Sunday, April 20, 2014

Of Darkness and Light

The view during Sunrise Service this morning
When I first began to tell people I was moving to Prague, those who had traveled here before began to tell me of it's incredible beauty. And living here for two and a half years, it continues to amaze me with it. As I was standing in Letna Park overlooking the Vltava at sunrise service today, I was again just struck by the beauty of this city that has won my heart. I love Prague.

Yet, this magnificent jewel has so much darkness. It's seen during in the eyes of its people, with looks of hopelessness, loneliness, and despair. It's seen in the sex stores on the corner. It's seen in the nudity and marketing of the human body everywhere. It's seen in the empty cathedrals, functioning now as museums rather than places of worship. It's seen throughout the Czech Republic, in places like Lidice and Terezin, where the evilness of men is so evident.

The other night, the presence of this darkness hit me as I walked through Wenceslas Square. The clubs had opened their doors for the night. Around every ATM there were men crowded, pulling out wads of our smallest bill, 100 kc. I walked past several women propositioning men. And while hearing the mixture of languages I could see clearly that this is not just a Prague problem. This is a world problem. The English, spoken with both American and British accents, the Spanish, German, Italian, and multitude of other languages. The nationalities--European, African, Asian, North and South American. All of this pointed to the darkness not just being here in the Czech Republic, but somewhere much deeper--in the hearts of men.

Again this morning, as my roommates and I walked through the square again, passing people staggering to the metro and down the street, people throwing up on the steps of buildings, people obviously only then going to bed, we could see it. Not the darkness itself. But the symptoms of it. Signs that something is not right, that something is broken and needs fixing.

We kept walking, through Old Town, through the Jewish Quarter, past the oldest synagogue in the city. We crossed the bridge and climbed the many steps up to Letna Park. And at an overlook, we watched as the mostly-risen sun shed its light over this dark, yet beautiful city. And we knew that light had come.

That over 2,000 years ago the world was at its darkest. All hope had seemed lost. Death seemed to have won.

But then something marvelous and glorious happened. The stone rolled away. The tomb was empty. A dead man had been brought back to life. This was no ordinary man, but Immanuel. The Lamb who was slain for our sins rose again.

And as we worshiped with my church this morning, looking out over the city below us, I was reminded once more of why I am here. It may be a city full of darkness. But light has come. I'm here to share that light. Because He is risen. He is risen indeed.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

On Holiday in the Alps

"You're on holiday in Germany, and you don't speak German?"
I had to laugh when I was asked that, partly because I am glad that not speaking a language doesn't bar you from visiting a country. Otherwise I would be limited to only English speaking and Spanish speaking countries. Also, because who wouldn't want to visit the Bavarian Alps? They are breath-taking. As I said goodbye (actually, I said "tschüss"--one of the few German words I do know) and continued on my walk, I was struck not for the first time by how beautiful my surroundings were.

Originally, I had intended on spending my Spring Break in Prague and not going anywhere. My adventure buddy had other plans with her mission organization, and I wasn't sure I wanted to go anywhere. Then, on a whim I decided to start looking at option for Salzburg, Austria. Salzburg has been on my list of places to visit for years, mostly because of my love on "The Sound of Music", but also because it's one of the places my dad is always talking about from the European tour his family took when he was growing up. So, after discovering that rooms were more affordable across the border in Germany, and kind of accidentally booking a room, my spring break plans began forming. My destination: Salzburg, Austria and Berchtesgaden and Königssee, Germany. 

(Confession time: When I got to Germany, I couldn't find where I had written down the name of the bus stop I need when I bought my ticket, so I may have gotten off six stops too early. However, it was an absolutely beautiful day, so I wasn't too concerned.)

Why I wasn't worried I had gotten off at the wrong place
Adventure 1: Berchtesgaden and Obersalzberg

After the adventure of reaching Germany, I decided that for my first day, I would stay close to where my pension was. One nice thing about my pension was that the city tax (which you have to pay at a lot of places in Europe) actually covered a transportation pass for the local buses. So, if I wanted to take a bus somewhere, then I didn't have to worry about paying for it. Part of the problem is that the buses only come every so often. However, the area is also very friendly to walking, with signs that give you estimates for how long it would take to walk places. So, when faced with the option of waiting a while for a bus or walking, I would often opt for walking.

The first thing on my list to see was Obersalzberg, former mountain retreat of none other than Adolf Hitler. There was a bus that would take you up there, but I decided to take a lift up the mountain and then walk the rest of the way  (like I said, it was pretty). My main reason for going here was to see the Nazi bunkers. They also have a documentation center with a lot of information about Nazi Germany. Afterwards, my plan included heading back to Berchtesgaden to explore the town center. 
View from my ride up the lift

This was a shaft the connected two levels

Adventure 2: Salzburg

The next day I headed off to Salzburg, Austria. I spent the day exploring the fortress, wandering the Old Town, learning about Mozart, and of course, searching for the different "Sound of Music" locations.

Adventure 3: Lake Königsee

When I told my father where I was headed for spring break, he almost immediately suggested I visit Lake Königsee. I wasn't sure at first, but as soon as I discovered it was 2 kilometers from my pension, I knew it was going to make my must-see list. And I'm glad it did. It was a cold, rainy, foggy day, but the lake was still gorgeous. My favorite part was the echo wall. It's a part of one of the mountains next to the lake that echoes back sounds. They play a trumpet for you, and you can here the echo of it. Quite lovely. (It was also one of the parts my dad liked.)

Getting ready to play the trumpet

Saint Bartholomew
The Lake and the Mountains

Adventure 4: Hellbrunn Palace and the Panorama Terrace

On my last day, I had a bit of time between when I arrived in Salzburg and when my train left, so I used that time to explore a few final places. One of those places was the trick fountains at Hellbrunn Palace. This was another thing my dad insisted I must see. The archbishop who built Hellbrunn loved to surprise his guest with hidden fountains. It was very fun, but also very cold and wet. I can see how this would be wonderfully refreshing during the summer!

The other place I wanted to see was the panorama terrace, with incredible views of Salzburg. This was also a "Sound of Music" location, since it appears in the "Do-Re-Mi" song (It's where Brigitta tells Maria that do-re-mi doesn't mean anything). Bonus: They have lifts you can take to the terrace. It costs a few Euro. Unless you have the Salzburg card (like I did). Then, it is free.

Quite a lovely holiday, I must say.