Last Looks

The last time I was in Hamburg, back in late March, I spent some time with Sarah and Tobias.  After lunch, they walked me back to the U-Bahn, and as we said our goodbyes, I had a flash of realization- after that moment, I might not ever see either of them again in my lifetime.

I know it seems like a negative point of view, but it’s a simple truth: In just thirty days, I will be leaving Germany. Sure, I’ll travel to Europe again in the future, but I probably won’t be in Hamburg again.

After that realization, I started noticing it in other places.   Sometimes it’s silly (will this be the last time I buy a fricking heavy six-pack of water from the Getränkemarkt?) but usually it’s a little more bittersweet.

I saw this image in one of those ridiculous Buzzfeed lists, and the sentiment is exactly what I’m talking about, even if the image they chose is terrible:

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For the last six months, I’ve been thinking a lot about the transition back and about what I’m leaving behind here.  I started making these comparisons in another post a while back, but I’ve got more.

Some of it isn’t great.

  • I won’t miss riding with patient zero on the bus.  Every time the temperature drops even the tiniest amount, there’s hacking and coughing and sniffling like you would not believe.
  • I won’t miss the smokers everywhere.  Standing at the bus stop.  Walking through the city.  I can smell it from half a block away.
  • I won’t miss the crazy spin-art vomit stains on the sidewalk at the end of every weekend.  Most Germans can hold their beer, but this is a college town and Universities are where people test their limits, and then spill those limits all over the sidewalk before passing out.  Walking through the city on a Sunday morning can be a little bit like walking though a slightly squishy minefield.
  • I won’t miss the fucking cobblestone.  I haaaaate  cobblestone.  No, seriously-  cobblestone is charming when you first arrive, but it’s hell to walk on for long periods of time.    I can’t begin to count the number of times that my ankle has turned a bit on a cobblestone step.  It’s a miracle I haven’t injured myself in all this time.
  • I won’t miss the specific style of outdoor chairs that you find at beer gardens and restaurants with outdoor seating.  See the crossbar halfway up the back?  Those things always dig into my back.   Seriously, they’re the least comfortable seats in the universe.  How to people sit on these for hours?  Oh, right:  The beer functions as a muscle relaxant.damnchairs
  • I won’t miss the random people who seem to do nothing all day except hang out in front of the Bahnhof, or in front of the park directly opposite.  Every city I’ve visited has these people- they’re around the train station with a beer in hand.  Often, it looks like they’re sleeping there, in front of the station.  It’s such a waste-  I won’t ever understand people who don’t have the desire to go other places and do other things.
  • I won’t miss the way Germans line up for things.  At the bakery, or waiting to board a bus, or a train, there’s never a single simple line.   If you’re trying to get off of a bus, you generally have to push through the people waiting to get onto the bus because they don’t stand to one side to let people through.   Germans, by and large, are terrible  at lining up for things.    It’s usually a large cluster of people with no real sense of order.
  • I won’t miss my shower plunger.  I have a standard wood-handled rubber plunger, of the type commonly associated with toilet issues.  This particular plunger has never been used in a toilet, however.  The drain of my shower has been finicky for as long as I’ve lived here, and I keep the plunger in my shower so that whenever I find myself ankle deep in not-draining water, I can plunge the shower drain for a minute and things will even out.  This happens at least once every few weeks, and has for as long as I’ve been here.  I’ve tried the local equivalent to Drano, and I’ve tried a few other things without much success.  I won’t miss having a shower that backs up at random intervals.

But there are things I will  miss.

  • I’ll miss having a vibrant concert scene just one hour away, or three, or six.  Many of my trips have started with concert plans.  I’ve been to the Royal Albert Hall in London twice now.  Many of the bands I want to see play in Berlin, or Cologne, or Hamburg.  Sometimes they even come to Munich or Nuremberg.    The concert scene is a little more dead in Florida, alas.
  • I’ll miss this view, as seen from Neupfarrplatz in the Regensburg Altstadt:
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  • I’ll miss the Deutsche Bahn.  From Regensburg, a single train will take me to Prague in four hours.  Salzburg in four hours.  Berlin in six hours.  Frankfurt in three hours.  Anywhere else in continental Europe is within reach, as long as I’ve got the time.  The trains here are fabulous.
  • I’ll miss my crazy-fast Internet.  The picture below is a photograph of my screen when I did a speed test.  I’ve never used anything this fast back in the US.  I know it’s possible, but in South Florida, it’s mostly DSL and Comcast cable broadband, and it’s nothing like the blazing fast speeds I’ve been enjoying here for the last three years.
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  • I’ll miss the dogs everywhere!  Germans take dogs with them on the bus, on the train, into restaurants, and pretty much everywhere that will allow it.  Little dogs wearing sweaters are just adorable, and they always make me smile.
  • I’ll miss the bakeries.  The bread and pastries and pretzels here are beyond compare.  Apfeltaschen and Butterbreze and Kurbis Krusti… nom nom nom.
  • I’ll miss the scalp massages that are a regular part of any haircut here, during the shampoo portion of the visit.  When you get a haircut in the states, they’ll wash your hair but they never linger  on the shampooing like they do here.  It’s really heavenly.
  • I’ll dearly miss a few very close friends.    My social life in Germany has been fairly limited, but I have made a few friends who will be part of my world in some fashion for the rest of my life.  I’ll be back to Germany to see them.

Of course, all the things that I will and won’t miss have their balance:  Things that I’m really looking forward to back in the United States.  In just thirty days, I’ll have access to some really wonderful things.

  • I’m looking forward to screens on my windows so I can open them without getting those little bugs that like my laptop screen so much.  And no more indoor mosquitoes when it’s warm!
  • I’m looking forward to electronic dishwashers.  After three years of hand-washing everything, it’ll be nice to just let the machine do it.
  • For that matter, I’m looking forward to having an actual in-sink disposal unit again.  I don’t have that here.  If I have something that I need to dispose of here, I have only two real options:  The trash or the toilet.  Yes, I’ve actually flushed away expired apple sauce here.
  • I’m looking forward to having a full sized kitchen again.  My refrigerator here doesn’t even come up to my waist.  The freezer is roughly the size of a shoebox.  I have roughly ten inches of counter space in the form of a drainboard.  There are four cabinets overhead for dishes and food storage alike.    It’s more of a kitchenette.
  • I’m looking forward to Golden Oreos.  And other cookies.  While Germany excels in cakes and pastries and other baked goods, they really can’t seem to figure out cookies.  With a few very limited exceptions (primarily Oreos and Subway cookies,) I’ve been profoundly disappointed with the cookies here.  I’m looking forward to that American cookie aisle in the grocery store again.
  • And while I’m on the subject of the grocery story, I’m looking forward to shopping on Sundays!  Or after 8pm, for that matter.    I’m so tired of having to do all of my grocery shopping in the two hours after work or on Saturday afternoons.  I miss the flexibility of being able to do whim-based grocery shopping at 2am on any random Thursday!
  • I’m looking forward to having a car!  Right now, when I do my grocery shopping, I have to limit myself to what I can carry in a single trip.  I miss being able to get a ton of groceries and load them into my car.   I miss being able to travel to places that are outside of public transportation range without walking or biking to get there.
  • I’m looking forward to American-style customer service.  Sometimes it can almost be a mythic challenge to get the attention of a waitress here.
  • I’m looking forward to reliable cellular signal again.  The only place I ever had weak signal in South Florida was the men’s room at work.  (And let’s face it, that’s the one place I really don’t want to take a call anyway.)  Here, on the other hand, I see my phone drop down to Edge speeds all the time-  on the way to or from work, on the train, or just walking down the street on a sunny afternoon.
  • I’m looking forward to video without significant Geo-blocking.  I can’t count the number of times a friend has posted a link to something on Ye Olde YouTubes, and I’ve clicked the link to see this little angry-maker:
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    Annoying, isn’t it?  GEMA is a music licensing entity whose sole function seems to be making Americans so angry that they want to kick puppies.  To get around it here, you need to use data redirection techniques-  either a browser plugin or a VPN.    The same thing applies to Pandora, to Netflix, to Hulu.  Even the Daily Show and the Colbert Report geo-block now, although they didn’t when I first arrived to Germany.    Geo-blocking is a pain in the butt, and I’m glad that I’ll have less of it to deal with.
  • I’m looking forward to being able to go about my day to day life without needing translation help.  I’m looking forward to being able to sign an apartment lease without someone parsing the bullet points for me.  I’m looking forward to being able to understand all my junk mail without bringing it to a friend to review.
  • I’m looking forward to seeing my family! I have a three year old niece and I’m going to be back in time for her fourth birthday.  I’ve only been there for a handful of the days of her life so far, and I’m looking foward to changing that.
  • I’m looking forward to seeing my friends again, and I’m looking forward to having brunches at the Moonlite Diner, lunches with my coworkers, movie dates with my favorite girl… I can’t wait to get back to my life.

This post has changed pretty drastically from where it started.  I originally intended to talk about the emotional impact of leaving a place, and I wound up just making another bulleted list.  I guess for the poignant emotional stuff, I’ll have to turn the floor over to the inimitable Peter Cincotti.  This is the song that has been playing in my head for the last few weeks, and it’s almost exactly how I feel: 

What do you look forward to the most when you go home?

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Nepal Himalaya Pavilion

Not far from Regensburg is a Nepalese temple and garden called the Nepal Himalaya Pavilion.

The Pavilion was originally constructed in Hanover for the 2000 World’s Fair Expo, which ran from Jun to October of that year.  The Nepalese exhibit was incredibly popular, with about 3.5 million visitors during the 2000 Expo.  After the World’s Fair concluded, the Pavilion was dismantled, transported here, and then reconstructed.  It reopened in 2003, and opens seasonally every year.

Most of these pictures don’t have commentary from me, because I don’t have much more to add.  This was a nice garden, and a lovely way to spend a few hours.

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The brightly colored cloth hanging from the pavilion are prayers.

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First, he got the disk spinning with the long pole.

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Next, he used the spinning disk as a giant pottery wheel.

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The entrance to the China Garden part of the Nepal Himalaya Pavilion.

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Nice hooters, eh?

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Shakey rope bridge!

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…Fighting the urge to walk in the opposite direction here…

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Have you ever been to the Nepal Himalaya Pavilion?  How about Nepal?

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Die Hochzeitsglocken läuten!

This weekend, I’m going to my first German Hochzeit, or wedding.  My partner-in-crime Jenny is getting married in a wedding which is actually spread over two days.

A multi-day wedding is not uncommon in Germany, because you have to do a legal portion of the marriage in an official place and those are often not open on weekends.  In this case, there’s a small ceremony in the morning on Friday at the Altes Rathaus and a nice formal lunch at the city’s Ratskeller.  Then on Saturday, there’s a much longer, slightly more casual, definitely bigger party at Jenny and Robert’s home.

This is the first time I’ll experience a German wedding, and Jenny’s shindig doesn’t hit all the “traditional” marks because Jenny and Robert are fairly untraditional people, in the best possible way.

There are dozens of different wedding traditions in Germany, and no two weddings are exactly alike.  Here’s some of what I’ve learned about German weddings so far:

Bachelor and Hen Parties Are A Big Deal.  Whenever I’m in a city- any city, anywhere in Europe- I’ve been able to spot the pre-Wedding parties.  Bachelorette parties are often referred to here as Hen parties, which amuses me greatly.    For Bachelor parties, the groom-to-be often has to wear a ridiculous outfit.   For Hen parties, the bride-to-be often has little trinkets or baked goods or small items that she has to sell to passers-by, ostensibly for money for beer.    Group costumes and themes are common.  I’ve seen parties where every member is dressed in a nurse outfit or in a hot-cop outfit.  I’ve seen pirates and bunny ears, ballerina dresses and traditional tracht (Dirndls and lederhosen.)

Matching shirts are a popular choice.  And you can always spot them.  The look like this.  Or this.  Or this.

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In some cities, the party moves around on a BierBike.  This isn’t traditional, but it’s often hilarious.

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Engagement rings aren’t a big deal. Germans don’t do diamond engagement rings.   The concept of an engagement ring is fairly new to Germany, and some couples do it but it’s not expected here like it is in the US.   The bride and groom have matching wedding bands which are worn on their right hands.  Single guys take note:  Married women in Germany wear their wedding rings on the right hand, not the left hand!

Lots of couples do a traditional Polterabend.   A Polterabend is a party where everyone brings old dishes to break in order to wish the couple well, drive away bad spirits, and so forth.

A car procession after the ceremony is traditional.  You can always spot the days that there’s a wedding in town because there are cars with bows or bridal bouquets fixed to the hood sitting in front of the Rathaus.  After the wedding, a car procession drives through town honking their horns, and others honk back to wish the couple good luck.

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After tomorrow, I can’t really call Jenny my partner-in-crime anymore.  She has a new partner-in-crime for the rest of her life.  And I have a new partner-in-crime waiting for me to get back to Florida. I can’t wait to hear about Jenny’s continuing adventures with Robert!

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Image by Stephan Wiesner- https://www.facebook.com/sportportraits

Have you ever been to a German wedding?

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Hot Air Ballooning Over Bavaria

We interrupt this barrage of travel posts to bring you a post about something that I did a little closer to town.  Thanks to my partner-in-crime Jenny and her fiancé Robert, I had the opportunity to go hot air ballooning.  They wanted to try this, and if enough people joined in, the balloon company would come to us instead of us going to them.  Arrangements were made, weather was checked, and on the very last Saturday in May, the balloon company traveled to us in the afternoon.

The first order of business was setting up.  We were all enlisted to help set up the balloon and basket.  The actual balloon was packed into a giant canvas bag.  Most of the material is a very lightweight nylon, but the material closest to the hot air burners is a slightly more flame retardant canvas blend.

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First the balloon has to be inflated.  It’s connected to the basket, and pulled out over a large field.

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I large gasoline powered fan is used to begin the inflation of the balloon chamber.  Two of us had to hold the mouth of the balloon open at first.

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After enough  inflation is done with the fan, the flame jets can be used to heat the air inside to give it lift.

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The burners actually have very fine control-  they can do hotter blue flame or cooler (but more visible and thus cooler looking) yellow flame.

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Lift off was quite subtle-  there’s no acceleration like an airplane.  One minute you’re on the ground, and the next you simply aren’t on the ground any more. Once we were aloft, the navigation was simply based on which way the wind was blowing.  The blue vehicle with the white trailer is the balloonist’s partner following along from the ground.     They kept in contact via nearly functional radios.

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Once we were fully aloft, the view was pretty spectacular.  There was, surprisingly, no wind noise at all because we were moving at the speed of the wind.  It was very quiet, except for the occasional use of the burner to adjust our altitude.  It also wasn’t cold, to my surprise, because of the burners.  Incidentally, the plume of steam coming up from the ground in the far distance is a nuclear power plant.

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In this part of Germany, there are really only a few larger cities.  Most of Bavaria is really just villages of various sizes surrounded by fields of crops.  This was only fifteen or twenty kilometers outside of the center of Regensburg.  I’m not actually sure what village we’re looking at in this photograph.  From above, they all kind of look alike.

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This field, I am told, is where the Battle of Regensburg took place in 1809.  This is where Napoleon was shot in the ankle, apparently.

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Fields of solar panels are a common sight in Germany.  I didn’t realize until we were directly above one that sheep sometimes graze in between the panels.  Much easier than using a lawnmower around the solar panels, I imagine.

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Just after we passed the field of solar panels and sheep, two trains passed, one in each direction.  The first one was a longer Munich to Prague commuter line, and the next was a shorter commuter train which probably only went from Landshut to Munich.   The furthest wagon to the left is the engine, and the second from last is a two level wagon with upper deck seats.  The other three wagons all contain compartments of six seats each, which is much less fun than the double-decker wagon, but is much much quieter.

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After a while in the air, we had to look for a place to land.  This is the tricky part-  you have no steering other than the wind, and you want to avoid crops and powerlines.  Ideally, you need another field of just-grass.   While we were looking for a place to land, we passed fairly low over this village.  Lots of people came out to wave at us and shout things.   Most people are kind of fascinated to see a hot air balloon, particularly one this close.

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As we approached an ideal landing spot, the sun was low on the horizon and we got some pretty neat perspectives.

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After landing successfully at the edge of a crop field, we were joined by some neighborhood children who wanted to watch us break down and pack the balloon.

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Once the enclosure was completely deflated, the balloonist scrunched it together to prepare it to go back into the canvas bag.

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Last, but certainly not least, our wicker steed was ready to be disassembled and put back into the trailer.  This is the point at which a carload of random dudes wearing Lederhosen pulled up and helped us muscle the thing back into the trailer.  Bavaria is a ridiculous and hilariously fun place at times.

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Have you ever been up in a hot air balloon?

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Document Neupfarrplatz in Regensburg

In Neupfarrplatz, one of the largest main squares of Regensburg, there is a big church called the Neupfarrkirche.   Tucked behind that church is a triangular metal structure containing a door.  The door contains a stairwell that goes down into Document Neupfarrplatz, an exhibit made of an archaeological excavation beneath the square which occurred between 1995 and 1997 .  The exhibit isn’t open all the time.  There are tours at set times, and you have to go to the Tabak shop across the way to buy your tickets before the tour.  It’s only €5, for a one hour tour in German.

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Once you get to the bottom of the stairs, you’re in a large chamber with pathways leading off in other directions.  There is a set of tunnels which comprise part of a ring shaped underground air-raid shelter built around 1940.  These first two pictures show part of that structure.

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Looking down the hall from the air raid shelter hallway, you can see part of the main chamber at the foot of the stairs.

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Inside that first chamber are three glass cases containing small items from three different time periods of the excavation.    The first is a bronze figurine of the Roman god Mercury, from the second or third century A.D.

This statue is believed to have stood on the house altar of a high ranking Roman official.  This location was the Roman camp Castra Regina around 179 A.D.  Castra Regina was a fortified military base, and I’ve posted photos of the old fortress walls before.  The remains of Castra Regina lie here, six meters below Neupfarrplatz.

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This pointy fellow is a bronze figurine of the high priest Aharon from the 15th century A.D.  This is from the medieval Jewish quarter, which also stood in Neupfarrplatz after the Roman Empire.  Southern Germany’s biggest Jewish community prospered here from the 8th century until February 21st, 1519, when the Jews were driven out of the city.    At the time of the expulsion, around 80 Talmudic scholars lived here.

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After the explulsion of the Jews in 1519, the synagogue was demolished.  A wooden chapel was dedicated to the Virgin Mary (Zur Schönen Maria) at this location soon after.   The chapel became a center for mass pilgrimages.  The next  item pictured is a silver sign of pilgrimage from around 1520.

So much money was generated by the pilgrims that the foundations of a new larger Neupfarrkirche were set in 1540.  This is where the names Neupfarrplatz and Neupfarrkirche come from-  Regensburg became Protestant in 1542 and the pilgrimage church was reconsecrated as “Neue Pfarre,” the new parish church.

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Opposite the bronze and silver items encased in glass is a walkway supported over part of the excavated structure.  These were cellar rooms – the archway goes to another room which had been converted several times.

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One of the more spectacular things found during the excavations were these 624 gold coins, buried around 1388.

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Next to the gold coins is a golden ring with the star-and-moon seal of the medieval Jewish community of Regensburg.

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This archway contains stairs which used to lead to the surface.

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Above the stairs is a “window” embedded in the surface of Neupfarrplatz.  The window cost around €25,000 to install.

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Here’s the window from above ground-  the people at this cafe probably don’t realize they’re sitting almost directly above hundreds of years of history.

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Opposite the Neupfarrkirche is a white marble structure which shows the layout and position of the original medieval Jewish synagogue prior to it being destroyed in 1519.    This artistic representation of the old synagogue was created in 2005 by the Israeli sculptor Dani Karavan.  It was designed to be a “Place of Encounter, ” a symbol of Christians and Jews living together.  Hebrew lettering engraved in the space where the Torah was kept spell out the word “Misrach” to point to the east, toward Jerusalem.

The white marble is directly in front of an ice cream cafe, so it’s a popular place for people to sit and snack with friends on a sunny day.

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So a Roman, a Rabbi, and a Protestant walk into a bar…   I’m just kidding.

Have you ever been to an archaeological excavation?