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The Observer Paper 10/22/14

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Being open and ready for anything

Vienna, Austria, is home to the world’s largest Ferris wheel, above, located in Prater Amusement Park, formerly the royal hunting grounds and twice the size of Central Park in New York. It was built in 1897, and stands 212 feet.
Vienna, Austria, is home to the world’s largest Ferris wheel, above, located in Prater Amusement Park, formerly the royal hunting grounds and twice the size of Central Park in New York. It was built in 1897, and stands 212 feet.
 

For the last few months I have been sharing with you places and events from our river trip through Central Europe last Christmas season. There were some experiences or sights that didn’t fit into any of the other columns, so I will share those with you now. 

In Bratislava, Slovakia, we saw probably the world’s narrowest house. It dated from the end of the 18th century and was constructed in a space that had been created for sentries to pass between the city wall and the tower. When the walls were later being demolished the space was available, so the 130 cm (51.1811 inches), three-story house was built. That is 3 inches narrower than a double bed. It still serves as a home today.

Many of us remember the first heart transplant in December 1967, in Cape Town, South Africa, and what a miraculous event that was. The first in the United States was three days later. But in July 1968, the first European heart transplant was performed. I doubt that any of us remember reading about that, and if we did we would have been surprised to learn it was in Bratislava, Slovakia.

In Vienna, Austria, we saw the world’s largest Ferris wheel (Riesenrad) located in Prater Amusement Park, formerly the royal hunting grounds and twice the size of Central Park in New York. It was built in 1897, and stands 212 feet. It is not like any other wheel that I have seen — this one has 15 cabins, quite spacious and some elegantly decorated, instead of seats. 

Vienna is also the home of the magnificent Lipizzaner Stallions and although we didn’t see them perform we did get to be a part of something that is unusual for tourists. We were in the covered viewing hall looking into the area where the horses are cared for when five of the horses were being transferred from their stalls to the practice arena across the street. It was exciting to be up close and personal with these beautiful animals. Lipizzaners live the blue-blood life in a stately old building with white marble floors that literally sparkle under the hay. I learned that the colts are born with black hair and lighten each year until they are 6 or 7. Then, as adults, they have a white coat of hair over their black skin. This means they are not true white horses, which have pink skin.

Being a member of a church in Germany is quite different from being a member in the United States. For one thing there is a religious tax that is assessed with the income tax and can amount up to 9 percent for Catholics, Protestants and Jews. The tax is well monitored. One may declare to be an atheist, but that is quite a task and requires much paperwork. If that is accomplished, then there is no longer the possibility of a church wedding, baptism, funeral or burial in the church yard. It also affects their employment or use of schools, kindergartens and hospitals that are church connected. Our guide in Passau said that many of the younger people are either non-believers or leave the church in order to save money, but the older people are still firm in their beliefs and church membership. Whatever the cause, this is a difficult situation for both the church and the people. Our guide showed us a church that made a huge impression on me. She referred to it as the “church of suffering and pain” and it was located on a hill with 365 steps up to it. The idea was for parishioners to crawl on their knees one step at a time for nine steps saying their Hail Marys and on the 10th step say the Lord’s Prayer. Her grandmother, as do many others, makes this climb every Saturday and then goes to confession. In recent years, they have put a cover over the steps to shelter them from rain and snow.

Emotions of all kinds were experienced on this trip — from the goodness and kindness of the people to the knowledge of evil that Hitler imposed on them and their relatives. We visited the Rally Grounds in Nuremburg where Hitler held six Nazi party rallies between 1933 and 1938. The grounds and buildings were created to show the National Socialist power to the world. The massive size and architecture of the grounds suggested to the rally visitor “that he was participating in something major and significant, while at the same time he was made to realize his own insignificance.” We went into the ruins of Congress Hall, a building inspired by the Coliseum in Rome, intended to be a congress center providing seating for 50,000 with the purpose being the location of one major speech a year. The ruins were impressive although the building was never completed as the budget for the whole building was spent on the foundation and facade. The grounds is a place of much beauty that holds horrible memories of tragic historical events and while it has fallen into a dangerous ruin it is protected as a historical landmark and cannot be destroyed. Just this last August, the city of Nuremburg voted to spend 70 million Euro to restore it. 

And then there was one incident that made me realize how closely connected we all are in this big wide wonderful world. One evening at dinner, I was seated next to a woman who was an artist and sculptor from the east coast. During our conversation she asked me where I lived in Oregon and then commented that she liked La Grande and had in fact designed and created the orbs in front of the science building at Eastern. 

Now what are the chances of that? I had never seen her on the boat before that evening and I never ran into her again.

In our daily lives as well as our travels we need to be open and ready for anything as there is so much from which to learn and to appreciate. Make this a year to remember. Enjoy!

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