Saturday, August 9, 2014

My Fellow Traveller and Our Hosts in Europe.

My long trip to Europe was a little unusual.  It certainly was not a package tour, and we only stayed in a hotel in Paris.  We stayed as guests everywhere else.  The tour was something of a partnership.  My traveling companion is 70 years old and disabled.  He can walk, but very slowly and in great pain, especially in his knees.  Climbing and descending stairs is especially difficult for him.
He agreed to pay the airfares and I paid for all the ground transportation including Eurail passes for us both.  I helped him carry luggage, go up and down steps, get on and off trains, and to get cabs and necessary wheelchairs.

My first post about my trip is about my traveling companion and about our hosts in Europe who were all very different from one another, and yet they were each wonderfully generous hosts and delightful and fascinating people, easily the most rewarding part of the whole trip.

I travelled with Bill Paulsen, a retired Lutheran pastor from Brooklyn who is also ethnic Norwegian and not at all shy about reminding everyone of that.  He can be almost aggressively friendly which really helped in situations where we needed assistance.  It also helped that he speaks 3 languages, English, German, and Norwegian.  I think he preferred speaking German when we were in Germany.
He has a lot of experience in Europe.  He's been traveling there regularly since he was 20, and lived and worked in Berlin as a Lutheran pastor for about 10 years at the height of the Cold War with regular trips to East Berlin (Bill is convinced that there's a Stasi file on him, but he has no interest in reading it).

Here is Bill Paulsen in Oslo.

Here he is braving some steps in Saint Denis in Paris.

Bill Paulsen contemplates the Mona Lisa in the Louvre.

Bill Paulsen decides that he could never be a Calvinist in the Hotel Dieu in Beaune.

Our first hosts in Oslo were Lasse Lautin (right) and Erik Hugin (left).  They've been together as a couple for about 35 years.  They've been officially married since Norway instituted same sex marriage in 2009.  Lasse is a major computer genius and international consultant who travels frequently.  Erik works as a nurse in a local hospital despite partial deafness.  He can lip read several languages.
They were incredibly generous hosts and great cooks.  They made a feast of wild salmon for us on our first night there.

Bill Paulsen has family in Norway, all cousins.  Here they are all gathered together for a cook out at Svelvik on the Dramen Fjord south of Oslo.  The feast featured Norwegian specialties like burgers, steaks, and hot dogs.

A lot of people we stayed with had cookouts while we were there.  I think we gave them all an excuse to fire up the outdoor grill.

This is what 9PM on a July evening looks like in Svelvik, Norway.

Here is the Dramen Fjord in Norway.

Our host in Hamburg was Chrystal Tsang, widow of a Lutheran pastor Alvin Tsang whom she met almost 50 years ago in Hong Kong.  Theirs was a racially mixed marriage, very unusual for the time.  Now, it's not so unusual.  She is the matriarch of a large German/Chinese family with children and grandchildren in Germany, and Chinese in-laws spread from Guangzhou to New York.
Chrystal is the daughter of a Lutheran pastor involved in the Confessing Church movement during the reign of Adolf Hitler.  Her parents worked very hard with great difficulty to keep her and her older sister Hannah out of compulsory Nazi youth organizations.  The threat of arrest or draft into the military always hung over her father.  She remembers the bombing of Dortmund and watching her favorite church go up in flames.  She spent part of the war years in Ettal in Bavaria away from the bombing.
She is now retired, though still independent and remarkably active at 86 years old.

Our hosts in Nuremberg were Peter Meyer and his partner Louisa.  He is a Lutheran pastor on the staff of Christuskirche in Nuremberg and lives in church housing.  Louisa is a nurse at a local children's hospital.
Peter is a very intelligent and well read man.  He was a great tour guide through all the old churches in Nuremberg and in Bamberg.  He pointed out marvelous things that I would never have noticed.  He has a great eye for art and a real sense of how form works to convey meaning.
He could also tell great dirty jokes, almost as many as Bill Paulsen.
Louisa spoke a little English with great difficulty.  I regret that my German was so little, and that I could not relieve her much of the burden of struggling with English.  But, somehow we managed through a combination of Denglish and hand gestures.  She very generously took me sight-seeing around town to the castle and the old medieval cemetery, the Johannesfriedhof.

Here is the Meyer's rooftop apartment in the Protestantisches Pfarrerhaus of Christuskirche whose spire you can see over the rooftops.  The spire survives with its ring of bells, but the church did not survive the War.  The current church is a German Economic Miracle Modern meets Coventry Cathedral rebuild that isn't terribly inspiring.

While we were in Nuremberg, Germany won the World Cup and Peter Meyer was just as happy as the rest of Germany.

Here is a victory scarf that he gave me.  I still have it.  Don't know where I'd wear it here.  No one would get it.

While in Nuremberg, we took a day trip to Munich to visit Daniele Bruno, the mother of a mutual friend of ours in New York.  Her son Florian is a rather conservative lawyer.  She is something of a hippy and free spirit with a gift for carpentry.

On the right is an old friend of Bill's in Nuremberg, Erica, also a Lutheran pastor.  With her is Jan, a remarkably smart young man who is a good friend of Peter's.

Jean-Yves Bonnamour would be a remarkable man anywhere, not just in Lyons.  At 62, he is in better shape than most of my students.  He has travelled around the world, hitch-hiked through the USA, run the New York City Marathon (and finished it), and climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa.  He's a retired journalist and psychologist who still keeps a foot in both businesses.  He showed me a lot more of France than I had anticipated with trips to the countryside, to visit his relatives, and a trip into Burgundy.
He and Bill Paulsen are old friends going back about 20 years.
I photographed him in the cathedral at Autun.

Jean-Yves was happily married to his wife Georgia for 35 years.  They shared a lot of adventures together until she died suddenly and unexpectedly of cancer last year.  Jean-Yves is still very close to his in-laws.  We visited his brother in-law, and here we are visiting his mother-in-law, a remarkable woman, 82 years old.  She lives alone out in the hills with the deer in the forest for neighbors.  Under the house is a 50 year old tractor that still works and Jean-Yves uses to haul firewood and hay.
For our visit, she cooked us a memorable multi-course meal of sausage with grilled wild mushrooms, wild mushrooms baked in a quiche with a crust that most New York bakers would kill for, the best au gratin potatoes I've ever had in my life, rabbit in wine sauce, local cheeses, and home made caramel custard.  I had seconds on all of it.

Another old friend of Jean-Yves is a retired psychiatrist who owns a small 16th century chateau that used to belong to the nearby Abbey at Tournus.  The chateau made wine for the abbey, and there is still a lot of old wine-making equipment in one of the 16th century barns on the estate.  Most of the original property has been sold off, but she still owns a lot of property along the Saone river that she leases to local farmers.
She lives by herself and hosts small religious and spiritual retreats for free.  She also takes in individuals who need a retreat, especially after a life trauma, again at no charge.  She is an old colleague and friend of Jean-Yves.  You can see them together in the photo above with her large and very friendly dog.

I also met Jean-Yve's older brother Paul over dinner in Lyons, a delightful man with a great sense of humor.

Here is the ground floor kitchen of the chateau.

Here are Geli Tsang, one of Chrystal Tsang's daughters, and her husband Peter Bader together at the Deutsche Eck in Koblenz.  They were our hosts in Frankfurt.
They are both medical doctors who do the Lord's work.  She works as a gynecologist with many immigrant and poor patients.  Peter is a pediatric oncologist doing research on the application of stem cells to the treatment of childhood leukemia.  When he isn't treating patients, he is doing research and sharing the results at conferences around the world.  Despite the august credentials, they are both warm and generous people who made our stay a real pleasure.  Just all around great people.

Here they are with Bill Paulsen walking toward the confluence of the Rhine and the Mosel rivers at Koblenz.  Bill Paulsen was an old and close friend of Alvin Tsang, Geli's father, and so knows the whole family well.

Here is Geli with 2 of her 3 children, 12 year old Ulrike (spelling?) and 15 year old Franz.  Here they are about to leave for a week of sailing on the Bodensee.  I've met the oldest son once, 26 year old Tobias, in New York.  He is a physicist living in England.

Here is Geli in Heidelberg with her Godmother, Elizabeth, another remarkable woman who speaks English and Cantonese.  She was a close friend of Alvin Tsang and Chrystal.  She too had a father in the Confessing Church in Heidelberg.  She remembers hiding a gypsy in the attic during the War, and how her then 72 year old Confessing Church pastor was drafted 5 times into the army and sent to the eastern front, and survived.
Godparents are a bit more serious of an institution in Germany than in the USA.  Not only do they sponsor children at Baptism, but they are responsible for raising the children if something should happen to the parents.  Relations between children and Godparents can be very close in Germany.

Our hosts in Münster were the Helgermanns;  Andreas and his wife Andrea together with their sons David and Jan.  The lovely young woman talking to Bill is David's girlfriend Nicola from Cologne.  They live in Westbevern, a rural village outside of Münster surrounded by fields of corn and wheat with forests, pasturelands, and lots of roadside shrines and crosses.  Bill Paulsen is an old friend of this family.  He's known the boys since they were born.

David and Jan Hellgermann are both serious cooks and did a lot of the cooking during our visit.  Jan recently got a chef's apprenticeship at a local restaurant.  Here David is making potato dumplings while Jan and Nicola work at the counter.
Jan also has some serious artistic talent and shared his portfolio with me.  He would like to go into design with a side interest in painting.  I look forward to seeing his work again in the future.

Here is Bill being no help at all to David as he is making dumplings.

Here is Jan, Nicola, and his father Andreas.  Andreas is an unordained scholar of Catholic theology with strong left wing sympathies.  Posters of Che Guevara and Joseph Beuys stared down at me as I slept in his basement office.  He teaches German and religion to working class and immigrant kids in an institution that is very close in form to a community college in the USA.  We had a lot to talk about.
Andreas took us on day trips to Osnabrück to see the work of the artist Felix Nussbaum, and to Schloss Moyland to see Joseph Beuys' work.
His wife Andrea works very hard as a nurse in a geriatric hospital nearby.

Here is Bill with Hellgermanns in another cookout in Westbevern.  The gentleman between Nicola and David is Thomas, another Catholic theology professor who is a mutual friend of Bill and Andreas.  Like Andreas, he is an enthusiastic admirer of Joseph Beuys' work.

And here are the Hellgermanns at Schoss Moyland listening to Thomas explain a work by Beuys in the center of the old chapel.  Andreas translated it for me.

Bill Paulsen and the Hellgerman's liked to sing this kids' song together in the car and after meals.  After so much beer they could sing it in rounds.

Our hosts in Amsterdam were Knight Hoover second from right, and his partner Ramonda van den Oudenryn.  The woman next to Bill is an old friend, Lucy.
Knight is a retired sociology professor from Sioux Falls, South Dakota.  His sons still live there and he visits them regularly, but he prefers living in Amsterdam with Ramonda.  Knight is Bill Paulsen's oldest friend.  They've known each other since 1963.  Knight can meet Bill's aggressive wit with just the right comeback every time.

There aren't many pictures of me on this trip, so here a few taken by others.

Here I am on a boat in Heidelberg photographed by Geli Tsang.

Here I am in Paris the day after Bastille Day with the Assemblee Nationale still lit up for the holiday.  Paul Lane took the photograph.

Here I am with Bill at the ruins of Cluny photographed by Jean-Yves Bonnamour.

Here is Bill Paulsen with a mutual friend of ours from New York, Paul Lane, together in Napoleon's tomb in Paris.
Special thanks to Paul Lane who made my first trip to Paris so enjoyable.  He speaks French like a native and lived in Paris for about 5 years and knows the city well, especially its public transit system.  He was a great help in getting Bill around the town from place to place.  Paul was also a great tour guide showing me lots of things that the tour buses miss.  We spent a lovely evening walking together at twilight through the Place des Vosges, through the old Jewish quarter, and watching the gay life spill into the streets in the Marais.


Photos of Bill Paulsen and myself by Jean-Yves Bonnamour:

A pair of rumpled Brooklyn alter cockers

 At the Hotel Dieu in Beaune

 At the Hotel Dieu in Beaune

 At Autun Cathedral

 At Autun Cathedral

At Autun Cathedral


IT said...

Looking forward to the next installment!

June Butler said...

Splendid account of your travels, Doug. I thought the red, white, and blue lights were just for you, in honor of your visit.

Fun and Thoughts said...

Doug, I always love your pictures that take me to lovely cities and building in Europe! Cannot wait for the next installment either. :-)

Leonard said...

Dandy everything. Thank you for taking us along...

JCF said...

Sorry I'm late here!

"I helped him carry luggage": OMG, *please* tell me you two made George Rekers jokes. Please, please, please!

"Hotel Dieu"? Is that just a name of a church? (Catholic, I presume?)

"Bonnamour": I would have felt compelled to break into the Lovin' Spoonful's "Good Love" upon meeting him (aren't you glad you didn't have me along? ;-p)

Looks like you enjoy'd a LOT of gracious living on this trip, Doug. Looking forward to catching up!