A Season Under the Sun (which was often obscured by dense clouds, heavy snow, and never-ending rain)

It is such a different thing to go back home than it is to embark on a journey, n’est pas? We have exactly 2 weeks, and as many adventures as we can squeeze into those two weeks, left on our time in Germany. I am woefully behind on documenting our adventures here, I’m afraid, but this post was the one that wanted to be written. Needed to be written, if you will. This post is an in-the-moment, real-time thought, exploding on the internet. Good times, you say? Just wait!

I remember so clearly setting up this blog:  sitting at my dining room table, not really noticing how comfortable I was sitting at the same table that I’d grown up with (my parents’ table from my youth now sits in our dining room in Atlanta), taking for granted how much I really like MY curtains (the ones that came with this apartment here in Germany leave, shall we say, a little bit to be desired), and really and truly unable to imagine what my life would look like in this European lifestyle. I’d been to Germany before… 2 (or 3, I can’t really remember, if that tells you about how “important” the experience was for me) days in Munich, a layover in Frankfurt, that kind of thing. Looking back, I’m not sure any of that counts, really. My point is that I was completely unprepared. I really like structure – routines are my friends! Change? Not so much… I was felt a bit like I was heading into complete and total chaos… I was remarkably ok with that, though. Call it a growth experience. It stuck. I’ve grown. Let there be no question about that!

As I was preparing to leave, my friends had many varying predictions of how life would be upon our arrival in fair Deutschland. There were those who felt (accurately) concerned about my language skills and how communication would fare. As a therapist, I’m fairly well-trained in reading more than just the verbal input into a conversation, though, so I thought that between my Rosetta Stone and the classes I was going to take, not to mention the immersion experience, I would be communicating out the wazoo. Well… I did have a nice little (emphasis on little) base with the Rosetta Stone I’d done, and the classes were helpful, but when Germans who know English have the opportunity to practice, they won’t hesitate to do so! Even in the face of a well-intended Deutsche attempt… 😦 And those who don’t know English? Well… Let’s just say their non-verbal (or at least beyond vocabulary) communication is radically different from much in the way of American non-verbal communication. I found their tone, body language, volume, and facial expressions all to be remarkably different (in a not-necessarily readable to my American-trained eye, or at least not accurately readable). But… it somehow has all worked out. Thank goodness.

Other friends became nearly dreamy in thinking about the likely adventures ahead of me… The art, they would say! The history! The beauty of the land! I certainly hope this paragraph isn’t offensive to anyone, because I’m not intending this statement to be judgmental. It is, as they say, what it is (and with fairly good reason, historically speaking). The art scene that I have come across has had fits and starts of beauty, creativity, or attractiveness, but here in Germany? It generally hasn’t been all that. Certainly not on the whole, anyway. I’ve loved many of the stained glass windows (and have the pictures to prove it), but religious art sometimes depresses me, and the modern art I’ve seen here has been disturbing (graphic blood and gore, which totally isn’t my scene, or overtly sexual images which don’t really.. uh um, ring my bell). Perhaps after a time, I started avoiding art in general, which totally isn’t like me at all, but that was another prediction that most definitely came in sub-par. The history, though… holy cow! Believe it or not, I’ve never been a very history-minded person. I appreciate that people (as a global whole) have overcome a lot, and have paved the way for the relatively pampered life I live today, but I never felt like it was especially real for me. Until I moved here. Sheesh! I think that has changed my perspective on the historical influences of my day-to-day forever. I now want to know how something came to be, and can appreciate so much more because of this. The beauty of the land? On a day like today, I feel bad saying this (gorgeous blue sky, pleasant temperatures), but the weather has been a severe buzz-kill on my esteem for the landscapes in Germany. It IS a beautiful country, and there is almost no end to the small facets of earth and itty bitty towns in which one can take it all in. Just this past week, for example, a friend from the US was visiting me (yay!!!) and we took a little jaunt to Berlin. On the way back (and I should point out that I DROVE A STICK SHIFT ALL THE WAY THERE, HANDLED THE PARKING (in the tiny little spots that somehow pass as parking spaces in these parts), AND DROVE ALL THE WAY BACK… BY MYSELF!!!), the GPS rerouted us through a speck of a town, up and down mountains that came out of nowhere, through herds of sheep and cows, and along fabulous rolling meadows. Thank you, GPS! Even though you added an hour to our trip time, I would have never seen that little corner of Germany without that detour (not that I’d ever be able to find it again, either, but that is another story). Bottom line, though, as my faithful readers are all too aware, there was MUCH TOO MUCH NASTINESS in the WINTER THAT WOULD NOT END for me to really be able to say that I enjoyed the beauty of the landscapes. I’m trying to cram that in, but it may be too little too late. The pain of this winter runs deep and wide in my memory.

Some of the other comments and predictions are things I’ll save for later, perhaps when we are “re-integrating,” (which I hear is harder than integrating, but right now that is really hard to imagine). There is one other one that I wanted to bring to the light of day, however. An untold number of people predicted something along the lines of moving to Germany was going to somehow prompt me to start having babies (“German babies,” some said, to which I usually felt some reaction along the lines that they would be no more German than if we had babies in America (both Mike and I have some genealogical roots from the generally German area)). When people made their predictions, whether about art or communication, I usually had some feelings along the lines of “we’ll see” or “I hope so.” The baby business? It kind of offended me, to tell you the truth. I’m not sure entirely why, but I think it had to do with the assumption that if I wasn’t working in a real job, surely I would start the all-important business of procreation. As if those were the only two things I could do that would be of value… (and I will be the 1st to admit that this reaction says WAY more about me than it does anyone who may have been excited about the prospect of a tiny Dine – I’m very sure that nobody in my world would really think that at all.) I don’t think I ever responded overtly with any kind of defensive reaction, but internally? I assure you  it was there. Just to be contrary, in fact, I had the thought that even if Mike and I decided to have kids, I would make sure that it wasn’t during this particular time, just to show people… Well…. you probably know where this is going… We aren’t having a “German” baby, but in another 3.5 months, our wee family will number 3. Baby Girl will hopefully make her happy and healthy debut in early-mid September 2013 (in America, btw, no German-birthed babies as best as I can count) ! So… yes… I’ve grown. Emotionally, spiritually, and quite obviously physically.

I’ve been a bit reluctant to be overly public about the whole thing – obviously, I suppose, at this point in the game. The nice thing about being here is that I really haven’t had to be! There is almost no danger of running into people here, and it was really nice to live in a space where I could have a truly private life.

Needless to say, I’ve decided to shut my mouth (and silence my mind) when people say “oh, just you wait, you’re going to blah, blah, blah… fill in the blank” (and isn’t it interesting how many people will feel free to say things like that, most of all to a pregnant lady?). I have been reminded loudly and clearly that I do not, in fact, call the shots around here. Even when I think I am… Nosirrreeebob. Sometimes, it bears mentioning, that God’s ideas are better than mine (and a lot more likely to happen). There are some in my family who have taken to calling Baby Girl “Bon Jovita” until a more suitable name is found (Mike strongly objects, however, so we’ve been simply referring to her as “Baby,” which has led Mike to suggesting the name “Babette” so that we can continue to call her Baby and no one would get confused…). I foresee that none of these nicknames will stick, but they are a very good reminder of how quickly life can change – remembering how my sister’s circumstances changed so quickly (the discovery of which I attribute to Bon Jovi), and in turn, how dramatically things have changed for Mike and I. Needless to say, even after the adventures for which this blog is named come to a close, the real adventure is only just beginning! Baby is still working on those infamous verbal communication skills, but her nonverbals are loud and clear right about now, and she wants to say hello to all of you, I think (she is extremely non-verbally communicative, however, and appears to have lots of opinions, many of which are relative to my computer use and my dietary intake; the trouble is, I’m not really sure (kind of like those Germans with their non-verbal communication) when I’m getting a pleased reaction or a really angry one)!

I will resume documenting our actual European adventures momentarily. I’m so far behind I am not even sure of what is yet to be covered here! We’ve been on so many wonderful trips and weekends… stay tuned! I know that Dresden, Vienna, Munich, Rüdesheim (which you may never have heard of before, but I promise, if you come to Germany, you would want this lovely town on your itinerary, even if there isn’t a Harley Davidson Festival and Ride in town), and more have yet to be shared. I’ll get there. And probably more! This coming weekend, we’re heading to Prague (God-willing and the creek don’t rise, as they say, but perhaps especially now that should be taken literally given the recent flooding there), and we’re going to  squeeze in a venture to Normandy. All 2.5 of us. (For those of you who may have experienced pregnancy for yourselves, I hear that one of the major differences between my recent experience and an American pregnancy at this point is that while people aren’t patting my belly or asking me intrusive questions, staring seems to absolutely normal here… as my lovely friend said, I’m a unicorn! A special, magical unicorn… and a unicorn walking around would be stared at, right?)

Advertisements

Inadequate Education

Because I am adrift without my computer, a friend took pity on me and invited me over to her house to use her computer. Sweet, yes? As I dillied (which is bound to happen in that same inevitable way that computers suck time right out of life), she and I discussed what she might want to do for her upcoming birthday. (Sniff, sniff, I won’t get a European birthday celebration out of this trip…) Given that it is a rare opportunity to celebrate a birthday while living abroad, but also given that she feels limited in much the same way that I do by time, our husbands’ time off, and money, she was looking at places within a reasonable driving distance of our fair town. Someone mentioned something about Strasbourg, but we didn’t know if it was worth a birthday trip. So… I did some (quick) research.

Do you know what I learned? In addition to several fun facts about this medium-sized town just across the German border in France, I learned that my world history class, way back in high school, was totally inadequate. I am just as sure that my history teacher’s world history class wasn’t up to par because it is unfathomable to me that someone would know about this and not share it (thus, this post, also typed on my phone as I ran out of time on her computer)! And this lack of knowledge isn’t a problem with my brain not working! I absolutely would have remembered this… The Dancing Plague of 1518.

In 1518 (obviously), 400 or so of the fine citizens of Strasbourg were struck (“afflicted” per Wikipedia) by “maniacal” dancing! Can you imagine??! They danced for days and days, to the point of dying from heart attacks, strokes, or exhaustion. So, we aren’t talking glibly about the earliest known rave- this thing was a killer! After consulting doctors and men of the cloth, it was decided that these dancers (they even know the lady who “got it” first) were suffering from a physical illness – hot blood (as opposed to alternate theories of astrological or supernatural causes). The prescribed treatment? More dancing! (Although blood-letting may have been an equally typical treatment of the times…) The city even hired musicians to give these poor dancing hot bloods something to dance to! And they had a stage built (among a few other venues) so that the dancers would have an appropriate place to dance!

Upon doing further research, I learned that there were several “outbreaks” of this dancing mania (there are apparently 3 distinct classifications: outbreak, mania, and plague, depending in the “severity” of the dancing) but the one in 1518 in Strasbourg is the most notable (thus “plague”). The first recorded incidence of this dance “mania” was in Aachen in the 1300s, although there had been prior outbreaks of what we will call (for this blog’s purposes) “dance fever” all the way back in the 700s. Incredibly, there have been no such “fevers,” “outbreaks,” or “plagues” since the 17th century. Occasionally, these outbreaks were limited to certain groups, such as incidences in which only children were afflicted. Perhaps this is the “torn from the headlines” fairy tale? Law and Order some 300+ years ago?

Historical review has prompted some to conclude that it was an outbreak of a psychological disturbance, although there really is no known consensus. Others have brought up theories to include religious cults, people dancing to relieve stress gone awry, etc. I find it interesting to note that recorded incidences were limited to Europe (although it apparently happened in a variety of countries).

Again… How did I not know about this before??

 

True Story (ies)

I actually have two true stories for you today: 1 is a sad, but true tale of the state of my brain, the other is a wee anecdote that may bring a smile to your face, or at least cause a raised eyebrow (of the they-are-so-weird-it-is-lucky-for-them-that-they-found-each-other variety).

I always like to end on the happier note, so I’ll share the sad (sad for me, anyway) story first. It started a few weeks ago. I was preparing for a brief visit home (my father and sister were very thoughtful in arranging their birthdays very close together which makes for a convenient visit from Germany). I thought, “I will go ahead and put ALL of the pictures we’ve taken on my computer so that I can work on catching up on the blog in all those hours that I will be awake before anyone else is up for being sociable!” Wonderful idea – marrying productivity and jet lag! Woo hoo! Except that it didn’t work out that well… Not that I wasn’t up ridiculously early everyday (which definitely has it’s perks), but not much blogging got done. As you probably can tell.

Fast forward a few days, and my family is getting ready for the penultimate airport run (on my behalf, anyway, as the next time they’ll grace the.. Uhm, “efficiency” of Atlanta’s international terminal will be as Mike and I return from our stretch abroad. As is typical, there are the usual questions: do you have your toothbrush? Did you get your makeup bag? Is your laptop in your carry-on? (I promise, neither vanity nor IT are strong suits among my clan..) in my rush to get out the door (the security sequester slow-down at weighing heavily on my mind, not to mention my rapt anticipation for the delights of the airplane’s culinary delights — that was sarcasm for those of you who struggle with picking up on that sort of tonal shift), I was quick with my responses: of course, yes, and YES! Let’s go!

Guess what? I have my toothbrush and my make-up bag. My computer, and all of my beautiful pictures, however, are many miles away. 😦 it is so sad. So very, very sad (don’t worry, I cried and cried when I got on the plane, so the appropriate emotion has been expressed; and yes, the food really was worth crying over, too). Poor man sitting next to me.. In any case, expect a few less pictures. I will try, til we are reunited, my computer and I, to be more colorful in my language (though not THAT colorful). Not for the first time, I am really grateful for my phone, but it really just isn’t the same.

One of the things Mike and I had to do upon my return is to decide how we were going to use the rest of our time here. Giverny and Nomandy are very high priorities (we spent almost 2 weeks in Paris on our honeymoon, loving every minute, but we didn’t venture further than Versailles on that trip), and we continue to entertain London, Ireland, Prague, Brugge, Poland, and several destinations in Switzerland. With only 38 days left (not that anyone here is counting) over 5 weekends, it isn’t likely that we’re even going to do half of that. That’s the sad part of this story. We discussed this over dinner the other night, weighing out available time, time off, and financial considerations, and as Mike was loading the dishwasher, he pointed out that we have only 23 washing tabs left! So… We then figured that since we tend to wash every day on the weekends (it is a Very, Very small dishwasher), that will eat up 10 loads right there. Which means we will need to be elsewhere on at least 2 weekends, or a total of at least 4-6 days (depending on weekend days vs weekday days). That’s right. Our dishwashing supplies will impact our vacation planning… I guess something to go on is better than nothing? Or, it is just weird and even weirder that I shared it (really, though, you have no idea, I promise, about just how things work around here- and by that I mean within our apartment, not in Germany).

Raise your hand if something similar has happened to you… (Really… It will make me feel better!)

I feel maybe a smidge extra weird about the whole situation with the dishwashing tabs, remembering an incident in my adolescence when my parents marched my sister and I to the local IHOP for a family meeting (I know, the pancake theme of this blog runs deep) but who said I can’t be bribed with carbs and buttery goodness? I am at least up front about that!.During this meeting, we drew straws to determine our vacation plans. (That was the first time my sister limited travel to Germany through no fault of her own; we’d planned this lovely German excursion, and mysteriously, everyone else got their passports updated in plenty of time, but the wise and wonderful government only sent back her cancelled passport, not her new one. So, we had to come up with a new plan at the last minute…) we ended up on a really lovely trip to California, wandering among the redwoods and cruising up Route 1, exploring Monterrey and all of the wonder of that area. Nonetheless, I’m starting to see a pattern of randomness here, of not-fully-intentional tripping, if you will. I’m not sure whether I’m comfortable with it or not… Or perhaps I’m meant to learn something from this that I just haven’t gotten yet. Nonetheless, I do feel like it is possible that Mike and I are being rewarded (a little bit) for our chronic lack of planning. True, we aren’t going to be able to do everything, but now we have an excuse, as if to ensure that we can’t do nothing! Blessings come in all shapes and sizes.

Catching Up, Part 2: Leipzig

How do you pick the places you visit on your weekend road trips? Before our move to Germany, I feel like 9 times out of 10, where we went depended on a particular event (having tickets for a concert in Nashville, for instance) or family gathering. These days, I feel more like we should have a map posted on the wall with a set of darts! That would be kind of fun, though, wouldn’t it? Perhaps not with small children in the area (if your aim is anything like mine), but interesting nonetheless. Our trip to Leipzig, which is about 2/3 of the way between our apartment and Berlin, was born of several factors. 1 of which, of course, is the Starbucks mug checklist. Another is that among Mike’s German coworkers, this city is one of the only ones that they seemed to feel is “interesting.” Meanwhile, I’ve felt like Leipzig kept showing up in my life – in books (one of which was Larson’s “In the Garden of Beasts,” which I thought provided an interesting perspective on the start of WWII, both in Germany and in the U.S.), in conversations with people, in reading about other places/events/people. So… we were off to Leipzig.

Although I’d never heard of Leipzig before we arrived in Germany, I would echo those who say that it is one of the most (if not THE most) underrated cities in Germany. Although it has been a major part of significant events in history, I felt like they do a better/different job than many places of focusing on the present without trying to sweep the past under the rug.

Adorning a building near our hotel, I thought this was a good representation of Leipzig:  colorful, pretty without being tidy, and with a strong sense of value.

Adorning a building near our hotel, I thought this was a good representation of Leipzig: colorful, pretty without being tidy, and with a strong sense of value. (people in Leipzig don’t really have fish faces, though.. just so you know…)

Several weeks ago, more towards the home front in Aschaffenburg, there was a fair amount of drama stemming from what should be basic household decisions. Particularly around the temperature of the individual homes. Well, let me back up. As you are well aware, this German winter and I were NOT BFFs. So, I didn’t really “mind” this, but I found it interesting:  Walking along most cities and towns, even in the dead of winter (how apt is that expression??), it is very common to see storefronts with their doors open. Yep, just pumping heat out into the open air like they’ve got energy to spare. What was extra-interesting to me about this is that Germans in general (perhaps most of Europe, really) have a reputation for being much more energy-conscious than Americans in general. This reputation is supported by LOTS of facts, too:  smaller cars/greater reliance on mass transit/trains, MUCH more alternate energy focus (even our little building’s roof is completely covered with solar panels), and on and on (even many-most escalators have motion sensors so that they are running for no reason). Check out ifitweremyhome.com for some other interesting comparisons (including energy use) between where you live and other parts of the world. I could play with it for longer than I’m proud of admitting…

Anyway… back to the story… a nastygram email got sent to all of Mike’s coworkers saying that we Americans were being excessive on our heat use, and that there were reports of apartments being kept at 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit). One of the many reasons that this is inane is that we don’t have thermostats and the radiators were timed such that for significant parts of the day, no heat was really available. Anyway… Imagine, if you will, waking up in your cozy little hotel room in downtown Leipzig with the heating system in your room being inhabited by a poltergeist which ACTUALLY FACTUALLY read 28 degrees Celsius (82.4 degrees Fahrenheit). It was out of control. Ain’t nobody got time for that at 2 am, I can promise you that! I literally felt like I was melting. We were finally able to turn the stupid system off (we had tried when we first arrived, because it was a smidge warm when we got there), and eventually piece together something resembling a nap (well, Mike can sleep at any time in any place under almost any circumstances so HE probably resumed his near-coma state quickly (which honestly, I (not the heat) had awakened him from as my skin literally began melting as I paced the room, trying to generate a breeze as I walked). Wait… did that sound jealous?? Well, take it for what it is…). I was ready to send all kinds of nasty grams myself, but… fortunately, Leipzig awaited and is really much to charming in its own eclectic way for me to hold the whole city responsible (which I was ready to do at 2 am, I promise).

Nikolaikirche is important for several reasons... the one that stands out is that the church held Monday demonstrations which were eventually a major turning point in the peaceful revolution against the communist rule in East Germany (it has been said that the church itself was the leader of this revolution). Nikolaikirche was built, originally, in the 1100s, and hosted J.S. Bach (who lived in Leipzig) several times. The church is also interesting to me because it is a protestant church, though Catholic services/functions are "allowed."

Nikolaikirche is important for several reasons… the one that stands out is that the church held Monday demonstrations which were eventually a major turning point in the peaceful revolution against the communist rule in East Germany (it has been said that the church itself was the leader of this revolution). Nikolaikirche was built, originally, in the 1100s, and hosted J.S. Bach (who lived in Leipzig) several times. The church is also interesting to me because it is a protestant church, though Catholic services/functions are “allowed.”

One of the displays at the Leipzig Rathaus... the image kind of speaks for itself, no?

One of the displays at the Leipzig Rathaus… the image kind of speaks for itself, no?

Seen at the Stasi museum, one of several streets that were renamed following the fall of communism.

Seen at the Stasi museum, one of several streets that were renamed following the fall of communism.

This one just made me laugh... I swear I've seen more Jack Daniels products in Germany than I've ever dreamed of in the US.

This one just made me laugh… I swear I’ve seen more Jack Daniels products in Germany than I’ve ever dreamed of in the US.

This depicts the evolution of work/man's work, I think. I can't remember for certain, but I still thought it was pretty cool.

This depicts the evolution of work/man’s work, I think. I can’t remember for certain, but I still thought it was pretty cool.

Lime trees are one of the symbols of Leipzig dating back a REALLY long time (the name means "city where the linden trees stand," which translates to "lime trees" in British English. This medallion was on display at the rathaus.

Lime trees are one of the symbols of Leipzig dating back a REALLY long time (the name means “city where the linden trees stand,” which translates to “lime trees” in British English. This medallion was on display at the rathaus.

Words can not depict how totally creepy this was... the Alte rathaus is now mostly a museum, was depitated in WWII, and only the beams supporting the roof were left. It has obviously been reroofed, but they have installed a bunch of old TVs up there depicting scenes from the bombing (complete with sound effects). Definitely made it feel real to me...

Words can not depict how totally creepy this was… the Alte rathaus is now mostly a museum, was depitated in WWII, and only the beams supporting the roof were left. It has obviously been reroofed, but they have installed a bunch of old TVs up there depicting scenes from the bombing (complete with sound effects). Definitely made it feel real to me…

Leipzig is famous (relatively speaking, anyway) for a variety of things, including their publishing, trade fairs (dating back to the middle ages), and arts scenes. They also apparently have a fairly strong athletic community, and launched an unsuccessful bid for the Olympics in 2012.

Athletic dude promoting the campaign to bring the Olympics to Leipzig.

Athletic dude promoting the campaign to bring the Olympics to Leipzig.

Yet another indication of their burgeoning athleticism.

Yet another indication of their burgeoning athleticism.

We took a little break at the Coffee Baum, one of the oldest coffee houses in Europe.

We took a little break at der zum Arabischen Coffee Baum, one of the oldest coffee houses in Europe.

And we had to sample the famous Leipziger Lerche (which we thought was very tasty)..

And we had to sample the famous Leipziger Lerche (which we thought was very tasty)..

We saw a lot, ate well, and enjoyed ourselves thoroughly. That’s pretty much what a weekend trip should be, n’est pas?

Springtime in Heidelberg and Mannheim

Last week, Mike and several of his co-workers had to be at one of their vendors or suppliers (I can never keep the two separated, and I don’t know that it really matters in my sphere at all) all week, and lucky for me… it was right outside of Heidelberg. Also lucky for me, spring is upon us and was creeping out all over Heidelberg! In fact, they are feeling so confident that the never-ending winter is actually over that they filled their fountains last week (I watched them putting the water in). Lucky lucky lucky me! Because we took a trip to Heidelberg in the fall, I’m just going to share the spring-time version of the city…

I know... what a way to start. I thought it was funny, though, in a way. I was out and about fairly early, and I'd wondered how they managed the trash pickup in the pedestrian-dominated Altstadt, especially as busy as this one is. Apparently, they pile stuff up near the fountains... It was gone an hour later!

I know… what a way to start. I thought it was funny, though, in a way. I was out and about fairly early, and I’d wondered how they managed the trash pickup in the pedestrian-dominated Altstadt, especially as busy as this one is. Apparently, they pile stuff up near the planters… It was gone an hour later!

I was even more amused by the window display incorporating a stuffed figure  taking a seat!

I was even more amused by the window display incorporating a bear in a high chair!

Previously, we had used the funicular only to get to the castle. I decided to take a walk in the woods on top of the mountain, so I took the "historical" part of the railway. Over 100 years old, folks, with all the creaks and rattles to prove it!

Previously, we had used the funicular only to get to the castle. I decided to take a walk in the woods on top of the mountain, so I took the “historical” part of the railway. Over 100 years old, folks, with all the creaks and rattles to prove it!

As I walked along, I was enchanted by the many ways they made a simple walk in the woods both more beautiful and more interesting (not that it needed either)...

As I walked along, I was enchanted by the many ways they made a simple walk in the woods both more beautiful and more interesting (not that it needed either)… This one was on the more profound end of the spectrum, I thought.

Care for a seat?

Care for a seat?

Beautiful flowering bush, discovered as we walked along vineyards overlooking both Heidelberg and Mannheim.

Beautiful flowering bush, discovered as we walked along vineyards overlooking both Heidelberg and Mannheim.

IMG_4279

Sunset across the Neckar Valley from the castle-restaurant we dined at… Positively magical! Remarkably, the dinner at the castle restaurant was really tasty! And not that touristy (though I suspect that may have been different a few years ago)…

IMG_4251

On our last full day in Heidelberg, I took the tram to nearby Mannheim. Interesting, eh?

One of the many fountains in Mannheim.

One of the many fountains in Mannheim. Mannheim struck me as much more business-y and modern… Not unattractive, but very different from Heidelberg.

I may add a few more from Mannheim in the coming days. It was a very interesting place… and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing people so obviously enjoy getting out in the springtime sunshine! People were everywhere – sunbathing, reading in the park, strolling along with friends! A good way to spend a day – and I hope that you enjoy your own special version of that this weekend!

Happy trails!

Catching Up, Part 1

I am woefully behind in chronicling our adventures here, but rest assured that the lack of posts does not mean a lack of adventure! 🙂 I’m going to start by rewinding back to our trip to Hannover and Hamburg. A good rule of thumb, for me, when catching up, is to start at the top and work my way down, and that’s exactly what starting in Hamburg is. The very top of the country (that I’ve been to, anyways)!

This was our first entirely train-based adventure, and honestly, I was pretty proud of myself for getting that all set up. Now that I’ve done it, though, I can honestly say that it is extremely easy and really not that much to write home about. I fancy myself a little bit of a travel agent these days (no disrespect intended to people who actually do this professionally!), and mastering the DB Bahn system was a small victory. We took the train from Aschaffenburg to Hannover on Friday night, and spent much of Saturday wandering around gardens and sculpture parks in Hannover. Saturday night, we took the train to Hamburg, where we stayed until Tuesday afternoon. You’ve already seen most of the best pictures of Hannover here, so I’m  going to focus mostly on Hamburg now.

We arrived in Hamburg as a most blessed event took place:  a warm front! Fantastic! Sunday, it was in the high 50s, and it felt verify-ably balmy. Having learned early on about the critical importance of pancakes, Mike had done his research and found a cute little pancake/breakfast joint in a decidedly non-touristy part of Hamburg (on the whole, Hamburg was not all that touristy anyway). The place reminded me a LOT of Java Jive in Atlanta, minus the antique appliances (trust me, the appliances are actually quite fun, and I can’t really imagine Java Jive without them, but Mamalicious was doing just fine without them). And then, to our surprise, our server who spoke perfect German to our ears revealed that he was from Minnesota after hearing us speak to each other in English… He’s lived in Germany for less time than we have, but you would never know that to hear him. Oh well…

En route to the Mamalicious pancakery, which was in the Sternschanze area of Hamburg. This area is part of the Altona district of Hamburg, which was ruled by the Danish until 1864, and was an independent city of it's own until 1937.

En route to the Mamalicious pancakery, which was in the Sternschanze area of Hamburg. This area is part of the Altona district of Hamburg, which was ruled by the Danish until 1864, and was an independent city of it’s own until 1937.

Hamburg is really lovely, and I wouldn’t hesitate to go back there. Not only was it warm – something the rest of Germany held out on me for until only within the last week or 10 days – but it was a fun, proud place where people dress for fashion, not for practicality! Fabulous! (I wonder if this is a weather-related thing, though, but I haven’t really studied it too carefully yet.. I’ll get back to you!) Did you know that there are more canals in Hamburg than there are in Amsterdam AND Venice combined? I had no idea… As Germany’s 2nd largest (by population) city, it is also a city-state. And a very pretty one at that (I’m always partial to waterfronts)! It is one of the most livable cities, too. Mike and I talked about how livable it seemed, and it was afterwards that I read that it is actually ranked as one of the top 10 most livable cities (2010) in the world. I think it also bears mentioning that Hamburg usually only gets snow a couple of times each year due to the influence of the ocean. I’ve gotta tell you that I will be perfectly ok if I never see another snowflake (unless I am planning on engaging in skiing or related activities, in which case I am perfectly happy to travel to the snow, rather than it being in my area).

The Rathaus of Hamburg is truly magnificent. They also do a really nice tour where you can see the working offices of the government of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg.

The Rathaus of Hamburg is truly magnificent. They also do a really nice tour where you can see the working offices of the government of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg (that is the official name of the city, referring both to its place as an Imperial City in the Holy Roman Empire and its membership in the medieval Hanseatic league).

Different view of the Rathaus.

A different view of the Rathaus.

St. Nickolai Memorial - a really moving monument to the horror of war. It is located in a bombed out church, and has several sculptures in the entrance that I found to be thought provoking and haunting.

St. Nickolai Memorial – a really moving monument to the horror of war. It is in a bombed-out church, and has several sculptures in the entrance that I found to be thought-provoking and haunting.

The steeple structure at St. Nickolai

The steeple structure at St. Nickolai

One of the cool (and quite modern) buildings in HafenCIty, which is a fairly dynamic area of the city.

One of the cool (and quite modern) buildings in HafenCIty, which is a fairly dynamic area of the city. It will be their new symphony hall upon completion.

From the Landungsbrücken (Harbor Promenade).

From the Landungsbrücken (Harbor Promenade).

The Michael, as it is called in Hamburg. We climbed a whole lot of steps to get to the top of the bell tower, and paid to do it! I was, um, glistening...

The Michael, as it is called in Hamburg. We climbed a whole lot of steps to get to the top of the bell tower, and paid to do it! I was, um, glistening…

Our main *excuse* to go to Hamburg was that we had tickets to see the Killers there on Monday night. We didn’t take any pictures, but you will have to trust me that it was a great show! We had such a great time… Hamburg in general treated us to a really wonderful trip, but the concert was significantly better than I was expecting. The crowd stayed pretty high-energy all night, and it seems like Killers’ fans in Germany like some of their later music a little more than their fans in the U.S. The experience at the concert reminded me of a cultural difference I’ve been meaning to comment on:   queuing behaviors. In many, many respects, I have found the stereotype to be true in a good way – Germans do tend to be organized and structured. However… all of this seems to fall by the way side when it comes to standing in lines. At the grocery store, things stay fairly ordered and “normal.” However… at a concession stand, for instance, or even at a Kasse (checkout) at a department store, all bets are off. Every time the person who is conducting the transaction is finished, it feels like a mad dash to see who can get to the front next.

Here’s a get-to-know-your-tour-guide tidbit to round out this post: one of my biggest pet peeves is people cutting in line (it is right up there with being interrupted and water on the bathroom floor). This has been a difficult adjustment. People cutting in line is one of the (VERY) few times that I’m really not conflict-averse and have been known to call people on it on multiple occasions. Fortunately (for me), I realized this was a cultural thing before I had the German language skills to tell someone to back off. (oh, can you imagine? I shudder…) In any case, buying some pizza called on my assertive-line-behavioral skills, but it also made me laugh. I’ve heard stories about throwing elbows at Legoland, so I know it isn’t just me being all sensitive to people breaking in front (fyi, I don’t just get annoyed when people break in front of me, it is strictly the violation of my assumed principles that is distressing to me; I have said something to people breaking in line in front of other people too, even when it didn’t impact me in the least).

Are You One of ‘Them’??

Three questions to get us started here:

  1. Do you know anybody from Bielefeld?
  2. Have you ever been to Bielefeld?
  3. Do you know anybody who has ever been to Bielefeld?

What’s that? No? Well, then… apparently you are NOT, in fact, one of them. I, however am. You see, Mike took a little solo adventure (supposedly) to Bielefeld a couple of weeks ago.

The next question you are probably asking yourself is something like “um… ok… AM? What in the heck is Bielefeld?” I don’t blame you. However, as usual, there is more to the story than the straight-up answer, which is basically that Bielefeld is a town of about 3 and a quarter thousand people in the northwestern quadrant of Germany and is home to both a university and several international companies. I hope you are wanting more than just the straight-up answer!

Bielefeld is *perhaps* most famous (bear with me… famous may be a stretch, too) for its AKA… die Bielefeld Verschwörung. You can look the translation up, or I can just tell you that it means the Bielefeld Conspiracy! OOOOOHHHHH… Conspiracy! Intrigue! Mystery! I know! Keep reading!

It seems that there is some question as to whether the city actually exists. Maybe, just maybe, it is a conspiracy between the authorities (whoever THEY are) and an entity known as SIE (They, or Them in German… according to the theory, SIE is not a kind reference to they or them, and is definitely not meant to be the polite form of “you” in German). That’s right… so… If you answer “yes” to any of the questions which opened this post, you, too, are part of the conspiracy and are trying to continue to ruse that Bielefeld actually exists! If you know Mike, you, too, are one of them! Little ol me!? Bwah ha ha ha!

The whole idea apparently was meant as an internet joke, hardly to even be tangled up in words like “hoax.” As these things are wont to do, though, it developed a life of its own. The story goes that this dude posted the idea to a usenet group back in the 90’s after what must have been an awesome party he went to. The idea took off, though, and the City Council of this poor city tries very hard to overcome the rumor mill. They deal with phone calls daily… even today! (no, not me) questioning their existence. Unfortunately (for them! I think it’s hilarious), they released a press release several years after the rumor started verifying their existence… on April Fool’s Day. Really. I can’t make this stuff up.

Some of you may be wondering why Mike would travel hours by himself on a cold, windy, snowy day to travel to a city that may or may not exist. Is it because he had a nefarious agenda to become one of THEM? I certainly hope not! I prefer to think his intentions were pure. What, per chance, are pure intentions when it comes to adventures to Bielefeld?

That's right, folks... Starbucks is one of them! (raise your hand if you are surprised...)

That’s right, folks… Starbucks is one of them! (raise your hand if you are surprised…)

Besides Starbucks, there are several other factors that may contribute to this rumor’s (she clears her throat) popularity. One of these is that there is a ‘flame war’ (for the uninitiated, such as myself, I will tell you what I learned on looking this term up: it is a hostile set of interactions between internet users) between the Usenet administrators and that of another internet group based (*supposedly* wink, wink) in Bielefeld. The town can be a slippery sucker, though. The Autobahn doesn’t really pass through town at all, and for a number of years construction on the central train station lent a certain uninhabited look to things. It is located in a relatively rural area, and after WWII, nothing of national importance was rebuilt there, so most Germans haven’t ever heard of it either. I mean… if it wasn’t for Starbucks…

Mike also said that he saw a castle there… but, have you ever been to Germany? There are castles everywhere!! How can we ever be sure??IMG_3933

20130411-181038.jpg

Mike got me flowers… for HIS birthday! No, this doesn’t have anything to do with the Bielefeld Conspiracy, but I just had to point out how awesome he is (and how lucky I am)!

It’s the Little Things

I imagine (probably rightly) that some of you may snicker (hopefully under your breath) with all of my whining about the weather. Believe me when I tell you that I’m ready to stop, too! However, this is the winter that just won’t quit. We were given a little taste of spring (she’s such a tease!) last week, complete with SUNSHINE if you can believe that! This has been the grayest winter in German experience for the last 20 years, or so I’ve heard. But… check this link out if you are interested in a good laugh and a little education about German weather/solar energy: Germany’s massive sunniness; I’d watch the video, personally, but only after looking at the rest of the page. I enjoy laughing with silly people, though, and I can only imagine that she was intending to be funny, but it only made the pain of this morning that much worse. 4 inches of snow by noon (I hear… as you will soon hear, I am boycotting). And it is still snowing. Only 1 inch was predicted, but I think that the Germans may be infinitely optimistic about their weather, at least in the forecasting of it… they talk about it like the next apocolypse is coming (seriously… at “Bakery Day” last week a lovely, intelligent woman positively turned ashen when discussing the weather forecast for this week. I wasn’t sure if her forecast came with zombies, or if she has worse winter-phobia than I do!)! In any case, I have decided to boycott the weather until it improves. I’m still working out the details of how that is going to work, exactly, but I’ll let you know.

In any case, I thought that I would share with you thing that make me happy! Some of them here in my happy little flat, some of them in Hannover. I’ll share more about our (fabulous) trip to Hannover and Hamburg soon, but for now, I just wanted to share happy pictures!

This guy was just so sunny - fire-y even. To see this is to smile... :-)

This guy was just so sunny – fire-y even. To see this is to smile… 🙂

I will feel forever grateful to have visited the Niki de Saint Phalle Grotto at the Herrenhäuser Gardens... Fun fact:  She was named an honorary citizen of Hannover!

I will feel forever grateful to have visited the Niki de Saint Phalle Grotto at the Royal Herrenhäuser Gardens… Fun fact: She was named an honorary citizen of Hannover!

In the silver room at the Grotto, something at least in the spirit of the Nanas.. So cheerful and shiny!

In the silver room at the Grotto, something at least in the spirit of the Nanas.. So cheerful and shiny!

Peanut butter and jelly has been one of my recent near-obsessions. I have now taken it to a near art-form (if only I could get amazing peanut butter, but this will do):  handmade jam bought at the farm-store; fresh and tasty strawberries (for texture and general yumminess); and a smooth slice of whole wheat. Fantastic!

Peanut butter and jelly has been one of my recent near-obsessions. Some people grow out of their love of peanut butter… I find that the older I get, the more I love it! I have now taken it to a near art-form (if only I could get amazing peanut butter, but this will do): handmade jam bought at the farm-store; fresh and tasty strawberries (for texture and general yumminess); and a smooth slice of whole wheat. Fantastic!

Don't you kind of want a moment like this? Where you can stretch out on your tummy, stick your toes in the sun, and just rest? Looks great to me!

Don’t you kind of want a moment like this? Where you can stretch out on your tummy, stick your toes in the sun, and just rest? Looks great to me!

Shooting stars in the "Blue Room" at the Grotto.

Shooting stars in the “Blue Room” at the Grotto.

"Their Eyes Were Watching God"

“Their Eyes Were Watching God”

2 of the most lovely orchids. Perhaps ever. I just love looking at them...

2 of the most lovely orchids. Perhaps ever. I just love looking at them…

More shiny and colorful goodness in the "Silver Room."

More shiny and colorful goodness in the “Silver Room.”

I just thought this looked as much like a botanical Easter basket as you can get! Sometimes I wish that I could landscape my backyard with photographs...

I just thought this looked as much like a botanical Easter basket as you can get! Sometimes I wish that I could landscape my backyard with photographs…

Windows at the Grotto were also an opportunity to have an artistic moment.

Windows at the Grotto were also an opportunity to have an artistic moment.

I also went through a phase (prompted by a photo or 2 taken by one of my culinarily creative sister-in-laws) that caused my brain to fixate on the warm, sweet, fluffy-ness of monkey bread. We don't have a round pan, so we made do... and it was gooooood!

I also went through a phase (prompted by a photo or 2 taken by one of my culinarily creative sister-in-laws) that caused my brain to fixate on the warm, sweet, fluffy-ness of monkey bread. We don’t have a round pan, so we made do… and it was gooooood!

A little blurry, yes, but the colors and the delicate edges of these are romance incarnate to me.

A little blurry, yes, but the colors and the delicate edges of these are romance incarnate to me.

Happy Tuesday, Y’all!

A Different Side of France and a BIG Surprise from Germany

Mike will likely not completely endorse my verbiage here, but I will stand behind it (and he is out-of-town in Ludwigsburg, so he isn’t here to argue!). He’s had a bee in his bonnet to go see Verdun for quite some time now, and we finally got to scratch that itch! We travelled to Saarbrücken and poked around for a bit (namely in search of a Starbucks mug which unfortunately for us, is a hot ticket and was all sold out… wha wha), but our main agenda was to venture across the French border to an area in and around Verdun for some good, old-fashioned battlefield-looking. Are you excited yet? Yeah. Neither was I. I was ok with it, of course, because it is France (and my husband, who is worth suffering through a few battlefield-lookings, of course), but I can’t say that I was exactly enthusiastic. However, I found it much more interesting than it seemed at first blush (it was also much more cold than he’d convinced me that it would be, but that is a different story altogether. Henceforth, I will believe it ONLY when I see it when it comes to decent weather in these parts).

Saarbrücken itself has a rather storied past. It is situated in the SE part of Germany (literally moments from the French border, so we heard as many pardons as… well, we actually heard pardons! Germans don’t frequent their version of “excuse me” much, but I think that is because it is such a mouthful, not because they aren’t polite), and used to be hot stuff when mining was all the rage. Much like West Virginia though, when mining went, so did their claim to fame. Pretty much everybody has tried to get their hands on Saarbrücken at one time or another, as it’s been ruled by the Romans (starting under Julius Caesar), the Franks, the Prussians, and more recently, it has bounced back and forth between France and Germany a few times (most recently, in 1955, its people voted to return to German citizenship).

Mike at an overlook for the river, Saar. See how cavalierly he stands there, with his hat in his un-gloved hands... Unbelievable.

Mike at an overlook for the river, Saar. See how cavalierly he stands there, with his hat in his un-gloved hands… Unbelievable. (He does have a look on his face that looks uncomfortably cold, though, so maybe he is thinking twice about that hat…)

Part of the Saarbrücken castle, modernized.

Part of the Saarbrücken castle, modernized.

Stengel (architect) helped make Saarbrücken's Altstadt (here is the old Rathaus) look very much like the planned community it is. Fortunately, this happened after the Franco-Dutch war, which left only 8 houses standing in Saarbrücken, and after the 30 Years War, which reduced the population down to 70! You can say a lot of things about this town, but you would have to include perserverent!

Stengel (architect) helped make Saarbrücken’s Altstadt (here is the old Rathaus) look very much like the planned community it is. Fortunately, this happened after the Franco-Dutch war, which left only 8 houses standing in Saarbrücken, and after the 30 Years War, which reduced the population down to 70! You can say a lot of things about this town, but you would have to include perserverant!

Fountain in the square... I think she's seen better days.

Fountain in the square… I think she’s seen better days. It seems she has lost most of her face!

Ludwigskirche, because Ludwig got around. Very popular dude...

Ludwigskirche, because Ludwig got around. Very popular dude…

The Saarkran, which apparently acts like a river crane when the weather is better.

The Saarkran, which apparently acts like a river crane when the weather is better.

Very symbolic, right outside the "new" Rathaus.

Very symbolic, right outside the “new” Rathaus.

Inside the Rathaus was incredible... this is in the area they use for special events. I can't believe that they put this kind of detail into the ceiling!!

Inside the Rathaus was incredible… this is in the area they use for special events. I can’t believe that they put this kind of detail into the ceiling!!

Larger view of the ceiling of the events area.

Broader view of the ceiling of the events area.

Let me know if you know what this sign means. Are they looking for a leaning tower of Saarbrücken tourism?

Let me know if you know what this sign means. Are they looking for a leaning tower of Saarbrücken tourism?

Outside the Rathaus, looking up at the events area. What was incredible is that from the inside, you couldn't see the window decoration hardly at all!

Outside the Rathaus, looking up at the events area. What was incredible is that from the inside, you couldn’t see the window decoration hardly at all!

Aren’t you dying to know what Germany’s big surprise is? Right there, next to the French border, is the ONLY place in Germany I’ve found with decent Mexican food! It was awesome! Tasty salsa! Normal tasting chips! jalapeno peppers! Margaritas! Fantastic!!! They even learned the expression “on the rocks” just for Mike. In fact, it was so tasty and made me so happy that at the conclusion of our meal there on Friday night, we made reservations for Saturday night… yep… we’re those people (and a lot of places in Germany, even the local Mexican dive, expect that you make reservations. The burger place in Aschaffenburg won’t take you without a reservation. It is a BURGER joint. Pizza, same way. Lesson? If you are traveling to Germany, plan to either make reservations or get lucky. At least in a lot of places…). We learned how to say “on the rocks” in German, but when he asked for his margarita on Saturday, they asked him “on the rocks?!” Talk about customer service…  🙂

Like I said, though… we had an agenda. Mike was literally pacing the halls of the hotel waiting on me to get going on V-Day (that is, Verdun Day). We crossed into France (the Lorraine region, if you are trying to imagine) and (after paying rather hefty tolls) found ourselves at the Tourism office of Verdun. Before I get any further, let me emphasize that most of Verdun, and certainly what they are known for, are their battles. Even the name, “Verdun,” means strong fort (in case you think that names don’t have anything to do with future personalities…). After perusing the tourism office for a little while, we finally decided just to ask the lady where the memorials were. After quickly reassuring us that we merely make a left turn and follow the signs, we were off. Questions is… where are the signs??!! Ummmm… yeah. Anywho… Mike has a homing instinct for these things, so we found what we were looking for, but I was surprised that it wasn’t even just a little bit better marked. For the rest of the story, I’ll let the pictures do the talking:

monument to soldiers in Downtown Verdun. Just behind this wall is another battlefield/fort area, but it wasn't open.

monument to soldiers in Downtown Verdun. Just behind this wall is another battlefield/fort area, but it wasn’t open.

Looking down over Fleury-devant-Douaumont. This used to be a town, but it was completely wiped out by the fighting in the Battle for Verdun.

Looking down over Fleury-devant-Douaumont. This used to be a town, but it was completely wiped out by the fighting in the Battle for Verdun.

The Chapelle at Fleury-devant-Douaumont. It was built as a memorial to those who died fighting for France in this town.

The Chapelle Fleury-devant-Douaumont. It was built as a memorial to those who died fighting for France in this town.

It is truly chilling to walk along paths that used to be roads and see markers that indicate that so and so's house was there, or that the town church was here. As you can see, the ground is pock-marked from the battle even today.

It is truly chilling to walk along paths that used to be roads and see markers that indicate that so and so’s house was there, or that the town church was here. As you can see, the ground is pock-marked from the battle even today.

Our Lady, wrapped in in colors and stars of the EU. I imagine the implications of friendship between France and Germany are especially poignant in this area.

Our Lady, wrapped in the colors and stars of the EU. I imagine the implications of friendship between France and Germany are especially poignant in this area. I also just loved this picture.

I also thought that the road sign, indicating that we were driving out of town, was especially poignant. Leaving a town that doesn't exist anymore.

I also thought that the road sign, indicating that we were driving out of town, was especially poignant. Leaving a town that doesn’t exist anymore.

The Douaumont Ossuary, holding the remains of French and German soldiers who died at Verdun. Through the windows of the building, you can see the skeletal remains of over 130,000 soldiers.

The Douaumont Ossuary, holding the remains of French and German soldiers who died at Verdun. Through the windows of the building, you can see the skeletal remains of over 130,000 soldiers.

In front of the Ossuary is the largest single French military cemetery. Holding over 16,000 French soldiers, it was designed by Andre Maginot, who is credited (obviously) with designing the Maginot line, which (for those of you like me for whom military strategy in general is a foreign language) is a line of fortifications and defenses used to protect France, particularly from Germany. It wasn't ultimately all that effective, although it certainly had it's fans.

In front of the Ossuary is the largest single French military cemetery. Holding over 16,000 French soldiers, it was designed by Andre Maginot, who is credited (obviously) with designing the Maginot line, which (for those of you like me for whom military strategy in general is a foreign language) is a line of fortifications and defenses used to protect France, particularly from Germany. It wasn’t ultimately all that effective, although it certainly had it’s fans.

A memorial to those who died in trench warfare. This was also very chilling, as the trenches themselves (inside here) had barbed wire and graves, which was very sad to me.

A memorial to those who died in trench warfare. This was also very chilling, as the trenches themselves (inside here) had barbed wire and graves, which was very sad to me.

Walking through a trench to get to the trench.

Walking through a trench to get to the trench.

Fort Douaumont. This place was intense. It was significantly colder inside than outside, which made for good symbolism if nothing else. Fort Douaumont was a key part of the fight for Verdun, and changed hands between the Germans and the French several times. It is (was) the highest and largest fort along the French fort-line.

Fort Douaumont. This place was intense. It was significantly colder inside than outside, which made for good symbolism if nothing else. Fort Douaumont was a key part of the fight for Verdun, and changed hands between the Germans and the French several times. It is (was) the highest and largest fort along the French fort-line. If you ever go there, get the video guide – those are some of the best audio or video guides we’ve ever used.

These halls (tunnels) extend several kilometers in all directions. The fort (I believe) was built to house 300 (+/-) soldiers, but at some points in the war, it would have over 3500 at one time. It is probably useful to note that the fort was build WITHOUT bathroom facilities. Apparently, the stench caused a lot of stomach upset, which only added to the stench. GROSS.

These halls (tunnels) extend several kilometers in all directions. The fort (I believe) was built to house 300 (+/-) soldiers, but at some points in the war, it would have over 3500 at one time. It is probably useful to note that the fort was built WITHOUT bathroom facilities. Apparently, the stench caused a lot of stomach upset, which only added to the stench. GROSS.

Many, many lives were lost in and around the fort. Behind this wall, several (14, I believe) soldiers were buried after their bodies were unable to be identified or retrieved following an accidental explosion in the fort.

Many, many lives were lost in and around the fort. Behind this wall, several (14, I believe) soldiers were buried after their bodies were unable to be identified or retrieved following an accidental explosion in the fort.

On top of the fort, you can see the largest gun associated with the fort (155mm). As the war was getting started, the French decided that the forts weren't going to be all that helpful, so they nearly abandoned the fort. The Germans then easily took it, as only a few "middle-aged" army folk from France were on hand. This back and forth went on for over 300 days... That's why the German name for this battle translates to "The Hell of Verdun."

On top of the fort, you can see the largest gun associated with the fort (155mm). As the war was getting started, the French decided that the forts weren’t going to be all that helpful, so they nearly abandoned the fort. The Germans then easily took it, as only a few “middle-aged” army folk from France were on hand. This back and forth went on for over 300 days… That’s why the German name for this battle translates to “The Hell of Verdun.” In a related question, and I’m not trying to be flippant about all of this, but why on Earth am I not wearing my hat??? Seriously. I know I had it on most of the time… Weird.

We stopped along the side of the road so that Mike could check this out: it isn't part of an officially preserved memorial or anything, but this is a trench from the battle here, almost 100 years ago.

We stopped along the side of the road so that Mike could check this out: it isn’t part of an officially preserved memorial or anything, but this is a trench from the battle here, almost 100 years ago.

Back in downtown Verdun, we saw this statue. Beautiful. Heroic.

Back in downtown Verdun, we saw this statue. Beautiful. Heroic.

I really can’t put into words how it feels to walk or drive along through this area that seemed to go on indefinitely and continue to see the earth-born scars of war. I guess I’ve started to get used to memorials and monuments and whatnot, but when the ground itself is forever altered? That’s something. When all was said and done, over 900,000 soldiers had died pursuing this area. I have no idea what (or if) the civilian numbers are. I read somewhere this quote in summing up how the battle ended, “The Germans had failed to bleed the French to death.”

Helau!

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that Karneval festivities were heating up and that people were getting seriously into it. I had no idea… Seriously. As I write this, it is the end of the season, so to speak, with only 1 more days left to squeeze in whatever partying you may have left in you. How seriously do people in these parts take it? The parking lot behind our building is exclusively for workers at a nearby business. It is usually full. Today? Less than 1/3 of the spaces have cars as temporary residents. Schools in the area have shut down for the week. Although it isn’t an official holiday, several businesses and shops around town are closed. Why? In some sort of somber preparation for the holy Lenten season? P-shaw. I think not. People are squeezing every last bit of partying into the last few days of Karneval that they possibly can. It is INTENSE, people.

As I’m prone to do in these posts, I must confess my complete and total ignorance. I knew that Karneval was a pretty big deal in Brazil (and I went ahead and generalized in my head to South America), home to the grand parties in Rio. Of course, I was aware of the spectacular parties in Venice. And, of course, there is always Mardi Gras. Here? They start the party before Christmas, really, on the 11th day of the 11th month at 11:11am. Parties are held with increasing intensity right up until Ash Wednesday, too. That’s 3 whole months of serious partying. There is very little that you could say that the Germans do half-way, and Karneval is more like one of those things that the Germans do in triplicate. There are a lot of parties where almost everyone will be wearing a similar costume, and there are parties where it’s more of an anything-goes kind of costume. There are kids parties, family parties, adults parties. If you have another idea about how they could break it down, I’ll put money on it that they would be happy to incorporate it. We’re in a part of Germany where most people will call them Fasching parties, but it really is all the same thing:  A Capital P Party.

Allow me to share a little bit of what I’ve learned through my research into this most colorful cause for celebration! There is a wee bit of debate about the origin of the word “Carneval,” although if you believe that the festival season is strictly aligned with the Christian season of Lent, you are likely to buy the one about how it comes from the “Carne Vale” or “Carne Lavare” which is basically a farewell to meat (and good riddance says the vegetarian in me!). There is also an argument that people have been celebrating Carneval since before Christians added the Lenten season to our calendars, in which case you would probably go with the theory that it comes from the Roman phrase “carrus navalis,” which was a festival celebrating the start of the sailing season in which the image of Isis was carried to the shore and involved a parade of masks. Either way, it looks like the dad in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” would be disappointed as neither etymology turns up a Greek origin. (“Helau!” is the traditional Karneval greeting everywhere in Germany except in the Köln area, where one would shout “Alaaf!”)

Karneval celebrations in southern Germany are said to symbolize driving out winter (hurray!!) and all of the evil spirits winter brought with it (indeed..). Traditionally, though, Karneval celebrations in Germany were a time that the people could mock the politicians and leaders (this was especially true after the French took over the Rhineland part of Germany, which is where Köln is, which is a likely explanation for why their celebrations are supposed to be so, so outrageous!) safely behind masks.

Yesterday was Aschaffenburg’s karnevalsumzug (Karneval parade). Again, I really had no idea. You would think that after the zeal with which they celebrate their fork trucks, I would be prepared, but… no. I was not. Sitting in the comfort of my living room, hours before the parade started, I started getting a clue. A party bus (when I say party bus, I mean a city bus decked out with balloons and loud speakers swaying slowly down the street as the revelers inside crank up the techno-music) ambled down the street outside our building… random bumble bees tripped down the sidewalk. I remained naive… until:

To kick things off, let me present a man, dressed as a nun, drinking a beer and smoking a cigarette. Good times!

To kick things off, let me present a man, dressed as a nun, drinking a beer and smoking a cigarette. Good times! Please also note that Mike had a better read on this whole situation than I did, and brought a beer with him to celebrate in true German fashion…

To indicate how seriously this event was being taken, a couch was installed at the pedestrian crossing!

To indicate how seriously this event was being taken, a couch was installed at the pedestrian crossing!

Guess which of these is an XX woman, and which is an XY.

Guess which of these is an XX woman, and which is an XY.

On some streets, this might appear to be just a normal group of teenagers. These, however, were German teenagers dressed as gangstas!

On some streets, this might appear to be just a normal group of teenagers. These, however, were German teenagers dressed as gangstas!

Before the parade rolled through, these wagons of pretzels came up the parade route. Very festive!

Before the parade rolled through, these wagons of pretzels came up the parade route. Very festive!

Little did I know, the party bus was also making an appearance in the parade! Just so you know, they were handing out shots!

Little did I know, the party bus was also making an appearance in the parade! Just so you know, they were handing out shots! (The majority of groups were handing out candy to the kids, although there were several beer wagons, and at least 2 or 3 liquor passers..)

Does this picture need a caption?

Does this picture need a caption? (that’s not a baby she’s reaching to comfort, I can promise you that…)

dressed as horses! haha...

dressed as horses! haha… for some reason, this really tickled me!

how many beer bottles can you find in this band? The first time I saw someone simultaneously blowing his horn and drinking a beer, I will admit, even after all this time in Germany, I was surprised!

how many beer bottles can you find in this band? The first time I saw someone simultaneously appearing to blow his horn and drinking a beer, I will admit, even after all this time in Germany, I was surprised! (at least 1/2 of every group came prepared with their own refreshments)

We were also a bit surprised the the strong presence of bagpipes... There were a couple of other marching scots groups, too...

We were also a bit surprised the the strong presence of bagpipes… There were a couple of other marching Highlander groups, too…

The "March Mallows" haha. hahahaha.

The “March Mallows” haha. hahahaha.

The aforementioned bumble bees! (she was handing out candy...)

The aforementioned bumble bees! (she was handing out candy…)

Snow White was also handing out candy (to the kids), but I would have been scared to death of this coming at me if I were a wee one!

Snow White was also handing out candy (to the kids), but I would have been scared to death of this coming at me if I were a wee one! (He was even creepier in person!)

Aschaffenburg's American Football team! Mike told me that they (the Stallions) played the Ball Bearings in the last game of the season...

Aschaffenburg’s American Football team! Mike told me that they (the Stallions) played the Ball Bearings in the last game of the season…

One final snapshot from the afternoon... the patio at the Mexican restaurant. IT IS 25 DEGREES OUTSIDE, AND THE WIND IS BLOWING!!

One final snapshot from the afternoon… the patio at the “Mexican” restaurant. IT IS 25 DEGREES OUTSIDE, AND THE WIND IS BLOWING!