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A Patriotic Experience

Sorry for leaving you out, President Jefferson, but the picture just turned out better this way

Being the good tourists that we are, we certainly didn’t want to miss out on Mount Rushmore. Thanks to the fact that the Mountain Time Zone starts in the middle of South Dakota, we gained an hour and were still able to visit the place in the evening. At the entrance we were told that we arrived just in time for the “lighting ceremony”. Little did we know that what we thought was basically switching on some flood lights, would turn into a most bizarre manifestation of  American patriotism.

After a seemingly endless appraisal of the four presidents depicted in the monument, including, with some difficulty, of the somewhat misplaced Theodore Roosevelt (what the heck is he doing up there with Washington, Jefferson ad Lincoln anyway?), the female ranger who led through the event managed to cram into the remaining 20 minutes or so the following: the “Star-spangled Banner”, the unofficial national anthem “America the Beautiful” (the one that has the line “From sea to shining sea”), the “Pledge of Allegiance” (Fahneneid), a formal introduction of all former and present soldiers in the huge audience, all with name and troop unit, and finally the ritual lowering of the flag. Those were probably more patriotic acts than I have experienced in Germany during my whole life time. The idea of having only a fraction of this at a German national monument, say the Brandenburg Gate, is a completely impossible thought. I was relieved, though, to hear from Tish that she found this event in its intensity a little disturbing as well. Of course that didn’t mean that she wouldn’t sing along to the national anthem with fervor.


Looking For Lewis And Clark

In southeastern South Dakota, not far from Lilly’s farm, we had our first encounter with signs referring to the famous Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804-1806 (there would be more to come on our way to the northwest). Apparantly, on August 24, 1804, the two explorers with some of their men left the Missouri River in order to explore a nearby “high hill”, as they put it in their diary. Well, some people in east South Dakota may consider “Spirit Mound”, as the place is called these days, a high hill, but I’m pretty sure that Lewis & Clark regretted having used this term somewhat prematurely, when they approached Montana and then the Rocky Mountains later on into their trip.

Nevertheless Spirit Mound is quite a fascinating place and well worth the little hike to its … well … summit. Tish, the three kids and I were lucky to get there right in time for sunset.


I might as well admit it: I only wrote this post (and had Tish take the picture on top of the page) to be able to introduce you to the song “Looking for Lewis and Clark” by a US band I have always loved, the Long Ryders. When I first heard the tune in 1985, it was my first introduction to the Lewis and Clark Expedition, since in Germany you don’t learn about it in school.

While listening to the song for the first time in years, I had to realize that it’s a little more rock’n’roll than I would prefer, but it’s still catchy. And by the way: The Long Ryders, who broke up as early as 1987, might play some reunion concerts in 2013, so keep your eyes open!

State By State (15): Massachusetts

They sure got a lot of states up there in the Northeast – hope you ‘re not growing tired of seeing all those state line signs. Massachusetts was one of three states that we kept going in and out of during our month in the Northeast (the other two were New Jersey and New York). Our first trip to the “Bay State” included a visit to “Plimoth Plantation”, an open air museum that recreates the village of the first English settlers in New England, the pilgrims, who arrived on the “Mayflower” in 1620. The museum guides act, as if they were persons from that era, and they manage perfectly to stay in character.

At “Plimouth Plantation”, Plymouth, Massachusetts

(Written in Fort Collins, Colorado, July 5, 2012)

Communists in Pennsylvania?

It is a wellknown fact that most of the American pioneers didn’t try very hard to come up with new names for the towns that they founded on the continent. Instead they recycled whatever name from their home countries (or their ancestors’ home countries) they could remember. Of course that also went for the settlers of German origin, and so you can find several namesakes (Namensvetter) for almost every German town in the USA, from Bremen, Georgia/Maine/Ohio …  to Heidelberg, Texas/Minnesota/Mississippi …

Even as the most patriotic German tourist (which I’m not), you get used to this phenomenon pretty soon, when you are driving through the country. But my attention was re-awakened, when I saw a sign announcing the town of East Berlin, Pennsylvania. East Berlin, the capital of communist East Germany, the GDR? Which good American would name his town after an evil place like that? Well, it turned out that neither the Communist Party USA nor the Stasi (the infamous secret service of East Germany) had its hand in this mysterious naming. The real reason is rather boring: East Berlin used to be called just Berlin, but since there was already a different Berlin in Pennsylvania, it had to be renamed in the late 18th century.  With the result that nowadays there are only 17 towns called Berlin left in the USA.

Another mysterious name: King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. Here‘s the story

(Written in Vermillion, South Dakota, June 29, 2012)

The Battlefield Tour

I certainly wasn’t the most knowledgable person on the battlefield that day, but I probably had the biggest umbrella

After Tish’s shows in Lemont and Harrisburg, which both went fabulous, we picked up our wonderful host Katherine Pearson on her offer to stay at her place for an extra day. That gave me the opportunity to visit the site of the battle of Gettysburg, the biggest battle in the American Civil War and possibly its turning point. “GEO Epoche”, the history magazine that I’m working for in Hamburg, might publish an issue on the Civil War next year or later (this is classified information, so I can’t be anymore specific …), and that issue would definitely contain a long article on the battle of Gettyburg, so it seemed like a good idea,# to visit the place and get a feel for what happened there.

I took a guided bus tour across the battlefield area, which is huge and full of monuments of all kinds.  It was interesting to learn about the tactical successes and failures that occured on both sides. The tour guide made it a clear point, though, that most of all the battle, which was fought on July 1-3, 1863, was a horrible mass slaughter.

Another Pennsylvania landmark: The Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Harrisburg, famous to people of my generation for an accident that ocurred there in 1979. While in America the event is remembered by the name of the power plant, in Germany most people will associate it with the town it happened in, so for us it’s the Harrisburg accident

Tish and I on stage in Harrisburg.Pennsylvania. More about our performancein a little while

(Written in Vermillion, South Dakota, June 29, 2012)

State By State (8/9/10): West Virginia, Maryland + Pennsylvania

On our way from Ashland, Virginia to Lemont, Pennsylvania, we encountered the most bizarre alignment of state borders so far. Not only did we, rather unexpectedly, get to drive through beautiful West Virginia for maybe 20 miles, but we also got to cross Maryland on a two-mile stretch! Look at the map of this region:

The extreme narrow corridor that connects the Western part of Maryland (called the Western Panhandle) to the rest of the state is the result of an agreement from 1767 that settled a boundary conflict between Maryland and Pennsylvania (still British colonies at that time). Named after the surveyors (Landvermesser) who did the work, this new boundary got known as the Mason-Dixon Line. It became even more famous when in the 19th century it started to symbolize the border between states which allowed slavery and those which didn’t. In other words: between the North and the South.

So crossing the border into Pennsylvania ment saying goodbye to the South for Tish and me. Strangely enough, there is not a generally accepted name for the region that Pennsylvania belongs to. I guess the expression “Mid-Atlantic States” gets used occasionally, but it doesn’t seem to be very common. Pennsylvania symbolizes the in-between character of the region by the fact that it has borders with the three more famous regions of the Eastern half of the USA: the South (or Southeast), New England and the Midwest.

Pennsylvania is also a very beautiful state, at least in the parts that we have seen. I must admit that this came as quite a surprise to me, because I had always imagined it as a mostly industrialized and urban area.

Here are two more masterpieces of photography, more or less showing the state lines of Maryland and Pennsylvania: