Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Science of Paris

The two museums we went to on our third day were the Science and Industry Institute and the Orsay Museum, an art museum with works from about 1848 to 1914. I also managed to get to the Notre Dame cathedral. The rest of the family was too tired to join me.

We went to the Cite des Sciences et de l'Industrie partly because any time we visit a city we like to see the science institute. I guess that's just the sort of people we are. The French aren't necessarily known as scientists as much as artists. But they of course also have many great scientific achievements.

One of the attractions to the science institute was a special exhibit called "Sex: What's the big deal?" It is an exhibit especially for children to learn about sexuality at an age-appropriate level. Some parents are jealous about sex education, wanting to make sure they are the only ones who teach their children about sex. I, on the other hand, am happy to get all the help I can get. It is hard to teach about sexuality. Jacob, Noah, and I went to the sexuality exhibit while Jill and Isaiah saw other interesesting things. The exhibit was well done, I thought.

In the afternoon while the others rested I enjoyed going to Notre Dame, the famous cathedral. For all its astounding beauty, I noticed all the gargoyles on the upper outer walls. I guess these ugly creatures are there to scare away evil spirits. If so, the architects of Notre Dame were especially worried about evil spirits. The gargoyles almost dominate the sculpture in places.

What impressed me again about this cathedral was that, like the Worms Cathedral, it had a chapel dedicated to Joseph which included a sculpture of Joseph with the child Jesus. And again like the Worms Cathedral, it had an emphasis on the resurrection of Jesus. There is a large wall around the choir in the front of the cathedral. And all the sculptures on the south side act out scenes from Easter, including the resurrection itself and then various resurrection appearances. On the north side is the birth and Palm Sunday. This is an emphasis on the resurrection that I have never encountered in architecture or art. Of course there is in the center of the choir, really the focal point of the cathedral, the Pieta sculpture, Mary holding the dead body of Jesus. So that the cross and suffering is still the focus, which I think is good as well. The cross and resurrection need to be held together.

The family went to the Musee d'Orsay together in the evening, since it is opened late on Thursday evening. It is filled with beautiful paintings and a few sculptures. If you like Impressionism then this is the place for you. It is filled with paintings by Monet and Van Gogh. It also has a lot of Manet and Degas. My favorite was the Van Gogh room. It included "Starry Night," but I was especially happy to see "Van Gogh's Bedroom in Arles," which the Electric Brew has used as the basis of its bathroom in Goshen.

Orsay was a place of great beauty. It was once a train station like only the French would design, with such grandeur and beauty. But it eventually became too small for modern trains and so became an art museum. Compared to the Louvre, the themes were much less religious. And so the turn towards the modern age, and away from Christianity. But there were also a number of religious paintings as well.
After Orsay we crossed the Seine River and went to the Tuileries Garden and found some great playground equipment and also some cotton candy like we haven't seen before.

Art of Paris

On our second full day in Paris we visited two museums, the Cluny Museum of the Middle Ages and the Louvre. We purchased a two-day museum pass to enable us to visit multiple museums in one day. But we discovered that two is about the family limit, though I could easily go to three, I think.

Our day began with the Musee National du Moyen Age at Cluny. There we discovered some beautiful artwork, and of course lots of armor and medieval weapons. With Jacob and Isaiah's interest in the Middle Ages, we knew we would need to go here, plus it was within easy walking distance of our apartment.

A surprise find was the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries, a beautiful series of tapestries, one for each sense, and then finally a sixth sense, that of love. They are housed together in a room and they are the kind of thing where you can just sit and look at them for a long time. Each tapestry includes a lion, a lady, and a unicorn. There is a way in which the sixth tapestry represents the lady transcending the five senses and saying that there is something more to life than what you can see, hear, touch, taste, or smell. Harry Potter fans may be interested in knowing that the Lady and the Unicorn tapestry can be seen in the Gryffindor common room in the movies.

We rested a little while back in the apartment before going to the famous Louvre Museum. The thing to say about this museum of fine art is that it is astonishingly huge. I think it was once a palace of the kings of France, and for that matter probably much of the artwork belonged to them as well. But after the revolution it was nationalized and shared with the public. It goes on and on, and it includes a wide array of sculptures as well as paintings. The pieces go to about 1850.

We wanted to make sure that we saw the great masterpieces. We did not bring a camera because I think there are usually plenty of examples of the artwork accessible on the web. I don't see any reason to photograph it again, with me in front of it. But if you follow the Louvre's the Masterpieces of the Louvre Trail, you will see some of what we saw. We did not see all of these and of course we saw many more. We did see the Louvre's famous ladies, the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, and Winged Victory of Samathrace. Because we went on Wednesday evening, when the museum is open late, we didn't have problems with long lines, and this in mid-July. We didn't even have to wait to see the Mona Lisa. There was a crowd, but within a few minutes we were at the front. The thing to say about the Mona Lisa is that it is small, and they don't let you get that close. Apparently it has been attacked by acid and one time was knifed. That explains why they search you before you enter the museum. Still it was great to see.

I perhaps enjoyed the most the The Wedding Feast at Cana, number three in the masterpieces trail. It shows the moment when the water is turned to wine and there is something about the way Jesus is portrayed, knowing that he is now revealed and there is no turning back from this path. It is a moment of enlightenment and recognition for Jesus. There is a resoluteness and serenity to it, but also a sense of crossing a threshold. This is it.

There are many, many religious paintings at the Louvre, especially since it focuses on earlier art. What surprised me is how often seeing these paintings led me and the boys to religious discussions. They wanted to know what these images portrayed, and it led to many serious discussions about Bible stories and religious issues. I hadn't expected that from a museum in Paris. I was also surprised at what they didn't know and realized that I need to work harder on helping them to know the Bible and its stories.

Monumental Paris

We stayed in Paris for five nights, or what comes to 4 full days. Our first experience in Paris was not so good. We arrived by train from Mainz, Germany. I was disappointed that the boys never got to ride a French high-speed train. However, I discovered that the German trains went a lot faster in France than in Germany. So we still went really fast, but it was not like I remember my first train ride in France, where you seemed to fly across the countryside. But the disappointment was that upon our arrival at the Gare de L'Est in Paris, we found people not all that friendly and, as was expected, not all that helpful in any language other than French. When we couldn't find a taxi willing to haul 5 people, we finally decided to try the subway, though we had been warned repeatedly about pickpockets, especially when you carry your luggage around and so are obviously tourists. We never had any trouble with pickpockets and we bought a 5-day pass to the subway system. It was very expensive compared to what we were used to in Switzerland, where children under 18 are generally free and transportation passes gave access to museums. At least in Paris children under 18 were generally free in museums.

We came to our apartment on Boulevard St. Michel in the Latin Quarter, named that because the university is there, and at an earlier time education was in Latin. We took a small lift to the fifth floor and then had to walk the final set of steps up to a kind of loft, with slanted ceilings. It was a cozy and fun place that we found through Vacation in Paris, a New Jersey-based organization. One of the great things is we paid in US dollars long before the dollar plummeted to the Euro even more, so it was a reliable price. The apartment was great, with internet access, free telephone even to the US, and a clothes and dish washer. But best of all we could see the Eiffel Tower and Hotel des Invalides from our window, and the Jardin du Luxembourg, a big park, was just across the street.

On our first night out we found a crepe place, Le Fondeil, which offered us a tasty but inexpensive meal. And we also met some friendly Parisians. The staff there was very friendly and made great crepes. They were not the first friendly Parisians we met. When Jill couldn't figure out how to get through one of the barriers in the subway, someone showed her and welcomed her to Paris.

I may say more about this later, but Paris is much more like the US than Switzerland. It is a place where you need to be on your guard, not sure you can trust people. Switzerland is a culture of trust, where you assume people can be trusted. France and the US are not. For example, during my entire month in Basel, Switzerland, I was never asked to show a ticket on the trams. They just assumed that if you were on the tram it was because you had paid. Now when I went on longer train rides sometimes a conductor asked for a ticket and sometimes not. But in Paris they had elaborate barriers, like in Atlanta or other large American cities, to make sure you had a ticket in order to get through. Of course some people would cut through anyway. To have open trams is a much more convenient way to travel than to have barriers.

Perhaps the big difference is between large cities and smaller communities. Switzerland has no city over a million people, with even Zurich having less than a million in its total urban area. The big Swiss cities have about 150,000 in the city, or a little larger than South Bend, and Zurich has about 300,000.

In any case, for our first full day in Paris we decided to go to the must-see Parisian monument, the Eiffel Tower. Unfortunately the lines were exceedingly long for each of the four routes, so after taking a few pictures that you can see here, we went to the Arc d'Triomphe. This is on the famous and beautiful Champs Elysees, which was in the news recently because the Tour de France always ends there. Unfortunately we missed the end of the Tour de France by one week.

The Arc d'Triomphe is in the middle of a huge traffic circle, or roundabout, where 12 streets come together. That's right, twelve. Fortunately there is a pedestrian tunnel under the roundabout so that you can safely get into the middle. The tomb of the unknown soldier is in the middle of the arch, and we saw the changing of the guard. They have two guards with modern weaponry and two with more traditional and showy weapons, also two men and two women. I was interested in how there were also two flags billowing under the arch, a French flag and the European Union flag. I wonder now whether that is always the case or whether it is happening now because France currently holds the European Union presidency. They also illuminated the Eiffel Tower in blue with a circle of stars on it. I know that is only happening now because of the EU presidency.

In this way France is also like the US, it seems to me. In both places there is great national pride. Displays of patriotism are quite common. This Arc d'Triomphe is commemorating the triumphs of Napoleon's armies, as they subdued much of Europe for France. In that sense what Germany did in World War II was just following the lead of France 150 years earlier. Of course the major difference is that France introduced religious freedom and democracy wherever it conquered whereas the Germans brought tyranny and extermination of Jews and other peoples considered undesirable. Mennonites in Switzerland first gained religious freedom in the days of the Helvetic Republic established through Napoleon.

Paris is a wealthy city with amazing architecture and sculptures and other artwork. To me it is important to remember that much of this beauty came from the concentration of wealth in the hands of the tyrannical kings of France with their absolute power. And then came the revolution with its great promise, only to have Napoleon become emperor and make France even wealthier through his conquering of much of Europe. I saw the painting "Napoleon crossing the Alps," (The more realistic one by Delaroche, not the romanticized one by David.) and it meant something different to me because I had been in the Alps and I thought of those conquered by his armies.

In many ways the US is in the position that France was 200 years ago, the world's superpower. Of course there are many differences, with the US not trying to conquer the whole world, just those places that block our plans.

I asked Mennonite missionary in Paris, Neal Blough about the way that France and America seem to have a love-hate relationship. He said he thought it was because both places think they are the light of the world, and both are wrong. I think he was referring to the Enlightenment which occured mostly in France and had a huge influence on the American revolutionaries. Both places also had a revolution in the late 1700s based on "liberty and justice for all" in America, and "liberty, equality, and fraternity" in France. Both countries see it as our duty to share the light of liberty with all the world, with force if we have to!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


So on Sunday we rode through the German countryside until we came to Worms, pronounced verms. This is the place where the new reformer Martin Luther was called to defend his ideas about the church and the faith. He was condemned at this Diet of Worms, but he was able to find several rulers who were willing to defy the Holy Roman Emperor and defend him. According to tradition he said, "Here I stand, I can do no other." So at Worms we visited the Martin Luther monument that included several forerunners of the Reformation such as John Hus and Peter Waldo, two of the rulers who defended Luther, and several other statues.
Worms is still the home of an impressive cathedral, which is where Luther appeared. To me it appears to still be Roman Catholic. Northern Germany is mostly Protestant and Bavaria in southern Germany is solidly Roman Catholic. As I mentioned several rulers defended Luther against Emperor Charles V. In the Peace of Augsburg (1555) they enunciated the principle cuius regio, eius religio, "whose region, his religion." The ruled would follow the religion of the local prince or ruler. And so in this area of Germany it was a patchwork of Catholic and Lutheran rulers, not monolithic one or the other like in other regions. Not until after the Thirty Years War, a century later (1648), which paved the way for Mennonites to come to this region, did Calvinists become included in this pact between Catholics and Lutherans. And of course Anabaptists never were officially included, though they might be grudgingly tolerated here or there. Not until after the Napoleonic wars of the early 1800s were Mennonites and Amish granted freedom of religion along with all people. But of course Napoleon made an exception when it came to conscientious objection to war. That was just too dangerous.
Two things impressed me about the Worms Cathedral. The first is that the Joseph chapel included Joseph holding the baby Jesus, something I have not seen often. Usually it is Mary holding Jesus. The second is that there was a large sculpture depicting the resurrection of Jesus. Again, most churches focus on the cross, not the resurrection. While both are important, I think the resurrection needs more emphasis, as long as it is in the right way.
Worms also had dragons all over the place. There were these more modern ones that Jacob is beside, but it is clear that dragons were a symbol of the city long before, in various old fountains and other places. We also found our first Subway in Europe at Worms. Here I mean Subway the restaurant, the boys favorite restaurant. So we ate there.
Worms is where we returned to the Rhine River after our day's absence. We biked about 10 km up to Ibersheim, where we stayed at a beautiful bed and breakfast on Menno-Simons-Strasse. As you might guess, they turned out to be a Mennonite family. The farmhouse was in the middle of the village. But the Ellenbergers explained to me that that is how it is done in that area. The farmers have their farms in town and then their fields are spread out in the area around the town. So they own and work fields here and there outside of town.
The home was large and gorgeous. The Mennonites there have been prosperous. The hospitality was very warm. When Noah came down for breakfast in the morning, Isaiah welcomed him with the words "Welcome to breakfast paradise." There was bread, cheese, meat, eggs, yoghurt, fruit, and good things to drink. It was beautifully arranged.
The night before Traude, the wife, took us to the local Mennonite church, pictured above. The local Protestants, known as Evangelicals in German, also worship there, with each congregation taking turns, a Mennonite service one Sunday and then Evangelical the next.
Of interest in this church was that on each of two walls were memorials to the soldiers who died in the two world wars. The sign for World War I used lofty language of dying for the Fatherland and quoted the verse, "No one has greater love than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." The sign first listed the Mennonites who died and then the Evangelicals who died. The sign for World War II was plainer. It simply acknowledged who died in the war and didn't interpret what their deaths meant. Again it began with the Mennonites and ended with the Evangelicals. I of course asked Traude about the memorials and she said that there is sometimes discussion about whether they are appropriate, because of Mennonite peace convictions.
The Ellenbergers said we were the first American Mennonites to stay there. I hope we are not the last. It is a great place to stay. They do not appear to speak English. All of our conversation was in German, although Werner said a few things in English. Their daughter lived in the US for a little while and they stayed in Lancaster County. Much like our experience at Weierhof, they hosted us graciously and freely, saying that they wanted to return the hospitality that they had experienced in America.
On Monday we left early because our train for Paris left at about 12:30 and we had 40 km to go. We were a little nervous but made it in good time.

Biking in Germany

I tried to upload a great video by Jacob of biking through a field near Weierhof from his perspective. But at the moment I can't get it to work.
But in any case I wanted to say a few things about biking in Germany. We rented two tandems from die Radgeber in Mainz, Germany. It's a play on words. Ratgeber is an advice giver, but with the change of one letter it is a wheel giver, or bike giver. They are great folks.
I also had my folding bike. You can get a view of this strange bike where Noah is popping a wheelie, something I would have condemned if I had seen it happening. But it gives you a good view of this bike where the handlebars and seat come down and then the body folds in half, making a much smaller thing to carry around.
The second photo is of the lovely scenery near Weierhof. It actually does look a lot like a hilly Kansas. There were many wheat fields in the area. My sense is that the vineyards predominate closer to the river. We biked for about four days along the river and one day, Sunday, from Weierhof to Worms, in the countryside. Along a river you don't have great variations in altitude, but in the countryside we had some big climbs before it mostly started going downhill.
Rheinhessen, this smaller area within the Palatinate, has excellent guides for biking and well-marked trails. They take you on public roads, dedicated bike paths, and farm roads, or roads where only local farm traffic is allowed. At each intersection there are well-marked signs telling you which direction to go to reach your destination.
This system works fairly well, but we still got lost a couple of times a day. It only takes one poorly-marked intersection to get lost. You look around for awhile, ask a passerby if you see someone, and then try a direction hoping to see the bike signs again.
The third photo is of my tandem bicycle that we rented. I sit in the back with a regular seat and can steer the whole thing from there. The second person sits in the front in a recumbent position. Unlike most tandems, they can choose whether or not to pedal. Jacob and Isaiah loved to sit in the front where you had a clear view of the scenery. Since I was sitting higher I also could see clearly. It was also easy to talk to each other, with our heads close together. My only complaint was that the adjustable handlebar was too adjustable, and would switch from one position to another when I didn't want it to. People would look at us and smile. It was a bike they hadn't seen before, but it is made by Hase Bikes in Germany.
On our shortest day we biked about 25-30 km and the longest was about 45 km. That is a range of about 15 to 25 miles. We had fun times and of course challenging times. I am glad we had tandems for the younger two. But it did get long at times for all of us. But the nicest thing was at the end when Jacob told me that the next time we go on a bike ride, he would like his own bike. The next time...

Weierhof, a German Mennonite center

24 hours after we left our apartment in Paris, we arrived safely back home in Indiana. Of course it was a day of waiting about as much as we traveled. But perhaps more details on this past Saturday after I tell about our last week in Europe.
A week before, on Saturday July 13, we were still biking through the Rheinland-Pfalz (Rhineland-Palatinate in English) region of Germany. Our first two nights were focused on staying in castles along the Rhine River, and the final two days we focused on two Mennonite communities. So on Saturday night we stayed at the home of Ernst Neff in Weierhof. If I was more of a journalist and less of a pastor I would have some great photos of this small community that is almost completely Mennonite. But I was more focused on visiting with people and so the one picture is the back of Ernst's barn and home.
I have written more extensively about Swiss Anabaptists migrating to Alsace in search of greater tolerance for their religious faith. This is because Alsace played such an important role for the Amish division. Jacob Ammann settled in Alsace for awhile and this became the geographic center of the Amish. But the Palatinate also played a role in the Amish division, what I would call a mediator role as they tried to get the Alsatians and Swiss to agree. Of course all these Mennonites were of Swiss origin and so had a common tradition and understanding. But now they were taking that in different directions.
The Palatinate became a new immigration location for the Swiss after the 30 Years War depopulated the area. The local lords were willing to invite even Anabaptists to come and farm in their communities.
Weierhof's significance is more recent than all that, though. One of the most important Mennonite leaders of the 20th century, Christian Neff, was pastor of Weierhof. Why was he important? He is best known for two things. The first is that he was the originator of Mennonite World Conference. Under his leadership the first Mennonite World Conference was held in Basel, Switzerland, where France, Germany, and Switzerland meet, in 1925. The second is that he was one of the originators of the Mennonitisches Lexicon, a Mennonite encyclopedia and the inspiration for the English-language Mennonite Encyclopedia that came some years later. In fact you can read about Christian Neff in the online child of the Mennonite Encyclopedia (grandchild of the Mennonitisches Lexicon?) the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online.
I asked our host Ernst about his grandfather Christian, saying that he must have been an interesting man. When Ernst replied, "People tell me he was interesting," his daughter Christina explained that if you are a 12-year-old boy, having a grandfather who spends most of his time writing in his study is not all that interesting.
We had a wonderful time with Ernst and Christina. Ernst was a retired farmer and long-time widower. He spoke good English and told great stories. They were wonderful hosts. Our simple meal of bread, meat, and cheese lasted from about 7 to 10. At one point they offered us Mennonite organic wine, Schoenhals was the label and Dornfelder was the variety. That led to two stories.
First I told a story. When I was gathering information about Rhineland-Palatinate for our travels I contacted the local tourism center and said I was interested in Mennonite history. So the tourism center sent me information about the Daetwyl winery, since the Detweilers are Mennonites. I read the English-language brochure and was surprised to read there that their Swiss ancestors immigrated to Germany because they were attracted to the wine-growing possibilities there. I had always thought that it was persecution that led Mennonites to the region, not wine. Christina commented that perhaps mentioning persecution was not very good marketing, and I commented that perhaps both intolerance in Switzerland and economic opportunity in Germany led to the migrations.
Then they told a story about Christian Neff. Neff was one of the first people in the area who had a car. But he employed a driver to chauffer him around. He used a stopwatch to time how long he drove him and he would encourage him to drive faster if things were going too slowly. One afternoon he was hosting C. P. Krehbiel or some other American Mennonite leader. Neff was showing him all the varities of vineyards in the region and Krehbiel commented that how much nicer it would be if all that area had been planted in wheat. According to the story, Neff said, the tour ends now and promptly brought Krehbiel back home.
But I was most intrigued with the stories that Ernst told about his own interesting life. The Weierhof sponsored a school for many years, but in the 1930s as the Nazis were coming into power the school became a public school. And eventually this former Mennonite school became one of the elite Nazi schools for educating future leaders of the party. Apparently Ernst attended this school because he lived across the road from it, not because he had party potential. But that meant that after the war the school was closed down and the community sent away while Americans occupied the school and community. When they returned a few months later, they discovered that all their war memorabilia were gone. Weierhof was then occupied by the French and then again the American military had a base there until the 1990s when the end of the Cold War brought the end of many American military bases. Ernst remembers a time when huge missiles were hauled on trucks into the base. He thought they might be nuclear warheads.
Ernst himself never faced the military draft because he was about 14 when the war ended. At that point, because they were so desperate for warriors, the Germany army was drafting 15-year-olds for the military.
The school was allowed to be re-opened, again by the Mennonites, and it was considered a very good school. It still operates today, though its church connection is not as strong, it is still influenced by the many Mennonites that continue to give leadership to it.
Weierhof today continues to be associated with the military and Mennonites. Whenever I would talk to local Germans about visiting Weierhof they would wonder if I was connected with the military. Clearly most Americans they meet are. But then I would say no, I am a Mennonite, and that would make sense to them too. Weierhof is where you find Mennonites, after all.
Weierhof is also the home of the German Mennonite Archives, which were started after World War II when the Danzig area Mennonite congregations disappeared and they needed to find a place to keep all their records. Gary Waltner is a South Dakotan who came to Weierhof many years before through MCC's PAX and married a local girl and stayed. He is the one who found us a place to stay and also helped us to bike from the Kircheim-bolanden train station to Weierhof.
When we arrived on Saturday we got there just in time for a community tea, and the women very kindly extended tea time a few minutes so that we could have some cake and coffee or tea. On Sunday we attended the Weierhof congregation. Unfortunately their regular pastor Andrea Lange was not there. It was an older congregation, at least that Sunday, where the announcements focused on deaths. Ernst introduced us and we were not the only North Americans visiting that Sunday. We met some wonderful people there.
I again noticed all the connections across the ocean. But I am also concerned that those connections are becoming thinner. Mostly historians are staying connected, but not church leaders. And there does not seem to be as many young people crossing the ocean for longer than a couple of weeks or months. For example Ernst's daughter Christina attended Bethel College and married an American. That kind of thing seems to be rarer.
But even with that concern, I was again impressed with the sense of connection we had with one another. We belong to a common family and follow a common lord with in many ways a common understanding, or at least common enough.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Paris with a bang

I'm sorry I haven't been blogging well in Paris. I guess you could say the days are just filled. There is a lot to see and my legs are very tired, as is the rest of me by the end of each day.
I have a few more things to write about our days in Germany and then what we saw in Paris. But I wanted to write to let you know that we are coming home tomorrow. It will be good to be home. It will be strange for me as well; it has been 2 months since I have been in the USA.
Here are a few photos from our first day in Paris. The first is the view of the Eiffel Tower and Hotel des Invalides from the window of our little loft apartment in Paris. We missed the 4th of July fireworks but the national day in France is July 14th, Bastille Day. So at 10:30 pm this fireworks show started that we could see from our window. What a grand way to start our time.
And now it is coming to an end. My sabbatical is still another 4 weeks or so long, so I will be filling in more details from the trip when I arrive back home in Indiana.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Bacharach and Burg Stahleck

This was our most pleasant day of biking along the river. We did have rain off and on for maybe half of the days of biking, but it was never so heavy that we really needed to put on our rain coats. We biked north a little bit to catch a ferry across the Rhine. There are no bridges across the Rhine between Koblenz and Mainz, a distance of about 95 kilometers, or 57 miles.
Then we came to the town of St. Goar, famous for its large Rheinfalls castle. We found a pleasant street cafe to eat at. Then we headed to Bacharach. We arrived early and stayed overnight in a castle again, the one in the first photo. This is Burg Stahleck and it is a youth hostel. It is in great condition. The outside looks very much like a castle but the inside is just like any modern youth hostel.
A word of warning though. If you are biking along the Rhine and then staying overnight in castles, it is helpful to know that castles are usually built upon bluffs many meters above the Rhine. We had a huge hill to walk up to get to the castle.
I continue to search for ice cream flavors that I cannot find in America. Here in Bacharach, which is named after the Roman god Bacchus, the god of revelry and wine, they had a Riesling flavored ice cream and another called Waldmeister. Riesling is one of the wines that is made along the Rhine, and waldmeister is an herb called Woodruff in English, which doesn't really help me. Both tasted good.
It was nice to be able to relax a bit more on this second day after a long day before. We had a pleasant time, except for my difficulty in getting money. But fortunately the youth hostel took our debit card.

The Rhine River

After four nights in the Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany, we are now in Paris where we have an internet connection again. Before I tell you about Paris I will tell you abour our four days in Germany. In some ways it is not surprising that we had no internet connection in Germany. We found the area where we were, at least, to be more of a rural area without all the connections you might find in other places. In that sense it reminded me of Indiana. We panicked at one point because Castle Liebenstein where we stayed one night did not accept credit or debit cards. So we gave them all our cash and then found it very difficult, actually impossible, to find a restaurant that did accept our cards. The worse point was when we bought some things at a drugstore, including snacks, only to discover that they did not accept our particular credit card. They did accept one that looked a lot like it but was actually different. We were wondering if we could eat and sleep. But fortunately the next castle where we stayed, Burg Stahleck, did accept our card.
We rode our bikes for five days, picking them up in Mainz on Thursday and then taking the train to Koblenz, from where we rode to Schloss Liebenstein. Unfortunately we got lost. I assumed that as long as we had a river on our right, we were on the right track. Unfortunately there is another river in that area, the Lahn River, and we ended up going down it. It was getting late by the time we figured this out and fortunately we could again take a train to get to our destination. Schloss Liebenstein is the castle on the right of the first picture, and it part of the "enemy brothers" with Schloss Sterrenburg on the left.
Jacob and Isaiah loved being in the castle. Jacob called the gift shop paradise. He was so excited that he couldn't stay out of there.
While the first photo is of the castle from the Rhine, the second is of the Rhine from the castle. We had a beautiful view of the river and fortunately were able to take a taxi up to the bluff overlooking the river.
While these first couple of days in Germany were focused on the beauty of the Rhine and experiencing its many castles, we also have an Amish Mennonite reason to be here as well. The Rhine River was the passageway for Amish and Mennonites out of Switzerland and into other parts of the world, whether it was first of all Alsace, France, not so far away, or a little farther down the river into the Palatinate, Germany, or down to the end of the river at Rotterdam, Holland, where they could depend on their siblings in the faith, the Dutch Mennonites, to help them settle in Holland, which a few did, or to find a way to America, which is what most did. So the ancestors of most Mennonites of Swiss background passed through here at some point.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008


From a remote farm near Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines we drove about an hour to Strasbourg, what some call the capital of Europe, because the European Parliament meets here. We are still in the Alsace. The first photo is from Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines and the second is from Strasbourg. So while one is a village and the other is a metropolis, both have a similar half-timbered Alsatian building style.

Strasbourg is an interesting place for Amish and Mennonites both historically and today. In history this is one of the cities that was fairly tolerant of Anabaptists. In the early days of the Reformation, the reformers in Strasbourg were very open to Anabaptist ideas. In fact Strasbourg tolerated both Catholics and Reformed, so maybe Anabaptists too? Michael Sattler came here to discuss believers baptism with Capito and Bucer. Melchior Hofmann also came here to preach his apocalyptic ideas that Strasbourg was the New Jerusalem. Capito was saddened when Catholics executed Sattler. But eventually Strasbourg imprisoned Hofmann. The only Anabaptists ever executed in Strasbourg were those who committed some other wrong, like the one who was a bigamist with a "holy sister" as a new wife. It was said that what other cities would execute an Anabaptist for, in Strasbourg they would beat you with rods.

Later Pilgram Marpeck came to Strasbourg and worked as a city engineer. John Calvin was in Strasbourg for a little while and met his wife there. She had been an Anabaptist.

Strasbourg was a location where Anabaptists could meet from many places. Dutch and Swiss would meet to discuss Christ's incarnation and discipline. At Strasbourg the Anabaptists were able to agree to certain issues of church order.

This became significant for the Amish as a source of the Ordnung, or church order. They draw up guidelines for membership and they could look back to the conferences at Strasbourg to say that Anabaptists had always gathered to discern together their church order.

The towers and bridge in the photo are significant in two ways. The first is that these were prison towers and so Melchior Hofmann may have been imprisoned in one of them. The second is that it was near the long bridge here, perhaps in an inn, where the first of these Strasbourg conferences was held.
For Mennonites the significance of these conferences is to see in them some tradition for general conferences like Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference, Mennonite Church USA assemblies, and Mennonite World Conference assemblies. And in fact the other significance to Strasbourg is that the headquarters of Mennonite World Conference is here. Our family briefly met executive secretary Larry Miller, his wife Eleanor, and his secretary. Larry grew up in Goshen but has lived in France for over 30 years. They were very gracious in hosting us.

Attempts at reconciliation

On Tuesday we left Switzerland. It is the first time I am out of that country for 5 ½ weeks and it does feel strange. We are far away from the Swiss trains, from any trains for that matter. My plan had been to never rent a car during our time in Europe, to stick with railroads and bicycles. I prefer both of those modes of transportation to cars anyway, so it was no sacrifice. It also seemed like an appropriate way to honor my Amish heritage as I also explored that heritage in Europe. But ironically enough, as we decided to visit the location where the Amish once flourished, and where Jacob Ammann led his followers, we needed to rent a car. The owner of the Ferme-Auberge, or farmhouse inn, said that the bus just didn’t get that close. And we are indeed in a very remote location, near Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines.

We climbed through the Jura Mountains to get here, going by Glaserberg in search of some early Kaufman farms. We were able to find an old Rich farm, and a town that had Kaufmans in it, but unfortunately we missed a number of farms as well. In any case the Jura Mountians were again beautiful and I was happy to be in them. At some point we crossed the Swiss-French border.

After passing many small towns with closed restaurants we finally found a cozy restaurant that was open. We struggled in this new country with the French language. We know very little French and the French are as bad as British and Americans, perhaps worse, when it comes to learning other languages. All three of these nations expect others to learn their language, so why should they have to learn anyone else's? But the waitress was very patient and kind and with what German, French, and English we knew we managed to order a good meal.

Very quickly we moved from mountains to a wide plain. I was surprised just how flat this section of the Alsace is. Included on this plain was a small town called Ohnenheim. It was in the mill of Ohnenheim pictured above that in 1660 Anabaptist gathered to sign the Dordrecht Confession. And some 3 decades later, in 1694, another important meeting was called, somewhat related to the first. Because part of the Dordrecht confession that was accepted included the idea of shunning those excommunicated.

Palatine Mennonites were trying to effect a reconciliation between the Swiss and the Alsatian Anabaptists, or more properly the Amish and the Reist factions of the Anabaptists. Some of the Amish were still in the Berner Oberland in Switzerland. The Palatinate in Germany had been another location, along with the Alsace in today's France, that had tolerated Swiss Anabaptists. So all these folks were connected with Switzerland, but now they were in different locations.

The Palatines found themselves somewhat caught in the middle. They were accustomed to thinking of themselves as siblings in the faith and so the idea that the Alsatians had excommunicated the Swiss was very troubling. There was no idea of national autonomy. All believers were connected with one another and needed to be reconciled with each other.

So in 1694 Palatine Mennnonites called for reconciliation at this mill in Ohnenheim, Alsace. Reist admitted he was negligent in church discipline and in teaching that the true-hearted were saved, the Palatines rejected the shunning of the excommunicated, saying it goes too far. However Ammann would not drop shunning. For him that was unthinkable.

In fact some years later Ammann and his followers did ask for forgiveness for their wrongs. He admitted that he was too hasty in excommunicating Reist and his followers. He called for reconcliation. However he also continued to believe that shunning was essential and so would not reconcile unless they admitted that shunning was necessary. So again there was no reconciliation. According to some manuscripts my ancestor Isaac Kaufmann was one of the signers of this letter asking for forgiveness.

Here the the Palatines and Swiss were united in greeting Ammann's plea for forgiveness with silence. They did nothing. Jacob Gut of the Palatinate wrote that he thought silence was the best response to Ammann.

So there is an interesting, in my opinion, use of silence on both sides of this disagreement. Recall that the schism first started when Reist in practice silenced Ammann by ignoring him. He didn't come to a general conference because he was too busy farming. And then decades later again Ammann's attempts at reconciliation are greeted with silence, or what we might even call shunning.

I am a Mennonite and so in that sense I am more sympathetic with those who rejected shunning. But on this I sympathize with Ammann. The Swiss were saying they don't believe in shunning and yet in practice were shunning Ammann. I prefer Ammann's shunning to theirs. For Ammann the shunning is open and it has the goal of reconciliation. The Reist practice of shunning is veiled. Because it is done in what we today would call a passive-aggressive way, there is no way for the silenced one to achieve reconciliation. Because the other party does not openly admit that they are silencing the person, there is really no hope of reconciliation.

We are just outside Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines, or what was also known as Markirch in German. This is the town where Ammann moved after he left Switzerland. This is a small town that is in the next mountain range, the Vosges. It is nestled in a valley in the mountains and it again, like Erlenbach im Simmental where Ammann was born, gives one the sense of being protected and secluded from the wider world. Amman was there for decades, my wandering ancestor Isaac Kaufmann was there for a little while.

I also have a photo of one of the many castles we saw in this region of Alsace. This is a reminder of Alsace's location as the border between France and the Holy Roman Empire, or what became Germany. It changed hands many times and there are so many castles, one supposes, because people had a great need to protect themselves from the many wars that raged across this land.

This is also a reminder that the Amish were able to live in this area because the local lords permitted it. I have not yet verified whether this was the castle of the lords of Rappolstein, but they are the ones who tolerated the Anabaptists.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Jacob Kaufmann farm

Tonight is our last night in Switzerland. I again will have an internet connection in an off and on sort of way. Sorry I have blogged so many entries all at once. But that is the way it will probably be for the rest of the trip. And while I have a few more Amish and Mennonite sites to visit, the blog will probably be more travelogue at this point.

The morning began with a lot of rain in Grindelwald, but then we went again to Thun. I wanted to hike out to the farm that once belonged to Jacob Kaufmann, the brother of my ancestor Isaac, and it may very well have been the farm where he grew up as well. It is in Dornhalte, in Heimberg. This is a small and out of the way place, though by taking the train between Thun and Konolfingen to Heimberg, I only had to walk about 20 minutes to reach it.

To get there I headed north on the bike path between the highway and the railroad tracks. When I saw the Dornhalde sign I turned right. Then I almost immediately made a left onto a Wanderweg, which is to say a farm road that prohibits other vehicles from using it. The street name was Rothachenweg, or something like that. And then I saw the main farm house.

There are two farms there now, and the one is owned by a Shenk family, the name of my uncle. They are both dairy farms, and the one also has an orchard. The building are tucked away in a small valley and there really is a beautiful view of some nearby mountains.

This was again a strongly emotional experience for me, like when I sat in the prison in Thun and imagined Isaac Kaufmann there. I have focused a lot on places where Isaac was incarcerated, but this was now a place where he was productive and worked the land. This is where he contributed to his own welfare and the welfare of his community. It was a beautiful place to me. It felt good to imagine what he did there but then to also see that today there are farmers there who are also taking care of the land and contributing to their own welfare and the welfare of the community.

I found it interesting that the Reformed Church of Switzerland, once a bitter enemy of Mennonites, but now working at reconciliation in a number of positive ways, has a poster about loving enemies with an image of George Bush. Is he the enemy to be loved or the person being questioned? The translation is something like this: "Do you really have to love your enemies?" Then the subtitle is "What touches the world, touches us." It is for the Reformed church magazine. The Swiss Reformed have done a lot of work on acknowledging the dark episode of Anabaptist persecution in their past. Just in the last couple of years great strides have been made in the relationship. All the Mennonite churches I visited were working with the Reformed church in their area. It was heartening to see.

We ended our day in Basel. This was a last minute change to the itinerary. It partly was a way for me to see Basel again. I really love this city and I will miss it. We ate in a sidewalk café and then took the ferry across the Rhine River. These ferries have no engines. They use a cable and the current of the river to pull them across. The Rhine River will keep reappearing in the upcoming blogs. The Rhine finds its source in Switzerland but then journeys through the Alsace in France and then Germany, and finally to the Netherlands. It is the river that has defined European Mennonite identity for centuries.

James Bond and the Schilthorn

Because of a mix up with our apartment in Murren, we had to leave a day earlier than planned. So we spent an uneventful night in Grindelwald. But before we went there we took a cable car to the top of the Schilthorn. We were very lucky when we were on the Jungfraujoch. We were able to see all the way to the Black Forest in Germany and into France. As we climbed the Schilthorn it started to rain and the clouds came in so thick that we couldn’t see a thing.

So we went into the movie room where they showed excerpts of the James Bond Movie “In her majesty’s service.” Why? Well, at the top of the Schilthorn is a restaurant called the Piz Gloria. As it was being constructed the James Bond producer came by and asked to use it for the movie before it opened. So this restaurant served as a remarkable lair and hideout for the movie’s bad guy. They showed the remarkable skiing scenes in the movie.

After this we went into the restaurant which revolves so that as you sit there for an hour you have a 360 degree panoramic view of the mountains surrounding you. At first we couldn’t see a thing but as we began to get our food the clouds started to disperse and finally we saw clear views of the mountains, and even Lake Thun which we had crossed in a boat on our way to the Alps. If you look carefully you too can see Lake Thun in the second photo. What a magnificent way to dine. And in Switzerland it takes so long to dine that we had no problem circling the panorama almost twice.

In Switzerland eating out is expensive. One time I ate at Burger King to see if it was any different from the US. I ordered a whopper, small fries, and small drink. It cost $13.25. It wasn’t very different from the US except the high price, that they gave me mayonnaise to eat with my french fries, and that one of the drinks was Rivella, a Swiss pop made from whey, a byproduct of cheese production. Anyway it costs maybe $20 for a low priced meal at a dining in restaurant. But one nice thing about Switzerland is that the restaurants in these fancy places like the Schilthorn and Jungfraujoch are not any more expensive than the restaurants out in the middle of nowhere. They don’t gouge you.

As I said, we then went to Grindelwald, which is a beautiful place. But we were very tired from our days of hiking and going to the tops of mountains. So mostly we rested and played games. Grindelwald is yet another location associated with my ancestor Isaac Kaufmann, who clearly led a chaotic life as an Anabaptist teacher, moving from one place to another to keep ahead of the authorities. An alp in Grindelwald is one place where he managed to farm for awhile, according to Sam Wenger. This would have been a nice place to stay. My last two photos are of Grindelwald.

Monday, July 7, 2008


This blog begins with an early morning view from our apartment window in Murren, but most of the blog is about our adventure to the top of the Jungfraujoch, about 11,000 feet above sea level. We took the train, which for the last hour or so is almost completely through tunnels in the mountains. I assume they did this to preserve the beauty of the mountains.
The three highest peaks in this region are the Eiger, the Monch, and the Jungfrau, translated into English as the Ogre, the Monk, and the Virgin. The monk is between the other two, protecting the Virgin from the Ogre. We went to a tourist wonderland between the Jungfrau and the Monch.

There were of course the up close and incredible views of the glaciers. Then there were the snow disks; we went sledding, and then the boys went skiing as well. Unfortunately we missed the husky rides. Finally there was the ice palace carved out of the glacier. It would have been best to have had ice skates for that.
I hiked across the glacier to the Monchjochhutte, the highest mountain hut in Switzerland. It was a contrast to the touristy happenings at Jungfraujoch. Here German rather than English was the main language. The clientele included those of us who had hiked the 45 minutes across the glacier, and mountaineers who had come by far more difficult means.
In this region English appears to be the first language. So many more people speak English that it is best to start with it rather than German. I am amazed at how international English is and how fortunate some of us are to have it as our native language.

Muerren days

We spent three nights in Murren for pure enjoyment. Murren is in a beautiful location. We first took a train into Lauterbrunnen, and then from there took a cable car up the mountainside to where we got another train to Murren. The mountiains look like they are just outside our window.
On the first day we hike in the area above Murren and found the terrific playground that you see. That was also a good place for lunch. Then we hikee some more, sometimes walking through cow pastures, sometimes with the cows accomanying us. Fortunately I used to hang around cows in my youth, or else they would have been a little too intimidating for us. One time a mother cow bellowed at her youngster to get close, and so we weren't sure what to do while she bellowed, though we at least stayed on the other side of the fence until she had calmed down.
About every hour to half an hour or so we would come across a small farm with a restaurant attached. We could order some ice cream or get something to drink. It is a very civilized way to hike. And then soon enough we would be in a wild section again.
We found a magnificent stream that led into a tremendous waterfall. We enjoyed the beauty of God's creation. The amount of water melting from the glaciers and creating streams into these valleys is unbelievable.