Christmas is a tricky holiday for me. My family always celebrated this time of year with gusto, and my mom made it really special.  The first year I spent Christmas with my German husband’s family I was hit with a bout of longing for America, for my dead mother, for all things beloved and familiar.
“I’m really, really homesick. God, I miss home at Christmas time,” I confessed to my mother-in-law.
“Well, this year you’re with us. This is your home now.” Her mouth was pinched. I had just royally offended (to say nothing of hurting the feelings of) my new husband’s mom.
I was on the brink: I was going to start crying and not be able to stop. “I think I’ll go for a walk,” I said. I put on my boots and coat, fast. I walked by myself through the snowy dark streets. Of course, on Christmas Eve the roads were silent and totally empty; everyone was in the lit-up homes, celebrating the birth of Christ with their families. I walked for probably forty minutes, until I was worn out and too cold to remain outside any longer.
And then I went back to the house and smiled.
I still get homesick this time of year, but after being here so long Uwe and I have our own traditions. Putting up a tree and decorating it always helps. We used to just walk up the street to a yard that sold trees, select one, and carry it home between us. Now Uwe purchases the tree at a shopping center parking lot, and I trim it with all kinds of ornaments.
The former Eastern Germany is known for wooden ornaments. I bought three in Leipzig, for both my sisters and one for my own tree. I also hang special ornaments that remind me of where I grew up.
About twenty-three years ago we spent the holidays in Sofia, Bulgaria, where my sister Pam was teaching. I bought some insanely delicate glass ornaments there.
I’ve never seen anything like them, before or since. When I sat down to write this post, I googled Bulgarian ornaments, hoping to get some info on where they were made. But instead I was directed to cheesy sites selling images of Bulgaria, probably mass-produced in China….
So I have no idea if these quirky (and highly breakable) ornaments are still being made in Bulgaria. I get them out each year, though. Aside from the kitty-cat missing an ear, they’re all intact.
Wishing everyone the blessings of the holiday season. Do whatever you need to in order to make the occasion joyous. Happy holidays, and see you all in 2019.
The rest of us will be enjoying Schadenfreude, the fine art of taking pleasure in someone else’s humiliation.
Anyone who follows Game of Thrones (if you haven’t heard of it, you live in a cave somewhere) knows about the infamous Walk of Shame. Cersei was forced to parade naked through the streets while the locals –always happy to take part in a public spectacle – threw hard objects and body fluids at her.  We watched in horrified fascination!
I thought that was a great scene and a nicely creative bit of Schadenfreude script writing. It seemed like a new version of the old tradition of locking up criminals in stocks for public shaming. Until, in the space of 24 hours, I visited not one but two places where the Walk of Shame really did occur as official ‘justice’…
In the Pfalz region of Germany, history is writ large for the little town of Schifferstadt. Let’s start with the Bronze Age. In 1835, the amazing 3,400-year-old Golden Hat of Schifferstadt was found by a farmer named Josef Eckrich. 
This Golden Hat is the oldest Bronze Age magical headdress ever found and was worn around 1400-1300 BC. Only four Golden Hats are known to exist, and this one was deliberately buried.
Schifferstadt’s local church St. Jacobus is over a thousand years old, dating back to 1101. It’s an imposing Romanesque sandstone edifice with a lovely wooden ceiling.
It contains an unusual crucifix, displaying three figures rather than only Christ, and includes a woman in the depiction.
Schifferstadt’s Town Hall is sweet, charming and historic. It was built in 1558 and is one of the oldest and most beautiful Rathäuser in the Rheinpfalz region.
But don’t let the beauty fool you. The Town Hall could be the site of gruesome cruelty. It served as the court of justice and trials took place upstairs. Conveniently, the building also contained a prison; a pillory and working dungeon were utilized under the stairs.
Outside, the corner of this charming building was put to use for punishments of a more public nature. Once found guilty of a crime, you were paraded in disgrace through the streets. When you arrived at the Rathaus, you perched on the stone pediment/platform (ingeniously constructed right on the building) to endure the jeers and abuse of your fellow townspeople.
In my next post I’ll tell you about another glorious spot known for its Walk of Shame. God, I love history….
NOTES:  Body fluids. Yuck.  Josef Eckrich sold the Golden Hat for 570 Gulden. 120 of these Gulden were paid in a reward from König Ludwig I, who wanted it for his Staatssammlung (collection). For more information on these astonishing magical hats go to Jaunting Jen, Ancient History Et Cetera, or Wikipedia: Golden Hat
At the end of August I made a visit to the Pfalz region of Germany with friends. We went to visit friends of my friends (if you follow). The couple I’ll call Josef and Beate showed us around the historic city of Speyer. The Speyer Cathedral is the most important Romanesque church on the planet.
A bold boast, but true. For starters, it contains the world’s largest Romanesque crypt. The crypt has been described as ‘the most sublime monument on German ground.”  Speyer is the last resting place of both kings and emperors. The Pope had to crown a king (always men, natch) for him to be officially titled Holy Roman Emperor. Depending on political conditions, the Pope might – or might not – name the ruler “Imperator Romanum”.
The oldest grave belongs to Emperor Conrad II, who died in 1039. Take that date in for a moment. This church was consecrated almost a millenium ago. And it’s built on the site of an older church, founded hundreds of years earlier. Speyer is the heart of ancient Germany.
Former Chancellor Helmut Kohl came from the Pfalz and is memorialized with a plaque in front of the cathedral. Kohl was notorious for bringing dignitaries to admire the cathedral and then making them eat Saumagen for lunch. 
Speyer’s Cathedral was placed on the UNESCOWorld Heritage List in 1981. Yes, the breathtaking and harmonious proportions make this a site and sight to see. But what really blew my mind was the story of Josef, which he told me as he showed me around the cathedral and the crypt.
He spent much of his childhood in a boys’ home run by nuns, just around the corner from the church. The sisters had plans for him to become a priest. Each Sunday he served as altar boy, taking part in the church services.  Then he met Beate, the woman who has been his wife for 52 years, and that took care of that.
As we stood at the high altar Josef talked about the years after his mother died and he came to live as part of the religious community. I looked out over the vast interior of the Cathedral and almost felt dizzy. Yikes. This wasn’t some great monument for him. He wasn’t describing a thousand of years of history; he’s literally at home here. This grand space helped formed him as a human being. Josef, his story, and the soaring church are beautiful.
NOTES:  – German poet Reinhold Schneider.  Saumagen is the German version of Scottish haggis. Instead of suet and sausage in a sheep’s intestine, the Pfalz version uses pig’s stomach. I’ve tried it, and it’s not bad. Tasty, even.  Josef is 74 years old, so the services would have been conducted in Latin.
NOTE: I first published this post 5 years ago. I reprint it as a prayer for our world. —Jadi
The anniversary of 9/11 is just a few days away.
I was back in the States when the attack occurred. When I returned to Germany a few weeks later, I was in turmoil. I felt all the contradictions of my life. I’m a resident alien on another continent. I’ve been the target of instant hate when someone found out I’m American. This only has to happen once to convince you that prejudice is awful. What the hell was I doing so far away from my own country? What was going on in the world, and could anywhere feel safe? It seemed like everything was getting sucked into a swirling vortex. My identity as a US citizen, as a foreigner, as a human being, came crashing down.
A few months later my epidemiologist friend Elena came to Europe for a conference. I took an unplanned trip to Amsterdam with her. Maybe 2 days away would give me a break from how heavy life felt. Below is the account from those 2 days and how they affected me:
“I people-watch as we travel to Holland. On a German train near the border, the train car is full of local residents heading home. An African couple talk over their baby. Another young couple sit by me with their own child. The wife’s exquisite black scarf frames her face. Her husband reads from a small leather bound Koran. Both of them keep an eye on the baby carriage. The rest of the car is full with the usual students, professionals, commuters.
An old man goes into the WC. Later the door slides open without his realizing it. He stands helpless, then fumbles at the door. We all see the prosthetic leg strapped to his upper thigh. Everyone looks away. The door slides open again and he looks up, stricken. I rise and go to the door and close it. When the door inevitably opens again a few minutes later, the man with the Koran closes it for him.
A cell phone rings. The African man pulls out his phone and answers, then switches to English. I realize they’ve understood every word of the conversations Elena and I have been having about global health issues, world politics, and travel.
The woman in the headscarf looks at me steadily. When she finally catches my eye she holds me in a gaze of tenderness and our connectedness as human beings. We see one another for a few minutes, and then the train stops and they detrain.
The train reaches Amsterdam. I’ve been here before and always feel as if I’m coming home to an old friend. We walk along the canal streets, and brick building facades reflect in the Amstel as it flows under the bridges. The Egyptian bellhop at the hotel asks where we’re from. “I love this city! You meet people from all over the world,” he declares.
In 2 days Elena flies back to the US. Later that morning I stand waiting to catch the tram from our hotel. A dark-haired woman at the street bus stop carries a backpack. I offer her my tram pass; I won’t need it beyond the central train station. She thanks me, but says she’s heading home. She’s an Israeli airline stewardess, in Amsterdam for a few days’ holiday.
“I live in Tel Aviv, and I’m afraid to go out of my house,” she tells me. “Everyone is scared of more terrorist attacks there. The situation is out of control.” I listen to her and say, “The rest of the world says, ‘just make peace!’ If only it were so easy.”
Once I’m on board my train I read a Newsweek, then dive back into a novel. The quiet man next to me asks in English if this train stops at the Frankfurt airport. I offer him the magazine. We begin to talk: he is Iranian, in Germany for an international banking and finance conference. He lectures at the University of Cardiff. His wife is a dentist, he tells me. They live in Britain and go back to Iran, to their home in the northeast by the mountains at the Afghani border, each summer for vacation.
He lifts the suitcase at his feet and sets it on his lap. Opening it, he pulls out framed photographs of 2 smiling boys. “These are my children.” We discuss their names, their ages, their personalities. At the airport station he leaves for his flight, and I wish him a safe trip home.
The woman sitting across from us changes trains with me in Mannheim. We stand shivering in the evening air on the platform. She is a Dutch physical therapist, doing an apprenticeship in Munich. She asks what I think of Holland. We talk about the coffee shops. I mention the small scale that guides decision-making in her country. I give her my leftover Dutch coins and she buys the tram pass from me.
Late that night I finally arrive home. In the space of 48 hours I touched on what seemed to be the entire planet. And I didn’t learn the names of any of the people who talked to me.
Travel isn’t just seeing and exploring other countries and cultures or the threads that weave those peoples’ histories with the present. Travel is the journey we make every day into other people, other lives, other ways of being and thinking and feeling.
Travel is about the interconnectedness of us all. Each person with whom we interact leaves behind traces that can change the world. Travel is about holding onto hope.
A part of me remains in every place I’ve ever stood. My image was impressed in a snow angel I made up in the Arctic Circle, which vanished years ago. But who can say if some part of my spirit still wavers there like the Northern Lights? Or in my interactions with all those people on the trains between Stuttgart and Amsterdam? I don’t know…. but we should live as if every act matters, as if choosing to love and be open to the rest of the world and each other can transform us.”
NOTE: The brilliant Robin Williams was born on 21 July, 1951 in Chicago. In honor of his upcoming birthday and his incredible gifts, here is my original post written at the news of his death. — Jadi
Feste the Fool: “This cold night will turn us all to fools and madmen.” —Shakespeare King Lear, Act III, Scene 4
Robin Williams is dead. He killed himself.
Both of these statements shock and sadden me. Put together, they are almost unbearable. Since his passing the nights have been cold indeed, and it’s taken days to reach a place where I can try to write about him.
Caren Miosga is an anchor for the major evening news program in Germany, and German journalism is a serious business. Caren reported the news of his death barefoot and standing on top of her news desk. “O Captain! My Captain!” she recited from there. There is no more fitting way to salute him.
I remember when he burst onto the world stage. He was incredibly funny, his wit like lightening. His brain and mouth moved so fast that it still takes repeat viewing (and listening) to catch up to him. And even then you wonder how he could improvise like that. He would recite Shakespeare – and play all the roles himself.
A good word to describe him is irrepressible. Robin seemed impossible to hold back, stop, or control. And he embodied the next meaning of the word: very lively and cheerful. But like all clowns he knew the flip side of laughter is sadness. He was a fiercely observant social critic and he spoke about what he saw. As our greatest court jesters have always done, Robin told us the truth.
During the 1980s I lived in San Francisco, and I remember going with friends to the newly opened Hard Rock Café. As we sat there, a murmur rippled through the big room. Robin Williams, two women, and two very young children had just been seated for lunch. As the news spread, people stopped eating and turned in their chairs to stare.
Robin was a guy who’d simply come in for lunch, and looked uncomfortable with all the attention. But he signed autographs and smiled. I was struck by how youthful he looked, and how shy. He didn’t have a glamorous aura. I tried to figure out what was remarkable about how he looked. In the end, I was startled by a sense that he was terribly vulnerable.
And that is the secret to his magic. Robin Williams didn’t just make us laugh. He made us feel the absurdity of our prejudices and fears, and yes, our hopes and desires, too. He reminded us at all times of our humanity. He was searingly honest about his own short comings and dreams. He turned himself inside out with a candor and lovingkindness that made his humor a healing force.
Our world is a sadder place for his passing. It’s a better place for his having lived and shared his immense gifts with us.
He is already greatly missed.
R.I.P. Robin McLaurin Williams 21 July 1951 –11 August 2014
It wasn’t the first time I’d hitchhiked, but I was 18 the last time I did anything this dumb. Or this kind of dumb anyway. Allow me to explain.
I was back in the States and it was the day of the final match of the 2014 World Cup, Germany vs. Argentina. My family unfortunately all had a prior engagement. They took the car that morning and left for a certain Country Fair. 
I, however, remained true to the country of my husband and my adopted home for the last 26 years. I put on face paint, donned my German lei, and headed out the door.
I’d done my research. I knew the exact location of not just a sports bar in town, but a soccer sports bar at that – and I gave myself plenty of time to get there. As I headed down a footpath alongside the main road, a Mercedes Benz honked its horn repeatedly when the driver passed me. I looked at the car and laughed: he had decorated it with the colors of the German flag. I gave him a big wave and headed for my bar.
Ten minutes later I neared the entrance to a park and was astonished to see the car again. It was waiting for me. The driver had rolled down his window. “Do you know where I can go to see the game? I’m driving through on business, on my way to the coast, and I don’t know where to go to watch the match!” His accent was German and anyway he had the (to me) comforting look of a German engineer. 
“I sure can,” I answered. “There’s a sports bar near downtown. You need to turn around, take a left before the ramp for the freeway heading south, go under the overpass, take the one-way road three blocks and….” I stopped talking and considered. The park was empty, and so was the path I was walking on. I thought to myself, “Jadi, this could end up being the last spot anyone might have seen you standing alive before you made one last, stupid, fatal blunder.”
I scrutinized the driver more carefully. And then I made a snap decision.
“It’s complicated. Give me a ride, and I’ll guide you to get to the bar,” I offered. “Otherwise, it’ll take too long to describe.” The surprised dude immediately agreed. He opened the car door and I climbed in.
Fifteen minutes later we claimed two of the very last available seats in the packed bar (the employees were bringing in more chairs when we entered). I sat between the man whose name I no longer remember and a Mexican father and daughter.
The things we do for love (love of soccer, that is). No need to hitchhike this year, which is probably a good thing. I figure I used up my entire quota of guardian-angel-watching-over-you-while-you-do-something-colossally-stupid protection. But I’m definitely watching some soccer. France vs. Croatia, Sunday night! Come early if you want a seat!
NOTES:  Go to my post The Oregon Country Fair for more on the fair. I’m still glad I made it to that bar and saw Germany win. [1a] … especially after watching their pathetic performance this time around.  The standard German engineer: short hair, clean shaven (99.99% of the time), honest face and slim body wearing jeans, an ironed shirt and an earnest expression.
I injured my back through overwork, recklessness, and sheer, stupid, stubbornness. I was incapacitated for over two months. If only I hadn’t climbed the Great Wall of China after I first hurt myself. If only I’d slowed down, even just for a day or two, while we were traveling. If only….
But no. What are you suggesting, that I should have slowed down and maybe let myself miss something???
So now we were home, and I was down for the count. Have you ever experienced a herniated disk? Those of you who have know what kind of pain I’m talking about. Either give me the good drugs, or just shoot me now. At the doctor’s office I actually begged for pain killers.
The Frau Doktor’s brow furrowed. “You mean you want me to give you a prescription for something you can take as soon as you get home?” she asked slowly.
“No. I mean I want you to give me a shot of something, before I leave your office. Like, right now,” I whined. “And yes, I want you to give me a prescription for something I can take as soon as I get home, too!”
She obliged me. I was able to hobble the few blocks back to our apartment.
When I got there, I bargained with every god in every place in the world we’d ever visited. “Just let me not be crippled,” I prayed. “If I heal and can walk again, I promise I’ll do yoga – and tai chi – and stretching exercises – and aerobic workouts – and never ever ever overschedule myself, from now until the day I die.” Because if the pain didn’t stop, that day was going to be a whole lot sooner than I’d anticipated. This HURT.
It took two months before I got back to healthy. Thanks to the German mix of physical therapy, acupuncture, anti-inflammatory meds, x-rays, and yes, those really good drugs, I didn’t need to be killed and put out of my misery.
P.S.: I kept that bargain with the gods. Almost a decade later, I religously start every morning with a routine of yoga – tai chi – stretching – and aerobic exercise. Superwoman is retired, and she’s not returning. I cut back on the amount I’m willing (and able) to work doing massage therapy.
As the memory of the pain receded, I got my health back. And, dude, — I climbed the Great Wall of China!
It’s that time again: the World Cup. In honor of the season, I give you 3 posts that (along with a motley bunch of other stuff) mention Fußball, Pink Floyd, a hotel from hell, bar none the largest and greatest party I’ve ever been to, and one damned good pizza.