End of winter blues, my solitary studio routine, and homesickness were getting me down last week. I mentioned to Andreas that my routine was beginning to feel like Groundhog Day the movie in its predictability. So, Andreas suggested a weekend getaway to somewhere new. Goslar, slightly north of center in Germany was chosen. I like older German architecture and he likes hiking and geocaching thus Goslar, a UNESCO World Heritage site on the edge of the Harz Mountains was chosen. Goslar is one of the top 10 towns in Germany that wasn’t bombed during WWII.
We spent two days in the town mostly walking here and there looking for geocaches and cool things to photograph. It’s a wonderful place for a weekend getaway.
Traveling south and inland we were happy to see signs of spring arriving. Flowers, flowering trees and some sunshine. I’m looking forward to warmer weather.
How do you know how many clothes you’ll need for a year in a different country? If you only want to move with a suitcase and a backpack which pieces are most important? These are hard questions to answer. Andreas and I wanted to bring the minimal amount that we might need with us to Germany. We had to plan for three seasons, a month in the Arctic and other travel. (The institute Andreas is doing research with provided us with cold weather gear in the Arctic. We didn’t expect that)
Today I took a photo of everything we brought to wear and then a second photo of what we’ve actually needed from summer through winter.
Andreas, being a guy and having a job that doesn’t require a lot of dressing up, was better prepared to pack with less choices. He only owns two pairs of shoes and two pairs of pants to begin with.
I on the other hand had more options to choose from. Even though I try to have only the essentials in my closet, my life required a few “costume” changes during the day. I used to begin my day as a teacher in a business casual costume, then come home and change into jeans and a t-shirt to go shopping or for a walk. If my private art students were painting or if I was going out with friends I would change again in the evening.
In Germany I can work from home (sweatpants and a t-shirt) and when I leave the apartment, I trade the sweatpants for jeans. Still a costume change but an easy choice. I tried to only pack the minimal amount of clothing I would want physically and psychologically. I figured that if I really needed anything, I could go shopping. I was mostly afraid of boredom from wearing the same clothes every week. This is why I brought fourteen t-shirts and eight scarves, so I would have variety. Honestly, I’m so happy to be able to wear comfortable clothes everyday that I’m not bored at all by limited choices. My husband isn’t bored looking at me in the same clothes everyday because he’s not paying attention to those things.
So, what did we bring and what did we need? Andreas brought: shoes 2, sweaters 3, jackets 4, t-shirts 9, dress shirts 8, pants 2, shorts 4, biking rain gear 1, gloves 3, scarf 1, hats 3. What he actually needed or has worn: shoes 2, jackets 3, t-shirts 9, dress shirts 4, pants 2, biking rain gear 1, gloves 0, scarf 0 and hats 2. So, he was pretty right on. The only things he over packed were dress shirts, sweaters and jackets. He doesn’t feel the cold so much.
I brought: shoes 3, jackets 4, t-shirts 14, pants 3 (1 jeans, 1 sweatpants, 1 leggings) shorts 2, skirts 4, biking rain gear 1, gloves 3, scarves 8, hats 4, bathing suit 1. What I’ve used: shoes 3, jackets 3, t-shirts 10, pants 3, shorts 1, skirts 1, biking rain gear 0, gloves 1, scarves 8, hats 2 and bathing suit 0. Pretty close, but I could have packed less and been happy. We also packed seven pairs of underwear and socks each. The socks are wearing out fast because we walk and bicycle instead of drive.
So, how much do you need and which pieces are important? I’d say enough for a week and of course, everyone has different needs. When we travel around Europe, we bring a t-shirt, underwear and socks for each day, a pair of pants and a jacket. We’ve never wished that we had brought more.
I wrote this blog as a reminder to us that we don’t need to pack so much and that we are just as happy with less. I hope that when we return home, we (we mostly meaning me) will continue to live with a smaller wardrobe and cut down on shopping. Also, a reminder to our traveling friends to relax about packing, and that it’s easier to travel with smaller lighter bags.
In the US I am a proud member of an Artist Collective called Trashy Women. We are a collective of nine women artists who all have our own artistic specialties. There are painters, ceramicists, jewelers, sculptors, glass workers and some of us work in all these mediums. When we meet as a collective and show together, we make art out of found objects and trash. Some people called it upcycling which is a useful step up from recycling.
In March the Trashy Women will be having a show at the Gibby Center for the Arts in Middletown, Delaware. I really wanted to participate in this show but I’m almost 4,000 miles away in Bremerhaven Germany this year. Bremerhaven has no shortage of garbage, but my tools and art supplies are in the States in my studio. So, what can I create for this show? I had collected a pile of beach glass from the Weser-Strandbad and some broken shards from the street but I wasn’t sure how I was going to put it together without my stained-glass supplies.
I walked to the hardware store for inspiration and found some wire in the gardening section. I figured I could wrap the glass with the wire and create an image from there. An insane, time-consuming undertaking, but what are sabbaticals for if not for projects like this?
I started with a piece of paper equaling the dimensions of the mailing box I picked up from the post office. I wasn’t taking any chances with shipping. Ha ha.
Then I drew an image on the paper and placed the glass on the image using colors and shapes that I felt were appropriate. Once the image was realized I proceeded to wrap each piece with wire and then connected the pieces together. Connecting the pieces was tricky, especially on the first window. I developed a method of “sewing” them together with the wire.
By the third one I was a pro. Like all things I make they are over engineered and extra strong. Probably much stronger than they need to be.
I then had to figure out how to hang them. I didn’t see any chain around that I liked, so I used some left-over yarn from a scarf I knitted for my sister-in-law and double knitted some rope. In Diez I found key rings to hang them from hooks in the show.
So yeah, they’re weird and very different from what I would have created in my comfort zone at home. I’m happy with how they turned out and they’re very interesting in the sunlight. The wave has sold already from a social media posting and I’m hoping the other two find good homes at the show. After my painting show at Art Impressions Gallery in Bremerhaven on April 27th, I’m hoping to make more.
We headed south by train last week to Diez to visit Andreas’ brother and sister-in-law, also my in-laws now I’m happy to say.
We arrived mid-day Thursday with a box of Bremerhaven smoked fish and an eel wrapped in newspaper. That evening, after dinner, Andreas’ brother Burkhard put an old card game in a cigar box, that he had been storing in his basement on the table. The cards were of tractors, race cars, tanks and ships. I’m not sure how the game was meant to be played but young Andreas had been fascinated by the stats of the various vehicles on the cards and had organized and ranked them accordingly as a kid in the 60’s. We ended up throwing away all but the icebreaker ship. (they were stinky)
Friday, we traveled by car on the Autobahn (oh boy!) to Weilburg where we had a yummy, roadside Currywurst lunch and then visited the Rosenhang Art Museum. The Museum was created in a renovated brewery and the eclectic mix of modern art presented is all part of a private collection.
In fact, the owners of this space and collection also sell tickets and walk around monitoring and greeting the visitors. Some of the brewery equipment is still in place and the gallery spaces are rough, weird and totally refreshing after years of experiencing art on boring white walls.
Later that evening Burkhard and my new sister-in-law Carina hosted a homemade pizza dinner party with their friends. We had a great time and ate and drank too much.
On Saturday Andreas, Burkhard and I visited Limburg to do some shopping and sight seeing. Limburg has some great older architecture that survived the war.
We also got to see some of Burkhard’s restoration work. He’s a master craftsman specializing in restoring very old wooden windows
After Limburg we returned to Diez for coffee and cake and then to see Burkhard’s latest project, the restoration of an entire home.
The next day we drove to Carina’s hometown to have coffee with her parents. Her mother always presents a beautiful table with delicate china, flowers and homemade cakes. It’s really special and her cakes and coffee are wonderful.
Later that night everyone settled in in front of the TV, two of us with our knitting, to watch a German Survivor re-cap show and some strange game show where the contestants were popping balloons with radio controlled cars.
On Monday, before we returned home, Andreas and I walked to town for coffee and to see the bookstore’s new window. The woman who works there creates really cool scenes with cut-out and painted cardboard.
I’ll leave you with a little bit of Diez history that has haunted me since our visit last Christmas. These stairs connect the shopping district to the neighborhood we were staying in and we walked them every day.
This sign says:
Down these stairs, 41 Jewish orphans and their tutors were taken in a dark night in a pogrom-like action on 20 August 1935 by Nazi-sympathizing local citizens from the Israelite orphanage next to the castle and were pushed to the marketplace. The next day they were deported to Frankfurt. The married couple who directed the orphanage were probably murdered in concentration camps along with many of the children.
In memory of the victims
A warning to the living
(“Translating the inscription, I am appalled by its poor writing. A pogrom is described as “pogrom-like,” violent pushing, beating, and yelling at the Jewish children is described as an “action,” and local citizens are described as “Nazi-sympathizing local citizen.” The voice is passive and the violence is implied. The first sentence reads poorly, because it names neither the perpetrators nor their actions.” ~ Andreas Muenchow)
According to Wikipedia the Jews in Diez can be traced back to the Middle Ages around 1286, but after WWII, “Almost nothing remains of a Jewish presence in Diez.”
Diez and Limburg are really beautiful cities. If you’re traveling through Germany, I recommend them.
There are a few things about being on sabbatical in a country where I don’t speak the language that have been particularly hard on me. One, I don’t like doing a lot on my own that involves interacting with other people, and two, the lack of empathy that my native speaking German husband has about number one.
Yes, I know a few German words and some people here speak a little bit of English, but it’s awkward and tiring for both sides. I don’t stay home all day, I go out for walks and pick up whatever shopping the apartment may need. However, one thing that I haven’t felt like doing is going out to eat by myself. My reasons are I can only translate small bits of the menu, I don’t understand the waiters, they don’t understand me and I feel that it’s boring and lonely to eat alone. My husband thinks my reluctance is due to a lack of confidence. He doesn’t see the “big deal” with any of these reasons. He, the confident, native speaking male goes out for lunch or coffee at whim.
Two weeks ago, this came to a head when I was sick and suggested that we go out for burgers and fries. I had had a craving. He didn’t want to eat those things and said no. At the end of the week he made a reservation at a restaurant he knew for sure didn’t have these things to punish my “lack of confidence.” In his mind I should have gone to a restaurant on my own if I wanted a burger or fries. You can imagine how well that went over.
Anyway, it made me think that maybe I should try to go out to lunch on my own. There are a few restaurants in town that I’ve been asking him to visit with me since July. I decided to give each one a try and see how the experience goes. If it goes well, great, I’ll start going out more by myself and if the experience isn’t good at least I tried and he can stop being a jerk about it.
Monday, day one: Milchbar Cafe’.
Ok, Milchbar Cafe’ was a success. I admit I started with something easy. It’s a 50’s style American themed restaurant. Ha ha. Most of the menu is in English. Is that cheating? I don’t care. I had a beautiful burger. It looked like a photo in a menu. You know how the food is always beautiful in the menu photos but then a disappointment in real life? This burger did not disappoint. Good fries too, and a coke bottled in Berlin. I was the only one in the restaurant. The waitress knew as soon as I opened my American mouth that not much German was going to come out of it. She apologized saying her English was terrible. I apologized back saying my German was terrible. We figured out my order anyway.
After my food arrived two women and a man came in for milkshakes. The man absentmindedly whistled under his breath to the juke box’s Rock around the Clock and Tequila while the women checked their phones.
So, day one, pretty good. A little boring and lonely but not horrible because the busy road outside the window was pretty entertaining. I’m ready for day two.
Tuesday, day two: Pier 6
I’ve been asking to go to Pier 6 restaurant since we received a recommendation from Andreas’ co-worker last summer. So today was a big day. Pier 6 is a pretty nice restaurant by the harbor and I read that they have a Snack Karte or menu in the middle of the afternoon. So, I went for a long walk that ended at the restaurant. I asked the waitress if the table I had chosen was OK and she said yes, but that they’re only serving drinks. I said, no Snack Karte? She said no, the chef called out sick and there wouldn’t be any food until the evening shift came in. So, out I go.
I walked around the harbor to the Übersee Bistro. I asked for a coffee and sat down to look at the menu. The waitress said they weren’t serving food until six so I had coffee for lunch. I was the only one in the place. The waitress had a nice tattoo on her forearm. I commented on it and showed her a little bit of the one on my arm. She then proceeded to show me other tattoos pulling her shirt up, down and all around. Nice girl, I tipped her half the price of the coffee for the tattoo show.
Wednesday, day three: The Strom
The Strom Restaurant is located on the bottom floor of the Atlantic Hotel. The hotel is shaped like a sail and is in the background of most of my Bremerhaven photos as well as every postcard you can buy here. It’s located on the Weser River at the top of the dike. I walk past it a few times a week and have been curious. The inside of the restaurant was a surprise. The beams on the ceiling radiate out from a main breakfast bar area in a sun pattern. The room is painted in different oranges hues and I picked a sunny day so the place was glowing. I sat next to a heater by the window which was very cozy. Much warmer than our apartment.
The waitress was mildly distressed that English was being spoken but she did well and I threw in as much German as I knew to try to help her out. I passed up on the Essence of Water Buffalo with vegetables and herbs for Hähnchenbrustfilet. Google translate choked on this word so I’ll tell you it means chicken something or other. I ordered chicken because we never eat it a home. Andreas doesn’t like it and I hate to cook it. So, Hähnchenbrustfilet with curry pear savoy vegetables (sounds better than it was) and dumplings. The dumplings looked and tasted suspiciously like potato pancakes. Lunch was artfully placed on a plate that was struggling to be just as artsy. It was good. I brought my book with me for company.
Thursday, day four: Der Wasserschout
Der Wasserschout is a little building built in 1897 as a Lock Keeper’s house by the old harbor. The website said that they didn’t open until three, which was fine for a late lunch. I walked across town to the restaurant to find out that yes, it was open at three but they didn’t serve food until five. The waitress was pretty annoyed to have to tell me this in English. Did it say something on the website in German or was there a sign posted? Yes, If I had bothered to translate the website before I left the apartment, I would have noticed that. So, back home and no lunch today.
Friday, day five: Casper, David & Co.
Casper, David is located across from the tiny Modern Art Museum. It has a bar so I can sit by myself without feeling like I’m hogging a whole table.
I went for Hähnchenbrustfilet again because I learned the word on Wednesday. I didn’t have to pronounce it because it was in the “Casper Sandwich.” Ha ha! I cheat! Anyway, I gave my whole order today in German, thank you very much. The waitress was nice and even though she raised an eyebrow at my pronunciation she didn’t look annoyed.
The coffee was the best so far and I had a pretty good time reading my book and munching pommes. An older man came up to the counter to pick up take out and started chatting with me. I have no idea what he said, but he seemed nice too. I like Casper, David and I’ll visit again.
My experiment has ended. Will I continue to eat out every day? No, of course not. I just wanted to jump into the pool with both feet and no noodle. I may go out more often though, and be a little less sad about Andreas not wanting to join me. I have to thank him for giving me a push out the door.
Sometimes in life you pick favorites. It’s discouraged, right? Even though people ask for an opinion of a favorite this or that all of the time, we are encouraged to keep an open mind to discover new things. I have a favorite German city, just in case you were wondering. It’s Lubeck, and yes, I do have an open mind about it. I expect to discover another even more wonderful city during my year abroad, but in six months Lübeck still wins.
I convinced my brother and his family that we must visit Lübeck during our eleven-day excursion. Andreas and I chose our favorite Airbnb and booked the whole thing last spring.
Three bedrooms and two shared kitchens and baths. I thought that having this much “space” would be good for the six of us. I wasn’t aware that what I think is a lot of space is very tiny for other people. My brother and his family are use to more space and more bathrooms. The Airbnb was referred to as “another one of Dragonfly’s dollhouses”. Ha ha, so true. I can see it now in retrospect and have learned a lesson. Sorry to smoosh you in there, family.
In Lübeck we found ourselves splitting off into little groups. Brother and sister-in-law to the Christmas market for Glühwein while Uncle Andreas and Auntie Fly hang out with the kids, sister-in-law and I yarn and resale shopping, Andreas and shorter nephew Geocaching the island with seven finds! We also went out to dinner as a group. My husband is a very patient menu translator, a saint really.
We planned one special lunch to introduce my family to Andreas’ local family as we were newly married three weeks before. We chose a restaurant in the cellar of the Heiligen-Geist Hospital. It is one of the oldest existing social institutions in the world founded in 1227. I regret not photographing the interior, it was cool and I hope to tour the rest of the building when we visit again. (Check it out here) Andreas’ parents, Aunt and older cousin were able to attend. We had a very nice lunch and I would recommend the restaurant. (English menus! Andreas had the day off.)
After lunch we visited Jakobikirche. The church of the seafarers built around 1300. Andreas’ aunt mentioned that she hadn’t been inside in years. She said it’s where the town stored the bread reserves during WWII.
My brother and entourage moved on to Berlin the next day so we invited Andreas’ parents to join us for a night in the Airbnb. They are local to Lübeck and we thought they would enjoy seeing the place and its special location.
We toured the city and visited the large Buniamshof sports complex that Christa’s father managed from 1950 to 1973.
We had lunch in the Im Alten Zolln bar nearby that Christa’s father liked to visit. When he visited for too long Lothar would fetch him home in the days before Andreas was born. It was nice listening to Andreas’ parents reminisce about the days before they were married.
The next morning, after a huge breakfast at Café Calma where Christa made a beautiful salad bouquet, we were back on the train happy to be returning to Bremerhaven and a few quiet months at home. Goodbye Lübeck, you are my go to place for art supplies (no good arts and crafts places in Bremerhaven), fun cafe’s, cute shops and beautiful churches. I can’t get lost when I visit because you are a small island and that comforts me. Until next time, my favorite.
Next stop on the Christmas train was Bremerhaven, Germany. We hoped that a couple of days in Bremerhaven at our apartment might be a relaxing place for Christmas.
We arrived on the 23rd, checked brother and sister-in-law into their hotel by the river and then got the kids settled in at our place. On Christmas Eve morning Andreas and my brother bicycled to the outdoor market in Geestemünde and then to the fish market. I can’t believe how much food they carried back on bikes for the six of us.
Andreas created a wonderful vegetable soup while shorter nephew and I went to the zoo down the street. That’s the first time I have been to a zoo on Christmas Eve. We also stopped by a few playgrounds.
The others napped here and there and we washed many loads of laundry. Laundry involved careful timing because we don’t have a dryer, so we hung the clothes all over our apartment. My sister-in-law bought clothes line at Woolworths to hang up socks in her hotel room. She said, “My mother told me to bring a clothes line and I didn’t listen.” I would never think to travel with one, but I might now.
In the evening Andreas began to teach the German card game Skat which he plays every week with friends at home. I’m glad I wasn’t involved, there seems to be a pile of rules, what a bore. My sister-in-law and I were happy to knit and ignore. Taller nephew was absorbed in the book 1984.
Christmas morning arrived with a pickle hiding in the tiny tree, (My family says it’s a German thing?) and a few new games for the nephews.
We ate Andreas’ famous pancakes for breakfast and then settled in for more naps, laundry and games. Shorter nephew and I discovered a zip line at a local park and then he and Uncle went for a bicycle ride around town.
Andreas made a giant quantity of potato salad (which he finally finished eating Jan. 3rd) and we ate smoked fish from the fish market. I tried smoked eel for the first time. It looks scary, but it’s delicious. My wonderful husband took off the skin and deboned it for me, otherwise yuck forget it.
Coming “home” for a family holiday was in fact a good plan. We were rested, had clean skivvies and were ready to catch our next train on the 26th.
Andreas and I chose to get married halfway through our year-long honeymoon/sabbatical in Germany. Two weeks ago, we flew home to America to see friends, to go through a huge pile of mail, and to reinforce our dislike of suburban car culture. Oh, and we got married too.
Saturday night came the wedding reception. We had a potluck party at our home with friends and family. It was great to catch up with everyone. We did not expect to be able to see our friends until well into next year, so this was truly fun and special.
Sunday afternoon my Uncle George officiated our wedding. This was a small affair with eleven people in our living room in front of the fire.
We toasted to our commitment to love and cherish with fancy champagne gifted from friends. This was not planned, because we received the champagne the night before. Half our guest had toasts prepared and delivered them while we stood in a circle with our glasses. I love this memory and recommend small weddings. We then moved on to a local restaurant. With so few people we conversed easily and fully enjoyed the experience.
Next year, our jeweler friend Caryn Hetherston will deliver the rings she is handcrafting to Germany when she visits and, perhaps, Andreas will propose. Ha ha
The best time to visit a coastal town is in the winter: frosty cold, deserted streets, gray skies, sleepy shops, and empty beaches for miles. Neustadt in Holstein on the Baltic Sea in Germany did not disappoint as a beautiful, quiet getaway.
Andreas and I traveled there to visit his parents for a few days. We had a wonderful stay in a “French” shabby chic Airbnb in town. The rooms were full of knickknacks and EVERYTHING was painted white so it all sort of blended together. Not my thing and not Andreas’ thing either especially after he cut his finger and no band aid. Poor thing fell asleep with his hand wrapped in toilet paper hoping he would not bleed on any of the thousand white objects in the room. I’d love to share a photo but the proprietor asks that no photos of the establishment are shared.
We had a lovely visit with his parents sharing fancy coffees at their apartment and a nice dinner by the water. We also had a wonderful German breakfast and I ate my first soft-boiled egg after a sad, sloppy job of breaking the top of the shell, rookie mistake.
We took advantage of the gray, cold weather by walking a few miles along the Baltic following a sculpture trail towards the family campsite.
Neustadt also has a horrifically sad story to tell from the end of WWII on this coast. The Neuengamme Concentration Camp near Hamburg was emptied and the prisoners were put on decommissioned ships in the Bay of Lübeck to prevent them from being liberated alive by rapidly advancing British troops the last days of the war. The prisoners were put below decks without food and water, and survival gear was replaced with dynamite charges to sink the ship. Barges of women and children from Stutthof and Mittelbau-Dora camps were also sent to the ships already holding 9000 prisoners, but they were turned away because the ships were full. Their SS guards sailed the barges to the beach where they shot women and children aboard with machine guns. The ships were then mistakenly bombed by the British Royal Air Force. The few survivors able to reach the beaches from the ships were shot on the beach. When the British Army arrived later in the day, they found empty camps, burning ships, and corpses of the murdered on the beach. We visited a mass grave and a marker along the path. There is, of course, much more to this story.
I live in a smallish, northern, German city on the Weser River. Bremerhaven has five first class museums (that I know of) and a zoo. All of these are a short walking distance from my apartment. Exciting for a suburban girl from Delaware.
This morning Andreas’ graduate student, Cassandra from New York, (so upstate she can “see” Canada from her house) and I decided to visit Zoo am Meer. (zoo next to the sea). We chose to go on an icy cold day because the zoo is home to mostly colder climate animals and creatures that live in the water, including an Eisbär (polar bear). I’m not a huge fan of zoos and I certainly did not want to see the poor polar bear in the heat of summer. Thus, a frosty November morning seemed like happy polar bear weather.
Before moving to Bremerhaven, I read a short chapter in a German guide book describing the city. The book suggested that Bremerhaven was good for a day visit at most, and there was a very strange zoo created out of cement to look like a giant rock.
The zoo is strange, however, I really enjoyed my visit. It may be because Cassandra and I were the only visitors for a while. The habitats were nice and well planned around a climbing area for children in the giant rock landscape. Most of the animals seemed pretty content for being stuck in a zoo in Bremerhaven, including the polar bear.