Germany 2012

In May of 2012, we traveled to Germany to visit the town where Susan's family can be traced all the way back to the 13th century. The trip also includes a visit to Amsterdam and Vienna. The following videos are some of the highlights from the trip.

Amsterdam Canal Cruise
Video 3 of 30 from Brad and Sue's Germany 2012 vacation.

Amsterdam is the largest city of the Netherlands, with a population of 2.2 million within the entire metropolitan area.

Amsterdam has existed since the 13th century, and is named after the Amstel River which runs through the city. When a dam was built on the river, the city was called Amstel and Dam, which later became Amsterdam.

Amsterdam has been called the Venice of the North for it's more than 60 miles of canals and 1,500 bridges. The canals were built in the 17th century, primarily for defense, transportation of goods, and for water management. At night the locks are closed and fresh water is pumped in to flushes the dirty water through the open locks and out into the harbor.

The canal cruise takes us past many Amsterdam attractions, including The Rijks Museum, built in the late 19th century with Rembrandt's Night Watch as one of the many attractions, The Ann Frank House, The Shipyard Museum, The Maritime Museum which includes a modern reconstruction of the 18th Century ship Amsterdam - owned by the Dutch East India Company, The Heineken Brewery, and numerous restaurants and bars. But if you want coffee, go to a cafe. Coffee shops are where they sell marijuana.

Keukenhof Gardens
Video 5 of 30 from Brad and Sue's Germany 2012 vacation.

Keukenhof Gardens is about 30 miles southwest of Amsterdam next to the town of Lisse.

Keukenhof Gardens is the world's largest flower garden, with 7 million flower bulbs planted annually in the 79 acre park. These bulbs are donated by local growers. The garden is open annually to the public from mid-March thru mid-May.

The name Keukenhof means kitchen garden. It is located on the former hunting grounds of a nearby castle. The original garden provided herbs for the castle's kitchen, thus the name kitchen garden.

Keukenhof Gardens was established in 1949 by the mayor of Lisse to present a flower exhibit where growers from all over the Netherlands could show off their hybrids and help the Dutch export industry.

In addition to the outdoor gardens, there are also five buildings that display flowers indoors, such as the orchid building that we visited towards the end of our tour. There are 9 miles of walking paths, 5 restaurants, 6 souvenir shops, 3 flower bulb sales outlets, a lake filled with swans, a windmill, and 125,000 slices of apple pie.

Of course the main attraction is the 1,600 varieties of flowers.

Gutenberg Museum
Video 10 of 30 from Brad and Sue's Germany 2012 vacation.

Johannes Gutenberg was born in Mainz in the year 1397. Situated on the banks of the Rhine River, Mainz was then a town of some 6,000 residents. At the time, most books like the Bible were copied by hand. It took about 3 years for copyists to produce one Bible. Gutenberg was an experienced metalworker. He discovered that printing could best be achieved with movable letters made of metal. He invented a method of casting molds for all 26 letters of the alphabet, along with upper and lower case letters, punctuation marks, signs, and numbers. This movable type could then be placed on a printing press in a relatively short period of time for printing on paper. In the 3 years it took for a copyist to produce one Bible by hand, Gutenberg's printing press could produce about 180 Bibles.

The first Gutenberg Bible was completed in 1455. Each Bible was in 2 volumes, had 1,282 pages with 42 lines to a page, printed in two columns. The ornamental hand-painting of the headings and the first letter of each chapter were done later outside Gutenberg's workshop.

Gutenberg's invention spread rapidly. By the year 1500, there were printing presses in 60 German towns and 12 other European countries. Gutenberg's printing press revolutionized communication, similar to how the Internet has revolutionized communications today. His invention, however, was more than just a faster way to print books. It also fueled a revolution, which marked the beginning of the end of the spiritual dark ages.

Some 70 years after Gutenberg's invention, Pope Leo X began to raise money to finance the renovation of St Peter's Basilica in Rome. He did this by the sale of indulgences. An indulgence was a legal document signed by the Pope that would buy a person's way out of Purgatory and into heaven - a sort of get-out-of-jail free card, only it wasn't free.

Martin Luther was an Augustinian monk and a Catholic priest. Even as a young man he began questioning various Catholic teachings that to him contradicted what he was learning through his study of the scriptures. At the time, a Bible was expensive to purchase, and was only available in Latin, an ancient language that was no longer used by the common people. With little understanding of Bible truths, the common people were at the mercy of the Church to tell them what God required.

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed to the church door at Wittenberg 95 theses exposing wrong teachings of the church, which included harsh criticism of the sale of indulgences. Luther's study of the scriptures taught him that salvation was a FREE gift from God that could only be achieved by exercising faith in Jesus' ransom sacrifice. Nobody can buy their way into heaven, and the Pope had no authority to charge money for everlasting life. Then in 1520 Luther published the pamphlets "An Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation," "The Babylonian Captivity of the Church," and "The Liberty of Christian Man." Each became stronger in criticism of the Church and the Pope.

There were of course critics of the Church prior to Martin Luther. However, the Church could easily silence a critic by labeling him a heretic, which often carried a death sentence. Martin Luther had a new weapon not available to those who came before him. He had the power of the press to spread his ideas to the masses. In addition to printing his sermons on the newly invented Gutenberg press, he also translated and printed the Bible in the common tongue of the German people. Thus, Gutenberg's printing press was instrumental in fueling the 16th-century Reformation. No wonder Luther described the printing press as God's way "to spread the true religion throughout the world."

Rhine River Cruise
Video 11 of 30 from Brad and Sue's Germany 2012 vacation.

While visiting the city of Koblenz in Germany, we took a cruise on the Rhine River. The cruise took us upstream to the town of Rüdesheim, past numerous medieval castles, a number of vineyards, and quaint little German towns.

Our river boat is another hop-on hop-off cruise, similar to the canal boat ride we took in Amsterdam. The hop-on hop-off feature means the boat stops to let passengers on and off to see the various towns along the way. You can hop-on the boat in one town, hop-off in another town, walk around to see the sights, and then hop-on the next boat to cruise to the next town, and so on. We stayed on the boat for 6 hours, hopped-off in Rüdesheim to see the sights, and then rode the train back to Koblenz. The boat has several dinning rooms where we can have lunch, snacks, drinks, and desert along the way.

The Rhine River originates in the eastern Swiss Alps, flows north through France and Germany, and then into the North Sea in the Netherlands. It is the longest river in Germany at about 766 miles. The Rhine and the Danube river formed most of the northern inland frontier of the Roman Empire and has since been a vital waterway carrying trade goods to the interior of Europe. Cities on the Rhine include Mainz, Koblenz, Bonn, Cologne, Düsseldorf, and Rotterdam.

The cruise also took us by the famous Loreley, a 390 foot cliff on the eastern bank of the Rhine River which marks the narrowest part of the river between Switzerland and the North Sea. Strong currents and rocks below the waterline make it difficult to navigate, resulting in many shipwrecks.

Castles featured along the route:

  • Stolzenfels Castle: This castle was built around the year 1248 by the Archbishop of Trier, Arnold von Isenburg.
  • Marksburg: This fortification is assumed to have been built around the year 1117 by a noble free family von Braubach under Emperor Heinrich V.
  • Sterrenberg Castle: This castle was founded in the 11th century as an Imperial castle, later used in 1190 by the Bolanden family.
  • Liebenstein Castle: This neighbouring castle was built 80 feet higher by a son-in-law of the Bolanden family in the 13th century.
  • Maus Castle (Deuernburg): This castle was built around 1356 by the Archbishop of Trier, Boemund II.
  • Rheinfels Castle and Fortress: This castle was built around 1245 by Count Diether V, who imposed a toll on all boats traveling by his castle on the Rhine River. The Rhenish Town Alliance took this as an excuse to besiege his new castle for one year and 14 weeks, without success.
  • Katz Castle: This castle was built around 1371 by Count Wilhelm II.
  • Schönburg: This castle was built sometime between 966 and 1141. Roman bricks in the oldest part of the castle's brickwork suggests remnants of an earlier Roman building were used as building material.
  • Gutenfels Castle: This castle was built around 1200 by the Imperial Ministers of Falkenstein. King Wilhelm of Holland wanted to expand his power and unsuccessfully besieged the castle in 1252.
  • Pfalzgrafenstein Castle: Perhaps the most interesting castle which resembles a ship made of stone, this castle was built by King Ludwig, the Bavarian, on a rock cliff in the middle of the river in 1327 to collect shipping tolls. A chain across the river forced ships to submit, and uncooperative traders could be kept in the dungeon until a ransom was delivered. The King lived in constant dispute with Pope John XXII because of the high tolls.
  • Stahleck Castle: Built around 1100, this castle was made the centre of the Palatinate county in 1142.
  • Fürstenberg Castle: This hill slope castle was built in 1219 by the Archbishop of Cologne, Engelbert I.
  • After seeing all of these castles high up overlooking the river, we get a better understanding of why the Bible uses the term mountain to symbolize government. Ancient rulers built fortifications high up on top of hills for strategic reasons. Isaiah 2:3 says: 'And many peoples will certainly go and say, come, you people, and let us go up to the mountain of Jehovah.' People in ancient times who saw their rulers living high up the hill in their castles would understand that the 'mountain of Jehovah' is symbolic for the Kingdom of God.

    Video 12 of 30 from Brad and Sue's Germany 2012 vacation.

    The town of Rüdesheim is a small winemaking town on the east bank of the Rhine River and is a popular tourist attraction. This video features a visit to Siegfried's Mechanisches Musikkabinett which is a museum for old data-storage musical instruments.

    Rittersdorf - Propson History
    Video 13 of 30 from Brad and Sue's Germany 2012 vacation.

    They came for a variety of reasons. They came to escape population pressure, religious persecution, poverty, and famine. America was the new world, a place with new jobs, cheap land, a chance for a new start in life, a place where they could be free. The new steam powered ships made the voyage faster and cheaper. From the mid-1800s to the early 1900s, nearly 25 million Europeans made the voyage.

    Germans made up a huge percentage of European immigrants. Between 1850 and 1930, about 5 million Germans immigrated to the United States, with a peak in the years between 1881 and 1885, when a million Germans left Germany and settled mostly in the Midwest. Today, some 50 million people living in the United States claim to have German ancestry, or 17% of the U.S. population, which is the country's largest self-reported ancestral group. Upper Midwestern states such as Minnesota and Wisconsin have the highest proportion of German Americans at over one-third.

    Mathias Propson, was born in Rittersdorf Germany on October 6th, 1840. The Propson family in Rittersdorf can be traced all the way back to the 1200s. The Propsons worked in the timber industry.

    In the 1870's Mathias Propson and three of his cousins, along with his future wife Barbara Vieh immigrated to the United States. Mathias and Barbara were married in Chicago in 1874. They had 10 children.

    Their 5th child, Albert, was born in Calumet County, Wisconsin on April 23, 1886. Calumet Country is a strip of land between lake Michigan and the eastern shore of Lake Winnebago, just across the lake from Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

    Albert was a farmer and a brick layer. He married Louise Schwobe on January 10th, 1911. They had two children, Sylvester and Erasmus. Sylvester was born on October 29th, 1911.

    Sylvester, or Sy as everyone called him, moved to Madison Wisconsin to go to the University and became a pharmacist. His parents were not happy that he wanted to leave the farm. He married Lorna Zemkee on September 14th 1934 in Waukegan, Illinois. They lived in Madison and Lacrosse, and then settled in Oshkosh where he owned Propson Pharmacy. Lorna owned and operated Lori's Beauty Shop for many years. She was also a registered nurse. They had two children, Gail and Richard.

    Richard Propson was born on September 17th, 1937. He married Gloria Pfeil who was also a German descendent from Oshkosh. They had 4 children, Susan, Mark, Gregg, and Curt. Richard and Gloria moved to Princeton, Minnesota.

    Beethoven Museum
    Video 17 of 30 from Brad and Sue's Germany 2012 vacation.

    Ludwig van Beethoven was born on December 16, 1770 in Bonn, Germany. Beethoven's musical talent was obvious at a young age. His father Johann, who was his first musical teacher, wanted him to be a child prodigy, just like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart some 14 years earlier. Mozart was only 5 when he began composing and performing for European royalty. Johann wanted the same fame for his son. Beethoven's first public performance was at age 7, and his first composition was published at age 12.

    At age 13, Beethoven began working for the Royal Court of Bonn and Cologne, where he wrote his first three piano sonatas.

    At the age of 16, Beethoven traveled to Vienna for the first time, apparently in the hope of studying with Mozart. Some claim the two met and that Beethoven was able to perform for Mozart. There is no proof, however, that this meeting ever took place. Whether or not they actually met, after just two weeks in Vienna, Beethoven learned that his mother was severely ill, and returned home to Bonn. His mother died shortly thereafter, and his father lapsed deep into alcoholism. As a result, Beethoven became responsible for the care of his two younger brothers, and he spent the next five years in Bonn.

    Beethoven moved to Vienna at the age of 21 to study with Joseph Haydn. Mozart had died a year earlier at the age of 35. Beethoven also studied with Antonio Salieri who was the director of the Italian opera under the Habsburg Court. A highly fictionalized depiction of Salieri was portrayed in the 1984 movie Amadeus.

    Beethoven eventually went on to become one of the most famous and influential composers of all time. His work includes 9 symphonies, 5 works for soloist and orchestra, 11 concertos, 9 overtures and incidental music, 16 string quartets, 10 violin sonatas, 32 piano sonatas, 5 cello sonatas , one opera, a number of choral and vocal pieces, and numerous other short pieces for piano and various string and wind instruments.

    What sets him apart from other great composers is that he was a pivotal figure in the transition form the 18th century musical classicism to the 19th century romanticism. Great composers are the ones who can take a particular style of music to the next level. Beethoven took it a step further by influencing music to move away from the strict form and structure of classical music into the free flowing anything goes approach that is the romantic period.

    Perhaps, however, Beethoven is most famous for being able to compose some of the world's greatest masterpieces after going completely deaf. He began losing his hearing at age 26. He suffered from a ringing in his ears that made it hard for him to hear music. By the age of 41 he stopped performing in public. There is a well-attested story that, at the end of the premiere of his famous Ninth Symphony, he had to be turned around to see the thunderous applause of the audience because he could not hear anything.

    Beethoven died at the age of 57, but his music lives on. Musicians today continue to play his music, even giving it a new sound with a modern twist.

    We had a chance to visit his childhood home at the Beethoven Museum located in Bonn where some of his instruments are on display. The Museum contains a selection of more than 150 original documents form the time Beethoven spent in Bonn and Vienna. The museum also has a display of some of the hearing aids that he used.

    German History Museum
    Video 18 of 30 from Brad and Sue's Germany 2012 vacation.

    Another museum located in Bonn is the House of the History of the Federal Republic of Germany. This museum presents German history from 1945 until the present.

    The museum puts special emphasis on the orientation of visitors and a vivid presentation of historical events. Under the slogan “Experience History”, the concept is to draw attention to historical objects and make them come alive through the use of historical film and sound recordings.

    Perhaps the most significant event in German history since the end of WW II is the building of the Berlin Wall, which divided the country for some 28 years until it was torn down in 1990. The literal bricks in the wall on display symbolize the end of communism, not just for East Germans, but for all of Eastern Europe.

    I noticed allot of school aged kids going through the museum in large groups, probably as part of some school field trip. The museum did not appear to be a tourist trap for American tourists. Instead, I got the impression it was designed to teach German youth about their past, both the good parts and the bad.

    Video 22 of 30 from Brad and Sue's Germany 2012 vacation.

    While visiting Vienna, we are staying at the Hotel Kaiserin Elisabeth, located in the old historical part of the city. This 4 story hotel was recently completely renovated and has all the modern conveniences including air conditioning, flat screen TV, and high speed internet access.

    Once again, I am surprised at the size of the rooms, bigger than many I have stayed at in the U.S. The ceilings appear to be 12 feet, with 10 foot doorways.

    The hotel has a long list of famous historical figures who have stayed at the hotel, including Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in 1767. The original hotel dates back to the year 1348.

    In later years, the hotel was re-named after Elisabeth Amalia Eugenia, the Duchess of Bavaria, who married her cousin, Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria in 1854, to become the Empress of Austria at age 16.

    Vienna is a city filled with buildings dating back centuries. We are fascinated walking around looking at all of the different architectural and ornamental designs.

    The City's roots lie in early Celtic and Roman settlements. Evidence of early Celtic life can be found as far back as 500 BCE. The Romans built a fortification in 15 BCE to guard against Germanic tribes to the north. During the Middle Ages, Vienna was home to the Babenberg dynasty, and then the Habsburg dynasties.

    After World War I, Vienna became capital of the first Austrian Republic. The Republic ended in 1938 when it became part of Hitler's Third Reich. After World War II, Vienna was divided into four sectors and occupied by the four victors of the war, the U.S., the British, the French, and the Soviets. In 1955, the Soviets agreed to give up their occupation zones and allow Austria to become independent, in exchange for a permanent neutrality clause. That meant Austria could neither become a member of NATO, nor align with the Soviet bloc.

    Vienna is called the City of Music because of its musical legacy. I call it the Nashville of Classical Music. Famous composers who lived and worked here include Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig Van Beethoven, Johannes Brahms, Johann Strauss, Franz Schubert, and Gustav Mahler.

    Along with classical music and opera, art and culture have a long tradition in Vienna. Gustav Klimt is one of a long list of world class artists who worked here. There are over 100 art museums in Vienna.

    Vienna is also said to be The City of Dreams because it was home to the world's first psycho-analyst - Sigmund Freud.

    But Vienna is not all about ancient history. The city is very much modern as well. In a 2005 study of 127 world cities, the Economist Magazine ranked Vienna first, in a tie with Vancouver Canada, for quality of life.

    Vienna Panoramic City Tour and the Danube River
    Video 24 of 30 from Brad and Sue's Germany 2012 vacation.

    In this video, we take the Panoramic City Tour, which takes us up into the hills overlooking Vienna to get a panoramic look at the entire city from above. The route takes us past houses where Albert Einstein and Beethoven once lived, as well as the Artist's Colony where Alma Mahler-Schindler and Gustav Klimt once lived.

    Beethoven actually lived in many different apartments over the years. His landlords kept evicting him for being a lousy tenant. He was loud, disorderly, and prone to violent temper tantrums. He played at night keeping other tenants awake. He had a habit of pouring cold water over himself, causing the tenants in the apartment below to suffer miniature floods as a consequence. There are 27 documented Beethoven residences in Vienna, although he may have occupied as many as 60 during his 35 years in the city.

    On top of one of the hills, we stopped at a cafe to take pictures of the panoramic view. Vienna has a population of over 1.7 million. Counting the entire metropolitan area brings the population up to 2.4 million. It is the capital and largest city in Austria with more than 25% of Austria's population.

    The bus then takes us down to the Danube river, where we hop on a boat to cruise one of Europe's most famous rivers. The Danube originates in the Black Forest of Germany and flows southeast for 1,785 miles, passing through central Europe, through Vienna, Bratislava, and Budapest, before emptying into the Black Sea in Romania and the Ukraine.

    Since the completion of the German Rhine-Main-Danube Canal in 1992, the river has been part of the trans-European waterway from Rotterdam on the North Sea to Sulina on the Black Sea. Numerous River Boat cruises are available to take tourists from the Netherlands, upstream on the Rhine River through Germany, through the canal over to the Danube River, and then downstream through Vienna, Budapest, and beyond. Dick and Gloria took one of these River Boat cruises in 2004. Much like an ocean going cruise ship, these river boats act as floating hotels, taking passengers from city to city, with daily stops to allow for excursions, sight seeing, and shopping.

    After a ride on the Danube river, we went through a lock, which lowers the water level 4 meters, and then into the Danube Canal. This canal is a former arm of the actual Danube river which borders Vienna's city centre. It was originally a natural tributary of the Danube river. Beginning in 1598, it was regulated as a water channel and modified even further in the 1800s to control flooding. It is now an attractive recreational area for tourists, and for local residents.


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