|A report of our ambassador in Lithuania,
H.E. Chev. Algis Klimaitis
Founding ceremony of the local CSLI organisation “LLK, Lietuvos Lozoriaus Korpusas“ in Lithuania.
Saturday, 31. May 2014, the foundation ceremony of the Lithuanian Lazarus Corps took place in the Lithuanian town Juodkrantė (literally:BlackShore) in the Curonian Spit. It is worth noting that the authorities allowed the founders to use the emphasising title “Lithuanian Lazarus Corps“, a naming form only allowed when certain requirements are satisfied regarding charitable national significance.
A CSLI delegation led by CSLI president Senator h.c. Wolfgang Steinhardt reached the Lithuanian capital Vilniusalready on May 25th. The other delegation members were Monika and Hans-Rudolf Gries and Dr. Oswin Hochstöger. Together with LLK members a short city tour was taken. Parts of the medieval old town were visited, the cathedral with the burial chapel of St. Kasimir next to the lower castle, the campus of the old university, a Russian Orthodox monastery church and the chapel of the Gate of Dawn with the icon of the Lady of the Gate of the Dawn.
Late in the afternoon we took a tiny bus to Trakai to the island castle of the Lithuanian Grand Dukes. After a snack we were taken to the port townKlaipėda, some 400 km away. There our delegation settled in a small but excellent family hotel.
On the next day we took a city tour, topped off by a visit to two Lithuanian Navy ships.
On the evening of 30. May a dinner took place in a restaurant on top of a multi-story hotel, offering a terrific view over the pier and theBaltic Sea. Participants were the CSLI delegation and several LLK staff officers led by the LLK president Giedrius Petruzis.
On 31. May 2014, the actual founding ceremony took place in the old fishermen‘s town Juodkrantė, which developed into a respectable health resort during the past decades.
Later that morning the celebrations commenced with an open-air concert by the Lithuanian Navy Band, led by Pranas Memenas in front of the only church of the place, the ProtestantchurchofSt. Franciswhich is jointly used by the Catholics.
The ceremony was embedded into a Holy Mass, led by Navy and LLK Chaplain Romualdas Ramasauskas together with the Protestant pastor of St. Francis, Jonas Liorancas.
First the honorary LLK president, CSLI Brigadier Algis Klimaitis presented the history and the goals of the LLK to some 250 guests before asking the first group of LLK officer candidates to give the officer‘s promise. Then Chaplain Romualdas Ramasauskas blessed the LLK flags.
After the service, which was accompanied by the youth choir “Jaunyste“ from Kaunas, CSLI president Wolfgang Steinhardt awarded the Grand Cross Special Level of the Union´s Lazarus Cross to the commander-in-chief of the Lithuanian Navy, Admiral of the Fleet Kestutis Macijauskas, to the highest-ranking officer of the Lithuanian Border Troops, General Vainius Butinas, and to the Mayor of the municipalities of the Curonian Spit “Neringa“, Mr. Darius Jasaitis.
The ceremony came to an end with the Lithuanian anthem. The the guests marched behind the playing band some 200m to a pier where the ship Venus was boarded to spend a few sociable hours on the lagoon. On three decks there was plenty to eat and drink. The youth choir “Jaunyste“ led by Danguole Beinoryte sang lots of melodies and there was a very good mood aboard.
The new project of the Lithuanis Lazarus Corps:
The municipality of the Curonian Spit has left an estate with a decayed building to the LLK and its supporting children‘s aid fund. This building the LLK wants to revive with the help of donations to provide a dignified and healthy abode to the children and youths of the children‘s aid fund. Currently the building‘s condition is deplorable but this shall be changed in the future. You too, dear reader of the CSLI web page can support this project with a donation, as small as it may be. The Lazarus Union accepts donations for the LLK marked with the keyword „“Lithuanian Children‘s Aid Fund“.
Kennwort: „Kinderhilfsfond Litauen“
Lithuania May 29 to June 01, 2014
A travel report by Hans Rudolf Gries.
The small Lazarus Union delegation consisted of president Senator Wolfgang Steinhardt, Dr. Oswin Hochstöger, Algis Klimaitis, who already expected us in situ, Monika Gries and myself.
Day 1, cloudy, some afternoon sun
As it would be a very cumbersome trip by car, some 1308km and about 16 hours of driving, so the plane was the preferred means of transportation. Yet one has to be quick with booking, the available number of tickets is very limited, only Austrian offers a direct flight which is fully booked and the plane crammed full. First time booking via PC and web check in – very recommendable as one has no waiting time at the airport. After an uneventful two hour flight we land in Vilnius. Captain Giedrius Petruzis of the Klaipeda Naval School, a driver with Mercedes microbus and Algis expect us joyfully.
A short city tour covering the old town of Vilnius with the Gate of Dawn, some churches, Orthodox monasteries, one with three saints lying in state for centuries. Beautiful and very impressive. A quick espresso (have given up smoking, but still in need of caffeine), then we leave for a 320km four hour drive. Short stop at an island castle, pictures, trying on some helmets and hats, much to the amusement of other visitors. Stopping for a bite to eat in a restaurant where by chance the Kazakh ambassador celebrates her birthday, so a thorough security check for the arriving party, yet very discrete.
A warm snack finally, delicious, looking a little bit like Chinese spring rolls, and curd cheese cakes. Now there is also time to taste Lithuanian beer, red wine and vodka which is served in water jugs, everybody has to try, really everybody. Learning our first words in Lithuanian which we are going to need during the next days, skanaus = enjoy your meal, isveikata = bless you resp, cheers, from now on we needed that one constantly. Consolidated and elated we continue our journey and finally reach our Hotel “Panorama“ in Klaipeda. Short refreshing, dinner. Many different fish dishes, discussing the program for the next days, all very tired, no night life tour.
Day 2, a little cloudy, suddenly the sun breaks through, nice and warm.
Today Algis introduces our new guide, parson Romualdas from Klaipeda, who really knows all the world and his brother and so manages to open many doors for us. He of course is a CSLI member and the official chaplain of the Lithuanian Lazarus organisation LLK, Lietuvos Lozoriaus Korpusas.
Sight-seeing tour Klaipeda Memel, yet first a walk at the sea, the sandy beaches of the Baltic Sea await us, with an old Red Army guard tower reminding of the old days. Back to the old town we see lovely wooden houses in bright colours, old sailing boats, the harbour with the impressing Old Mill Hotel and and the old swing-bridge.
Big faux pas by Oswin as he is wearing the wrong tie, not possible to show up like this for a reception, so we head for the only shopping centre, find something fitting at the second try and so finally all‘s right with the world and the dress code for our senator, he is also bitching on my tie which is navy blue but rather dark, refuse to also get a new one there. Bustle, as we visit the national naval school where we are expected for lunch and also need to be punctual. Here the future navy crews are trained, cooks as well as technicians.
Concerning my humble self, the chef is the most important man aboard, for it is in his hands alone if the crew feels well or not. We are not disappointed, simple but very tasty food expects us, very palatable. After a really opulent meal we get to see the school‘s details with its various training and security facilities. We express our thanks to the head office and continue to the Lithuanian naval port. Lieutenant commander G. (I do not know if we are allowed to give his name so I will just call him “G.“) awaits us, to our joy he speaks German and English and explains everything to us. Currently the navy has 7 ships and 700 deck hands aboard.
To our great pleasure we are allowed aboard two minesweepers which are due for service in the Persian Gulf and the seas at Somalia‘s shores, as relief unit for the German navy. The boats are currently being polished up and so we can even visit the bridge, the mess, and the men‘s quarter. Actually it is strictly forbidden to take pictures but a little something can always be done and so we get some great photographs. We talk shop, much reminds me of former times, a smell of diesel, oil, and sea. Something like this would have been unthinkable in former times, a big thank you to Algis and parson Romualdas. We say good-by and take the ferry to the Courland Spit to visit a dolphinarium show.
Funny dolphins present what they have been taught, a unique experience for kids, we like it as well. Quickly back to the hotel, some time remains for dress code discussions, yet no beret seems to fit my head, freshening up for a joint dinner with LLK representatives.
This dinner is in the highest tower, in fact a skyscraper, at the 22nd floor, offering a great panoramic view over Klaipeda. Skanaus and isveikata come first as captain Petruzis produced a glass bottle in violin form containing cognac, so obviously for the Austrian friends only. This is followed by a bottle in the form of a cross, then vodka, every time accompanied by a toast or a small address, I return the favour with 2 bottles of white wine. Taxis bring us all back to the hotel in good order, our senator suggests a small after-dinner walk but all know very well his “only a short 15 minute“ walks, suggestion rejected.
Day 3, sunshine, warm.
9 o‘clock departure to the Courland Spit, taking the ferry to the national park, beautiful countryside, again with those lovely small wooden houses. We are all in uniform, wearing knight‘s coats, so making a big dent. Some people even ask if they could take a picture together with us, nothing to be said against it, go ahead. At the church in Juodkrante the navy big band already is waiting for us.
Today is the day of days, the very ceremony and Holy Mass in church, directed by a Roman Catholic and a Protestant cleric together. New colours are consecrated. Awards to new and old members by CSLI Union Commander Sen. h.c. Steinhardt, who also gives a small address in English. It shall be noted that the following people honoured the ceremony with their presence:
Commander-in-Chief of the Lithuanian Navy, Admiral of the Fleet Kestutis Macijauskas
Lithuanian Border Troops Commanding Officer General Vainius Butinas
Mayor of the municipalities of the Curonian Spit “Neringa“ Darius Jasaitis and several guests of honour, ambassadors, regional consul generals.
Hopefully did not forget anybody but those names are impossible to pronounce for my tongue. There is only one thing I want to add, I speak neither Lithuanian nor Polish but the way the Mass was conducted with this wonderful chorus is unparalleled, both clerics involve visitors and guests in such a way that I was deeply impressed, also in my heart. If such persons would also exist in Austria the churches would be full with visitors.
Finally we all stand at the church esplanade, extending congratulations, laughing, joking, now the famous picture taking goes on, press and media representatives have arrived, everybody rejoices. At the same time a “Vespa“ motor scooter club has arrived and a Volga classic car, living and smelling petrol.
As a surprise the navy big band plays again and together we march to the harbour where we board the excursion boat “Venus S“. A great buffet and cold drinks are waiting for us. Finally water, I think, when parson Romualdas approaches me smilingly with a 3l water jar, topped with lemon slices, fills a water glass and hands it to me. I smell but only can get lemon scent so I take a gulp, vodka again. I think he is tickled pink at having me taken in once again. The mood aboard is excellent, some people speak German, some a little English.
A speciality being served is a smoked fish looking like a flatfish which is eaten with fingers, excellent taste and extremely large fishbones so there is no danger of swallowing one, the smoked eel is also worth a bite or two and Romualdas, again with water glass, explains that this has still been in the smokehouse at 11:30, so it is as fresh as it can be. The only drawback is that as all this is eaten with fingers, one‘s hands do terribly reek of fish.
All around is national park and integral nature reserve, we get to see the shifting sand dunes and the lagoon, the full beauty of the Baltic Sea. But good things never last and after a good three hours we arrive back at our place of departure. With the micro bus we drive towards the new project of the Lithuanian Lazarus Union. As there are no SOS Children‘s Villages in Lithuania like e.g. in Austria, children get assisted by private persons, the church, and a few other organisations. Here the region‘s mayor provided an estate with an almost decayed building to the Lazarus Union and parson Romualdas, in the middle of the national park, a really lovely place, and with a lot of love and work a small children‘s paradise could spring into life. Even I was aghast, the pediment says erected in 1967, here one would pull down the building immediately, but over there they repair and reconstruct, I wish lots of luck and money.
We continue our journey rather musingly, the mood only lightens up after we reach the house of parson Pfarrer Romualdas, a water jar, really water this time, and small homemade food contribute to this lightening up. He explains his goals and his commitment and how many children already have grown up in his house. We spontaneously decide to help and donate a little money, saying this comes straight from the heart. He blesses us on the spot and my eyes almost get wet.
Promising a soon reunion, latest at the International Lazarus Union Symposium in Vienna 2015, we return to our hotel, deeply impressed. Change, packing, small dinner, a final toast, we go to bed early.
Day 4, some sun, later cloudy, finally rain.
6 o‘clock reveille, 7:45 departure, another four hour drive to the airport. It looks as Klaipeda and Lithuania are sad over our departure, as it rains, making it easier for us to leave. Little traffic on the motorway and we arrive at the airport in time, big farewell from Algis, we thank him for all the trouble he and his people underwent for us.
My personal summary: Lithuania is a really nice country, dead straight motorways, very green, flat open country, yet more of it, the highest hill top some 300m. Lovely old and colourful wooden houses, very nice and friendly people, when one says that one comes from Vienna/Austria one gets the feeling they even get yet more cordial. Many tower blocks from old times, good food, lots of fish, and even more vodka toasts. Interestingly my head or other body parts ached not a single time.
It was a successful, wonderful, and eventful trip. Award 5 stars.
Aciu (= thank you) Algis and isveikata (= cheers and down)
Hans- Rudolf Gries