Thursday, December 22, 2016

Calling All Idgits

So I was searching the newspapers of for the name “Hammerand” because a woman from St. Louis by the name of Emilie Hammerand was arrested in Vienna in 1934 after the Nazi assassination of Englebert Dollfuss, the Austrian prime minister. She, the wife of an Austrian who owned Vienna’s Hotel Hammerand, was charged with transporting messages between Munich Nazis and Austrian Nazis. How, I wondered, did this American woman end up assisting the Nazis?  

Unfortunately, when I searched for “Hammerand” many of the results were for “hammer and,” as in “hammer and nail.” One such result, dated December 9, 1887, was titled “Vaccinated for lefthandness,” and I couldn’t resist finding out what that was about. It turned out to be a short humorous article about a man named David Sills who was “left handed all over.”  According to the article, published in the Dallas Morning News (see below), “Not only does [Mr. Sills’s] left side boss all the balance of his anatomy, but it controls and directs his walk, his conversation and his tobacco. In fact, when he saunters down the street the most casual observer can see at a glance that his entire right side is badly henpecked, and is keeping in the procession with servile timidity.”

Mr. Sills lefthandedness interested the local doctor who, for the sake of science, questioned Sills about it. The man told the doctor that “he was not built that way at the start, or a little earlier, and that he was vaccinated when quite young with a left-handed scab, and it stuck.” Then he solemnly told the doctor, “This world has never seen a bald-headed idjit or a left-handed fool.” 

Bobby from the t.v. show Supernatural
The last sentence popped open my eyes. It has been decades since I last heard the word “idjit.” I remember saying it when I was a kid, likely in elementary school, and we called each other idjits. I thought we had made up the word ourselves, so I was amazed to find it in an article written in 1887. Clearly the word had been around a long time before we used it on the playgrounds of Jefferson Elementary School.

As I remember the word, it was slang for “idiot.” I am not sure why we needed a substitute word for idiot, but it did save a syllable and sounds fresher. Doing the inevitable Google “research,” I found these two definitions of idjit:

Idiot, a person with an intellectual barrier blocking them from obtaining average intelligence
Derived from the Irish Slang word "Eejit", which means a person who is exceedingly  Stupid or an Idiot. It was Americanized and made "country" and slowly was changed into "Idjit" by southerners. 

An academic blog entry explained the origin and use of the word in Ireland:  If I looked hard enough, I am sure I could find a doctoral dissertation written about the word.

Even though I had not heard the word in many decades, the word has continued in circulation. Among its famous uses, Yosemite Sam called Bugs Bunny an idgit in a 1960s cartoon. And in recent years, Bobby, a red-neckish baseball-hat wearing character in Supernatural, a television show, often called Sam and Dean, younger characters in the show, idjits. As a result, the word has become a minor meme among the Supernatural crowd, and it is displayed on tee shirts, baseball caps, bracelets, etc.

It was fun to rediscover this word after so many years and to learn not only that it survived a journey from Ireland but also that its longevity extends well over a century. If I were to write an updated definition of the word, I would illustrate it with a picture of Mrs. Emilie Hammerand of St. Louis, a friend of Austrian Nazis, who, most assuredly, was not left handed.

Thomson Journal, Vaccinated for Left-Handedness
Dallas Morning News, December 9, 1887, accessed through

One of the unaccountable peculiarities of our good friend, Mr. David Sills, is that he is left-handed all over. Not only does his left side boss all the balance of his anatomy, but it controls and directs his walk, his conversation and his tobacco. In fact, when he saunters down the street the most casual observer can see at a glance that his entire right side is badly henpecked, and is keeping in the procession with servile timidity. The oldest inhabitant never saw him shove a jack plane with his right hand, and when he wears a bile it is invariably located to the right of the equator of his backbone. In you mention the stock law his left eye responds with surprising vigor, and his snore is known by neighbors as a strictly one-barrel performance. Mr. Sills is a quiet, unpretentious citizen. He does not carry around an intellectual headlight to dazzle people and make horses run away. But he has a head to defy the power of his eloquent hammer. And he is left-handed from away back. Not long since Dr. Durham, in a laudable pursuit of science, questioned Mr. Sills in reference to this peculiarity. Mr. Sills replied that he was not built that way at the start, or a little earlier, and that he was vaccinated when quiet young with a left-handed scab, and it stuck. Then he solemnly informed the doctor that this world has never seen a bald-headed idjit or a left-handed fool. In this Mr. Sills is eminently correct.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Come Hither Keats to Praise the Beauty of European Hotel Breakfasts

If I were a poet, I would write an ode to the European breakfast. Well, more specifically, to the complementary breakfasts served by moderately priced European hotels (CBSBMPH), at least in the western and northern parts of the continent. In the ode, I would praise the bountiful nature of the offerings and the richness of the choices. Also, I would rhapsodize how the breakfasts satiate those who partake of them. I might also contrast those breakfasts with those “served” in similar hostelries in the U.S., where the selection is meager, little is palatable, and nothing is memorable. Those sugar-based breakfasts are piled onto flimsy paper plates and eaten, amid debris left by earlier patrons, with flexible plastic utensils.  
Entrance to breakfast room in Aalborg, Denmark
I honed my appreciation of CBSBMPH during my recent Eurail Pass trip during which I typically stayed at a moderately price hotel near a train station. The hotels in Germany, Denmark, Norway, France, and Austria almost always provided breakfast in the price of the room. In Spain and Switzerland, breakfasts had to be purchased separately. As in the United States, more expensive hotels rarely had complementary breakfasts, instead demanding up to 20 Euros for their breakfast feasts. 

The complementary breakfasts I had during the trip were usually self service, though the one in Büsum (Germany) was not. There, the waitress described the options and quickly brought the preferred breakfast to the table with a kännchen of coffee. Elsewhere, breakfast items were spread across tables and each person piled what he or she wanted to eat on a plate or two. With few exceptions, drinks were also available for the taking. A few places served hot drinks Dennys-style, putting a thermos filled with the drink of your choice on the table. However, most often coffee was drawn from a huge machine with many choices (espresso, cappuccino, etc.), each selected by the push of a button. These automated machines make good coffee if they are fed fresh coffee beans. Every breakfast offered a choice of juices, including orange juice.** (In the old days, finding fresh-tasting orange juice in Europe was a challenge. Now, squeezed orange juice is widely available.)

From left to right: scrambled eggs and small wurst, sliced meats, sliced cheese, veggies and fruits, fruit compote, butter/margerine, jams, cereals, bottle water

The breakfast options always included fresh bread (brötchen in Germany, semmeln in Austria, sliced baguettes in France, and loaves of many varieties of heavy bread in Denmark and Norway), different varieties of cheese (soft cheeses predominate in Denmark and Norway, hard cheeses elsewhere), sliced meats (ham is the most popular), butter (also butter substitutes for the calorie conscious), different vegetables (sliced peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, etc.), and many different types of jam. For me, an ideal breakfast consists of a couple of semmeln or brötchen smeared with butter, one eaten with Swiss cheese and ham, the other with a fresh jam.
To the right is a automatic coffee-tea machine and fresh fruit (not pictured are a selection of juices and containers of yoghurt)
Other options for breakfast usually included cereals (granola) with milk; fruits and nuts to be eaten with yogurt; fruits; and a fruit compote. Probably more than half of the hotels where I ate breakfast also offered scrambled or boiled eggs, and many of those also provided bacon or wurst alongside the eggs (a sign of the Americanization of the breakfasts). At some hotels there were surprises such as crepes or pastries, and one hotel had a grill where patrons could fry their own eggs. 
Bread selection. Slice bread is popular in Denmark, but it also has rolls 

After about 25 hotel-provided breakfasts over 35 days in October and November, I remain an enthusiastic fan of them. Not one of these breakfasts was bad or a disappointment. Some were inspiring. In fact, I wish Keats were around to write a proper ode to the beauty of the CBSBMPH, I am sure it would bring tears to my eyes. Of course, the tears would not be as voluminous as those shed the next time I eat a waffle at a Day’s Inn. 

Some more pictures of breakfasts:

Breakfast at a hotel in St. Anton located in the Austrian Alps. At this breakfast, coffee or tea was brought to the table. Bread jams, and juices are straight ahead ; to the right are sliced meats, cheese, yogurt, fruits and veggies; to the left is a warmer containing scrambled eggs 
Breakfast in Vienna: Table with sliced meats and cheese, fruits and vegges; to the left is a griddle on 
which diners can fry eggs; behind the table are cereals, yogurt, and jams

At same breakfast in Vienna, a table with breads, pastry, and fresh fruit (also a toaster for sliced bread)

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Season of Justin and J.D.

            Among Fayetteville High School’s (FHS) many memorable sports teams, the 1961-62 basketball team must be rated as one of the best for both its talent and accomplishments.The team had a 27–2 record and did not lose a regularly scheduled game to a team in Arkansas. It was ranked first in the state during most of the basketball season. One of its players scored more points during the year than any other Bulldog basketball player had ever scored in a season. Another set a record for most points scored during his years playing for the FHS team.
            The 1961-62 basketball season belonged to Justin Daniel, who set the single season scoring record, and J.D. McConnell, who set the record for most career points by a Bulldog. These two tall, talented basketball players led a dominant team, backed by a good supporting cast of players, to the best season an FHS basketball team had ever had. 

Silk and Wool

            Both Justin and J.D. were extraordinary athletics, but in different ways. Though both were tall, J.D. was a finesse player with a smooth game built on deceptive, deadly passing skills, a classic jump shot, and elusive drives to the basket. J.D. glided up and down the court exerting little apparent effort.  With his head turned to the right, he would spot a teammate open on the left and hit him in stride for an easy layup or short jump shot.  His was a thinking man’s game, more the nuance of small moves than the bombast of slam dunks.  For him, the action was not only in front of him but also on the periphery of his vision, where a teammate might break free or an opponent become inattentive.  Then came a quick pass, a solid screen, or a sudden jump shot, usually with good results.  

            Besides his fluidity and uncanny passing, J.D. had one other huge advantage playing guard and, sometimes, forward.  He was usually much taller than the player guarding him, while just as quick. He was 6 feet 4½ inches in a league where guards rarely reached six feet and forwards were only a little taller.  When J.D. was at the guard position, it often seemed an adult was playing with kids.  
            Justin was not a finesse player.  If J.D. was silk, Justin was scratchy wool.  At 6 feet 4 inches, a little shorter than J.D., his job was in the middle with his back to the basket, getting rebounds and taking the ball to the basket with alacrity.  Yet, he also had, when needed, a delicate touch with his jump and hook shots.
            Justin typically was guarded by the opponent’s tallest player, so he rarely dominated his matchups with superior height -- many teams had centers as tall as him or taller.  Justin did his damage with a hard charging game of getting the basketball, whatever it required, and putting it into the basket, however it needed to be done.  
           Justin got his height early. I know because he was my cousin, who lived just a few blocks away, both of us within a half-block of Jefferson Elementary School.  Although he was four years older, I saw him often in my grade school years because I sometimes hung out with his brother Morris, who was only a year older than me.  I think I was in the third or fourth grade when Justin -- who was already tall -- had such a fast-growing spurt that, for a while, he found it difficult to do such basic tasks as bend over and tie his shoes.  
            During my first year in Little League (I was 9 and Justin was 12), he was a terrifying baseball player. He was by far the best player in the league and famous for how hard he pitched and for hitting eye-popping home runs at the Fayetteville City Park that not only left the field, but went over the street and hit a big apartment building a few hundred feet away. If you were a batter facing his fast ball, you went to the plate regretting that your mother had let play baseball so young. If you were a pitcher standing barely 40 feet away from this guy, you had to fear for your life.
            I learned much about how to play baseball from Justin, Morris, my cousin Jerry Durning (aka Monk, who was a very good catcher), and others who lived in the south part of town.  On Sundays during the school year, and almost any time during the summer, pickup games were formed on the lower field of Jefferson. Justin lived just a few steps from this field and usually was one of the people who picked the teams.
            In those games, which were great fun, we were scared about one thing in particular:   We feared that Justin would hit a ball about 350 feet over the trees in left field and break the picture window of the car repair shop across the street. If that happened, we would all be in big trouble.
            Later, for a couple of summers, Justin, Morris, Jerry and I (and others) played “sock ball” using the Jefferson building as a backstop.  I think Justin started game; I continued playing it years after he quit.  The first step in the game was to make the sock ball.  To do that, we cut open an old golf ball and extracted the little rubber ball in the middle.  Then we took old socks with holes in them and started wrapping them around the little ball.  With two or three socks properly wrapped around the little rubber ball, then sewn together, you had a baseball size “sock ball” with some heft, but also one that would not travel too far when hit or hurt too much if it hit you.  
            A strike zone was drawn in chalk on the side of the building and a batter’s box outlined on the asphalt.  Some rocks were set down around an imaginary infield to delineate where a ball, if passing there on the ground, would be a hit.  Otherwise, grounders were outs as was anything caught in the air.  A fence beckoned for home runs.  Other trajectories of hit balls were subject to prolonged, sometimes bitter, debate as to whether they were hits or outs.  
            The main thing to avoid in the game was hitting a hard line drive to the left of third base, which could bust a window.  Mr. Tincher, the Jefferson custodian, was a really nice guy, but he had to charge you 50 cents for a window replacement, and that was enough to buy a few visits to the Palace Theater.
            And so we played a schedule of round robin games, kept standings, and had fun for a summer or two, until Justin and Jerry outgrew sock ball and went on to organized sports.  I still traded baseball cards with Justin every once in a while, but once you get into high school you don’t want to mess around with kids.
            The year that Justin was terrorizing the Little Leagues, I was on the McIlroy Bank team with J.D.  I have a picture somewhere that proves it, but without that I would not remember it for sure.  The picture shows that J.D. was plenty tall when he was 12 years old.  With the age difference, we weren’t pals.

One Fine Team
            In addition to Justin and J.D., the 1961-62 FHS team had several very good athletics.  One of them was George Coppage, who excelled in football and was not afraid of contact on the basketball court. You could usually count on him to give you four good fouls a game.  He was listed in the program as 6’ 2’’.  I doubt he was quite that tall. (Coach Smith listed me as 6 feet 1½ inches three years later, which would have been true only if I had been measured standing on a very thick book.)  After he graduated, Coppage was signed by Frank Broyles to play football for the Arkansas Razorbacks.

            The team also had Freddie Rice, a junior who was listed at 6’ 7’’, taller than either Justin or J.D.  Freddie played forward because the center position was already occupied, and he had several high scoring games.  Though Freddie lacked some of the athletic ability of Justin and J.D., he was good enough to get a University of Arkansas basketball scholarship after he graduated in 1963.  He averaged over 14 points a game for freshman Razorback team and had a memorable game in which he broke the record for most points scored in a game by a UA freshman. He played a few games his sophomore year at UA, but did not return after that.
           The picture of the team shows one African-American player, Thomas Lackey.  I do not know if he played in any games during the season.  Likely, FHS’s Arkansas opponents had no black basketball players and, at this time, would not have taken too kindly to integrated teams. (That was still true in 1964-65 when we played against teams from segregated high schools in Hot Springs, El Dorado, Texarkana and other cities.)  Also, FHS likely would not have been able to play a black player in the Arkansas state tournament.  (In 1964, Robert Wilks and Louis Bryant were the first African-Americans to play in the Arkansas state basketball tournament.)  The schools in Missouri probably had African-American players during the 1961-62 school year, so Lackey may have played in some games against those teams

The Season 
            The season was one of streaks.  Fayetteville won its first fifteen games, lost its 16th in Missouri, then won twelve straight.  Early in the season, the team was ranked first in the state by the two major polls that did such rankings.  It stayed at number one through the end of the regular season.
            I attended a few of the games and listened to Wally Ingles broadcast many others. When FHS played at home, the gym was packed.  The action was inspiring for a fledgling basketball player like me.  Justin always looked confident, though often scowling; apparently he was frequently irritated at something or someone.  J.D. was always relaxed, moving around like he was taking a stroll between classes. (One thing that struck me about J.D.:  big feet. His shoes seemed twice as long as mine.)  Both Justin and J.S. had plenty of swagger on and off the court.
From FHS Yearbook. Justin is shooting, J.D. (42) and Coppage (back to camera)are running in to rebound.
I think No. 14 is Troy Steele and no. 40 is Freddie Rice
            One other FHS player that I particularly liked to watch was Troy Steele, a 5’ 10” (or smaller) guard who was quick and a hustler.  At least early in the season, he played quite a bit and seemed to energize the team.  Sadly for the team, he was no longer playing for F.H.S. at the end of the season and missed the state tournament. He had to leave the team because he got married during the season and was expelled from the high school.
            As I watched the two dominant players on the court, and thinking about it later, I often wondered how Justin and J.D. got along.  They had such different personalities (cool vs. intense) and backgrounds (north Fayetteville white collar vs. south Fayetteville blue collar), I doubted that they were inclined to be close friends.  I never found out if there were any conflicts between the two. I hope that they saw each other as good teammates and had healthy doses of mutual respect.  
            After winning the Ozark Conference and going undefeated in Arkansas, FHS traveled to Little Rock in early March to play in the state tournament.  I am sure that the team members and Coach Smith expected to win the state AA-AAA championship.
            FHS easily won its first two games.  The second game was against the Green County Tech Eagles, whom they beat 66 -59, though they did not shoot very well.  Their scoring for that game was:
Player              FG/FGA          FT/FTA            Rebounds       Fouls   Total Points
Rice                 5-13                 2-4                   17                    3          12
Coppage         3-9                   2-2                   3                      4          8
Daniel              6-12                 2-2                   10                    1          14
Faucette          3-6                   4-8                   5                      5          10
McConnell       4-10                 3-4                   10                    0          11
Backus            5-7                   1-2                   5                      2          9
Stuckey           0-2                   0-0                   2                      0          0
Adams             0-1                   0-0                   0                      2          0
Durham           1-1                   0-1                   2                      0          2
Allen                0-0                   0-0                   0                      1          0
TOTAL            26-61               14-23               62                    19        66

            The stats show that Freddie Rice had big game with 17 rebounds and 12 points.  Justin and J.D. had so-so nights for them, but Coppage, Faucette and Backus had joined with Freddie to make up the difference.  Coppage had his usual four fouls.
          The next game was the tournament semi-final game against North Little Rock, which had a 21–6 record.  Over 7,000 people showed up at Barton Coliseum to watch it.  The night was frustrating for the FHS Bulldogs.  Though NLR was smaller, it out rebounded the Bulldogs and, according to the Northwest Arkansas Times account, intercepted “seven key passes.”  Clearly, the team suffered from the loss of Troy Steele as a ball handler.
            Fayetteville lost the game by 59-54, but had chances at the end to pull out a win.  Ultimately, the game was decided by free throws.  FHS hit 10 of 15 free throws while NLR made 19 of 25.  In comparison, FHS made 22 baskets while NLR made 20.
Both J.D. and Justin had big games, scoring 42 of FHS’s 54 points.  Unfortunately, the other FHS players were mostly shut out, unlike during the previous game.  Only four players scored points.  Here is the FHS box score for the game:

Player              FG/FGA          FT/FTA            Rebounds       Fouls   Total Points
Rice                 2-8                   2-2                   4                      2          6
Coppage         2-5                   2-2                   2                      4          6
Daniel              7-10                 4-8                   7                      2          18
Faucette          0-0                   0-0                   0                      2          0
McConnell       11-18               2-9                   9                      2          24
Backus            0-4                   0-0                   0                      2          0
Stuckey           0-1                   0-0                   1                      2          0
Durham           1-0                   0-0                   0                      0          0
Allen                0-0                   0-0                   0                      0          0
TOTAL            22-46               10-15               62                    16        54

            Though the season ended sadly for the FHS team, it still was a fabulous year.  This team had the best winning percentage in the history of FHS basketball team.  The next closest was a 28-3 record in 1947-48.  
            During the season, Justin scored more points (504) than had ever been scored in a season by an FHS player.  Also, J.D. set the record for the most career points scored by an FHS player (869).  Both were showered with honors, including all-district and all-state.  Both were selected to play in the Arkansas High School All Star game in August 1962.  

 Although Kentucky scouts had come to watch J.D. play, he (apparently, I don’t know for sure) did not receive a basketball scholarship offer from them.  According to the NWA Times, both Justin and J.D. received basketball scholarship offers from the University of Arkansas and some smaller schools.  Some people expected Justin to sign to play professional baseball.  
            Both accepted the UA basketball scholarships. They were joined at UA by two Arkansas players who also were in the 1962 Arkansas All-Star basketball game: Ricky Sugg of Berryville and Steve Rousseau of Dewitt, Arkansas. 

And After The Season
            Justin and J.D. played on the Razorback freshmen basketball team (the Shoats) during the 1962-3 season.  At the time, freshmen were not eligible to play varsity sports.  In a dozen games, J.D. scored 156 points, 13.1 points per game.  Justin scored 116 points, averaging less than ten a game.  He decided not to return for his sophomore year.
          One day, I think it was in late summer 1963, I got a call from Bubba McCord who told me that a baseball scout who was thinking about signing Justin to a pro contract wanted to see him in a tryout.  The guy asked if we would help him with it. I was needed to pitch to Justin and Bubba would catch.  Of course, I jumped at the chance.
            When we showed up at the fairgrounds, it was clear that I was much more nervous about Justin’s tryout than Justin, who seemed to be nonchalant about the whole affair.  Bubba and I did our best to impress the scout while Justin did his thing.  I tried to throw strikes so Justin could blast them, which he did.  Justin was sufficiently impressive:  he signed a professional contract with the Kansas City Royals.
            In 1964, at the age of 19, he played for Wytheville, VA in the Rookie League.  His stats are on-line:  he hit .288 in 212 at bats with seven doubles, 3 triples, and 4 home runs.  Not bad, but before the season was over, he was sent home.  The word was that he had an injury.
            During the next ten years, Justin was a top player in the Northwest Arkansas Industrial Basketball League and on Fayetteville semi-pro baseball teams.  In 1964-65, he averaged almost 30 points a game in basketball and in 1965 his baseball team, Ken’s Sporting Goods, won the semi-pro title with the benefit of his pitching and hitting (including two home runs in the final game).  In 1971, Justin was the MVP in the Arkansas semi-pro baseball tournament and his team, Farmers Insurance Group, won the state championship.  And on it went year after year.  
            At some point, I think it was in the early 1970s after I had left Fayetteville, Justin started a business dealing in baseball cards. This grew into a retail business selling sports cards and memorabilia, with a store, Justin’s Clubhouse, just off of College Avenue.  Justin ran the business until his death in 2006, at the age of 61.
J.D. and Freddie Rice as Sophomore Razorbacks, 1964

            J.D. had a good four seasons with the University of Arkansas basketball team.  His stats for the four years are as follows (from   

                        GP   FG-FGA   Pct  FT-FTA   Pct  Reb  Avg   PF  Pts   Avg
1962-63+         12   69-156      .442  18-25   .720  131 10.9   23  156  13.1
1963-64           23   80-187      .428  19-33   .576  123  5.4    40  179   7.8
1964-65           22   99-227      .436  43-63   .683  153  7.0    44  241  11.0
1965-66           23  120-259     .463  37-46   .804  196  8.5    47  277  12.0
Total                68 299-673      .444  99-142  .697  472  6.9  131  697  10.3
+ Stats on freshman team, not included in totals

             After graduating from UA, J.D. studied medicine and became an M.D.  When I was living in Little Rock in the 1970s, I would occasionally see him at the Y.M.C.A or at some city league basketball game. I do not know where he is now or what he is doing.  However, when I googled “J.D. McConnell” and Little Rock recently, I got a picture showing a tall, gray-haired guy with big feet hitting a drive at a Little Rock golf course. It was J.D. The picture’s caption was: “J.D. McConnell of Little Rock watches his tee shot on the first hole while playing a round of golf with friends on a spring-like day at War Memorial Park in midtown Little Rock, January 31, 2011.”  He retired and, the last I heard, was doing quite well.  

February 10, 2011 (updated, December 12, 2016)
Birch Bay, Washington

Monday, December 12, 2016

Three Changes in Vienna, Two of them Good

During my Vienna visit in late November, I noticed three changes that might interest past and future visitors.  Two of the changes were positive and one is annoying.

Front Entrance to the Vienna Main Train Station
The first change is that most rail traffic is now routed through the recently opened Hauptbahnhof (Main Train Station). This change has been expected since December 2009 when the South Train Station (Suedbahnhof) was abolished and construction of the new one began. 

Modernistic Design of the Main Train Station
The Hauptbahnhof was mostly complete when I was in Vienna in November 2015, and trains were being routed through it. Now, it is a busy station.  Also, it is a spacious, attractive, and luxurious station with its own large shopping center. It offers many good places to eat, plus plenty of stores for shopping. Remember, one of the business advantages of locating in a train station is that a shop there does not have to follow the country’s restrictive hours of operation. Thus, unlike other stores in Vienna, the stores at the Hauptbahnhof (and other train stations in the city) can open on Sunday. 

Top Floor of the Main Train Station

Information Board on the Top Floor of the Main Train Station
The station is built on three levels. On the lowest level, a traveler can access much of the public transportation to and from the station, including the U-bahn (Vienna's subway) and the street cars. The second floor consists of most of the 90 stores that are part of the Hauptbahnhof shopping center. The third floor has provides access to the trains, plus ticket offices and several restaurants.  In truth, when I arrived at the first time by bus (which unloads to the second level of the station), the layout was a bit confusing. Also, when I arrived on another day on a train from another city, I got turned around and had difficulty finding the bus stop. Fortunately, the station has many signs and it does not take too long to figure out where you need to go. 
Burger Brothers Restaurant on the Top Floor of the Main Train Station
Of course, train stations are a magnet for shady looking people who stand around in groups and watch passing people through the corners of their eyes. Also, they attract people with all kinds of personal problems. Nevertheless, the Hauptbahnhof seems to be a secure place with plenty to do while waiting for your train to arrive.

Great Bakery on the Second Floor of the Main Train Station
Related to the opening of the Hauptbahnhof, another positive change is that travelers can now take a train from there to the Vienna Airport. In fact, for many trains, the Hauptbahnhof is not the end station in Vienna, but the next-to-the-last station with the train continuing to the airport. Because of the new Hauptbahnhof-Airport link, travelers arriving at the Vienna Airport, they now board a train there that will take them not only to the Hauptbahnhof but also to other locations throughout Austria and Europe. 

With the opening of the train station, Vienna is helping travelers avoid the need to travel between stations for their trips. For example, when I was living in Vienna in 1972-73, travelers who arrived from Budapest and wanted to continue to Italy would have to get out at the West Train Station and travel by tram or taxi to the South Train Station. No longer.

Vienna’s second change is that Herrengasse is now a pedestrian zone from Schottengasse to the Hofburg entrance, though taxis and fiaker can still drive on it. The road has been filled in to eliminate the curb. For people who do not drive, this change makes walking along the narrow road much safer and faster. It should be noted that the rest of Herrengasse from the Hofburg to the Albertina Museum is open to automobiles and buses.
Herrengasse near Palais Kinsky

Famous Cafe Central along Herrengasse
The third change in Vienna is mostly an irritation. Two multi-story buildings are being constructed in the open space between the front to the main Hofburg building at Heldenplatz and the entrance to the Volkspark. These new, temporary buildings, behind the back of the statue of Archduke Charles, block views from the Hofburg toward the Parliament building and the Rathaus.

Statue of Archduke Charles on Heldenplatz, with Parliament (left) and the City Hall (right) in the distance; this
view will be blocked by the temporary Parliament buildings being constructed behind the statute

Construction on Heldenplatz near the end of November, 2016
Signs on a fence surrounding the construction site explain that the buildings are temporary structures that will be used in the next few years by the Austrian Parliament. They are needed because the interior of the Parliament building will be reconstructed. 

 As an old city, Vienna is constantly being rebuilt and spruced up. Fortunately the painful disruption usually results in improves to the city.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Documenting the Nazi Years in Cologne

Have you ever wondered what a Gestapo prison looked like?  At the NS Documentation Center of the City of Cologne (in German, Köln), you can visit one in the basement of a building that was the headquarters of the city and district Gestapo from 1935 until 1945. It has ten cells that held prisoners brought in for what the Gestapo called “intensive interrogations,” the Gestapo's preferred euphemism for torture.
Sign for the
NS Documentation Center of Köln
In one of the ironies of war, despite intensive Allied bombing of Cologne, the Gestapo's building survived with little damage, leaving, according to the Documentation Center, “one of the best preserved detention centers from the Nazi period in Germany.” The dark and squalid cells are sobering enough by themselves, but the walls pack an emotional punch: on them are about 1,800 inscriptions left by the prisoners using pencils, chalk, lipstick, nails, screws, and fingernails. 

These inscriptions bring home the sober realization that thousands of people were tortured in this basement. The prisoners were not only Germans, but included many men and women brought from Eastern Europe and Russia to be slave laborers. Of the 1,800 inscriptions, about 600 are written in Cyrillic. The inscriptions include messages of desperation, despair, frustration, and anger. Some were written just to tell people the writer had been there, maybe hoping someone would read it and let their friends and relatives know.

From the cellar cells, a passage leads to the inside courtyard. According to the Documentation Center, this courtyard is where executions were carried out. There, during the eighteen months of the war, about 400 prisoners were murdered.
Example of Inscriptions on the Gestapo Prison Cell Walls 
The Gestapo Prison Memorial was first opened in 1981. In 1988, the NS Documentation Center moved into the building. In addition to the prison museum, the Center has a permanent exhibit “Cologne during National Socialism” and it also hosts shorter-term special exhibits. When I was there in late October, the special exhibit was on Hitler Youth. The nicely-designed exhibit examined the rise of Hitler Youth and its activities. One of its features was interviews with several older men and women who had been members of Hitler Youth describing why they joined the organization and its roles in family, school, leisure and other aspects of life.. The exhibit’s photographs and artifacts are titled in both German and English, but the interviews are only in German.
Part of the Hitler Youth Exhibit. To the left is a post about HJ advertising to the right is propaganda on
"Race Types" used in school

Poster for Hitler Youth special exhibition

One purpose of Hitler Youth was to prepare
young men to be dedicated and disciplined solders; this
poster "We all pitch in" was intended to urge HJ members
to take part in the war effort
The Center has a large research library and offers numerous lectures and discussions. Also, it has an excellent website, including a 360-degree tour that offers visitors a chance to travel around the center and see its exhibits as well as the prison. The website is available in many languages, including English. Go to
Courtyard of the Gestapo Prison where prisoners were executed

With its exhibits, well-preserved Gestapo prison, library, active research program, and lectures, the Center appears to be an excellent resource for educating people, Germans and visitors, on the horrors of the Nazi period.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Among the Fjords of Norway

Although the urge seemed irrational, I have for many years wanted to visit Norway and its fjords. Perhaps, I thought, this urge came from memories of my brief time in Oslo during August 1966. I recalled the fjordian vistas that opened when a bus took me to the top of a mountain on the edge of the city. Or maybe it came from advertisements of Norwegian fjord tours that had wormed a message into my brain.

A new theory of my itch to revisit Norway arose when I got the results of an Ancestry DNA test that showed eleven percent of my DNA is linked to Scandinavian ancestors. Maybe my interest in Norway was a genetic imperative, a call from the old country. Or maybe I was hearing voices of long-dead ancestors calling me home. Nonsense of course, but at least the DNA results provided a reason to head to Norway in October as part of five weeks of roaming Europe with a Eurail Pass (

Houses of the Stavanger Old Town
Arriving in Amsterdam, I headed north, spending a few days in Germany. Then, I hopped on a train  going up Denmark’s Jutland peninsula. After a night in Aarhus (, an intelligent-looking coastal university town that deserved more of my time, I took another train to the northern port of Hirtshals (, a bleak little wind-swept town on Denmark’s north coast, to catch a ferry to Kristensand (, located on the southern coast of Norway.

Stavanger Harbor by the Old Town and the Shopping District
Kristiansand is a modest coastal city in with a visit-worthy old town. From there, I intended to take a train going west to Stavanger ( ). However, the train was not running, and passengers were instead put on a bus. The three-hour bus ride passed along fjords, rivers, lakes, and streams, all hemmed in by crudely shaped bluffs and mountains. As the weather turned from cloudy to stormy to sunny, then repeated the cycle, the glimpses of the wild beauty and isolated towns were a nice introduction of the southern part of Norway.

Balloon Magic in the Stavanger Downtown
The Stavanger downtown is perfect for a traveler without a car. Within short walking distances from downtown hotels are the city’s old town with its prim, white wooden houses sitting on a slope going down to the harbor; its  ancient central shopping district with narrow, crooked, rock-paved streets; and its colorful finger of its harbor. Of course, the downtown is just a small part of this prosperous, sprawling city of 128,000 people that is the center of Norway’s oil industry. Nevertheless, visitors like me most enjoy the chance to see evidence of its history.

From the Stavanger harbor, I took a three-hour boat tour of the Lysefjord, a long and wide fjord. In truth, two of the three hours of the trip were in the Hogsfjord that is the path between Stavanger and  Lysefjord. Hogsfjord shores are less mountainous and more densely occupied, apparently with summer homes for Stavanger residents.

Lysefjord is the star attraction of the boat tour because of its dramatic shoreline with irregular mountain sides scraped out randomly by the thrust of icebergs and battered by thousands of years of wind, rain, waterfalls, rock slides, and who knows what else. Its featured attractions viewed on the boat ride were an outcropping far above the water called the Pulpit Rock and a huge waterfall ( As much as I enjoyed seeing them, I was equally attracted by the views of small isolated villages scattered in valleys along the edges of fjord.
Heading out of the Stavanger Harbor

Whether fjords such as Hogsfjord and Lysefjord should be called “ruggedly beautiful” or “beautifully rugged” can be debated. Whichever description is most apt, the combination of irregularly shaped high bluffs surrounding deep blue water is striking and memorable. As I viewed these spectacular sights, my Scandinavian genes seemed quite pleased to be back in the old country.  

Pictures follow:

Stavanger Old Town

Visit the Fjords

Several small settlements can be seen along the banks of the Lysefjord

A small island near the entry to Lysefjord

Small houses on the banks of the Lysefjordat at the base of  rugged mountain 

Pulpit Rock: Hikers like to walk out on the rock for the view

Another view of Pulput Rock

A small settlement on the Lysefjord

Round rocks in shallow water nears the edge of the Lysefjord

Waterfall on the Lysefjord

The end of the Lysefjord's was many miles from where our trip ended

Dawn in Stavanger