Captain's Log: Eisenach

The sun begins to cast its first rose-pink light on the imposing tower of the Castle Church as the Sister’s Strahm gracefully carve their own path through the park’s chestnut trees, flowers, and English-style gardens. Kendra and Kayla are as consistent as a Kantian walk. You can set your Swiss watch by the regularity of their morning runs. We will say “Goodbye...Auf Wiedersehen” to the emerging/recovering Wittenberg. When I was first here, only months after the fall of the Berlin Wall, it was grey-brown, mute, dilapidated, and more than mildly depressing. 19 years later, new buds find bloom. It’s been invigorating to watch hope spring forth with light, color, and resplendent possibilities that spark and sparkle the imagination. 


All on board the “Wonder (?) Bus.” I can’t believe my eyes--the David Duo are awake and on time. This morning the entire group is puntlich (German for “on time”--this is a pure Prussian trait but not quite as strong in Bavaria...the Bavarians have ever so mildly come under the old Italian attitude of “I’ll open the shop when I feel like it. I don’t care what it says on the door”). Is Formolo an Italian name? How about Smith?


The Wonder Bus starts with the enthusiasm of a morning run with the Strahms or an afternoon speed walk with Riley. All is good. All is bright. All is...uh oh...get to the back of the bus behind Mark, we’re loosing power. But...unglaublich...LO AND BEHOLD, this time Marcel is relatively calm. He must have had an all night prayer vigil or an epiphany or something. He, unruffled,  promptly exits the bus, shows  me how to reset the electronics, thus clearing the vapor lock, and then, just for good measure, kicks the bus once while I’m not looking. Wonder of wonders. Off we go.


Today we have approximately 5 hours collectively of driving. After about 2-3 hours, we plan to stop at Erfurt, but shortly before we get there, donner and blitzen gallop their way upon us--leaving a swath of wind and rain in their wake. We would have to hoof it in Erfurt. The students in a predictable move vote unanimously to punt. We divert to the outskirts of Weimar. The weather is appropriate to the occasion--gloomy and threatening. 


Now we follow the footsteps of Obama from only a few days before--thus arriving at the gate of Buchenwald. The sickening irony of the twisted wrought iron in the middle of the gate disingenuously says, “Jedem das Seine” which means something like “To each his own.” This is the same lie that Satan has been using on our world since the primal mists of Eden. I prefer Desmond Tutu’s variation on a Jesus theme, “A person is a person through other people.” We need each other. We desperately need each other.


 Ellie Wiesel was here in Buchenwald as a very young boy on the way to manhood. Viktor Frankl told stories of prisoners acquiescing to the message of the gate--thus becoming less than animals; and yet he also told stories of prisoners who gave up their last piece of bread to save a friend or even a stranger. The priest, Maximillian Kolbe, saved a prisoner who had a family back home waiting for him. This man of God, by taking the blame for something he didn’t to do, thus laid down his life for another. May the spirit of Jesus live in us all. My heart yearns for a journey turned toward Eden and its lush paradise of love growing alongside compassion, with the sweet fragrance of justice in the air. Jesus proclaimed, “The kingdom is at hand.” Let’s LIVE IT to LIFE and let it spread like a contagion of grace and hope among us. 


Chronologically our time (chronos) in Buchenwald was short, but kairotically our time (kairos) was deep. Those 45 minutes will be etched deep in our souls. More than a quarter of a million persons (men, wormen, and children) were imprisoned here. Some 56,000 died here. Walking mute and numb, we entered the room where nightmarish medical experiments were done on prisoners. Somebody laid a flower on slab were these atrocities were carried out. This was the room next to the ovens of the crematorium. We entered the crematorium and my stomach sickened, tears flowed no matter how hard I tried to restrain them (they flow again even now as I remember and write), without saying a word my soul cried out from the depths “Hear oh Lord our cry...forgive us...what have we done to the paradise you made for us?” Silently we followed darkened steps winding beneath the only got worse...if that is possible. We stumbled into the macabre chamber where men, women, and even children were tortured and eventually hung. If anyone asks me if I believe in hell, I will tell them I’ve been there. 


We left Buchenwald in predictable silence. There simply are no words remotely adequate to the moment. As Santayana said, “Those who don’t remember are destined to repeat.” We WILL remember. May our hearts beat for justice wherever we go. “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness/justice (the Greek word in the New Testament is the word for justice), for they will be filled. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.” Amen and amen, and again I say amen.


John has been sick since last night and this experience has rendered his discomfort acute. We decide to go directly to the Logotel in Eisenach and get him in a single room so he can rest and recover. Of all days to be sick--it is his birthday. He has spent so much of his time beautifully caring for his sister and now on his birthday he is laid low. After checking in, the rest of us go almost vertical driving and then hiking up the mountain upon which the Wartburg Castle is built. This is what German’s consistently call the “most German of German castles.” It was here that Luther was sequestered away after the Diet of Worms put him under Imperial ban. He was a wanted man. During this time Luther translated the New Testament into German--drawing liberally from regional expressions--thus collectively standardizing for the first time what we now call High German. This translation was a tour de force--something akin to the King James version of the  English Bible.


Last stop the Bach House. This is where Bach once lived. It is now an incredible museum. Every time I walk into this museum, I can see Riley’s great aunt, Judy Bjorlie, smiling. It was fun to now share this experience with both of them. The highlight was the recital using classic instruments from the time of Bach forward. We volunteered Smith to pull the belts on the hand-driven pipe organ. I caught it on video, if you want to see it some time. David was as serious as I have ever seen him. Initially, he had a little hitch in his get-along, but all ended well. All’s well that ends well. Well done!


Back at the hotel we part paths. Some retired to their rooms. Some went in search of grocery stores. Some went on a quest to find Sam Adam’s spaghetti hangout (the best buy in town), some followed the smell of ouzo to the Athene Greek  restaurant next door to indulge me in consuming massive amounts of Greek mana from heaven--souvlaki, lakanika, sadziki, dolmades, spanakopida, mousaka, kontosouvli...should I go on? I make the culinary swing from sweet consumption to the heavy, lethargic agony of over-consumption. When will I learn? Someone please carry me to my room? No takers...I’m on my own. 


I notice a long line in the lobby forming from the lone computer connected to the internet. Kendra is online for the long haul. Patience is a virtue. Good night to one and all...gute nacht...bis morgen.

The crematorium at Buchenwald. God to Cain, "What have you done to your brother?"

Luther's room at the Wartburg Castle above the city of Eisenach. This is where he translated the New Testament into German. It's also where he supposedly threw an inkwell at the devil. Apparently they didn't get along.

A view from the top of the Wartburg Castle--ate a little lunch from the terrace (to the right of the picture) overlooking the Thuringian hills. You almost expect to see medieval knights galloping in from out of the mist of the hills below.

Gentleman Dave chill'n to a little Johann, while Erin and Stephanie look for a free audio egg so they can chill too. To fugue or not to fugue....(a contrapuntal composition in which a short melody or phrase is introduced by one part and successively taken up by others and developed by interweaving the parts)...too cool!

These are some of the instruments which were played for us in the recital room of Bach's house. Our exceptionally talented musician/host can be seen standing in the doorway.