Germany Minus Hitler = Today’s Super Power

January 19, 2011

If you ask any American who invented the telephone, you’ll get one of two answers: “I have no idea”, or “Alexander Graham Bell”.

In truth, both answers are incorrect. Bell did invent a telephone, but not the telephone. Fifteen years before Bell’s version proved to be a marketable success, a fellow named Johann Philipp Reis, invented the first operating telephone in Germany.

Ask an American who invented the car and many folks would say, “Somebody named Ford – I think his first name was Henry.”

That answer would also be very wrong. Henry Ford was a pioneer in the auto industry, but his claim to fame was making the assembly line process work.

The first cars were invented in Germany in 1885 by Karl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler.

The list of German inventions goes on and on. Starting in 1440, when Johannes Gutenberg invented the first movable type and revolutionized the printing industry, German ingenuity has been instrumental in the technological advancements of mankind.

The gramaphone, microphone, diesel engine, X-rays, glider, cathode-ray tube, aspirin, fluorescent lamp, decaffeination process, athletic shoe, pregnancy test, and electron microscope were all invented in Germany prior to 1931.

And then, Adolf Hitler and the Nazi’s took over. After that, there was tremendous research and development in aircraft and rocket science… all for evil purposes. And the German leadership dropped significantly.

A large part of that drop off was a result of Russia and the United States capturing the brightest minds and putting them to work on their own projects. Wernher von Braun was tremendously instrumental in the development of the U.S. space program which resulted in men walking on the moon.

Since World War II, the only significant inventions to come out of Germany are the Wankel rotary engines (used in Mazdas) and the MP3 technology.

There may be other inventions of note and I welcome the input of anyone more knowledgeable than myself.

My point is that Adolf Hitler and the Nazis harmed Germany in ways that go far beyond the Holocaust and other atrocities that brought shame to the German people. Hitler’s thirst for power set Germany back a hundred years… or more.

Today, Germany is one of the strongest nations in Europe. They are a leader in economics and a key political leader among the NATO countries. They could have been so much more.

My bride and I were extremely impressed by the people and places we visited during our recent trip. It is hard to imagine what German cities looked like after the war; most have been rebuilt to reflect their pre-war glory.

Recall that their nation was split in two following the war. But in the last decade of so, the Berlin Wall has been torn down and the two Germany nations are once again a single nation.

There is no doubt in my mind that, had Hitler never come into power, and the German people simply continued to advance through peaceful means, they would most likely be the most powerful nation on earth today.

By the way, here’s something I learned while playing a trivia contest on the Delta flight to Europe. The English language was adopted by our Founding Fathers as the “official” language of the United States… by one vote. Second place? German.

Many of the original settlers in our country were of German descent. They were instrumental in building our country. Surely they could have done the same back home.


Wonderful Winter Vacation (Day 2)

December 29, 2010

We were up bright and early on the morning of December 17th. We had a date with Helmut Gottschling at St. Lukas Lutheran Church on the east side of town.

But, before I get to that, let me explain that our first day in Munich did not end with dinner in the Viktuallenmarkt. After a most enjoyable meal, we returned the way we had come… past the old gates of the city and through Marienplatz. Most of the pedestrian area was dedicated to the Christmas Market.

New City Hall

As we walked, we heard beautiful Christmas Music. One song would be by a children’s choir; the next played by an 0om-pah band; and then a male and female quartet. The music sounded “live” and we looked around for a stage. When we looked up at the New City Hall (which is over 100 years old), we spotted the three groups that were providing the wonderful music.

Musicians on the balconies

Returning to our hotel, we passed by a store with a window display dedicated to the “Star Wars” movies… and all the characters were built with Lego blocks.

R2-D2 in the flesh - er, Legos!

Now, back to St. Lukas. We rode the number 17 tram to Effnerplatz and got off at Mariannenplatz… not to be confused with Marienplatz. Recall that we had a three day pass and could ride any form of public transportation. Thus, we did not need to worry about figuring out the money and fares, and were left plenty of time and brain power to figure out the names of streets.

We arrived near the church an hour before our appointment and wandered around the neighborhood for a while. We stopped in a small store and quickly realized it was a health food store. I saw no meat, and most of the products were labeled “BIO”. We bought some trail mix, a couple of candy bars, and two pairs of 100% Alpaca wool socks (which don’t fit me – Lu wins on that one!) The cashier, recognizing us as American tourists, gave us a free plastic bag (they normally sell for 10 cents) and a bag of loose tea. (Lu wins again!)

St. Lukas Lutheran Church

St. Lukas Lutheran Church has a beautiful view of the Isar River.

Isar River near St. Lukas Church

Pastor Helmut Gottschling not only gave us a tour of his church, he also gave us a brief history lesson. First he explained that the area where the church was built in 1896 was a relatively new neighborhood populated by well-to-do families. The area had its own mayor and council who insisted that a very large and impressive church must be built to reflect the prosperity of the community. That goal was most certainly achieved.

He then tried to put the age of his church in perspective. As I recall, it was the oldest Lutheran church in Munich, but only the third or fourth oldest church of any kind. The Roman Catholic churches had been there longer, but one church in particular no longer existed.

It seems that when Hitler and the Nazis came into power, the leaders of the Christian churches were supposed to fall into lock-step with the National Socialist party. The Bishop who occupied the oldest church in Munich – while not going out of his way to defend the Jews or question the tactics of Hitler – was not enthusiastic enough (in the eyes of the Nazis) about the New Christian movement of the Nazis. Therefore, Hitler had his church razed and built a large boulevard through the area the church had once occupied.

Another thing Helmut told us regarded St. Lukas. When the Allies began bombing Munich in World War II, the oldest churches in the city removed all their stained glass windows and put them in crates somewhere underground to protect them. St. Lukas was barely fifty years old at the time and saw no reason to take such action. While the church did not suffer any direct hits, the concussion of bombs exploding nearby shattered every window in the building. For years, the parishioners believed that was the extent of the damage. Then, about five years ago, a large stone (weighing almost a ton) fell from the side of the church and landed in a children’s playground. Fortunately, it was at night and nobody was in the area.

It was later determined that the stone that fell, as well as many others, had been loosened by the bombing a half century earlier. It cost over 4 million Euros to inspect and repair the entire outside of the structure.

Pews - as seen from the balcony of St. Lukas

Another very interesting thing we learned was that the architect who designed St. Lukas had previously designed a Jewish Synagogue (that was later destroyed by the Nazis), and that following the war, Jews who visited St. Lukas said they almost felt at home.

Evidently, prior to the Nazis’ attempts to eradicate the Jews, the Jews in Germany were making every effort to “fit in”. They abandoned their traditional garb, shaved their beards, and spoke German rather than Yiddish. Following the war, they realized such attempts were in vain and returned to their traditional ways.

A number of important facts came out of our discussion with the Pastor. First of all, the Treaty of Versailles almost ruined Germany forever. The demands of the Allies – both monetary and territorial – put a tremendous financial burden on a nation that had virtually no way to pay down the debt. The Weimer Republic, established in 1919, tried to overcome the difficulties by simply printing more money. This led to hyperinflation and people hauling around their paper money in wheelbarrows – trying to spend it before it became totally worthless. It wasn’t long before the citizens of Germany gave up hope of ever seeing their country return to its pre-war grandeur. That hopelessness opened the door for Adolf Hitler and the Nazis, who offered hope for a better tomorrow.

Many Germans were more than glad to hop on the bandwagon, while others stayed back and questioned the tactics and promises.

It wasn’t long before the German people were divided into two camps, and neither trusted the other. All too soon, those who were against Hitler were afraid to voice their opposition; they’d seen what had happened to others, and they were afraid to trust their long-time friends.

When World War II ended, there were still those who fully supported Hitler and some continue to do so. In the meantime, the new government banned the swastika and all other emblems of the Nazi Regime. It is only in the last decade or so that Germany has begun to turn their shame into a resolve to never let it happen again. Dachu and other concentration camps have become museums and people openly discuss the evils that had once plagued their country.

This discussion and insight was not what we expected in our tour, and I may be editorializing about more than actually transpired, but I believe I’m accurate in my estimation of the Germany of today. Now, getting back to other things we learned.

Pastor Helmut Gottschling told us his church has over 6,000 members and they were all preparing for a concert to be held on the evening of December 18th. That is why there were risers in front of the altar.

St. Lukas altar in preparation for the Christmas Concert

Unfortunately, we weren’t able to stick around for the concert. Our schedule called for us to be in Nuremberg by then.

After thanking Helmut profusely for spending well over an hour with us, we returned to the tram stop and rode number 17 back to Karlsplatz. That returned us to the Pedestrian area in time to hear and see the Glockenspiel on the New City Hall.

The famous Glockenspiel

After examining some of the items for sale in the Christmas Market, we headed for the HaufBrau Haus – Munich’s most famous beer hall.

My bride and I at the HaufBrau Haus

Lu was especially interested in the oom-pah band.

A real German oom-pah band

I was more interested in the one-liter mugs of beer and king-sized pretzels.

Munich - My Kind of Town!

We ate lunch and made sure to savor their specialties. I had the Crisp roast knuckle of pork in natural gravy, served with a grated potato dumpling, and Lu had the Roast pork from Bavarian production with crackling in natural gravy, served with a grated potato dumpling. We had never tasted pork cooked either way and both were delicious. The dumplings were OK.

Surprisingly, neither Lu nor I took any photos of the Christmas Market booths. However, not to worry; we took pictures of Christmas Market booths in other cities. If you’ve seen one booth, you’ve seen them all!

Following lunch, we returned to the hotel for a while to warm up and set a spell. After a brief rest, we jumped on a tram headed out of the center city. We rode it to the end of the line when we were told we had to get off and catch a different tram back into the city.

What surprised me the most about that ride was that we saw far more apartment houses and condos than private homes. Perhaps that is true of every major city in the world. I just haven’t paid that much attention.

We were less than surprised when the “next” tram back into town was the same one we had just got off. I guess the conductor was just following proper protocol.

Later, in the late afternoon, we headed back to the market and grazed – I think. I’ll have to check with my bride. I don’t recall eating a meal in a restaurant.

There was one booth where they were frying potato pancakes. One man occasionally added lard to the griddle and then spooned out the batter in neat rows of eight or ten cakes along a four by two foot cooking surface. Another man would follow behind and turn four or six cakes at a time. As soon as he reached one end of the griddle, he’d return to the other end and start taking the cakes off and placing them on a grate which allowed some of the grease to drip off. The two men worked in harmony to keep the griddle constantly filled. In the meantime, a woman would place a wafer about the size of a graham cracker on a napkin and stack three cakes on it prior to adding the apple sauce. She immediately handed it to the next person in line.

I would’ve take a picture of this booth had I not been so impatient to get in line. I was lucky and was given four cakes instead of three. Lu began by just asking for a bite. She ate two of the cakes and I ate the other two. They were delicious.

By the way, for breakfast on this first, and only, full day in Munich, we found a coffee shop at the main train station that served wonderful pastries to go with our coffee and tea.

Later in the evening, we returned to the food booth at the entry of the Pedestrian zone.

Food booth by the skating rink

There we bought two bratwurst sandwiches and two bottles of water. Each sandwich had two wursts, and we had our choice of mild or spicy. Lu stuck to the mild; I had one of each. The big surprise was the deposit we were charged for the two plastic water bottles – 1 Euro apiece! We had about $2.75 tied up in empty plastic bottles. You can safely bet that we returned the empties and got our deposit back.

I should also mention that many booths in the Christmas Markets sold mulled wine and served it up in ceramic mugs. Those mugs carried a two and one-half Euro deposit. I’d say the Germans know how to get your attention when it comes to recycling. In fact, I don’t think we saw any sort of Styrofoam container during the entire trip.

We thoroughly enjoyed our “snack” as we watched ice skaters and a Zamboni on the rink behind the food stand.

By this time, a combination of a whole lot of walking and jet lag compelled us to call it a day. We took a couple more photos and returned to the hotel. The next day would have us taking the S-Bahn 8 back to the airport so we could catch the bus to the cruise ship waiting for us in Nuremberg.


Thank God for the Fleas

April 9, 2009

With the economy struggling and a newly elected President using his majority in the House and Senate to do things I question, I keep reminding myself to give it time. Just because Obama is doing things differently doesn’t mean he’s wrong. For the sake of us all, I pray that he’s right!

In trying to decide what to post today, I ran across an article I wrote in 1997. I’ll update it a bit, but leave the basic message as it is. The message? Thank God for the fleas.

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This Thanksgiving, I’ll be in London, England. I’ll be away from my loved ones and I doubt very much I’ll be able to find a turkey dinner with all the trimmings. I won’t be able to watch the traditional football games. I won’t even be able to get the day off from work. Yet, when I finally sit down for dinner, even if it’s nothing more than fish and chips, I’ll bow my head and say “Thank you, God, for the fleas.”

I’ll be stealing that prayer from a woman named Corrie Tin Boom who wrote a book entitled “The Hiding Place.” Corrie and her sister, Dutch Jews, survived a Nazi concentration camp. Her book tells of their experiences during World War II.

The sisters, like many Jews, were hidden by friends in a secret room. Eventually, the Nazis found them and sent them to a camp. The barracks in which they lived for the remainder of the war was infested with fleas. Every evening, during their prayers (which were against the Nazi rules and punishable by death), they would thank God for the fleas. Their thinking was that God had a reason for all things; whether or not they understood the purpose of the flea bites, there must have been a reason. Therefore, they thanked God.

Years later, the sisters met one of their former guards. In their conversation with him, he unwittingly disclosed how God had protected them from being discovered during their prayers. “None of the guards wanted to go near that building.” The former Nazi confided. “Those fleas were terrible!”

Thank God for the fleas.

Over the years, I’ve come to see many things as “fleas.” Fleas are the bad things that come with the good. We seldom understand the value of the bad things until years later. Some things we may never understand.

Last year at this time, I was between positions. That’s the fancy way of saying “out of work” or “unemployed.” For most of 1996, I was between positions. This year started off the same way. My friends, family, and I prayed constantly that I would find something. I had exhausted my savings, had borrowed heavily from friends and relatives, and was on the verge of losing everything. Then I got the phone call.

Since May, I’ve been working in Connecticut. I left for London in the beginning of October. I’ll be in London until the beginning of December. Then, it’ll be back to Connecticut. In seven months, I’ve been home less then four weeks.

I’m tired of living in hotels and eating at restaurants. I miss being able to sit down and relax in my own easy chair. I hate having to dial 30 or 40 numbers to talk to friends and family back home. Being on the road constantly is a royal pain in the butt. BUT, I thank God for the fleas.

I get paid by the hour (in September, I put in over 200 hours) and all my travel expenses are reimbursed. I’ve been able to repay most of my debts and, if the project continues, I’ll be able to put a good bit away for the next time I find myself “between positions.”

Last Christmas was painful for me. I have four children and two daughters-in-law. I like to make their Christmas merry by giving them things they really need or want. Last year, I couldn’t afford to give them much of anything. This year, thanks to the fleas, I’ll be able to give them much more.

The “fleas” of being away from home have shown me other things for which I’m very thankful. My best friend, Lu, has demonstrated just how wonderful and important she is to me. She has faithfully taken care of my dogs and our garden, and she has driven hundreds of miles to take me to, and pick me up at, the airport. She has kept my home looking better than it ever does when I’m around for any length of time. She even does the dusting!

I’m also thankful to my two oldest sons and their wives. They keep track of my schedule so we can get together during my infrequent visits home. Kenn uses e-mail to keep me up-to-date on my granddaughter, Rachel, and tells me he has a video of her that I’ll be able to see… eventually. Hopefully, I’ll be able to witness her first steps and her first words even if I’m out of town at the time of the momentous occasions. Thank God for modern technology!

We all go through trying times. Those difficulties are much easier to cope with if we can look beyond and try to find the blessings. If I find myself having a Thanksgiving meal of “bangers and mash” (a British meal of hot dogs and mashed potatoes) I’ll remind myself that I could be in Atlanta having a turkey dinner… compliments of Hosea Williams. Or I could be spending the night at one of the homeless shelters. Those thoughts will make it much easier for me to see the blessing of being able to pay for my own meal – regardless of what it is – and paying for my own lodging.

Those thoughts also put things in a much better perspective. Things could be far worse. My fleas are nothing compared to the problems faced by so many other people. Although some folks might find it more difficult to say, “Thanks for the fleas,” I think we can all benefit by looking for the hidden blessings in life. We have to take the good with the bad. When we can see the goodness in the bad, life is even better.

I’ll close this article by taking my prayer a step farther. Not only do I thank God for the fleas, I also thank God that I’ve been able to see the blessings brought by the fleas.


Holiday Luncheon Stories – Part 2

December 22, 2008

This story, about a woman I worked with at IBM, comes in two waves. We’ll begin with the life history she shared with me many years ago and then talk about the more recent events in her life.

Ivette Sudmalis Lakes was born in Latvia prior to World War II. As young girls, she and her sister were fascinated watching the fighter planes dog-fighting in the skies above their home. Their mother would have to run out and drag them inside – the little girls had no idea of the danger of stray bullets.

Ivette’s family struggled to get by during the years of Hitler’s advances but never considered leaving their homeland until the end was in sight. That’s when they realized their beloved country would be swallowed up by Russia. Evidently, they feared Russian domination more than the Nazis. Thus, they decided to flee.

Adolf and Elizabeth Sudmalis gathered up their daughetrs, Ivette and Irene, in the middle of the night and headed toward the railroad station. Somewhere along the way, Ivette fell and broke her arm. Adolf explained to his daughter that they didn’t have time to find a doctor; more importantly, regardless of how much her arm hurt, she could not cry out in pain no matter what they encountered during their journey.

The family crept into an empty box car and traveled unnoticed through the night. Ivette, with her terribly painful arm, kept silent and they made the trip without being discovered by the soldiers who were constantly checking for people traveling without permission.

Eventually the Submalis family arrived at a place where they could find safe passage to North America. While they had hoped to come to the United States, their safe passage took them to Canada – not bad for a ‘second’ choice.

At this point, I’m going to let Roger and Ivette Lakes tell the rest. The following is a letter they wrote to tell their friends and relatives their story.

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Faith, Hope & Love

Ivette’s family (her father, Adolph, mother, Elizabeth, and sister, Irene) came to the United States in 1950, after being forced from their homeland (Latvia) in 1944.  They applied for emigration to America.  But, after five long years of waiting, they were chosen for emigration only to Venezuela.  Then, just a short time before leaving for Venezuela, they were miraculously selected by the First Baptist Church in Franklin, Ohio – the church that Roger’s parents and their eight children had been attending for several years.

Roger had never had a serious date until after he graduated from high school in 1951.  He had seen this beautiful, blue-eyed blond in church and had remarked that she looked like a movie star – someone unapproachable by anyone like him.  Somehow he finally got the courage to speak to her and their romance blossomed quickly after that.  He had experienced “puppy love” before that, but she was the first girl with whom he was truly and completely in love.  They talked of their futures together and hoped to marry one day.

Then, in the latter part of 1952, they were both heart-broken when Ivette’s mother insisted that they stop seeing each other.  She wanted more for both of her daughters than getting married, until they had completed their education.  Shortly after this her family moved from Franklin to Cincinnati and Roger went to Chicago to attend Moody Bible Institute as a voice major.  They eventually lost contact with each other.  With their lives on different paths, they had no contact for the next 56 (fifty-six) years.

Roger’s wife of thirty years passed away January 31, 2007, and he had resigned himself to a single life.  But God had other unbelievably wonderful plans.

Roger was aware that many years ago his mother and Ivette had exchanged Christmas cards, but his mother hadn’t said much to him about that.  He also wasn’t aware until December 15, 2007, that, after his mother passed away in 1999, his sister, Barb, and Ivette had continued exchanging Christmas cards.  On that December day, Barb showed him a card she had recently received from Ivette.  He took the return address (which he still carries in his billfold) and was able to get her telephone number from an Internet search (thank God for the Internet!).  He called Ivette on January 12 and they talked that evening and every evening after that until February 5th (several conversations lasting more than 9 hours!).  They ended every phone conversation praying together that they might know God’s will for their lives.  During those conversations they set their wedding date, not having seen each other for 56 years.  They first met February 5th, when he came through Marietta, GA, on his way to Florida, and he finally was reunited with his teen sweetheart.  They became Husband and Wife before 70 close friends and family on May 17, 2008. GOD IS SO GOOD!

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When Ivette first told me about her childhood in Latvia, she was afraid she was boring me! I explained to her that stories such as hers are the kind we never hear… but need to hear in order to better understand war.

When it comes to war, all the chronicals are about the armies and political leaders – not about the innocent civilians who must cope with the surrounding chaos.

I’m so glad Ivette shared her stories with me… and thrilled that she has finally connected to the love of her life.

In the past week or so I’ve tried to keep my posts centered on the Christmas season. Since I believe the true meaning of Christmas is the love God has for us all, I think this story fits in nicely.

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Still looking for that perfect gift for the teacher or some other casual friends? Consider giving a pig, goat, turkey or chickens to a needy family in a developing nation in their honor. Check out God’s Global Barnyard listed in the links on the right of this screen.