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Slovakia - April 2000

The Reverend Doctor James Wiberg

Luray and I just returned from a very pleasant visit with Paul and Kay Hanson in Bratislava, Slovakia, about TWO hours from Vienna.  We took a "clergy weekend" leaving after the Annual Meeting on Sunday and returned Tuesday. 

Bratislava is the site of the crowning of some 13 monarchs of the Hapsburg Empire.  The Castles sits on a hilltop (where else) overlooking the Danube. Luray and I spent Monday afternoon (April 10, 2000) walking its walls, exploring the ramparts and inspecting the deep well.  Naturally I imagined myself being under siege by the Turks here in this castle in the middle ages, raining steel pointed arrows down on the soldiers in the field and pouring boiling oil over the walls on my enemies every time they tried to scale the wall on a ladder.  I had no trouble envisioning pretty princesses being captured and carted off by the enemy and the resultant blood feuds that would carry on for centuries have been well documented by the historians. 

Paul and Kay live in the fifth floor apartment (no elevator) in church owned property.   Paul met us at the station and escorted us to the house and even saw to it that we found our way back to the train.  The Ev. Lyceum, a kind of high-school thru Jr. college, and the Seminary now constitute the ELCA's largest Mission establishment abroad.  Paul teachers Religion and Kay volunteers with a Harvard sponsored Nursing Education Program.  Paul also has responsibility for the English speaking congregation of Bratislava which now has an attendance of about 60 to 80 people on Sunday mornings. 

On Monday we spent the day shopping and touring.  Bratislava living standards are about 50 to 75% lower than Austria's so it is a great place to make your dollar stretch. We had Pizza and Pepsi for lunch in a remodeled wine cellar restaurant in the old town.   After visiting the "blue church", walking the old town; touring the new marketplace and hiking to the castle, we relaxed with Paul and Kay and then went out to dinner.    It was  very good that Paul and Kay were with us for this was a Bratislava Restaurant  (not much English here yet) and this language, being Slavic,  is totally foreign to us.  Though it uses our alphabet, it is influenced more by Slavic people that those of the Roman or romance language people.   Paul at least knew the categories for chicken, turkey, pork, fish and beef, so we could pick and choose in those varieties from the menu's;  they had at least six different ways of serving turkey, one of which was my choice; Paul had pork; Luray, another form of turkey and Kay, chicken;  A delicious Oedeurve plate, the size of a meal, a specialty of the people here was enjoyed by all, but I cannot remember the name.  Rice or potatoes from a variety of styles were included and Luray and I had a "gemischte Salat"  which is basically cut up vegetables, served fresh.  For dessert we had a traditional favorite "Panlicky"   or fine, thin pancakes with ice cream and fruit rolled into the middle.   Needless to say the food was superb; our cute little Bratislava waitress was very helpful and though she did not speak a word of English, she communicated with us very well by sign language and seemed to enjoy it all.         

While the country is desperately poor, there is a thriving "free" economy that seems to function apart from the government and  (some might call it a black market) people seem to be well dressed and clean.   In fact, Luray and I enjoyed the people of this city and find it to be even cleaner in some areas and more interesting in some ways than Vienna.  Aside from the northern Tatra mountains which have the ski areas, the rest of the country is impoverished.   The new government has now turned to the west and are on track to "do business" with us.  Western companies are moving in; private property is now protected, but, of course, some of the largest state businesses were sold for a song to collectives of employees or to communist bosses who are now the new wealthy elite in this country.  I am sure that the communists and socialist are not too happy with these developments.  And I am sure that it will take some tough politicians if they are going to pull this country out from the doldrums of the past and initiate new enterprises which will be able to compete with the west.  Needless to say, I hope they succeed. 

Paul and Kay are winding up a three year term and must soon decide if they are going to extend their service here.   It has been a tough year because of the large turnover in service personnel.   19 of the people there are ELCA volunteers who come for one or two year terms.  Some renew, but others move on, back to their stateside jobs or to other positions.   So if you know people who want to teach English as a second language; or who have teaching skills in other disciplines and would like to experience Europe for awhile this is a great place to do it.  Have them write to me or to our ELCA CHURCH Headquarters in Chicago.  This is a bi-lingual evangelical Christian School (protestant school) that is now preparing the new leadership of Slovakia. 

Blessings on Your Day, JIM and LURAY