Um, okay. Finally back :D I've been busy, revising and editing Mages' Exile, book 2 of Defenders of the Wildings, and writing the first draft of my next series, yet to be named, set in the Islands of the Wildings world, the home of Silas's ancestors. I've also got a few more blog posts to write about our trip to Germany, which I'll try to finish soon.
In the meantime, here's a sneak peek into Mages' Exile. (My newsletter subscribers got to see this first, and they'll also get first look at the cover, a tiny snippet of which illustrates this post.) This scene shows why you don't take the kiddos along on your fantasy quests if you can possibly help it, though if you've read Mages' Home, you'll know that Silas and Lainie didn't have a whole lot of choice in the matter. Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. (Note: this is not the final version; still some edits to go.)
Half-climbing, half-crawling, Silas left the winding path and headed straight up. Another measure and a half up, he pulled himself up onto a shelf cut into the slope, a good bit wider and longer than the ledge below. At the far side of the shelf, where the canyon wall rose again, five or six swordbeaks strutted in an agitated circle, spitting out curls of flame that hissed in the rain. In their midst, Garis sat on the ground, laughing and clapping his hands.
Silas’s heart skipped a beat and he stopped short. He suppressed an urge to run right over and pull Garis away from the swordbeaks; the last thing he wanted to do was upset the critters even more and provoke them into attacking. He held silent and motionless for a moment, observing the situation. It didn't look like the swordbeaks had hurt Garis, but they were clearly unhappy at his presence. A dark cleft split the canyon wall behind where Garis was sitting. The swordbeaks' den? No wonder the beasts were angry.
"Garis," he said, fighting to keep his voice calm.
"Look, Pa, fire chickens!" Garis shouted. The swordbeaks chittered, flapped their tiny forearms, and breathed out more fire.
Fire chickens. Silas closed his eyes, overcome by one of those brief, unexpected moments of sympathy for his own parents. “Hold still, Garis. Don’t scare them.”
“They ain’t scared, Pa. They happy and dancing!”
Great gods, what was he going to do? Silas studied Garis and the surrounding flock of swordbeaks, trying to work out how to get the critters away from the boy, or the boy away from them, without provoking them. He could slip a shield between the beasts and encircle Garis with it, keeping a strand of power extended to pull Garis and the shield out with, through the ring of swordbeaks. But wielding that much power with that much precision and control, without hitting any of the swordbeaks, in this place of wild magic while he was still suffering the effects of that weapon, wouldn’t be easy.
Still, it was the best he could come up with. Ignoring the discomfort, he began to draw power, shaping in his mind the shield he meant to make.
Watch for Mages' Exile, book 2 of Defenders of the Wildings, coming (hopefully) in January 2019! And in the meantime, stay tuned for the reveal of the amazing cover! To make sure you don't miss out on the release, and for early cover reveals, sneak peeks, special offers, and more, sign up for my email newsletter.
I'm pleased to announce that Mages' Home, book 1 of Defenders of the Wildings, is now available at all major ebook stores (and a number of smaller stores) for $2.99 or the international equivalent.
AU | CA | UK
Barnes & Noble
iTunes | Kobo
More Stores (This takes you to Books2Read, where you'll find links to a number of other international stores)
You can read the prologue and first chapter here.
Defenders of the Wildings is the follow-up series to Daughter of the Wildings, and Mages' Home catches up with Silas and Lainie some six years after the end of Daughter of the Wildings. They have a new home and the life they've dreamed of, and things are much better for mages in the Wildings now. But the Plain settlers aren't the only ones who hate (or used to hate) mages, and when a company from across the western sea comes to town, trouble soon rears its ugly head again. Only Silas and Lainie have a lot more at stake now than their own lives.
Defenders of the Wildings tells a self-contained story, and can be enjoyed even if you haven't read Daughter of the Wildings. (Though I hope you have, or will!) It's a three book series, Mages' Home to be followed by Mages' Exile and Mages' Uprising. It introduces a bunch of new characters I had fun writing, and gets us caught up with the characters from Daughter.
Defenders was originally 6 books, and I kept changing the order of books 1, 2, and 3 before I really got a handle on how the story went, then I combined them into 3 books. So there was a lot of work to do revising this series, and book 3 (formerly book 6) was nearly double in length by the time I finished the first big revision on it. It turned out to be a lot more epic in scope than I thought it would. But I think it's all come together pretty well :) The second revision of book 2 is proceeding apace. No promises on a release date, but I'm aiming for 3-4 months from now.
I've also started writing my next series, which is set in the Islands of the Wildings world, where Silas's ancestors came from, in a time period well before the migration of Island mages to Granadaia. This will be a trilogy plus prequel. It's still a long ways off; stay tuned for updates. In the meantime, I hope you'll pick up Mages' Home and enjoy starting this new adventure through the Wildings with Silas and Lainie.
I'm down to the last few editing passes on Mages' Home, Book 1 of Defenders of the Wildings, so it's time to show off the cover!
And the full wraparound:
The artist who did the covers for Daughter of the Wildings unfortunately was not available to do these covers, so I commissioned Yuriko Matsuoko. I love her vision of a more mature Lainie and an older and (possibly) wiser Silas.
Here's the blurb:
Once, they were hated and hunted by mage hunters and Plain folk alike. Now, former bounty hunters turned renegade mages Silas and Lainie Vendine finally have the life they dreamed of - a home and ranch of their own where they can live in peace and raise their family, and the friendship and respect of their non-magical neighbors.
When a company from across the western sea comes to Prairie Wells, bringing marvelous new inventions, Silas and Lainie figure it only means more prosperous times ahead for the town and for them - until an old and vicious hatred of mages rears its head.
As troubles stirred by unseen enemies divide the town, many of Silas and Lainie's neighbors turn on them. When danger strikes at the heart of their home and family, Silas and Lainie must fight to protect everything they love, everything they've worked for, before it's all destroyed.
Read the Prologue and Chapter 1 here (warning: contains mild spoilers for Daughter of the Wildings).
I've set a tentative release date of September 22. To make sure you don't miss the release and the very limited-time introductory price (release weekend only!), sign up for my email newsletter. You'll also get news about special offers, giveaways and book promotions, book recommendations, exclusive sneak peeks, and more, including a free copy of Tales of the Source-Breakers, a subscribers-only collection of prequel stories to Source-Breaker!
Kyra's Excellent Adventure Part 8: Into the East, part 3: Dresden
Sorry for the long break in the travelogue. I've been working hard on books; the second half of Book 3 of Defenders of the Wildings needed pretty much a complete rewrite. So most of my meager brain power has been going to that. But it's finally done, and now I'm working on final edits on Book 1. Watch this space for a cover reveal, coming soon!
So, on to Dresden. Dresden was planned to be one of the highlights of the trip. Once known as the Florence of the Elbe, a jewel box of beauty and culture, the city suffered devastating destruction from Allied firebombing near the end of World War II, a horrific, nightmarish tragedy. There's a lot of controversy over the reasons for and necessity of the bombings, but I believe the ultimate responsibility lies at the feet of the Nazi regime that led Germany into a terrible and completely unjustified war of aggression and conquest.
Since my previous visit to Dresden in the 70s, beginning after the fall of the GDR and reunification there's been extensive restoration work, and the city is once again a treasure. We were especially looking forward to seeing the Frauenkirche, the famous church that was reduced to ruins, left as a pile of rubble during the Soviet era, and finally rebuilt, 1993-2005.
Driving into the city, we passed the dreadful, ugly apartment blocks that once housed the families of Red Army troops stationed in East Germany. 10, 14 stories tall, I guessed, and no elevators. They don't look like dwellings; they look like warehouses for storing human cogs in the machine.
Past the Soviet-era apartment blocks on the outskirts of town, we drove into the city, and parked in a parking lot in front of this department store, built after reunification.
We didn't go inside. According to my mom, we could have spent a whole day just in that store, and we didn't have an extra day.
Our main destination was a short walk away, the square around the Frauenkirche. The church is breathtaking in its beauty and magnificence, outside and in.
In that shot of the balconies, you can see the resemblance between the Frauenkirche and the small church in Forscheim attended by our relatives (that we actually visited the next day; doing a little time traveling here!). We were fortunate enough to get there in time for the mid-day devotional, so we got to hear some wonderful organ music and an inspiring service.
The square and streets around the church are also beautiful, lined with elegant buildings. And there's a cafe there where you can get a strawberry parfait that's about a foot tall.
After this, my siblings and their spouses took off to go visit a castle, while my parents and my husband and I headed to the next attraction, the Gallery of Old Masters at the Zwinger palace.
On the way, we walked down this street lined with a mural of all the kings of Saxony. It's a history lesson in pictures, and it was fun reading the names and seeing the changing styles of clothing and armor from Konrad the Great in 1127 to Friedrich the Bitten (Gebissene) in 1307, followed by Friedrich the Serious (Ernsthafte) in 1324, followed by Friedrich the Strict (Strenge) in 1349, who was succeeded by Friedrich the Argumentive (Streitbare) in 1381, then later, Friedrich the Gentle (Sanftmuetige) in 1428, and so on to the late 1800s (unfortunately, my picture of the very end of the mural is blurry so I can't see the names and dates at the ends. They aren't all Friedrichs; there's also some Augusts and Georgs and other names in there too.) My husband had fun giving names to all the kings' minions.
My husband is a big art history buff, and the visit to the Zwinger was the part of the trip he'd been looking forward to the most. By this time, I was pretty tired, not just from the day but from the whole trip, and needed a break, so I sent him into the museum with my parents and told him to have fun, then I got to enjoy a couple of hours to rest and recharge.
I went to a cafe on the square by the Zwinger, which is also where the opera house is and a bunch of other cool historic stuff, and had an ice cream sundae. Germans are very serious about their ice cream sundaes, and the fudge-mocha-hazelnut concoction I got was delicious.
After that I retired to the courtyard of the Zwinger with my Kindle Paperwhite and my phone full of music and my earbuds.
Here's what I was reading:
If you like character-driven epic fantasy with a strong female lead and heavy romantic elements, this series is definitely worth checking out.
And here's what I was listening to:
I bought Kamelot's new album The Shadow Theory right before we left on the trip and hadn't really had time to listen to it. Finally, now I had the chance! Unlike their previous album, Haven, it didn't grab me by the throat with its sheer awesomeness on first listen, but as I listened through a few times, its brilliance started to grow on me. It's supposedly inspired by Jungian psychology, but I don't know anything about that. Instead, I got a definite dystopian vibe from it. Maybe because that was the theme of Haven, and partly because of the repeated catchphrase "I am the empire" which, vocalized in a growl, encapsulates the essence of totalitarianism. The children's choir on "Burns to Embrace" singing "We are the last to walk the earth" was especially chilling. It seemed a fitting album to listen to while visiting a city that survived two dystopias in the last century, the Nazi regime and the Communist GDR. And really, when you think about it, one is just as bad as the other. Some of the tactics and underlying philosophies might differ, but when it comes right down to it, there's really no difference between them. In both systems, the rights and freedoms of the individual are crushed beneath the demands of the state/collective, a philosophy that has put many tens of millions, if not hundred of millions, of people in graves in the last 100 years.
The most beautiful song on the album, Vespertine (My Crimson Bride) (link goes to Spotify, where if you log in/sign up for free, you can hear the whole album) offers a note of hope, and also seemed especially fitting. This probably isn't the real meaning, but to me, the song speaks of a beautiful woman fallen to ruin and madness, yet still living as young, vibrant, and beautiful in the memory of her beloved. It reminded me of a beautiful city fallen into despair and ruins then rebuilt to its former glory by people who refused to give up on the memory of what it once was. Every time I hear that song (and it's one of my favorites, so that's pretty often), I'll always think of Dresden.
These guys kept me company while I hung out in the courtyard:
And just a few more pictures from the area near the Zwinger:
After my husband was done with the museum, which he very much enjoyed, definitely one of the highlights of the trip for him, we walked across a bridge over the Elbe River, which is quite a beautiful river.
The only thing I didn't like about Dresden were the pay toilets. All three bathrooms I visited there made you pay. The one in the museum, you had to scan your ticket to get in. No way I was buying a 19 Euro ticket just to use the facilities, so my husband let me use his. I was hoping the museum's computer system didn't record that that ticket had been used to get into the ladies' room and deny my husband access to the men's room if he needed to go later. At the cafe where I had my ice cream, if I had thought to bring my receipt downstairs with me (the WC - water closet - was down in the basement), I wouldn't have had to pay, but there isn't anything that tells you that until you're already in the stall! And even at the McDonald's, you had to drop a coin in the turnstile to get in. At least you get a coupon for a discounted drink in exchange, but come on. Paying to get into the bathroom at McDonald's? At least, as long as we were in McDonald's, we enjoyed getting drinks with ice. No Dr. Pepper (by this time, my husband was seriously jonesing for a Dr. Pepper Polar Pop from Circle K), but yay, ice.
Aside from that minor quibble, Dresden was an amazing experience, deeply moving and thought-provoking from a historical perspective and filled with lots of wonderful things to see as a tourist.
Next time: Going Medieval, part 1
Time for a quick break from the travelogue to catch up with some news. First of all, have you ever seen one of those commercials that go, "Our buyer goofed, and now we have to clear out all this overstock"? Well, that's how I feel right now! I submitted three books for a sale at the Kobo store, hoping one would get accepted, and they took all three. So right now, for a limited time, three of my romantic epic fantasy novels are only 99 cents! My goof is your gain; here's your chance to get caught up on some of my backlist for a bargain price :)
In Urdaisunia, a land torn by war and drought and abandoned by the gods, a widowed rebel and a prince walk intertwining paths of danger, love, and war to save the land they both love. 99 cents through Aug. 13. Included in the SFF Book Bonanza sale below.
Click here for links to all stores
In a quest that spans centuries, Sevry, the last king of the magical land of Savaru, searches for the woman who holds the secret to bringing his destroyed homeland back to life. 99 cents through Aug. 13.
Click here for links to all stores
In a world where music is magic, disgraced musician Sarya dyr-Rusac hears strange and powerful new music on the wind. Torn between the man who loves her, whom she can never have, and a beautiful man in chains who appears in her dreams, begging her to sing him free, she must discover the meaning of the mysterious music she heard before the world itself is torn apart. 99 cents through Sept. 6.
Click here for links to all stores
Looking for more 99 cent books? Check out the SFF Book Bonanza 99 cent sale, July 23-29! Books in a wide variety of science fiction and fantasy genres, 99 cents at Amazon.
July 1-31: It's the Smashwords Summer/Winter Sale! Most of my books are 50% off with the on-site coupon code (it's right there on the book pages; just click "buy with coupon" and you're good to go), including some books that I rarely/never discount otherwise. Some books will move in/out of the sale as they go off/on other promotions. Now's your chance to stock up on my backlist!
And while you're at Smashwords, here are some other authors to check out:
As for writing progress, I'm still working on edits on Book 1 of Defenders of the Wildings and revisions of Book 3. That's been a lot of work; I've had to add some large chunks of new material to the book. On the plus side, I've added over 14,000 words to a draft that was way too short. I think we'll be having a cover reveal for Book 1 here pretty soon. Watch for it! (p.s. my newsletter subscribers already got to see the cover!)
I also did a re-edit of Sarya's Song in preparation for these promos. Nothing huge, tightened up the beginning and added a bit of polish to the rest, straightened out a few things that might not have been quite clear, stuff like that.
Back soon with the last few posts about my trip to Germany!
Kyra's Excellent Adventure Part 7: Into the East, part 2: Out of Darkness Into the Light
I was going to try to finish up these posts about my trip to Germany faster, but I've been busy editing books. Watch for a news/update post coming soon. In the meantime, on with the travelogue.
Last time, I wrote about my memories of the old DDR, eastern Germany when it was under Communist rule. On our trip this year, I wasn't sure if I was looking forward to this part of the trip; my anticipation was colored by previous experience. On the other hand, I was very interested in seeing how things had changed in the nearly 30 years since the Iron Curtain fell and the Berlin Wall came down.
Wow. The first thing I'll say is that the food we ate on this part of the trip was the best we had in Germany, which is really saying something because we had some seriously amazing meals. Whether it was epic home-cooked meals or an invitation to a favorite restaurant, we had some awesome food.
The other big thing that hit me was I had no idea what beautiful country this is. The weather was warm and sunny and beautiful (this time of year, April, it could have still been cold and rainy), much nicer than I remember it being in July of 1979. Clear blue skies, rolling hills, green meadows and forests; it's idyllic. In fact, my youngest brother went from kissing the ground after we left East Germany in 1979 to, this time, being so taken with the area he even asked about houses for sale in the towns we visited (there weren't any).
We spent a night at the Hotel Falkenstein in a town near where the first group of relatives lives, also the town where my grandfather was born. It has a hip urban vibe, very comfortable rooms (with hot water, even! unlike the hotel where we stayed in 1979), and, as usual, a wonderful breakfast. And an elevator, always a plus (not every hotel we stayed in, mainly small traditional, boutique family-owned hotels) had one.
We joined our relatives, my dad's cousin and his wife, their son A (who's my age), and A's wife and daughter for a truly epic Abendbrot (evening meal of bread, meat, cheese, and side dishes). I mean, it was epic, unlike any other Abendbrot we'd had so far. Ham, Wurst, different kinds of cheeses, a variety of breads, along with smoked salmon, steak tartare (I didn't try any, but those who did said it was delicious) beautifully-arranged salads and vegetable plates, and tons of it. And ice cream for dessert. This was the same apartment this family lived in when we visited them in the 70s, but now it seemed so much lighter and airier, more modern (even the building, a Soviet-era apartment block, looked like it had been cleaned up and modernized), with a beautiful modern bathroom overlooking lovely gardens behind the building. -->Correction: they might not have been living in this building; my dad recalls that it was a different building, but similar to this one.
After the meal, we worked some of it off by going out for a walk to see the nearby church, that my great-grandfather built (or actually re-built) the dome on when it was being restored. Here, we're standing near the grave of my grandfather's cousin and childhood best friend, the ancestor of the relatives we visited here.
And just for fun, here's a picture of the church while it was being restored, in 1910. That's my great-grandfather way up at the top.
After a while we walked on, coming to an empty lot in front of the church. Cousin A asked if we knew what place this was; after a moment, someone figured out, or maybe he told us, it was where that awful state-owned hotel used to stand. It was long gone, torn down. We stood on the spot and celebrated its demise.
Cousin A and his family were not living with his parents (based on my memories from before, I had assumed that they were all living in that one apartment), and he was very anxious for us to come see his house. So on our way back to the hotel, we followed him to another nearby town to his house, an old house that he and his wife restored and remodeled (I noticed that home improvement stores are all over the place in Germany). It was beautiful, everything in it, every inch of it top-notch and lovingly put together. Back in the communist days, he wouldn't have even been able to dream of having a house like this.
After we admired the kitchen and the living room, with its beautiful ceramic stove built in, he led us up to the top floor (3 or 4 stories up) to his study. Under the peaked roof, while his daughter swung from a hammock hanging from the ceiling beams, he gestured out the window at the breathtaking view, the sun setting in the west beyond the rolling hills and forests. "Das Vogtland," he said proudly, referring to this beautiful region covering parts of eastern German and the Czech Republic, which lies not too far away.
Cousin A took part in the protests that brought down the East German Communist government. I find myself extraordinarily proud of this.
The next day, we visited my grandfather's birthplace, which you can see has been cleaned up very nicely since the eastern bloc days. Like all private property, it was confiscated by the Communists when they took over and became property of the state, then after reunification, returned to the original owners. That whole process had to have been a huge mess, and I believe some of the cases are still working their way through the courts.
We also visited the one real tourist attraction in town, a "palace" (actually the residence of the town's ranking official, not royalty). It was very pretty, with the trees leafing out and the moat around it. In the eastern bloc days, the moat was filled with old tires.
We drove on to meet up with another cousin and his wife. They were unable to accomodate our mob in their apartment and the wife is in somewhat fragile health, so they invited us to meet them for a midday meal at a restaurant, the Berggaststätte Steinberg. And boy was it great. What can I say, more amazing food. I had the Vogtland Sauerbraten with apple red cabbage and potato dumplings. Oh, and it was lovely to see these cousins too :) I still remember how adorable their daughter was as a toddler in 1979.
We also stopped to look at the Göltzschtalbrücke, which has to win some kind of prize for how many vowels in a row. It's a big, very impressive red brick arch bridge crossing one of the river valleys of the Vogtland.
And then onward, to the next town, where my great-grandmother came from [Correction: my great-grandmother's father], and the next hotel. Finally, after more than a week, we got to stay in the same hotel for more than one night! By this time we were all ready for a break from hauling luggage in and out of the cars and up and down stairs. This was another nice place with a great restaurant, that prides itself on its daily fresh-caught trout.
This is a little farther north, not far from Dresden. It's also beautiful country, rolling hills, forests, and farms with small, charming rural villages. It's near what's called the Saxon Switzerland, a more rugged, hilly region with beautiful scenery and great opportunities for outdoor activities. ("[Something] Switzerland" being a traditional way of designating a hilly or mountainous region; during the Nazi era, referring to a region this way was banned, but the names have since been adopted again.)
We went to the home of Cousin H, another cousin of my dad's and his family (this is the cousin who keeps us supplied with a big carton of German chocolate every Christmas!) Once again, they laid out an epic Abendbrot for us. After the meal, we took a walk around the countryside. This picture is from right outside their house. The house is literally built right on a brook, with rolling green fields just on the other side. The buildings up on top of the hill used to be the communal farm. Since the fall of the DDR, they've been renovated and are now used as a community center. I enjoy the irony that among the events held there was the recent celebration of a teenage boy's church confirmation (Cousin H's grandson).
There's also a beautiful memorial to people from the village who were killed fighting in WWI and WWII, and also who were taken from the village by the Nazis and by the Soviets and never returned.
I'm skipping over a day, when we went to Dresden; that will get its own post.
A couple of mornings later, we went up the hill to another town where there's a church where my ancestors on this side of the family have worshipped for over 250 years. It was built by the same architect who built the famous Frauenkirche in Dresden. While the outside is fairly humble, the inside is gorgeous, a miniature of the Dresden church. It had fallen into serious disrepair during the Communist occupation, but has since been beautifully restored. Another relative had arranged for the organist/assistant pastor to meet us at the church. She gave us a presentation about the history of the church (translated from German by the aforementioned teenage grandson of our cousin), then played a private recital for us on the original, world-class organ. We even got to go up to the organ loft and see the workings of the organ.
That same day, we visited Cousin H's daughter and her family (the boy who translated for us at the church is her oldest son). They own a deer ranch, raising venison for restaurants, and live in a house that's been in her husband's family for like 500 years. They invited us over for afternoon cake, a German tradition of which I highly approve :D Three different kinds of homemade cakes, very fancy and delicious. Their 6-year-old daughter glommed onto me, probably because I radiate a Grandma aura, and asked me to come see her room. Up in the beautifully-finished attic loft, it's a little girl's dream room. She told me all about her toys, and I did my best to act like I understood what she was saying (Note to self: Start Duolingo more than two weeks before the next trip), and showed me how she can tell Alexa to play a song (yes, she has an Amazon Dot), and I learned that little girls in Germany are just as crazy for "Frozen" as little girls in the U.S.
After cake, we went out to look at the deer, and when we got back, they rolled out a full dinner for us. Venison from their ranch, sauerbraten, rouladen, wild forest mushrooms (I don't eat mushrooms, but those who tried them said they were delicious), and three kinds of dumplings. It was all so good. Again, one of the best meals we had in Germany. And they brought out a small plastic tub with ice cubes in it for our drinks! I don't know what the thing is about not putting ice in drinks, but after more than a week of lukewarm water and sodas, we were ready for some ice.
Visiting with our relatives was one of the most memorable parts of the trip, and one of the main reasons for making the trip to Germany in the first place. They greeted us like old friends, and showed a warmth and generosity that were truly moving. Their generosity and kindness to us were no more or less than when we visited them in the 70s, but now instead of worrying about the sacrifices they were (willingly) making for us, we enjoyed their eager sharing of their abundance. Things haven't been easy since the fall of the DDR and reunification; the Communists left the economy and the country in a shambles, on top of the devastation of the Nazi regime and WWII. But it's a rich area, in both natural resources and hard-working people, and we were glad to see that, after suffering through more than seven decades of tyranny, war, and hardship, from the aftermath of WWI to the fall of the Berlin Wall, things are so much better there. The lightness I noticed wasn't just a matter of weather and time of year and less pollution. It's the light that comes to a country when its people are free to live, to choose their own course in life, to enjoy the fruits of their own labors, and to exercise freedom of expression, worship, conscience, and association.
Next time: Into the East, part 3: The Jewel Box
Kyra's Excellent Adventure Part 6: Into the East, part 1: Shadows of the Past
At the beginning of this series of posts, I talked about how my dad's father was born in Germany, in an area that later became part of East Germany. His family emigrated to the U.S. in the 1920s, but stayed in close touch with the relatives who stayed behind. Maintaining the family ties was important to them, and the care packages they sent helped the relatives back in Germany through some very tough times in the following decades.
The times my family lived in Germany in the 70s (1970-71 and 1978-79), making the trip into East Germany to visit our relatives was a priority and one of the major events of our time there. These were profoundly influential experiences in my life, and (since this blog is about my books) on a lot of the themes in my books. Again, with this trip, visiting our family in this area was a priority, and I was very curious to see how things now, since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain, compare to my memories of how things were back then, during the Communist occupation.
First, for some context, a look back. Here are some random impressions from the 1970s (related with respect for the privacy and feelings of those still living who lived through those times). Some of these are my own memories, some of them are things I wasn't really aware of at the time that were later related to me by my parents.
My main memory is that everything was very gray and grim. My dad says part of that is because our visits both times were in February, not the best time of year. But I found my journal from 1978-79, and our visit in 1979 was in July. I've included excerpts from my actual teenage journal at the end of the post.
Time of year aside, I remember everything being dark and colorless. The pollution was terrible, all the buildings were blackened with soot from the smoke of coal fires. In one of the towns we visited, the town brewery dumped its raw waste into the creek that ran through town. Everything looked shabby, run-down, and dirty; the things that were new - new apartment blocks, cars - looked cheap and flimsy.
And not just the physical - the atmosphere of fear and lack of hope was palpable even to kids. People were afraid to speak openly. You worked at what the government told you to work at, you lived where the government told you to live, you got what the government decided to give you. And there were signs all over telling you how wonderful it all was. You were supposed to think what the government told you to think, even when it contradicted what was right in front of your eyes and what you lived every day.
To be allowed to enter the country, one of the things we had to do was promise to spend at least 15 West German marks per day.
The house belonging to my grandfather's family (like all private property) was confiscated by the Communists and the entire family was given one apartment in the house to live in. (Note: the photos in this post are courtesy of my father. All rights reserved.)
A grandfather's daily task was to go down to the store and stand in line for two hours to buy a bottle of rhubarb juice so that his young granddaughter could have some vitamins.
A town's allotment of meat for an entire week was a 3-pound (or maybe it was 3-kg) roast. People would just buy thin slices off of it. As we learned to our chagrin after buying the whole thing to treat our relatives to a nice family dinner. Why did the store let us buy it? Because we had West German marks.
Staying with our relatives would have caused too much trouble for them with the police, so we stayed at the state-owned hotel. On the ground outside, a pile of potatoes was heaped up alongside a pile of coal. Kitchen workers had to sit in the hallway to peel the potatoes.
In one elderly relative's apartment building, the toilet for the whole building was on the ground floor, a wooden bench with a hole in it.
In spite of the deprivations, our relatives welcomed us warmly and with overwhelming generosity. One time, all they had to eat was rice, so that was what they gave us. We did our best to return their generosity with the gifts we brought in and the care packages we sent, but it was like the widow's mite - they gave us all that they could out of the little they had, with their whole hearts. It was tremendously moving and humbling.
When it was time to leave, it was really hard, knowing that we could go but they had to stay. Sometimes elderly people would be allowed to leave the country for short trips, but anyone who was young and still working or who might possibly decide not to come back, no way. The thinking was that the old people wouldn't want to leave their homes and families for good. When we left, we felt like we were leaving our family members in prison and didn't know if we would ever be allowed to see them again. A few of the older ones did make visits to the U.S., but they had to leave someone behind in East Germany to make sure they would come back.
Leaving the country, we had to stop at the guard station at the border and wait for a long time while the guards searched every inch of the car. They rolled a mirror underneath and even stuck a wire into the gas tank to make sure we weren't smuggling anyone out. We kids stood by watching, and even though we were just kids, we knew enough to be terrified of what would happen if the guards found something they didn't like. The guards at the border posts served as judge, jury, and executioner. Finally the inspection ended and we were allowed to go.
From my journal (entries edited and names redacted for privacy):
4 July 1979
Our hotel rooms were nicer than I had expected, clean and modern. On the other hand, they were expensive (as foreigners, we had to pay twice the regular rates) and had no hot water.
Next time: Into the East: Out of darkness into the light.
Now that that's out of the way and the gods of the EU bureaucracy are (hopefully) appeased, on with the travelogue!
Last time, we traveled from the Black Forest to Neuschwanstein, in Bavaria. That covers quite a bit of distance, and in between we did make a few other stops. I saved those for this post, to keep everything organized by theme and so I could use this awesomely punny post title.
First, to catch up with a couple of things. That night in the Black Forest, we stayed in Hornberg, in a hotel up on top of a hill.
Since we'd had a big meal at the open air museum, most of us didn't feel like eating that evening. But I was hungry and so were my youngest brother and his wife (R&C), so I grabbed my husband and we drove back down the hill to a charming little restaurant, where we had a wonderful meal. The salad dressing was especially good. My brother and I were trying to figure out what it was made with. Some kind of nutty-tasting oil. Anyway, it was yummy, and we had a wonderful time. That was one of the best things about the trip, going off together with one of the other couples or one or two of our siblings and just spending quality time together.
So we had dinner and drove back up to the hotel, and that night were treated to a thunderstorm over the mountains. In the morning, this was the view from the breakfast room at the hotel:
So we drove on our way, through the forests and mountains and valleys and on out of the Black Forest. My husband got to drive on those winding little roads. Not exactly the Autobahn, but its own sort of challenge. We stopped for lunch somewhere, might have been Sigmaringen, which has a really cool castle but we didn't see it except from the cars as we drove by. Anyway, it was in a town near the headwaters of the Danube River. After lunch at a little bakery (I had a Schwabische Pizza, a soft pretzel topped with tomato sauce, pepperoni, and cheese), we walked down to the riverbank and saw these swans. Which seemed just perfect, swans on the Danube River.
And then on to the first of two famous Baroque/Roccoco style churches on our itinerary, Ottobeuren Abbey, built 1737-1766. (Pictures first, then commentary)
Then the next day, on our way to Neuschwanstein, we stopped at the second church, Die Wieskirche (or Church in the Meadow), built 1745-1754.
Probably the thing you notice most about these pictures is how ornate these churches are. All the art, all the statues, all the carvings, all the ornamentation, all the shinies. Kind of like music from the same period, by composers such as Bach and Handel. The melody is there and the harmony is there, but it's very heavily ornamented. Some people think it's all a bit overdone. But I love this style. There's so much detail to look at, you could spend days seeing every little thing. The real beauty, though, is when you step back and take in the whole. The color palettes, the motifs, the themes of the artwork and lines and balance of the ornamentation all blend harmoniously to make a glorious, awe-inspiring, and (to me, at least) spiritually uplifting whole. The architects and artists who created these buildings had a vision, and they didn't hold back on it. Kind of like with Mad King Ludwig and his fairy-tale castle. He had a vision of something wonderful he wanted to create and he went for it.
And I just think it's really pretty :D And these happy cows living near the Wieskirche agree with me.
To me, these churches (and Neuschwanstein) say, If you have a vision of something beautiful you want to create, go for it. Don't hold back because you're afraid someone might think you're crazy or have bad taste. Go big or go home. Sydney or the bush, as they used to say in the old Peanuts strips. Go for broke. (But don't spend your entire personal fortune and wind up deeply in debt, floating in the lake with your "doctor.") Make something that will make someone stop and catch their breath and go "Ah!" (even if it's you.) And it doesn't have to be Art. Anything of beauty - a family, an enterprise, a tradition, a legacy of kindness. Go for it.
I love this quote: "We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same."
~ Marianne Williamson
Next time: Into the East, part 1. (yes, I'm skipping some more; I'll get to everything in time)
While we mostly went to Germany for personal reasons, such as family bonding and revisiting places we loved when we lived there, we also went as tourists and made sure to hit some of the big tourist spots.
First was Heidelberg, where we went the same day my sister and I and our husbands took an unscheduled side trip to Kaiserslautern, so we got there later than everyone else. It was a beautiful, warm, sunny spring day and Heidelberg was packed. We met up with the rest of the family in the main market square, where there was a gin-tasting festival going on. So it was pretty lively there. My parents had staked out a table in the square for refreshments and people-watching and a central meeting place, and just for enjoying the lovely day and the beautiful surroundings.
Of course, in Heidelberg, the thing to see is the castle. Throngs of people were making their way up the steep path to the castle. I wasn't feeling up to that, especially after walking all over Kaiserslautern earlier that day. There's a tram that goes up to the castle, but it was out of order. So I decided to forgo seeing the castle. I told my husband to go up and see it even if I couldn't, but he assured me he'd rather stay with me and just enjoy being in the city <3 We had a wonderful lunch (it was so warm we decided to go inside one of the restaurants instead of eating out in the square), then walked across the bridge and enjoyed the view of the castle from the other side of the Neckar River. There are also some really nice big houses on the other side of the river. My husband works in real estate law, so he was just as interested in the houses as he was in the castle.
The next day, after our night in Karlsruhe/Durlach, we headed down into the Black Forest and the Vogtsbauernhof Museum. This is an open-air museum where a number of old Black Forest farmhouses have been moved and rebuilt. You can go in the houses and look around; there are some museum-type displays in them about different aspects of farming and life in the Black Forest, but my favorites are the rooms that are set up the way they were when people were living in those houses.
The way the houses are set up, the people live on the first and second floors on one side, the other side of the house is the barn. Or on some, the barn is on the bottom level and the people live on the next floor up. The houses are built to butt up against a hillside (the valleys in the Black Forest are very deep and narrow), and there's a driveway that goes up to the top floor so they can put the wagons up there. The houses look quaint and pretty on the outside, but inside they're low-ceilinged, dark, and cramped. And they don't have chimneys, so all the smoke from the fireplaces and stoves in the kitchens (some houses have two kitchens) would go back out into the house. But then you come to the room in the corner, kind of a parlor with benches to sit on and a big table and windows all around the two outside walls, and that was very pretty and cozy. I don't think I would have liked to live in one of those houses, but I'd love a room like that.
There weren't just farmhouses at the museum. There were cows, a breed found only in certain parts of the Black Forest that nearly died out but are being bred again at the museum, some geese, and a goat that was kneeling on its front knees to get at the grass. I don't know if that's a goat thing in general or just a quirk of that particular goat.
We ate lunch at the cafe at the museum and, of course, being in the Black Forest, had Black Forest Cherry Cake. Made the authentic way, with kirsch. We're not drinkers, and it was a little too boozy for me. @_@ On my to-do list now that we're home: make a non-alcoholic Black Forest Cherry Cake.
Of course, tourists gotta buy souvenirs. So we stopped at this veritable palace of souvenirs, House of Black Forest Clocks. And we bought stuff. Lots of stuff. (The store doesn't just have the expensive handmade wood items that are on the site; it also has t-shirts and dolls and toys and stuff like that.) I didn't buy as much stuff as some people did (R&C even got one of their handmade cuckoo clocks), but I still bought stuff for the kids and grandkids. Bonus: the shop will ship your purchases for you, which was great because in order to fit 10 people's luggage in two cars, we were restricted to one carry-on size suitcase each, just big enough for two weeks' worth of underwear and enough clothes to get by.
A couple of days later (yeah, I know I'm skipping some things; I'll come back to them in a later post), we went to what is arguably Germany's biggest tourist attraction, "Mad" King Ludwig II's fairy-tale castle, Neuschwanstein. Built 1869-1892 (Ludwig died in 1886) as an idealized, romanticized version of a medieval castle, Neuschwanstein is also very much a tribute to the operas of Richard Wagner; Ludwig was a patron and ardent admirer of Wagner. My dad, a huge Wagner buff, opined that Ludwig (who never married) was in love with Wagner, while Wagner was in love with Ludwig's money.
Even though it isn't authentically medieval, the interior of the castle is filled with breathtaking, lavish art, including murals of scenes from the medieval legends that inspired Wagner's operas and a wide variety of other cultural influences, like the Byzantine-influenced throne room that looks more like a cathedral interior. It also had a state-of-the-art (for the time) electrical system for summoning servants to and from various rooms, hot and cold running water, and the first (or one of the first) telephones in Bavaria. And the physical setting can't be beat.
I wasn't up to the hike up the hill to the castle, so we caught a ride on a horse-drawn carriage. That was fun :) I don't know much about horses, but I could tell these were some very powerful, muscular horses. Writing note --> The Uurikhani horses in The Lost Book of Anggird are very much like these horses.
The tours of the castle are very scientifically scheduled every five minutes. You get your tour number and time on your ticket, and there are kiosks on the ground outside the castle that show which tours are coming up next. When your tour is coming up, you get in line before it starts and scan your ticket to get through the turnstile. I suppose if your miss your tour time, they might still let you in, but I wouldn't want to test it.
The tour involves hundreds of stairs (not all at once, thank goodness). I didn't know if I would make it; after almost a week of traveling and sightseeing, I was feeling pretty worn out by this point. But I made it. I was pretty proud of myself :D We did take the carriage back down, after a stop at a snack stand for some "quark balls," fried donut-like balls of dough made with soft quark cheese. (My dad is a physicist, so to me, the word "quark" in the context was kind of funny.) They were so good. Worth the drive to Neuschwanstein and the journey up the hill just for those.
Ludwig didn't live to see Neuschwanstein finished. More and more he retreated into a fantasy world, sleeping at day and living life by night, alone in his castle. After a series of financial and political disasters, he was found dead at age 40 in a nearby lake along with his doctor. Only seven weeks after his death, the castle was opened up to tourists. Which seems really sad to me. He's called "Mad," but maybe he was just a dreamer born into a position where dreamers didn't fit in, longing for a beautiful world at odds with the real world. Schlocky and touristy, maybe, but Neuschwanstein is definitely worth seeing for its own beauty and the story behind it.
Next time: Going for Baroccoco *rimshot*
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