What a Wife!

I flew into Tucson for my Dad’s birthday on a Friday, two days before his celebration and just in time for a fish fry. I couldn’t wait to give him his gift—a Kinko’s copy of our blog stories assembled and spiral bound—but I did.

I hadn’t finished documenting his Fellowship which was my goal for his birthday so we spent most of Saturday working on it. We didn’t finish. He had to take time explaining the four zones of the allied occupation of Berlin and I kept confusing West Germany with West Berlin so he had to get the World Atlas out. We finally made it through Berlin but still had Denmark and Scandinavia left to cover.

Map of trip

Total territory covered on Dad’s fellowship

I woke up Sunday morning and waited to see the light go on under Dad’s bedroom door. His “No Birthday gifts!” rule didn’t apply to me because the 172 pages I was planning to give him—with or without the final fellowship segment—were as much a gift to me as they were to him. And it wasn’t wrapped.

He really liked it.

IMG_20140211_180156His birthday was great. We went to church with my sister Joan and her family, and that evening they gave him a big party. My brother-in-law Arthur grilled 26 steaks! We had two kinds of double-baked potatoes, salad, cheesecake and a custard pie. Dad had been asking for that pie for years and Joanie and I couldn’t find Mom’s recipe. I found a recipe called My Grandmother’s Custard Pie on a Google search, sent it to my sister and gave us both computer viruses. But the recipe was spot on and the pie was perfect—thanks to Joanie. I told her I would make it but got busy editing Dad’s story on Berlin. I started the pie and then she took over. Good thing for that. I had added 1/2 tablespoon of salt instead of 1/2 teaspoon.

Joan's family in Tucson

Joan’s family in Tucson

On Monday, Dad and I had the day to complete the Fellowship so here, my friends, is the final section!

“It’s very evident to me, that none of our trip throughout Europe would have been possible without the attitude and ability of Dolores.” I could tell Dad knew exactly how he wanted to summarize his experience. “I believe, having been raised on a farm, without electricity until she was thirteen, really prepared her to manage all of the challenging conditions of our trip from day to day.

While I pitched the tent, the three kids would play around—often with other kids from the campsite. Dolores would take the car and go into town, going from store to store to find our supplies and groceries.  Most of the time, she wasn’t able to speak the language but that didn’t seem to bother her.

Through all of this we stayed healthy. There were times when tension in the tent rose. For example, Dolores would bathe the kids each night in one of the green tubs we had bought along the way. I remember in Spain, she had finished getting the kids ready for bed when one of them stepped on the edge of the tub and spilled the water all over the inside of the tent, including underneath the sleeping bags. But through it all, I do not recall one time when there was a harsh word between us. Everything was seen as an adventure and enjoyed—even that spilled water. We would somehow find a way to see the humor in a situation. Instead of hollering at each other, we’d sort of laugh.

So there was no illness, no tension, never anger and really only one answer…the presence of the Holy Spirit throughout the entire trip.

From West Germany, we drove on up to Denmark which was beautiful. We found an open space along the road and set up camp—it was warm and sunny and there were no bugs that I can recall.

20140105_182749_resizedHowever, the second day in Denmark it started to rain.

20140105_182802_resizedThe following morning, we got up early and did the routine—taking down the tent, and packing it up. We took the ferry and traveled on to Oslo, Norway. You could camp at any appropriate place you wanted along the road. The scenery was beautiful there too.

20140105_182628_resizedOne of the most important things I learned on the fellowship was about Scandinavian planning. I reflected on what I had learned from the city planner I had met with when we were in Amsterdam. He explained to me the reasoning behind the significant planning in their cities. In order to develop the land for their country, they had to plan years in advance because they were below sea level. In America, we expand into farmland surrounding the city.

When Norway and Sweden planned to expand a city, they would extend the transportation routes and subways beyond the existing city to create a new town. There, they would build a station for the subway and develop the town around it. This way, every one of their expanded towns had a means of transportation back into the central city. Individuals could buy a yearly pass for transportation and this could reduce the number of cars used. Many Scandinavians had cars but they would only use them on weekends and for vacations. They could use their mass transit for everything else.

It rained and rained all throughout Norway and Sweden. Fortunately, I had learned how to put up the outer section of the tent first when it rained, followed by the inner tent, so that it would be dry. This worked well for four or five days but after that, the continuous rain got everything soaked.

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Wet little Debbie

We found a hotel to stay at in Sweden so we could get the tent along with everything else dried out. I remember well, stretching the tent across the room and out to the balcony.

So to recap, after England, we went to Rotterdam and Amsterdam, Holland; across northern Germany to Berlin; north through Denmark and across to Oslo, Norway; east to Stockholm, Sweden; south to Copenhagen, Denmark; and back to Bremerhaven, Germany. We traveled a total of 12,000 miles and camped up until the night preceding sailing home—we probably would have camped the last night too, but we had to deliver the car for loading of the ship by 4:00 p.m. preceding day of departure.

20140105_183601_resizedThere is one rather amusing side light here. When we realized that we would have to spend one night in a hotel, we began to look forward to the prospect of a bath. Our last bath had been when we spent a night with friends in Heidelberg, Germany a month earlier. It turned out that the hotel we stayed at only offered baths in winter when the central heating system heated the water. We recovered from this disappointment and began talking of ‘taking a steaming bath every day on the ship.’ About five minutes after we boarded, we made arrangements with our cabin steward for baths the next morning.

20140105_183736_resizedThe tub was really full and the water very hot, but we were a little disappointed. It was filled with salt water which we found far from satisfactory for bathing purposes. ‘Oh well,’ we thought, one more week and we would be back home.

Reflecting on this whole experience, it’s interesting to recognize the responsibilities and roles that Dolores and I shared. I had studied and prepared for the trip and my part was seeing all the architecture, following through on the itinerary and details of the fellowship. Dolores’ responsibility was feeding us, keeping us healthy, washing all our clothes by hand, and making sure the kids were clean. This really was a much greater challenge than mine. She kept us all calm and happy. Except for setting up and taking down that double enclosure, two-room tent, my part was easy. What a wife!”

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On the ship headed home.

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Inspired by European Architects

Look at this roof! I can’t even get bookshelves to stay mounted. My office looked like a tornado had hit when my shelves crashed to the floor. The thought of dealing with wide span concrete structures and cantilevers makes my heart pound. 

Nervi's soccer stadium in Rome

Pier Luigi Nervi’s soccer stadium being built in Rome 1959

Though I’ve been exposed to beautiful architecture all of my life, I have never really been able to appreciate the level of expertise, courage and depth of understanding that goes into it until I looked at this roof and thought of my bookshelves.

Dad’s Reflections—Fellowship Part III, 1959

“One of the highlights of our travels had been a meeting with Pier Luigi Nervi. He was an Italian engineer and architect known internationally for his large-span structures built of reinforced concrete. He didn’t speak English but with the help of one of his men as interpreter we had a very pleasant visit. He showed us around his office and explained some details of his current work. We were pleased to note that he does much of his calculations and drawing himself. The following day, one of his men gave us a guided tour through his partially completed soccer stadium in Rome. The reinforcing steel is preassembled and then lifted by crane into the concrete form.

After all the steel is in place, for any thin section, Nervi used a fine mesh (similar to our chicken wire) over the total reinforcement. Nervi’s man explained that from experience the stresses are distributed better and the actual strength is greatly increased over the calculated strength when the mesh is used. Nervi seemed to be a very forceful yet quiet and humble man—similar to his structures.

Another significant privilege was having a meeting with Italian architect, author and publisher Bruno Zevi.  A recent publication of his, Architecture as Space, guided me a great deal through my time in Europe. He eventually published quite a bit of my work including the thin shell concrete structure churches and school, followed by Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis.

Eden Seminary

William Wenzler Eden Theological Seminary 1968

Eden Library Interior

When I think about the renown of these two men and their incredible talent and ability in structure and architecture, I‘m overwhelmed that I could walk into their offices unannounced. Each of them gave me a considerable amount of time.

We left Paestum, Italy and traveled to Turin where we saw Nervi’s Exhibition Hall. We were quite prepared for this work form the coverage Time Magazine had given it in 1958, Poetry in Concrete, and from the photos in Nervi’s book, Structures. The interior was all we had hoped it would be, but the exterior (we had never seen a photo of that) was tremendously disappointing. The large rectangular entrance section reflected none of the beauty of the arched hall—it appeared to be an afterthought. The arched portion itself was water-proofed with some black tar or asphalt and lost all feeling of concrete. We do not know the history of this project, but we imagine Nervi did only the engineering and was not the architect. If this is the case, the building is to us a perfect example of the need for a more complete integration of structure and aesthetic design. We believe that during a period of architectural (or cultural) advance, as we are now in, structure and architecture out of necessity become one.

Next we headed south to Nice, France and along the Riviera to Barcelona, Spain. The winter before our trip, the Museum of Modern Art had the exhibit of the work of a Spanish artist named Antoni Gaudi.

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Antoni Gaudi Temple of the Holy Family

We’d never heard his name before and were quite anxious to experience his work. We stood before his “Temple of the Holy Family” which had only its front facade and spires completed but it was enough to convey his thought.

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Gaudi closeup

His work seemed to “drip” with ornament and apparently was based on no systematic module. It was entirely free—unrestricted.

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Gaudi closer up

As we continued to drive around Barcelona, seeing more and more of his work, we began to respond to it in a much deeper way than we had at first. He had shown us the vast possibilities of architecture. He used the basic structural system of the Gothic period. However, he was not limited to the development of that period as we in America were when the Gothic revival swept our country. His columns were not limited to a vertical position, his vaulted bays were not necessarily rectangular or even symmetrical, his walls were seldom plane surfaces, his roofs were not merely a covering but often sculptural shapes covered with bright colored ceramic tile. All of his work showed a plasticity of form and unity of structure and ornament that we had not seen before. When we experienced the space of his work, we realized far better the full potential of architecture and its effect on the emotions and feelings of man.

Campsite in Barcelona

Our campsite in Barcelona

Barcelona

Camping in Barcelona

We went north and west through France. Along the way, we experienced the work of Le Corbusier. The first work of his we came across was Unite’ d’habitation at Marseille. That impressed me and later impacted my work. I was greatly surprised at the honesty, almost crudeness of his use of concrete.

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Le Corbusier Unite d’habitation

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Rooftop which had a pool and workout area

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More cool rooftop

We were disturbed yet pleased by the natural, almost unkempt appearance of the surrounding grounds—no mowed grass or flowerbeds, only natural shrubs and trees. We also saw his houses at Pessac and the Villa Savoie at Passay—one of his most famous.

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Corbusier’s Villa Savoie

We had recalled seeing pictures of it but were not prepared for what we found. It had been in a state of abandonment for many years. Draperies were rotting on their rods, dishes and silverware lay on the shelves, furniture and cushions were scattered everywhere, glass broken, flower beds covered with weeds. Our French wasn’t good enough to find out why it was deserted. When we asked a policeman, he merely shrugged his shoulders. Nevertheless, the house in its present condition gave us the opportunity to scrutinize everything and see it all far better than had it still been in use. We couldn’t help ponder the question—what good is architecture if this can happen to such an outstanding example?

Along the way through France, we camped at a site right at Corbusier’s Chapel Ronchamp. The Chapel had been covered by many magazines and I could only say it was deeply inspiring—its curving roof, unique use of glass, flowing walls and brackets—all mindful of Gaudi.

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Chapel at Ronchamp

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We had at this point completed our travels in southern Europe including Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Spain and France. We had spent some time in Munich, Germany and were preparing to head north to Cologne, then on to Brussels and the World’s Fair, then to England and finally to Scandinavia.

Camping proved to be interesting—especially with the children—and campsites were available everywhere. The cost was usually 25 to 50 cents per night. Toilets (in one form or another) were always provided along with drinking water, sinks, showers (cold water), gas stoves (we had our own), etc. and had proven to be as economical as we had hoped.

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Mom with French bread and wine. The only way to camp.

Since Rome, we lived in the outdoors, rain or shine, including our cooking on a two burner Kerosene stove.

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Mom knew how to wash diapers. While sipping champagne of course!

We washed clothes by hand, bathed in water heated on the stove, slept on air mattresses and blankets—we missed our sleeping bags which were back home. Our camping life was a full story in itself. It wasn’t exactly restful but it was certainly healthy.

We returned to Spaichingen to the Alte Poste Hotel and repacked all our things. We left behind our trunk and two large suitcases to be shipped directly to the ship for our return voyage. We also paid a visit to the sisters in Bremerhaven.

A second visit to the sisters in Spaichingen

A second visit to Dad’s relatives in Shpaichingen

We wore blue jeans or shorts and each of us had only one good outfit for “town”. It took us two hours from the time we got up to the time we were ready to travel in the morning and about three hours to set up, cook, eat and get to bed at night.The weather was excellent for camping in Italy and Spain, fair in France and lousy in Germany—cold and rainy. We hoped for improvement as we traveled north.

In regard to food, we had had no great difficulty up to this point. We’d been drinking any water designated as drinking water and Dolores had been buying fresh fruits and vegetables with no ill effects. With the exception of a few American supermarkets in Italy, it was always necessary to shop at four or five stores—one for bread, one for pastries, one for meat, one for milk and one for general groceries. Many stores were open to the street, especially butcher shops where the half steer or lamb would hang unrefrigerated in the open. When we went out to eat, we would normally order three dinners—the kids would share one meal. “Drei mahl mit fünf tellern” (three orders with five plates.) This led to extra charges for the extra dishes used and there was always a charge for the bread, use of the table cloth, etc. Then it was always topped by a service charge of 10-20 percent.

There were many little characteristics that differed from America of course and some amused us. For instance, in one restaurant a standard meal we had ordered included a bottle of wine or mineral water. We told the waiter, who spoke a little English, that we didn’t want mineral water, we wanted orange soda. He said that would be extra. We asked him what the cost of orange soda was and he said 150 lira. We asked how much it would cost for mineral water and he said 150 lira. We asked him to substitute one for the other but he didn’t see it that way. Orange soda was extra and that was that. We had similar experiences with vegetables. A dinner in France was 500 francs with peas for the vegetable. If we wanted beans it cost more—beans were more expensive than peas, I guess.