Lubeck survived because the Germans did not want to damage the museum that was next to it. It was built in the middle 1800s.  She gave me directions to find it during our free time.  The synagogue was closed for renovations, but I had to see this German synagogue that survived the war.

My husband and I took a ten-minute walk in the rain to the building. For me it was well worth it.  It seemed, from the outside, to be in good shape. A red brick building set far back from the street, the area in front was gated off and a sign explaining what was happening was in front.  When we were there a group of elementary school children were walking by.  Their laughter and joy in the rain, lightened my spirit.  Although I could not go inside, below I have put a link to what the shul looked like inside in the 1920s.

Our guide also told me an interesting story. She said that Jewish resident of Lubeck who escape Germany and settled in England helped to save the city. She said that the city was bombed by the Royal Air Force of Britain in March 1942 in retaliation for Germany bombing Coventry.  During that bombing 20 percent of the historic area was destroyed.  That was the only major bombing of the city, but it caused much damage.

From what I had read, the reason it was bombed was to test the firebombs to see how much destruction they would cause on the narrow streets of the old city. About 300 people were killed during the raid, so I think the RAF succeeded in destruction.   Her story is not totally correct from what I can tell. But that bombing was the only major attack on Lubeck.

She also said, that the Jewish resident who fled Germany to London wanted to save Lubeck. That made me wonder, could it be true?  Would a Jewish resident want to save a city in Germany?  It is a lovely historic area, but really after fleeing to survive, would I want to save my home town? I am not sure. However, that was her comment.

She continued that this man was a relative of the head of the Red Cross. So, I did research.  I think it all goes back to a man named Eric M. Warburg, who was born in Hamburg, Germany, not far from Lubeck in 1910.  He fled to the United States in 1938 and he became an intelligence officer for the US army and helped get German scientists and their families to the United States and out of Germany. He served as a liasion officer between the RAF and the US Army Air Force.

He along with Carl Jacob Burchhardt, who was president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, made Lubeck port a Red Cross port to supply prisoners of war with aid. Since Burchhardt was not Jewish, I assume she was referring to Warburg, even though he was not the head of the Red Cross, he had contacts. Also it made sense for Lubeck to be the Red Cross port as near Lubeck, the Nazis had a prisoner of war camp for officers, Oflag X-C, from 1940 to 1945.

Mr. Warburg was a member of a large Jewish-German banking family.   Could he have had a relative who lived in Lubeck and wanted to save it?  Maybe? Or could it be Mr. Warburg himself, a Hamburg native, who supposedly tried to save Lubeck?

I just have no proof of this. But I do have proof that members of the Jewish community in Lubeck were murdered by the Nazis.  I found five Stumbling Stones (Stolpersteine) for Jewish residents who were murdered in Riga. In fact, the last 85 Jewish residents in Lubeck were deported to Riga Ghetto in 1941-42, including Rabbi Joseph Carlebach (1883-1942), who was murdered in the Shoah.

You might notice that two of the Stolpersteine are for victims with the last name Alexander.  I have in my family members with this surname.  I will admit that I felt an extra pang in my heart when I read these two stones.  (See blog below about my Alexander family.)

I am not sure if there are any Jewish residents in Lubeck now.  There are about 3000 who currently live nearby in Hamburg.  At one point, before WW2, Hamburg had almost 20,000 Jewish residents.

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Salzspeicher houses along the Trave River.

Lubeck has many lovely medieval buildings.  I saw the unique entrance gate, the Holestentor,  that leads to the old town.  I ate marzipan at the famous Cafe Niederegger, which was founded over 200 years ago.  I saw the Salzspeicher houses that stand along the Trave River close to the gate. We walked past the home of Thomas Mann’s family. But for me, seeing a synagogue that survived World War 2 in Germany, was the highlight of the day in Lubeck.

 

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bombing_of_L%C3%BCbeck_in_World_War_II

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eric_M._Warburg

http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/10165-lubeck

https://dbs.bh.org.il/place/hamburg?gclid=EAIaIQobChMI2PabjJTH5AIVBr7ACh3P1gVmEAAYASAAEgJd4vD_BwE

 

https://dbs.bh.org.il/image/interior-of-the-synagogue-of-lubeck-germany-1920-c

https://zicharonot.com/2015/06/13/finding-katie/

 

The Floors of St Petersburg

10 Sep

It is a bit overwhelming to try to see as much as possible in two days in St. Petersburg. We went to Czarina Catherine’s summer palace in Pushkin. To two cathedrals: Isaac and Church of the Spilled Blood and the Hermitage, also known as the Winter Palace.

They were opulent, they were amazing, they were beyond belief, and so they made you realize why the ordinary Russian peasants and people rebelled against the aristocracy! The dichotomy between the rich and the poor was extraordinarily!

While in these churches and palaces, I began to notice the marble floors and the wood floors. They were also astounding. And I became obsessed, especially in the Hermitage where the floors were stunning examples of inlaid word and marble.

So here are some of my many floor photos.

First the floors of Catherine’s Summer Palace in Pushkin.

The marble floors of The Church of the Spilled Blood in St. Petersburg:

Finally the most magnificent inlaid wood floors of the Hermitage. I need to say that while we had to put on special booties to protect the floors in Catherine’s Palace, we did not have to wear them at the Hermitage. Some of these stunning floors are beginning to show damage. Here they are:

These buildings were so astonishing, it was often impossible to decide where to look. I think i focused on the floors, which are usually simple, as a way to relax my brain from the overwhelming lushness of what I was seeing. If you have ever been through the Vatican collection, then you know that exhaustion of seeing so much at one time. That is the feeling I had throughout my visit in St. Petersburg.