Sunday, December 27, 2009

Odd and ends

So many things still to write about--dinner with Stefan's brother's family yesterday in Odelzhausen and our conversation about whether Jewish soldiers would have been included on WWI memorials with crosses (yes, if the crosses were "iron crosses," but probably not if the crosses were church-affiliated, and so much more to say about different kinds of anti-Semitism and how it played out regionally in the part of the world now known as Germany); how to recognize small Bavarian churches from afar (see photos below--there are basically two predominant types of Baroque towers, the onion dome and the simple triangle); lunch with Inge (Helen's best friend for the past 70 years); the annual dueling Haensel und Gretels in Muenchen (today we reconfirmed that the Gaertnerplatz performance is not the one to attend if you want to be able to hear the singers over an adequate pit orchestra, but we aren't sure we can handle going to the Staatsoper performance next year to confirm that it's the one to see); and how sad it is that the performance of "Aloha He, Stern der Suedsee" by Die Flippers has been removed from because of copyright restrictions.

But (to paraphrase Chaucer) instead of writing about all those things, we're feverishly packing and repacking, already pining for Germany before we get on a plane tomorrow to head back to the U.S. We thought we had all our suitcase and carry-on space cleverly mapped out, and then a Nigerian guy tried to blow up an airplane in Detroit the other day and our airline changed its baggage rules. Oh well. Back to work.

There are, of course, lots of things to look forward to back home: our friends, our cats, our house, our neighborhood; organs to play, pots to wheel-throw, a choir to conduct, writing workshops to give; a gas oven and stove top, American baking powder, and local streets that are wide enough for two cars to drive on in opposite directions at the same time. We're dusting of our "might coulds" and "oughta shoulds" and girding ourselves for culture shock.

I don't know that I'm ready to give up my Wadlstrumpf home quite yet, but our final week of Vodafone service expires at ~22:30 tonight, and that deadline seems an appropriate way to mark the end of a lovely six months of talking to myself and to you dozen or so loyal readers out there in ether-space.

But saying farewell to Wadlstrumpf doesn't mean I'll be giving up my new blogging habit. Tune in Tuesday at for the next exciting installment.

Also, pfirdi, pfirdi, also, also, servus, pfirdi!

Saturday, December 26, 2009


As tends to be the case when we're visiting Helen, the plan for recovering from a big event like Christmas Eve is to go out the next day to eat more food. We had a reservation for 11:30 this morning at the Wirtshaus "Zum Queri" in Frieding, in theory about 5 miles away from Steinebach. So after I got up, I put on my hiking boots, grabbed a Semmel (crusty roll), and set off for a pleasant walk, with the intent of meeting Stefan, Helen, Elias, and Familie F. for lunch.

My route took me first through Auing and across the highway to Seefeld. Schloss Seefeld, which in its current iteration dates mainly to the 18th century, is still inhabited by the local nobility, the Graf zu Toerring, who counts the Woerthsee among his many holdings.

From Seefeld, I tromped south to Widdersberg, where I found a teeny tiny sign pointing to "Frieding-Andechs" and listing a few addresses on "Friedingerstrasse." That's when I made my fatal error: assuming that the sign meant the street was named Friedingerstrasse and that it would lead to Frieding.

I should have learned my lesson this summer, when I tried to get back to Steinebach from nearby Hechendorf am Pilsensee by following a sign labeled Auingerweg. I assumed the gravel road would lead to Auing, but instead it dead-ended at two barking miniature schnauzers in the middle of a cornfield.

The gravel road I followed today headed south, passing by a pretty village off in the distance. Eventually it descended down a hill and into some woods. A nordic walking sign pointed in the general direction of the main road, so I took a right onto the trail. It eventually dead-ended at a deer feeding trough in the woods, at which point I remembered the lesson of Auingerweg. Simultaneously cursing and snickering, I pushed my way through some scrub and emerged in a recently plowed field that I cut across to a road. I hailed down a passing bicyclist who kindly redirected me to Frieding--the pretty village I had been admiring from afar for the past two kilometers.

Friday, December 25, 2009

How to tell you're in Bavaria

Imagine you are abducted by aliens from outer space. They bring you aboard their ship, decide you aren't a particularly interesting specimen, and throw you back onto the planet they fished you off of. But they don't pay a whole lot of attention to where they toss you, because all of the planet looks pretty much the same to them. What top three key pieces of evidence convince you that you've landed in Bavaria?

1. Biergarten signs. Every village you wander through in your dazed state has a Biergarten, and as you approach, you see signs advertising it. The signs include sky-blue and white--diamonds perhaps, or stripes. In the text, you notice the diminutive suffix -rl and consequent umlaut: you are approaching a Bräustüberl (Bairisch), not a Bräustube (Hochdeutsch). You know you are not in Baden-Wuerttemberg, because the signs there would be for Straussenwirtschaften, where people would drink wine.

2. Maibäume. 30-40 meter high blue-and-white maypoles reach up to the sky, decorated with symbols representing village life and vocations. If the aliens abduct you shortly before the first of May, you might also observe thieves trying to steal maypoles from neighboring towns.

3. Kasspatzen mit gerösteten Zwiebeln und Blattsalat. As a vegetarian, you notice a bizarre and startling constancy between menus across the state. Pretty much every Bavarian restaurant with a "warm kitchen" is guaranteed to offer these pervasive small boiled dumplings, sauteed with cheese and served with fried onions and a side salad.

P.S. Loferl

I forgot to mention yesterday that my swanky new authentic Bavarian Chiemgauer Loferl were made in Austria (just like the Ur-Rezept for Linzer Torte!).

The jewel in the crown

The obligatory Christmas preparatory frenzy came to an end late this afternoon, when activity all over Germany came grinding to a halt and almost everyone sat down for coffee and Gemütlichkeit (coziness). At Helen's in Steinebach, gemütlich it was, with peppermint tea and hot coffee, clementines and apples and pommegranate seeds, and Plätzchen, Plätzchen, and more Plätzchen (Christmas cookies).

There is no shortage of Plätzchen in this part of the world, because German industriousness kicks into a wild bacchanal in the kitchen during Advent. In mid-December, while I was busy scouring the internet for a brownie recipe that would actually work with German ingredients in an electric oven with a broken temperature gauge*, every other woman in Germany was busy creating magic with nuts, egg whites, butter, sugar, and chocolate or an occasional form of fruit (candied orange peel, lemon juice, raspberry jam). In Freiburg, where Plätzchen are called Brötle, Paul's mom gave Elias a tin of homemade cookies, and then the ravioli guy gave us a bag of cookies, and then we had dinner with Familie M. and there were more homemade cookies, and then Familie R. gave us a veritable sack of homemade cookies for the road (Christina's Zimtsterne topped with meringue Baiser were pretty much the best Brötle I've ever tasted). Despite being nearly blind, Helen herself must have made at least 250 cookies in five different varieties, and she has received cookies from so many different friends that it's no longer possible to keep track of who made what. Fortunately, keeping track is not really an issue anymore, as we ate most of the remaining cookies this evening.

Then it was time to open presents. Ever romantics, we gave Helen a clothes dryer, because even if you're a pro-environment, industrious, robust German willing to schlepp your wet clothes from the basement of the little Häuschen next door all the way up to the attic of the main Häuschen (the only place at Helen's where clothes can dry quickly in the winter), you deserve a break when you're almost 87.

As we don't usually celebrate Christmas at home, Elias was thrilled to hand out and open packages beneath the Christmas tree. (The dryer, of course, was not under the tree, but rather in the basement of the Nebenhaus.) And while we had intended to do only low-key gift-giving, since suitcase space is at a premium right now, there were some special surprises. It is difficult for me to express in words my gratitude to my mother-in-law for the present she gave me--something so simple, yet so profound in the intimate bond it expressed. I don't think anyone has ever given me a more perfect Weihnachts gift: my very own Wadlstrümpfe (Loferl + sockies).

*I found one! For best results, use a small pan or triple the recipe, and err on the side of undercooked. If you use coarse salt, all the salt will sink to the bottom. If you're lucky, like me, the novelty of salty-bottom brownies will impress the starving graduate students in the lab where your husband has been a guest professor, because the students are happier to think you're a creative cook than an error-prone one.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Woerthsee walk

Today I stole two and a half hours from the obligatory a-major-holiday-is-coming-up-and-we're-going-to-prepare-properly-so-we-can-all-have-a-nice-time-together-dammit frenzy and went for a walk around the Woerthsee.

The Woerthsee is the third largest of five lakes in the Huosigau area southwest of Munich; the other lakes, from largest to smallest, are the Starnbergersee, Ammersee, Pilsensee, and Wesslingersee.

Steinebach, where Stefan's mom lives, is on the northeast end of the Woerthsee. The first known settlers were Celts, some 2300 years ago; the first known written reference to Steinebach (as Steniginpah) dates from 920 A.D.

A hundred and ten years ago, Steinebach was still primarily a farming village. With the advent of the Pasing-Herrsching railway in 1903, Steinebach became a summer recreation destination and, eventually, a sleeper community for people working in Munich. The walk from Steinebach around the Woerthsee thus affords some lovely views of the lake, but (as is probably the case with most bucolic little lakes near large prosperous cities) the route requires quite a few detours around private summer cottages, marinas, and gated mansions.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

"How we Bavarians really are"

The front page headline of this morning's Abendzeitung ("Evening News"--I don't yet understand why the "Evening News" arrives in the morning) read "So sind wir Bayern wirklich" ("How we Bavarians really are"). The accompanying photo shows a man with a curly moustache; he is wearing short Lederhosen, a hat, Loferl, and boots. The outfit screams "Bavarian," and look how happy and exaggeratedly dynamic the man is. Most Bavarians I've met masquerade as people who wear mundane street clothes or, occasionally, Tracht of the non-costume-like variety, but such people apprently aren't the real deal.

I hereby apologize to the editors of the Baden-Wuerttemberg Edeka Sunday supplement for previously criticizing their stereotypes of Bavarians, as Bavarians clearly revel in stereotyping themselves. "We're kind of like Texans in that regard," Stefan explains.


We are currently enjoying a weather phenomenon in Steinebach called Föhn. Föhn is a warm wind on the leeward side of a mountain. It results from moist air passing over the mountain and dropping most of its moisture on the windward side. In southern Bavaria, Föhn is when air coming northward from Italy dumps rain (or snow) on the southern side of the Alps; as the air continues northward, its tempature rises due to adiabatic changes in pressure.

As a consequence of today's Föhn, we had an amazing view of the Alps from the front yard. The highest peak in the photo to the left is the Zugspitze. We are very proud of the Zugspitze in Bavaria, because it is not only the highest mountain in Bavaria, it is also the highest mountain in all of Germany. A little to the left of the middle of the photograph, on the hill in front of the Zugspitze, is the Kloster and brewery Andechs, another source of Bavarian pride.

Today, Föhn also meant that after 20 years of visiting Munich, I finally saw the Alps from the top of the Alter Peter church tower. The Alps didn't look any closer from there than from Steinebach, so I'm willing to bet that a little technological enhancement is behind many of the postcards of Munich that show glorious Alps rising immediately behind assorted landmarks.

Speaking of technological enhancement, this afternoon we ate lunch at a fashionable Munich pizza place frequented by the Schicki-micki crowd. Of particular interest were the Botox-and-altered-lips subset. It was really, really difficult not to gawk.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Freiburg to Steinebach

On Thursday I bid adieu to the Lutheran church choir, with whom I enjoyed music-making companionship while in Freiburg, and on Friday we said goodbye to the ravioli guy and the produce woman at the St. Urban farmers' market (thanks for the cookies, ravioli guy! Thanks for the pear, produce woman!), but I didn't choke up until this morning, when I told the proprietor at the corner Lienhart bakery that we were leaving. No more cakes, no more tortes, no more accidentally saying Semmeln and Zwetchgendatschi when Freiburgers say Broetchen and Pflaumkuchen, yet being understood anyway. Frau L. didn't know what to do with me, but gave a warm bow and elegantly wished us a good trip.

We managed to pack more social engagements into our last five days in Freiburg than into most of the previous five months (thanks for dinner on Saturday, Familie M.! Thanks for breakfast and the ride to the Hauptbahnhof today, Familie R., not to mention the Plaetzchen for the road! Thanks Paul, Ricarda, Friedi, Johannes, and Anne for being Elias's best pals!), and still found time to thoroughly scrub and scour our apartment before handing the keys over to our landlady and promising to meet up with her the next time we're in town. Stefan traveled by suitcase-stuffed car and Elias and I by train, and I choked up again as I watched the snow-covered hills of the Schwarzwald--and some ruins we hadn't gotten around to visiting--passing by outside the window.

The train ride itself offered some solace, thanks to an ever-changing variety of compartment companions. For the Freiburg-to-Karlsruhe leg, we were greeted by a woman who insisted we had the wrong compartment. "No, you can't have reserved these seats: this compartment is full." I disagreed. "No," she insisted, getting up to show stupid me the electronic reservations sign outside the cabin, "you're wrong. See, it says right here...Oh, wait, you're right. You have that seat. This seat is mine. See, it says right here...Oh, apparently you have this seat too." She got up and took someone else's seat. Eventually she realized that all of the seats in the cabin were taken, and she quietly slunk off to find another spot.

We changed trains in Karlsruhe. Having a bilingual child is a great conversation starter, so I know the woman we sat with until the first stop was training in Freiburg to be a midwife and had dreams of traveling all over the U.S. and eventually ending up in San Diego. "Americans are so open and welcoming," she said wistfully. After she departed, we were joined by a student coming home from Koeln. She had been waiting for late trains all day and was delighted that ours was on time. We gave her a clementine, and she showed Elias how to whistle with four fingers. After she left, a well-dressed older woman with dyed hair and a leopard-spot scarf stepped in and sat down next to Elias in the uncomfortable-looking fold-down seat. "I have to ride facing the direction the train is going," she explained, while I pondered whether German etiquette demanded that I switch to the other side of the cabin so she could have one of the cushier seats. She rode with us until the next stop, where she got off and was greeted with a loving embrace by a man on the snowy platform.

In Ulm, we were joined by two well-dressed but pungent-smelling men who spoke cheerfully to us in a dialect I could barely understand. While they engaged in enthusiastic conversation with one another, I started surreptitiously taking notes in my Sudoku book and suddenly realized their vocabulary sounded familiar--Hoam, guat, da Ding, weida zu bringn. Stefan says if I couldn't understand them, they were probably from Austria rather than Bayern, but the shift from Alemannisch to Bairisch-ish made me feel like we were returning to familiar territory.

On the S-Bahn ride from Munich-Pasing to Steinebach, Elias discovered the joys of static electricity. We also discovered that the S5--the name of the Herrsching-to-Munich S-line for the past 37 years--has been replaced by the S8 and now runs from Herrsching all the way to the Munich airport.

Those little black dots actually mean something

From the Munich Die Abendzeitung TV guide: a blurb describing an upcoming documentary about how, on Christmas Eve, 1818, in Oberndorf, near Salzburg, Austria, Franz Xaver Grueber composed a melody for a text by Joseph Mohr. "Silent Night, Holy Night" has since been translated into more than 350 different languages and dialects, and is one of the most iconic Christmas songs ever written.

The music the newspaper pulled from the image files to accompany the blurb? Felix Mendelssohn's "Song Without Words" Op. 38, No. 6, ("Duetto").

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Snow and sidewalks

We woke up this morning to discover the Copies had given us a parting gift: a few inches of snow, with nice thick clumps still falling. I left the apartment at dawn, hoping to catch some photographs of the snow while it was still in a pristine state. That's when the evidence became overwhelming and I could no longer deny that Germans are thoroughly obsessed with clean sidewalks.

The first signs were already showing this summer, when we would see people outside on beautiful Saturday mornings, sweeping their sidewalks with brooms. The debris didn't end up in the streets. No no, it was collected carefully, whisked with a hand brush into a dust pan and disposed of properly (in the compost? in the Restmuell? Does street dirt count as recycleable?).

Throughout the fall, people dutifully kept the sidewalks clean, raking, sweeping, or vacuuming up leaves and stinky ginkgo fruits with gizmos specially designed for the purpose. I almost got a photograph of someone vacuuming leaves yesterday, but he kept looking at me after he saw me get my camera out. I pretended to be contemplating the nearby houses instead and told myself I was making too big a deal out of a leaf vacuum.

This morning, half the sidewalks were already shoveled by the time I went out. Some were already undergoing a second round in the early dawn light. I can understand that the Altstadt was thoroughly plowed, shoveled, and salted by 8:15, given the bustling farmers' market; but that the residential sidewalks were also so well kempt, in the dark, on a beautiful snow-muffled Saturday morning, the first day of Winter Ferien (winter vacation), well, that indicates a certain devotion and industriousness I haven't seen before.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Last day of school

Today was the last day of school before winter break, and Elias bid farewell to his 3rd grade classmates and teacher. The class made a very sweet memory book for him, for which everyone contributed a separate page decorated with pictures, text, photos, etc. Frau F., his teacher, has a son a little older than Elias, and she and I have shaken hands on the idea of a trans-Atlantic child exchange in five years or so.

Largely thanks to being surrounded by kids his age, and fueled by a flourishing soccer card trade amongst his peers, Elias's main accomplishments this fall have been assimilating culturally and learning to speak German. In addition to knowing who the most valuable Fussball players are, he now has a broader German vocabulary than I do and, to Stefan's dismay, is up to date on all the latest playground slang.

For recreational reading this fall, Elias stuck primarily to Asterix und Obelix books in German and to Harry Potter books, Lego catalogs, and The Economist in English. He recently discovered a new source of literary entertainment on our apartment bookshelves: Gymnasium (German college-track high school) English textbooks. The stories are dramatic, short, and bilingual, and the pictures are good.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

One last hike in the Schwarzwald

Elias's school schedule is different every weekday. Thursdays are his longest day, starting at pre-dawn (7:50) and ending at 13:00. Today I took advantage of that: instead of practicing, I left the house at 8:30 for one last long hike in the local Schwarzwald. I headed south through Wiehre and followed the signs toward Kybfelsen, a destination I had seen previously on signs. I don't think I ever made it there, wherever it is, but I did end up high above Guenterstal and Horben en route to Schauinsland. There was no snow down in the valley, but about halfway up the mountainside I encountered snow accumulation on the trail and big clumps of six-pointed flakes falling from the sky.

In the Google Earth map below, the straight line that starts under the "b" of "Horben" and runs down and to the right is the clearing for the cable car up to the top of Schauinsland.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


Earlier today, I drafted a blurb on visiting the Freiburg Bürgeramt (public authorities office), but I decided my description sounded unnecessarily petulant. Suffice it to say, this morning I went to the Bürgeramt to continue to initiate the first step in the process of commencing to bid adieu to what the proper paperwork filled out in duplicate and then submitted to and stamped and dated by a civil servant might, regardless of the temperament of said civil servant that day or any other, justifiably be identified as German Bureaucracy. Schoenen Tag noch.*

Whether I was successful remains to be seen, as I eventually abandoned hope of speaking with a live human being in the Un-Registration office, and instead used my Oblivious Ferner's wiles to convince the woman at the welcome desk to take my form. She looked dubious, because giving her the form meant I would not be able to obtain a receipt. Fortunately, the U.S. government doesn't give a hoot whether I have proof of un-registration from the city of Freiburg.

Afterward, I went out into the fresh air, stood on the corner with a bunch of other people, and pretended to be German by dutifully not crossing the street until the pedestrian signal gave us permission to do so.

*"Have a good rest of the day."

Schauinsland Schnee

Thanks to the many opportunities in Freiburg to climb high above the ground, my inner acrophobe has retreated to a far corner of my brain, where, muttering peevishly to itself, it sits safely surrounded by four thick, solid walls while the rest of me goes out and risks life and limb.

Yesterday, Elias, Zoe, Michelle, and I rode the Seilbahn (cable car) up Schauinsland to look at the snow. Zoe shares my discomfort with heights, so to soothe her, I calmly explained that the Seilbahn is very, very dangerous, that the cables break and the dangling compartments plummet to the earth on a daily basis, and that because so many people ride them anyway, they're quite useful for eliminating idiots from the gene pool. She didn't believe me.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Catholic church and Jewish cemetery

Yesterday I bid adieu to the St. Petrus Canisius organ with a few adrenaline-pumping run-throughs of Franck's Grande Pièce Symphonique and Mendelssohn's sixth organ sonata. While the Mendelssohn should transfer decently enough from the 32-register Rieger to the (oh dear) 8-register Walker at my gig back home, the Franck deserves better and has me chomping at the bit to get back into the demo cycle at Duke. Aeolian and Flentrop organs, here I come.

I was sorry that Complainant Number Two didn't show up to kvetch, as I had been looking forward to congratulating her on finally driving me away from the church forever, never to return. But in her place, a soft-spoken older gentleman appeared behind the organ bench and politely inquired about the practice schedule. I referred him to the secretary and regular organist. One Franck and one Mendelssohn later, there he was, sitting in the back of the church. As I left, he said, "that was lovely, really lovely. Are you preparing for a concert? When will you be playing again?" In retrospect, it was probably good that Complainant Number Two wasn't there, as the meeting of matter and anti-matter would have annihilated the sanctuary.

On the way home, I contemplated whether to stop by the Jewish cemetery, a place I hadn't realized I had been driving past four times a week for the past three months until the BZ published an article on the cemetery a few days ago. I was still waffling when I turned on the car radio, and what should be playing but Mahler's "Songs of a Wayfarer" in a chamber arrangement by Arnold Schoenberg. Oy gevalt. I took the hint and parked.

The cemetery is relatively new. Between 1424 and 1806, Jews were prohibited from living in Freiburg. In 1863, changes to Baden's laws finally allowed Freiburg's resident Jews to form a congregation. The cemetery was founded in 1870. It is still used today but is nearing capacity.

The cemetery has a noticeable absence of gravestones marking death dates in the 1940s. There is of course a memorial "to the Jewish victims of the Gewaltherrschaft [tyranny], 1933-1945." But the memorial most interesting to me was "to our fallen sons of the World War, with thankfulness and reverence, 1914-1918." I've seen cross after cross honoring WWI soldiers of various towns, but never paused to think that some of the fallen were left off the lists because they weren't Christian.

Update 22 Dec. 2009: A friend insists that Jews were well enough integrated into German society during WWI that their names would have been included in WWI memorial monuments, even on crosses. So I should have said, it never occurred to me that Jews were fighting for the fatherland alongside Christians during WWI, given what followed in the 1930s.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Things I'm going to miss

In no particular order:

1. Gun control. I have yet to see a newspaper headline about someone being shot in Baden-Wuerttemberg. On the website where I check my hometown news, three of today's regional headlines are about people being shot: a seven-year-old hit by a stray bullet at an ice-skating rink in Charlotte, a Goldsboro teenager hit by a stray bullet while hunting with his father, a Sanford man murdered in his apartment. Germans tend to use knives to kill one another. When people fight with their rivals and wave weapons around to look intimidating, they're less likely to accidentally stab a skating seven-year-old in the knee than they are to accidentally shoot her.

2. Walkability. 90% of what we need here can be reached by foot.

3. A philosophy that discourages befouling one's environment. Germans recycle pretty much everything. The government offers incentives for reducing carbon footprints, from providing affordable mass transit to building extensive networks of bicycle paths. Solar panels abound on rooftops.

4. The idea that it is worth sacrificing excess consumption for improved quality of life. The grocery store on the corner is small, but it has pretty much everything we need, it's innocuous, and we can walk there.

5. Abundant farmers' markets that emphasize fresh local and regional produce. At the St. Urban farmers' market in particular: the ravioli guy, and the produce lady who always has a pear or apple or clementine for Elias, whether he's shopping with me that day or not.

6. Having an elementary school in the backyard.

7. Elias's third grade teacher, who is mature, laid back, practical, and enthusiastic, with sensible priorities.

8. A school system that gives teachers flexibility with classroom curricula, that maintains high enough standards for certification that no one thinks twice about trusting teachers with said curricula, and that doesn't mandate day after day of in-class, multiple-choice testing as a way to answer the question, "is our children learning?"

9. Trail-covered mountains five blocks east of the front door, and the option to walk or bike from any town in Germany to any other town entirely on designated pedestrian and bike trails.

10. The idea that all of society benefits when its members are well educated and in good health, backed up with a general willingness for tax dollars to go toward services that serve people other than oneself.

11. Alemannisch, Bairisch, and Schwyzerduetsch.

12. Rot Spaetburgunder, trocken.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


Today we successfully checked off two more items on the Oh-Shoot-We-Still-Need-to list by visiting two TOPZIELE (must-see activities) listed in our Schwarzwald-Sueden magazine. In the morning, we revisited the beautiful Baroque Kloster in St. Peter and took a guided tour of the Festsaal, the library, and the church. The knowledgeable guide, eyes a-twinkle, waxed fondly about the history of the monastery-turned-seminary, explaining how religion, geography, local politics, and Enlightenment progressivism intertwined with the paintings, architecture, and sculptures throughout the buildings.

Then it was on to the Vogtsbauernhofmuseum in Gutach im Kinzigtal. The museum is closed for the winter, but this weekend hosted a Weihnachtsmarkt. My main purpose in going was to see authentic Schwarzwald Bollenhuette, which Stefan insists translates as "round lumps hats," but which might be described more elegantly as "pom-pom hats" or "ball hats." We have only seen real Bollenhuette in action once, from afar, at the closing awards ceremony at the senior world roller figure skating championships. But we've seen photographs of them, most often on milk cartons, butter wrappers, and yogurt containers, upon which the Bollenhut logo proclaims "this quality product came from the Black Forest."

Bollenhuette are part of the traditional Tracht in Gutach. They feature a straw hat laden with wool pom-poms. Unmarried women wear red pom-poms; once a woman is hitched, she wears black pom-poms. The feminist semioticist in me has a lot to say about bright red blooms and deflowerings, but is restraining herself at the moment as this is a family blog.

We did not see anyone wearing a Bollenhut this afternoon, but we had a fine time nonetheless. Stefan helped Elias and Zoe basteln (make handicrafts) in a hands-on workshop, where the toys they built had little to do with traditional Black Forest crafts, but where the activity itself (basteln) was about as German as you can get. There is nothing more fun or wholesome for German kids--with the possible exception of soccer--than basteln. Stefan still has an impressive scar on his hand to proudly show for his own happy childhood basteln experiences.

We also enjoyed some Gluehwein inside an old farmhouse at the Vogtsbauernmuseum. Every available seat was occupied by friendly folk having a cheery time in the cozy, low-ceilinged, fireplace-smoke filled room. When newcomers locate an empty spot, they ask the people already sitting at the table "ist hier noch frei?" ("is this spot still free?"), and then squash in next to them to share in the general conviviality. Like basteln, this is a thoroughly German experience.

In the evening, we went to Elias's third grade class Christmas party. To the parents' delight, the children sang the Christmas carols they've been learning at school. According to the party line, everybody enjoys spending school time learning these songs because everybody is Christian--except for the minority Muslims, Jews, and atheists, of course, whom the system has yet to figure out a way to acknowledge.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Things to do in Basel

Yesterday evening, to wrap up day two of the Countdown, we went back to the Eugen Keidel Thermal Mineralbad. It was just as swell the second time as the first. After more than two hours of swimming around in hot water, we felt well exercised and relaxed.

Today, we started working on the Oh-Shoot-We-Still-Need-to list by visiting Basel, Switzerland. Basel is located less than an hour away from Freiburg by car, a straight shot south on the Autobahn. Yet despite being so close for the past five months, today was the very first time we drove down to see the sights.

Here are some things I enjoyed doing today in Basel, in no particular order:

1. Sipping on a free sample of warm Weihnachtstee ("Christmas tea"). While the server watched me sip and patiently hoped to make a sale off of me, I awkwardly generated polite conversation by asking what the ingredients were. As a reward, I got to hear the long list of aromatic herbs and spices breathlessly and impressively recited in melodious Schwyzerdütsch. I understood most of the items on the list, if none of the parenthetical commentary, and enjoyed the delightful foray into the world of diphthongs and swishing consonants, all gratis along with the sample of tea.

2. Purchasing a bag of authentic Basler Läckerli at the Läckerli Huus. Basler Läckerli are Basel's version of lebkuchen. They're tough, chewy little rectangular cookies with just the right balance between nuts, spices, and Orangeat and Zitronat (candied orange and lemon peel). "Läckerli," of course, is the Swiss German diminutive noun form of "lecker," and means, essentially, "little yummy thangs." "Huus" is Schwyzerdütsch for "house," which is also a fun find for an easily amused nonnative speaker.

3. Following up on buying authentic Basler Läckerli in Basel by eating authentic Swiss fondue in Switzerland. We were rejected at the first, half-empty restaurant we entered, in theory because they were booked, but in practice, probably for not looking rich enough. At a second, thoroughly crowded establishment, we successfully squeezed into the corner by the coat rack. The fondue wasn't any better than what we make in our little fondue pot at home once every year or two, but my life is more complete for having tried the Real Thing.

4. Visiting the beautiful Basel Kunstmuseum (Art Museum), where we saw works by Klee, Miro, Picasso, van Gogh, Rousseau, Monet, Cézanne, Gauguin, Braques, Chagall, Calder, Pissaro, Rodin, Holbein, Breughel, Cranach, Dürer, Grünewald, Schongauer, Rubens, Rembrandt, Dali, Kandinsky, Marc, Giacometti, Böcklin, and many, many others. Elias and Zoe went gamely through all of the rooms with us and pretended to listen with interest to my and Michelle's non-stop lessons on art history.

5. Seeing a gold spray-painted mime on a cobblestoned pedestrian-zone shopping street taking a smoke break in a doorway. Not that I particularly enjoyed watching him smoke, just that I don't usually get to see metalicized street performers out of character.

6. Hearing eight organ grinders in succession in the Rathaus entryway. Stefan and I decided that if we ever buy a street organ, we'll go for a model by Josef Raffin in Ueberlingen--such charm, such sprightliness, such timbral variety!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Who was that guy again?

I appreciate pedagogic zeal, but what has the world come to when Germans--Germans!--need the namesake of Beethovenstrasse explained on a street sign? The signage department's one-word description of the man's profession seems woefully inadequate, given the effort it must have taken to include it in the first place.

- Beethovenstrasse -
Ludwig van Beethoven 1770-1827

And speaking of stating the obvious, the sign under this peeing statue in the Altstadt reads "Kein Trinkwasser" ("not drinkable water").

The countdown begins

We will be leaving Freiburg for Steinebach in ten days. We're happily taking advantage of Zoe and Michelle's visit to say farewell to some of our favorite places. This afternoon, we repeated the Ruins Paydirt Tour at Kastelburg and Hochburg. Despite the forecast for rain and clouds all day, we had some brilliant sunshine.

France still seems to be trumping Germany in the weather department. Clouds coming from the west glide gently over the Rhine valley and then collide with the mountains of the Schwarzwald, where they unpack their bags and settle in for a while. We're finally learning that the late autumn status quo forecast--"rain likely"--means anything from "get out your galoshes, it will pour all day" to "rain might fall for a few minutes sometime over the next 24 hours."

This summer, we also saw a lot of rain in Bayern, where temperatures were unseasonably cold. The weather there was so unpleasant for so long that forecasters started publishing predictions like "today the rain will be warmer."

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Sehr lecker

We have friends visiting from the U.S.: Michelle and her daughter Zoe. We picked them up at the Hauptbahnhof this afternoon, brought them back to our apartment, and immediately took them to the Lienhart bakery on the corner.

"We have guests from the U.S.," I told the proprietor, "and we are here for their first Cultural Experience. What do you have today?"

"Oh, of course!," she replied. There followed a loving description of all of today's best and freshest cakes and cookies, including the "Badisch Christmas specialty, Linzer Torte."

"Linzer Torte is Badisch?" I said, attempting to sound like an inquisitive foreigner who didn't have a blog entry riding on the answer. "Please tell me about this. I thought Linzer Torte came from Austria--from Linz."

The proprietor's hackles were a wee bit raised. "No, Linzer Torte is a particularly Badisch specialty," she said. Then she paused and conceded, "yes, it is possible that the Ur-recipe came from the city called Linz, in Austria, but for at least 150 years, bakers in Baden have been making the real Linzer Torte."

After we chose five different pieces of cake, she added a gift to our order: a small spiced chocolate covered Gugelhupf cake, also a regional seasonal specialty, sehr lecker.

Lecker, by the way, is one of my favorite German words. It means "yummy," which is probably a good enough reason to like it, but what I most enjoy is the inflection people use when saying the word in advertisements on radio or TV. The accent goes on the first syllable, which is quickly and deftly flicked off the tongue in order to move on to the leisurely, drawn out, unstressed second syllable: 'LECK-aaaaaahr. The English equivalent would be something like pronouncing "yummy" as 'YM-eeeee." Of course, people who aren't advertising anything on the air usually simply say 'leck-er, but it isn't anywhere near as entertaining.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Here lived...

I keep finding Stolpersteine on my walks around Freiburg. Some critics have argued that the sidewalk stones are an inappropriate memorial--that it is crude and thoughtless to allow people to trample on the names of Holocaust victims. I'd argue that the victims were already trampled on long ago. The stones remind me that they were individuals, not just anonymous numbers.

Here lived Dr. Georg Pietrkowski, born 1874; 1933 forbidden to work; flight to Italy; 1940 Spain; Cuba; survived in USA.

Here lived Henny Schmuckler, born 1878, deported 1940 Theresienstadt; murdered 1942 Auschwitz.

Here lived Frieda Katz, born 1879; deported 1940 Gurs; murdered 1942 in Auschwitz.

Here lived Max Meyer, born 1888; deported 1940 Gurs; murdered in Auschwitz.

Here lived Abraham Neumark, born 1861; deported 1940 Gurs; dead 14.4.1943 in the concentration camp Noe.
Here lived Ludwig Meyer, born 1862; deported 1942 Theresienstadt; dead 14.9.1942.

Here lived Adolf Besag, born 1873; deported 1942 Theresienstadt; liberated--survived.
Here lived Pauline Besag, nee Maier, born 1875; deported 1942 Theresienstadt; murdered 23.10.42.

Here lived Albertine Haas, born 1875; deported 1940 Gurs; murdered 27.12.1941 in Recebedou.
Here lived Karoline Haas, born 1867; deported 1940 Gurs; murdered 20.2.1942 in Recebedou.
Here lived Sophie Haas, born 1872; deported 1940 Gurs; murdered 23.12.1941 in Recebedou.
Here lived Thekla Haas, born 1884; deported 1940 Gurs; murdered 3.1.1941.

Here lived Berthold Daube, born 1882; flight 1937 Holland; survived in hiding.
Here lived Frieda Daube, born 1889; flight 1937 Holland; survived in hiding.
Here lived Jakob Daube, born 1916; deported 1942; murdered in Auschwitz.

Here lived Prof. Dr. Robert Liefman, born 1874; deported 1940 Gurs; dead 20.3.1941 in Morlaas.
Here lived Martha Liefman, born 1878; deported 1940 Gurs; survived in Zürich.
Here lived Dr. Else Liefman, born 1881; deported 1940 Gurs; flight 1942; survived in Zürich.