Good Fences: Thoughts for July 4

“As soon as everyone had a title, owned their house, they built a fence.” Christopher gestured to the very nice fences, all different, separating the nicely kept houses and yards in the village we were driving through. “It is theirs.” He lives in an apartment in Krakow, but has relatives who live in a village.

Think on that for a moment. As soon as Poland was free of Communism, as soon as everyone knew what they owned and where their property lines were, they built a fence. Some are tall, some are at most waist high. A few rebels have hedges, mostly low. All different styles, materials, shapes. Some have gates, others have none. But every house in every relatively new* village in Poland has a fence around it. The fields don’t, not always, but the houses do.

“Life, liberty, and the pursuit of property,” as John Locke phrased it. Property and knowing that this is mine to use as I will and care for and improve, property led to happiness and safety. Jefferson modified it a little to “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness,” but his other writings make it clear that a man without property depends on someone else, and cannot be truly independent.

Thus, in 1989, the Wall came down and fences went up. Continue reading


History and Remembering

If the trip just past had a theme, albeit inadvertent, it would be how history is remembered. Poland, the Czech Republic, and Austria, and Vienna, all have quite different “takes” on the same past events, and are twitchy about the twentieth century, for different reasons.

Houses on the main square in Wroclaw, Poland. Author Photo.

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Vienna Once More

I’m rolling down the Danube, reentering familiar territory on the northern bank of the Danube. Now the language makes more sense, and the river that has run through so much of my travels returns to view once more, wide and brown-grey, rolling through time.

People have lived in the Alpine foreland just west of Vienna, the Vienna Woods, since the Paleolithic. The area had fish, wild plants, shelter, and was on the way to a lot of other places. The Danube flows between the Alps and the edge of the Bohemian Massif to the north, and is a natural highway. Eventually farming seeped into the area, and the people later called the Celts moved in. The site of Krems, upstream of Vienna, has been occupied steadily since the Neolithic.

A few hundred years after the La Tene people settled the region, Rome established a town at Vindobona (between modern Rotenturm Strasse and Marcus Aurelius Strasse), then the larger settlement of Caernuntum downstream. People remained in the area, the Germanic tribes, the Huns and Avars swept in and out, Slavs drifted through, and then Germanic people reasserted themselves on top of Rome’s presence. Continue reading

D-Day plus 75

Grandpa Carl’s first visit to France began with the emergency bail-out signal. His plane had been hit by flack and the pilots could not keep it in the air (it was sort of on fire.) Windy, loud, dark, and dangerous was his impression of Normandy on June 6, 1944. He landed in a hedgerow, upside-down. Not the best way to begin an all expenses paid walking tour of western Europe.

He said he was lucky – he wasn’t in one of the gliders or in a tank. Tanks attracted unwanted attention. Continue reading

Too Much History and Too Many Flavors

I believe it was a commenter at According to Hoyt, a woman from Romania, who observed that you don’t want to live where a lot of history happens. The more I read about certain parts of the world, the more her words ring true. Central and Eastern Europe have a lot of history, and the historians, populists, and general population all interpret that history in all sorts of ways, sometimes at odds with each other and their neighbors. Continue reading

“Liebe Goldene Konfirmanten:” A meditation on faith

The organ-tour group happened to time our arrival in Leipzig to coincide with the start of Bach Week. We tried out two of the organs in Bach’s home church, paid our respects to his grave, bought Bach stuff from his museum, and discovered the mall that happens to have a train-station built into it. (Anyone who has seen the Leipzig Hauptbahnhof knows what I mean.) We also attended worship at St. Thomas, Bach’s church.

In addition to having a Bach choir there to sing part of the service and kick off Bach Week, the day also served to honor people’s confirmations, especially those who had been members of the church for 50 years or more – the Golden Confirmands. Continue reading