Ruins of Castle Hanstein near Bornhagen, Germany

Visiting the ruins of Hanstein takes us back to medieval times - Castle Hanstein near Bornhagen, Germany in 2012 More »

Vietnam War protestors demonstrate - Wichita, KS, 1967.

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Solingen, Germany after the bombing, November 1944. - Stadtarchiv Solingen

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My grandmother Grete with her sisters in the early 1920s in Germany.

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B17 Bomber above German Airfield in WWII

U.S. Bomber flies above German airfield in WWII. More »

 

Category Archives: Travel

On the Hunt for the Next Story

Everywhere I go, I keep my eyes open for another story. It’s not even that I’m purposefully looking, it’s sort of an unconscious awareness that is ready to scream when something interesting crosses my path. You never know when you hit pay dirt. This time it happened on a strenuous hike in South Tirol—Northern Italy.

ascending stairs and stone walls

Stairs and More Stairs

At the entrance to the Gröden valley sits a little town named Klausen. And on top of the mountain, almost flying above it, thrones Cloister Säben. On a whim my husband and I decided to pay the cloister a visit. After all, the sign said it was only a 20-minute hike.

medieval castle on a hill

Branzoll Castle by Matthias Suessen Summer 2017-7870

Right. The trail began with a series of uneven steps and natural rocks. Picturesque, yes, easy to walk, no. We scrambled our way up to the first vantage point at medieval Castle (Burg) Branzoll. Unfortunately, it is privately owned and we were not able to take a look inside.

shrine with religious painting

One of the Many Shrines along the Way

So, off we went toward the cloister which seemed to mock us from its heavenly heights. The trail meanders on uneven ground along vineyards and sheer cliffs. Each turn offers a new breathtaking view of the valleys below. As the roads, cars and people in the valley turned to ants, we grew short of breath. Thankfully, a few benches offered moments of respite. All the way up there are small shrines with statues or old paintings depicting Christian figures. Some of them are decorated with flowers and candles. At last, we reached the first church (Liebfrauenkirche) which is located outside the cloister walls. You can refill your water bottle here. Unfortunately, the church was closed to visitors.

cloister sitting on a rock

Cloister Säben by Mmenendezb [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]

So we continued uphill along fifteen-foot walls, and what is called the pilgrim’s trail. These walls are so strategically placed that you can’t begin to guess what is behind them. The only way to know is to see photos from a distance, usually from the Internet or public photos.

At some point we came across a poster sign that told the story of Sister Magdalena Told, a Benedictine nun who showed outstanding bravery and is credited with saving Cloister Säben’s fate. Apparently, during the Napoleonic wars in the late 18th century, the cloister was taken over by hundreds of French soldiers. Most nuns had fled, but Sister Magdalena held her own. The French soldiers eventually left, but in 1808, Bavarians, who fought with the French, reoccupied the cloister. What made it worse was that the new government had decided to remove the religious status as a Benedictine cloister. As a consequence, its precious possessions were sold to the highest bidders in the village below.

View over valley in South Tirol

Flying Above

Sick about the destruction, Sister Magdalena dressed up as a soldier and hiked across the mountain to Bozen to complain to the local General. He not only listened, but promised to put a stop to the cloister’s occupation. Sister Magdalena proceeded to see the bishop in Brixen and pleaded for the reinstatement of the cloister. She got her wish.

What a woman! What a protagonist!

At the top of the hill we finally entered the oldest part of the cloister with the most amazing views I have seen in a long time. Flying is more like it when you stand up here above the valleys. Life as we know it is far removed. It is quiet except for the wind. You can almost imagine how it must be to live up here for a nun so close to her god.

inside an old church

Holy Cross Church at Cloister Säben

The highlight of our climb, that by the way took nearly an hour, was the Holy Cross Church at the highest point of the mountain. Inside, time truly stands still. It is a small church with few adornments, a simple place that is more powerful because of it. I can almost imagine Sister Magdalena praying in one of the pews, asking for strength and wisdom how to defeat the French soldiers and save her beloved cloister.

Sometimes it takes lots of effort to find a precious place. Sometimes such a place reveals a precious story. I hope I get to tell it one day.

Something New

audio book cover for civil war novel 'everything we lose'Recording of ‘Everything We Lose’ Audiobook Finished

Alan Taylor has completed narration of ‘Everything We Lose,’ my civil war adventure. Alan’s voice truly brings Adam’s and Tip’s adventurous plight to life and I can’t wait to share it with the world. Just a few more weeks until administration and distribution are complete. I’ll keep you posted and will soon share an exciting audio sample!

holsten gate in Lübeck

Holsten Gate, the only remaining city gate, completed in 1478

Visiting the Lübeck Dom

Lübeck, an ancient German trading town, located at the East Sea, is a beautiful place to visit. Its entire Altstadt (old city), an Unesco World Heritage site, is located on an island, surrounded by the river Trave and a canal. Many old buildings like the famous Holsten Gate still offer a medieval flavor of what life was like hundreds of years ago.

brick church in Lübeck

Lübeck Dom, started in 1173 by Henry the Lion

But that’s not why I visited. I actually went to the Lübeck Dom because it is said that Knight Werner von Hanstein, one of the heroes in the Escape from the Past trilogy is buried here. The Dom is giant and built entirely of red brick. Inside dozens of sarcophagi are part of the floor. I walked through the church searching for Knight Werner’s remains, but sadly was unable to because many of the stones have badly deteriorated. No wonder, if you imagine the number of people walking across them since the year 1485 (Werner von Hanstein’s burial year). I did track down the Dom’s administrator who is currently searching for a listing of all burial sites and promised to share his findings. I’m carrying his business card in a safe place.

First Draft of ‘The Italian’s Daughter’

I’m happy to report that a first draft of ‘The Italian’s Daughter’ will be completed very soon. However, a first draft is just the beginning of a lengthy process of rewriting. That is the price to pay when writing historical fiction. In order to bring a historical novel to life, in this case, the U.S. prohibition in the 1920s, every detail has to be researched. It is a slow process and to be honest, I sometimes wish I could enjoy writing a different and ‘faster’ genre. But then, I love immersing myself into a historic world, try to imagine what life was like. As always I’m interested in illuminating what it was like for the common folk because unlike the wealthy who had ways to maneuver the inhumane laws, average people were the ones suffering and dealing with a crazy world.