Through my eyes

living my life without regrets

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Ahlen, D

Ahlen, D

Travelling seems like it has always been a part of my life. I was handed off as a kid, at almost any occasion possible. My parents both worked; on every school vacation I would have been a “Schlüsselkind”, a kid with a key to the front door of the house. In order not to get into trouble, because I get curious about things, I was always sent away mostly to relatives around Germany. The only ‘good’ relatives we had were in Ahlen, the town where my Mom was born. So I have lots of childhood memories in my head about Ahlen. And I still have some family to visit in Ahlen, but no longer any aunts or uncles; now I only have cousins who are still alive. I was shaped by those early experiences in Ahlen. Let it just be said that I know Ahlen like a 2nd home. Some people here in Canada have a ‘cottage’. They go there all summer long; it becomes their 2nd home away from home, at least for the weekends. My cottage was in Ahlen. I spent a lot of time there in my youth.
Banken Strasse - My Mom's Home Today 

Picture From Years Ago When It Was A Work Place 
Miner's Art 
Ahlen, when I grew up, was a mining town - Coal Mining. Most of my relatives worked in the mine, so do I call them miners? I never thought of them as miners. Each one had a very specialized way of working in or on the mines. Some were below ground, some only above ground. The people who worked below ground, working in the mine shafts were called ‘Kumpel’, kind of like the word Pal or Partner in English. Those workers were a tight knit group. Most came from Poland but were Germans, I guess. They came to Germany right after WWI, and many had very Polish names. My grandparents on my mom’s side all had Polish names but they never talked about why they had to move away from Poland, why they chose to work in the mines, etc. I know my Grandfather was, for a while, in Denmark and his history is covered in secrets so deep that nobody could find his real identity even before WWII. He had a few names that I know of, was known as Schuster, mostly, since he repaired shoes on the side. The people who worked in those mines at the time were basically very poor.

Old Coal Cart Now A Flowerbed 

I visited the apartment my grandparents rented and, wow was it small. I could hardly imagine a couple with 8 to 10 children living in this space, but they did. My mom told me that when she was little, 3 kids slept in one bed at night. She could not remember ever sleeping alone in a bed. What a life those people had. I know a lot of mining stories; luckily no story that held catastrophes.

During WWII those coal mines were targets of the Allied bombing raids because Ahlen is part of the Ruhrgebiet, the Industrial Section, that was the most bombed part of Germany. Sure we lost family in the bombing raids; sure we lost men on the front lines during the war years. Like I said, those stories could be almost part of a book. Those losses are part of the family lore and yes, even today those nights and those losses come up in conversation. They cannot be avoided, they are part of the heritage I have, part of what Germany lived through. 

I was somehow like a split personality when I grew up. There was my mom’s side and her stories, my Dad’s side and his ‘lack of’ stories. Ahlen was part of who I became, so I do visit once in a while to just shoot the breeze. 

There was a misunderstanding in meeting my cousin, Sofia. I had sent an email but the email never went through. So the date I had in my head and the hour I showed up at their house was exactly the hour nobody was home. It was a bit of a back and forth via emails to sort it out, but we did finally meet over coffee and cake. Meeting like that is typically German. You meet in the afternoon and have just that, coffee and cake. But because I came in unannounced, the cake had to be quickly bought from a store. Normally that does not happen in our family; Marianne is a great cook and prides herself in being a baker, too. So let me explain some of the family I do have and stay in contact with. I try to make it easy to understand. 

There is Sofia (we call her Sofiechen) who is my cousin. She is the oldest child of my aunt Anna.
Sofiechen has one son, Franz-Joseph (Frano) who was named after the Austrian Kaiser (Emperor).
Frano married a farmer’s daughter named Marianne. They have 2 boys who are now married and have children, too. 

And on and on it goes, the connections are so long, so complicated, you would need a road-map or a family tree to understand all the connections. Especially of you think about the fact that my grand-parents on my mom’s side had 9 children who had also, sometimes, 8 children. That means a lot of cousins, and 2nd and 3rd cousins. Does anybody you know have so many levels of relatives?  Believe me it can get complicated. Especially when there are multiple marriages, too. 

I only see a few selected people; it would be too much to see them all. Especially in today’s world when they are spread out across the globe in almost every country on Earth. We are traveling folks, it seems, not only me.

So, Carol and I had a nice visit, some laughs, and shared some memories and got updates on the latest happenings. For sure we have lost some closeness, some personal touch by me being in Canada and they being mostly in Ahlen. The situation lent itself to being pulled apart. Emotionally, though, I still like them a lot, they are family, even though it has been 50 plus years we still treat each other as relatives and not as strangers.
L to R  - Marianne, Sophia, Frano ( and me in the Background )
It was good to visit; I took some photos for old times sake. I had to just go and be part of my past for a few hours while in Europe. Ahlen was a very personal stop but a much needed and very enjoyable stop for me, too. 

We are off now to end our journey, to just drive to Frankfurt and then fly home to Toronto.

Auf Wiedersehen!  Ttschüß!  This is the last blog for 2015.

Münster, Germany, D

Munster, D

The time comes near when we have to return to Canada. I have a cousin to see in Ahlen but that is it for Europe in 2015. I am almost done with my 2015 Blogs. We are almost done traveling for this trip.

On the way back from Holland we over-nighted for a few days in Munster, just so we can make notes and sort ourselves out. Carol has never been in Munster so I thought I would show her the city famous for hosting the Westphalian Peace Treaty. A Peace Treaty that turned out to be a good treaty. It was an ingenious solution giving all parties a nod of the head and telling all of them they were right to believe whatever and however they wanted to believe! That was in Anno 1648

While Munster is a nice town, it looks like many other German cities today but her history is unique. In 1648, at the end of the 30 year war, this city was elected to be the center point, the focal point of an agreement that laid the groundwork for the Sovereignty of States whose main principles are:

1. The principle of sovereignty of the states and the fundamental right of political self determination
2. The principle of legal equality between states
3. The principle of non-intervention of one state in the internal affairs of another state

The outcome was that the Spanish Empire recognized the Netherlands as an independent ‘State’.  It was the beginning of what is today Holland. Those signed papers from this Peace Treaty are the foundation of Dutch independence and are kept in archives in De Hague. I thought it would be a good idea to show Carol how the Netherlands really got their ‘independence’. Holland was a Kingdom before 1648 but it organized itself as a Federated Republic after the Westphalian Treaty of Munster. Munster was important in those days. 

Munster (and Osnabruck) was a hot spot after the 30 year war. The war’s big question was who had the right religion. Was it a frivolous reason to fight for 30 years? Were the Catholics right? Were the Protestants correct? Catholics and Protestants had to agree on something. They could not go on and on killing each other. It was believed by each group that only the ‘righteous’ would go to heaven. It was a very serious discussion. Just imagine you could not go to ‘heaven’ if you were the wrong religion! To make it worse; if the King, Lord, Earl, Duke or whoever ruled the land forced you, the peon, to be the same religion he believed in or you would not go to heaven. God forbid! While the Royalty still dictated one's religion, that point was not changed in Munster, they agreed that both, Catholics and Protestants could go heaven. Phew! (I wonder how they knew that.)

Such was their original thinking but then it became more and more political. One King tried to force his point of view unto the other countries, even if they were far away from them. The map of Europe was much chopped up, especially Germany and Italy.

The whole political and religious climate around 1648 was wild. And that was after they had fought already for 30 years to settle things. Not only were there Catholics and Protestants by then, they had sects such as Huguenots, Anti papists, Anabaptists, etc. So not only did the Peace Treaty of Munster settle, or started to settle the differences in religion, but it laid the ground work for modern politics too. So a war for such a trivial point of view, that lasted 30 years in Europe and killed almost 50% of the total European population, finally came to some agreement. And the old town of Munster, in 1648 was the place where the Lords, Kings, Emperors and Royals convened to settle their disputes. 
It was also the city that gave the Netherlands its Sovereignty. At least it hosted the powers of the time to declare reasonable solutions to the standoffs created by different belief systems. Something we today, facing a worldwide mix of religions, could learn from. We, all of us are right; someone has to just believe that. Believe that no matter the name, no matter the method, no matter the God, we will all die and then those silly religions won’t make any difference. All of us have our own Sovereignty. Not as a group but as an individual, and some of the guidelines worked out in 1648 in Munster could (might) help us today. We just have to look at it with a different set of rules. We need to make a new peace treaty, not between Nations, but between People……worldwide!  So I copied the principles from above but now made them apply to each Person on Earth. How do they sound to you?  Could you live with those?

1. The principle of the sovereignty of a person and the fundamental right of self determination
2. The principle of legal equality between all people anyplace in the Universe.
3. The principle of non-intervention in the internal affairs of another person or their belief system

The Debate Between Church And State 

The Proclamation Of Munster - Re-enacted

A Famous Year For Munster
When we arrived, Munster was having a re-enactment of the Proclamation of Peace, which Munster annually demonstrates for the general public since those days, long ago.
The Hall Where The Proclamation Of Peace Was Signed

Carol and I took a look at the meeting chamber, refurbished after WWII, where the Proclamation of Peace was signed and an oath was taken. We walked around town, visited the old Cathedral that was established when Charlemagne was still King. The name Munster comes from the Latin word Monastery. So yes, there was always a very religious majority in this location. Munster was the seat of a Bishop for hundreds of years. Munster is still mostly Catholic, even today, but things are changing.

Today, out of the 300 K population, about 60 K are students. Munster is a University town and the young people bring change with them. Munster is the bicycle city of Germany; the city is full of bicycles that are used for most anything. Going to work, to school, for recreation, for shopping……go and use your bike.

Giant Ball Size Sculptures Strewn Around A Park (Oldenburg
So how is Munster as an art city? You know where ‘weird’ thinking is King? Where there are strange points of views, where new ideas pop up? Where thinking is not so logical, but more directed by feelings, rather than facts? Carol and I saw some stuff that was so far away in thinking that I could hardly get a grasp of it. Spheres, looking like gigantic golf balls, strewn in a Park? Alberto Giacometti? As a superstar, in an exhibition given just for him? Of course I can see Picasso, who was also represented but Giacometti?

One could think that the ideas in Munster were very new, but actually Anabaptists were new in their time; different thinkers then. Out of those Anabaptists developed today’s Amish or Mennonites among other off shoots of religion. Munster did not start these trends but they sure were always in the middle of a point of view, looking for answers. Not always good answers, putting the old Anabaptists in cages and hanging them up in the sky until they died of exposure and rotted away next to the Cathedral was brutal. But then those were brutal times in 1640. 

Today, Munster is a pleasant town with a long, difficult history. Munster managed to stay alive, to teach others what they know and learned and to still stay open minded.

We actually had a pretty good stay in Munster. 

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Pictures of the Gallery!

The Gallery Sign, GREAT Graphics 

So True  - And That Is An Art to Be Able To Do That -

Paul Signac 1906 - The Windmill and Canal - Rotterdam 

And Here Are The Details of Signac's Style Of Painting 

Return on Even Ground - Jan Toorop 1893 -

Rangers - Jan Toorop 1891-92

Bridge Over the Arles River - van Gogh 1888 

Le Chahut (Georges Seurat) 1889

All This Small Detail Is Part Of The Above Picture!

                                                                                             (plus an odd pic I just liked.) 
At Zeche Ahlen - The Age Of The Mammoth -

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

DeHoge veLuwe, NL

"Modern" Dutch Housing
In The veLuwe Forest 

I know it’s a strange name and not well known by most foreign tourists but it is almost a must visit in Holland. The Geology of the Netherlands might be flat, but it is not boring at all. The last Ice Age (about 10,000 years ago) created Holland. Debris, dirt, rock, sand, silt, and run-offs were pushed in front of the (up to 600 feet thick) ice sheets (glaciers) and were deposited in what we today call the Netherlands. Rivers were re-routed, deltas were formed, and it was a quagmire of moors, bogs and small sandy hills. The name veLuwe could mean ‘waste land’, useless land for agriculture. But because man starting un-mucking the area by draining the water away, agriculture thrived from the changes made to the land. The area now is actually very fertile. Humans did such a great job that they became dominant but the native wild life suffered. On top of that, hunting parties of the rich and the daily use of the land by locals, mismanagement of resources (chopping up the forests for wood) etc. and you have what is called veLuwe today.

But things are changing. Man has become aware of their shortsightedness and now Holland is, by establishing National Parks, trying to restore some areas to their former condition. Again, meet the new veLuwe, the area is now managed by the State Land Management office and nature is allowed to return to the way it used to be and restore itself. Keeping people out helps; and even building fences and having sections totally off limits to visitors is a great way to rebuild. The idea is to re-establish the fauna as it was before man interfered. Wild life is re-introduced with some mixed results. I read that even kangaroos were introduced to bring about a change to the landscape, even though they are not native to Holland. It makes me wonder if man is still playing ‘God’!  Still the area is now very nice looking. It is an interesting area and I could see how it ‘might’ have been in centuries past. I am sure it is not easy to re-build nature after so many years of neglect. The Government is trying, however.

The land originally was owned by extremely rich merchants from Rotterdam and was passed on to the people with the provision that they return the land to its natural state. While in the merchant’s care it was used as a hunting ground, along with a rather elaborate hunting castle but those merchants finally saw the light and donated the land to the State.

As you can see, Holland is not just tulips, cheese and wooden shoes, or canals and windmills. Holland is also art, exceptional landscapes and masterful minds. And all of this costs so much money that is hard to grasp. What I saw, what I heard, what I witnessed, the lifestyle and the ambition, all costs tons of money. How do the Dutch do this? Their individual tax rate’s highest level is 52% of income. (It used to be 72% before 1990.) Living in the Netherlands is wonderful, but expensive.

Within the DeHoge veLuwe Park, is a museum building; the Kröller-Müller Museum. There are many world famous artists represented here. Picasso, Monet et al. Outside the building are statues and pieces of sculpture in a very large garden setting. It is an art lover’s delight, almost like an orgy of impressions, of styles, of points of view. We came just to visit this Museum and concentrate on Vincent van Gogh. I would call this museum the second home of van Gogh. This Museum has the 2nd largest collection of Vincent van Gogh’s pieces besides many other artists. It is a fascinating place; a delight to just wander through, to gawk and be awed. Have you ever really studied Vincent’s pictures?   Don McLean wrote a song about Vincent. Good Listening!   Read the words! Watch the Pictures!

Watch the details of each painting. Look at the variations, so full of beauty but also of pain, of life lived, of emotions felt. And now I am at this Gallery, a collection so immense that the total is incomprehensible to me. The attempts of Vincent to express his views, his way of looking at what we all call Life, is so impressive, so well done, so open and at the same time mysterious, that all of the world stops and admires it. When I am looking at his art, all the other people around me fade away. I believe Vincent knew, he was able to portray his inner light, his understanding of human souls and put it forth on a piece of canvas. Yes, he struggled, he was out of touch with what we call ‘reality’ but never mind all that, his life is shown in pictures. He painted what he, at the time, thought important. He looked at an Iris flower in a very specific way, his facial portraits are always ruled by the eyes, but he never forgot the lines that life left on his subject’s faces. His brush strokes, his use of colors, his layering of paint, and his expression of what he wanted us to see and feel is unique. He used many styles to make it visual. He was an amazing artist. I have looked at many, many pictures by other artists but very few are truly called ‘artist’. There is no doubt about it; Vincent was a one of a kind human being. I loved seeing his collection. Yes, I feel badly that he had such a sad life. Yet, would he have shown us such emotion in his art without having lived the life he did?

Are we all not the result of the way we live and have lived? Each one of us in our own way?

Here is a YouTube Movie about Vincent's Life: (about 1 hour long) Too long to add to this Blog:

Olive Garden (van Gogh)
Details of the Branches

Details of the Leaves 

Olive Grove Was Painted in June of 1889

Tree Trunk and Grass (van Gogh)

Some Details of the Trunk 

Details of the Grass

Tree Trunk And Grass, Painted in 1890

Northern Holland, NL

Northern Holland

North of Holland, blocking the waters of the North Sea, is a bulwark so impressive; it could be called a wonder of the world. Flood control is a daily activity in Holland.  A humongous dam holds back water that could swamp about 2/3 of the Dutch land.  We drove over a part of those barriers, but the dam we traversed was 20 + KM long.  There are many other installations covering the entire coastline of the Netherlands. Every minute of the day, water is pumped back into the ocean. Sand is re-positioned. Scientific estimates roll off computer models, showing constantly where reinforcement is needed. Global warming and the rising of the world’s oceans are not games to the Dutch. They are constantly preparing themselves for the ‘what if’ scenario. I remember the last storm in 1953, I was a kid but I remember it. After this catastrophic flood, the Dutch Parliament decided to take drastic action and established a National Program to fight against any further damages. The money spent on controlling the building projects was astronomical. The latest estimates going forward, call for the need of another 144 Billion U.S.$ (100 B. Euro) just to protect the now established land in the future. No wonder the income tax in Holland is at 50% per individual.
This Is Part Of The Dam We Drove Over

Not many people think about this part of life in the Netherlands, and I wonder how many tourists think of this when they visit. It was mind-boggling to see the work already done, but even more so to contemplate the work that still lays ahead for Holland.
The Red Line Separating The Two Shades Of Blue Is The Dam We Drove Over

Does all of this affect the daily life of people living in the area? Do they think about it a lot? I just wanted to look at the massive sites, wanted also to visit Friesland to just look around. 

We drove to Leeuwarken and slept in town for one night, but from what I could see, there was no difference in the living style or the housing or the way people did their daily chores. Friesland is like any other part of coastal Holland. The area is flat, canals were dug to drain off the water, cows grazed, the sun shone. It was bucolic, peaceful. I am not sure how I would like living there in a severe storm though. One day, I am sure of it, Holland will have another devastating flood. And what will be flooded? Nobody knows, no matter the models they prepare now. Mother Nature will reclaim some ground that the Dutch have worked so hard to wrangle from her clutches.  Time will tell. 


Saturday, January 23, 2016

Amsterdam, NL

Amsterdam, NL

OK, when you say Amsterdam to me the following things pop into my head: Red Light District, Anne Frank House, Rijks Museum, Grachten (Canals), Marijuana, very open minded society, Old Dutch Masters (artists), bicycles, no parking and house boats.

The Rijks Museum In The Back Ground 
What is on your mind when you think Amsterdam?

Amsterdam is a huge city, spread out, flat, with water everywhere and near impossible to see and explore in just a few days. We gave ourselves 2 days in Amsterdam, so you can imagine we know nothing of the real Amsterdam, but that was OK, too. We just wanted a quick look, wanted to see if we wanted to come back and explore it in depth. But who am I kidding, to just visit the Rijks Museum would take ages, it is jam packed with history, jam packed with art and facts.
Typical Dutch Housing 
House Boats Blend Right In 
Some House Boats Are Very Fancy
We took the public bus from the hotel into Amsterdam’s city center and then walked or took the trolley everywhere. There is not enough parking in downtown Amsterdam and if there is, it just is not worth it to get lost in the one way roads. Take the public transport. The first thing on our agenda was to take the canal sight-seeing trip via boat. Sure, it is a tourist thing to do, but it is similar to the hop-on/ hop-off bus trips one can take in other cities, it gives you an overview, a quick assessment of what you want to see and about where it is. Since Amsterdam is full of Grachten, the artificially constructed canals, taking a boat is a logical thing to do. 

It was interesting to see the different architectural styles. The brides spanning the water are low, just high enough to let loaded barges pass. On the sides of those canals are barges or boats tied up (moored) that are used as housing. Yes, people really live in those boats. Some even had a parking spot arranged on them so the owners could park their car. Some boathouses had privacy screens, trees planted for a green effect or other quirky ways to make life comfortable for the inhabitants. It seems anything goes in Amsterdam; there is very little criticism when it comes to living your own lifestyle. Yet there are strict rules. Only so many boats are allowed throughout the city and if you like to live like a seafarer you can buy one of those boats. They are part of the local real estate market and not cheap. There is fun in Amsterdam, but living is not a free-for-all and rules do apply.

They Even Have A Museum Of Prostitution In The Red Light District

One of the rules is the regulation of the Sex Trade, very liberal, yet very strict, too. Each of the ‘workers’ undergoes a health check once a week. It is mandatory. While I saw ladies advertise themselves in a shopping window, in very revealing clothing, the actual act is performed in a private space behind closed doors. I was told there are 290 working girls in the district. 

Did Carol and I visit the red light district?  Of course we did! It is part of exploring what is offered. Did we buy anything? No! We only window shopped!

 Phobias seem to not be part of the Dutch life. Religion is up to each individual and you can have your own opinion about anything.

Carol wanted to see the Anne Frank house, I had seen it a few times but I went along and waited with Carol in line. We waited 90 minutes in line to buy an entrance ticket, standing in the rain. I did not go inside for the tour; I waited in the Cafeteria for Carol to finish her visit.  It is a depressing experience, really, and I did not want to be reminded (again) of how terrible the Jewish experiences were during Hitler’s time. Carol’s comments are:
A Very Long Line For The Anne Frank House Visit 
It was a very moving experience to walk first through the downstairs factory, then through a door hidden behind a bookcase and up a flight of narrow, steep stairs to the upstairs loft which held eight people for two years. There was only one toilet which could only be flushed at night. During the day when the factory workers were working directly beneath them, the hidden Jewish people had to be very quiet and could only speak in whispers. Food was brought to them at night by a friend who worked downstairs. 

After two years in hiding, all eight were discovered and sent to a concentration camp. Only the father survived the camp. Anne died a month before liberation after being told erroneously that her sister had died. After the war, Anne’s diary was found and made public by her father so that her story should not be lost.

Although the house was very crowded with tourists, no one spoke. We were not allowed to take pictures because that could detract from the stirring experience of imaging what it must have been like for Anne and her family. I also could not speak for some time after this visit. My life has been untouched by the horrors before, during and after WWII, but walking through this house, seeing the pictures and reading the history, reminded me again how cruel people can be towards one another. When will it end I wonder?

We mostly walked through Amsterdam. Never mind the rain, we managed OK. Daily life consumes most people and they don’t even pay attention to tourists in Amsterdam. Tourism for the Dutch is part of their daily life. Almost everybody speaks English, young and old alike. I could read and understand most of their signs but speaking Dutch takes some practice. I would need a few months to get a hang of it.
Cannabis Shop, Buy As Much As You Like. 
While walking through some streets, the sweet smell of marijuana wafted past us. Cannabis is legal in Amsterdam. The Dutch have shops throughout the city that sell different varieties of ‘weed’ and also all the paraphernalia one associates with smoking this stuff. I went into one of those stores but had no clue what was what. It seems to be for the connoisseur. I don’t fit that image.

We took the wrong bus back to our hotel on the first day and had to walk quite a bit at the end of the bus ride. That happens to the best of us. Even though I asked if this was the right bus, we were on the wrong bus. Luckily we were close enough to be able to walk back to our hotel.
View Along a Grachten 
On the 2nd day visiting the city, we concentrated mostly on the Rijks Museum. As mentioned, it is a huge place. It houses most of the paintings by the Old Dutch Masters. Any art lover can name quite a few of the pictures by just looking at them. There are some ‘modern’ painters, too, but mostly I found the Old Masters to be my focus. Van Gogh also has his own museum but we could not see everything there is to see in Amsterdam. The Rijks Museum is just too large for a quick visit. The themes for each room or section covered the Netherlands overseas, the Amsterdam period, the Haarlem Period, the Enlightenment, various Dutch Kings and other sections such as Goya, History, Prints, Japanese Officials, Meissen, Flemish Painters, etc. etc. All of it was a bit overwhelming and there were lots of people visiting the Museum. Our feet were sore that day and our minds filled to the brim. We took in so much that I can only mention a few paintings here: The famous Night Watch painting by Rembrandt, the Jewish Bride also be Rembrandt, Vermeer’s Milkmaid and The Little Street; the Museum is loaded with famous art pieces. Amazingly, we were allowed to take pictures in the Museum. Here are a few of them.
Entrance to the Rijks Museum 

Rembrandt Self Portrait 

The Jewish Bride (Rembrandt)

Wardens of the Amsterdam Drapers (Rembrandt)

Night Watch (Rembrandt)

Dutch Merchant Ship Model 

Battle of Waterloo (Jan Willem Pieneman)

Still Life (van Gogh)

Vincent van Gogh Self Portrait 

We had an overview, now Carol can for sure, say she has been to Holland, she has seen a lot. Yet I thought of showing her one more thing but for that we had to drive even further north. Read the next post.