Monday, November 30, 2009

Spiritual Feast in Rothenburg, Germany

Last week was the Euro-American Family Retreat in Rothenburg, Germany. This is the 46th year of the Christian retreat, originally hosted by military families based in Germany.

Rothenburg is a medieval town. (Click photos to enlarge.) The original city walls are still standing, thanks to a U.S. general who decided they should not be bombed during World War II. Then, as the city was being rebuilt after the war, residents went with the medieval style, including roof tiles and signage. It's a charming, quiet town. So we did some tours, some shopping during free time.

A highlight of the week was recording 45-minutes worth of songs and prayers for Christian friends who are deployed out of Kaiserslautern, Germany. Our brother Greg Larson came up with the idea. He ministers there and had a list of folks who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. We prayed for them by name and sang our hearts out.

Brother Frank from Oklahoma City led the singing and prayers. It was rousing, to say the least. Greg planned to send the music files to the soldiers by Thanksgiving morning. What a clever idea!

Here's a taste of our singing. This little video is a patched-together production because it was recorded with my regular digital camera, which does 30-second video. So. . . it's a little choppy, but still you get the idea.

So yes, we sang a lot and what a treat that was. Most of us who serve overseas rarely sing in English and, you know, there's something about singing in ones native tongue. Leading songs above is a dear brother who serves as an army chaplain in Germany.

This is Sunday worship. Our lessons were from John 17, which one speaker described as the second Lord's prayer. As you may know, this prayer is Jesus' prayer during the Last Supper with His disciples, where he pleads for glory, for unity, for protection from the evil one. Such a poignant passage.

Group Shot: 105 were present from 15 countries. Everything was in English. Simultaneous translations were available in French and Romanian.

Mike Armour - the one gesturing and talking, above - and wife Fran were with us from Dallas. Mike was one of the featured speakers. He's president of Eastern European Mission, a vital printing ministry which serves us well.

The children loved their classes. Three sisters from Dallas dedicated themselves to teaching the children's classes morning and evening. Parents were thrilled and so were the kiddos.

Lucky me ~ got assigned to room with Linda, lead teacher for the children's classes. Oh we had so much fun together and survived four nights in a very small hotel room. What a delightful person is that Linda!

Back out on the streets of Rothenburg. . .

Our tour, starting with the city map.

Keeping warm, couple from Belgium.

Waiting for 3:00 sharp, when something dramatic was to happen with the windows of the town hall.

Three little kittens who lost their mittens, waiting for 3:00 drama.

End of tour, heading back toward city hall.

Aeroflot flight Frankfurt to Moscow. Back to Russia on Thanksgiving afternoon. This would be . . . over Germany. Or maybe Poland. Hard to say!

Parking lot at Moscow's Sheremetevo-2 airport. Then connecting flight to Rostov-on-Don. International trips are never inexpensive. But a magnificent investment ~ learning and growing, meeting new friends, exchanging ideas. Such Christian conferences are invaluable. So thankful for those who organize the Euro-American Family Retreat!

How about you dear Blog Reader? Ever been to Rothenburg, Germany? Or to the Euro-American Family Retreat? Please do share. . .!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Universal Studios Free Photo Booth: Pranks

Dear Friends, Good belly laughs counts as exercise in my book and they count double on Thanksgiving weekend. Let's see if these tickle your funny bone as they did mine. Oh, and happy *Black Friday.*

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving Turkey and *I Will Survive!*

Happy Thanksgiving dear friends! Tina Turkey has a special treat for you here. With a nod to Gloria Gayner, presenting a parody of her 1978 hit. . .

At first I was an egg, I was petrified. Kept thinking I'd be lost or I'd get cracked and fried. But you took me to your nest before it was too late and kept be warm. And helped me incubate. . .

And then, just simply for nostalgia's sake ~ versus the sake of Thanksgiving ~ here is Ms Gayner herself. . .

Monday, November 23, 2009

Freezing Rice: Super Cool Kitchen Secret

Rice is nice. . .that's what they say. Rice is nice. . .throw some my way. Remember that song?

Rice can be great but come dinner time, I'm disinclined to fiddle around with cooking it, especially the ultimate - brown rice. But hal-le-lu-jah, there's an easy-peasy way. And that is to cook the whole big bag and freeze it in meal-sized portions.

You see, there was a kilo of rice that was sitting in the cabinet calling my name, singing that Rice is Nice song. So I gave in, cooked it up and most of it's frozen in small portions. Then come dinner time, throw the rice onto a hot skillet and it's done in no time. So here's the methodika, as we say it around here.

While water is coming to a boil, pick through for any pebbles, diamonds or other precious stones. Not that I've ever found any, but there's always a first time. Then run some water through the rice and boil it until just a tad under-done.

Talk about quick rice, here in the blink of an eye, in the flash of the cursor - our rice is cooked. Rinse it off in cool water using the strainer. Then cool to room temperature in shallow pans.

After cool, package the rice for freezing. These quart-size zip-lock bags I bring from the US and put 2 cups rice in each bag. That works here in this household of three, which includes two little birds. They're such gentleman though, they let me have all the rice. So package it according to how much rice you would serve at a meal.

In the freezer, these packets stack nicely. Being thin, it's easy to break of a chunk of rice and slide it out onto a hot skillet.

Happens that we have a hot skillet here, two in fact. One for heating the rice, the other for whatever else is cooking. In this case it's chicken chunks, straight out of the freezer too.

And here we have an easy lunch, ready in about 15 minutes.

Try freezing rice sometime. It's more economical than the boil-in-the-bag packets, which are not always available here. It's so handy come dinner time because there's no messing w/ a big pot of water and then cleaning it up after. So that settled, altogether now, a rousing rendition of rice is nice!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Pumpkin Fruit Bread

Steamed pumpkin today for making wonderful pumpkin fruit bread next week. Will mash the pumpkin here in a few minutes and then freeze it. Pumpkin fruit bread or muffins is/are always a hit. I hope to make it for orphanage staff for Thanksgiving. Here's easy secret of how to freeze unbaked muffins and then have them freshly baked for a special breakfast. And then here's the recipe. Oh it's so good. So is the batter, by the way. . . ;)

Freshly steamed pumpkin - oh can't you just smell it. Look at all that Vitamin A just sitting there. Fabulous!

Say dear blog reader, what favorite recipe(s) do you plan to make for Thanksgiving? Does your family have a favorite fruit bread or nut bread recipe?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Escape of the Century: Night Crossing to Freedom

Although they had no experience with hot air balloons, Peter Strelzyk and Gunter Wetzel tossed around the idea of building one to escape from East Germany. Peter was an electrical technician and both loved to tinker. They headed to their village's one library and bookstore and began to dig for information.

Last Monday, November 9, 2009, was the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. In honor of the event, we've had a look at various methods of escape used to get from East to West Germany. People escaped through the border, under the border and even over the border as did our heroes, the Wetzel and Strelzyk families.

The two men and their wives worked 18 months on a balloon, scouring stores across East Germany for taffeta, nylon thread and lining fabric. They worked at night and in utmost secrecy. A sizable balloon would be needed to transport the eight of them - the two couples and their four children - across the border.

The taffeta panels which made up the balloon were stitched on this machine. The final product was the height of an 8-story building. Just imagine the spools of thread and bobbin-winding that would require.

Strelzyk, the architect of the project, designed the ignition system and used 4 propane bottles for fuel. That eight people crowded onto this small platform, contained only by ropes, and sailed high overhead makes my tummy do flip-flops. Amazing what folks will do in order to be free.

And so it was, in the pre-dawn hours of a September morn, 1979, the two families boarded their vehicle. They were aloft just 30 minutes but that was long enough to sail from East Germany to the west, floating high above the vicious attach dogs and ditches, above the land mines and self-triggering shrapnel guns, above guard towers and search lights. After landing and confirming that they really had made it to the west, the two families opened the bottle of champaign they had brought along.

Getting to West Germany was not the end of problems for these folks. The story of their dramatic escape garnered such international attention that the East German government was determined to make an example of them. They received hate mail and kidnapping threats. Peter Strelzyk's electrical shop was bombed. They were constantly on the run and moved 13 times during their ten years in the west. Finally, after the wall came down and Germany was unified, the families returned home to East Germany and were able to live in peace.

Their story of escape is recounted in Night Crossing (1981) , starring Beau Bridges. This write up in Popular Mechanics is fascinating (pg 100). Their flight to freedom has been called the escape of the century.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Escape Artists: The Berlin Wall

After The Wall went up in 1961, many East Germans did more than fantasize about getting across the border to freedom, they pooled their resources and creativity and developed plans. Most were unsuccessful but hundreds did make it to West Germany.

At first the wall was simply barbed wire, but too many found a way through, including border guards. East German generals estimated that over the years, at least 2,000 of their guards defected to the west.

In this famous photo, a young officer, Conrad Schumann leaped over the wall in full uniform. (Click photo to enlarge.) And then there was the group of officers who escaped by crashing through the barricade in an armored carrier. Eventually changes were made to the wall so that it was much more difficult for even guards to escape.

Citizens of the east were quite ingenious and crossed the border in several different ways. Some went right through the checkpoint crammed into suitcases, for example.

Sometimes, two suitcases were joined together, side by side, but connected with a secret opening between, allowing more space for the person.

People were smuggled in various containers, such as the speaker box, above. Others sneaked through the border clad in knock-offs of East German uniforms that they had made themselves.

Many went under the border, crawling through underground tunnels.

The cart above was used for hauling soil out of a tunnel. And of course, disposing of the soil was a challenge: Where does one store dirt without raising suspicion?

Necessity is the mother. . .

This clever fellow swam underwater with a mini-submarine, his own invention. Our hero, Bernd, 28, traveled just under the surface of the water, being pulled along at 3 mph, from the north coast of East Germany across the Baltic Sea to Denmark.

Here is his original vehicle.

Above is the museum scoop about Bernd and his mini-sub. As the story goes, our hero was hired on the spot by a West German manufacturer.

And yet, in the midst of the pain and evil, were pockets of goodness and acts of mercy. Don't you just know that this guard helped the little fella across?

Well, dear blog readers, thank you for joining me for this quick overview escapes. The best story is yet to come. It has been called the Escape of the Century. It's how two families managed to sail over the wall.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Captivated at Checkpoint Charlie: The Berlin Wall

It was this painting at the Checkpoint Charlie Museum that stopped me in my tracks. This fascinating museum overlooks that most popular of crossing points of the Berlin Wall. Say care to join me for look around?

The painting grabbed me and I dug around for a tissue. (Click to enlarge photo.) It covers most of a wall and I may have stood there for five minutes taking it in. The older lady on lower right tugged at my heartstrings. Let's zoom on in.

Let's call her Frau Browncoat. Surrounded by revelry, champaign flowing freely and folks hugging on loved ones, the moment is bittersweet for our friend. Did she lose a family member to The Wall? Did her husband or brother risk his life to escape with plans to return for the others? I joined her in dabbing and tissue-ing. Oh but of course, she would be using a sensible handkerchief. (Painting credit: "The 9th of November, 1989" by Matthias Koeppel.)

By the time I reached this painting near the end of the tour, my travel companions were long gone back to the hotel. I'd been there maybe two hours, listening to the recorded tour in English, stealing a few photos. Eventually I got to this painting and then the bookstore - and oh, were those folks ever glad to see me and my trusty MasterCard. ;)

This first trip to Berlin was early August, 2005. We had one afternoon and an overnight in the city. Several of us had opted for this 5-day post-lectureship tour through east Germany after a week in Warsaw for the Pan European Lectureship (PEL). And our swing through eastern Germany included an afternoon and overnight in Berlin.

After the museum and a quick tour around town, I knew I could spend a week, maybe a lifetime in Berlin. Having to leave after less than a day was painful ~ I had already developed a fascination with the place. You might ask, what's so interesting about Berlin? Well, let me tell you: Berlin was the hub of Cold War action. It's where the east and west butted heads. Where communism and democracy were separated by inches. It's where people gambled their very lives to get to freedom. And they found a million and one creative ways to do that. Oh and I've got photos! Beyond all that, thanks to 10-plus years of living in Russia, I have a personal interest too: Berlin is where the U.S. and USSR got eyeball to eyeball and neither liked what they saw.

So here we are out on the street, the museum behind us, looking west toward the American Sector. Which, more accurately, would be called the U.S. Sector. But nobody asked for my input. Well alrighty, then. ;)

Here we are, looking the other direction: We're standing in the American sector, looking at Checkpoint Charlie and beyond into East Berlin. The museum is on the left. Say, see any familiar faces here? This was a fun memory. Happened to be my birthday in 2007, my second trip to Berlin, and I said to the German youth there dressed as an American soldier, please help me look young and thin, smart and interesting. . .

Important announcement in English and Russian, then French and German. Oh, but why all these languages? There's a reason, but we need to rewind a bit. . .

As you may recall, at the end of World War II, Germany was divided between Russia - the USSR, actually - and the Allies. And then the city of Berlin was divided as well, as you see on the map above. (Click photo to enlarge.) This was totally nuts. But that was the agreement reached in negotiations that followed the war. West Berlin was rather like an island there in East Germany, surrounded on all sides by Soviet-controlled East Germany. There's another story there, about the Berlin Airlift. I've got some photos of that story too. . .

One not-so-lovely day in 1961, big, brash Nikita Khrushcev announces what's going to be what in Berlin. The question: Why did they build the wall? The wall went up because so many citizens were fleeing from the east side to the west. East Germany was losing its population.

Nowadays in Berlin, here's what you'll find where there was once a wall.

That's it ~ plaques such as this one and smooth pavement. These wall markers snake through the city's center and kids ride their bikes over them every day without blinking an eye. But the markers serve as a reminder of where the wall once stood.

Here and there is a cross-section of the wall. Just for nostalgia's sake. . .

And here's a larger section of the wall.

Let's revisit the map. (Double click to enlarge.) The border there between East and West Berlin was a bit of a squirrel's nest but that was - and still is - the city center. Checkpoint Charlie is there and then a few blocks south is Brandenburg Gate.

And we do know a thing or two about Brandenburg Gate, do we not? That's where U.S. President Ronald Reagan challenged Soviet Premier Mikael Gorbochev to tear down this wall, June of 1987. Brandenburg Gate is where U.S. President John F. Kennedy thought he said I am a Berliner in June, 1963. What he really said was I am a jelly doughnut. Ah yes, the joys of meaning one thing and saying something quite different. . . And at a nearby hotel, overlooking Brandenburg Gate, is the hotel balcony where Michael Jackson dangled his infant son to the horror of onlookers below.

Well, thank you for joining me for a quick look at Berlin. Throughout this week, I hope to share some fascinating photos of how folks escaped from East to West Germany. Talk about creativity, excitement and danger wrapped together. Please join me again to visit Berlin, the city at the center of reunification, 20 years ago today.

And how about you, dear blog reader. Been to Berlin? Got a piece of The Wall? Any Cold War stories? Please do share!