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Christmas 1994

Seasons Greetings to all!

Would you believe that this is our fourth European Christmas newsletter! In some ways it seems like we just got here, but in other ways it seems like we've been here forever. Audrey will have lived almost half of her life in Germany by the time we get back! Speaking of the girls, Megan and Audrey are no longer children. Megan will be 15 this May, and Audrey breaks into teenagerhood in March. Audrey is still at the International School of Stuttgart in the 7th grade, but Megan graduated from ISS last year and now attends 9th grade at the American High School on the military base. They're both beautiful young girls; any day now we're going to have our hands full shooing the boys away!

Lots of things have been happening since our big Christmas 1993 letter, but we'll try to keep this letter to a more reasonable size for compassion's sake! As always, we've been trying to experience as many sight-seeing trips as time and our budget will allow. Most of the places we go to involve driving trips (to make them more affordable), but every once in a while we try for a flying trip to be able to extend our horizons beyond the radius reachable by the van (which is holding up quite nicely, by the way, in spite of all the miles we have put on it). We've been keeping busy in other ways, too, including Lynn's deeper involvement with theater activities over here, and we've also survived a long, drawn-out battle with our new landlords to try to keep from being evicted! The exciting story first.....

Back in late November last year, our landlords told us that they were going to be selling our place, and another German couple had decided to buy the place. We asked if there was any problem with us staying until summer 1995, and they said no, there was no problem. Well, it turns out there was. The new owners wanted us to move out immediately, but German law is slanted on the side of the tenant, so we battled them for eight months with letters and invalidated eviction notices and threats. We enlisted the aid of two German lawyers to keep these folks honest and to make sure we didn't get the shaft in a legal system that doesn't speak our language. They finally took us to court in August, but they didn't have a clue about what it meant to buy rental property and be a landlord, so the judge ruled in our favor. Basically, you cannot evict tenants in Germany without cause or significant hardship, and they had neither.

In February we all got a chance to visit Ireland! Lufthansa was having a sale on airline tickets anywhere within Europe, so we were able to get four cheap round-trip tickets to Ireland from Stuttgart for the week of the girls' February vacation at the ISS. I had four goals for the trip; to visit relatives, to obtain a copy of my grandfather's birth certificate, to buy Irish sweaters for the family, and to buy as many CDs of Irish music as we could afford. I only failed in one goal, to get a copy of my grandfather's birth certificate, but it wasn't for lack of trying. We visited the area around Tralee where my relatives live, and we also got out on the Dingle peninsula for a few days. We only spent a week in Ireland, but we were able to see a lot, and most importantly, we were able to introduce a third generation of the McGRATH clan to the very real and alive relatives in Ireland.

Lynn's time in Ireland had been a break from some very hectic activity at the local American theater center here in Stuttgart. She had been helping out with costumes in a few local productions, but they asked her to be in charge of all costumes for a February-March production of My Fair Lady. People who know theater will tell you, My Fair Lady is a nightmare for costumes, so Lynn had her baptism in fire, so to speak. She pulled together 230 costumes for 78 actors. It was incredible, and spectacular. She was frazzled and over-worked, but she loved it, and so she went right back for more, and did even more work for a production of The Wizard of Oz. For that one she had to really design some costumes from scratch instead of pulling them together from available pieces. She designed costumes for the enchanted Apple Trees that were wonderful, and even she got rave reviews in the local German newspaper for her creativity and work on both productions!

In March, Audrey's 6th grade class climaxed a study of Roman culture with a week-long field trip to - you guessed it - Rome! They had a great time, visited the coliseum and lots of Roman ruins, did a side trip for a day to Pompeii southeast of Naples, and generally had a wonderful time soaking up the Roman culture, art, and history. In April, Megan’s class got to visit Berlin for a week on a study trip. She brought home a souvenir piece of the Berlin Wall in a little plastic frame. Her class visited all the historic places in this famous city, including the Hard Rock Cafe!

Also in April, three of us from the office went on a guys' beer pilgrimage to the home of the original Budweiser; Ceské Budijovice, in the Czech Republic. We took a tour of the brewery, and visited a medieval Bohemian town nearby called Ceský Krumlov.

The very next day after returning from the Czech Republic, I took off on a business trip to Washington DC. The meetings there were long and classically boring, but I did get some good U.S. prime rib at a restaurant I know of, and I spent an evening at the National Archives doing some genealogy research on my Great-Great-Grandfather, his son, and his grandson (my Grandfather). After the business meetings were over for the week, I flew up to Boston for a few days of company business at the office in Bedford. The best part about the whole trip was surprising my sisters. Nobody knew I was coming, so I just drove up to their houses and caused quite a commotion.

For the Memorial Day long weekend, we all took a family trip to Grindelwald, Switzerland, in the Interlaken area. We rode a cog railway to the Kleine Scheidegg, which is a switching station for the Jungfraujoch railway, a cog railway to the highest railway station in the world at the top of the Jungfrau. There are three major mountains in the Grindelwald area; Eiger (13,025 ft), Jungfrau (13,641 ft), and Mönch (13,448). We also went to the Thün Lake to the town of Meiringen, where we visited Reichenbach Falls and the Sherlock Holmes Museum.

In June, Lynn took a well-deserved Mother's Vacation to visit a friend in England. They spent the time talking and catching up on news and stuff, and even took a couple of days for a trip up to the York area, and in particular to the village of Thirsk, to poke around and visit the region where the author James Herriott (actually the pen name of the real doctor, Jack Wight) lives.

For our 20th anniversary, Lynn and I took a bus trip/tour and visited five cities in Italy; Florence (Firenze), Siena, San Gimignano, Pisa, and Venice (Venezia). We enjoyed almost all of the trip. The part we didn't like was the fact that the air conditioning on the bus broke halfway through the trip, so we sweated in the Italian sun for half of the trip! The cities and the sites and the food in Italy were spectacular, though.

Megan visited friends in the states for a month this summer. Her best friend over here moved to Sarasota, Florida in March. The two missed each other a lot, so her friend's dad offered to use some of the many frequent flyer miles he has accumulated over the years to fly Megan over for a visit. I had enough frequent flyer miles to get her a ticket from Florida to Boston, so she got to visit friends in Florida and relatives in Massachusetts and Maine!

In August we returned to Oberndorf, Austria for a week's vacation while Megan was in the States. This was our third time visiting the area. We had a great time, taking day trips when we wanted to, and resting when we didn't want to do anything. We visited Berchtesgaten again, and finally got up to the Eagle's Nest - Hitler's summer retreat house. We spent a day in Zell am See visiting an old-world resort town. We drove to the city of Rattenberg, on the banks of the Inn river in the Inn valley on the way to Innsbruck (lots of "Inns" there). We took Audrey back to an Alpine Slide in the next town that we had visited the first trip. We even spent a half-day at the freibad (outdoor swimming pool) cooling off from the heat. Our last few days there, we visited a local music fest, rode a gondola to the top of a local mountain (Kutzbühuler Horn), visited an Alpine garden (and finally saw Edelweiss growing wild), and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. We're beginning to realize we may not get back to some of these places we've grown to love, and it makes us a little bit sad when we leave them for perhaps the last time.

For the long weekend over Labor Day in September, the whole family (and another couple) returned to the place where Gene had previously visited in the Czech Republic. We spent almost all our time in the medieval Bohemian town called Ceský Krumlov, but this time we drove rather than taking the train. It was, again, quite an experience. The eastern block countries have not recovered from their 45+ years behind the iron curtain, but they're working triple-time to catch up, and it shows! Prices there for everything are very inexpensive, from hotel rooms to Bohemian crystal to souvenirs. It is a bargain-hunters paradise!

In September, I returned to Washington for another week of business meetings. This time I wasn't able to get up to Boston, but I was able to spend many evenings at the National Archives, doing genealogical research. Also in September, Lynn had her stage debut as a shoo-bop-shoo-wow backup singer in a variety show at the theater center. It was great!

In early October I got to spend a day in Munich hunting down beer halls and playing at the real Oktoberfest. I organized a one-day trip via train (group discounts are great!), so four of us from work headed off early on the last Saturday of the Oktoberfest. We walked around the city center for a while, visiting the permanent beer halls, and then we walked over to the Theresien-Weise, where the fest is held every year. It was unbelievably crowded, but we had fun anyway. Of course we also visited our local Stuttgart fest (the 2nd biggest one in the world) a few times during its 2-week run, too! We're experts at dancing on benches, now!

Also in October I spent a week in London on business. While I was there I got tickets to see Sunset Blvd., one of the big Broadway-style musicals that are running in London now. Lynn made her Assistant Director and Acting Debut in The Woman In Black in October. Not only was she assistant director, she was costumer, and she played the title role of The Woman In Black! A theatrical tour de force!

In November I made one last trip to Washington on business (the same meetings all three times), but the rest of the year and into next should be quiet for a while, because we're saving our pennies for a trip to the Greek Islands in the spring sometime! We haven't pinned down exactly when, but we all (kids too) decided that we wanted to visit a Mediterranean ocean resort before we leave Europe for good, so this will be our only chance.

And finally, we're beginning to make plans for moving back to the states this summer! Dates and details haven't been finalized yet, but it looks like we should be back in the good old US-of-A by the first of August. We're beginning to dread the work of cleaning out, packing up, and moving, but we'll be glad to be back in the land of round doorknobs and 7-11 stores! It's the little things one misses most!

We've tried to make the most of our time here in Germany, and I think we can say that we did. We've gone places and done things that we never dreamt of doing just a few years ago. Heck, we even sent our daughter off to Russia on the very day the 1993 uprising started! There's a million places we haven't seen, and its a bit sad to think that we ran out of time before we could get to them, but there's also a million places we have seen, and the experiences we've had will last a lifetime. It's been real; it's been fun; and most (but not all) of the time its been real fun.

That's our adventures for the past year, in a nutshell. Keep in touch. Our window for visitors is closing, but if you're inclined to come over before its too late, write us a letter and we'll figure something out! Write us anyway! We love to hear from our friends.

Gene, Lynn, Megan, & Audrey






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