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Travels with Georgia and zig
Overseas Trips

Episode 17: Passau, Switzerland, Austria, Bavaria 2010

Episode 17—May 31, 2010: Passau

Her name is Diana and she works at the Republic State Bank on Euclid Avenue in Lexington Kentucky. I would like to publicly thank her! Before leaving Lexington I gave her our itinerary and told her that if I had banking problems I would send her an email. And I did. When we left the ATM machine we immediately headed for an Internet café. They are everywhere in Europe. You pay one or two euros for an hour or so on a good machine. I told her the banks were spitting our cards back at us. Was there some problem with the account back home? After sending the message we decided to try one more time and only ask for 60 euros. It worked!  FanTAStic! I seem to remember that we had this problem in a little town in Italy once before. Maybe small towns are just less willing to give large sums of money. Diana will know.

Stopped at “Subway” and bought a veggie delight. It tasted exactly the same as in the states—even including the iceberg lettuce (ick) and the tasteless olives. What gives? Surely they could have better veggies produced close to home. We also noticed that there seemed to be a large number of chubby teenagers here in Passau. And there seemed to be more fast-food and “snack” outlets here than in the bigger cities. At least more per capita. They seem to be super-sizing themselves just as in the states. Oh, the boredom of teenage years and the lure of sugary and salty “foods.” Consumerist culture is penetrating the backwoods of Europe. We saw huge advertising campaigns for bikini tops in Zurich, Salzburg, Vienna, and even little Wels and Passau. Perhaps a consumerist culture is especially penetrating in the backwoods of Europe, just as drug abuse seems more rampant in the backwoods of Kentucky. In the small towns, boredom is especially hard on the young. They feel like they are missing out on what everyone else is enjoying. It’s a lie, of course, but then advertisers have never been particularly interested in telling potential customers “the truth:” “These cigarettes are poison.” “These potato chips taste great but will clog up your arteries.” “These clothes are going to look ridiculous on you.” “These shoes are going to give you bunions.” “You won’t be any more popular when you drink this carbonated sugar water—and you will get cavities to boot.” Macdonalds, Burger King, and Subway restaurants are everywhere. Haven’t seen a Walmarts, but Wolfgang (on the train) told us that Hofers, Aldi and Billa are using American-style commercialist tactics to drive prices down—forcing suppliers to meet their prices or be blackballed. These artificially low prices are killing the small shops that were once the backbone of Europe’s food economy. We may be among the last travelers to be able to revel in the wonderfully made breads, artisan cheeses, olives, and fruits.
But then, many years ago I remember reading a story called “Quality,” about two cobbler brothers and their custom-made shoes and boots. The customer would stand bare-foot on a piece of leather and the brothers would get down on their hands and knees and trace the exact shape of the foot. That led to absolutely perfectly fitting boots and shoes that would wear almost forever. One faithful customer, pressed for time, went and bought a pair of “ready-mades” instead, and when they wore out bought another pair, etc. And then one day he realized it had been years since he had seen the brothers. He decided to stop and say “hi.” As he entered the shop the friendly smell of fresh leather and shoe wax greeted him like an old friend. But he wasn’t a friend—he had betrayed the brothers. One of them had died and as the other got down on his hands and knees to measure his foot, he said with a hint of sadness: “These are not our shoes.” “No,” the man said with some embarrassment and tried to make an excuse. The old man held up his hand, “No matter. Your boots will be ready in one month.”
And they were, but when he came to pick them up the shop had changed. There were now ready-made shoes in the window and a young man stood behind the counter. “Where is Herr Muller?” the man asked. “Herr Muller has died, I’m afraid, but I’m his nephew.” “You are going to sell ready-mades?” “Oh yes,” the young man said, “My poor uncles—they never could keep up with the times.”
The man left with his precious package. These would be the last pair of custom-made shoes he would ever have. They were warm brown riding boots, as supple as a pair of fine kid gloves. The soles were firm, but flexible, and he knew that they would fit perfectly. And he knew in his heart that it wasn’t his fault the world had lost another fine craftsman, but then why did he feel so bad?

It’s not just food of course. Consumerist culture is so popular everywhere. The entire world seems to have a love/hate relationship with it. I think that’s one of the reasons the disputes are so sharp right now between the Muslim world and the West. So many Muslims now live in the west and the Internet has brought western culture into every backwater and village on the planet. I heard a father in Tehran explain to an interviewer why Iran hated us so much: “We don’t want our daughters to be like Brittany Spears.” I don’t think he realizes that I don’t want that either—and neither do the other American fathers I know.
As if these thoughts weren’t gloomy enough what should we see but two young fresh-faced, and well-clad young Mormons pushing bikes along the pedestrian walkway. As we watched, they stopped a group of young men and women heavily tattooed, dressed in black leather and multi-studded. America’s custom-made “non-conformists” being proselytized by America’s custom-made “religion.” In the backwoods of Bavaria. Sigh.
June 1, 2010: Passau

No word from Diana yet. But when the local bank opened I found a teller who spoke English and learned that indeed, it was the bank’s policy to limit overseas withdrawals to 60 euros. We managed to find another bank that let us withdraw 300. Went back to the Internet café and found a message from Diana saying there was no problem with our account. I explained what I’d learned and told her I’d bring her a present—silky-smooth German chocolates. A banker is a good friend to have when you are overseas!
Visited the Cathedral and learned that there was to be an organ recital on the largest organ in Europe (the organ at the Mormon Tabernacle is larger!) and the largest organ in any Catholic Church in the world. There were 126 registers and 18,000 pipes, 3 manuals, and a pedal. The introductory remarks were special. I wished the social workers we met could have been there to listen.

He said, “Passau became an important town in Roman times because it was at the confluence of three rivers. The church was founded there in the fifth century. By 800 there was a bishop and cathedral. In 982 a second, larger cathedral was built on the same spot. In the 1600s, the second cathedral was destroyed by a catastrophic fire. The present building was completely rebuilt by German and Italian craftsmen.” He finished with the statement that “Many, many centuries of people have given their very best to glorify our creator.” He didn’t want the audience to separate these treasures from the Creator they were meant to glorify.
And yet, times are tough for ancient cathedrals. We joined the secular audience and paid our four euros apiece to hear a 30-minute concert on the largest organ in Europe. We heard Bach, and Caesar Frank, and the famous Toccata and Fugue: three treasures of the Church, played on another treasure of the Church. The sound filled that enormous space in a way that no one could possible capture in words, and yet—in all honesty, I found it disappointing. The church was packed. The music was enormous. . .  and yet . . .  the organist had probably played these same three pieces, every day at 12-noon for months. I don’t think his heart was in it. It was certainly competent—but not inspired. But then the problem may also have been with the audience. I remember someone once saying that if you had a problem with your church choir, or the organist, or the priest, the first thing you should do is pray for them fervently. Nothing will turn a lukewarm priest, or teacher, or music program into a ball of fire faster than a fervent congregation. The same, I think, is true at organ concerts. This audience was a dud. They sat on their hands.  And I even saw people get up and start wandering around taking pictures and chatting during the music. At the end, Georgia and I were afraid everyone was just going to get up and walk out so we started the clapping. It was sad. Like trying to start a fire with wet matches. The tepid applause died out quickly and the audience filed out chatting, or hung around to take pictures proving that they’d heard the largest organ in Europe. Big whoop.

 Do you see? This church was trying to do what our social workers recommended: sell the treasures of the church to the secular world. Know what? The secular world didn’t want them. They didn’t appreciate them. Trying to make ends meet by selling the treasures of the church is like Esau selling his birthright for bowl of lentil soup.
There was a little fair going on outside the church where we bought a bag of noodles from a local farmer. Mistook the 2 euro coin for a 1 euro coin so gave the man 4 euros for a bag of 1 euro, 50-cent noodles. He gave me the noodles and one of the 2 euros coins plus 50 cents in change. He smiled and said the German equivalent of, “Silly tourist, you gave me too much.” I love it! There are wonderful people everywhere.

After lunch Georgia went to visit a glass museum, and I headed off on a walking tour. Ended up on the campus of the University of Passau and saw the students and buildings. Right on the Inn River across the promenade from the Danube. Lovely spot. Saw a pedestrian bridge over the grossly swollen river. Even the sidewalks alongside the river were flooded. Wandered aimlessly through medieval streets. Saw a Roman Museum and medieval castle walls then a sign for the Marianhelf monastery.

Marianhelf3.JPG  Marianhelf4JPG.JPG
It was an unbelievably steep climb. A girl passed me on her bicycle but she was huffing and puffing along only slightly faster than I was walking so we commiserated with each other in pantomime. At the entrance to the Marianhelf they had a “stations of Mary” made of lovely Lambert's glass laminated with silicone to half-inch thick plate glass. What a great idea for showing off Lambert’s exquisite glass. We will be visiting their factory toward the end of our trip.

Marianhelf1.JPG  Marianhelf2.JPG
I found the entrance to the chapel. It quickly turned into a LOOOONNNNNGGGGG descending staircase to a life-sized crucifix. The stairway was hundreds of steps long with windows all along the way and thousands and thousands of mementos left in honor of Mary’s help attached to the walls and resting on the window sills. They reached about half way down. I’m sure the petitioners got tired half way down and left their thanks then started back up. I wanted to see the crucifix up close, but was a little bit nervous at the prospect of having to turn around and start back up from all the way at the bottom. The crucifix really was lovely, and I gave thanks for all the blessings poured out on my family and turned to start back up. And then I saw another doorway. It opened out at the river. A secret passage! How cool is that?

Walked back to the glass museum to wait for Georgia. The museum was an old hotel, the Wilderman, where Empress Elizabeth II stayed when she was in Passau. Her bedroom was still kept as if she would be arriving again any day. There were 5 floors, with the top three now a museum. Georgia said she got lost in the maze of rooms and stairways and saw all kinds of glass from buttons, goblets, birdcages and huge pedestals of glass topped with vases of glass flowers. She said the Art Deco glass with paintings of goldfish, birds, flowers and designs were her favorites.
We ate our picnic supper in the reclining man’s “bread-basket.” Bread, champignon-flavored bologna, with cookies, milk and German chocolate plus red wine and hard little sausages that tasted like foot-long pieces of 7/11 beef jerky. But it was all wunderbar! The bread was a two-foot baguette, crusty on the outside, chewy and silky smooth on the inside with pea-sized yeasty holes—perfect for trapping bits of cheese and German mayo. With those little beef-jerky thingeys they made the best hotdog buns you could ever sink your tooth in.

It was raining hard after supper so we bagged it. I worked on the journal and Georgia watched some German TV. A German bicyclist and his friend stopped to say hello and told us about his visit to the US on a “rolling tour” from Washington DC to Key West Florida. This weird hotel we were staying in, Rotel Hotel sponsors them and provides a bus to follow the cyclists carrying luggage and providing sleeping quarters along the route. He said he loved the trip and couldn’t decide whether he liked Miami, or Key West better. I’ve never been either place.
An interesting man. Didn’t know that tomorrow we’d be meeting a gypsy and her daughter and a pony-tailed, would-be cowboy on the train to Munich . . .

 (to be continued)