Looking Back at 2016

I can only look back at 2016 along two different tracks, as it were.

One involves my personal situation, and turned out quite positive.
I finally, officially, disconnected myself from the Republic of Austria early in the year and got my residence permit for Germany. We got married in March (in a snowstorm, and in the most Romeo and Juliet of ways: bride, groom, and officiant. Which was planned that way. Not the snowstorm.) After a handful of unsuccessful auditions, I got a great offer to sing a great role in a production at a theater not so far away, allowing me to get home every weekend during rehearsals, and then, once the show opened, to live at home and travel there for performances. The role itself is something I once wasn’t sure I could sing, but — surprise! — I can. That involved a lot of work and no small amount of tears and doubt (omg I’m too old I never learned to sing right I should quit now) but I feel pretty good about it all now (and yes, I dearly wish I’d figured this all out 20 years ago, but that’s life).
In the same vein but on other fronts, I turned a side job in translation into something much more (also with hard work, persistence, and doubts — but not in the same, personal, way) and have now reached the point where I am turning down work. Christmas 2015, I was translating e-mails for some guy in India who most definitely underpaid me (and late at that), just grateful to get some work, and then spent the New Year translating power plant guidelines on unfamiliar software and an unfamiliar operating system, for some Dutch agency whose regular freelancers were all on vacation. But then I used that money to buy that software, and join a few associations, graduated out of the automated platform milieu and into the “agencies-with-actual-human-project-managers” milieu, and the work began to come in. Now, most months, my gross income from translation is higher than it was as a full-time theater employee, although the office work (invoices, taxes, e-mails) involves a lot more work spread out over the course of the day. Still, I continue to find it challenging and, dare I say it, fun, and it’s another thing I wish I had started years ago.
This new life in Germany also made it possible for me to fly home three times to see my family in 2016, something I had rarely been able to do before and which I want to take advantage of as much as possible. None of us are getting any younger, and I find it more and more important to make that trip when I can. That alone was worth the change in my employment status. I can now, finally, plan to do things outside of the summer!

The other look at 2016 involves the bigger picture, and it hasn’t been so pretty.

Politically, I can’t see where the political situations in the U.S. and Europe are heading. One tries to maintain hope that it won’t be so bad, but the main problem is that it’s very hard to guess what’s coming. Right now I feel very grateful to be in Germany and especially grateful that this country is able to downplay certain events, and keep them from spiraling into media angst-fests. But will this country, too, go further right at the next election?

We are, indeed, living in Interesting Times.

And the entertainment world has lost so very many lights this year. Maybe the Rapture did happen (and Harold Camping was off by four five and a half years), but not in the way any of us had understood it.

And with this bittersweet thought, I want to wish all my readers — those who’ve been around since 2007, those who visit, and perhaps comment, regularly (you know who you are!), to my 200+ (!) WordPress followers (I promise to try to write more travel-related posts!) and even to anyone who might be dropping in the for the first time — a very safe, healthy and happy 2017, all twelve months of it. Let’s keep looking out for each other, and give support and kindness, and not just when it is most needed. We may need each other now more than we know.

Posted in America, assimilation, Austria, blogs, christmas, comments, current events, Germany, health, holidays, Life Abroad, media, music, politics, singing, theater, travel | 4 Comments

Just Letting You Know, Austria

The US presidential election and its, um, aftermath has an Austrian connection. The president-elect has named one Betsy De Vos as Secretary of Education. Ms. De Vos, not a friend of public education, incidentally, has a brother named Erik Prince. He created Blackwater (now under new ownership and called Academi), the private mercenary army which had dealings in the Iraq War. In 2012 Prince had settled (temporarily, it seems) in Austria, ostensibly to avoid U.S. taxes, three years after David Duke did so. (I pictured them having beers together in some Carinthian beer hall, reminiscing about the good old days and how they dearly regret being born too late to have been Pimpfe.) Anway, dear Austrians,  we just thought you should know.

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First Class Gets The Red Carpet

I’m not actually a “train buff”, the kind that knows the arrival times of trains I’m not taking somewhere. I do ride them a lot, however, which means I am often in trains, stations, on platforms. Sometimes one sees interesting things.

For example, last month I was standing on a platform in Landshut, waiting for my train home, when a big steam locomotive with historic cars rolled in, courtesy of the Bavarian Railroad Museum. This is the sort of thing one is accustomed to seeing in Strasburg, PA, but at somewhat busy station of a small German city? I was impressed.

Then last weekend I again saw something I’d never seen before — in fact I hadn’t even known of it’s existence: the Majestic Emperator, the old imperial train of Austria-Hungary. It now takes tourists, much like the “Orient Express”; you can even rent it for special trips (just imagine).


Note the little red carpet

Note: if you want to impress as well as be impressed, should you ever book a ride on this thing, try to dress a little nattier, eh? The dozen tourists I saw board (taking each other’s photographs for their vacation pics), were just clad in your garden variety windbreakers-and-sneakers. All that wasted luxury!

Posted in Austria, Bavaria, Germany, history, Life Abroad, travel | 4 Comments

Soviodurum, and a Mysterious Stone Object


Roman knee and shin guards with intricate details

I had the chance to visit Straubing, a small town along the Danube in Lower Bavaria – basically I was there on business, but arrived a few hours earlier in order to see the Roman exhibit at the town museum. As Straubing (Soviodurum) was along the Limes and had a military station there, the museum had quite a bit to offer. Perhaps not as much as Passau or even Fliess in Tirol, but a nice exhibit nonetheless.


Head protection for Roman horses


Roman glassware found in Straubing, Bavaria

I had never considered whether the Romans used glass, since so often one sees only ceramics. The designs are downright modern.


A stash of coins hidden before the collapse

This found stash of coins, like many others discovered south of the Limes, reminds one of how it ended: things looked bad, treasures were buried, things indeed got very bad, and the owners never returned to the site to reclaim their property.

The photo below was made earlier and is not from Straubing. Knowing that I was going to be spending some time in Lower Bavaria, I had done a little advance research for any mention of early, pre-Roman history of the area, and stumbled across a fleeting reference to a schalenstein in the Passau Rathaus from 1899. ( I did wander a bit through the public areas of this town hall, but did not see anyone who looked like they might know what I was talking about if I should ask.) Later, however, I took a walk up to the fortress overlooking Passau and came across this.


What could this be?

Which is, well, technically, a schalenstein (it’s stone, and it has cup markings)
but to me looks more like something made much later. There are what appear to be charcoal markings inside. It is simply built into the wall in one of the towers, with no explanation.

Posted in archaeology, Bavaria, Germany, history, Roman roads, travel | 2 Comments

The Jewish Cemetery at St. Ottilien

Near the Ammersee lies a Benedictine Monastery named for St. Ottilien, or St. Odile of Alsace (A recounting of St. Odile’s life on Wikipedia reads somewhat like a season wrap-up of Game of Thrones.) If you find yourself near the small St. Ottilien train station, you will see a small enclosed garden whose iron gate bears a Star of David. This is the Jewish Cemetery.
In April 1941 the Gestapo confiscated the St. Ottilien Cloister and set up a reserve field hospital there. American troops liberated hospital, overfilled with almost 1,000 war injured, in 1945. Through the work of the Americans, about 450 gravely ill Jews liberated from concentration camps began to be brought to the hospital and nearby school buildings for medical care.
The US Army erected a Displaced Persons hospital, supervised by the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, here in May 1945 to handle the constant stream of former camp inmates. The patients were mostly surviving camp inmates and forced laborers from the Kaufering camp complex, and ill persons from the camp at Dachau and its sub-camps in the Landsberg/Lech area. A Jewish community existed on the cloister grounds, tending to its own religious life and customs, until the hospital was dissolved in 1948. These were people who congregated here, then, for lack of the health and strength to go home, or for lack of a home to go to. Some recovered, and some died in spite of treatment from Allied medics, and those are the people who were buried here.
65 people were interred in the cemetery between 1945 and 1948. The first gravestone, bearing a Star of David and nine names, was erected in 1945. By 1950 there were four memorials and twelve gravestones with names and texts in Hebrew, as well as an enclosing wall with its iron gate, and a bench. The gravestones were moved to the edges of the premises in 1968 after several exhumations and transferals of remains. Since 1972 the camp cemetery has held the remains of 46 camp inmates and nine forced laborers. The people resting here came from Germany, Hungary, Poland, Italy, France and Russia; most are known by name. According to the cemetery records at St. Ottilien, 10 of them belonged to Christian confessions:  one Evangelical Lutheran, one Reformed, three Orthodox Catholics and five Roman Catholics.

The camp cemetery in St. Ottilien is a protected cultural site, and its care is overseen by the Bavarian Memorial Foundation (Stiftung Bayerische Gedenkstätten.) The monastery publishes a small and inexpensive guide to the cemetery in both German and English, which includes explanations of the Hebrew tombstone inscriptions.

Posted in Bavaria, Germany, history, lives of others, memory, travel | 2 Comments

River Exploration

Cycling along the Ilz River on a free Sunday, I left the noise of traffic and small city life, rounded a curve…


…and found myself in France.


Actually, this is called Hals, it’s part of Passau, and gets its name (“neck”) from the narrowest part of land between the looping, meandering path of the Ilz before it flows into the Danube.


North of Hals, halfway to the reservoir, is the place where timber was collected off the river for further transport. The building holds a restaurant now, but the wooden footbridge over the water is still maintained as part of a nature trail (note: bicycling verboten). I wondered how the stone bases — still standing in the water — had been used, and found the answer in an old photograph. They held the barriers in place against the pressing logs.


Image from here.

This was how it was done throughout Germany until the railway and extended road networks took over the work.

Posted in Bavaria, Germany, history, nature, travel | 3 Comments

Some Days Nothing Goes As Planned

Mystical, or at least misty.

I had planned to tell you about biking to a bit of forest in Passauer Land where there are supposed to be Stone-Age cave drawings on giant boulders, but the excursion was plagued from the start. First, I kept getting lost on the way there. Then the last bit of road was a kilometer of 20% uphill. My phone’s camera steamed up, making pictures too foggy to be of much use. I found the stones but couldn’t make out a single image or form on them. Then my route back to town proved to be the worst I could have chosen, a two-lane with lots of traffic and lots of hills. It was one of those roads where, every time a car approached, it had to pass another car going in the opposite direction right where I was. Worried now about being late for work that evening, I rode into the next small town and hopped on the train one minute before it departed, and forgot to buy a ticket. (There, at least, I was lucky, and  wasn’t thrown off.)

But there is this, from a ride along the Danube last week:

IMG_2585The Danube ferry, about 10 kilometers upriver from Passau. If the ferry’s at the other bank, you press the button to ring the bell to summon it.

Posted in Bavaria, travel | 4 Comments

Circumitus: Batavis, Boiodurum


(The name actually refers to the bicycle route and is not, apparently, what the Romans called it.)

This posting hails from the other side of Bavaria, a “detour” onto the Roman road which follows the Danube and also the boundary separating the Roman Empire (in this case, the province of Raetia) from the Germanic Marcomanni to the north. This border is known as the Limes, and covered the lands on all sides of the Mediterranean Sea, in one form or another.


The Roman Museum in Passau is built on the site of one of the fortified structures from the Roman period, Boiodurum. This name, like many Roman sites in Germany is apparently of Celtic origin. There were people settled on Passau’s peninsula long before even the official founding date of Rome, but according to archaeological finds they were gone, or least no longer present in sufficient numbers (discontinuity), by the time the Romans arrived; no signs of destruction or conflict have been found either. This brings me to something I have been thinking about ever since I started looking at early European history: the way some history texts tell it, the reader can get the impression that the Romans simply arrived one day –  cutting through virgin land with their swords and putting down roads to get to their provincial capitals which had also just appeared out of thin air. Just as there had been settlements here before, and some infrastructure (mule paths over the Alps), there surely must have been some Roman presence here long before as well, even if only in the form of tradesmen or scouts. Polybius made remarks about the Raetians over a century before the transalpine road plans went into effect.


The museum found a creative way to present the Tabula Peutingeriana in a large enough size to actually read it.

There were plenty of Roman soldiers in this “three rivers” area, but other people as well, judging from excavation finds. Below is a type of “diploma” awarded to a Roman soldier after completing his 25-year service (if he survived that long). He got some money and a little set of engraved dog tags, threaded together with wire like a spiral notebook, according him privilege wherever he went. Did Claudius Paternus Clementianus of Epfach possess one of these? Probably.



Part of a roof tile found in the ruins of the Roman Boiodurum fortress at Passau, delightfully marred by a paw print before it was dry.

In Passau one may find a little light shed on the continuity of the place after the Romans withdrew. Roman troops at Boiodurum were among the last to stick it out along the Limes, after other frontier posts had already fallen. Eugippius says that a small group set out for Rome to collect the soldiers’ last pay but were killed by Barbarians, unbeknownst to those remaining and waiting for their return. Eugippius’ biography of St. Severinus mentions “people” – probably both Romans and Romanized Raetians – holing up together in Batavis (the fortified Roman settlement in Passau, on the hill where, not coincidentally, the Cathedral now stands) and defeating the invaders before being urged to leave for safety at Lauriacum (Enns). Eugippus also mentions St. Severinus founding a small monastery at “Boiotro”, most certainly using the existing Boiodurum fortress walls.


A last sign of the Roman Empire’s long march toward being the Holy Roman Empire: not St. Severinus, but the Holy Bishop Valentin of Noricum (Roman province of Salzburg), who came to Raetia as a missionary. The silver box below his image is said to hold his relics. My understanding of the “Dark Ages” seems to have been a little wrong until now – it was certainly chaotic, violent,  in flux, and certainly dark to live in — but not completely shrouded in misty Unknown. The information is there, you just have to look for it.

Posted in archaeology, assimilation, Bavaria, culture, Germany, history, Roman roads, travel | 4 Comments

In via: Abodiacum

There’s more to Epfach, an unassuming little village along the Lech, than first meets the eye. It’s a very, very old settlement, in fact. Older, even, then most German towns — Munich, for example, was first established in the 12th century. Epfach, apparently originally a Celtic settlement, was ideally situated to serve as a station along the Via Claudia Augusta in the Roman province of Raetia. It’s Roman name was Abodiacum, (or Abodiaco, as it’s found on the Tabula Peutingeriana).
The Tabula Peutingeriana, in fact, has two Abodiacos: they are the same village. It stands at the crossroads of two Roman roads : the Via Claudia Augusta, where it’s just after the  station ‘ad novas’ on the road out of Augusta Vindelicum/Augsburg, and the salt road that partly connected Lake Constance (Brigantium) to Salzburg (Iuvavum).
Visitors to Epfach will first see that the north-south road through town is marked as the Via Claudia. Right on this road stands the local museum, which provides information on Epfach’s Roman history, all in a space about as big as my living room. Of particular interest is an exhibit on Epfach’s first internationally renowned local homeboy, Claudius Paternus Clementianus.
CPC was a Celt with Roman citizenship through his father, which allowed him to serve in the Roman army as an officer. His career took him to Hungary, Romania, Judea (where he served as Procurator there just 80 years after Pontius Pilate held that job, long enough afterward to have probably never heard of him), Sardinia and Northern Africa, before he came home to retire and presumably spend his golden years fishing on the Lech and downing the local wines.

Tripoli, Libya - Roman Mosaic, National Museum, Fishermen

Tripoli, Libya – Roman Mosaic, National Museum, Fishermen

He may have had the good fortune to enjoy his twilight years secure in the belief that the Empire was strong. It was another hundred years before Alemanni tribes began sacking the settlement, followed by the Romans rebuilding it, in turns. The northern frontier (Limes) remained in operation until sometime in the 5th century C.E. Then again, as a Celt, maybe he would have been happy with the eventual outcome.

While Epfach is not on the Via Raetia, there is a connection nevertheless. The Tabula Peutingeriana, a Middle-Ages copy of a late Roman roadmap of the Empire, shows neither the Via Claudia Augusta nor the Via Raetia in their entireties, but rather an amalgam of the two — the route shown follows the VCA leaving Augusta Vindelicum/Augsburg until Epfach/Abodiaco, detours east on the above-mentioned salt road and then resumes its southward way on the newer Via Raetia at Urusa/Raisting (the next stop listed is Coveliacas, near the Staffelsee). This variant may have turned out to have been shorter, the easiest to maintain (the Via Claudia Augusta, in my opinion, goes over much more precarious mountain territory than the Via Raetia), or had better stations, or better connection, or a combination of any of that.

Aside from the museum (open every day, and if it’s not you can ask for the key at the restaurant next door), you can walk to the Lorenzberg, the hill where the Roman military station was located. Epfach seems to have geared its tourism to the Via Claudia cyclists, who can take a break at the restaurant, stop into the museum, walk off lunch with a short visit to the Lorenzberg, and then continue on their way.

Posted in archaeology, art, Bavaria, Germany, history, lives of others, Roman roads, travel | 3 Comments

A Idea of Mine

I have a confession to make. Beyond all the other things I am doing right now – singing, translating, assisting in a bookselling business – I have a project in mind for the future. I want to put together a guidebook for the Via Raetia.
There are guides and books for following the Via Claudia Augusta, the first Roman-made road to cross the Alps in this region, but I have yet to find a modern tourist guide in English for it’s younger sister, the Via Raetia. The Via Claudia has an “official” route which one can follow ona bike, and much of it may accurately follow the old road. The Via Raetia does not, and here you can see why:

Clearly one can’t just go traipsing across private property, let alone tell others to do so.

Walking, cycling, sights along the way, history, archaeology, culture, on the route between Augsburg and… well, how comprehensive do I want this to be? I could keep it within Bavaria (Augsburg to Mittenwald) or publish installments (Part 2, North Tyrol from Mittenwald to the Brenner Pass, Part 3 Italy: Brennero to Verona). Even if I had no other work, this would take a few years of research, travel, exploration. I’m not sure I’ll ever get to do it. (Note to any publishing houses: I’m here, “boots on the ground”, if you are considering something along these lines from a distance.)

But all this will have to wait another year at least, because for professional reasons I am going to be spending a considerable amount of time at the other end of Bavaria, namely closer to the Czech border.

Image from Google maps.

Posted in archaeology, culture, Germany, history, Italy, Life Abroad, literature, memory, travel | 5 Comments