Berlin, lessons of the past

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Iconic view of Brandenburg Gate, the passage connecting the east and west.

 
Dark Past
Imagine if someone built a 15′ wall running along Fifth avenue in New York. Or along the Thames in London. Or Champs Elysees in Paris dividing the city in half. Separating the east side from the west. One might think that to be a ridiculous notion. Perhaps borderline absurdity. Well that is exactly what happened in Berlin in 1961. Many people forget this sad chapter of Germany’s past was a part of modern History. Without warning people were separated from their families, their work and many lives were lost in valiant attempts to escape from the east to the west. IMG_4519Both East and West Germany were mired in shadowy conflict and this tug-of-war became the epicenter of spy activities between the US, Britain and Russia resulting in the cold war. During the WWII much of Berlin was leveled.
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The infamous Checkpoint  Charlie still sands as a grim reminder the of past
Transportation systems and  service networks ceased to exist. Any infrastructure that remained after the war was so badly damaged it has been replaced or redesigned. So most of what you see in the city proper was built in the last several decades.
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Ominous billboard of Russian soldier staring into the west at Checkpoint Charlie
In 1987 an American President gave a stirring speech at the Brandenburg Gate encouraging the Soviets to “tear down this wall”. This incident stands in stark contrast with a current contender for the US Presidency who is trumpeting the virtues of building walls. Berlin is a living reminder that building walls to separate people does not work.
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Present day the Berlin Wall still cast a feeling of gloom in the street light.
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Bright future
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Picturesque view along the Spree river
The good news is Berlin has overcome its past shadows through active engagement and outreach as a leader in world affairs. Through sweeping reform and implementation of bold  austerity measures it has not only survived but thrived. As Europe’s third largest city Berlin has become a powerhouse and the anchor to the European economy. IMG_4504However, venturing into the eastern side there is still a bit of catching up to do. As a foreign traveler I was amazed at the freedom modern Germans have. They were friendly,  even exuberant and seem to be able to do whatever stroke their fancy regarding freedom of expression and public discourse. IMG_4386 In the trendy  Kruzberg area people were milling about, some dancing in the open air.  Its quite common to see people enjoying a bottle of beer of wine while strolling and chatting.  Many sat by the river Spree enjoying the evening sun and friendly conversation. IMG_4383 The focal points for social gatherings are the numerous outside restaurants and beer gardens lining the river and neighborhood areas. Unlike most European cities there is no real city center in Berlin. Alexanderplatz is a favorite of mine because of the variety of cultures, myriad shops and diverse open air gardens.
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Charming outside gardens at Prenzlauer Berg
But Prenzlauer Berg is not to be outdone featuring quaint shops and fantastically colored architecture. The glass facades of Potsdamer Platz, could very easily fit into the skyline ofIMG_4381 Manhattan. Each area showcasing its own unique charm. IMG_4536
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Potsdamer Platz

Best of all, Berlin is quite inexpensive to enjoy. For 5.50  to 6 euros you can enjoy a nice meal. A frosty stein of German beer will only set you back 1 to 2 euros. Its a fine thing to return home from travel under budget. I actually returned home with money in my wallet. A rare thing indeed!;) ZT
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Tulip Fields of Holland

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“Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin. And yet I say unto you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” -From Matthew 6:28.
This passage is also quoted as inspiration in the movie “lilies of the Field.” One of my favorite Sidney Poitier classics from the 60’s.
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These two thoughts flashed through my mind as I strolled the tulip fields of Central Holland.  The fields are drenched in bright yellow, fuchsia, gold, crimson and purple. Some pigment so brilliant they defy description. So rich and colorful they inspired Van Gogh to capture their luminance with his thrashing brush and vibrant palate.
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In the Golden age of Holland, tulips were so valued they were even used as currency.  Many Dutch measured their wealth by the amount of financial interest they had in the tulip trade. Until the market crashed in 1637.
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Just beyond the outer rim of the North Sea dunes, slightly west of Amsterdam, the bountiful pastel fields spread as far as the eye can see. Strewn aghast, sprawled, multicolored layers of pigment spilling across the lowlands, creating a picturesque kaleidoscope of hues reminiscent of Van Gogh’s master work, Tulip Fields.

The fields, aflush with tulips of of every variety. It is as if the colors of the rainbow exploded and fell onto the open lands of Holland. And it is here they lay, flaunting themselves in the brightly colored beds, like pigmented stars soaking in the sun.

They may not be traded as currency anymore but their richness and value will long endure.~ZT

 

Castle Muiderslot! A slice of medieval shenanigans!

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IMG_3228One of the things I like most about Europe is the tradition of preserving its artifacts and old structures for all to see and feel, giving you a hands on connection to history. Castle Muiderslot is just the ticket for a pleasing day trip by car, cycling or public transport. Especially if you have a thing for castles. Like I do.
Located mid way between Amsterdam and Hilversum, 17 kilometers from the city center, it should take you little more than an hour by bike.

 

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The medieval castle, a UNESCO World Heritage site, has a mysterious history as colorful as any attraction in the Netherlands. Its first resident was Count Floris V who built the castle in 1285. Floris V was a staunch supporter of the French who later decided to invade the Netherlands. But the reign of Floris V was short lived when he was overthrown and imprisoned in his very own dungeon. Subsequently he was killed in a bloody coup in 1296. His image still adorns the walls in various paintings placed throughout the castle.

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Walking form the Herald room to the Knight’s Hall you acquaint yourself with how people lived in medieval times. I was surprised to see the number of toilets they had at their disposal. Go figure.

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The winding steps of the south tower spiral upward to the sentry walk where the castle guards kept a watchful eye for enemies. Here you have an amazing view of the courtyard, surrounding meadow and the river Vecht.

In the IMG_3207Armory room you will find a healthy assortment of swords, armor and various weapons used by the gallant knights from the period. Descending the stairs below leads you to the grisly dungeon quarters, eerily equipped with chains, metal handcuffs and other instruments of torture. You can almost feel the pain and suffering of the guests who were imprisoned and tormented there.This fate was bestowed upon Count Floris V himself, later a prisoner in this grim corner of the castle. IMG_3190IMG_3195

Muiderslot Castle has since changed owners many times over the last 750 years. Thousands of souls have traversed its drawbridge into the castle keep. Your imagination runs wild with salacious tales of backroom skullduggery. Stories of the tortured and screams of the damned imprisIMG_3212oned below. The hairs on the back of your neck stiffen. There is a sudden chill in the air as your body succumbs to gooseflesh. Standing alone in the Herald room next to Floris V’s coat of arms you get the feeling that you are not alone. Hmmmm, perhaps you are not.;)-ZTIMG_3229

Dusseldorf, Germany! 25th year reunification celebration.. or, Can I have more bratwurst with my beer please?!

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Sometimes life throws you pleasant surprises. Especially when involving sponteneity and travel.
By chance I found myself in Germany on the 25th year anniversary of its reunification.  Quite unexpectedly I decided to take a trip to Dusseldorf on the first weekend of October unaware of the significance of this historical date.IMG_3788
While walking the Schadowstraße in Dusseldorf center, completely by chance I discovered I had wandered in the midst of an amazingly ruckus street party.  Now I may not be the brightest apple that ever feel from the tree but I know a good party when I walk smack dab in the middle of one. Truth to be told, I came to Germany to sample the exquisite beer selection. But like a blind mouse that walks into a hunk of cheese..well, viola! Suddenly there was German beer everywhere!  In the cafes. All over the streets. And the next thing I knew, even in my hand! This was shaping up to be a serendipitous weekend of infinite possibilities!!IMG_3817
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Twenty five years ago the Berlin wall came down. Although the unrest in Eastern Germany began in 1989 the actual demolition of the wall followed by the official reunification declaration was signed in October 1990.

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A quiet cobblestone alley

So here I was again, blatantly reminded of the reason I enjoy traveling. And it had nothing to do with the frosty German beer in my hand either!

 

I started at Uerige Obergarige, a beer garden that brews its own beer since the 18th century. Its conveniently situated at the corner of Flinger and Berger strasser, a main artery of Dusseldorf which acts as a passageway to the city’s other interesting strassen.  The mood was lively and festive but not over the top. Germans can be a bit stoic at times but they know how to celebrate when there is plenty of beer around.IMG_3794
Dusseldorf’s history is a storied one at best. One many Germans would just as well forget. Formally an industrial city of strategic importance in WWII.  So important the Allied bombers dropped several hundred tons of explosives in one night, in effect leveling the city. The intensity was so severe they are still finding unexploded bombs in Dusseldorf today. The last was discovered in August 2014.
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The Twisted Tower, dating back to the 14th century

 Rebuilding Dusseldorf has been a monumental, albeit arduous task to say the least. Previously heralded as one of Germany’s chief industrial cities, it has since migrated into a modern municipality of technology and business.  As a result, through the painstaking efforts of the city planners, the architecture is sleek and sophisticated mixed with a blend of neomodern . While traversing the city you feel as though you are in a futuristic, or even, dare i say it, “space age” megalopolis.

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Gehry Building, featuring its titanium exterior, Dusseldorf center

Along the Rhine there are mundo cafes lining the promenade. The only question was,

bratwurst or weinersnitzel?   Now I knew this was probably not the healthiest thing to eat. Considering it would probably give me brain cancer, stomach lesions, wreck havoc to my colon and a host of other ailments yet undiscovered by man. But heck, there are worst thing to eat right? Well, maybe not, but I was in Germany,

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Futuristic Neomodern design, along the Rhine

and local custom dictates that every wide eyed traveler has to gorge themselves on bratwurst and beer upon entering the country.

  Of course I am not one to break the rules. So without hesitation I proceeded to indulge in the local custom. Over and over again. After a few more foamy glasses of courage my guilt subsided. But if these photos appear to be a bit out of focus, you know why!
So next time you are in Dusseldorf. Forget about seeing the architecture and go straight for the brautwurst. Your colon may not appreciate it. But your taste buds sure will !~ZTIMG_3833

Postcards from Paris

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Notre Dame Cathedral bathed in sunlight. Île de la Cité in the fourth arrondissement of Paris.

In Paris the sun seems to shine a bit longer. The French air seems to blow a somewhat softer. The hours are slowed and days seem to pass seamlessly without any interruption between night and day.

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Relax your gait upon your walk about Paris. A leisurely pace is best as it will allow the city to come to you.

The metro in Paris is the underbelly of the city that connects you from one area to the other. Because of this complex yet efficient transportation system you should never become stagnant in only one area for each quarter offers its own  unique personaIMG_3653lity.   IMG_3569

Paris is big. And its wide boulevards provide you with space in abundance. Space to exercise your privilege of exploration in a city overflowing with a potpourri of diverse people, the arts and world renown for its culinary expertise.

Enjoying the music at Pompidou Center, 4th arrondissement

Enjoying the music at Pompidou Center, 4th arrondissement

A young, but cool musician.

A young, but very cool street musician, Montparnasse.

Animal Trainer, by the River Seine.

Animal Trainer, by the River Seine.

Best crepes in Paris! Rue de Rivoli & Hotel de Ville. Dont forget to visit my friend. Her crepes are amazing! And tell her Zoe sent you!;)

Best crepes in Paris! Rue de Rivoli & Hotel de Ville. Dont forget to visit my friend. Her crepes are amazing! And tell her Zoe sent you!;)

Best crepes in Paris! Rue de Rivoli & Hotel de Ville.

Rive Gauche

Rive Gauche

Through the years Paris has grown. But its essence remains unchanged. Or as the French would say, inchange’. Its style and spirit is much as it was in the time of Napoleon, de Gaulle, and Joan of Arc. The same as it was when captured in the thrashing brush strokes of Vincent Van Gogh. It is the same now as it was then. Just as it was when seen through his eyes, painted by his soul and lived in his heart.

living the bistro life.

living the bistro life.

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~ZT

Paris and Montmartre! ooh la la!

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“There is but one Paris and however hard that living may be here, and if it becomes worse and harder even- the French air clears the brain and does a world of good.”   -Vincent  Van Gogh
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There are times when one needs to find a place of solace to be quiet and still. Other times you may desire a more robust energy to quench your thirst for excitement. Whatever your wayward longings, Paris is the solution to satiate these wanton cravings. There is no other place like it in the world.
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Replete with enigmatic charm, legendary culture and  an unabashed appreciation for the arts. Paris prides itself as a city with something to offer for anyone of vision and creativity. Even Van Gogh found himself planted here, seduced by the creative energy of the Parisian ambiance in the area of Montmartre.  It is here in Montmartre, in the 18th arrondissement of Paris that I am drawn to over and over again.
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At the highest point in Paris sits Sacre Couer Basilica, its domed spires  unashamedly slicing into the Parisian skyline. Slightly out of breath I walked to the summit that leads to the monument. The Basilica, in the early morning sun, gleamed with an invite to climb the 132 steps to the mount.
One of the many open air concerts at Sacre Couer

One of the many open air concerts at Sacre Couer

The Sacre Couer Basilica is a stunning vision to behold irregardless of how many times you have seen it in the past. Among the most beautiful basilica’s in all of Europe.  Built in the Romano Byzantine style, its pointed domes glistening radiant sunlight in the open air playing on the calcite stone. The front of the basilica facing Paris is nobly adorned with ornate statues of Joan of Arc and King Saint Louis. Standing vigilant in their task of safeguarding the sprawling city below.

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 Rounding the Rue du Cardinal Guilbert you embrace the cobbled square of Place du Tertre. Busy and bustling with creative energy. Lining the square you will find colorful shops, cafes, painters and various artisans unveiling their latest
masterpieces.
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But the true heart of Montmartre lies just beyond the square in the side streets and alleyways that ramble  and meander giving you a feel of old Paris. An exaltation, perhaps a reverence of how Parisian life was in the time of the Impressionist.   It is not hard to imagine how easily Van Gogh, Monet, Renior, Cezanne and so many other dreamers were so easily inspired by the ambiance of Montmartre. Perhaps you will find your inspiration here as well. – ZT
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“Art is to console those who are broken by life.”  -Vincent Van Gogh.

Do they have Hurricanes in Holland?

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I have often pondered this question on numerous occasions while exiting the cafes in Amsterdam on many rain filled, windy nights. As a product of  the eastern coast US I have encountered hazardous experiences with hurricanes more times than I care to remember. I recall while away at college my roommates and I romping around in tempest tossed gales of torrential rain. Downed power lines and trees scattered like toothpicks in places they were never expected to be. Of course in college we did not have the brains of a tape worm. That’s the reason we were in college in the first place. To learn some sense.
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In Amsterdam the winds can be extremely strong. Often times mixed with horizonIMG_3281tal rain and ice, a predicament certainly not for the feint of heart while riding a bike. Its’ not for nothing the Netherlands is know as one of the leading  wind energy countries of the world. A true testament to the famous windmills we have all come to recognize as iconic symbols of Holland.
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Anyway I did some research on the question at hand regarding hurricanes in the Netherlands. This is what i found: Per the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane classification scale, gale force winds need to be at least 94 mph to be in the category as a hurricane. And accompanied by relentless torrential rain. The past weekend’s storm measured in at 136 kilometers per hour. Which definitely exceeds the requisite for hurricane force winds. Conclusion; We do have hurricanes in the Netherlands. The Dutch just don’t call them hurricanes. They prefer to use a more genteel word. Storms.
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 In the dog days of July when most of the world is slurping down umbrella cocktails at the beach we had such an occurrence in Amsterdam. Yes in July! But don’t take my word for it. Check out the photos I have submitted  for your appreciation. IMG_3279

And to think I was biking in this stuff.  I guess I have not learned much from my college days.-ZT

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What’s all the fuss about Oslo?

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Ok, Ok, lets be real.The place is sleek,cool and sophisticated with stunning views of fjords
right in the heart of Oslo central!
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You can actually walk fifteen minutes from Oslo Central Station and dip your toe into the Oslofjord. The country is a natural wonderland with endless forest, rivers, lakes, wild nature and opulent fjords. And its citizens have a long established tradition of

The Oslo tiger welcomes visitors at Oslo Central Station.

The Oslo tiger welcomes visitors at Oslo Central Station.

preserving the ecosystems and wild nature through sweeping environmental policy to protect its generous gifts. Standing at the mouth of Oslofjord the seamless panorama is overwhelming.  As if this breath taking view isn’t amazing enough the architecture is streamlined in the style of Neo Scandinavian design. Very linear and contemporary.

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Norwegians  have come a long way from the pillage and plunder days of the Viking era. Today’s residents are cool and relaxed with a no hurry attitude. In fact some are so cool they are downright cold! Wait a minute.. everyone in the country is cold! You would be too if you lived next to a fjord!

Norwegians boast a strong penchant for the arts and theater. Coupled with a robust economy and practically zero crime makes Oslo the ideal place to whittle away a lifetime. The country is also cash rich due to the discovery of oil in the 70’s and 80’s. Which you get a chuncky piece of if you are lucky enough to have a Norwegian birth certificate.

Oslo Opera house, completed in 2007 is a superlative must see while visiting this secluded country.

Oslo Opera house, completed in 2007 is a superlative must see while visiting this secluded country.

Everything is modern, new and clean as a whistle. The place also reeks of money! In fact, there is so much money in Oslo it spills out into the streets as they have heated sidewalks! IMG_2973
Can you imagine if word got out to the homeless on 42nd street?!
So what’s the downside to living in wonderland? The Obvious. It gets plenty cold in the land of fjords. Temperatures can get into the -20 Celsuis range. After all, the place is next to the north pole. And its nearest neighbor is Santa Claus!
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Also there is a nasty rumor going around that Oslo is quite an expensive city to visit. Short answer. Yes, it is!  A Norwegian friend of mine once told me that Oslo has gotten so expensive in recent years the average Norwegian can’t afford to go out for a decent night on the town. But then, she is a street performer. What does IMG_2949she know.  However, there is plenty of upside to living in Oslo. If you can afford the 10 euro
beers and 15 euro cocktails.-ZT

Maastricht, a hidden gem in the south of Holland

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The Dutch have a well kept secret. And it goes by the name Maastricht.

 Bordering Belgium, resting at the very bottom of Holland but utmost in the hearts of every Nederlander, this jewel of a city is unequivocally among the top must see destinations in the Netherlands.  Maastricht proper boast a vibe  that is different from Holland North . Eccentric in design yet whimsical by nature. The people too pride themselves on their unique  lineage in this region known as Limburg  due to its definitive Belgian influence. Even the dialect is a bit softer as my ear for the Dutch language was trained in Amsterdam. In a country so small it’s diversity is a wonderment perhaps even the dutch take for granted.

Maastricht stands alone in it’s glory. It does not attempt to compete with its larger more well know brethren cities to the north. It is complete and sIMG_1077 (2)ecure in its own identity and uniqueness, blending the cultures of Belgium and the Netherlands.

In Maastricht you are encouraged  to stroll the old streets and delight in the delirium of authentic Dutch charm thought to have long ago abated.
The cleverly alined houses bunched together along the Maas river invites you to traverse the bridge and experience the coziness of a southern Dutch village the way it was meant to be. The center of  the fanciful hamlet transforms fluidly into openness giving way to a peacefulness almost tranquilizing. A place of arresting beauty, resonating with ethereal charm, awash in the residuum of a bygone era. The bridge at the Mass river is said to be one of the oldest in Europe. The Romans  began building it 2000 years ago. It was left there for all to cross. Now is the time to treat yourself to Maastricht.~ZT

Flight MH17- Turning outrage into a Firestorm

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It’s been a very difficult time the past few days in the Netherlands. Just last week there  was immense celebration and euphoria coming off the success of the Dutch National team’s performance in the World Cup. Now, we are experiencing a complete pivot of emotion due to the cowardly attack on flight MH17. This despicable and shameful act of shooting down a passenger plane filled with innocent people. Three of which were infants.

To say we are outraged does not begin to reflect how we feel. But we, and I mean “we” as a collective world community need to go beyond our feelings of mutual outrage. We must pull together in a concerted effort and act. We need to collectively galvanize our outrage into action against Putin and his criminal regime. Let them know that no matter how cowardly, heinous, and vile their terrorist acts are the peaceful communities of the world will never succumb to their will. And this act only solidifies the resolve of peaceful people of all nations.

When it comes to air travel, the peaceful nations of the world share a bond. A common thread of decency. A reciprocal agreement, a sacred trust that we signed onto to secure safe passage for one another and our families. It is this sacred trust that allows us to travel safely and freely from country to country without the fear of cowardly acts such as this incident.

The international community should bring charges against those responsible with this crime and if found guilty, isolate these criminals within the self imposed prisons of their own making. We must let them know that there are a thousand lights in the forest, burning brightly and together they, we, create a firestorm with such an intense flame it will burn the paws off any bear in it’s path. You will never break us.

Our hearts are with the families at this difficult time.~ZT