Monday, August 31, 2009


We bought Elias a new pair of soccer cleats this evening, in anticipation of a Fußball camp he'll be starting on Wednesday. The box says: "Average contents: 2." I guess that means that for every two boxes containing six shoes, there are four boxes containing only tissue paper.

Those of you who know me well know that I pretty much detest going clothes and shoe shopping. I have my summer uniform (sleeveless T and jeans or shorts) and my winter uniform (mock turtle neck and jeans), and those serve me quite well for ten months out of the year. Thanks to therapy, coaching, and the generosity of others, I have come to terms with replenishing my uniforms at low-key "clothes swaps" hosted by my friend Tamsin, which have almost single-handedly kept me clothed and shoed for the past five years.

A confluence of limited suitcase space, fashion incompetence, and a recent drop in temperatures in Freiburg led me to realize that the only pair of non-denim long pants I have here are black, and the dressiest shoes I brought are light green Teva sandals. Given the choice between buying a pair of black shoes or a pair of light green pants, I went for the shoes--two of them, one for each foot, and heels, no less, but sensible ones. As someone's grandmother somewhere must have said sometime, "A woman deserves a new pair of heels at least once every thirty years," and now I've got mine.

I walked a mere half mile in my new shoes and grew and blew out several impressive blisters. This is one of the many reasons I don't like women's dress shoes. (Yo, men, please leave a comment if formal footwear has ever shredded your feet.)

My sensible mother says that's why women are supposed to carry stylish bags. Apparently, you're supposed to carry your dress shoes in the bag while you wear your comfortable shoes for walking. You trade the walking shoes for the uncomfortable shoes before you greet the queen, then switch back when you walk home. Frankly, this seems like a lot more work than it's worth, and I hope the queen will understand if I use a backpack instead (other suggestions appreciated).

Sunday, August 30, 2009

When short words are too long

This evening we went to the last summer organ concert in St. Peter and heard Raymond O'Donnell playing Clerambault, Stanford, Buxtehude, Mendelssohn, Preston, and an encore improvisation on an Irish folk song. Afterward, we met up with the delightful Frau F., a friend of a friend, for drinks. The conversation turned to Twain's essay, and she reminded us that while Germans are always happy to cram words together into ridiculously long compound nouns, they also like abbreviations.

Thus one says:

"StÜPl" (pronounced shteupl) for "Standortuebungsplatz" (the local troop training ground);

"StVZO" (pronounced ess-tay-fow-tzet-oh) for "Strassenverkehrszulassungsordnung" (regulations governing admissibility of components of street vehicles);

"ErzBer" (pronounced ertzbear) for "Erziehungsberechtigter" (a child's guardian);

and KFZ (pronounced kah-eff-ztet) for "Kraftfahrzeug" (motor-powered vehicle).

Careful readers will have noticed that while the first three abbreviations save one a little breath, KFZ is a three-syllable substitution for a modest three-syllable word. But let us not be judgmental: after all, Germans get to say "vay vay vay" rather than "double-U double-U double-U" when they talk about the world wide web.

Traffic-related abbreviations are especially popular. In addition to KFZ, there's also PKW (pronounced pay-kah-vay) for Personenkraftwagen (passenger car), and LKW (pronounced ell-kah-vay) for Lastkraftwagen (truck).

Why say "Personenkraftwagen" rather than the briefer "Auto"? Stefan explains that "Personenkraftwagen" is more formal. Thus, one might read in the newspaper that the robbers escaped "in einem PKW."

We did not get around to abbreviating Donaudampfschifffarhtsgesellschaftskapitaensgattin, but following the StÜPl model, it would probably be something like DoDaSchFaGeKaGa, which has the benefit of actually being pronounceable.

Saturday, August 29, 2009


From the plateau above the Wutach river in the southern Schwarzwald, it's hard to tell the river has gouged out a gorge ~200 meters deep. This morning we parked at the end of a subsidiary gorge, the Lotenbachklamm, hiked in a mile until it met up with the Wutachschlucht, and continued another 9 miles along the gorge. We made a brief but disappointing detour to see some ruins--oh, how they beckon!--that turned out to be closed off due the threat of falling rocks. At the end of our hike, we took the plush touristy shuttle bus back to our car.

I have now hiked enough in the Schwarzwald to know that when trail signs urge you to wear "sturdy footgear," they really mean "wear shoes, but not sandals or high heels." Maybe we're choosing weenie trails, but I have yet to encounter a maintained hiking trail outside of the Alps that requires anything more than sneakers.

After dinner, Elias soaked his weary 8-year-old bones in the bathtub. Helping him out of the tub, Stefan noticed the water was still clear and soothingly toasty. Stefan asked, "How dirty is this water? If it's basically clean, I might just use it to take a bath too." Elias replied helpfully, "it's still pretty clean. I only licked it twice."

Shutters postscript

"Functional shutters" becomes an oxymoron when paired with flower boxes.

Friday, August 28, 2009


Every day that we're in Freiburg, I look around at the beautiful historic edifices; the flower boxes and carefully tended gardens bright with yellow, red, and fuchsia blossoms; the stately Jugendstil apartment houses in our neighborhood, with their swooping arches and stained glass windows; the tables of colorful fruits and vegetables at the farmers' markets; the dark green pine-covered hills of the Schwarzwald; the pleasant parks and playgrounds, filled with kids of all ages; the standing wave patterns of the water in the cobblestone-lined canals of the Altstadt; and the crunchy brown leaves and Lindenbaum flowers fluttering down from the trees as summer merges into fall; and I think: I really need new glasses. If it gets bad enough, I'll blog about finding an optician in Freiburg.

As lovely as the sights are in Freiburg, people here don't necessarily want to see them--or perhaps people themselves don't want to be seen--after about 4pm. Thankfully, shutters offer a not-entirely-cumbersome way to shut out the noisy, harsh, outside world, allowing residents to create impenetrable, cave-like atmospheres in their very own homes. The amazing thing is that shutting out all the light can actually be charming (at least from the outside) when you do it with old-fashioned, functional shutters. Check it out, suburban America--shutters that actually open and close!

Of course, closing such shutters requires opening your windows, which you might not want to do in the middle of the winter. To address this problem, humankind invented the hideously ugly custom-made polymer shutter, which you can close over the outside of your window by pulling on a strap inside the house.

To compensate for the resultant dungeon-like darkness, humankind invented the €14.95 lamp at Ikea.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


Stefan disagrees with my assessment, but I believe we've just returned from visiting the Urbana, Illinois of Sweden: Lund, Scania.

There are some obvious differences, of course. Lund boasts a beautiful, bright Romanesque cathedral dating from about 1100 (modified several times since then). Inside the cathedral, near the main entrance, is an astronomical clock that was built in 1424 and restored in 1923. At 12 noon and 3pm every day, two knights on top of the clock clash swords to mark the hour; two heralds raise their trumpets while a hidden organ plays In dulci jubilo in two-part counterpoint; and three Magi and four servants process with gifts in front of the Virgin Mary and infant Jesus. The lower part of the clock includes a terrestrial calendar that's good every day until 2123.

Urbana doesn't have a cathedral, but consider this: both Lund and Urbana are home to world-class universities surrounded by miles and miles of fertile farmland in all directions. Lund University was founded in 1666, but several of its campus buildings are contemporaneous with those at the University of Illinois (founded 1867): think ornate plasterwork, wrought-iron railings, mosaic floors, and carved, richly stained wood. To outsiders, both towns appear flat, but the locals appreciate that there really are hills and ridges--really. Large student populations mean lots of bookstores and cool coffee shops to be chic and profound in. And the welcoming, interesting, book- and travel-loving faculty we met would surely get along delightfully with my parents' circle of friends at Illinois.

Plus, Swedes have freezers large enough to store more than one flavor of ice cream at a time; they call the first floor "the first floor" instead of "earth level" and the second floor "the second floor" instead of "the first floor"; and almost everyone speaks fluent English--just like people in Urbana.

From the Urbana of Sweden, we returned to the Copenhagen airport, flew back to the Savoy of France, and drove home to the Madison/Eugene of Germany.

*Even farther from southern Germany

Monday, August 24, 2009

Botanical gardens and statues

Most of Copenhagen's government-run museums are closed on Mondays, and as the weather was glorious today, Elias and I spent the entire afternoon at the Botanical Gardens. A royal charter established the gardens in 1600; the current garden plan dates to 1867. After watching an illiterate fer'ner get chewed out by garden staff for actually loafing on the grass, we decided to take our own brief snooze on a bench.

Copenhagen is a city of statues, whether inside museums such as the Glyptotek, or outside in the spacious gardens and numerous squares. The most curious statue we saw in the Botanical Gardens was one of Athena giving a big thumbs-up to a centaur's patina-free private parts. The statue's obvious classicism and the bucolic setting suggested it was supposed to edify rather than raise eyebrows. Indeed, a little Googling reveals that the ancients often depicted Athena, goddess of wisdom, with a centaur, to contrast reason with man's savage tendencies. But still....

On our walk home, we came across a statue entitled "Nilen," featuring a bearded male with fifteen of those frighteningly precocious babies clambering over him. Additional Googling reveals the bronze is a copy of an ancient Roman sculpture at the Vatican. I hope it is some consolation to the Danish to suppose "The Nile" might have inspired Nielsen's "Water Mother."

Copenhagen's statuary is by no means limited to classical themes. Generations of Danish royalty can be found in various spots around town, as can three Hans Christian Andersens. An imposing equestrian statue of Copenhagen's founder, the warrior bishop Absalon (1128-1201), stands high above Højbro Plads. Before Copenhagen could be founded, of course, the island on which it rests--Zealand--had to be ploughed out of Sweden overnight by the Norse goddess Gefion. Fortunately, she was able to turn her four brawny sons into oxen to handle the job, a feat memorialized in Langlinie park.

Sunday, August 23, 2009


Carl Jacobsen, the Danish beer magnate who commissioned the Little Mermaid statue, also founded the Copenhagen Glyptotek, where we spent most of our time today. The highlights, for us, included the large collections of Greek and Roman statuary, the French impressionist and post-impressionist sculptures and paintings, and a string quartet concert (Mendelssohn and Beethoven) we happened upon at just the right time.

The central rotunda at the Glyptotek is called the Winter Garden, filled with sunlight and subtropical plants. Situated near the garden's entrance is a koi pond with a disturbing statue by Danish sculptor Kai Nielsen (1882-1924). Entitled "The Water Mother" (1921), the statue depicts a vacant-faced woman with fourteen squirming, foetus-like babies crawling up from the water to suck the life force out of her. The baby with the bizarrely big head, sitting precociously upright on the mother's arm and holding an apple, is supposed to be Venus.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Little Mermaid

There's nothing that says "I've been there" better than standing with 50 other tourists trying to capture the perfect shot of an iconic statue that's been photographed thousands of times a day, every day of the year, for the past several decades. The Little Mermaid--the graceful statue sculpted by Edvard Eriksen and unveiled at Copenhagen's Langelinie wharf exactly 96 years ago tomorrow--has, alas, suffered physical abuse as silently as her prose counterpart. Having been decapitated twice, she now has a neck filled with concrete to keep evil-doers at bay (and precluding the need for a "Forurening forbudt" plaque, which would detract from the photographs).

You know you've found all the right tourist spots when you start recognizing the other visitors.

Friday, August 21, 2009


Yesterday we drove to Strasbourg International Airport, a place that, apart from the International bit and the lack of an ornamental reflection pond, could easily be mistaken for the airport of my childhood: Willard Airport in scenic Savoy, Illinois. This similarity, coupled with a 20-minute absence of check-in personnel beneath a sign flashing "Check-in Ongoing" for multiple flights, had me in smug giggles for a good half hour. Later, just before our shuttle bus departed for the tarmac, a flight attendant dashed breathlessly on board carrying a toddler. "Ha ha," laughed the other nine people on the bus, "oui, that little girl is ours! How funny that we forgot her in the airport!"

From Strasbourg, we flew to Copenhagen, capital of Denmark, where Stefan is meeting up with research collaborators at the university. One of our first observations about this lovely city is that the Danish not only think water out of a tap is potable, they think it's worth drinking. They even give it out without comment and for free at restaurants! In exchange for this free-flowing libationary excess, we are learning to calculate the Copenhagen cost of a meal by multiplying whatever a reasonable cost might be by the number 5.

*Not in Southern Germany.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

"The Awful German Language"

In 1880, Mark Twain claimed to have spent at least nine weeks trying to learn German. His observations about The Awful German Language are well worth reading. If your life partner is German, read Twain's essay out loud together and then say "I told you so."

Twain himself maintained a museum of ridiculously long German words. Topping his list: Generalstaatsverordnetenversammlungen. According to one website, the current record for a legitimate German word is held by the 67-letter compound noun Grundstücksverkehrsgenehmigungs-zuständigkeitsübertragungsverordnung.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Muenster and Museum

Elias and I climbed the Muenster tower this morning: 207 enclosed steps up to the ticket desk, and then, via staircases on opposite sides of the tower, 56 nerve-wracking, fenced-in, open-air steps up to the viewing platform, and 33 comfortably enclosed steps up to the bell tower. I stifled my fear of heights with the knowledge that tourists don't drop from the tower every day, although surely a few workers must have plunged to their deaths over the several decades it took to complete the tower.

We followed up with a visit to the small Wenzingerhaus Museum near the Muenster, which offers an unusual collection of local artifacts, including a detailed diorama depicting a mid-stage Muenster; early city seals and stained glass windows; a tapestry of the Zaehringer family tree; medieval iron instruments of torture along with illustrated instructions on how use them; a melted typewriter from the 1944 Allied bombing of Freiburg; a Steinway piano; and an unnerving advertisement for Der Allemanne, Freiburg's very own Nazi newspaper that provided daily news to 300,000 National Socialists in Oberbaden (the first Swastika I've seen since we've been here, displayed in a hard-to-photograph spot behind a door).

At the Wenzingerhaus, we were reminded that although Germans like the idea of museums, museum guards don't like the idea of museum visitors. Elias and I were the only two people for the guard on the second floor to glare at, and we received her undivided attention. Thanks to an earlier visit to Freiburg's Museum fuer Neue Kunst, where the second floor guard followed us from room to room to make sure we weren't enjoying the artwork too much, we knew not to take it personally.


I've never carved my name into a tree, a picnic table, or the paint on a bathroom stall door, let alone spray painted Hello-Kitty ninjas in an underpass. After visiting the Freiburg Muenster today, if I ever want to deface something, I'll aim for a more permanent surface.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


Not to be outdone in feats of athleticism by his papa, and also newly enamored of ruins like his mama, Elias joined me today for a nearly 9-mile hike to see the Ruine Zaehringer Burg. We headed out the front door, up the road, and into the wooded hills. A few miles later, we stepped into the Gasthaus a short distance from the ruins to borrow the impressively large skeleton key that unlocks the tower door. From the top of the tower, the clear views in every direction made it obvious why their noble Lordships had the serfs lug all those rocks up the hill 700 years ago.

King of Schauinsland

Southern Germany is a bicyclist's heaven. The scenery is gorgeous, and almost every highway (except the Autobahn) in Bavaria and Baden-Wuerttemberg seems to have a bike path running parallel with it. But Freiburg is clearly the hottest of all bicycling hot-spots. In 2007, Deutsche Welle reported that the city had twice as many bicycles as cars. According to the city's own website, Freiburg has over 400 km of designated bike paths, and about 30% of transportation in town is by bike. Freiburg even has a "glass shards hotline" for reporting flat-tire risks on the roads.

Here is my handsome husband on Sunday morning before setting off to ride in the Schauinslandkoenig Bergzeitfahren (the Schauinsland King mountain time trial race), which covered 11.5 km distance while ascending 800 meters up Freiburg's highest mountain. There were bicycles, duple and triple tandems, unicycles, in-line skaters, hand-powered cycles, recumbents, and bikes towing kiddie trailers. Stefan finished respectably in the middle of the pack of 950 but passed on the opportunity to put a crown on his head and have his photo taken at the top (in this race, everyone is "ein kleiner Koenig").

Monday, August 17, 2009

Get me to the church on time

Elias and I have decided to learn circus tricks while we're in Freiburg, so this morning in the back yard he practiced with his new Diabolo--a sort of free wheeling, off-string yo-yo--and I took baby steps toward juggling Koosh balls.

After our workout, we made a quick trip to the corner bakery to buy rolls and Bretzen for lunch. As usual, the shopkeepers found an excuse to toss an extra roll into the bag--this time because one of the ones they were selling us was "too small" (i.e. exactly the same size as the others). They do this every time and have naturally earned our total devotion.

After lunch, we hopped in the car, and I drove through Freiburg for the first time without Stefan by my side offering constant coaching. The rule that still perplexes me is rechts vor links ("right before left"). Rechts vor links means that when you arrive at an unmarked intersection at the same time as another driver, the driver to the right has right-of-way. The presence of various signs overrides rechts vor links: a modest yellow diamond (you don't have to yield--you're on the main street), a thick black upward arrow with a horizontal line through it (likewise), or a yield or stop sign (you have to yield). But the vast majority of intersections here are unmarked, and it doesn't matter if the street you're driving down is three times as wide as the alleyway T-intersecting with it: if the alley is on your right, the car emerging from it has right of way.

In theory, Rechts vor links means that everyone habitually slows down at intersections, making cities safer for drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians alike. But my observations of other drivers suggest that once you get used to driving, you get used to braking suddenly and weaving out of the way if necessary, so you don't really have to follow that 30 km/hr speed limit, and traffic can always move at a good clip.

But hey, who am I to complain? Americans die from pretty much everything, including automobile accidents, at faster per capita rates than Germans. Today I considered myself lucky to have messed up rechts vor links just once (I think), and thankfully as the rechts-driver rather than the links. There I was, waiting patiently to turn left out of what I was sure was a parking lot egress, when a driver and a bicyclist coming from the left stopped in the middle of the main road. When I finally realized I must be on an actual road and was supposed to make a left turn in front of on-coming traffic, I held my breath and drove boldly forth. On the way home, I irritated the drivers behind me by slowing down every time I approached a road to my right.

If you've read thus far, you're probably wondering why I was putting lives at risk driving in the first place. Elias and I were heading to St. Petrus Canisius catholic church in Freiburg-Landwasser, where, thanks to one of Professor D.'s students, I have permission to practice on the 33-register, 2-manual + pedals, 1993 Rieger organ twice a week. Once school starts, I'll need to find either another organ or after-school care for Elias, but for now, I'm delighted to have access to an instrument again.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Staufen and ruins

After following signs to the Ruine Zaehringer Burg the other day, I'm much enamored of ruins--and they're all over the place here, in various stages of collapse.

On Saturday, we visited Staufen, a few kilometers south of Freiburg. Staufen is most famous for being the site of Faust's death. That's right, Faust, as in Goethe's Faust. Faust was an alchemist and necromancer of dubious character (surprise!). He was invited to Staufen in 1539 by its indebted lord Anton von Staufen, and died that same year in the Loewen inn under suspicious circumstances. Thanks to the 1587 Historia von D. Johann Fausten, other early sources, and Marlowe's and Goethe's plays, we now know he died after his 24-year pact with the devil Mephistopheles ended, and he's currently suffering eternal damnation in Hell. That's what you get for selling your soul. (Is it just coincidence that Staufen and Fausten are anagrams?)

Staufen is also known for the ruins atop a hill on the north edge of town. Artifacts suggest the Romans had a watch tower on the hill long before Adalbert von Staufen commenced the current fortress around 1100. The Staufen lineage ended with Georg von Staufen in 1602, and the fortress was abandoned in 1607. In 1632, the Swedes came through and knocked it down.

Our topo-map showed there were additional ruins in them thar hills to the east, so we hiked in looking for them. Forest roads gave way to rugged trails that skirted around the top of the ridge. We finally resorted to bushwhacking our way through a Stinging Nettle Path of Glory (as Elias calls the painful overgrown trails), to the top of the Etzenbacher Hoehe, and came to the remains of the fortress: lots and lots of rocks distributed over a third of a kilometer or so. There was also a highway marker dated 1613, so perhaps the Swedes knocked this fortress down too while they were at it.

The Swedes weren't the only folks demolishing things. Freiburg's Schlossberg ("fortress mountain") rises behind the Altstadt, but there's no longer a Schloss on top. In 1366, fed up with their local lords, the Freiburgers themselves attacked the 12th-century fortress on the Schlossberg. Thanks to all the silver ore inside nearby Schauinsland, Freiburg was able to purchase its independence in 1368, and the city submitted itself to the protection of the Austrian Habsburgs. In 1668, the Habsburg Kaiser Leopold I rebuilt and strengthened the Schlossberg fortifications to protect against threats from Louis the 14th, but the French captured Freiburg in 1677. During various wars and occupations over the next 68 years, possession of Freiburg bounced back and forth between the Austrians and the French. In 1745, the French finally gave up hope of holding onto Freiburg and did a thorough job of knocking down the Schloss before leaving town.

Cultural anthopology

Elias and I have been approached several times in Freiburg by students--usually pairs or trios of articulate women carrying notebooks and voice recorders--claiming to be working on projects for high school or University. "Do you mind if we ask you some questions for school," they'll say. So far, we've answered questions about whether we've brushed our teeth, how old Ron Weasley is in Harry Potter book 6, whether we'd sing the refrain of a Beatles song for them, and how often and where we find it most pleasurable to pick our noses. "Do you have any special nose-picking episodes from your childhood that you could share?" is not a question I've ever been asked anywhere else. That these students devote such attention to their studies during the middle of summer vacation suggests Germany is raising a bright young generation of dedicated cultural anthropologists.

Friday, August 14, 2009

A star is born

Here is Elias in his German stage debut, playing The Australian. He stands with his Translatorix in front of a kangaroo, welcoming Two German Reporteresses.* He explains that Australians "enjoy eating barbie with the family, and fish. There are many things to do in Australia because it is a big country with lots of open space! For music, we have the didgeridoo, and we like to sing songs about kangaroos and koalas." (Cue ensemble number: "Bring dein Känguru mit, Pit, bring dein Känguru mit [schubidubidu]!") Elias impressed everyone with his fluent English.

*One of the first PR magazines Stefan picked up at the University included an article on how outdated and sexist the German feminine -in ending is (the equivalent of -ix and -ess in English, as in "aviatrix" and "actress"). Feminist linguistics still hasn't caught on in most of Germany, thus the two leads in the play were Reporterinnen, not Reporter.

Badische Zeitung

There is an article in the local newspaper this morning about the camp Elias has been going to. The camp is one of several new, city-sponsored summer programs for kids. In addition to playing outside a lot, the kids have been working on a play in which two German reporters travel the world, learning about what children enjoy and what languages they speak in other countries. Several of the kids bring their native-language skills to their roles. The paper notes, "Der achtjaehrige Elias Zausher zum Beispiel begruesst die Gaeste aus Deutschland in Sydney in fliessendem Englisch" ("eight-year-old Elias Zausher [sic], for example, welcomes the guests from Germany to Sydney in fluent English").

Can you find the top of Elias's head in the photograph? (Fourth standing kid from the left.)

Thursday, August 13, 2009


Apologies in advance for the poor quality of the photos; I took them with my "Handy" (cell phone).

Having covered southeast Freiburg pretty well on Tuesday, I decided to explore northeast Freiburg today. As usual, I looked at my map before setting off. A path along the train tracks would take me straight out of town. Straight, as in no turns, as in really hard to mess up this time. Seemed pretty safe.

Oh my goodness, this is a gorgeous part of the world. Tree-lined city paths yielded to fertile farmland. The corn was high, the grass was green, and the storks and crows were happy. And lo, off in the distance was scenic Heuweiler, with its pretty church rising on a hill above the farmhouses. How could I resist? I was rewarded for turning east: along the road were stone markers dating from 1792, indicating the then-border between Austria and Baden.

Once in Heuweiler, it was easy to follow the rolling hills back south, with verdant forest on one side, vineyards on the other, and everything the most stunning, radiant green I've ever seen.

The trail signs started mentioning "Ruine Zaehringer Burg," with a symbol that looked like a rook from chess. Castle-like ruins? How could I resist? Instead of heading directly back into town, I followed those tempting signs, uphill and downhill, into woods and out, through farms and villages, past cows, a dalmatian, and some mighty tempting apple, pear, and plum trees (I hadn't brought any water or snacks), until, at last, I came to the top of a hill and found the tower. What remains dates from the 13th century; the rest was destroyed in a battle in 1525.

I arrived home after four hours and 13 miles, and I didn't get lost even once.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Chickens on tour

As I don't yet have access to an organ to practice on, and as the local pottery co-op is closed due to summer vacation, and as my excuse to strike up casual conversations with complete strangers in the park is busy attending summer camp, I'm on the lookout for ways to keep myself busy. Today I went on a short walking tour of the Altstadt, revisiting some of the sights Frau H. showed us last week.

The "Haus zum Walfisch" (Whale House, left) was built 1514-1516 and acquired its name because at the time it was, figuratively, the biggest fish in the pond. When nearby Basel went Protestant during the Reformation, several of Basel's university professors fled to Catholic Freiburg, including the Dutch humanist Desiderius Erasmus von Rotterdam. Erasmus lived in the Haus zum Walfisch from 1529 to 1531.

Two American chickens (right) imagine the view Erasmus might have enjoyed from his front door.

Guarding the door of the house are two waterspout gargoyles. Evil spirits trying to enter the house would have seen these kindred figures, realized the house was already claimed, and moved on to another place to haunt. One of the gargoyles has goiter (left), an illness endemic to the Schwarzwald.

Freiburg has official "sister cities" around the world, including lovely Madison, Wisconsin. Each of the sister cities is represented with a mosaic shield on the cobblestone street in front of one of the two Rathaeuser (right).

The chickens appreciate the hard work and artistic challenges that must go into laying down all those stones, so they don't mind that the mosaic of the Wisconsin State Capitol building doesn't clearly depict the golden badger atop Lady Forward's helmet (left).

No tour of the Altstadt would be complete without a visit to the Muenster. The entrance to the Gothic cathedral is decorated with hundreds of small statues, variously depicting scenes from Christ's life, the triumph of good over evil, important medieval residents, and a range of fantastical creatures. The chickens were unable to get a closer look at the nose trumpeter (right) due to the protective wire installed to keep pigeons away from the statuary.

After wrapping up their brief visit to the Altstadt, the chickens pause at the "Verschmutzung verboten" fountain in Herdern and contemplate the unthinkable (left).