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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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...
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.
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...
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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 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.
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.
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.
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...
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
The bunny house
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.
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...
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.
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...
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.
Once out of their crate, they both soon discover the safety of the spot under the hutch.
When all the people leave, the rabbits come out of hiding to explore their new home.
The journey 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
As the children join the processional, I am reminded somewhat of the pied piper...
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.
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.
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...
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.