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Friday, November 30, 2007

The Nurnberg Christmas Market...

Noah is off of school on Friday and I have taken a day of vacation so that we can take a drive to Nurnberg, Germany. We are going primarily to see the Chrstmas Market, or "Christkindlesmarkt" in German. It is supposed to be very elaborate, and would certainly seem to be based on their web site. It's sort of like a cross between the St. Paul Winter Carnival and the Minnesota State Fair.

It just so happens that the market will formally open Friday evening at 5:30 and we will be there for that event. I am a little worried about the size of the crowd, but it shouldbe interesteting nonetheless. Here is what the web site says about the opening of the the market.
The opening of the Nuremberg Christmas Market, always on the Friday before the first Advent Sunday, is an impressive event, both for Nuremberg people and tourists.

TV teams report this pre-Christmas event to countries all over the world. People throng the Main Market Square between the Christmas Market stalls. Children crane their necks and stare at the darkened gallery of Our Lady's Church. At 5.30 p.m. sharp, trumpets are blown, the "Junge Chor Nürnberg" from the local music school sings Christmas songs. Finally, the lights are switched on. In the bright lights, the Nuremberg Christmas Angel stands on the gallery and recites her famous prologue, opening the Christmas Market.

The web site has a live web cam, so if you can see the opening along with us by visiting the web cam at 11:30 am on Friday.

It's about a 3 hour drive to/from Nurnberg and we expect to be home by 6:00 pm or so on Saturday night.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Is this good news or bad news?...

Chip card to replace national ID, driver's licence
prepared by Prague Daily Monitor editorial staff / published 28 November 2007

The Interior Ministry wants to introduce identification cards the size of a credit card with an embedded chip that would replace current national IDs, driver's licences, health-insurance and other IDs within three years. "We are seeking agreement with other ministries to replace several IDs with a single card," says Deputy Interior Minister Zdeněk Zajíček, who is in charge of the project.

This seems very efficient, but somehow I envision that the next step is to implant that chip in your skull like something out of Minority Report.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Will anything happen in Annapolis?...

I lived in Saudi Arabia for three years, and I have had the pleasure of visiting several other countries in the area - Jordan, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates and Turkey. I also spend a week in Israel back in 1999. I loved Israel, and hope to return some day with Kathy and Noah. There is obviously much history, with much of it straight out of the Bible. I also admire the Israelis because I think their national spirit most closely approximates our own.

People of good will can debate the wisdom and fairness of the establishment of Israel but the fact of the matter is that it does, indeed, exist.

Bernard Lewis had interesting observations in an op-ed in today's Wall Street Journal that I completely agree with.

Herewith some thoughts about tomorrow’s Annapolis peace conference, and the larger problem of how to approach the Israel-Palestine conflict. The first question (one might think it is obvious but apparently not) is, “What is the conflict about?” There are basically two possibilities: that it is about the size of Israel, or about its existence.

If the issue is about the size of Israel, then we have a straightforward border problem, like Alsace-Lorraine or Texas. That is to say, not easy, but possible to solve in the long run, and to live with in the meantime.

If, on the other hand, the issue is the existence of Israel, then clearly it is insoluble by negotiation. There is no compromise position between existing and not existing, and no conceivable government of Israel is going to negotiate on whether that country should or should not exist.

In a related item, the Associated Press reports that "Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said when asked whether he would shake the hand of Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, 'We're not ready to be part of a theatrical performance... We're not going there to shake anyone's hand or to demonstrate feelings we don't have'."

Somehow I don't smell a breakthrough in the Palestinian/Israeli stalemate.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Lidice followup...

The visit to Lidice caused me to do some additional research to write my post (that post had gotten quite involved before I decided to scale it way back and have readers, if interested, look at two linked sources). In that research I found that
It wasn't until after I posted about Lidice that I found a succinct description of what happened and why. From the web site http://www.historyplace.com/worldwar2/holocaust/h-lidice.htm:

On May 27, 1942, SS Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich, Deputy Reich Protector of Bohemia and Moravia, had been attacked in Prague by Free Czech agents who were trained in England and brought to Czechoslovakia to assassinate him. They shot at Heydrich as his car slowed to round a sharp turn, then threw a bomb which exploded, mortally wounding him. Heydrich managed to get out of the car, draw his pistol and shoot back at the assassins before collapsing in the street.

Heydrich survived for several days, but died on June 4 from blood poisoning brought on by fragments of auto upholstery, steel, and his own uniform that had lodged in his spleen.

In Berlin, the Nazis staged a highly elaborate funeral with Hitler calling Heydrich "the man with the iron heart."

Meanwhile the Gestapo and SS hunted down and murdered Czech agents, resistance members, and anyone suspected of being involved in Heydrich's death, totaling over 1000 persons. In addition, 3000 Jews were deported from the ghetto at Theresienstadt for extermination. In Berlin 500 Jews were arrested, with 152 executed as a reprisal on the day of Heydrich's death.

As a further reprisal, Hitler ordered the small Czech mining village of Lidice to be liquidated on the fake charge that it had aided the assassins.

In one of the most infamous single acts of World War Two, all 172 men and boys over age 16 in the village were shot while the women were deported to Ravensbrück concentration camp where most died. Ninety young children were sent to the concentration camp at Gneisenau, with some taken later to Nazi orphanages if they were German looking.[ It has to be noted that the vast majority, more than 80, were gassed by carbon monoxide in a truck specially built for that purpose - AMT].

The village of Lidice was then destroyed building by building with explosives, then completely leveled until not a trace remained, [even corpses were removed from the cemetary - AMT]. with grain being planted over the flattened soil. The name was then removed from all German maps.

In an interesting footnote, several towns around the world changed their name to Lidice, or changed the name of streets and squares, after the scope and horror of that tragedy became known.

Towns and villages

St. Jerónimo – Lidice, D.F. Mexico
Lidice, Illinois, USA
Lidice, Brazil
Lidice, Panama

City quarters
Caracas, Venezuela
Lima, Peru
Regla, Cuba
Gan Yaoneh, Israel

Squares, streets, monuments, parks, schools and associations

Santiago, Chile
Montevideo, Uruguay
Callao, Peru Molo, Peru H
avana, Cuba Caibarien, Cuba
Philips, Wisconsin
Tabor, South Dakota
Valparaiso, Chile
Budapest, Hungary
Bogota, Columbia
London, Great Britain
Golla, Great Britain
Bremen, Germany

Saturday, November 24, 2007


I have been struggling for a day and a half to compose a post on the visit Kathy and I made to Lidice on Thanksgiving. I have the beginning down pat, here is how it goes:

Last Thanksgiving, with Noah at school, Kathy and I spent a couple of hours at the Museum of Communism which is just off of Wenceslas Square in the center of Prague. It was a sobering experience in a general, non-personal sort of way. Afterwards we were left feeling grateful that we won the Cold War and were spared the tyranny of Communism.

This Thanksgiving, Kathy and I visited the museum and grounds of Lidice, just 10 minutes northwest of our house. I was unfamiliar with the story of Lidice before moving to Prague and it is likley that you are unfamiliar with it as well.

From here I tried to give a summary of what happened in Lidice, less than 10 miles from our house, in June 1942. But I ended up going into great detail and the post got to be too long and I was never happy because I didn't want to leave important information out.

Well, the only way I can finish this post is to just put in a few pictures and link to a couple of sources and let you look at them if you like. It is really a heartbreaking story, so be forewarned.

We got there at just after its 9:00 am opening and for the two hours we were there we were the only visitors in the museum and on the expansive grounds. Being alone only made it seem sadder. It was grey, windy and cold, which fit our mood. Still, visiting Lidice was also a very fitting thing to do on Thanksgiving. As we drove away after our visit I have never been more thankful for Noah and Kathy and our family and friends.

Lidice before (top) and after (bottom) June 10, 1942.

All men of Lidice 15 or older (over 150 in all) were marched out and shot by firing squad by the SS before the town was raised.

After the town was completely destroyed the Nazis even removed bodies from the cemetary. There was to be no proof that Lidice ever existed.

The women were sent to a concentration camp. A few of children were allowed to be adopted by German families (because these children looked "German") while the others, over 80, were gassed at the camp at Chelmo, Poland a few weeks later.

Here is the memorial for the children of Lidice.

Here is the link to the web site of the Lidice Museum and Memorial.

Here is the link to the Wikipedia entry on Lidice.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Thanksgiving in Prague...

As mentioned before, Noah had school on Thanksgiving and I had the day off so Kathy and I had several hours to ourselves. We visited the museum at Lidice and I will post on that later.

A bunch of us Americans arranged to rent out a private room at a restuarant/hotel in Nebusice (the village where Noah's school is). The place is called U Ade and we had not been there before even though it is within 5 minutes of our house. The room we had was very spacious and had a full stage with lights and sound. We found out that schools often rented the hall out for their school plays. T

We had the restaurant provide the turkey, corn, peas and mashed potatoes. We each brought a dish to share - Kathy brought her very popular sweet potatoes and there were also lots of desserts.

There were about 30 people in all, including about a dozen kids. The boys primarily spent their time playing on the foosball table that was in the back of the room and the girls (and a few boys) used the stage to dance and lip synch to the High School Musical soundtrack. The kids all played together very well and the evening was very pleasant. It was as close to a "normal" Thanksgiving that you could hope for while in Europe.

When we got home I turned on the satellite TV ans watched the second half of the Packers-Lions game. Perfect!

Here is the room.

A stage and foosball table kept the kids occupied.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

New blog feature...

I like playing around with new features for the blog. Some are 3rd party widgets like the dollar exchange rate and some are developed and offered by blogspot. Blogspot has just allowed access to Flickr, which is Yahoo's photosharing feature. I am supposed to be able to link to the photos that are in my Flickr account but I am having probelms doing that. What I have been able to do, though, is offer a slideshow of all pictures at Flickr with the subject of "Prague". So while I did not take these pictures they give you some great views of Prague. I am in the process of transferring my photos to Flickr and will continue to try to get them linked so you can see all of our photos and not just the ones that get used in my posts.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Noah is on the 21-day disabled list...

Noah was playing team handball after school today and was backpedaling fast when he fell backwards and fractured his left wrist. Kathy was at school at the time and took him to a clinic close by called Unicare. ISP had called ahead and they were waiting to look him over. They were great but unfortunately their x-ray technician had left for the day so Kathy had to get him to MOTOL, the largest hospital in central Europe, and where foreigners generally go.

This is where it gets a little frustrating. Kathy called me at work to let me know what had happened and that they were going to MOTOL. Even though it is only about 10 minutes away from the clinic I suggested that they take a taxi since it was rush hour and (since it was later than 4:30) pitch black. I had to figure out how to get there since it isn't on a metro line. So instead of both of us just driving there like we would in the States it was like planning an invasion.

Noah ended up convincing Kathy to drive to MOTOL and thank goodness she got directly there. We had done a driving dry run to MOTOL last spring - just in case - and it paid off. I got there about 15 minutes after them but it was a trick finding them because of the size of the complex and the language barrier. Twice I went up to an information desk and said "X-ray?" hoping they would point me in the right direction and twice the nurse picked up her phone, dialed a few numbers and handed me the receiver. Yes, I was talking to someone in the X-ray department, someone with very limited English skills. I guess they figured that calling the x-ray department was less work than trying to give me directions. Anyway, Kathy ended up texting me and got me to the orthopedic waiting room while they were getting Noah's arm X-rayed. A few minutes later they were back and we were all together.

The doctor, who had decent English, asked Noah what had happened (and I got that "son, you can tell us if your father beat you" vibe) and he relayed how he had fallen backwards at school. The doctor pressed various spots on his arm and you could really tell when he hit the "spot" as Noah almost hit the ceiling. But he was a real trooper and didn't cry.

The doctor left to review the X-rays and came back a few minutes later to say that nothing was dislocated but there was a small fracture and Noah would have to be in a cast for three weeks. So the plaster cast (yes, plaster) was on in ten minutes and we were on our way.

The good news - the whole thing only cost $50 (and we should get that back from the insurance company).

Monday, November 19, 2007

Thanksgiving week...

There is no holiday more American than Thanksgiving. The 4th of July may be close, but every country has its holiday celebrating its own creation. Thanksgiving is different - it is a nation pausing once during the year to give thanks for what it is blessed to have. This should involve the thanking of a Deity, but such backwards notions are frowned upon in modern America. Thanksgiving has become each family being thankful for what it has. That's OK, I guess.

You might wonder what an American who is living outside of the US does when a uniquely American holiday pops up on the calendar. Well, since I work for an American company I actually get Thursday off. Noah has school and no one else is off of work, so it is really different from being at home.

Last Thanksgiving Kathy and I spent a couple of hours at the Museum of Communism, learning how life was different in the Czech Republic during the dark times of Communism prior to 1989. When we left I felt very thankful that I was born and raised in the US.

This Thanksgiving Kathy and I will be visiting the museum in Lidice, which is just a few miles from our house. I will post separately on Lidice after our visit, but Lidice (German: Liditz) is a village just north-west of Prague which, as part of Czechoslovakia, was completely destroyed by the Germans during World War II. On June 10, 1942, all 192 adult men from the village were murdered by the Germans, and the rest of the population deported. I went to Lidice with Kathy's family when they were here, but Kathy was not able to come. The museum and grounds are so well done that I wanted to go again with Kathy. Not exactly a "feel good" activity, but again a good way to be reminded of how easy we have it and how little we really have needed to sacrifice compared to others.

At 5:00 on Thursday we are meeting friends at a local restaurant in Nebusice (where Noah's school is) for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. We are looking forward to it very much. When we get home, probably about 8:00, I plan on unbuttoning my pants and watching the second half of of the early NFL game on my satellite. Not the same as Thanksgiving in the US, but pretty close.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Grey Prague...

This is our second winter in Prague. Last winter we were amazed at how mild the winter was, especially considering that Prague is the same latitude as Winnipeg. The temperatures were quite mild, with just about every day being over freezing, and most days in the 40s. I think the lowest temperature we had all winter was a low of 15 degrees (F), and the sun, while more scarce than in MN still made regular appearances. There wasn't much snow either. We only had a single snowfall that was more than a dusting, and that was about a foot in early February. Because of the warm temperatures even that amount of snow was gone within about 5 days.

We had been warned that last winter was an anomaly but didn't really believe it - until now. We have seen the sun exactly three times in the last month. Today was one of those times, but it was only briefly, maybe a few hours. It has been cold and grey and depressing and nothing at all like last winter.

While Noah was at Sunday school this morning, Kathy and I walked to the Charles bridge before stopping at a nearby coffee shop to shake off the cold.

Here is the Charles bridge. There are still a lot of tourists, particularly Asians, but the volume is a fraction of what it is through the summer.

Looking up river from the Charles bridge.

Looking down stream from the Charles bridge at two boats for river cruises. It would not be as enjoyable now as it would be in warmer weather.

A riverside cafe that is in hibernation until late April.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Midnight Mass in Rome on Christmas Eve...

Kathy and I, Noah and Danny will be spending five days in Rome over Christmas. Being Catholic, one of goals is to see the Pope while we are there. The Holy Father normally has an audience every Wednesday at 11:00 in the morning so we sent an email to enquire about tickets (they are required). I got a response back a couple of days later saying that since Christmas is on a Tuesday this year, he will not be having an audience on the 26th.

Plan B was to get tickets to either Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, or the noon Mass on Christmas Day. Per the Vatican web site last Friday I sent a fax (no emails) to His Excellency Archbishop James Harvey, Prefect of the Pontifical Household and requested tickets to both masses. I received a fax response from Archbishop Harvey today, saying that we had tickets reserved for the Christmas Eve Midnight Mass in St. Peter's Basilica.

His letter says "Since this ceremony is so popular, I would advise you to be at the Basilica no later than 9:00 PM". Hmmm, I'm not sure how Noah will react to a 3-hour wait even before Mass starts (actually, I do know how he'll react) so we'll wait and tell him at the last minute and be secure in the knowledge that someday he will look back in wonder at what a great experience it was.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Odds and ends from Berchtesgaden...

Here are a few final pictures from Berchtesgaden. It's coming up on three weeks that we visited there, so it's about time that I wrap things up.

Here is a sign from a bakery near the center of the historic central district. The lot where we parked was a few feet from this bakery.

Here is another intricate sign - they seemed to be fairly common. Those clever Germans.

Here is a sign from the salt mine that we toured. The history of the mine starts in 1156!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

November 13th, 1995...

It was twelve years ago today that I lost my boss (and best friend) Dub Combs in the car bombing of the OPM-SANG bulding in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. I had worked there from late 1991, just after the end of the first Gulf War, to the end of 1993. Besides Dub, a couple of other guys in Contracts were also killed, including Jim Allen, who I played with on the office softball team. A civilian engineer who was killed was Wayne Wiley - I had taken a train trip to the Eastern Province just before I left Saudi with Wayne and his wife, Renata. I knew all but one of the victims.

I was woken up the morning of the 13th by a call from my friend, Susan Bacon, who had also left Saudi and had seen news of the bombing on CNN. I turned on CNN in time to see video of the destroyed building and news that several people had been killed. I knew that friends of mine had died, but I didn't know which ones. That grim news would come out over the next couple of days.

The American victims eventually identified as James Allen, 55, of Atlanta, Mich.; Alaric Brozovsky, 31, of Spokane, Wash.; William "Dub" Combs, 54; and Wayne Wiley, 55, (all Department of the Army civilian employees) and Sgt. 1st Class David K. Warrell, 34, of Hasty, N.C. Also killed were two Indian nationals who worked in the building's restaurant.

My personal life had been in a state of flux. After leaving Saudi I went back to Columbus, Ohio, to continue teaching for the Department of Defense. But I was disillusioned with the Government so I left entirely and went back home to the Twin Cities to finish my MBA. To make a few bucks I drove for Quicksilver delivery service. In November of 1995 I was in the last semester of my MBA and had decided to join the Peace Corps in a special program that required an MBA and was in Russia, helping Russian businesses make the transition to a free market economy.

I called my old office the day after the bombing and asked if they needed help. Not surprisingly, they said they did, since they had lost about half of their Contracts staff as either injured or killed. So, instead of going into the Peace Corps I was back in Saudi for another year.

My life changed a lot as a result of the bombing, but nothing like my friends who were there. I have a framed picture of the bombed office building on my office wall, along with a picture of Dub (taken at my going away party) to remind me of him and what happened that day.

Ambassador: Car bomb destroyed military building
Six dead, 60 injured

November 13, 1995Web posted at: 11:45 a.m. EST (1645 GMT)

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (CNN) -- The U.S. ambassador in Saudi Arabia has confirmed it was a bomb that destroyed a military building in Riyadh on Monday. Six people were killed, including five Americans. Sixty others were injured.

Raymond Mabus, the U.S. ambassador in Riyadh, said a bomb blew up the U.S.-leased building. Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon told CNN preliminary reports indicated there was a large explosion in a parking lot outside the training facility at around 11:20 a.m. (3:20 a.m. EST, 0820 GMT), followed by a smaller blast about five minutes later.

Officials in Saudi Arabia indicated the explosion was a deliberate act of terrorism and said authorities were confident of "arresting those who carried out this crime." A group called The Islamic Movement for Change has claimed responsibility.

Sources told CNN the United States is working under the assumption that the explosion was the result of a car bomb, but officials have not ruled out the possibility the blast was the result of a natural gas explosion.

Saudi Arabia, U.S. State Department and Pentagon officials said the three-story building is used by U.S. military and civilian personnel.

Bacon identified the office building as the headquarters of the Office for Program Management of the Saudi Arabian National Guard (OPM-SANG). He said a mix of U.S. military and contract workers worked there in a training capacity. It was not immediately known if the causalities were military or civilian.

Witnesses said the scene was chaotic right after the blast. Bystanders helped to load bleeding casualties into cars to be taken to hospitals. "We are seeing a lot of burns," said a hospital spokesperson in Riyadh. Witnesses said the blast was felt across the city. "A huge explosion shook our building," a Riyadh resident said. "It was like an earthquake." (
200K AIFF sound or 200K WAV sound)
Saudi Arabia was the launching point for the U.S.-led multinational military force that drove Iraq's occupation troops from Kuwait in the 1991 Gulf War. But the U.S. military training mission in Saudi Arabia is unrelated to the troops stationed there in the aftermath of the Gulf War.

[The Pentagon identified four of the Americans as civilian employees of the United States Army: James Allen, 55, of Atlanta, Mich.; Alaric Brozovsky, 31, of Spokane, Wash.; William Combs, 54; and Wayne Wiley, 55. The fifth American killed was Sgt. 1st Class David K. Warrell, 34, of Hasty, N.C.]

Monday, November 12, 2007

November 11th, 1995...

It was twelve years ago yesterday, Saturday, November 11th, 1995, that Kathy and I had our first date. We went to La Cucheracha on Dale Street in St. Paul. It was a magical evening but things wouldn't all go smoothly (see tomorrow's post).

Sunday, November 11, 2007

St. Bartholoma Chapel...

This week I will be finishing up posting on our trip to Berchtesgaden. The weather this weekend was just terrible. We had planned on visiting Terezin, a WWII concentration camp that is about 30 miles outside of Prague, but it snowed a bit yesterday and today it snowed, then sleeted and then rained. We decided that after church we would just go home and stay warm.

Anyway, to continue on our boat trip on Lake Konigsee, the boat takes you to the other end of the lake to a peninsula with an old baroque hunting lodge and the chapel of St. Bartholoma.

Here is the view of the chapel as you arrive by boat.

From Wikipedia:

The church is located on the western edge of the Königssee (King's Lake) on the peninsula of Hirschau. It can only be reached by ship or after a long hike. The chapel originated in part in the 12th century. Since the 16th century it has been in the baroque style. St. Bartholomew is said to be the protector of alpine farmers and of milkmaids. St. Bartholomä has two onion domes and a red domed roof. The floor plan is based on that of the Salzburg Cathedral. The church features stucco work by the Salzburg artist Josef Schmidt and a three-apse quire. The altars in the apses are consecrated to St. Bartholomew, St. Catherine, and St. James respectively.

Near the chapel lies the old hunting lodge of the same name. The lodge, which was first erected in the 12th century with the church, has been rebuilt multiple times. Until 1803, it was a private residence of the Prince-Provosts of Berchtesgaden; after Berchtesgaden became part of Bavaria, the building became a favorite Wittelsbach hunting lodge; today it is an inn.

The hunting lodge is on the left.

Misty mountains off the lake.

Here is a photo I pulled off the web that shows the scale of the chapel compared with the surrounding terrain.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The truth about what I do...

is summed up in this cartoon.

Friday, November 9, 2007

The situation in Iraq IS improving II...

Michael Yon has been reporting from Iraq for quite some time. He raises his own money to stay there and, unlike nearly all mainstream media (MSM) reporters, he reports from outside the safe "green zone".

I became aware of his work originally back in 2005 when he took a picture that captured well the huge human toll that Iraqi civilians were paying due to the war and the insurgency. The picture, below, was eventually selected by Time magazine readers as the top photo of 2005.

(From Wikipedia): On May 2, 2005, Yon took a picture of U.S. Army Major Mark Bieger cradling an Iraqi girl wounded by shrapnel from a car bomb. Major Bieger tried to bring the girl to an American hospital to receive treatment but she died on the helicopter ride.

This week Yon posted a new photo, taken just earlier this week that again captures the prevailing sentiment in Iraq.

(Yon's Caption): Thanks and Praise: I photographed men and women, both Christians and Muslims, placing a cross atop the St. John’s Church in Baghdad. They had taken the cross from storage and a man washed it before carrying it up to the dome.

Yon gives further background on his web site: A Muslim man had invited the American soldiers from “Chosen” Company 2-12 Infantry to the church, where I videotaped as Muslims and Christians worked and rejoiced at the reopening of St John’s, an occasion all viewed as a sign of hope.

The Iraqis asked me to convey a message of thanks to the American people. ” Thank you, thank you,” the people were saying. One man said, “Thank you for peace.” Another man, a Muslim, said “All the people, all the people in Iraq, Muslim and Christian, is brother.” The men and women were holding bells, and for the first time in memory freedom rang over the ravaged land between two rivers.

The photograph reminds me of the Marines raising the American flag on Iwo Jima. As I said in my last post on Iraq, I am cautiously optimistic that the corner has been turned in Iraq.

One more interesting tidbit abut Michael Yon. He was interviewed on the Hugh Hewitt radio show on Wednesday and was asked by Hugh about the Iraqis and Iran. Yon's answer is not terribly surprising given their history over the last 30 years.

HH: And what about Iran? What does the average Iraqi tell you about Iran?

MY: Well, now that’s not only a good question, but an increasingly kind of semi-humorous question, because every day now, including yesterday again, a retired army colonel, an Iraqi army colonel, told me hey, we will support you in your war against Iran. And he keeps saying this in front of Americans…oh yeah. Every day I’m hearing that.


Well, I have a BlackBerry again. I had one with my last employer, ATK, but BlackBerry isn't as prevalent here in Europe as it is in the US and Radio Free Europe did not use them - until recently. A combination of demand (from our president, director of communications, me, etc.) and supply (more companies are adopting BlackBerry in Europe) has convinced our Technology guys to solve the technical issues with utilizing BlackBerry - and they have.

So I have a new BlackBerry 8800. It's pretty cool, and much more advanced (and slimmer) than the one I had over a year ago at ATK. It now has a color screen and can play music and videos much like an iPhone. It also has GPS but I don't know yet if the service we pay for includes the extra for the GPS function.

To be truthful, my volume of email is substantially lower than when I was at ATK. I probably get only 15% of that volume in my current position (plus, I don't work weekends and only about 42 hours per week). Still, the old Nokia phone I had was four years old and no longer held a charge very well. Since PDAs are standard issue for management, I am happy to have my BlackBerry back.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

More Berchtesgaden - Boat ride on Lake Konigsee...

I guess I should return to our trip to southern Germany before it becomes old news.

One of the highlights of the trip was a vist to Lake Konigsee and a 90 minute boat ride. In an area where just about everywhere you look could be a postcard, Lake Konigsee was the most scenic.

Just three miles outside of Berchtesgaden, emerald green Lake Konigsee lies in the mountains of Berchtesgaden National Park. The

According to the web site http://www.salzburg-hotel.at/en-salzburg_sightseeing-lake_konigsee_berchtesgaden.shtml

Lake Konigsee's landmark, the chapel of St. Bartholomew, can only be reached by boat. This world-famous church, originally dating back to the 12th cent., lies at the tip of a picturesque peninsula. Neighboring the chapel stands the former hunting lodge of Berchtesgaden's provosts and Bavaria's kings, today an idyllic location for an inn.

The Palace and pilgrimage church were founded by the Prince-Provosts of Berchtesgaden in 1134. The triple-concha design of the church dates back to 1697; the stucco-work is by the Salzburg master Joseph Schmidt. In the 18th century the summer and hunting palace was rebuilt, with older building sections incorporated. After Berchtesgaden became part of Bavaria in 1810, the palace became a hunting lodge for the Bavarian kings and was one of their favourite haunts. Since the Romantic period, the world-famous pilgrimage church, set against the Watzmann range, has been a source of inspiration for numerous landscape painters.

Here are Kathy and Noah posing by the boat that would take us on our 90 minute jaunt to St. Bartholoma and back.

Here is a spectacular waterfall flowing down to the lake. It had snowed a lot at higher elevation the day before we arrived and the melting snow created some volume of water for the falls.

Here are boat houses on the shore of Lake Konigsee.

I will post later with pictures of the chapel of St. Bartholoma.

Monday, November 5, 2007

A happy ending to a Radio Free Europe employee kidnapping...

At last a happy ending to a work related hostage situation. Here is the story from National Review's website (www.nationalreview.com):

A hostage situation with a positive outcome [Tom Gross]

A reporter for the U.S. Congress-funded Radio Free Iraq has today been released after a brutal 10 day kidnapping ordeal in Baghdad which, for security reasons, was kept out of the media.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was personally involved in the process that led to her release, as well as officials from the Iraqi government and armed forces.

Jumana Al-Obaidi, age 29, had been kidnapped by a criminal gang that initially said it was a Shia militia and then switched to call itself the “Sunni fighters for freedom.” Their real identity is not yet known.

Al-Obaidi, a non-practicing Sunni, was severely beaten during her kidnapping sustaining among other things two black eyes, and is presently on her way to see a medical team. Her driver was executed by her abductors at the time of her kidnapping.

Radio Free Iraq is part of the Prague-based Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), which despite its name, today focuses on doing very important work broadcasting in Arabic, Persian, Pashto and 25 other languages to the peoples of Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and elsewhere. (The network has also branched out from radio into television and internet.)

Two other RFE/RL correspondents in Baghdad (mother-of-three Khamail Khalaf, and a young man, Nazar Al-Radh) have already been murdered this year.

The remaining seven Baghdad bureau staff have been offered relocation but all have refused saying they are determined not to give in to the terrorists and to continue reporting fully and frankly what is happening in Iraq to other Iraqis. The station has a wide audience in Iraq.

A correspondent on the Uzbek language service of RFE/RL was murdered last week, almost certainly by the Uzbek security services. And last year, a 58-year-old female correspondent for the RFE/RL Turkmen service, Ogulsapar Muradova, was found dead in prison.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Uncle Son...

No one would think that I and my cousin, Rick Tischler, are related. He is well over 6 feet tall and lanky while I am (generously) 5'6" and, as I like to say, stocky. He is a couple of years older than me and while we saw each other often while growing up - particularly at out grandparents' home - we were not extremely close. I was closer to a couple of other cousins who were my age and also attended St. Bernard's (grade school and high school). Rick grew up in Moundsview - the suburbs.

I only found out later that he ended up in the same field as me - government contracting. That's quite a coincidence when you think about it sine it is such a specialty. The same as if we had both become proctologists. When he and his wife moved back to Minnesota from Iowa several years ago we started getting together occasionally for lunch, and we also both attended functions of the local chapter of the National Contract Management Association.

More recently we have both been working on our family genealogy, and we correspond by email almost daily.

Rick's father - and my uncle - Ray (aka Son), passed away unexpectedly on Friday. He was raking leaves and they suspect that he had a clot in the artery in his neck and passed very quickly. Our grandmother also died from the same cause type of stroke.

My dad passed away in March, although he had been frail for some time and when he took his final turn for the worse, I was able to travel from Prague to his bedside before he passed. I was thinking about the two very dissimilar ways that these two brothers - my dad and Rick's dad - passed. Ray passed very quickly, at 83, without any suffering. He was active until the very end. My dad, while I don't think he suffered, has been in declining health since suffering a stroke several years ago (a stroke that occurred on the same day as the funeral of a 52 year old former son-in-law, Frank, who had been married to my sister, Chris, who passed away from cancer in 1994).

For the last few years every time I visited my parents I would kiss my dad on the forehead when I left and told him I loved him. I had hoped that we could move to Prague for three years and get back to Minnesota with things no worse than when we left. Sadly, that didn't happen.

It's Sunday night, Kathy and Noah are in bed, and I am having a couple of beers (the big .5 litre bottles, not those wimpy 12 ounce dealies) so I am feeling philosophical and a bit morose. It is the natural order of things that parents mostly pass on before their children, but no matter how long and active a life they have lived it is still very, very painful for those of us left behind.

We will all end up taking the same journey as Al and Son, of course, so it's best if we act around our loved ones as if we could go at any time - because we can.

I offer my sincere condolences to my aunt, Audrey, of course Rick, and his sister Deb and the rest of their family.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

End of the year soccer...

Noah's Saturday soccer came to an end today. Afterwards there was a final game and then a lunch with hot dogs, chips, cookies. etc. He had his best game of the season so he was thrilled. He started in nets and gave up three goals - none of them weak - and then switched to offense and scored five goals. The final was 9-9 after a shootout (they normally continue the shootout until there is a winner, but the hot dogs were coming off the grill, which necessitated the draw).

Big save in the shootout.

And another.

This one got past him.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Back in the salt mine...

There is a working salt mine within a couple of miles from our Berchtegaden hotel so we took the tour. The mine has been in continuous operation since 1517 - that's a historical perspective that is hard for Americans to grasp, since to us something that is 100 years old is ancient. Anyway, the tour was a little over an hour and was more enjoyable than I expected. However, the tour guide, who spoke 95% in German and just 5% in English, solicited tips at the end which I always find to be bad form.

Here we are in our stylish protective clothing. It looks like we work in a nuclear facility.

Here is one of the rooms deep in the mine. It had some educational exhibits.

This is the small boat that takes you across the 100 meter underground lake in the mine. It's really cool. While you cross in the dark they have a laser light show. (I cheated and pulled this picture off the web).

This is a little grotto room. The tour guide gave an explanation in German.

From the Berchtegaden town web site (www.berchtegaden.com). The translation is a little stilted, even after I cleaned up some of the more confusing passages.

In former times, when Berchtesgaden was still "Fuerstprobstei", only chosen people were allowed to visit the salt mine. Today this vault is open to everyone and the attendance remains an unforgettable experience. Bringing in annually over 400,000 visitors in the mine, by the way in the same protective clothing according to the type of the old miner clothing, which have been already carried by kings and princes at the entry. And now a miner accompanies you through the fascinating world under days. You are shifted automatically into another time. With the pit-train you drive in the 600m long lug by the riding seat a into the "Kaiser Franz Sinkwerk", an enormous hall with a cover surface of 3000 square meter.

From here walk either on a comfortable or - which is still very beautiful - you slide down one of smooth-polished slides 34m down to the next station, a beautiful salt cave. In the cave you will be astonished, as the transparent colours of the rock salt lights up. Only a few steps ahead an instructive film continues to take up your attention over the emergence of the salt deposits and the production of the salt. Then the guidance continues: With a multiplicity of machines and devices the work is represented. In the salt museum you find among other things a chronicle of the salt mine, historical tools and lightnings, rocks and minerals and an earth tidal station. At an old "Handgoepel" you come past over a second chute down there to that 100m x 30m large, lit up salt lake.

With a raft you slide over the lake and arrive by a sparkling spring at the famous brine lifting machine of the royal upper mountain and saltworks advice George von Reichenbach from the year 1817. Now it continues to go with an inclined elevator uphill to a lug decorated with wonderful, old sinking factory boards and to the pit-train, which brings you in rapid travel back to the daylight.