Monday, April 30, 2012

Saarstuff

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Easter's top-secret exciting new vacation destination was: THE SAARLAND!

Not exactly a top vacation spot, the Saarland - named after the Saar river on which it sits - is Germany's smallest state, with a square mileage smaller than even little Rhode Island.  Unlike other states, it held a vote to join Germany in 1935 (alternate option: France), and is mostly known for its blue-collar-ness.  It's also the last German state I hadn't set foot in, although we did nip through a corner of it on the Autobahn a few years ago.  So, we wanted to check it out!  We got great deals on a hotel and car and booked for a few days away from the maddening crowds at Easter.  Prepare to drink from the firehose because I'm keeping this all to one post.

Nonnweiler
We stopped in Nonnweiler for lunch on our way to our first official stop.  We saw signs and had read something earlier about a Celtic ringwall in the area, so decided to have a look after lunch.  Heidelberg's own Heiligenberg was also the site of a Celtic ringwall at one point, but nothing visible remains of it now.  Not so in Nonnweiler - in some spots there remains a 3-story-high pile of rocks.  It must have been really high when it was actually in wall form!  The walk up the hill to see it was nice, with spring leaves on the trees and tiny baby trees trying to grow everywhere - definitely a pleasant afternoon.
Nonnweiler Apr 12

Saarburg
I booked a hotel in the heart of Saarburg with a 2-for-the-price-of-3 deal available on their website, and went with it.  NOTE, however - Saarburg, despite the misleading name, is not in the Saarland!  It's actually just a bit across the border in Rheinland-Pfalz.  I wanted something in this general corner of the Saarland but in the end this hotel was the best deal with the best online ratings and location...so I went with it anyway.

Saarburg provided us with a lovely "WOW!" moment when we drove into town from the east and saw the skyline for the first time.  Part of the town, including a church and castle, are set on a giant rock right over the river.  The town is also cut through by the Leuk River, which was diverted right through the center at some point to fight fires and run mills.  The river features a huge waterfall right in the center of town...which didn't sound as impressive as it actually looked.  Thanks to the big rock ridge and the waterfall the town has a vertical element which makes it really charming.  I can't believe I'd never heard of it before doing the research for this vacation.
Saarburg Apr 12

Nennig & Villa Borg
Our first full morning of vacation, we stopped first in Nennig to check out an exceptionally well-preserved Roman mosaic that was discovered and restored there.  The mosaic was at one time part of a villa of which very little now remains. It's in full color, unlike a lot of the Roman mosaics we saw in Ostia Antica.  It sits in its own little building and there's a small entrance fee.  There's not much else in little Nennig, whose claim to fame is that it was over 40'C there once in 2003.  (For real.)

Afterward we continued on the Roman theme with a visit to Villa Borg, a museum near the town of Borg.  It's not well-marked from the highway but sits south of Oberleuken/east of Borg in a field.  Villa Borg is a reproduction of a Roman villa, built on the actual site where the remains of a villa were discovered.  (Apparently Romans really dug the Saar area at some point, but no one really knows why.) It's nicely done - the highlights are the baths, kitchen, and restaurant which serves dishes that the Romans might have eaten.  We got lunch there - mine was lentils, some kind of bean, mixed veggies (carrots and something) and rice with some other whole grains mixed in.  Not bad!

The Saarschleife and Mettlach
The Saarschleife is a hairpin curve in the Saar River and the most famous site in the Saarland.  From a parking lot in Orscholz, it's an easy paved 5-10 minute walk to a view over the curve from high above.  It was nice, but would be prettier a bit later with more leaves on the trees...or maybe we were jaded from seeing too many photos of it in our Saarland research.  We stood for a while to watch a boat and some runners go around the hairpin, then headed off to Mettlach.

Mettlach is home to the Villeroy & Boch museum - the museum of a famous German ceramic company.  For some reason - perhaps the presence of the museum and related ceramic outlet shop - the town has collected a bunch of other outlet stores.  Unfortunately it's pretty charmless, but there are a couple of things worth seeing, including its mosaic-filled church and an old tower that at one time was or was part of an Ottonian church.  Apparently the museum cafe is a reproduction of Dresden's Pfunds Molkerei, but you have to pay museum admission to go to the cafe, and we weren't interested in any of the rest of the museum so we skipped it.  Hopefully we'll see the real Molkerei sometime - somehow we've managed to hit Dresden three times and never see it!
Nennig, Villa Borg, & Mettlach Apr 12

Saarlouis
We headed to Saarlouis in late afternoon on the recommendation of a Saarland tourism stand we ran into in Heidelberg a couple of weeks earlier.  The Saarguy at the stand told us it was a great place to go in the evening when it really "lights up".  He showed us a tiny photo which looked like Saarlouis included a Bourtange-like complete fort with several blocks inside.

Well....it was at one point.  That photo was actually of a model of what Saarlouis used to look like.  Not much of the battlements are left today.  Poor Saarlouis turned out to be a little seedy....the whole town smelled sulfurous thanks to emissions from a nearby factory in Dillingen, and most of the people we saw were teenagers breaking beer bottles on sidewalks.  The Altstadt was full of bars - this must be what he meant by "lights up in the evening" - but that segment actually reminded me of an American college town more than anything else, oddly.  We did enjoy a stop at the Pieper (family tree name!) department store, where the store-closing sound wasn't a chime but a whistling bird.  Adorable.  We got the impression that Pieper actually owns a pretty big chunk of town.
Saarlouis Apr 12

Kastel-Staadt
On Easter day we opted for a completely different tack than what had led us to Saarlouis, and went for a little walk in the woods near Kastel-Staadt, which is on the Rheinland-Pfalz side of the border.  Near there is a former hermitage and funeral chapel built on a rock overlooking the Saar, as well as a small church, a WWII graveyard, and some neat natural rock formations in the woods.
 
Kastel-Staadt Apr 12

Trier
After lunch that day, we headed north for a change, to Trier.  We had been there before, but under hurried circumstances, so since we had some time we decided to go back and check out some of the things we missed on the first go-through, including the Konstantin-Basilika, Roman bath ruins, and former Roman amphitheater.  (My husband did the last one solo, as I have seen others and didn't care enough to shell out yet another entrance fee for it.)  After some sightseeing we had Kaffee & Kuchen and drove back to Saarburg, where we went to the top of the Weinberg (vineyard on a hill) sitting over the town and enjoyed the view.

Trier Apr 12

Völklinger Hütte
On our last day we hit up Saarland's UNESCO World Heritage Site, which is not an old church or ruin or super-preserved Altstadt, but a former ironworks!  You can explore most of the ironworks, some of which has been left to grow over with trees and weeds.  Parts of it are also used for art and other rotating museum exhibits.  Admission's a bit steep, but it's worth it if you know a couple of things.  One, it's mostly outdoors, so come completely prepared for the weather so you can stand spending as much time there as possible. It was rainy and cold for us and I was wishing I'd worn different shoes, but I thought it would be more contained.  Two, take food with you. There's no food on site, but if you bring some you can eat right on the grounds, and if you do, you won't be rushing at the end because of hunger. So, do what you can to maximize the time of your visit!  We were there probably 4 hours and didn't even see it all!
Völklinger Hütte Apr 12

So, there were a couple of disappointments, but there are some really nice sites in the Saarland, and it's not crowded with tourists at all. If I go again I think we'll hit up some more hiking areas, and maybe check out the capital, Saarbrücken, which we didn't have time for on this trip.  And, well, we can never resist the call of the nearby Rheinland-Pfalz (which I'm apparently getting a reputation for gushing a bit too much about).

Has anyone else visited the Saarland? Where did you go?  I never hear much about it from anybody!
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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Made in Germany: Lemonfish

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I got a Lemonfish bag!

About a year and a half ago we were goofing around in the KaDeWe in Berlin when I first saw Lemonfish bags and immediately loved them - they are cute, but the construction from old sailor's bags keeps them from being overly so. They're made in Germany by women in a women's prison work rehab program. They're kind of expensive so I didn't get one right away, but after I got home I looked them up online and found this particular model which I really liked - and I finally got it now.* :)  Going out is now a combination of feeling like a million bucks because I'm wearing something I really love (I know, should be all the time, but that would be very expensive indeed), and being really nervous that the bag will meet a wayward ice-cream-cone-swinging kid on a crowded street and never be the same again.

You unfortunately can't buy them on the Lemonfish website, but there are a few stores in Heidelberg that have them, including Bolero and Eckhaus.  Neither had this model, though, so I got it online at this shop.  They don't seem to have this exact one anymore but there are some different ones in the same general design (Annerl).

* Seriously though, do not use my stupid delayed-shopping habits as a model for your life.  I didn't jump on the electric blue Doc Martens 2 years ago when I wanted them, and they stopped making them shortly thereafter.
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Monday, April 23, 2012

The 2012 Meet-UP will be in Berlin!!

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Come over to the forums and vote on which dates you can make it, if you're an expat blogger in Germany and plan to come!  Right now some mid-September weekends are in the lead, but with very few votes in.

I've got some posts on our Easter weekend trip coming up, but it's been a bit slow.  Yesterday we had a big ol' dim sum feast at our apartment - yes, dim sum in Heidelberg!  A friend of a friend who lives in Mannheim makes fresh dim sum out of her house and sells it - so we got together a big group and made a huge order.  It's hard to believe that dim sum is so hard to find here when it's common as dirt in the US and Canada.  Chicago even has a fast food chain dedicated only to bao.  I think Germany will catch up, though. It's really good and really really easy to love, so how could they not?  They're certainly making time on the whole bubble tea thing - it was impossible to find a couple of years ago and now you can get it at many cafe chains.  (Reports are not good about the quality, though.)
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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Swearing in English = Super Cool

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Apparently.  We've definitely been hearing a lot of it on German TV lately, but this ad spotted by Ian takes the cake, mostly for its seemingly unlikely usage and audience:



A commenter on Ian's blog also pointed out this Japanese usage of the same word.

I admit to not finding it offensive, except in the sense that I'd rather leave language abuse to the native speakers. ;)  Mostly, I just find it hilarious - I laughed out loud at both.  They remind me of a kindergartner trying to swear, or a kitten trying to look mean.  It just doesn't work.
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Thursday, April 05, 2012

Easter Oddities

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Care for a salt shaker with your loratadine? Normally pharmacies give you some tissues or cough drops as a freebie when you buy something, but yesterday we ended up with an Easter-themed salt shaker!

An egg-shaped rooster. In suspenders. It looks very German somehow.  I think this is the first non-consumable pharmacy present we've gotten.  I seem to remember reading on someone's blog once that they got a plant.  What's the most interesting pharmacy freebie you've gotten?

In other weird-Easter-finds news, I saw this at the little Rewe inside the Bismarckplatz Kaufhof earlier this week:


An actual eggshell filled with nougat (a chocolate-hazelnut cream). This is the first time I've seen these!

My mom's gotten in on the fun, too, sending me a picture of this "imported from Germany" item she found in Iowa:


Edible Easter grass? Has anyone seen this in Germany? I haven't, but I've never really sought it out, either!
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