It had to happen. Eventually. Inevitably.
The day finally came when it was time for me to leave Amsterdam.
Happily, I had two friends to distract me. They came from Germany for a quick visit and that meant my last day in Amsterdam was more party-like than funereal.
And then, they drove me to their home in southern Germany. But to break up what turned out to be a long day of driving (why is it we Canadians always underestimate how large European countries are?), we stopped off in Aachen to have lunch with a mutual friend.
Aachen (pronounced AH-ken, with a bit of throat clearing on the “ch”) is in a tiny little corner of Europe where three countries come together: Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Our time there was short, but long enough for a lightning quick walking tour of the old town.
In that lightning quick walking tour, I learned that Charlemagne was rather fond of Aachen, and made the city the capital of his Holy Roman Empire. I also learned that Charlemagne built a chapel, which became part of his palace. The palace no longer exists, but the chapel is now part of the Aachen Cathedral. It’s a pretty spectacular church — so spectacular that I’m going to save those photos for a post all their own.
This photo, though. I’m posting this photo because the architecture caught my eye. Only a few miles from the Dutch–German border, but I know I’m not in Holland anymore.
The Wittenberg Door
So I learned something the last time I was in Berlin. My dad and I were trying to take the train to Wittenberg, but almost ended up in Wittenburg.
Who knew one vowel could make such a difference? (And yes, this is why God made editors.) Wittenberg with an “e” is about 100 km southwest of Berlin. Wittenburg with a “u” is about 200 km northwest of Berlin.
In other words, we were headed in pretty much the opposite direction of where we wanted to be going.
After a quick chat with the train conductor, my dad and I disembarked at the next station, took a train to somewhere in the middle of nowhere, and waited there for yet another train that would take us south. We eventually did reach Wittenberg (with an “e”).
Why Wittenberg? Because we wanted to see this door.
That would be the door to the Schlosskirche or Castle Church to which Martin Luther is said to have nailed his 95 theses 500 years ago today, on October 31, 1517. You can see the tower of the Schlosskirche in the photo below.
Luther’s theses went viral, you could say, and caused a bit of an uproar in the Christian church. Wars ensued — lots of wars — and, well, a lot of general mayhem. The world has never been the same since.
Some might say a little reformation, now and then, is a healthy thing, but I doubt that Luther had any idea of what he was starting when he picked up that hammer.
Happy Birthday, Johann Sebastian Bach!
The Germans threw a party today in Eisenach, the birthplace of my favourite composer, Johann Sebastian Bach. That’s because today is Johann Sebastian’s 330th birthday. This house ― known as Bachhaus ― is a museum dedicated to the man; at one point, it was thought he was born here, although now it is believed that his birth house is no longer standing.
I visited this museum in 1998 with my dad. We were on walkabout through Germany and France and came to Eisenach because of the Martin Luther connection; the Bach connection was a bonus (for me).
What we didn’t realize until we arrived and were looking for a place to stay is that Eisenach is in the former German Democratic Republic (aka East Germany). Which meant no one in the town spoke English. I managed to get us a room by telling the woman at the tourist information centre that we wanted ein Zimmer, zwei Nächte (one room, two nights). She congratulated me on my, ahem, German.
But it got really comical the next morning when the owner at the pension where we stayed insisted on chatting to us throughout breakfast in German ― even after we told him we could not understand him. Dad had studied German a bit in college, but it wasn’t enough to help us out. The pension owner offered to speak to us in Russian, but we assured him that we understood even less Russian than German.
And so, Dad and I nodded politely at our host while we drank our coffee and ate our bread and cheese. He was a compulsive talker ― that much was obvious ― and eventually he resorted to sign language. We kept nodding.
By the time Dad and I left for our day of sightseeing, we were exhausted. Even so, it was the loveliest and friendliest of introductions to Eisenach.