In a world still struggling to come to terms with a whole host of “new normals,” I feel extremely privileged to live in a country that has the virus mostly under control. In celebration of that fact, T and I (reunited after nearly four months apart) planned a long weekend across the top of Germany to meet up with a variety of friends, family, business associates, and also to just take a peek at places we might want to visit at greater length in the future. Germans, famously international in their travels, have been looking closer to home for outings this season, and in that spirit, the next few blogs will focus in on the surprising and beautiful features we found traveling from Hamburg in the west to Greifswald in the east near the Polish border.
Our first stop was Glückstadt (“Luck City”) for a family reunion with T’s brother and his family, including our delightful niece J who is about to make us grand-uncle and aunt. This family was the intrepid trio that witnessed our wedding three years ago; it’s a happy event to finally meet them on their home turf. Glückstadt, now a quiet little burg of 11,000 souls or so’ was initially founded on March 22, 1617 by Christian the IV of Denmark, then the Duke of Holstein as well, as evidence by this attractive (?) memorial.
Chris IV was quite a guy and worth a quick read if you are so inclined. He held the Danish throne for nearly 60 years, a record that still stands. He had imperial ambitions and was eager to consolidate power in Scandinavia and the Prussian/Baltic region. At the time he founded Glückstadt, the King/Duke promised the inhabitants a heady combination of tax exemption and freedom of religion; as a result the town quickly became a major trading center and serious competitor to Hamburg, some 30 miles (45 km) to the southwest. This seems almost laughable today – Hamburg has nearly two million inhabitants – but at the time Glückstadt was a significant economic and political force to be reckoned with for decades if not centuries and actually became the capital of Holstein in the late 1800s.
One way to understand the pride and intention of the city founders is to look at a map of the town center:
Unlike loads of villages in the area and across Germany, where little houses meander along the road with a church here or there, this town was clearly designed and executed to take advantage and command of its setting on the River Elbe and to signal a kind of civic and political superiority to its neighbors. Below is a shot taken in the city center, or the Glückstadt Marktplatz, as it’s labeled above:
This imposing structure, punching a good deal over its weight for a standard village, is the Rathaus or city hall, complete with the obligatory Keller. It stands immediately next door to the Christian IV on the left in this photo, which is currently an inn and restaurant. If I were to turn around at this moment, behind me is the village church – I couldn’t get a good shot of the whole building, but here’s the tower with Christian’s logo – an anchor. This is, not surprisingly, the oldest building in town.
Sadly, it was too early in the morning to actually enter the church, and indeed it still may be closed. But when I looked at the church doors, I saw something very curious and went closer to investigate:
Pinned to the door is a sign that reads “Good words for bad times. Please take one with you. Consolation, reflection, serenity, peace, confidence, and hope.” Attached by a string are individual rolled notes, probably containing some comforting words and perhaps a piece of Scripture (I refrained from taking one.) I almost cried, though. What a charming gesture from a building that had to remain closed for so long but from a pastoral team that was clearly aware of what the members might be experiencing..
Nearby was an information sign that showed me something completely new. As a bit of background, I am originally a Californian by birth and education and learned very early about the trail forged by the Spanish padre Father Junipero Serra and his colleagues who planted a series of mission churches roughly a walking day apart all the way up the California coast in the 18th century. In these days of BLM and removing symbols of cultural oppression, it’s a bit uncomfortable to reflect on how many local lives were most probably lost as a result of this cultural and religious “invasive species,” but in my day those ardent friars were proclaimed as light unto the unsaved. In a similar but perhaps less epidemiologically destruction fashion, the sign below illustrates the “Mönchsweg,” or Pilgrim’s Path, a 340 km (211 miles) trail that had been followed by the monks who brought Christianity to the region. Now a bike trail, this route leads from near the west coast of Schleswig Holstein across to the east coast on the Ostsee, giving the modern “pedaling pilgrim” a chance to see small byways, villages, old churches, and nature reserves that have changed little, perhaps, since they were seen or established in the Middle Ages.
Sadly time was running short so T and I took a final quick stroll around the rest of the town before we had to leave for our next destination. Along the canal that runs to the River Elbe, we saw these charming houses with hollyhocks:
What struck me throughout this visit – and you will see it extend into the next stop – is the strong Danish connection. This town – and all of Germany from Hamburg up to the current Danish border – WAS Denmark until 1864. The political borders we see today are merely the result of recent wars and conveniences….but as I moved through the weekend, I saw and felt the fingerprints of many other countries and cultures in this stretch of modern-day Germany, often overlooked by international travelers.
As not to end on a sober note, heading out of town on our way to Schleswig, we saw this charming front “nameplate” of a local family doctor’s medical practice…and if this doesn’t calm your medical jitters, nothing will…
On that note, it’s time to mooooove along now…the next installment is coming soon.