My 7-year-old granddaughter, Joanna Leigh, and I traveled to Munich, Innsbruck, and Ridnauntal (German)-the Ridanna Valley (Italian) in northeastern Italy in August. Many friends are admitting astonishment that I planned, went, and pulled off such a trip.
First, no one is more surprised than I am.
Second, how did we do it without ending up as wandering vagabonds somewhere in Europe? Help! And I am glad to admit it. And to admit I had drunken butterflies and hard rocks in my stomach for three months before we flew.
And guess who did best of all: Those who know her know who did – yep, Joanna Leigh. Three statements indicate why: When we got to Munich and wandered away from the hotel, I got turned around coming back from the restaurant. She announced that from then on, she would take pictures along the way so I wouldn’t get us lost. She’s been reading too much Hansel and Gretel. The second was an order: “Jo, the next time I tell you to turn right, you’d better do it.” The third is what she announced after exploring the Sonklarhof in Ridanna: “Jo, I’m going to find a waiter and ask for a coke. If you need me, I’ll be back.” Mind you, my sister, Joanna Leigh and I were the only English speakers among everyone we dealt with, except for Roland’s passable English.
On Friday, August 1, 2014, Joanna Leigh, all the suitcases – including the “Monster” piece in a set of three or four bags -- our documents, Euros, and I started out for Atlanta to board Delta’s repulsive 10-hour, non-stop flight to Munich. We would arrive the next morning (because of the time difference) about 8 a.m., tired, lagged, and fuzzy-brained.
The best help came from my travel agent, Teri, at Witte Travel and Tours in Grand Rapids, MI, which managed a tour I took some years ago. I turned over our trip details to her when I finally admitted that figuring out the ins-and-outs of this complicated adventure was too much for me. Before it was over, I would be plopped down in a puddle of tears. The payoff came right away. When we landed in Munich, feeling exhausted and goofy, and had gone through customs, we headed for the baggage area; lo, there stood a young man dressed in a white shirt under black pants and coat, very neat and professional, holding up a sign that read “HUTT.” I could have cried with joy. He got our luggage and we got in a black VW Jetta. Now the adventure could begin.
As he pulled away and headed for the autobahn going, well I’m not sure, but fast, I looked back at the glass encased, dazzling Munich airport and wondered how in hell I would figure it out when we returned in a rented car for the flight home.
I peered out the Jetta window wondering if I would remember anything about Munich from my childhood, or if some scene would spark a flood of memories from the three years I lived there when I was Joanna Leigh’s age. No spark; just tired eyes.
The driver stopped right at the door of the King’s Center Hotel on Marsstrasse, which my agent, had chosen. I had told her not to book a four-star hotel because I wanted to spend that money some other way. The King’s Center turned out to be a great pick – four stars of service in a three-star disguise. Neatly tucked away in the middle of a block and two blocks from the Grey Line Tours stop and the Bahnhof, train station, it was cozy and small, with a small staff and a breakfast dining room across a private, quiet courtyard. The staff got to know us; they presented Joanna Leigh with a King’s Center stuffed bear when we left. The rooms and bathrooms were small, but enough for us. And it’s within walking distance to the city’s center.
I opted to spend three days of our limited vacation time in Munich because I had never been back since my father’s assignment, as part of the Allied Occupational Forces in Germany, soon after the end of World War II. I wanted to feel its character, touch its face, and see if I could recognize anything. I didn’t remember anything in particular, but emotions stirred when I saw the Frauenkirche, the Angel of Peace, the Isar River.
My memories of our stay from 1948-51 are ones of a “normal” life, even though I remember bombed out buildings and rubble. It wasn’t really normal, but military brats have to get used to new places quickly.
Germany was pure devastation in all directions when I lived there. (See below. Notice the building and parade-goer perched in the window.)
Munich is more than 850 years old; it was almost totally destroyed in World War II and was rebuilt. Today, Munich’s face is clean and modern, with the old and the new put together; it was re-built in a rational order. Everything radiates from the pedestrian-only Marienplatz, the geographical center since the city’s founding, symbolized by the Mariensaule. Munich’s character is vibrant and lively.
Except for one glaring flaw: Munich has a Michael Jackson Memorial. That I am able to find, Munich doesn’t have any worthy building or ruin or statue or memorial that demonstrates some responsibility for the horrors of Hitler’s reign or World War II in general. That the first Nazi concentration camp, Dachau, is near Munich and Bavarian children are mandated to go does NOT erase this extreme flaw. This failure, whether conscious or unconscious, stands in stark contrast to Berlin and its hollowed out Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche, which houses a plaque reading “The tower of the old church serves as a reminder of the judgment that God passed upon our people during the years of the war.”
Time magazine is reporting in the on-line edition that Germany is seeing a significant rise in anti-Semitic actions, which Chancellor Angela Merkel is vowing to do all it can to stop.
Marienplatz then (above) and now (left).
Munich pictures: https://plus.google.com/photos/+JoannaCraveyHutt/albums/6053080489927328145
Post WWII photos taken by my father in 1948 to 1951, including the first Fasching Parade allowed after the War: https://plus.google.com/photos/+JoannaCraveyHutt/albums/6034161984099124353
I have tried to ID the locations of the shots.
Bavaria has a distinctive character; it is extraverted, familiar, and fun. It has a distinctive look; traditional Bavarian dress is treated not as a costume, but as everyday clothes for many; everywhere in the summer, buildings, homes, places have window boxes or planters with waterfalls of geraniums, impatiens, and all sorts of summer blooms. It has a distinctive sound, like the gulping down of great beer, the Oktoberfest that engulfs the town and area, the beer hall music. The Alps loom, like only one remaining wall of a fortress.
We got our first taste of the Alps when we made the trip to two of “Mad” Ludwig II’s castles: Linderhof via Oberammergau, and Walt Disney’s favorite, Neuschwanstein, on which he modelled castles for the Princesses, especially Sleeping Beauty. Our tour guide told us a couple of interesting facts: First, Ludwig II was not likely “mad” in the sense of “insane”; he was angry that Bavaria would not anoint him Divine Ruler, so he just built these Rococo castles as his fantasy world and stayed there. Sounds like to me that Ludwig carried both meanings around. Second, if you mispronounce the very mispronounce-able “Neuschwantstein,” you might be talking about some pig trail.
The Castles: https://plus.google.com/photos/+JoannaCraveyHutt/albums/6057480604944440129
Joanna Leigh and I really enjoyed Munich, but after three days, I was ready to get on with the main reason for the trip: To meet Roland and Anton, and to discover what we could about dad’s bailout into the Stubai Alps and the crash site of his P-51. That’s next.