Tuesday, November 29, 2011


Today Heidelberg offers one of its most beloved combinations: blue sky above, eerie fog below. Hurry up and appreciate it, because the sun will be down in an hour or less!

PS. Didn't a hashtag used to represent an IRC channel, or am I thinking of some other symbol?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Patrick Wolf on Heidelberg


PW Heidelberg a video by Camillipede on Flickr.

Last night we saw Patrick Wolf play at Karlstorbahnhof. I'm always interested to hear what artists from outside the country say when they play here. I think my favorite was Tunng, who said they all walked up to the castle and promptly fell asleep in the garden for a couple of hours. They had a lot of people in their band so it was a funny public group nap image. I didn't catch his whole story on video, but it began with him asking if anyone had been to his last show in Heidelberg 6 years ago, then saying he wanted to come here because he remembered coming as a little kid, and (then the video picks up). The multi-bus-trip warehouse in the middle of nowhere that he talks about is, amusingly, the Schwimmbad. :D Other Germany-related hijinks: he went to the Christmas market in the afternoon (it opened yesterday) and bought himself one of those flower-and-heart mugs with your name on it that everyone has, and was drinking out of it during the show. And, at some point in a song, he just yelled, "GLUEHWEIN!" Which is funny, and if the Germans I know are to believed, very foreigner-y. (They all claim to think the whole Weihnachtsmarkt thing is bad-kitschy and lame. Sigh, how wrong they are.)

P.S. Happy Thanksgiving, Americans!


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Unfortunate Name


Actually, it's a pretty good shop for Indian groceries.  If you happen to need some pani puri kits or frozen medu vada, you can find this place behind the Bauhaus.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Insel Neuwerk

My friend cast a wide net when researching the places she wanted to visit in the north, the ancestral home of several braches of her family tree. She started with Ostfriesland, found in her family records, and discovered the Wattenmeer (Wadden Sea). Intrigued by that, she found a site saying that you can find amber on the beach in the state of Hamburg's little corner of the Wattenmeer! It's not in Ostfriesland, but she liked the amber idea, so I started looking around for more information about it. I managed to figure out that the amber is found in a place called the Kleiner Vogelsand on an island called Neuwerk. And that was the extent of the information.

Insel Neuwerk's main industry must be tourism, but it got surprisingly little attention in all the sources I checked, which mostly focused on the islands west and north of there. I decided we could just figure it out when we got there, and my friend booked rooms in one of the five hotels on the island, Nige Hus.

You can reach Insel Neuwerk by ferry from Cuxhaven when the tide is in, or by foot or horse-drawn carriage from Sahlenburg when the tide is out.  Each method only offers one opportunity per day to go to or from the island, and the times vary according to the tides.  Based on the schedule, we decided to take the ferry, which would give us the most time on the island.  Lucky us, the ferry happened to be departing at its earliest on the day we wanted to go - 9am. We made it easy on ourselves by staying the previous night at a hotel right across from the ferry dock in Cuxhaven.  Classily, it was also right across the street from a brothel.

The ferry's route to Neuwerk is not a straight shot, but what feels like a long detour all over the place before reaching the island.  It takes well over an hour to get there.  From the ferry there's a great view of Cuxhaven harbor, a huge wind farm to the east, and a constant stream of enormous container ships on the Elbe River going to or coming from Hamburg.  As we neared the island, we noticed that the boat was closely following a line of what appeared to be besom brooms stuck upside-down in the water! 

Upon arrival, we were greeted by tractors - the island is car-free - pulling trailers onto which our luggage was loaded so we could walk to our hotel without the extra burden.  So we did.  The inner part of the island, where all the buildings are, is surrounded by a dike with a sidewalk on top, so there's definitely no way to get lost.  Outside the dike are swampy areas and grazing fields for cows and horses, and beyond that there's either water or seafloor, depending on the time of day!

It was late morning, so after check-in we wandered toward the small town-like section of the island looking for some food that was a little cheaper than the restaurant at Nige Hus. (Note: turns out prices for everything are pretty much the same all over the island.)  After a small lunch inside the island's 700-year-old lighthouse, we paid a small fee to climb up to the top for a great view.  Then we headed over to the National Park building to get some info on how to find amber. 

First, they chastized us for not letting them know in advance that we wanted to do it.  Normally, a guide would accompany you on this sort of trip.  Why?  Well, turns out the amber's not really found on a beach.  It's out on the seafloor near the Elbe! This means leaving the island at low tide and crossing the sea floor, then getting back to land before the tide comes in. The tides are incredibly dangerous, rushing in at 1.8 meters per second in some places!  Also, the water isn't just knee-deep when it's in.  The tidal range near Cuxhaven is nearly 3 meters! (In some spots there are landmarks which double as rescue cages in case you can't get back to shore in time!)  But, they said we could do it alone and it was a great day to do it based on the tides and winds, so they told us how to get where we needed to go.  The only problem was the possibility of rain. We were instructed to begin crossing the seafloor toward the Elbe, keeping a Neuwerk landmark called the Ostbake (first photo on this post) and a drilling platform beyond the Elbe both in sight.  On the line between these two landmarks, on the bank of the Elbe (where the water stays all day - much deeper), you can find amber if you're lucky and know what to look for.  We struck out across the fields beyond the dikes, past the Ostbake, through a swamp, and onto the sand.

It had been misting this whole time, but the oil platform was still in sight.  We spent a couple of minutes admiring all the shells crunching under our feet and the view back to the island, then looked up to find that the oil platform was gone.  The drizzle and mist had gotten too thick, and now we could barely make out the ships passing on the Elbe.  (The photo at right was taken while it was still a bit clearer.)  Without the landmarks, they told us we shouldn't go out there. It's too easy to get disoriented on the mudflats and not get back to the island in time.  We  hung around for a while longer getting hit with drizzle that felt like bullets in the cold wind, hoping it would clear a bit, but no such luck.  Instead it started to rain more earnestly.  So, we sheepishly returned to the hotel - we'd had to tell them where we were going so they could sound the alarm if we weren't back by a certain time, so they knew of our failure - and sat down by the restaurant fireplace for a nice long evening of hot drinks with shots in them.  The North Sea does this genre of beverages very, very well. 

The wind was unbelievable, and this is coming from Iowa, where we get such great wind they farm it extensively now.  At one point I stepped out of the cozy confines of the restaurant to try to get a photo of the green light in the lighthouse and the contrast was astounding.  It made it all the more wonderful to be indoors by the fire.  Honestly, I don't think we could have asked for better weather - this seemed to be the ideal way to enjoy Insel Neuwerk.

The bad weather continued and we got up for a late-ish breakfast only to discover that the ferry was going to leave 2 hours earlier than planned on account of it.  Thus, our time on the island was cut a bit short.  This time we got to ride in a covered trailer along with our luggage back to the dock.  When the ferry pulled in, there was a massive exchange of mail and goods - water, eggs, all kinds of stuff.   Then we had an uneventful return to Cuxhaven.

Insel Neuwerk is inhabited by 30-something people.  There's only one school-aged child.  There's no grocery store and no doctor. The Wadden Sea is an incredible feature - one that you don't find often. In many places, like Boston, areas like this were filled in with more land so they could be used. It's pretty fascinating and I definitely recommend a trip there - especially in the cold, windy offseason. :)  All the photos above were taken by my friend, but the photos in the Picasa album below are mine.  Enjoy!
Insel Neuwerk Okt 11

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Hildesheim: Not Just a Rosebush

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Hildesheim first entered our radar in the summer of 2009 when we were planning our road trip up through the center of Germany. Due to time constraints and the lure of brown attraction road signs for Goslar, we ended up skipping Hildesheim on that trip.

My visiting friend wanted to go to Ostfriesland on her trip here, as it features heavily in her ancestry. While planning the trip north, I noticed we would be going right past Hildesheim. We didn't make a specific plan to stop there on the way, but I was certainly hoping we'd get the chance - and we did, brief though it may have been!

Hildesheim's 1000-year-old St. Michael's Church and its cathedral are together a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Most famously, there is a rosebush outside the cathedral which is said to be 1000 years old.  They say that as long as the bush is flourishing, Hildesheim will prosper.  We definitely wanted to check that out - but we were too late.  We arrived at the cathedral 5 minutes after closing, and the bush is beyond a locked gate.  The cathedral is also under serious construction, so we couldn't walk around it.  Bummer! On top of that, we never even made it to see St. Michael's in the brief time we were there.  However, it turns out there's a lot more to Hildesheim than these two things.

Prior to the second World War, Hildesheim was considered one of the most beautiful towns in Germany.  During the war, they watched as nearby Hannover and Braunschweig were destroyed and knew their time was coming soon, too.  They wanted to preserve the beauty of the town however they could.  In particular, they were concerned about the Butchers' Guild House, an incredible 7-story half-timber building which was originally built in 1529.  Hildesheim wanted to take the building apart and put it somewhere safe to save it, but found this was impossible.  Instead, they carefully documented everything about it.  They did save parts of other historic buildings where they could - for example, marvelously detailed Renaissance bay windows.  (Renaissance architecture is not so easy to come by in Germany.)

On March 23, 1945, so near to the end of the war, their fear came true. Seventy-five percent of Hildesheim was obliterated, including the cathedral, St. Michael's church, and the medieval town center.

The cathedral and St. Michael's church were rebuilt soon after the war, as were the Rathaus and Tempelhaus, two buildings on the historic Marktplatz which were made of sandstone and therefore just severely damaged instead of leveled.  However, the half-timber buildings on the Marktplatz were replaced in the 50s with the sort of flat-roofed modern things that were in style at the time.

The Marktplatz remained so until the 1980s, when a couple of the businesses in the buildings there needed to move out for various reasons.  Hildesheim had never let go of its dream to restore the original buildings, and they decided to seize the opportunity presented by the businesses moving out.  The 1950s-style buildings were destroyed and the Butchers' Guild Hall, Wedekindhaus, and Bakers' Guild Hall were all rebuilt in the original style.  Of course, many old buildings in Germany were restored to their original glory after being destroyed in WWII, but there seems to be something extra-special about the towns who restored them later.  (See also: Dresden Frauenkirche.)  They couldn't restore them right away, but they didn't let the dream die.  Later they found the opportunity and the funds and they brought their old towns back.  It also proves that the skills to make beautifully detailed buildings are still out there - we think it can't be done, but it can.  (It's just really expensive.  Together, the restoration of the Butchers' and Bakers' Guild Halls cost about 7 million Euro.)  And the details on the Wedekindhaus and the Butchers' Guild Hall are just unbelievable.  Amazing.  In an interesting twist, the Butchers' Guild Hall has been painted on the front in a traditional style, but on the side with anti-war images and messages.  See my photo album below for more!  All photos embedded in this post were taken by my friend, but the photos on Picasa were taken by me.

Hildesheim Okt 11

A+++, would visit again!!

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Cute Pfaelzisch Town Alert: Deidesheim

Earlier this summer, a friend mentioned over email that she wanted to visit Germany someday. Everyone says this to me. Everyone who says it is encouraged by me to come over, and I offer them whatever help they need with their planning. This friend actually took me up on it! I was definitely surprised, since I have Extremely Close Family Members who still won't come and therefore have learned to expect disappointment. So...yay!!!

We planned everything via email and she arrived in early October, ready for some adventure. We decided to warm up with something semi-local: my beloved Pfalz!  We whipped out a big area map and picked something within our local train network so we could benefit from super-cheap day tickets: Deidesheim.  It's a name I'd seen on zillions of wine labels before.  We've passed through it a few times on our way to other places, but never stopped.  So, I was pretty interested to finally see what's there!

The first sign that we were somewhere awesome came before we even reached the center of town.  Two horse-drawn wine-drinking parties went past!  As you can see in the photo (click to enlarge), the people at this party were already feeling mighty festive - and it wasn't even lunchtime yet.  My new life goal is to rent one of these sometime.  Who's in? :)

We wandered around a bit, admiring the cute Marktplatz, pretty church, and grapevines draped all over everything.  Around 2pm, we were ready for lunch - and that was a bit of a problem!  Few places in town even opened before 5pm, and of those that did, most of them took an afternoon break starting at 2pm.  Oops!  We eventually settled in at a place near the old Spital which looked a bit institutional.  Their menu was pretty limited, but fine for us - we ended up with two delicious Flammkuchen and for me, a big glass of Neuer Wein which made it easier to not be embarrassed about flubbing through German with their Pfaelzisch accents making it scary.  My friend had her first Mineralwasser mit Gas because they didn't have still water - and she was not impressed.  But, since the food was good it was all generally fine.

Next: my favorite thing - vineyards!!  It kept threatening to rain, but we went onward unfazed into the open vineyards just outside of town.  There, we just wandered around, checking out the old walls, gates, and stairs, baby vines and old vines, and the occasional garden or statue or bench or other random field oddity.  You really can't find things like that back in the Iowa cornfields where we came from.  Actually, I don't think you could wander a cornfield without ticking somebody off, but that didn't occur to me in the vineyards, since we wandered around in them at many a wine festival in the past.  I guess it probably is trespassing.  Fun, wonderful trespassing.

We could see a chapel in the distance, but the sky kept getting darker, so after finding a little grapevine-decorated shed which felt climactic enough, we made our way back to town.

As soon as we got on the train, the rain started.  What timing!  We had to transfer in Neustadt an der Weinstrasse, where we discovered a festival going on!  We took a brief walk through the festival and over to the Marktplatz.  I had my first delicious mint Schaumkuss of the season!   Man, now that I mention that, I really want one.  Less than a month 'til the Christmas markets start.....

All photos in this post were taken by my friend. The Picasa photos below are mine. Enjoy!
Deidesheim & Neustadt an der Weinstrasse Okt 2011

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Drinking Festivals 2011

Do either of these drinking environments appeal to you?:

We did both of these - the Freinsheim Kulinarische Weinwanderung and the great and powerful Oktoberfest - within a week of each other last month!  Both involve a lot of merriment, but they're pretty different experiences.

First came the winefest, which is a big favorite of ours that I've written about many times before.  The only time we missed it was the year that it came on the same weekend as WEBMU Bremen.  This year we took a friend and a friend of a friend.  The weather was glorious!  The only downside was that the local train track decision-makers decided to close the tracks for maintenance between Heidelberg and Mannheim all weekend, and everything was completely bonkers.  On top of the wine fest, which is pretty popular, the huge Heidelberger Herbst festival was also going on over the weekend, so a lot of people were trying to get through the closed area.  We spent almost as many hours on trains and buses as we did at the festival - but it was absolutely worth it!  We had our yearly favorites - the Semmelknoedel and Pfifferlinge at a particular stand, plenty of neuer Wein and Weinschorle (once we started to feel a little dehydrated - it contains lots of water, but still wine! :D), and Saumagen, although we had to eat it at a different spot than usual this year because the crowds were unusually large and our usual spot ran out.  At one stop, we made instant friends with a group of retirees (?) who pretended to find our English beautiful (I mean, they couldn't possibly mean it) and taught us what a Mispel is.  (English: common medlar - ever heard of it?)  On the way home, we enjoyed the first leg of the ride with a train-carful of pleasantly toasted, jolly people who cheered for some poor sober woman who had to get her bike off the train before we could board.  I think there was a much wider age range of people at this festival than at the next one we attended....

Freinsheim Sep 11

....the most famous thing in Germany: Oktoberfest. Despite five years here, we'd never gone - it's expensive to stay in Munich at that time, it's absolutely huge and crowded, and the images on the news our first year here of trashed people having public sex in all kinds of places were sort of unappealing.  But, we always figured we should go sometime so we could see what it's all about.  Thanks to the Regensbloggers, we got our chance this year when their local branch of Democrats Abroad sold tickets as a fundraiser.  They graciously offered to let us stay with them, which brought the cost of attending down to much more reasonable levels and we are forever thankful! :)

We arrived around 10am and wandered around a bit through the mostly-empty Theresienwiese, the big field where the fest is held every year.  It was nice to see everything before the big crowds moved in!  Our tickets were for 11am, and we had to queue up outside the Schottenhamel tent, where we'd be sitting, before going in.  One security guy was a total dick to us, and the line was your standard pushy and confusing German non-line.  When we got into the tent the roar of the crowd - 6,000 people fit inside - was unbelievable, and we had to dodge all kinds of obstacles before finding our table on the opposite side.  The whole experience was a bit of sensory overload for me and I was actually pretty freaking grumpy when we finally got to sit down at a beer-splashed table.  But then the beer came....and we started to get some of the lyrics to the songs the band was playing...and before we knew it, everything was super crazy awesome and we were standing on benches having a great time. The food was better than expected too - although I admit to pretty low expectations considering the mass production that must be involved.

We left the tent in mid-to-late afternoon, and now everything was packed.  We managed to stay in a group and checked out some attractions including the Teufelsrad, some kind of slide thing that you have to ride a conveyer belt up to, and a historical section that is supposed to replicate the feeling of Oktoberfests from years past.  Check out all of these in the photo album!  By dusk, we were beat and headed back to Regensburg.  Thanks again for a great experience, Cliff & Sarah! :) (Their coverage of the event is here - including some great photos!)

Oktoberfest Okt 11

Which would you rather attend? :)