Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Top of Germany: A Wondrous Place

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At the "top of Germany", the Zugspitze in May this year. (Not sure how the crow got into the photo at the upper right!)
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Janice and myself on a Swiss Peak near Engelberg, in August, 1985.

Why ascend to some of the highest mountains, or any mountains? Well, perhaps because one can - but also perhaps because the view is radically different: the air is fresher (though much colder), and the altitude - looking down on tiny human habitats below- confers an adjusted perspective. Let's say it clears the mind and shows that we humans also need to tend more care (as stewards) to the planet in our charge. One of the worst experiences one can have, in ascending to any of these majestic places, is seeing human-created consumer trash tossed about. Thankfully, in the various European cities and destinations we've visited over decades, we've seen little of that. Not like when one goes to Yellowstone, or Rocky Mountain National Park.

In August, 1978, Janice and I took a cable car to the base of Jungfraujoch then hiked the rest of the way to the peak. It was exhilarating, and the only down note was when an elderly  fellow hiker fell down in the snow - and had to be airlifted out by chopper. He'd apparently died of a heart attack, the exertion at that altitude (11, 388 ft.) simply too much for his age (in his 70s). We both discussed this sad event afterward, then concluded - what better place to die, if you had to - doing what you loved in such surroundings!

Our visit to the Zugspitze in May echoed similar exhilaration, and though this time we had to take a bus, a train, then a funicular (cable car) to reach the peak in two hours, it was well worth it. We joined four German friends as we enjoyed the mutual experience, including in the Gipfel Restaurant where Germans all around broke into the German national anthem Deutschland über Alles :

In my humble opinion, this anthem is the best of all (and I've heard just about all), rising above all others in the melodies, language (German) and resonance. It is a masterpiece, created by a master. And no, not the 'master race"! Let me put the kibosh on that right now.

Contrary to myths circulated by disaffected 'Muricans (perhaps jealous their own national anthem isn't as beautiful),  Deutschland über Alles is not the "Nazi national anthem". It was in fact composed by Joseph Haydn as part of his Haydn quartet over a hundred and fifty  years before the Third Reich existed. Whether or not the Nazis or their sympathizers  appropriated it is neither nor there. The anthem was set out long before Hitler or the Nazis arrived on the scene to contaminate all things German - and which the Germans are sensitive about to this day.

Anyway, the collective singing (and in the link above you can see images of the Zugspitze if you look carefully) transformed the experience for  us all into one of solid gemütlichkeit .  This paved the way for a frank and open discussion of the JFK assassination, e.g.

Who knows, whether or not in fact our collective insights into the horrific event were much better, in that atmosphere of friendship, at the top of Germany? I believe they were.

Fortunately, we kept contact with Reinhart and Elli after the "peak experience" - since both of them also had a hotel in the village of Garmisch-Partenkirchen where we were for the next four days.  So we learned much more about the town itself (made famous during the 1936 Winter Olympics - when Hitler visited) but also the country as a whole. After our last night, dining at the Braustuberl Restaurant, Reinhart gave me a complete road map of Germany, and asked Janice and myself to think of coming back again. Well, how the country had changed - since we last saw them in 1985! At that time, Reinhart and I had ventured within 400 ft. of a guard tower near the town of Allendorf, at the East German border. As the guard jokingly pointed his rifle at us, Reinhart muttered: "He won't dare shoot at us unless we get within five feet of the barbed wire fence!  Furchtbar! Bad image!"

Now, nearly some 30 years later, Germany had been unified, though as Reinhart told us, some integration problems to do with the East remained. But at least now people were in contact with families again, and no electrified barbed wire fences separated them,

Will we get back to Zugspitze or other German peaks? Who knows? What we were most happy about is the decision to choose to go there - which led to fortuitously seeing Reinhart and Ellie at the same train station-  as opposed to the much hyped "Eagle's Nest" - Hitler's redoubt during World War II. Why go to visit the former lair of a thug, when you could ascend to Zugspitze?

Anyway, we shall see!

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