All posts by Jim St. George

I’m looking cheerful despite the constant presence of rain, rain, rain. Recovering from COVID might have had something to do with that.

In planning this trip through Bavaria Mark wanted to find one little picturesque village that would feel as though you were in medieval Germany. With Rothenburg he hit a home run. My recovery from COVID couldn’t have come at a better time, allowing me to wander the old streets at my leisure.

This is what our forecast looked like for Rothenburg. Just rain.[/caption]Rothenburg is a seriously beautiful city, one of only three towns in Germany with the old city walls still intact. Just how beautiful is it? During the Nazi era, Rothenburg was considered the epitome of a German “Home Town,” representing all that was great about German culture and family life. It sustained a bit of bombing during World War II, but the Assistant Secretary of War ordered that troops abstain from using artillery to take the town. Instead, the local American commander sent six men – two officers and four enlisted men – to negotiate a surrender. The German in charge disobeyed Hitler’s standing orders that all towns were to be defended to the end and instead handed Rothenburg over to the American troops. The result is an almost unbelievably lovely old town.

Our super charming hotel

How perfect a German town is it? Rothenburg was the inspiration for the 1940 Disney production Pinocchio. I mean, you can’t get more German than that, can you? OK, maybe not the best example but clearly it represents olde Europe.

Now, truth be told, there isn’t a lot to actually do in Rothenburg, so a two-day stop was just fine. And lord knows the weather wasn’t helping – it was cold and rainy the whole time we were there, unfortunately consistent with much of our weather in Bavaria. But if all you have to do is wander around, hang out in our cute little hotel, read a little, and search out good food … that’s a good way to spend our last two days in Bavaria.

I was a little freaked out when we had to drive through this gate into the old town…

…but if that wasn’t bad enough we soon had to drive right through the middle of the cathedral. Never done that before!

Mark in one of the main squares in town. Those tourists in back are taking selfies, not dancing…

This altar in the cathedral boasted a little reliquary with a few drops of the actual blood of Jesus. How cool is that!

Does this look like a traditional enough Bavarian restaurant?

Loved the looks of this traditional butcher shop, but there’s no way we were going to buy meat from Erich Trumpp!

On our way to Frankfurt we stopped for lunch in one final Bavarian town. Here is the town square in Memminger.

Jim shows off the cute centerpiece at our lunch spot in Memminger

Tony, Jim, and Mary Beth pause to admire the snow-capped mountains on one of the best bike rides ever

More than just about any trip we’ve done – or any “segment” of travel when we were nomads – this trip through Bavaria is going to be a bunch of two night stays. Basically our sense was that while we wanted to see Bavaria, there wasn’t going to be a lot to see in each of these towns. Two nights will likely be enough.

So after two nights in Salzburg we crossed the border into Germany to Freilassing, a little town that is basically a exuburb of Salzburg. It’s near where our friend Sven grew up and it’s the location of a great little historic inn run by Tony, an old friend of his, and Tony’s wife Beate. So we made the quick drive there to meet up with Mary Beth & Sven.

Here we are outside Tony’s guesthouse with Sven, Mary Beth, Beate, and Tony. There is documentation that the property has been an inn back to the 13th century, though it’s been in Tony’s family “only” for a bit over a hundred years

Well, not exactly quick drive. Since we had the time we figured we would make a modest detour to see the Eagle’s Nest, a retreat built by the Nazis for their elite members including, of course, Hitler. We drove up and up and up, finally got to the parking lot, only to discover as we drove around that it was full. Then we saw a couple other lots, drove through them, and discovered they, too were full. It was all both chaotic and frustrating, with a bunch of drivers inching around, hoping to get lucky when somebody was going to leave.

So we left. I’m too old to waste my time like that.

Freilassing, though, was a total delight. We got there relatively early and headed out for a beautiful walk on really small country roads. Once Mary Beth and Sven showed up we headed maybe 20 or 30 minutes away to have dinner with Sven’s mother, who still lives in the house he grew up in. And not just Sven: apparently they can document that the property has been in their family for nearly 700 years. Seriously.

The property includes a restaurant that Sven’s family used to run, and it’s where Sven first learned to cook. From there he went off to cooking school, eventually becoming a hotel manager and now one of the world’s top authorities and practitioners in hospital hospitality. And no, that’s not an oxymoron; when he started at his current hospital chain he hired a Michelin-starred chef to create meals and menus for patients. I keep praying to get sick enough to go to his hospital!

Dinner at the family table at what used to be Sven’s family’s restaurant. That’s a still sprightly Erika on the end.

There were two highlights in Freilassing. First up was family-and-friend time, dinner with his mother – who is quite the celebrity at the restaurant on her property – and the next night dinner with a bunch of other friends of Sven’s at the inn where we stayed. Great food, great company. Mark and I both felt genuinely honored to spend time with his friends and mother.

And dinner with Friends of Sven at Tony & Beate’s inn

The other highlight was an 18-mile bike ride we did out around the town. It was a perfect day – temperature in the high-50s or low-60s, nary a cloud to be seen – and Sven’s friend Tony gave us a tour of the back roads that was just stunning. I honestly thought it might be the best short-ish bike ride I’ve ever done.

And here’s what’s really amazing: there were so many Germans out biking on this random Friday in a pretty remote place. I can’t imagine there is any rural place in America where you would find tiny paved roads like this being so well-used by bikers of all ages. As we left Freilassing headed up to Munich, it seemed like every country road had a biking/walking/running lane along side. I asked Sven about it and he just said, yeah, Bavarians are seriously active people. I can confirm that.

Next stop, Munich. Oktoberfest. Yikes!

Mark on our walk on little country roads

It doesn’t look like it but that was a really steep hill Mark climbed. I told hi to wave to his mother, so … Hi Mumpy!

It was lovely to visit Sven’s mother Erika in the home where Sven grew up and where his family has lived since the 14th century. Erika served up the best Apple strudel we’ve ever tasted.

The certificate that documents that Sven’s family has occupied this property since 1333

And apparently no breakfast, lunch, dinner, or snack in Bavaria is complete without cakes. These were seriously good.

Sven and Mary Beth at the wonderful lunch halfway through our bike ride

Mark & I made a quick trip to DC while we were home and made a quick stop at Logan Circle, where we’d lived for a few years in the 1990s. Back then this park was all drug dealers and prostitutes but it’s such a beautiful and peaceful place now.

We loved our eight-week summer vacation in Europe, but we were excited to come home, too. The odd thing was that we knew we’d only be back for a month, as we had made plans to go to Germany with friends for Oktoberfest. But we packed a lot in during our home respite and I figured I’d memorialize some of the highlights here before leaving for Germany tomorrow.

First up the Saturday after our return was hosting a birthday party for our friend Constantine, the Musical Director and Principle Conductor of the New York City Opera. It was going to be a small affair, maybe 25 or at most 30 people, so Mark & I treated it as an experiment: could we pull off a party like that, with lots of food, without caterers? And the good news is, yeah, we can do it. Mark took responsibility for all the dishes and glasses and drinks and charcuterie and veggies, while I did all the actual cooking. That seemed to be a pretty fair distribution of labor, though the next time – with all the glasses and plates and flatware now purchased – we would likely share more of the cooking.

Mark with new friends Tair Tazhigulov, a bass who sang for us that night and performed onstage with the New York City Opera the following weekend, and Hayk Arsenyan, a concert pianist, at our birthday party

As for the party, it was great fun. As we knew he would, Constantine brought a few singers and as we’ve noted before there is absolutely nothing like live opera in your own living room. The guests were all his friends but increasingly we’ve started to get to know some of them a little better and they’re always fascinating. Like the former U.S. Ambassador to Armenia (which is how Constantine knows him) currently awaiting Senate confirmation to become the Ambassador to Nigeria. So who knows, Mark & I may be off to Abuja sometime in the next year or two just to hang out.

In all good food, great music, fun company. But oh God, after all that prep, was I tired the next day.

Next up was actually seeing Constantine and his company in action. A couple nights every summer they perform a free opera in Bryant Square Park, and we were in town for Lucia di Lammermoor, a 19th century opera by Donizetti. It’s a story where a beautiful young woman is forced by her family to leave the love of her life to marry another man. Sad. But then on their wedding night she stabs him to death and appears onstage in her white nightgown drenched in blood, having gone mad. She spends like 15 minutes singing and dying, appears to die, then gets back up and spends another 10 minutes dying.

Sarah Coburn in her blood-drenched nightgown, onstage with Tair and Elissa Pfaender who also performed in our apartment the week before

It’s actually a fabulous scene and the lead soprano, Sarah Coburn, was spectacular. The voice of an angel (although, as an aside, her late father, a Republican Senator from Oklahoma, was less of an angel…). And two of the soloists on stage had performed at our house the weekend before, so that was pretty cool.

We’ve been wanting to branch out in our cultural explorations and the very next night we had a chance. Analia Farfan is a professional dancer who, among other things, performs with the opera group who we’ve hosted here twice. She was putting on a tribute to Anna Pavlova, the great early 20th century Russian ballerina. The show was really great, the sort of thing that you can’t believe you get to see for just $35 a ticket. Altogether there were maybe eight or 10 dancers all doing numbers associated with Pavlova. Another success.

Analia Farfan was beautiful

Meanwhile my sister Becky was in town that weekend too, bringing her daughter Lily back to Barnard College to start her sophomore year. Sadly, no pictures of them: they were all busy moving back into the dorms and all that stuff.

The excitement continued with Shakespeare in the Park, this year an adaptation of As You Like It. Now, it’s funny that Mark & I keep going to Shakespeare in the Park, since neither of us particularly like Shakespeare. But Shakespeare in the Park is such a cultural … thing … that you somehow just have to. And this adaptation was very loose and very fun. And there you are in Central Park, sitting under the stars watching this great show.

The cast of a very adapted As You Like It

Our month at home even included a quick trip to DC. Way back in 1979 I was awarded a scholarship from the Harry S. Truman Foundation, the third year of its existence. The grant was made to one sophomore in each state who indicated an interest in public service, so it was kind of a big deal. Well, this was the 45th anniversary of the foundation’s founding and they were doing a big party at the residence of the French Ambassador to the United States. Who could miss that?

Dinner after the party at the French Ambassador’s house with Anthony – another Truman Scholar – and his husband Thomas

The event itself was fun, but most impressive is that the residence was just amazing. We saw a couple friends from Truman world, met some new friends and in general had fun. The next morning, because Mark & I had been sponsors of the event, we had breakfast with a select group from the foundation, including Clifton Truman Daniels, the former president’s grandson. Heard lots of fun stories about growing up with the old guy as your grandfather. Interestingly, Clifton occasionally performs a one-man play, Give ’em Hell, Harry!, that starred James Whitmore when it was first produced in 1975. Now I have a fantasy of getting him to do it here and inviting a bunch of Truman Scholars who live in New York. Stay tuned.

Dinner that night was with great old friends who we love to see and then it was back to New York. Now we’re packing and getting stuff ready for another two-and-a-half weeks in and around Bavaria. One day of serious beer-drinking is in store but then a couple weeks of exploring places we haven’t been to before. Should be fun!

More family! Mark got a text one day from Leigh that she was in town briefly on a school trip. She had COVID, though, so the visit was masked and outdoors.

Maestro Constantine, pianist Michael, and some new friends from the birthday party

I almost forgot: we even did politics during our home visit. Mandela Barnes is the Democratic Senate nominee in Wisconsin, so we went to a small event for him. He’s running neck-and-neck against the incumbent and would be an incredible improvement. Sadly, though, Mark & I both find these kind of events kind of boring.

The night we got back from DC I made this fabulous dinner, including roasted beans with pancetta and lemon, and branzino with a fresh cilantro sauce. It was really great but as I put it down it reminded Mark of dinner the night before with our friends and he said “Wow, wasn’t that dinner Dan made last night great?” I explained that’s not the right thing to say when I’ve been making dinner all evening!