Wednesday, June 21, 2023

The Tour Guide

My An Arkie's Faith column from the June 21, 2023, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

A light rain fell as Sergio drove the bus from Munich to Schloss Linderhof. I watched out the window as the Alps came into view. I had heard about the Alps all my life, but seeing them was a magical moment. The palace is nestled in a valley at the foothills of the Bavarian Alps. The views as we drove there were magnificent.

Schloss Linderhof was the favorite home of King Ludwig II of Bavaria. He built the palace on the site of his father's old cottage and finished it in 1878. King Ludwig was intimately involved in the design and building of Linderhof, sometimes to the extreme irritation of his architects and artisans. He lived at Linderhof for over seven years. Ludwig was a recluse, often refusing to see to matters of state. He dined alone. Ludwig installed a "magic table" that could be lowered and raised to and from the kitchen. His servants cooked and served meals without ever coming face to face with the king.

King Ludwig was inspired to build Schloss Linderhof by his hero, the French Sun-King, Louis XIV. Traces of the Sun-King's Versailles palace are all over Linderhof's grounds. After touring Schloss Linderhof and the fabulous grounds, including a large reflecting pool and fountains, incredible gardens, and even an artificial cave and lake, we returned to the bus and headed to Garmisch-Partenkirchen.

As we drove through the winding mountain roads, our tour guide, Bernd, filled us in on the story of King Ludwig II. He ascended the throne upon his father's death in 1864. Ludwig was only 19 years old, and his first year as the king did not go well. The shy young king soon left Munich and went into his beloved mountains in the Bavarian Alps. In 1868 Ludwig began a building campaign. Much of Ludwig's fame is associated with his castles: Neuschwanstein, Linderhof, and Herrenchiemsee. 

King Ludwig died mysteriously at age 40 when his body was found floating in Lake Starnberg. He spent most of his reign absorbed in a fantasy world at the expense of affairs of state. When his castle building caused the virtual bankruptcy of the Bavarian state, his ministers accused him of insanity and deposed him on the grounds of mental illness. They had him committed to the custody of Lake Starnberg Castle. 

The day after his imprisonment, Ludwig was found dead in Lake Starnberg. He disappeared while walking and was discovered a few hours later. The death was officially declared to be suicide by drowning, but the circumstances of his death remain open to question. Ludwig was a strong swimmer, and the water was less than waist-deep where his body was found. There was no water found in his lungs at the autopsy.

As we neared Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Bernd told us that it was possible that at the next intersection, the Polizei might ask us to take a detour that would add an hour to our trip. Ten miles away, at Schloss Elmau, the G7 summit was underway. Leaders from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the U.S., and the U.K. were meeting to discuss global economic governance, international security, energy policy, and the response to the war in Ukraine.

When we arrived at the checkpoint, the Polizei escorted our bus to our destination instead of making us detour around the area. As the police cars escorted us with lights flashing, our tour guide, Bernd, leaned over and told me, "See that nice BMW? You should convince the Mena police department to get some of those." As more police cars joined us, I said, "You're getting more important, Bernd." He replied, "No, It's because of you." He said, "The Poleizei say, these Mena people, they need special observation."

Throughout the ten-day tour of Germany in June 2022, Bernd was our tour guide as our group of fifty Americans visited many Reformation and WWII sites. We spent many hours on the bus as we traveled from place to place. He and I became good friends as we visited on the bus. My Daddy and I sat in the seat directly behind the driver, and Bernd sat in the seat across the aisle. When he wasn't talking to everyone on the bus over the P.A. system, Bernd and I would talk and learn about each other's lives.

When the tour ended, Bernd and I exchanged personal information and promised to keep in touch. I was surprised when a few months later, I received an email from Bernd telling me he was coming to Texas and would like to see me and learn more about Mena.

We had a lovely time hosting Bernd and his wife Marion in our home. It felt surreal to have a new friend from Germany visiting us here in Mena. I told him my wife and I had planned a trip to Germany the following year. He was excited about the idea and spent much time explaining the German transit system and showing me all the different rail pass options. He said that when we came to Germany, we must stay with them for a couple of days at their apartment in Hannover.

Earlier this month, my wife and I and my sister headed to Germany for our summer vacation. Our first stop was Hannover, where Bernd met us at the train station, and we took trams and a bus to his home. For the next two days, we had a personal tour guide who showed us all of the sights in Hannover and took us to the village of Gehrden. After Bernd saw us off at the train station on our way to Berlin, he kept in touch for the rest of our trip, offering us local insights. My friendship with Bernd made my vacation even more special.

Having a tour guide for a friend makes things so much easier as I travel in a foreign country. As we travel on life's path, we all can have a tour guide for a friend. The Bible says, "In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed. In your strength you will guide them to your holy dwelling." Exodus 15:13 (NIV)

Gentle Reader, God is not just a guide who points us to a path. He isn't just a person we ask for directions when we've lost our way. He doesn't just hand us a map and walk away. God is a guide who makes the plan, directs our destination, and journeys with us. He walks with us every step of the way and wants us to follow His lead day by day. "The Lord says, 'I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you.'" Psalms 32:8 (NLT) It is lovely to have a tour guide as a friend.

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