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A Pleasant Evening At Phoenix’s First Synagogue

25 Mar

I try to find something related to my love of Judaism wherever I travel.  This time, I did not have to look, as a group we meet with held its annual dinner at the Cutler Plotkin Jewish Heritage Center in Phoenix.   The Center is housed in what was the first synagogue in Phoenix, which gave me joy.  It mixed my love of history with my search for Jewish sites.

The two buildings have Spanish vibe.  They made me think of the Alamo!  In fact, the buildings were designed in a Spanish mission style when they were built in 1922 for the new Congregation Beth Israel, the first synagogue in Phoenix.  At its start it catered to all Jewish families in the area and did not have a permanent rabbi until the 1930s.

The original synagogue buildings.

The buildings hosted several congregations over the years.  By 1949, the Jewish community had moved out of the Phoenix downtown, and the synagogue was eventually sold to the First Chinese Baptist Church.  They held services there from 1951 until 1981. From 1981to 2002 it was the home of the Iglesia Bautista Central Baptist Church.

But in 2002, the Jewish community purchased the buildings to become the Arizona Jewish Historical Society’s headquarters.  Restoration of the buildings started in 2008.In the smaller building is a museum dedicated to the history of the Jewish community and the building.   Among the interesting artifacts in the museum is a violin that survived the Shoah. It was buried during the war, and recovered afterwards.  It is on loan thanks to the daughter of the survivor.

The larger building, which once was where services were held, now is a social hall with a stage. When they renovated the building, they found the area on the back wall of the stage where the Torahs were kept in the Aron Kodesh.   The area was covered again, and now the stage is set for community events.  I found it fascinating to find out that when the synagogue was built there were only 120 Jewish people in Phoenix.  There are now over 80,000 and 30 Jewish congregations in the great Phoenix area!

The event venue is open to the community.  Besides the indoor space, there is a lovely garden area where we had our dinner and music.  I had a great time both exploring the history of Phoenix’s Jewish community and enjoying the lovely outdoor space.

This is a quick museum visit, but the Historical Society does have an archive of materials about the Jewish community and holds programs at the site.  They are planning to build a Center for Hope, Humanity and Holocaust Education building on the grounds. If you live in Phoenix, I would advise you to join to get information on upcoming programs! Also the exhibits change and there are online exhibits!

https://www.azjhs.org/

Chihuly Double Dose

19 Mar

I do love Chihuly.  So when we were in Phoenix recently, I was delighted to learn that there was not one, but two, Chilhuly exhibits in town.  Luckily for me, my friends were willing and interested in an adventure,  seeing both exhibits in  one day! 

Friday, February 25, was Chilhuly Day for us in Phoenix. We purchased our tickets in advanced.  The morning was devoted to the “Chihuly In The Desert” at the Desert Botanical Gardens, where the art often imitated the nearby cacti.  The late afternoon was devoted to a tour of Frank Llyod Wright’s Taliesin West and the Chihuly pieces chosen to fit this unique architectural site.

I had been to the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix many years ago.  Even then, there were a few Chilhuly pieces at the entrance.  But I had only seen a small part of the gardens. Since I came with a group, we were kept close by on the paths near the front.  This time my friends and I walked the entire grounds!!!  We saw everything that was outside; the Apache household and native crops; the cactus and succulent galleries; the Agave yucca forest and more.  In each area, we looked for and admired the Chilhuly glass that was selected to highlight the natural art.

My favorite natural beauty was the crested cactus.  That was truly something amazing.  As well as the giant cactus that were highlighted by Chilhuly purple reeds.  I also loved this smaller twisted cactus!  Another amazing cactus insight was that birds make nests inside the cactus.  All those holes in a cactus are often a birds nest! A special protection coating is formed to protect the cactus and make a home for the bird.  It looks like a boot!!  We were also lucky as the cacti were beginning to bloom.  So pretty!

From my friend, who lives in Phoenix, I learned that pretty cactus are not NICE.  Some can almost leap onto you.  While another, that looks like it has a soft beard, in reality has a white soft looking collection of barbs.  DO NOT TOUCH. She continued to tell us to STAY BACK.  DON’T get so close. 

As for the Chilhuly, my favorite pieces included a giant gold, cream and white swirling tall collection of twisted tubes that reminded me of a yucca in bloom. My other favorite was a grouping of red, orange and purple reed like glass that made me think of flamingos. Of course, for anyone who knows me well, I loved the blue reeds!

I will admit, that it was not until we were leaving that we realized there was another exhibit of Chilhuly glass in a  gallery.  But we did not have time to admire it.  We had timed tickets for our second glass adventure.

 I really knew nothing about Taliesin West before this trip.  I have driven past Taliesin East in Wisconsin and been to a Frank Lloyd Wright house at Crystal Bridges in Bentonville. (See Blog Below about another Chilhuly adventure there.). But I really had not much information about Taliesin West until I learned about the Chilhuly exhibit.  Then I had to go and see the compound and the art glass.

Throughout the grounds, Chilhuly glass was displayed in ways to enhance the prairie style buildings.  My favorite, once again, mixed white gold and cream, with some sparkle right at the center of the complex, near the bubbling water pond.  The mass amount of red glass reeds displayed around the front of the home, some in dyed black water, was also fascinating.  And the view from the apex of the higher ground as spectacular.  Well worth the visit!

Drafting room

As for Taliesin West.  Wow.  His original plan to keep all the buildings open must have seen like a good idea.  But when I think about the heat in Phoenix, I am glad he gave in to his wife and closed the buildings in adding air conditioning!  I guess I am not a Frank Lloyd Wright purist.   For me the most interesting parts were the actual drafting room where other architects came to study with him and the small theater. 

I loved my day of Chilhuly, being with my friends, and enjoying these two special places in the Phoenix area. A double dose of Chilhuly was definitely worth it for me.

https://zicharonot.com/2016/06/10/chihuly-stunning/

A Cathedral, A Basilica, A Black Jesus, and Slowly Sinking Buildings

6 Dec

What is a trip to Latin America without going to churches?  You just cannot do it.

In Mexico City there were two church sites we had to visit.  The first was Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary Into Heaven.  They just call it the Metropolitan Cathedral.  I understand why.

Cristo Negro/The Black Jesus

There were several facts about this Cathedral that make it special.  The first deals with the tradition of Black Jesus/Cristos Negros of the area.  There are several countries that have wooden Jesus sculptures on a cross that have darkened and turned black over the ages.  The one in Mexico City has a story.   Supposedly the bishop always prayed at the crucifix as he entered the cathedral.  There were those who wished him to die.  So they put poison on the feet of the wooden Jesus, knowing that the bishop would kiss the feet when he was done praying.

The bishop did as he always does, and kissed the feet, but he did not die.  Instead, the Jesus sculpture turned black. 

To be honest this is not my first Cristo Negro, or Black Christ/Jesus.  I have been to Portobelo, Panama, and saw the one in the Inglesia de San Felipe. It is special because it was found in the town’s harbor and it wears a robe!   I have also seen the black Madonna in Montserrat, also known as Our Lady of Montserrat. Many go on pilgrimages to see these statues.  For me they have been a happy surprise. (See blogs below.)

This is not the only special site within the cathedral.  There is also magnificent altar and intricately carved wooden sculpture behind it.  Outside, in front of the cathedral, there is a statue of Pope John Paul with an image of the Lady of Guadalupe carved into his robes.  This foreshadows the second religious site we visited.

Statute of the Pope.

But the most obvious and unusual aspect of the building is that it is sinking.  Completed in the mid 1600s, the cathedral was built on land that was once the bottom of a giant lake.  It was also built in the area where the Aztec’s had their temples. In fact, the stones used in the construction of the church were parts of the dismantled Aztec temple.  The cathedral was built upon the ruins.  One way of saying to the Aztec, we beat you.  But not so great centuries later.  

Around the cathedral you can see the excavations of the Aztec sites. A model of what the plaza area looked like when the Spanish first came is near the excavations.

Part of the excavation of the Aztec ruins.

 Within the church, you can see how they have worked to stabilize it.  Marble stone stairs, now sit on a bed of concrete stairs.  A pendulum hangs from the high ceiling and shows if the building is still standing straight or sinking again.  By the lines on the floor, one can see how tilted it once was, and how close to straight it stands now.

Our second religious site was the Basilica of the Lady of Guadalupe.   This site is also sinking, and many of the buildings, the older basilica, the first church and the convent, were also tilting.  They have been stabilized. But you can see that much work still needs to be done.  The newer, larger, round Basilica built in the 1970s seems fine for now.

The Basilica and all the other buildings on the site, including the original basilica from the early 1700s were constructed to honor Saint Juan Diego and his visions and miracles of the Lady of Guadalupe. Sometime around 1530 a picture of the Lady of Guadalupe/Mary appeared on his cloak, which he said was a signal that the indigenous people should convert to Catholicism.  There have been visitors/pilgrims to this site ever since. And many buildings have been constructed to provide a place for them to pray.

Today the new Basilica houses the image.  Encased in two frames, one silver and one gold, it is mounted on the wall near one entrance of the Basilica. You must get on a short moving walkway to see it, which keeps everyone moving forward and no one can stay in front of it for too long.  The Basilica is constantly being used by the people for Mass.  Each hour a new Mass begins. 

Statue of the Pope along side the old basilica.

There is a large open plaza on one side of the Basilica.  It is here that Pope John Paul came to  dedicate the site. A statue to him stands between the old and new basilicas.  He also came here a second time to canonize Juan Diego.

The temple of the well.

We could not enter all the buildings. But I will admit my favorite was the one that covers the well.  It was a lovely little building.  And each of the windows was in the shape of a six-pointed star.  For my Jewish mind it was perfect.  Miriam, the sister of Moses, was known for her affinity for water. When they were in the desert, water followed Miriam.  So to know that here at the site of the visions of the Lady of Guadalupe/Mary/Miriam, there is a well with a temple with six-pointed stars, gave me a little joy.

My second favorite building was a small church that is still standing, but only with the help of metal beams.  In front of it was a small water way, with no water right now, except for a bowl of water that a mama cat was enjoying while her kitten struggled to reach it.

It is quite a site, much larger than I anticipated.  To be honest, I did not want to go.  We had spent the morning visiting the Pyramids of the Sun and Moon, and I was both exhausted and not feeling well.  But our guide insisted that we had to see it.  As it was on our way back to the hotel, I figured I would say yes, but could always back out.

That did not happen.  I was hot, tired and feeling ill.  But I got out of the van and walked the many steps to the entrance of the site. And then for over an hour walked the grounds and through the buildings to see all that I could.  I was amazed that I started to feel better as we walked.  It was so interesting that I forgot to think about not feeling well.  So I have to commend our guide who insisted we visit.

Bosque de Chapultepec: Visiting Chapultepec Park

30 Nov

While we were in Mexico City, we stayed at a hotel that was located on Reforma, just a short half mile walk from the wonderous Bosque de Chapultepec.  We visited three important sites within the park, besides passing by many others and seeing all the activities enjoyed by park visitors.

rOur three main stops were: National Museum of Anthropology/Museo Nacional de Antropologia; The Chapultepec Castle: and Jardin Botanico del Bosque de Chapultepec/the botanical gardens.  We passed by the Ghandi Garden, the entrances to other sites like the Zoo and the History Museum; and walked through an open air market, where I purchased a straw hat.  We also ate in one of the restaurants within the park, El Lago Restaurante.

Honestly, we did not do these activities in one day.  The park is enormous with so much to see.  But I thought it is best to put it all together in one blog.

The first place anyone who goes to Mexico City must visit is the National Museum of Anthropology.  Besides its wonderful architecture, the museum galleries are filled with pre-Columbian masterpieces.  We had a tour guide who explained what we were seeing in English, which was extraordinarily helpful as almost all the signage is only in Spanish.

The building itself is built around a central courtyard with a large umbrella like structure providing shade. As you walk through the different galleries, you return to the center courtyard between areas.  I found that refreshing.  A way of clearing my mind before entering another new world.

We learned about the Inca, Mayan, Aztec, Olmec  and other peoples who once lived in the various areas of Mexico.  I knew that human sacrifice was a large part of the religions.  Owever, I was shocked at the brutal and almost daily sacrifices.  The artwork of these groups, especially the Aztec, focused on skulls, dismemberment and death.  We learned about the Goddess of Rain and the God of the Sun and the feathered snakes that adorned many of the buildings.  The immense stone carvings were beautiful and many were so intricate, you wonder how they were made centuries ago without modern tools.

The original Aztec Sunstone is on display, as well as many other majestic and large works of art.  The Statute of Chaichiuhiticue,  and the Olmec stone heads were immense.  Each were carved from one block of stone.  I don’t know how they moved them!

I honestly cannot tell you what was the most interesting thing to see because there were so many!  I did like learning about the game they played with balls that had to go through a stone hoop. However, I was sad to learn that after each game, someone was sacrificed. 

We spent three hours visiting all the rooms of this museum.  I took many photos.  But in the last room, I was exhausted.  I knew I had had enough because I did not take one photo.  I was mentally done.  There is just so much to see.  It is a museum you could visit again and again and still see and learn about things you missed on an earlier visit.

Needless to say, we left the museum exhausted and ready to eat lunch.  We knew we would be back to the park!

We returned the following evening for a dinner at El Lago Restaurant.  It is situated by one of the lakes in the park and is just lovely.  The food is delicious as well.  But the main reason I am mentioning it, is that while we ate, a young man asked his girlfriend to marry him!  It was quite exciting and everyone cheered when she said yes!  It added an extra bit of charm to an already charming trip.

With the park so close to our hotel, we knew that we would be walking back another day.  We chose the morning after we took our Covid tests to make sure we could return to the USA.  Even though we knew we did not feel sick in any way, having to wait several hours for the results would have made me anxious if I just sat around.  We started walking to the park.  Our first planned stop was the botanical gardens.  This one was filled mainly with succulents and orchids, two of my favorite plantsWe walked around the gardens enjoying the quiet.  We ended with walk through the orchid house and enjoying the many succulents planted in cement cinder blocks!  I want to do that in my garden.

Chapultepec Park is considered the lungs of Mexico City.  The acres upon acres of trees supplies the valley with clean air, which is important, because there is pollution in the valley that encompasses Mexico City.

After we left the gardens we continued walking through the park towwards the hill where the Capultepec Castle sits. The first building of the castle began in 1795 as a summer home for the viceroy.  Eventually it was enlarged and became the home of Emperor Maximillian and his family.  Maximilian did not survive for long in Mexico.  He became Emperor in 1864 and was executed in 1867. The unfortunate thing is that Maximillian seemed to care about the people of Mexico.  But it did not save him from execution.  

The Castle then became the home of the President of Mexico and continued as the Presidential residence until 1939.  Now it is a museum. It does cost 85 pesos to enter.  I did not have that much cash, and they do not take credit cards.  However, if you are over 60, which my husband and I definitely are, you can enter for free!  The cashier said,  “Are you over 60?”  I said yes.  She said go in for you it is free.  Thank you Mexico!!  It would have been so sad not to have seen this building and its gardens!

You do have to walk up the hill.  But the slope is easy to climb.  However, I will say with the altitude of 7500 feet in Mexico City, I am glad I waited for the third day to make that climb!  We walked slowly.  You can take a bottle of water to go up the hill.  But once you get to the entrance of the Castle grounds, you cannot bring it in with you.

To describe the building, all you need to do is think about Vienna and St. Petersburg.  Maximillian was a member of the Habsburg family.  So, of course, his home reflected the elegance and grandeur that a member of that family needed/demanded.  It was a bit offsetting to see the grand carved furniture of Europe throughout the areas of the home.  But it was beautiful.  A major difference from a European home, is that each of the rooms could be entered from the interior of the house, but they also had large doors that opened to the outside.  To see the mansion, we walked along the perimeter of the home and looked into the rooms through opened doors.

The view of the park and the city from the top of the mountain is wonderful.  Even better was going all the way to the top and visiting the gardens on the roof and seeing the view from there.

Another added bonus to our visit to the park was finding a parade was in progress on Reforma!  It was Revolution Day in Mexico.  We spent almost an hour watching the music, the floats, the marchers in colorful outfits denoting their province of Mexico, before we discovered the underground walkway that enabled us to return to our hotel.

Visiting Chapultepec Park is a must.  We only saw a few of the many interesting museums and sites to see there.  Honestly, you could spend a week just visiting Chapultepec Park!

https://www.wmf.org/project/chapultepec-park

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chapultepec

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chapultepec_Castle

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Museum_of_Anthropology_(Mexico)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maximilian_I_of_Mexico

The Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon: A journey to Teotihuacan

28 Nov

Wow.  My husband and I spent over three hours exploring the Teotihuacan site of the Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon and many, many other buildings, temples, and vast plazas.

It was incredible that such an intricate community was built in the early third century, around 200 AD. 

Nearly 2000 years later, the site is still spectacular.  I can only imagine what it looked like to the eyes of people so many years ago.  The wonder and disbelief to what was built had to be awe inspiring and truly a monument to the gods.

For me it was the completion of another item on my list of places that I needed to see in my life time. And it was well worth the journey from Mexico City to Teotihuacan. My husband and his family went to Mexico City in December 1978. He climbed the Pyramid of the Sun. It was on that trip that he realized he missed me. When we saw each other back at Missou, he proposed. I rally needed to see this site!!

When at first you see the Temple rising from the fields as you drive along the highway, I really could not image the massive height of these temples.  Even up close I was stunned.  And it is not just the temples. It is the entire complex of buildings, homes, and plazas.  Each plaza has its own temples and homes. 

The drainage system to keep the clean water from flooding and the waste water from combining with the fresh water was great.  We could see where the rainwater would travel continually downhill till eventually it reached the river.  Keeping the two waters separated made using the fresh water easy.  However, when they reached the river, they combined.  (The river, unfortunately, is quite polluted and smelly!!)

The welcoming plaza with its temples to other religions was grand.  I could imagine myself walking there and being mesmerized by the central temple to the gods surrounded by the many temples of the visiting travelers. Each plaza is so large.  Closing my eyes, I tried to imagine each one filled with worshippers on holy days.  We learned that they believe the priests would meet together before each mass gathering so that they would preach the same information to all the worshippers.   Good planning.

A pyramid’s original decoration rediscovered.

But really nothing can prepare you for the size of the Pyramid of the Sun reaching up to the sky. And also the Pyramid of the Moon strategically placed in front of a mountain that makes its size seem even more gigantic.  Someone had a great eye for drama.  The Pyramid of the Moon demonstrates that drama.

Originally these brick and stone monuments were covered with stucco and painted. There are a few areas where the art and color still remain.  It was interesting to have a local man show us how the colors came from the plants to paint the stucco.  That truly surprised me. But the mural of the puma lets you envision how the entire plateau once looked.

We did not just stay in the large plaza dedicated to the Sun and the Moon. We walked the entire two kilometer site. Climbing up and down the steep stairs to get to yet another plaza.  To be honest it made me think of the song that goes, “the bear went over the mountain to see what he could see. HE saw another mountain.”  For us we climbed over another stairway to see another plaza to see another stairway to walk through to another plaza.  I kept saying to my husband, I think this is the last one.  And it was not.  Till it was.  But honestly, this seemingly endless trek through plazas and up and down steep stair cases was amazing, and worth the trip!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pyramid_of_the_Sun

Lovely Gardens and Amazing Fountains: Peterhof Palace

29 Sep

 

 

An afternoon at the Peterhof Palace is not quite enough.  When we visited this summer palace of the tzars, which is another UNESCO World Heritage Site, we only walked the gardens. But that is fine, we had already been at the Hermitage and the Summer Palace in Puskin.  I cannot imagine that the inside of the Peterhof Palace was any less grand than those. However, I do know that it seems a bit smaller.   What makes Peterhof unique are the unbelievable fountains and gardens.  Spending an afternoon walking the grounds was amazing.

I am quite used to seeing lovely fountains.  Living in the Kansas City area, we are used to seeing fountains along the boulevards, in historic areas and near and in the Country Club Plaza. In fact, Kansas City is referred to as the City of Fountains.  We so do love our fountains here.

Perhaps it is this affinity to fountains that made Peterhof so mesmerizing. But then I think anyone would be impressed.

Peterhof is like fountains on steroids!  The overwhelming size and number and variety of fountains is fantastic.  I use words like fantastic, amazing, overwhelming and awesome with a whole heart.

No one can come away without being amazed by the engineering that makes these fountains possible to run for hours every day without electricity.  Just water and gravity!  There are no pumps, just water from natural springs and one aqueduct fueling the incredible number of fountains. The gardens were designed by Alexandre Le Blond. I am not sure if he also did the engineering for the fountains.

Our tour guide promised us that we would see close to 200 fountains on our amble through the lower gardens.  I think we did.  Although I will admit that she counted all the water sprouts in each fountain separately. So what! They were still amazing.

 

There is the Grand Cascade and Samson fountain right behind the palace.  There is a children’s fountain with dancing waters. There is a secret fountain through a path of trees that sets a spray of water over anyone walking by. Personally, I especially loved the giant slide of a fountain, called the Dragon Hill Cascade. The statues of this fountain were buried before the Nazis got there and so survived the occupation.  You can see a display of photos explaining what happened.

Much of the Peterhof gardens, fountains and buildings were destroy by the Nazis in the Second World War. But almost immediately after the war, like with the other palaces, the country started work on renovating and repairing the grounds and buildings.  There are large photos that show what Peterhof looked like right after the war.  It is amazing what was accomplished!

img_5418

Peter’s private home.

Included on the grounds are other lovely buildings, including  a much smaller ‘palace’ that Peter the Great actually designed and stayed in.  It is lovely and quaint from the outside. We could peek into the open windows to see inside.  But it is the view from the rear of the building that catches the attention and you understand why the tzar wanted to stay in this quiet home.  The view of the Gulf of Finland, which leads to the Baltic Sea, is lovely.  It is so peaceful there, I can imagine him sitting by himself and just relaxing! Can a Tzar relax?  If yes, this is just the place.

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A lovely greenhouse. One of my favorite buildings.

If you enjoy walking outside admiring gardens and fountains, then Peterhof should be on your list to see.   To be honest, I went serendipitously as it was part of my tour.  It was a day well spent.

 

https://www.britannica.com/place/Peterhof

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peterhof_Palace

 

Braille City Maps of Germany Delight Me

22 Sep

Our first stop in Germany was in an area that once was East Germany and part of the Soviet Union.  While many people from our cruise ship chose to take a train to Berlin, we decided to visit another Baltic City and UNESCO World Heritage Site, Wismar.

The first place we went to in Wismar was the center town square, or Market Place.  Our tour guide, a college student, first told us about the square and its important architectural structures, then walked us to a wonderful metal 3-dimensional, braille map of the city. When we arrived, a blind man and his care giver were at the map.  The man was examining the map with his fingers, as the woman explained what each place was, naming streets and buildings.

img_4873

Map of Wismar

Our guide waited a bit, then asked politely if he could talk to us about the map. (I was glad to know I still understand German, even though I have not used it in 20 years.)  Most important, I was impressed with the map.   I asked the guide if Wismar had a school for the blind, and so the map was there for this purpose.  He asked the care giver, who replied that was not the case. The map was just there for anyone to use.

That was that, or so I thought.

img_4878

St. Mary’s Church tower.

As we walked our guide told us about Wismar and the bombing damage during World War 2.  Two churches close to the town center, St. Mary’s Church and St. George’s Church, were heavily damaged.  Although St. George’s Church was rebuilt, St. Mary’s has only its main tower remaining and the start of a park that will be in the shape of the outline of the original church.

img_4886

When we got to St. Mary’s Church. I was surprised to see another braille map this one detailing the destroyed church and its environs.  It was being examined by the blind gentleman we had seen earlier.  We waited until he was finished, then we walked over to examine the map ourselves.  It was interesting to see the details of the church from before the war.

After viewing this map, we visited both churches.  The St. George’s Church has been rebuilt, but nothing remains inside. It is now used for concerts because the acoustics are excellent.  Inside the remaining tower of St. Mary’s Church are some displays about the churches in the city.

We signed up for this tour for another important visit, to the one brewery in Wismar.  Centuries ago, there were almost 200 breweries in the town.  During the Soviet occupation, all breweries were closed and the beer came from other cities.  In 1995 Herbert Wenzel purchased a building that had been a brewery in the 15th century.  It is now the only brewery in Wismar.  We visited the now named, Brauhaus am Lohberg zu Wismar, and tasted three of its beers.

Although the brewery, the port and the town center were all delightful and gave good reason for this to be a UNESCO heritage site, it was the braille maps that gave me the most joy.  What a great idea!  And to see someone actually using it made it so much more meaningful.  I loved these two maps.

I thought when leaving Wismar, I would not see them again.  But I was wrong.  The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Lubeck also had a braille map that was used by our tour guide to explain the old city to us.  I really enjoy seeing the city from an overview.

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Map of Lubeck

I was very curious about these maps.  Were they a German government idea? I thought maybe a UNESCO plan? I did not see these maps at any other UNESCO World Heritage Site.  When I looked back at my photos, I realized he map in Lubeck had a big clue.  On the map was a note in German that mentioned that the map was a gift from the Rotary Club Lubeck-Holstentor and said the maps were for the blind and sighted people.

img_5761

Map of Lubeck with information about donors

That helped.  I knew that Rotary Clubs do community service and specifically have activities for the blind.  In 2017 Rotary International joined with the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB) to combat blindness.  I am assumed the map in Wismar was also donated by a Rotary Club, but I was wrong. When I looked back at my Wismar photos more closely, I saw that this map was donated by a large number of organizations, starting with the Lions Club of Wismar.  I am aware of what Lions Clubs do as well.  I often donate my old eyeglasses to the Lions Club!

I personally would like to thank the Rotary Club of Lubeck-Holstentor and the Lions Club of Wismar along with all the other organizations for these great maps!! I have an affinity for anything that helps the blind and vision impaired.  My mother was blind in one eye due to childhood accident.  Throughout my life, she constantly dealt with issues concerning her eye and was vigilant in making sure we had good eye health.  These maps delighted me and touched my heart.

 

 

https://www.rotary.org/en/rotary-partners-international-agency-prevention-blindness

 

 

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.

 (Thank you to a resident of the area who was kind enough to contact me and tell me that there are about 800 Jewish residents of Lubeck and 5000 in Hamburg.)

 

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.

Visiting the Van Vleck House and Gardens

3 May

Another delightful site to visit in Montclair is the Van Vleck House and Gardens.  Once a private estate, the house and its gardens were donated to The Montclair Foundation in 1993 by the heirs of Howard Van Vleck, who owned this Italianate villa.  The house was built in 1916.  While other homes once were on the estate as well, this is the only house that still remains.

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The original main entrance to the house on Van Vleck Street.

The gardens are open to the public for free every day!  No holiday closures!  The lovely house is used as a center for nonprofit groups for meetings, events, and fundraisers.  I actually saw people having a yoga class in one of the rooms! What a spectacular yoga studio!  The windows overlook the gardens!

The house and gardens were a short walk from the Montclair Art Museum, just along Upper Mountain Avenue.  Our visit came after several days of rain, so all the grass was lush.  But the blooming season, except for the daffodils was not yet in progress.  I think by the end of May these gardens will be stunning.  When we saw them, everything was greening up, but not much was flowering.

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The formal garden in the back of the house.

There are several walkways and levels of gardens.  The formal gardens behind the main house are lovely. Staff members were setting up for an event when we were there, so we tried to stay out of the way. Although not much was blooming yet, it was a great place to get a good walk in a lovely setting.

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One of my favorite spots.

The Upper Lawn had several stations to check out.  You can download the Van Vleck house’ app and learn about the different areas using codes on the signs.  I liked an area on the upper lawn that had many daffodils and a bird house.  When you walk across the upper lawn, you come to the Mother’s Garden and then to a percola that was renovated.

At first, I was not sure if you were allowed to walk on the lawn, as there were no paths. But seeing the information signs across the way gave me some confidence that this was acceptable.  Also the Garden Etiquette flyer we picked up at the Visitor Center, says, “Walk only on the pathways and grassy areas.”  So we did!

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The Visitor Center with an Ap sign.

The children’s butterfly garden should be lovely as well. It is located behind the Visitor Center. (Where there are good restrooms.  Always important when walking.)  I also liked the colorful signs with details about insects and disease impacting trees and what to look for that lined the path from the butterfly garden to the front of the Visitor Center.  I was glad to see on the website that there are many children and family activities planned throughout the spring and summer.

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The pavilion by the Tennis Garden.

We did not go on the Rhododendron Walk.  It was somewhat muddy and damp, and I was not in the right shoes for that.  However, I did enjoy the Tennis Court Garden, planted where the estate’s tennis court once stood.  To the side is little pavilion.  I could, in my mind, see people resting there between sets of tennis, or watching those playing while enjoying the shade.

I hope to go back to Montclair and visit the Van Vleck gardens when everything is in bloom!

 

To learn more about the gardens and home, go to: www.vanvleck.org