Pilgrimage to Austria Part 1

Salzburg, Austria.My oldest son, Christoper and I made a trip to Germany and Austria. I’ve invited him give his accounts of what happened. The trip was fraught with inspiration, illness, wonderful meetings and the final resting place of my beloved wife. I hope you enjoy.
Gerhart

We almost didn’t make it to Vienna
by Christopher von Kap-herr

“Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?”
Luke 24:36b.

Several weeks ago, at my weekly Men’s Club meeting, I mentioned that I would be journeying to Germany and Austria over most of March with my 89-year-old father. The purpose of this trip would be for him to revisit the places of his youth and exchange family stories with relatives in Austria. My role on this journey would be to assist him on the trip and to not only hear the family stories, but also to visit the places where they’d happened. There was another reason, as well, which turned out to be important in turning this from a tourists’ enterprise into a ‘Hero’s Journey’.
I uncovered this ‘other purpose’ when I started reviewing my dream journal to see if any of my dreams had predicted this journey, and then, if there would be a good outcome. When I looked back on my dreams from the past year, I found one that I’d had on October 12, 2014 that might have been a message from my mother, who had passed away in 2013.

I was approached by a woman at a flea market who asked me if I wanted a new pair of shoes. The woman was dressed in what appeared to be a peasant or gypsy skirt. Before I could answer, she led me by the hand to a mall to find a pair of shoes. I turned to my left and saw a street with a bus on it. I was not sure where I was, so I asked her, “Is that Sheffington Street?” She said, “No, we are on Shefford Road.” I awoke shortly thereafter.

This dream seemed remarkable because Shefford Road is the road on which my father still lives. The way the woman in the dream was dressed reminded me of the style of skirts favored by my mother. I began to wonder whether my insistent guide was really my mother taking me to see my father. That she was escorting me personally meant that there was an important reason for my visit. I had not seen my father since before this dream, so it seems that my mother wanted me to undertake something with him, like this upcoming trip.

The house of my parents

The house of my parents

How do I know this journey was what she had in mind when she escorted me towards my father’s place? The shoes suggest this because they are, obviously, symbolic of walking and travelling, something my father and I would be doing a lot of. Yet why would this be important to my mother? At first, I thought she wanted me to give this gift to my father, accompanying him on one last journey to Austria and Germany. But, perhaps there was more to it than that. What if she wanted us to undertake this journey, not for my father’s sake, but for her sake? If so, then what could be so important that she came to me in a dream? The only thing I could think of was that she wanted her ashes returned to Salzburg, the place of her birth. My father had been waffling on this idea. He said that maybe I should wait until he dies and then “do with our ashes what you will”. I cannot give the reason for why my mother might be so insistent that her ashes go back to Austria, but as with God who asks us to do things we do not understand, I decided to fulfill her wishes.

Mother's Ashes
When I wrote to my father about my dream, he agreed that this was a sign and the time was right for us to travel together to Europe. He was so eager that he put together the itinerary for our trip almost immediately. Our plan was that I was to travel from the USA to Montreal and from there we would fly together to Berlin. After that, we planned to take a short trip to Austria so my father could show me where he grew up and went to University, as well to Salzburg where he had proposed to my mother. The highpoint was to be the sprinkling of my mother’s ashes on the top of the Untersberg mountain. All of this had to be accomplished in four days because we had in mind to be back in Berlin in time to celebrate my sister’s 60th birthday by attending the recital of a well-known pianist at the Symphony Hall of the famous Berlin Philharmonic orchestra. Once we arrived in Germany, however, events spun out of our control and I felt myself torn from the role of tourist and thrust into the midst of a Hero’s Journey!
I should have realized from the beginning that this excursion would not be just a stroll past the monuments of my father’s youth. Upon our arrival in Amsterdam from Montreal, I noticed my father walking through the airport in a way that seemed ‘labored’. Sure, I should have requested the use of one of those motorized golf-cart type vehicles that so annoys walking passengers with its incessant beeping. Why I didn’t was a combination of my father being, in my mind, the strong hiker he’d been for so many years, and the fact that he didn’t give me any indication that I should seek assistance. We made it to our destination in one piece, but I was finally shaken from my state of denial about my father’s condition when, on the second night of our stay in a ‘pension’ in Berlin, I heard a loud crash in the middle of the night. “Oh my God, my father has fallen!” I screamed to myself. I leaped out of bed and to my dismay realized he could not lift himself from the floor. Suffering some stress to my lower back, I managed to help him up. I held his arm to lead him to the bathroom when I noticed a standing lamp lying on the carpet. “Oh my goodness, he fell on the way to the bathroom already earlier in the evening!”, my thoughts shouted. I supported my father to the bathroom, but when he tried to sit on the toilet he fell again! Again I lifted him, then helped him back to his bed. I thought, “This is it, we are stuck in Berlin. I will have to continue on this quest alone.”

Berlin

Berlin

The next morning, at my sister’s nearby apartment, we related the story of my father’s falls. It occurs from time to time in my family that when something out of the ordinary happens we look for someone to blame, particularly when it is something unsettling. In this case, my sister chose to blame my younger brother for “neglecting to fulfill his role as caretaker; our father has clearly not been eating well and has not been exercising”. As described in Joseph Campbell’s classic novel, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, help was soon on the way. A friend of my sister’s advised us to bring our father to a clinic near the Schloss Charlottenburg. We arrived by taxi unannounced, which caused some grumbling on the part of the attending physician, but who despite the lack of notice agreed to admit my dad. A few tests were performed and it was quickly determined that my father was not only seriously dehydrated, but had contracted some kind of contagious intestinal virus. This diagnosis resulted in his being quarantined in a private room for five and a half days. I must say, if I had to be in a hospital this would be the place to be. My father had a large room with a picture window overlooking the Schloss, which at night was ablaze with lights. I certainly felt alright about leaving him there until he was well enough to be sent ‘home’.
Reasonable people said there was no way he could go to Austria, let alone ride in a gondola to the top of a 2000-meter mountain, which was what we planned to do in Salzburg. But, on this trip, I had checked reason in at the airport and allowed myself to be guided by the spirit of my mother. As long as we have assistance from the spirit world, who cares what is reasonable. With some persuasion, my father convinced the doctor to release him in time for our flight to Vienna. He called to tell me to pick him up, so I grabbed our suitcases, packed with a few clothes and my mother’s ashes, and took a taxi to the hospital right away. From there, we went directly to the airport to catch our flight.

Next stop, Vienna

Next stop, Vienna

To be continued…

Home at Last

Salzburg, Austria.

Salzburg, Austria & Untersberg. source Google images

“Beware the Ides of March” – this phrase has always filled me with a sense of foreboding. I lost two of the dearest people in my life in the month of March, one of which was my wife of 64 years. Since her passing and until recently, I kept Geraldine’s ashes in an urn in my bedroom.
Although she never complained about it openly, Geraldine had always been homesick for her beloved Salzburg. She suffered from separation anxiety when her mother, with her two daughters, left Berlin in the 1930’s, then were evacuated to a village in Austria during the War. When we were married, we moved to Hannover, and from there to Canada. It was only many years later that we were able to visit Salzburg again, but did so several times.
On one specific occasion, Geraldine and I rode a gondola up the Untersberg Mountain. She had difficulty breathing in the thin air, so we made our way slowly, just the two of us, to the peak to marvel at the panoramic view of the beautiful city below and the surrounding landscape. Taking in this breath-taking view of Salzburg and the Alps, Geraldine mentioned, casually, that she would be happy to rest in that spot for eternity.
Since her passing, my thoughts drifted every so often to the question of choosing a final resting place for Geraldine’s ashes. My parent’s family grave in the Central Cemetery of Salzburg was, of course, an option, but my father’s second wife had long ago raised objections to that prospect for reasons known only to herself. So, where? I thought, “I am getting along in years. If I don’t act now, there will be no proper end to the story of the life of an angelic woman. I must fulfill her final wish!”
***
It so happens that I had promised to visit my daughter, Victoria, in Berlin for her birthday this past March, along with Chris, my older son, as my travel companion. It would be an opportunity to introduce him to his cousins, nieces and nephews, as well. Chris is a very spiritual person. He prays daily, attends church regularly, and communicates with God through dreams, receiving guiding messages. In one such dream, Geraldine appeared, leading Chris to see me. As Chris related in an e-mail…
“That she was escorting me personally meant that there was an important reason for my visit. I had not seen my father since before this dream, so it seems that my mother wanted me to undertake something with my father, like this upcoming trip. Why would this be important to my mother? It could be that she wanted me to give my father one last gift of a trip to his birthplace. She knew he would not go alone, so she recruited me.
However, as I write this, I recall that in my mother’s Will it is stated that she wanted her ashes returned to her birthplace of Salzburg, Austria. My father was waffling on this; he said that maybe I should wait until he dies and then ‘do with our ashes what you will’.
It could be that this trip was important for my mother because she wanted us to return her ashes to Austria. This made no sense to me because God is everywhere, so where one’s ashes are located is unimportant. Perhaps, then, it would be for the sake of making a symbolic gesture.
I hesitate to write this, but several months after my mother died, my father fell passionately in love again. Alas, this second love also passed away. Curiously, the only memento of my mother in my father’s house is her ashes. Is it perhaps possible she wanted to remove all trace of herself? If any of this can possibly be true, then I want to believe that she did this as her last act of love for my father; from the spirit world, she is sending the message that she is releasing my father from his commitment to her. My mother was such a loving woman that perhaps she wanted to show the extent of her love by finally giving up what was always most important in her life – her husband and her family.
I like to think my musings are true because it tells me that even after death we can influence the lives of others through love. If this was a conscious act of love, it is truly remarkable to me and, I think, closely approaches the love God feels for us!”

Spurred on by this ‘message’, I instantly booked flights for Chris and myself, and arranged for Euro train passes for Germany and Austria, as well. I told Chris that he should pack his mother’s ashes in his luggage. We would bring them to the place that Geraldine fell in love with, on the top of mount Untersberg, where rain and melting snow would carry her into the earth for her eternal rest.
I almost joined Geraldine on this trip. Shortly after we arrived, I fainted in Victoria’s Berlin apartment and had to be taken to hospital with a contagious intestinal virus. But, against doctor’s orders, I refused to stay longer than three days; I had already cancelled a number of family visits due to my illness. Chris and I did finally fly to Vienna to visit my late brother’s family for a couple of days, then took the train to Salzburg.
With an altitude of 6,473 feet, Untersberg is part of a northern spur of the Alps, just ten miles from Salzburg. In The Sound of Music movie, the song The Hills are Alive is probably referring to Untersberg. (The photograph above depicts a view of the Landmark Fortress as seen from its peak, a view Geraldine and I grew up with, a large part of wonderful, unforgettable memories.)
With my oldest niece, Elisabeth, and Chris with my wife’s ashes in a rucksack, I boarded the gondola for its 1.6-mile assent to the top of the snow-covered mountain. We disembarked, a bit daunted by the 100 meters still left to climb. Hanging on the safety rope, I managed to reach the mountain-top restaurant, utterly exhausted, succumbing to the thin March air. I urged Chris to continue on with Geraldine’s ashes to the peak, where he could scatter them under the dwarf pine trees on the south face, or, if possible, let them loose to the winds to let her blanket the summit.
As Chris began his accent, I realized with horror that in his distraction of keeping his precarious footing, he was climbing not toward the top of the mountain’s face, but rather to the edge of it! He had somehow managed to maneuver himself to the wrong side of the safety railing! Elisabeth and I began to scream out for him to get back to the other side of the guide rope and railing; I had visions of him falling off the cliff, plummeting down hundreds of feet to the unsuspecting cows in the fields below.
Thank God, he heard me and found the right trail. After a moment, he rounded a corner and disappeared from my sight, and I sat daydreaming, envisioning a solemn and inspiring moment – the majesty of the Alps, the deafening silence that can only ever be heard on the top of such an awesome mountain, my visionary son fulfilling his mother’s final wish, a fine mist rising magically from the urn to be carried on the wind by the angels, Geraldine at peace…
Alas, such scenes are only found in movies. Chris returned safely and showed me the picture he had taken of my beloved wife in her final resting place.

IMG_0256

“Ah, well,” I thought, “When the snow melts, she will become one with her beloved mountain.”
At least, she was home.