Peace On Earth

As varied as our backgrounds and beliefs, most of us undoubtedly share the hope of a peaceful future for all (wo)mankind. Despite interpersonal differences and strife, we all know individuals who exemplify the good in humanity, or recall instances when someone’s unexpected conduct stopped us in our tracks, and made us reflect how we would have reacted in a similar situation.

I experienced one such instance when I first learned about the provenance of the windows at St. Stephen’s Church in Mainz, Germany, in the late 1980s. The building, whose foundations rest on Roman ruins, dates back in its earliest incarnation to the 10th century AD, having since undergone multiple modifications. After vast portions were destroyed by allied bombings in the 1940s, it was restored in the following decades.

I imagine that, in 1973, St. Stephen’s Pastor Klaus Mayer approached world-renowned artist Marc Chagall with some trepidation, with the request to fashion stained-glass windows for the church building, to replace the clear panels mounted temporarily during the postwar years. Russian-born Marc Chagall (1887-1985) had moved to France as a young artist, and had returned to his adopted country in 1948, after fleeing to the United States in 1941, in the wake of the Nazi invasion. I can’t begin to understand what it took for him not only to forgive the German nation for its genocide of millions of his fellow Jews, but to have the grace and greatheartedness to sublimate his sadness and sorrow into some of the most magnificent stained-glass windows ever created.

To bridge not only the chasm between Germans and Jews, but also between Christianity and Judaism, he chose to depict scenes from both the old and the new testaments. Between 1978, when he was 91, and his death in 1985 at the age of 97, nine windows of his design were produced at the studio of Jacques Simon in Reims, and subsequently installed at St. Stephen’s. Following Chagall’s passing, his friend and fellow artist, Charles Marq, continued the project, contributing nineteen additional windows. Whereas his conceptions over time became less pictorial and more abstract, they nonetheless emulated Chagall’s original color scheme and intent.

The exterior of the stately, yet not sumptuous, church does not prepare for the splendor that awaits behind the heavy bronze doors. A deep blue emanates from the windows, suffuses the interior, envelops the visitor in its calming, comforting glow. It draws the eye into the distance, while highlighting other colors and figures embedded in the glass. Since first falling in love with the serene, soothing atmosphere of this space, I have returned time and again, either to contemplate in silence, attend a guided meditation, or enjoy an organ concert. No trip to Germany would be complete without setting foot in it.

Marc Chagall’s life and legacy inspire. If each of us were to put forth even a modest effort to respect, and reach out to, one another, regardless of our religious or political convictions, skin color, age, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation, Peace On Earth would not remain a mere utopian wish, but become a true possibility.

Click here for the German version/bitte hier für die deutsche Version klicken:

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2018/12/25/friede-auf-erden/

Wintry Impressions

Winter solstice is rapidly approaching, the meteorologic beginning of the fourth season. While the attendant cold, muted colors, and reduced avian activity render this time of year less attractive to many, in one respect winter’s beauty is unrivaled.

Die Wintersonnenwende nähert sich mit rasenden Schritten, und mit ihr der meteorologische Beginn der vierten Jahreszeit. Auch wenn der Winter wegen kälterer Temperaturen, blasser Farben, und verminderter Vogelaktivität bei vielen unbeliebt ist, ist seine Schönheit in einer Hinsicht unübertroffen.

Is there any visible substance in nature more marvelously magical than snow? Smart brains have long unraveled the mysteries of the astounding transmutation of water into hexagonal crystals, but physical explanations do not lessen the magic.

Gibt es eine sichtbare Substanz in der Natur, die mysteriöser ist als Schnee? Kluge Köpfe haben schon vor langem das Geheimnis der schier unglaublichen Transmutation von Wasser in hexagonale Krystalle gelöst, aber physikalische Erklärungen vermindern nicht den Zauber.

The magic of translucent structures that appear white when they fall gently from the sky, that cover the dull grays and browns with a snowy comforter, that shine, shimmer, and scintillate in the sun.

The magic of utter silence during a snowfall.

The magic of awakening to a world blanketed in purity, all its stains temporarily concealed.

Den Zauber durchsichtiger Strukturen, die als weiße Flocken vom Himmel fallen, die das stumpfe Grau und Braun mit einem Federbett bedecken, die in der Sonne glänzen, glitzern und glimmern.

Den Zauber völliger Stille während eines Schneefalls.

Den Zauber, des Morgens aufzuwachen, und eine reine Welt vor Augen zu haben, deren dunkle Flecken zeitweise verborgen sind.

In the wake of two November snowfalls, I captured a few snowy scenes. Along the Front Range of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, where we make our home, an intense sun usually melts most of the white splendor within days, unlike in the mountains.

Im November habe ich nach zwei Schneefällen einige verschneite Szenen festgehalten. Im Vorgebirge der Colorado Rocky Mountains, wo wir leben, schmilzt eine intensive Sonne die weiße Pracht meist innerhalb von Tagen, anders als in den Bergen.

This second collage contains wintry impressions from Germany. My dad and I have long hiked a trail that skirts the Donnersberg (literally Thunder Mountain), the Palatinate region’s highest mountain at 2,254 feet. On an early December day one year ago, we were greeted by a frosty wonderland.

Die zweite Kollage enthält winterliche Impressionen aus Deutschland. Mein Vater und ich lieben seit langem einen Wanderpfad entlang der Flanke des Donnersbergs, dem mit 687 Metern höchsten Berg der Nordpfalz. An einem frühen Dezembertag vor einem Jahr wurden wir von einer frostigen Wunderlandschaft begrüßt.

To us Northern hemisphere dwellers I wish a joyful winter, and a happy summer to our southern counterparts.

Ich wünsche uns Bewohnern der nördlichen Hemisphäre einen frohen Winter, und unseren Pendants auf der südlichen Halbkugel einen schönen Sommer.

Back To Nature

Wherever we gaze, natural habitat is vanishing. All of us are aware of the tragic destruction of rain forest, which not only creates, but also compounds global warming, as earth’s green lung is no longer available to inhale thermogenic carbon dioxide in the wonderful process of photosynthesis, which happens to exhale oxygen as an afterthought, in a way. Wetlands, on which countless animals and plants depend, are a second crucial environment that is disappearing at a dizzying pace. In the face of these losses, resignation, if not despair, is an understandable reaction. Fortunately, any restoration of life-giving spheres also restores a little glimmer of hope.

I have been heartened to learn of the success of several such projects during my previous sojourns in Germany. My roots lie in Rheinhessen, a region dominated by the Rhine River, as the name implies. Not far from the Rohrwiesen near the small town of Rheindürkheim (the topic of a previous post) lies a second sanctuary, called Eich-Gimbsheimer Altrhein (literally Old Rhine). A meandering stream for millennia, the Rhine was straightened in the 1820s, which left most of its loops to their own devices. Many dried up, but some, like the body of water in question, received sufficient quantities of water from the ground or skies, aided by occasional flooding of the stream. These inundations were subsequently prevented by the construction of a dam, and the marshes were drained and converted into arable land. The ground water level dropped further when wells were drilled to extract drinking water.

Happily, multi-pronged efforts in recent decades transformed the Old Rhine arm into a lake, and resurrected the adjacent wetlands. The 667 hectare area of this nature preserve forms part of the Natura 2000 network, an EU initiative that has as its goal the protection of threatened habitat, with its attendant plant and animal species. While it represents but a minuscule sliver of the surface of the earth, it has resulted in the flourishing of the local flora and fauna, and the provision of a way station for migratory birds. A 3.7 mile loop with several observation huts and towers circles and transects the parcel and affords glimpses of the Altrheinsee (Old Rhine Lake), of several water-filled gravel pits, of wetlands, of small pockets of swamp forest, and of the surrounding agricultural fields.

Because all my visits have happened in late autumn, I have yet to witness the full spectrum of vibrant life, and look forward to experiencing it in springtime. As modest as this haven might be, it nevertheless serves as an example of how we can save our planet, one baby step at a time.

To enlarge a photo, click on it. To read its caption, hover the cursor over it.

Click here for the German version/bitte hier für die deutsche Version klicken:

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2018/12/11/zuruck-zur-natur/

Home Away From Home

Whenever I have occasion to travel to Germany, I set my proverbial sail for my port of call: Osthofen. Scene of the first six years of my life, before a move to neighboring Westhofen with my parents, it has, once again, become my father’s chosen hometown. It is his company I seek, his domicile, where he and his significant other spoil me (or us) with their hospitality. Much to my chagrin, instead of experiencing their warm welcome in person, I can only reminisce about it at present.

Like many communities in Rhineland-Palatinate’s Rheinhessen region, Osthofen is famous for its wines. Viticulture has been practiced in the climatically conducive Rhine Valley since its introductions by the Romans 2000 years ago. Many families have benefitted from the river’s proximity, and, for generations, have been proud caretakers of countless vineyards. They cover the rolling hills, and change their apparel with the seasons. Distinctive turrets rise between the orderly rows of vines and are reminders of days when guardians took up temporary residence in them near harvest times, to discourage voracious birds from devouring the crops by firing loud shots into the air. Those human deterrents have long been replaced by noise-producing cannons.

To enlarge a photo, click on it.

Strolling through town and its environs transports me to back to my childhood: Living with my paternal grandparents when I was an infant, until my parents built our first home. Being baptized at the local church. Attending the first three grades of elementary school. Returning in subsequent years to see family and friends, and to play team handball in a local club. The existence of the railroad has always guaranteed convenient connections to two significant destinations, Worms and Mainz, where I attended high school and university, respectively.

To enlarge a photo, click on it. To read its caption, hover the cursor over it.

Osthofen’s chronicles contain both light and dark chapters since the settlement was first mentioned in the 8th century. In 1621, it was destroyed during the 30 Years’ War, before being rebuilt. It hosted Richard Wagner in 1862, when he visited fellow composer and native son, Wendelin Weißheimer. 1933 cast its long, sinister shadow over the town. A former paper mill was re-purposed into a concentration camp for enemies of the newly-elected National Socialists, until their transfer to other facilities in the following year. Today the building houses a museum and an educational center that document the atrocities committed during Hitler’s calamitous regime.

Whenever possible, I spend time in nature. Like many agriculturally overdeveloped areas, arable land not covered in vineyards is subjugated to the plow and planted with grains or beets. Few natural enclaves remain, little habitat for untamed beings. Yet a small, man-made pond attracts waterfowl both domestic and wild, and the local cemetery with its old tree growth provides a haven for feathered and furry friends.

In response to my recent blog post “Sit And Stay A Spell,” my dad sent me this photograph of a bench. It has been in our family longer than I have, and was once a place to lounge on while making phone calls to friends. It has weathered repeated moves, and is now weathering the elements in my father’s driveway, where I hope to (gingerly) sit on it during my eagerly awaited next visit.

Click here for the German version/bitte hier für die deutsche Version klicken:

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2018/12/04/meine-zweite-erste-heimat/

Germany’s Greatest Gift To The World

As a European transplant to America, I am often asked if I miss my native country. First and foremost, I miss my Dad, his significant other, the rest of my family, and my friends. Staying connected via the Internet or the occasional phone call can, in no way, replace cherished face-to-face time, which happens all too seldom, but at least a connection remains. This was commonly not the case for earlier emigrants who, once they stepped on board the ship that would steam across the Atlantic, were never heard of again. Furthermore, I miss certain places and traditions that have imprinted themselves on my psyche and are associated with an aching sense of nostalgia.

On a lighter note, when we met, my future husband used to tease me about not really being German by birth, as I neither ate meat, nor drank beer, wine, or coffee. He always claimed that I must have been an import. So when American friends wax lyrical about German cuisine and German hops, I can only roll my eyes. I no longer yearn for the typical meals of my childhood, centered around a slab of meat, accompanied by a potato variation, and served with an overcooked, tasteless vegetable slathered in a Fondor-based white sauce (my apologies to all lovers of said dishes).

What I long for instead is German bread. Oval, round, square, or rectangular loaves (not to forget Brötchen). Baked with wheat, buckwheat, rye, barley, spelt, or oat flower. Topped or filled with sunflower, pumpkin, millet, poppy, or flax seeds. With a crunchy crust and a firm yet fluffy core that can neither be lumped into a ball, nor tastes of molasses, or some other sweetener (my apologies to all lovers of American bread). If this sounds like a nightmare for sufferers of gluten-sensitivity, it is a dream for someone who will never embrace a low-carb diet.

Given this somewhat lengthy introduction, it is perhaps relatable that one of my first errands upon my arrival in Frankfurt is a detour to one of the various airport bakeries, followed by many similar errands to similar establishments throughout my sojourn in Germany, be they venerable old-time, locally-owned businesses (those are the best!), supermarket-affiliated chains, or pretzel kiosks at train stations, or in downtown pedestrian zones.

The inimitable, irresistible aroma of freshly baked goods wafting out of a bakery, and the sight of shelves weighed down with myriad shapes and sizes and shades of bread are, for me, the surest signs that I am back in the old country.

Alas, at present, I have to content myself with visual, olfactory, and gustatory fantasies, until our travel plans come to fruition.

Click here for the German version/bitte hier für die deutsche Version klicken:

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2018/11/27/deutschlands-gro…henk-an-die-welt/

Stuttgart’s Green Sides-Part 3

A stroll in the fresh air amid scenic views rarely fails to lift one’s spirits. Following my exploration of Stuttgart’s Schlossgarten and Max-Eyth-Lake under blue skies, a journey to the elevated outskirts of Stuttgart-West helped elevate our moods on this overcast day, when my aunt and uncle kindly offered to take me sightseeing to another popular destination.

Schloss Solitude (Solitude Palace)

Hazy view of the road connecting Solitude to the Palace in Ludwigsburg

Many years earlier, I had biked to Schloss Solitude (Solitude Palace) on Stuttgart’s extensive multi-use trails through the widespread forest, but I appreciated the opportunity to re-visit this picturesque Rococo palace, commissioned by Duke Carl Eugen of Württemberg, and constructed between 1763 and 1769. On a weekday in late November, no tours were offered and we could only admire the edifice’s elegant exterior, but we also enjoyed the vistas from the palace’s prominent perch. A straight road was built to connect this hunting retreat with the duke’s residence at the Palace of Ludwigsburg 8 miles to the north, which he preferred to the New Palace in downtown Stuttgart. This avenue still exists today and bears the apt appellation “Solitudeallee” (Solitude Boulevard).

Bärenschlössle (Bear Chateau)

The namesake bear

Bärensee (Bear Lake)

Not far from the ducal domicile, we proceeded to another popular locale, the Bärenschlössle (Bear Chateau) and Bärensee (Bear Lake), in an area known as Glemswald (Glems Forest). It is home to additional lakes and several game preserves, but these will have to wait for a future trip. As we ambled through the woods where most trees had already shed the bulk of their leafy canopy, growths of a different nature were evident.

A movement in the green grass of a meadow attracted our attention and, its excellent camouflage notwithstanding, we were rewarded with the discovery of a beautiful bird that appeared to have no objections to prolonged scrutiny by my binoculars and protracted photography by my camera. The perfect avian icing on the perfect autumnal cake.

European Green Woodpecker (Picus viridis)

The red crown is well seen

Click here for the German version/klicken Sie bitte hier für die deutsche Version:

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2018/04/21/stuttgarts-grune-seiten-teil-3/

Stuttgart’s Green Sides-Part 2

During last fall’s sojourn in Stuttgart, I enjoyed re-visiting some cherished corners of Baden-Württemberg’s capital. Upon completion of my stroll through the Schlossgarten, I directed my steps along the Neckar River. A few miles farther north, another beautiful, man-made oasis appealed not only to this human, but also to her favorite feathered friends.

Strolling along the Neckar River

Great Cormorant in the river

A message of love

Max-Eyth-Lake is bordered to the west by the Neckar River, whose steep slopes are covered with award-winning vineyards, and to the north and east by a hill burdened with high-rises. A suspension bridge (aka Max-Eyth-Steg) leads across the river, and a foot path encircles the lake. In summer, boat rentals afford an additional experience. Cafés and restaurants invite the weary walker for a culinary pause. The body of water was created in the 1930s at the location of a former sand and gravel quarry, and became a nature preserve in the 1960s.

Max-Eyth-Lake with bridge and surroundings (the featured panoramic photo above was taken in the previous year, about three weeks earlier in the fall)

Lovely willow

Late fall colors

Site of a heron rookery, I found large numbers of these long-legged, long-necked, long-billed wading birds. Flocks of garrulous Graylag Geese inched their way across stretches of lawn that served both as buffet and lavatory. Here, too, mallards, coots, and moorhen were right at home. I was thrilled to once again observe an elegant black swan. Was it identical to the one I had encountered  the previous year?

Gorgeous Gray Heron

Grazing Graylag Geese

 

 

 

 

 

 

Black Swan

European Robin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Following a period of rain, this day’s sunshine did not succeed entirely in evaporating the moisture in the air and on the paths, and as soon as the sun approached the horizon, the humidity consolidated into a layer of mist that hovered over the water’s surface. As the solar body took its leave, I reluctantly followed, but not before vowing to return.

Click here for the German version/klicken Sie bitte hier für die deutsche Version:

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2018/04/09/stuttgarts-grune-seiten-teil-2/