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Tim Boxer


Nina Boxer
Dan Hotels' e-Dan Club

Dr. Rainer Haseloff, premier, and Dr. Carlhans Uhle, director of investment/marketing, Saxony-Anhalt
Dr. Rainer Haseloff, premier, and Dr. Carlhans Uhle, director of investment/marketing, Saxony-Anhalt

Castle Church door engraved with Martin Luther’s 95 Theses
Castle Church door engraved with
Martin Luther’s 95 Theses
Castle Church altar
Castle Church altar
Wittenberg Gears Up To Celebrate
500th Anniversary of Martin Luther

LTHOUGH Dr. Reiner Haseloff, the minister-president of the federal state of Saxony-Anhalt is Catholic, he is swept up with an abundance of enthusiasm for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Tourists flock to festivals and church services throughout Luther Country (comprised of the states of Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringen) during this decade of observance that began in 2008 and will climax in 2017.

It was Oct. 31, 1517, when a resolute Augustine monk named, Martin Luther (1483-1546), nailed his "95 Theses" on the wooden door of the Castle Church (Schlosskirche) in the small Renaissance city of Wittenberg, on the banks of the River Elbe.

A professor of theology at Wittenberg University, Luther fearlessly objected what he perceived as false teachings of the Roman church, especially the requirement of dropping coins into the priest’s treasure chest to obtain letters of indulgences absolving them of sin.

In Wittenberg, Luther preached against this idea of buying your way out of sin, among other abuses of the Roman Catholic Church. By thus triggering the Protestant Reformation, Luther shook the power of the Pope and revolutionized Christian faith.

Lonely Planet: Germany
Luther wrote many hymns in German, which was quite a novel idea at a time when Latin was the language of ritual. He translated the Bible from the Greek, Latin and Hebrew into Higher German to enable the common people to read it for themselves. That was a radical idea. Until then only the clergy were learned, able to read. Luther gave power to the people.

At a press luncheon at the city’s Best Western Stadpalais, the Minister-President of Saxony-Anhalt, which was part of East Germany during the Cold War, said there were 25,000 Russian soldiers stationed in Wittenberg. Outside the city there were nuclear missiles.

Dr. Reiner Haselof is thankfully relieved he doesn’t face such issues today. He is focused on tourism and investment. Next May he will head to the U.S. to tour the Bible Belt and the west coast to drum up business for his state.

St. Mary’s Town Church (Stadtkirche) in background where Martin Luther preached. At left is City Hall
St. Mary’s Town Church (Stadtkirche) in background where Martin Luther preached. At left is City Hall

Bettina Brett, an engaging Wittenberg tourist guide
Bettina Brett, an engaging Wittenberg tourist guide
Outdoor café
Outdoor café
Dr. Haselof said Wittenberg counted 200 Jews during the Nazi era. Seven survived. After the fall of the wall, 3,000 Jews came here from Russia.

"Because of our history," Dr. Haselof said, "we must support Israel. "It’s the only democracy in the Middle East. I will go to Israel next October as a political signal, as support for them and for economic reasons."

Israeli firms are already active in his state, especially in the area of security. "They have a chemical factory here, and an alcohol business. They make kosher vodka in Magdeburg, which is sold in Europe and the United States."

The Chinese, he said, are here too, with the first green investments in Europe. They’ve invested in packaging for food and machine construction.

Unlike elsewhere in Germany, there are no Turks in this state, not a single mosque. But many Vietnamese have settled here. "They are very well integrated," Dr. Haselof said. "Their children are the best in school."

After the country’s reunion, unemployment was rampant in the ‘90s. Many people migrated west. The question of the future, Dr. Haselof said, is how to attract young people to return to this part of eastern Germany.

While he’s working on it, you will be well advised to start planning your trip to Lutherstadt Wittenberg in 2017 to partake of the many activities celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Get information at www.saxony-anhalt-tourism.eu.

Wittenberg street scene
Wittenberg street scene
Doorway to Luther House
Doorway to Luther House
Letter of indulgence at Luther House museum, that saves you from purgatory
Letter of indulgence at Luther House museum, that saves you from purgatory


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Sunken garden in summer
Sunken garden in summer
Discovering Victoria
‘Somewhere In Time’

E took the ferry from Seattle and landed in the charming British Columbia town of Victoria which reminded us of olde England—the clock turned back maybe 30 years. The Clipper Ferry, from downtown Seattle to the heart of the port of Victoria on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, is three hours long and costs $238 round trip.

Once there we savored some of the delights of the region. And there are plenty. Victoria has a picturesque harbor presided over by the palatial looking world famous Fairmont Empress Hotel.

If you were to pick one reason for visiting Victoria it would have to be the gorgeous Butchart Gardens (pronounced Butch-art). It’s a National Historic Site in Canada and a must visit destination---just a short drive into the Victoria countryside.

Monet’s gardens at Giverney, the gardens at the Palais De Versailles and London’s Kew Gardens are all justly famous but for our money the gardens created by Jennie Butchart, wife of a wealthy cement merchant, are the most beautiful in the world.

I thought we’d check out the pretty flowerbeds, take a few pictures and be gone in an hour.

Rose garden with delphinium
Rose garden with delphinium
Five hours later we were still there though we had made some concession to our tired feet by stopping on the veranda of the Butchart’s splendid Edwardian house for a magnificent English afternoon tea – finger sandwiches, scones, pastries – while our fellow garden devotees strolled unconcernedly in a fine drizzle.  Tea was very reasonable at  $26.65 per person (we added a Kir Royale as a  special treat).

Jennie Butchart had started off with the modest dream of creating a Japanese garden through which she would conduct her guests, who arrived by small boat at the Butchart private cove steps from the main house. 

But the ugly remains of a limestone quarry, from which her husband’s company extracted the raw material for his cement, was a blight on the landscape.  The quarry became the sunken garden—it now has fountains which become the center piece of the garden’s nightly fireworks and is the highlight of the entire landscape.

It’s difficult to convey the entire effect of this beautiful creation. Imagine a Disneyland for flower lovers but without the crass commercialism. Fifty full time gardeners keep the flower beds pristine.

Dahlia walk
Dahlia walk
It is impossible to fully appreciate the gardening smarts here in one visit. Do come in the spring when 300,000 bulbs suddenly burst from the earth, or in the summer when the sunken rose gardens send forth a heady mix of perfume that somehow never cloyed, or at Christmas when the entire garden is illuminated with thousands upon thousands of fairy lights into a winter wonderland.

From the sublime to the ridiculous: while we were in Victoria, the local Vancouver ice hockey team played Boston in the final game of the Stanley Cup.

This as an excuse to do some bar hopping, starting at the standing room only Sticky Wicket Pub—as English a pub as you’ll find in any village in England—great fun for us but not for the locals.  Vancouver was destroyed, so the early fervor suddenly vanished like a quickly deflating balloon. Nobody stayed to drown their sorrows.

Before leaving Victoria we had another couple of stops to make.  Point Ellice House is a Victorian home in the Italian style that was given to British Columbia by the family who owned it. Here you travel back in time to see how an upper class Canadian family lived at the turn of the century. It looks as if they had simply risen from their table, laid out their clothes on their beds and removed themselves to parts unknown. A really clever audio tour has visitors take the role of the new houseboy arriving for his first day on the job to be instructed in his duties by the Chinese major domo.

Alas, Point Ellice has been taken over by 21st century civilization: when you drive away from its  quiet lawns and river front you emerge instantly into a desert of cement yards and a automobile crushing plant. It is very disorientating and one wishes that having been given such a gift, the city worthies would have the good sense to buy and reserve some of the land around the house to protect it. www.pointellicehouse.ca

Japanese garden in autumn
Japanese garden in autumn
Secrets Of Victoria

Tips for visitors: The Canadian dollar, which for years used to drag behind the US currency, has now overtaken the not so almighty US dollar. And that means a territory once cheaper ain’t necessarily so.

Must visit: Sydney on Sea is an easy drive to the North West corner of the island. We rented a car from Victoria and found another village that looks like an English seaside resort of the thirties and forties, with several pleasant eating places overlooking the water.

Where to eat: Not far from Sydney we made a delightful discovery while looking for dinner.  At the Blighty Bistro we expected fish and chips. Instead we found one of the best meals we’ve had in ages. (2006 Oak Bay Ave. www.blightybistro.com) With the award winning world class chef Taakashi Hiroaka, and the lively local owner Richelle Osborne, the place is a little gem. Ask for one of their signature cosmopolitans. Then sample their fresh daily fish specials— halibut, salmon and go on to the most tender  filet mignon we’ve ever tasted. 

Where we stayed: Beaconfsfield Inn, 998 Humboldt Street (1-888-884-4044) in a garden suite. We paid $580 for three nights—and that included a $100 gift certificate for dining out in town.  The rooms were spacious, the breakfast food served in a beautiful Edwardian conservatory, superb. Guests are given a welcoming tray of wine and cheeses—and the library lounge offers nibbles and wine in the afternoon.

Dining on the verandah
Dining on the verandah
The Inn, nestled in a quiet residential street, is showing its age. Our "suite," while it had a brand new Jacuzzi tub separated from the bedroom by French doors and warmed by a large rock fireplace, displayed what is gently referred to as "deferred maintenance." The carpeting was a bit tired and there was some peeling paint and "antique" drawers with broken handles. 

However the public rooms are magnificent. It’s all an easy walk or drive to where the action is—to the Empress, one of those grand old hotels that was the pride of the Colonies, when royalty traveled, in ancient days and is now still showing some of its splendor. The Empress offers lots of "deals" for a more commercially oriented traveler.

We had cocktails in the Bengal Lounge where the buffet is a lavish tribute to British India. And there’s the famous Empress afternoon tea, served in a separate salon at a rather steep $50.

Best seafood in downtown Victoria: Pescatore is a bit like a waterfront Musso and Franks. Remember that Hollywood Boulevard hangout, still favored by old movieland?  Pescatore, at 614 Humboldt, opposite the Empress, serves a superb  array of sea food,  (Oh, those tiny British Columbian oysters) to a lively crowd of tourists and locals and the fastest moving wait staff we’ve encountered.

For more about the delights of Victoria—which even has its own wine region— visit www.toursmvictoria.com.


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