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Zwei Wochen in Deutschland 

As luck would have it, I have been selected as a speaker at a conference in Köln (Cologne) so just one week after my leaving Germany, I find myself back within its borders. This part of the country I have not visited before - my prior visits had been concentrated on the Wendland and Emsland in Lower Saxony. Unfortunately, as I am here on work, I will not have as much time to experience the culture as I might have at other times. I will, however, try my best.

Dienstag, 9 Juni

Köln Bonn

Köln Bonn airport is another airport at which you disembark the plane on the Tarmac - like in Frankfurt - and we (the passengers) are bussed to the terminal. It is an odd occurrence as this is not done in the U.S. With the exception of small regional/commuter planes. I am struck by how modern the three airports with which I am familiar are compared to those that I have traveled to in the U.S. However, the vastness of the U.S. compared to Germany may be one factor in this discrepancy. Germany has some 35 or so airports that serve commercial flights...California, alone, has 26.

I know that my hotel room is not ready yet (13:30) so I decide to grab a bite to eat and a coffee at the airport before going to the hotel. This solves the too-early-to-check in issue. If there is one thing I know about Germans - they are punctual. So early is not good...unless I want to sit around the lobby. However, I am content to sip my cappuccino and nibble on my croissant and pass the time. My cappuccino here is not at good as the cappuccino at Lina’s...but definitely better than my coffee I make.

My hotel is near the Dom but not necessarily near the conference at which I am speaking. I wonder why this hotel was listed as the hotel of choice given that it was neither close to the venue nor inexpensive. But perhaps it was suggested based on the proximity to the city center and the Rhine. My room is - as most hotel rooms are in Germany - slightly spartan but entirely comfortable and serviceable. My room is on the first floor right next to the elevator and is facing the street. A noisy room with the window open to be sure but I can see the Dom peeking out from behind an obscuring building. I see flying buttresses!

The Kölner Dom beckons...

Once I am settled in, I acquiesce to the the tantalizing glimpses I have seen thus far of the Dom and I am compelled to investigate further. I walk down to the lobby and walk across the street to the Dom. Once I round the corner the view of the entire Dom halts me mid stride. Here I will stop and say there are no words adequate to describe the building that is laid out in front of me. Yes, the people are that dwarfed by this cathedral.

My first sight of the Kölner Dom
The exterior

I have absolutely no words to describe the sight of this cathedral...I will not even hazard an attempt. I am hopeful that the photographs can bring a small amount of the awe that this building elicits. I walk the exterior and into the square to take a cappuccino in the shadow of the Dom.

One wall
Even the doors are huge
The square
Just me
The square is a busy place - especially since it borders the train station
The exterior
No surface is bereft of adornment
Seriously, I have no words
An entryway
Looking up 

The interior is even more awe inpiring than the outside...as if the very building itself stretches to God. In my history classes, I remember why these cathedrals were built this way - to make one feel small and bask in the absolute greatness of a God that could inspire such a structure. Even kings must have felt humbled in the face of this structure. As I make my way around, I am overwhelmed by the fury of color in the stained glass windows - especially given the sunny day - the ornate carving in the woodwork...the sheer vastness of the entire stone structure...the reverberation of the notes from the pipe organ...

An angel...I think
A king in eternal slumber
I feel insignificant
Such anguish...
Images from the interior

I am leaving the Dom and I spot the entrance to climb the tower - just in time! The last entrance to the tower is a mere 10 minutes away. I pay my entrance fee and start my ascent.

The ascension...

And I climb...and climb...and climb...it is a narrow spiral staircase which, in and of itself has its own navigation issues, is only complicated by those attempting to descend the tower. More stairs...I rest in small alcoves on my ascent - despite my fitness, the climb is taxing.

Yay! The top...no wait!

Finally, I reach the top - wait! There is an additional staircase to travel even farther...I begin again after a short respite. Finally, I have reached the pinnacle. The views are gorgeous - I am very high up. My ability to see the carving on the spires is intensified and I wonder how many years and lives the building of this church has taken.

City view
The Rhine peeks out
A resting point
The belfry (no bats)
The bell
Such detail

I begin to make the descent...it is actually more difficult than climbing. Certainly, the way up is physically demanding but to descend that long of a tight spiral staircase while looking down is disorienting and somewhat dizzying. At the bottom, I read the sign that maybe should have captured my attention on the way up. The climb is 100 meters, 533 stairs, and takes 30 minutes. There is no exit. Ok...well that explains the difficulty.

Once on terra firma, I think a walk to the Rhine and then to the Altstadt to find some dinner is in order. The day is mild (and I am hungry after that climb). I wander along the bank of the Rhine and I gaze at this much celebrated river. It looks like an ordinary to river to me with its numerous dockings for the various river boats - but it is a long river so I am sure there are other areas along the Rhine that are more picturesque than this section as it bisects Köln. Or perhaps the quiet serene beauty of a river is understated in comparison to the Kölner Dom.

One of the many bridges crossing the Rhine

I leave the Rhine to walk in towards the Altstadt.

The Altstadt

The closeness and the architecture of the buildings in this part of the town are captivating...you can almost feel the history while walking down the narrow streets.

Soaking up the last rays of the evening sun
A memorial
Street performers

After dinner, I walk back to the Rhine (I need to burn off the two scoops of ice cream I had for dessert) to walk across one of the numerous bridges.

Hohenzollernbrücke

The closest - the Hohenzollernbrücke (Hohenzoller Bridge) is only for pedestrians and trains. I can see faint colors glittering on the fence in the setting sun. I think that they may be lights...no...maybe not...

The grate separating the walkway from the train tracks is covered with “love locks.” The practice of affixing locks to signify the love between two people began a long time ago but, most notably and recently, has been blamed for the partial collapse of the Pont Des Arts bridge in Paris due to the massive weight.

The west side of the bridge
I spy this little fellow mid span
Thousands of locks...

The views of the Dom from the bridge are wonderful and I am hopeful to catch some good pictures in the long light of the setting sun.

This is a second church close to the Dom...still magnificent in its own right
Silhouetted by the setting sun
The two spires
If you look into the spire of the Dom, you can see the last set of stairs I climbed to get to the top.

Once on the starting side of the Rhine, I walk back to the hotel and make my way to my room, the noise of the city is preventing me from sleeping. Or maybe it is apprehension over my upcoming seminar tomorrow - either way, 03:00 finds me awake before sleep finally overtakes me.

Mittwoch, 10 Juni

06:00 comes waaayyyyy to quickly for my liking. I am very tired...I lie in bed trying to determine the latest time I can get up and still accomplish all that I need to do before I go to the convention center. The original plan was for me to stay until Thursday in Köln to be picked up in the morning by someone from Barentz to take me to my first appointment (this is a work trip). However, in the morning, Jens contacts me and say that the appointment for Thursday is cancelled and do I want to ride back to the Wendland with him today (he is coming down expressly to watch my presentation) or travel by train, solo, tomorrow. I choose to leave with him. I had seen much of what Köln has to offer with the exception of the museum. This means that I need to rise and pack - something I had not anticipated earlier. Now I am running late.

Köln convention center

When I arrive at the venue - my apprehension intensifies...I had been expecting maybe 30 people. But no. I am brought to reality by the statement that they had oversold the conference. Oh no! I think there will be greater than 200 people here.

There are a lot of chairs here...and they are all filled...well, not in this picture obviously. But soon!
Too many people!

Finally, unfortunately, it is my turn. I cannot delay any longer. Here it goes...for better or worse!

The presentation
Maybe I can get someone to look at the giant mitochondrion
Yes, our pets are fat too!

I am relieved to be done. Luckily, my presentation is just before a much needed coffee break so there are no questions.

Yay! Done!

I leave the stage to join Jens and we go to get ourselves some caffeine. We are leaving before the end of the conference - right after the next speaker.

To the Wendland

Jens and I make our way to the Köln Hauptbahnhof (main station) to catch our train. Jens explains to me the signing system the Deutsche Bahn uses...to avoid the issue I had the last trip. We stop for some food at a currywurst stand.

Waiting for the train
An old style train

As usual, the sky as we head north changes from sunny to dotted with clouds. However, I think that this adds to the beauty of this land. The clouds cast an ever changing shadow on the landscape bringing out new and interesting views. No two moments are ever the same.

The sun’s rays breaking through the clouds
Then the sun emerges...

As we pass through a town, Jens points out a structure in the distance- he says it is an important structure (he doesn't recall why) - I vaguely recall him saying a similar statement last November when I visited. I think he said it was an abbey. I want to capture a picture...but the same timing that has me with closed eyes in almost all of my pictures is here to taunt me again. I set up my shot...click. Nope - there is a tree blocking the abbey. Try again...nope, now a pole...nope, now an overpass...nope now a wall...try again. Success...wait. Now it is just a minuscule dot on a hill. Well, I suppose there is always next time...

Fruitless attempt at capturing the abbey

We finally make it to Uelzen and we make the drive to Dannenberg to drop me off at Olaf’s guest apartment. Olaf greets us when we arrive, I put my suitcase inside the guest apartment and join Olaf and Jens as they enjoy a cigarette. A short discussion about my presentation, the train ride, and the upcoming plans for tomorrow and the weekend and Olaf says it is bedtime for him. Jens says goodbye, Olaf says Gute Nacht and we all part company. I unpack the few items I will need for the next couple of days, wash up, and jump into bed. I set up my iPad to play some music and I drift off to sleep.

Donnerstag, 11 Juni

The bird’s nest

I open my eyes - there is daylight peeping around the shades I have drawn to allow for privacy. It must be time to start my day...I check my phone for the time...4:30! No! It is not time to start the day! I close my eyes to entice slumber to overtake me once again...no...not going to happen. Sigh. Ok...I will get up. Toward the end of my last visit, a bird had taken up residence above my door. Now it seems as if the bird has babies but every time I open the door, it flies away. I feel a little bad about that.

A little bird beak peaking up

I am proud to report that the strawberry plant that Johannes tried so valiantly to mow down a few weeks ago has made a full recovery and will soon to be fruitful...

Lots of fruit...
The pond in the garden - home to a few goldfish, guppies, and three frogs

I have a small amount of coffee left from the last time I was here so I make some coffee and I sit down to do some work. Around 10:30 Johannes knocks on my window. He asks me to visit his Omi with him so I walk in to the house to talk with his grandmother (Karen’s mother). The conversation is a little difficult as her English is as lacking as my German is. But she wanted to see pictures of my cats and my husband. I also show her Owen - she is impressed (I think). Karen and I bring Johannes to kindergarten and then go to the grocery store to pick up some meat for grilling this evening.

We stop at home to drop off the groceries and I grab a cup of coffee before we head out again. We are going to Seedorf to pick up some hay and straw for a pair of rabbits that they will be getting on Sunday. After that, we stop at the Gümser See to dip our feet in the lake.

Gümse

This is a place where one can swim in the lake. It is a little beach that is filled with sand every year. Karen says that this is a natural lake unlike the lake in Dannenberg (which is man-made)...apparently, the sand was needed. Man-made or not, the Dannenberg Thielenburger See is quite beautiful.

Gümse swimming spot
Gümser See
Young tadpoles...maybe fish...not sure
Drying off

After drying off, we are driving back and pass a field edged with cornflowers. We stop to pick some for the dining room.

Cornflowers in the wheat field

Karen and I are home again for a while so I take a shower and then settle down to do some work. After picking up Johannes from kindergarten, we move to the garden to enjoy the rare, warm, sunny day. The sprinkler is turned on and the children strip down to revel in the cool water. Olaf soon returns home and the grilling can begin.

Not quite sure what Johannes was hoping to accomplish here...

After dinner, Olaf and Johannes play on the trampoline before bedtime. I retire to the front of the house to sit in the last warmth of the day. At 22:30 I retire to bed. My morning was early and the day long.

FREITAG, 12 JUNi

A brief awakening at 4:30 - but I easily return to sleep. At 7:00 I get up to make a cup of coffee and return to the warm bed to drink it. I finally decide to stop being so lazy and at 8:00 I get up to dress and get something to eat. I sit down to answer email and work on some projects. The baby birds are more visible today...they grow so quickly.

Two babies

Johannes arrives downstairs and knocks on my window. I step outside to say good morning. A short time later, Karen emerges and soon it is time to take Johannes to school. We return home and I settle in to do some work. I try to sit in the garden as the sun is shining but it was too hot and my computer was complaining about the heat. I move back to the apartment where it is a good 10 degrees colder than the garden.

Today is a kinderfest - a party at Johannes’ kindergarten. It is from 15:00 to 17:00. I am staying behind and working but I will meet Karen and Johannes at the public bath at 17:00. I should note that the “public bath” is not similar to the Roman baths (a good thing I think). It is just another name for a public swimming pool. Except that it is outside with trees for shade under which to lie and bask in the sun. The pool is quite large and is sectioned off for the children to play separately from those persons who wish to swim. Close to 17:00, Olaf informs me that the kinderfest goes until 18:00 and to meet them all at the bath after that time. “Ok,” I reply. A short bike ride to the bath and I locate them at a spot under a tree. We all strip to our bathing suits, apply sunscreen, and head into the pool.

The seven others pub

After several hours, it is time to leave the bath. It is late and we need dinner and Johannes will soon be needing to go to bed. It seems that pommes are on the menu for dinner but the snack place is closed at the bath. Karen suggests McDonald's and asks me what I want. I am sure the menu items are similar but not exact so I ask for a chicken wrap (a safe bet). The options are curry and mozzarella tomato (neither an option in the U.S.). I opt for the mozzarella tomato. Karen is taking a while getting the food and Olaf and I are wondering what the issue is. Eventually she returns and she said that Johannes did not want to go through the drive thru. Ahhh...okay...that makes sense. After Johannes is in bed, Olaf knocks on my door and asks if I would like to join him at the Irish pub. Sure!

Because it is mild, we are able to sit outside. This is a nice change to sitting inside and even the music is different out here. Many of the songs are from the 80’s and Olaf and I are able to play “where were you when this came out?” The end of the evening comes quickly and we walk home. Good night!

Samstag, 13 Juni

I wake early today - 4:30. I am hungry and thirsty so I get up to grab a piece of cheese and some water and I am confronted by this...

Seriously?! Where do these things come from?

I swear these things are spontaneously generated. I grab the web strand and manage to get it outside before it reaches my hand as it had decided that was the best direction of travel. I eat my cheese and, after some time, I am able to return to sleep.

The pink roses are finally blooming...

Around 10:00, Olaf knocks and says that if I want to go by bike to Hitzacker then I should get ready because the other family that we will be traveling with will arrive soon. I put my still damp swimsuit on and wait outside. Karen says it is too hot and she will join us later by car. While we wait, I check the bird’s nest and see three chicks - not two. Cool!

Waiting for mom to bring back some food

Today, we are going by bike to the public bath in Hitzacker...some 10 km away (a little more than 6 miles for those still on the imperial system). The family arrives and we all start out for Hitzacker.

On the way to Hitzacker

The fields that were once a vivid green are now tipped with tan as the wheat ripens. The temperature is warm and a bit humid - there is rain and thunderstorms forecasted for today.

The children ride ahead...both big and little...

The storks are plentiful in this area...and there are many opportunities to view them up close. We stop for a water break and see a stork gliding in.

A stork comes in for a landing
No atomic power
A mosaic map...

The long ride over fairly smooth paths has me trying to ride with no hands - just like I did when I was a child. The longest stretch I manage is a good 30 seconds before I am compelled to grab the handlebars. Another few rides like this one and I think I will be tooling around like when I was younger.

Look ma! No hands

We reach the bath - there are few people here this morning...maybe the threat of the rain.

At the bath

The bath is similar to the one in Dannenberg that we were at yesterday with large grassy areas and the pools in a separate area. This public bath features two water slides. We try the metal one (it looks like an ordinary slide) but is it very cold (cold metal and cold water). Soon we move to the large slide.

The large slide

I have never been on one of these slides...but I will try today. I figure if a five year old can do it then I can too. After some experimentation, I am able to get the best speed possible (at least with my aerodynamics). It is a fun slide and I ride it several times. After swimming in the pool for some time, Karen arrives. But so does the rain.

We move to the kiosk - a place to buy snacks. We have brought our own snacks but the proprietor was not happy that we were sitting at a table without without ordering food. We order some coffees and the children buy some candy. It really begins to pour so we move inside.

We finish our coffees and head back out to the pool. The sun is now shining brightly and everyone wants to go back in the water...especially Karen who missed the first swim session. I am all swimmed out...and I have changed out of my suit - I am not looking forward to putting on a wet suit. And all the sunblock...no. I will sit under an umbrella and observe...

Everyone in the pool
Introducing the shark in the red bandana in one corner and Olaf in the goggles in the other...

So Karen brought a large blow-up shark with her when she came and it was time to give it a try...Olaf was first to attempt this feat. I can describe his attempts...or show you in pictures his attempts to ride the shark...I could describe it as shark wrestling maybe...you decide

Shark 1: Olaf 0 

Bless him, Olaf tried several times to no avail...to be fair, most who tried the same exercise failed. After a while it is time to leave - we pack up and head back to the bikes.

Johannes 1: Shark 0
Pizza party

We ride back home where it will be pizza for dinner. Unfortunately, a thunderstorm rolls up on us and it begins to rain. Really rain...luckily we are under cover and even though it is wet, it is fairly warm. Karen orders the food and Olaf goes to pick it up. We are joined by the same family with whom we went to the bath and a small party begins.

My four cheese pizza
Conversation - I cannot follow it

Soon it is Dino-Zug and bedtime for Johannes and goodbyes are made all around. I retire to the studio and catch up on some work. Some time later, Olaf knocks and says that he fell asleep when he put Johannes to bed but that he has a couple of suggestions of things to do if I am interested. I agree and we decide to walk to Fritz where they make some good cocktails. However, when we arrive, they are not serving anymore. So, we go to the Irish pub that we had frequented the other night for some people watching and conversation.

There seems to be an interesting dynamic here...

All of a sudden it is 2:00 - where does the time go! Well, we did start very late. We walk home and say goodnight. It has been another long day...and me without a nap.

Good night!

Sonntag, 14 Juni

I wake up later this morning - certainly compared to my usual time - 7:30. But, knowing that I didn't sleep until 2:30 then that is only 5 hours. About the same as always. I get up and dressed. I see that it is cloudy and much cooler than the previous few days - I do know that this week is forecasted to be not as nice as last week. Last night Olaf had said that today is the day to pick out two baby rabbits so in the morning we will be setting up the rabbit hutch. Earlier this week Karen and I had picked up some hay and straw in Breese.

The rabbit hutch pre-setup

Soon it is time to set up the rabbits new home. Olaf comes downstairs with some coffee and we wait for Karen to return with an enclosure. Upon her return, the set-up begins.

The bunny house
The blueprints...complements of Johannes

So the setup begins...the hutch looks good and the enclosure seems to work. But there is not a good way to anchor it to the ground - especially with how uneven the ground is.

A good start...

So, it is decided that the enclosure should be sunk into the ground a few centimeters. Olaf begins his work...but not without a coffee...

The German staple...coffee

A visit from a neighbor brings the pieces that will comprise the roof of this impromptu rabbit house. With the addition of a ramp, a food dish and water bottle, and some sleeping areas, and it is complete. With the exception of some rabbits.

The finished product

Karen and Johannes are off to pick out the new inhabitants.

While Olaf and I wait for Karen’s return, I have a go at the trampoline. I remember being able to do a backflip many, many, many years ago so maybe I can re-learn this too (like riding the bike with no hands). Unfortunately, the trampoline does not have enough spring in it for me to get enough height to attempt a backflip. So, I opt for the next best thing...

Ok. Maybe a little lame but it is the best I can do with the equipment... yeah... yeah...the equipment. Olaf leaves to visit his Oma and I am left to listen to the Sunday sounds.

The bunnies Are home!

Soon Karin arrives with the rabbits and we all go into the garden to meet them. There is a young black and white bunny and an older brown one.

Younger black one
Little older brown one

Once out of their crate, they both soon discover the safety of the spot under the hutch.

Under cover
He comes to investigate
A little curious but still wary
Frida sees the rabbits!

When all the people leave, the rabbits come out of hiding to explore their new home.

We are going by bike to dinner - we are eating at Einstein Junior. I have Jägerschnitzel mit Bratkartoffeln (a battered, pan fried pork cutlet with mushroom gravy and fried potatoes with bacon and onions). It was very good (even if I can only eat half).

Einstein Junior

After dinner, we ride home and Johannes says “Gute nacht” and goes upstairs to watch Dino-Zug and bedtime. I am not sure what tomorrow brings so I begin to pack as I am sure notice will come later that I will need to be on the move the next morning. Sure enough, Jens contacts me “I'm back!” He says. He was away at a firefighter’s competition and only has just returned. He will pick me up at 5:15 in the morning to put me on a train at 6:15 to Ulm some 5 hours travel. I have an appointment near there in the afternoon and Jens’s colleague will pick me up at the Ulm Hauptbahnhof. I must work quickly now. I send notice to Olaf of the plans and that because of his guest apartment availability that I might not see him again this trip. I thank him for his hospitality.

I must sleep - 4:15 will arrive very quickly

Montag, 15 Juni

Yes, I was right, 4:15 comes very quickly. I get up, shower, and pack the remaining few items. I don't have time for a coffee - I will need to get one on the run. Jens arrives a few minutes early and after we load my suitcase, we are off.

Early morning as I step outside the guest apartment door

The ride to Uelzen was uneventful (good). On the way Jens was telling me that he came in last place in the firefighter’s competition. Forty minutes later and we are in Uelzen.

The journey south
My route south...

Jens drops me off and tells me that we will have appointments on Wednesday and Thursday. My train is on schedule - I will have to change trains twice. I think I will be ok since my train riding lesson a couple of days ago. The Uelzen station is unique in the colorful art and architecture evident everywhere.

A short ride from Uelzen to Hanover and it is time to change - I am able to buy a coffee at least. The next leg of the journey - Hanover to Frankfurt- is a non-stop two hours. In Frankfurt, I have but mere minutes to change trains (we are delayed 9 minutes). Good thing they are on the same platform. The switch is made without a hitch.

From the train

The landscape changes as I travel south. Still very green though. Once I reach Ulm, Harald meets me out front of the station - it has begun to rain. We begin our journey to the appointment about an hour away in Wildpoldsried. The rain is quite severe at times and Harald explains that the Alps are usually visible.

There are mountains back there...honest!

We are early so we try to find somewhere to eat lunch. This is not an easy task - apparently, all of the restaurants are closed on Mondays. We locate the seemingly one cafe open and enter. It seems that they are not open either except that today there are people who came to see how the town is set up. It seems that the town generates its own electricity and is completely self-sufficient.

The restaurant

I think if it had not been for that bus load of people, we might not have been able to eat. After the meeting, we drive back to Ulm. The meeting for tomorrow has been cancelled so we are making alternate plans.

I will be staying overnight in Ulm and tomorrow morning I will do some training with Harald and Michaela (Jen’s colleagues). Harald drops me off at the hotel and tells me Michaela will come by at 20:00 for dinner. I check-in and settle into my room. I note a brochure on the desk about what is close to the hotel...I see that a church is a few minute walk. I will check this out before it gets too dark. The desk clerk gives me directions and a map (I see by Google that it is a two minute walk) and I head out.

To the Ulmer Münster 
The Ulmer Münster is taller than the Kölner Dom

This church is as domineering as the Kölner Dom...but it is now a Lutheran church instead of Catholic.

The Ulmer Münster

Like the Kölner Dom, the Ulmer Münster began in the gothic period but was not completed until the late 19th century. Most of the buildings around the church were destroyed but the church survived relatively intact. As Michaela was describing to me later, the tall steeple was used as a landmark for bombing.

The Lego church
Images from the Kölner Münster 

At 20:00, Michaela is in the lobby to meet me. She suggests a walk to find somewhere to eat in the Altstadt. I did not get to see this part of the city on my way to the church so I am happy to be able to tour the old city center.

The Altstadt

She shows me some of the more interesting parts of the Altstadt - buildings that are preserved despite their obvious crookedness, she explains how much of the area is new construction after the war but there is a desire to preserve the old buildings now.

Not my camera angle...
This building (now a hotel) is really this crooked
The Rathause
Not sure what the inside looks like...
This one, too, is leaning

We stop to eat at a restaurant near the Danube. I order the Käsespätzle, which is a traditional dish found in the south German regions.

The käsespätzle is delicious

Michaela suggests a walk along the Danube after dinner. She says there are rose gardens we can see - or maybe only smell since it is getting dark. The day's rain has laden the rose blooms with water...they are all bowing their heads as if saying it is time to sleep.

The rose garden

When I return to the hotel, I am exhausted. I cannot even keep my eyes open one moment more. I set the alarm - I am meeting Harald and Michaela at 8:00 for some training so I must be sure I am ready to go.

Gute Nacht!

Dienstag, 16 Juni

Oh! This alarm at 6:00 is very disturbing. I am still tired. I roll over and...fall back asleep. Uh oh. At 7:00, I wake up (again) and realize I need to hustle now. I had planned on washing my hair...it has needed it since swimming in the pool. Now I will not have time to dry it...but at least I can wash it. At 8:05 Michaela appears. She says that we will walk to the train station and put my luggage in a locker so I don't have to tote it around. Then we head back towards the Münsterplatz to find a cafe. We are soon joined by Harald and we have some good (work) discussions and training. It is nice to work in the shadow of the Ulmer Münster.

The journey north

At 10:20, I walk back to the train station to collect my suitcase and start my journey northward. I will have two connections...I am a little concerned because there are only scant minutes for me to make the change. And I must make the connections or I will be stranded in Uelzen until Jens can pick me up. Harald assures me that I will have no problem.

My route...not as direct as the route south but good enough

I watch the scenery speed by (the ICE...intercontinental express...travels around 145 kph). Towns and villages a blur, sometimes a village will be visible in the distance or peeking out from between softly rolling hills.

I am able to make all of my connections easily and eventually I am back in Uelzen. Since I am early for Olaf to pick me up I have a cappuccino and a “Franz Brötchen” which is just a croissant with cinnamon inside.

Back at the Uelzen Bahnhof

A bit after 17:00, Olaf sends word that he is leaving work and will pick me up shortly. Soon we are on our way back to Dannenberg.

I am invited up for a small dinner and Dino-Zug watching. While Johannes is completing his nighttime ritual, I return downstairs to wait for Olaf to emerge for the Tuesday therapy session at Lina’s. I check to see if the work email server is back up (it isn’t) so I upload a presentation to the cloud (this will take a while). Olaf knocks on my window and I leave the computer to do its work and we walk into town. The same gang is there that I have encountered at the previous therapy sessions. They welcome me back and the conversation (and drinking) begins. Soon, it is much later than Olaf wanted to stay (and more drinks than Olaf wanted to consume) so we must say our farewells.

Ugh - 12:30 is very late after This long day...

MITTWOCH, 17 JUNi

So, as I have previously noted, for (almost) the entire time I have been in the north part of Germany the morning begins with a brightly shining sun. It is almost screaming, “wake up!” But...the sun is lazy and it allows the clouds to invade the sky...so in less than two hours, there is considerable coverage of the sun although it makes valiant attempts to send out rays. Olaf asks if I am awake and would I like a coffee. Absolutely! I am very low on the coffee I have left and I still cannot make a decent cup (just passable). He drops off a cup on his way to work and I return to bed to sip my caffeine.

Very much needed coffee

The plan for today is that Jens will pick me up at 16:30 and we will drive to Osterode to a good friend’s house where we will spend the night. Tomorrow we will travel on to Bremen where we have an appointment at a pet food company. I rise, change, re-pack my suitcase, and settle in to do some work. The email server for work is finally back up so I have quite a few emails to answer. Annnddd...it is down again. Ok. I step outside to talk to Karen as I see that she is out front having a smoke and I tell her what my plans are. I also want to check on the baby birds...when I last saw them, their eyes were still closed...blind to the surrounding world. A peek into the nest shows five (!) little chicks. And their eyes all are open! They are so very still...so easy to blend into the nest...but it is a little disconcerting to see so many unmoving, unblinking eyes staring back at you.

So very still
So very quiet

Jens arrives a little before 17:00 to pick me up and we start our couple hour journey to our destination. In several areas, we are stymied by construction and detours and closed freeway exits. We finally arrive at Jens’ friend’s house and I am introduced to Lina, Steve’s wife (I met Steve last November in Hamburg). Steve is out of town for the evening and we are going to stay with her overnight.

Osterode am harz

The interior of the house is very new and modern and the exterior is the requisite brick (albeit white - not red). The house sits on a hill (so very nice views...just not so much today) on quite a large section of land.

A wonderful evening of pizza, red wine, and truffles...but it is soon very late.

2:30!! Everyone to bed!

Donnerstag, 18 Juni

I wake with the alarm at 7:30. I don't want to get out of bed but I hear the children upstairs so I need to begin my day. I open the window shades and see that it is...cloudy! Yay! I get dressed, repack my suitcase, and go upstairs. Jens is already awake as are the children and Lina. Jens has had word that our meeting in Bremen today is cancelled - the person to whom we are to speak with is ill and no one else is interested in taking the meeting. We take a small breakfast and some much needed coffee and soon we are on our way back to the Wendland.

Welcome back to Dannenberg

I am welcomed back to Dannenberg with angry clouds that promise rain. Karen, Johannes, and I go to the market to buy something for dinner. Sure enough, the promise of rain has been fulfilled as the sky opens up during our walk. As we eat dinner, we hear the music of the marching band that signals the coming of the Schützenfest. Johannes runs out to the street to watch and Karen shortly follows. Olaf and I are not far behind.

Oh no! I missed part of the parade...
But it is fairly long...
So I did not miss it all
Love the glasses!

Freitag, 19 Juni

The angry clouds of yesterday afternoon linger this morning...defiantly eschewing everyone’s wishes for them to move on. I sit up - it is almost 7:00...and a light knock on my door indicates that my morning cup of good coffee has been delivered. I open the door and thank Olaf profusely as he heads off to work. I quickly retreat to the warm bed to wake up with the coffee, singing birds, and some contemplation.

The cascade of pink rose blooms outside my window
The chicks are getting bigger and fully feathered...soon they will leave the nest

The plan for today is to join the Schützenfest...today is the first day. The Schützenfest is a proud institution in Germany and it is celebrated in many towns and villages usually between May and early fall. The Schützenfest is more common in the North rather than the South of the country and is found more in the villages rather than in towns and cities. One of the areas with many Schützenfest is the state of Lower Saxony (including the Wendland). The origins may have been in town defense but they are now almost exclusively male “shooting clubs” with a popular yearly festival (a carnival, dancing, music, and fireworks). The carnival officially opens when the parade marches by gathering children as it goes. They will march to the Schützenplatz and the fun will begin. Johannes and Karen will walk along with them and I will join them later with the car (sure hope I remember how to drive a stick shift).

The Schützenfest

So it is common to decorate the streets with tree branches with or without streamers in the town colors (green and yellow for Dannenberg). So, to be sure the town is properly dressed for the occasion, trees will valiantly give up their branches in the name of the Schützenfest.

The men are quite proud to be part of the regiments and wear their regalia with honor.

Johannes joining the parade

As the children join the processional, I am reminded somewhat of the pied piper...

Impressions of the carnival- day one

After the Schützenfest, we all head home for the evening. I am on my own for dinner (good thing I went to the market) and Olaf comes down later for one drink as we chat. Very soon, it is bedtime - 23:30. I can hear the revelry outside from those still partaking in the Schützenfest but it is sleep for me.

SAMSTAG, 20 JUNi

7:00 finds me awake...I rise to make a cup of not-so-good coffee. As I take my first sip, I realize that it has to be one of the worst cups I have made to date. I cannot actually drink it. Olaf knocks around 10:00 and asks if I would like to go to Lina’s with Milan (a neighbor) and himself - a group of 30 singers from Italy will be performing there.

Not a moment too soon!

I thought the performers were very good. Mostly Italian music (of course) but I did hear a Simon and Garfunkel song and a song from Sara McLaughlin as we left.

The town is bedecked for Schützenfest

So this is one very eccentric fellow over my shoulder...I do not know what to make of him. Olaf says he has been that way forever...

What an odd fellow over my shoulder...

But he is quite interested in the musical performance this morning.

We leave and after a short trip to Olaf’s Oma and we are back at home. But only for a short time. Olaf says we are going to the Schützenfest- I have only a few minutes before we leave.

We drive to the carnival, park, and enter. The first order of business for Olaf and me is to find some food - we are starving. Johannes spots a friend and runs off to join her.

Schützenfest day two

Olaf suggests a dish of meat with onions (it is quite good) and he has a bratwurst. We wander around the carnival while keeping an eye on Johannes and looking for Karen who will join us.

This ride is so very fast! And fun!
Cool father and son...
A “marksman”...he actually misses all three shots
These are headed our way...

The weather has not been too particularly kind but the short showers do not do much to deter the enjoyment of the carnival. One last ride and we are heading out. Karen and Johannes stop at a food booth and Olaf and I leave to stop at the store for some essentials before going home.

Everyone needs a dragon (not a scorpion) ballon...completes the outfit

While we are at the store, the sky unleashes a torrential downpour, which soaks us as we load the groceries in the car. A short drive home and we seek the shelter of our respective abodes. I note that I have not heard the chirps of the baby birds in a while and as I peer into the nest, I see that it is empty. It seems fitting that the nest that was in its infancy the last trip has fulfilled its duty...bringing five small beings from egg through to fledglings. But it is sad to see the nest barren...

Devoid of life...

Olaf had indicated that we would likely return to the Schützenfest in the evening. I use the few hours I have to dry my clothes on the heater and wash my hair (always an ordeal). I also make some food for dinner. Olaf emerges around 21:30 and says that he is not sure about the Schützenfest tonight (there is always tomorrow) and he thinks it is too cold to sit outside and it is too early for a Saturday to do nothing. He suggests a few drinks at The Fritz or the Irish pub. I suggest the pub, at least we can get a decent vodka lemon, hear some decent music, and Olaf can smoke inside (always a plus).

An empty glass...time to leave

Two drinks, some pretzel sticks and potato chips, great conversation and people watching, and two hours and it is time to leave. We make the short walk home - I thank him for a pleasant evening and bid him “schlaf schön” (sleep well). I am soon in the cozy warm bed and I am thinking of tomorrow...and that it is my last full day here. I drift to sleep with a heavy heart.

Sonntag, 21 JuNi

The brightly shining sun wakes me early...I refuse its pull and settle back to sleep for a few more hours. At 8:00 it is time to rise but I see the sun is now fighting with the clouds for supremacy in the sky. As the morning marches on...it appears that the clouds are winning. I am working on my computer and I hear conversations outside. I know that Karen and her mother are out there as well as Gunter (a neighbor). After some time, Olaf knocks and hands me a coffee and says that he has some errands to do then he will return. I step outside to speak with Karen’s mother. We have a short conversation as her English is as limited as my German.

Schützenfest day three

Around 12:30, I am invited up for a quick lunch - the Schützen are marching through town again to the Schützenplatz and Johannes wants to be sure to see it.

Here they come
Marching by...
There they go

We return to the house and out to the garden - a terrace is getting a facelift tomorrow and there are plants and furniture to move. I bring my computer so I can continue working. Soon, the manual labor is done and Olaf says he will come to get me when they are leaving to the Schützenfest. A knock at my door thirty minutes later signals today’s next phase. Off to the Schützenfest.

Unlike the “marksman” from yesterday, he actually hit the target
The beer stand is always very popular

At 19:30, it is time to leave - it is almost Johannes’ bedtime. Olaf says we will be back in the evening after dark for the fireworks and maybe a few rides on the “Break Dancer.” After Johannes is washed and has been read his bedtime story (this time, it is a book about a little ghost who has an owl as a friend and his greatest wish (the ghost not the owl) is to be able to be out in the daytime). We have a small cup of coffee and are soon joined by Karen as she comes up from the garden. I make my farewells to her - she will not be awake when I leave in the morning. She says I must return soon...especially to help teach Johannes English.

Soon, Olaf and I are walking back to the Schützenfest (better than by car or bike in this instance). It is almost dark when we arrive and the fireworks that signify the end of the Schützenfest will start at 22:30. We are about to ride the “Break Dancer” when we see that it is almost time for the display. We climb the banks of the river to get a better view and wait. And wait. And wait some more. It seems the legendary German punctuality is missing this night. But finally the show begins.

Fireworks ending the Schützenfest

After the finale, we retreat for another two rounds on the Break Dancer and, as the carnival is packing up, we leave to walk home. We say good night, we both must wake early the next day - he will be taking me to the Uelzen Bahnhof when he goes to work.

So ends my last full day in Germany

Montag, 22 Juni

I wake with the alarm and I know I have to get up right away...no time to linger. I change and finish the packing of my computer bag and suitcase. I am early so I sit down to a small bowl of Schokomuesli (super yummy) and wait for Olaf. He arrives three minutes before 7:00 with a travel cup filled with coffee (what a life saver) and we begin our journey to Uelzen. I am silent (not so unusual for me) because of my melancholy. Soon we arrive at the train station and Olaf wishes me a safe journey. He drives off and I am left to my own devices.

The final journey

Once inside, I have a few decisions to make. When do I take my train - there are many from Uelzen to Hamburg and they take only about an hour - and should I have another coffee. If I take the 9:03 train, I will have plenty of time for a coffee. I check the DB app on my phone...there is also an 8:43 train. I decide that is the better one and I purchase the ticket. I have made mention before about the Uelzen train depot. It certainly is unique - at least among the ones I have seen.

Yes, plants are growing on the roof
My route to Hamburg

The train to Hamburg is direct - I do not need to change trains except in Hamburg I need to switch to the S Bahn (city train). I find the platform but the issue here is that the first three cars are going to the airport but the last three cars are going to a different location. As the train pulls up, I see that I am by the rear of the train (figures). As I walk forward, I try to count the cars but it is difficult. I see a group of people moving quickly to one car. Since they are all toting luggage, I decide to follow suit. A good decision.

Hamburg Hbf

Once I arrive at the airport, I need to check in but there is a problem with my ticket and it takes some time to sort out. Finally, I have my boarding pass and I go through security to my gate. Two hours later and it is time to begin my trip home. In Frankfurt, I need to find some food so, after passport control, I wander to see what is available. The kiosks offering frankfurters are absent in this international terminal - I should have purchased something when I got off in the domestic terminal. I find a McDonald's and get some food.

Frankfurt airport

Soon it is time to board the plane for San Francisco. I settle in to my small seat and fall asleep. I wake some hours later and I check my watch to see the time. I note that it is 21:00...and I realize, it is not really 21:00. With a heavy heart and a heavy hand, I slowly move my watch back nine hours.

Auf Wiedersehen liebe Deutschland 
Created By
Melinda Culver
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Melinda Culver