Tuesday, October 27, 2009


This week is Herbstferien (fall break) in Baden-Wuerttemberg, which means that we, along with the rest of the state, will be traveling. Our personal plan is to roadtrip south to Ticino*--the Italian-speaking, southernmost canton of Switzerland--in search of high mountains and sunshine.

Perhaps the trap in the parking basement will have caught something--a marten, a rat, or as my friend Tamsin suggests, a troll--by the time we return. As the tufts of grass on the cage gradually wither, the egg remains intact inside, untouched and unrefrigerated.

For all of you new Schlager fans out there, check out this scrumptious video of the ever-popular group, Die Flippers, singing "Aloha He, Stern der Südsee." I draw your attention to the song mainly to point out the popularity of both echoes and Polynesia in Schlager, as the refrain "Aloha He (Aloha, Aloha)" clearly recalls "Fliege mit mir nach Somoa (Samoa, Samoa)." The unabashed joyfulness conveyed by the blowing hair and shiny blazers isn't bad either.

And on that musical note, I bid you farewell, dear readers, until the weekend. Also, pfirdi! Pfirdi! Also, pfirdi!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Forging ahead

It is consoling, especially when I'm tired and I find myself struggling to form even basic sentences in a non-native tongue, to realize I am not alone and it could always be worse. Today's inspiration comes in the form of a gee-whiz science toy we picked up in Zürich: a packet of hydrogel beads that swell when you add water.

The front of the packet reads:

Seven Color Crystal Ball. DESIGNED BY KOREA.

O.K!! O.K!!

The back of the packet reads:

product use information:
1. add water 400G on the product, about 4 hours it will grow up.
2. one clear beauty satiety face will grow up.
3. when the flower want to oxygen and nutrition, I will help you too much.


Cover Raise This Flap To Open.

We haven't yet found the beauty satiety face amidst the water-saturated balls, but if we do, we'll keep it away from the flower.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Zürich and Schaffhausen*

On Saturday morning, Elias and I walked to the Hauptbahnhof and took a train to Zürich, joining Stefan for the weekend in Switzerland's largest city and one of the wealthiest and most expensive cities in all of Europe. Zürich was used by the Romans as a tax-collection site, and it was probably named by earlier occupants before the Romans ever got there.

On sunny Saturday, we did a self-guided walking tour through the old town, where we encountered charming Gaessli (wee alleys), the largest clock face in Europe, Sprüngli chocolates, decadent bejeweled and gilded antiques costing tens of thousands of CHF, and a Lamborghini. The chickens were nervous about the high price of Mineralwasser, but we humans thought it tasted better than any we've had so far. Perhaps you get what you pay for.

On cold, rainy, grey Sunday, we walked up into the hills to the Zürich zoo; afterward, we caught the Georges Seurat exhibit at the Zürich Kunsthaus. I promised Elias I would mention the pileated gibbons on the blog. The highpoint of our zoo visit was watching a young gibbon relentlessly taunting his papa, the papa gibbon responding by grabbing, chewing on, and kicking said offspring, and the mama gibbon stoically serving as "base."

Saturday evening, we took a train to Schaffhausen, on the Rhine, to meet up with one of Stefan's colleagues and his wife for dinner. Records of the town date to the 11th century. M. and D. showed us the scenic Rheinfall, Europe's largest waterfall, in neighboring Neuhausen, as well as Schaffhausen's 16th-century fortress, Munot. We walked from Munot down the hill into the Innenstadt, where D. explained that one of Schaffhausen's architectural trademarks is Spionfenster (spy windows)--small rectangular holes in the sides of oriel window boxes that allowed modest Medieval women to look out on street activity without themselves being seen.

This quick trip exposed us to the delights of Schwyzerdütsch, an expansively lush, gangly, and angular Alemannisch dialect, all elbows and knees.

*Not in Southern Germany.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Der alte Friedhof

Freiburg's Alter Friedhof (old cemetery) was dedicated in 1683; the last burial there was in 1872. Situated a short distance from the Altstadt, in Neustadt/Herdern, the Friedhof is frequented by visitors looking for a quiet, meditative place. The array of moss-covered gravestones is both beautiful and macabre: weeping angels, sleeping beauties, cherubs, wreaths, skulls.

The day after Christmas in 1999, during the wind storm Lothar, a large tree crashed down in the middle of the cemetery. Narrowly missing several gravestones (and probably crushing a few), the tree kept some roots in the ground; green leafy branches continue to grow out of the horizontal trunk. A plaque next to it quotes Job 14:7: "For there is hope of a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that the tender branch thereof will not cease."

This evening, Elias and I walked through the nearly pitch-black cemetery to its 18th-century chapel for a concert of early music. The highpoint was getting to see the inside of the usually locked chapel, with its pressed glass windows, paintings by Johann Christian Wentzinger, and little sculpted cherubs hovering over the alter. The pews, like those in so many Baroque churches here, were clearly designed as an earthly reminder of the painful torments of hell. The concert featured a soprano, Zink (cornett--an instrument that sounds a lot like a trumpet but has a body similar to a woodwind), viola da gamba, and small organ, and exposed me to hitherto unimagined variations in tuning systems.

Wandering through the cemetery earlier today, I finally found a tombstone I had searched for previously. A white marble column marks the grave of Bertha Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, nee Eissenhardt, wife of Felix Mendelssohn's son Carl. Carl was a historian who was appointed professor at the University of Freiburg in 1868; Bertha died in childbirth in 1870 at the age of 22.

Thursday, October 22, 2009


How did I make it this long without writing about Schlager, the hot hot music everyone's listening to these days years decades? I don't know much about pop music in Germany, let alone in the U.S., but Schlager has a certain, oh, je ne sais quoi that you can't avoid. It's sort of what happens to Muzak when you add lyrics and synthesized drums.

Today, en route to practicing Cesar Franck's expansive Grande Piece Symphonique and Mendelssohn's majestic sixth organ sonata on the robust Rieger organ in Landwasser (where one doesn't yet need mittens), I tried turning on the car radio and actually got some reception. Thus I heard most of Edith Prock's 2004 hit, "Fliege mit mir nach Samoa (Samoa, Somoa)" (Fly with me to Samoa ["Samoa, Samoa," echo the backup singers]), with a catchy synth beat and steel drums for that extra Polynesian flair; as well as a good bit of Michael Morgan's 2002 classic, "Piano, Piano" (which I think is supposed to mean "softly, softly," as in the Italian dynamic indication, rather than "Klavier, Klavier," but maybe he's in love with his keyboard, probably a white lacquered parlor grand, or someone named Piano):

"Piano, piano – du bist wirklich alles, / wonach ich mich seh’n. / Ich will dich ganz haben / und morgens nicht sagen: /Du, es war schön und dann geh’n. Piano, piano – bin einmal zu oft schon
verloren erwacht. / Und ich brauch’s nicht schon wieder, / dass‘ mich die Liebe / so hilflos macht. / Ich bin kein Typ für ’ne Nacht."

[Piano, piano--you are really all I desire. I want to have you entirely, and in the mornings not say "Yo, it was nice" and then go. Piano, piano--I've woken up left one time to many. And I don't need love to make me so helpless again. I'm not the type for a one night stand.]

Check out the music video to see and hear him in action! I doubt Franck or Mendelssohn were as dreamy in peach.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Bairisch and Alemannisch

In July, as we drove across Bavaria en route to Baden-Wuerttemberg, Stefan kept saying things like, "over this next hill, the dialect changes," and "in that town over there, they speak a different version of Bairisch." I'm assuming the very specific, very local differences in the language reflect a historical tendency for people to stay put: that is, it's not uncommon for Germans to remain in the vicinity where they grew up.

Local language differences are also abundant in Alemannisch, a dialect spoken in Baden-Wuerttemberg, among other places. The Badische Zeitung has had a bunch of articles on Alemannisch lately, coinciding with the recent publication of Rudolf Post's Alemannisches Woerterbuch fuer Baden (The Alemannisch Dictionary for Baden). As one article pointed out, the ever-popular root vegetable known in high German as a Kartoffel (potato) might in Alemannisch be called a Herdepfel, Erdaepfel, Herdaepfl, Herdoepfel, Grumbeer, or Grumbiir, depending on where you are. While the etymological connection between -offel (Kartoffel) and -epfel (Erdapfel) is nifty, even niftier is the conceptual connection between an Earth-apple (like the French potato, "pomme de terre") and a Ground-pear (Grumbiir).

I certainly hear a difference between Bairisch and Alemannisch. Mainly what I hear is that Bairisch involves a lot of long, drawn out vowels and diphthongs--as in "Booooaaaarisch," which is how Bavarians around Steinebach pronounce "Bairisch"--while Alemannisch is wispier and more sprightly with its consonants.

I can do decent conversational approximations of Bairisch. I know how to boss people around and to curse, as in "Gehma! Packmas! Horst mi! So a Kaas!" ("Let's go! Let's get packing! Listen to me! What a cheese!"). I can also end a telephone conversation with my mother-in-law: "Also. Also, pfirdi! Pfirdi! Also, pfirdi!" ("OK. OK, so long! So long! OK, so long!"). ("Pfirdi" is supposedly spelled "Pfuad di," but I just don't hear it that way.) For the foreigner who has difficulty remembering the gender of nouns, Bairisch conveniently smushes almost all of its articles into "a/an" or "d'/'s," regardless of gender, as in "a Bisserl" ("a little"), "an Oachkatzlschwoaf in veteriol Oi eidaucht" ("a squirrel's tail dipped in vitriol"), and "d'Frau/da Mann/'s Kind" ("the woman/the man/the child"). Bairisch phrases that get said a lot in our house include "Was is' des Ding da?" ("what's that thang there?") and "scho' schee" ("schon schoen," meaning the equivalent of "real nice" in Southern drawl).

The nuances of Alemannisch are still beyond my grasp, but the diminutives -le/-li are both accessible and charming. Examples are plentiful on trail signs in the woods, identifying places like "Fuchskoepfleweg" ("Wee Fox-Head Way") and "Jaegerhaeusle" ("Hunting House-let"). There's also a well-known hiking route called the "Wii Wegli" ("Wine Way-let") that traverses the wine country of the Markgraeflerland region.

To hear how much Alemannisch pronunciation varies over how little geographical territory, check out this nifty audio website: http://www.alemannisch.de/unser_sprooch/tonprobe/index.html.


I was prepared for the brisk weather this morning, with a scarf, jacket, and wool socks, but my hands were unprotected and my fingers stiff with cold. After all, even in a near-freezing church, you can't play the organ with mittens on.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Impeccable timing

Stefan is spending this week as a guest speaker/researcher at the university in Zurich. As is likewise the case in the U.S., it is only after he departs for such trips that the hitherto unseen resident vermin decide to rear their ugly heads.

So far, we've had very few problems with bugs in Freiburg, having left the mammoth mosquitoes behind in Bavaria. We have come across the occasional small, light brown insect wandering by itself late at night in the kitchen; I believe some people might call such creatures "cockroaches," although the local variety look pretty tame compared to the giant palmetto bugs back home in North Carolina (where we call them "palmetto bugs" rather than "roaches" because it makes their utter disgustingness sound more genteel).

But the beast that has me jumpy at the moment is not a bug, and so far lurks primarily in my imagination. Someone has set a large trap in the basement garage: a long cage, artfully camouflaged with tufts of turf and peat moss, containing a whole egg to tempt the crafty pest. Stefan said, "oh, they're probably trying to catch a...hmm, I don't remember what it's called in English. They're about so big, bigger than a rat, and they eat the plastic and rubber hosing under cars."

Every time I go into the parking garage now--alone, as my husband is off living the academic high life in Switzerland--I expect to see a large, hairy, tick-infested, long-tailed, irate animal trapped in the cage, shaking the metal bars with its angry little fists, and barking at me using vocabulary I don't understand and never will because I made the fatal error of choosing to study Latin, French, and Cat in high school instead of Rodent.

The optimist in me is holding out hope that the animal will be cute and fluffy--a hamster, perhaps, or a marmot--and that it will gaze at me sweetly with its long-lashed eyes as it daintily, happily, hygienically licks the remaining bits of egg off its tiny paws. The pessimist scoffs and reminds me there are new and improved treatments for rabies these days.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Badenweiler and a ruins triple whammy

If one remembered to bring one's bathing suit (which, of course, we didn't), where would one go for a thermal cure around here? Scenic Badenweiler, of course! This morning, we drove 30 km south to this posh tourists' mecca, merely looking for non-rain. We realized it was a vacation destination when we noticed all the people out and about and all the stores open for business--in Germany on a SUNDAY.

Folks have been enjoying mineral cures in Badenweiler for at least a few millennia. The name "Badenweiler" means "Bath town;" the Romans, who also knew the pleasures of a good hot soak, had called it Aquae Villae. ("Villa" and "Weiler" are etymologically related; the German and Roman names mean the same thing.) In addition to access to the toasty hotsprings, the location provided the Romans with a strategically advantageous view of the upper Rhine Valley. Celts who were living in the area before the arrival of the Romans were assimilated into the town.

The ruins of an elaborate Roman bathhouse were unearthed in the 1780s. An excavated stone indicates the spa was dedicated to the goddess Diana Abnoba--a name that blends the Roman goddess of the hunt (Diana) with the Celtic goddess of the Black Forest (Abnoba). Today, the ruins are protected from the elements under a huge, arched glass ceiling.

No strategically advantageous view of the upper Rhine Valley would be complete, of course, without a 12th-century Burg built by the local nobility (Zaehringers, in this case), destroyed by angry peasants during the Bauernkrieg of 1524-25, further trampled during the Thirty Years' War, and rebuilt in the 17th century before being emphatically and permanently pounded back down by the French (1678). Yadda yadda, same ol', same ol'--and yet, how they beckon! Elias gave them a B+ (good variety, but not as extensive as Hochburg).

Badenweiler rests beneath the 1165m Blauen, so we decided to take a quick hike up to the peak. As is often the case, our "quick hike" morphed into an almost 10-mile trek through multiple ecological and climatological zones and ever-changing weather conditions. Our initial ascent was under bright sunshine with intermittent rain that shifted into fog. By the time we reached the Wirtshaus (inn) at the top of the Blauen, we were tromping through a few inches of snow. Elias, who hadn't been so thrilled by the steep climb, was beside himself with glee, thanks to the snowball lobbing opportunities.

After refreshing ourselves with nutritious ice cream and french fries, we continued along the ridge to the neighboring Stockberg (1076m), site of more ruins. Sometime around the birth of Christ, plus or minus 500 years, the Celts built a circular stone wall up there, possibly for use as a lunar observatory (according to our little Badische Zeitung pocket hiking guide). Given that these ruins are about three times as old as the Burg Badenweiler ruins down below, it was no wonder they were a little more ramshackle.

By the time we made it to Stockberg, it was surprisingly late, and we were worried about getting out of the woods before the sun set. We picked up the pace, and Elias earned major brownie points for his endurance and good cheer.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Minerals and meteorites at the Messe

Today was yet another cold, drizzly day in Freiburg, so we stuck close to home and walked to the Messe (exhibition hall) for a gem and mineral show, where we helped revive the global economy. The winner of the Best Salesmanship Prize was surely the proprietor of a meteorites display, who heard us speaking English and leapt up to show us a photo of Meteor Crater in Arizona. Thereupon followed a detailed discussion, auf Deutsch, of various types of meteorites, their origins, chemical composition, crystalization patterns, how quickly or slowly they cool, what happens to Earth rock when a meteorite plows into it, what happens to the meteorite when it hits the earth, and what types of meteorites tend to be found in what parts of the world.

We're now the proud owners of a small sample of Muonionalusta meteorite, first discovered in Sweden in 1906. Formerly part of an asteroid core that shattered billions of years ago, our thin slice of iron octahedrite has crystalization patterns that show it cooled at a supremely slow rate in the vacuum of outer space--on the order of one degree per thousand years. About 800,000 or so years ago, it fell to the Earth north of the Arctic circle in a sizable meteor shower, got pushed around for a while by glacial activity, and then sat unceremoniously buried in glacial sediment until the invention of the metal detector and the arrival of intrepid meteorite hunters.

Also new to our collection: a 70 million year old petrified shark tooth from Morocco (hardly rare, but monstrously cool) and some nifty cubes of Spanish pyrite (call us fools).

On the way home, we navigated through the Freiburg Mess'--Freiburg's annual Fall fair--outside the Messe. During a brief pause in the rain, Elias and Stefan saw a double rainbow from the top of the Ferris wheel.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Sehr geehrte(r) Herr/Frau Doktor(in) Professor(in)

I continue to maintain a little friendly distance with my organ teacher here. I've been experimenting with signing my emails "--Liz" rather than "Elizabeth Paley," and with varying the more formal closing, "Mit freundlichen Gruessen," with the snappier "Beste Gruesse" and "Freundliche Gruesse," but at this early point in our relationship (five months of email, one phone call, one two-hour lesson, and a two-page German-to-English translation), there's just no getting around that formal introductory greeting, "Sehr geehrter [title] [name]" (Very honorable [title] [name]). I have admittedly been dropping the "Herr" and "Doktor" bits, going just for "Professor," which has felt closer to my informal American style. Still, for one-sentence responses (e.g. "yes, 10am Monday works for me"), it would be nice not to have to type out the "Sehr geehrter Professor" phrase. And as I continue always to be "Sehr geehrte Frau Paley," despite my "--Liz"s, we're clearly not yet at the informal "Lieber [title] [name]" (Dear [title] [name]) stage.

This seems like a great opportunity for an abbreviation, but typing "S.g.H.D.P.[name]" looks crude rather than speedily formal. Perhaps after the next lesson...

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Zipping down the Dreisam on a Thursday afternoon*

Elias returned from his class adventure in Bonndorf having grown six inches and become independent beyond his years. Good food, good snow, good friends, good fun. He lost his flashlight, but found it again. He explained the many meanings of the English word "lift" to inquiring classmates. He didn't change his clothes once. Oh, "and the bus driver was really nice! Lots of people drank hot chocolate for breakfast--I had some too--and the bus driver had bags for everyone in case anyone needed to throw up. It was a really curvy road."

After lunch and a bath for the reeking child, we decided to walk to a park situated in the southeast part of Freiburg, along the Dreisam River, to try out a zip line I had seen on a jog. The park is about two miles from our apartment, and I had the brilliant idea of trying to cut over the Schlossberg to save us some time. Turns out the south side of the Schlossberg is rather sheer, so the shortcut--which included a lengthy series of switchbacks, narrow steps, fallen trees, and dead ends--added an extra hour to our trip. No regrets, however, as we got to see a cascade of tumbled down walls running from the top of the hill to the bottom, presumably part of the old fortifications.

We eventually reached the Dreisam and followed it to the park. The river begins between Kirchzarten and Stegen, at the confluence of the Rotbach and Wagensteigbach, and runs 29 km northwest until joining up with the Elz River in Riegel am Kaiserstuhl. As it flows through Freiburg, its water feeds the city's many Baechle (small canals). The river was re-engineered during the 19th century to deal with erratic flooding, and it now flows through disturbingly unwaveringly straight canals. Fortunately, the herons don't seem to mind.

*Sing along!

Bermuda Triangle

In Germany, as in the U.S., socks that you know went into the washing machine mysteriously fail to emerge from the dryer.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


The four windmills atop the Roßkopf, a mountain above the east side of Freiburg, are a convenient landmark. Visible from assorted freeways and Suedschwarzwald peaks, they help us orient ourselves in the direction of the city wherever we are.

This afternoon I headed northward into the hills. Three miles later, I unintentionally arrived at the windmills, having followed the simple prescription "immer aufwaerts" ("ever upward").

The windmills are very, very big. Really impressively big. The spinning blades cast gigantic shadows and make a quietly eerie humming sound.

A short distance away from the windmills is a diminutive 10-story high viewing tower that was erected by the Schwarzwald Verein in 1889. I didn't make it to the top to admire the curlicue wrought iron filigree, as the rickety wooden steps and the larger-than-usual "climb at your own risk" sign made me content to stop at the second floor.

On my hike down, I came across the St. Wendelin Kapelle, an isolated chapel basically in the middle of nowhere. The current stone chapel dates from 1895 and replaced a wooden chapel built in 1713. The original chapel was used as a shelter against storms and as a stopping off point for pilgrims travelling between Freiburg and St. Peter. St. Wendelin is very, very small. Really impressively small. If you had an interest in doing such things, you could probably pack a dozen or so St. Wendelin chapels into each windmill tower.


Yesterday, Stefan and I drove southeast to the Feldberg, the highest mountain in the Black Forest, and the highest point in Germany outside of the Alps. Being high means being cold. As we rose in altitude, we went from rain to hail to snow. On the peak, dense fog alternated with bright sunlight. Temperatures hovered around freezing.

Until the Middle Ages, the Schwarzwald was a rugged forest, difficult to penetrate. By the 18th century, large areas had been systematically clear cut to create grazing land and to harvest wood for the charcoal, glass making, and mineral mining industries.

The top of the Feldberg has been barren for over two centuries; in the winter, it's one of Germany's most popular skiing areas outside of the Alps. In addition to weather stations, a radio tower, a ski lift, and a Bismarck Denkmal (memorial) currently undergoing renovations, there's a tall viewing tower that looms atop the grassy peak like a lighthouse. Given the wind, the lack of trees, and the flat terrain, we half expected to see the salt spray of an ocean behind it.

On the way back to the parking area, we hiked past a truck advertising saunas and garages by a company named Brückner. "That's quite a downfall," I observed, "to go from epic symphonies to saunas"; Stefan rolled his eyes and replied, "it doesn't say Bruckner, it says Brückner!" What a world of difference an umlaut makes.