My Germany bucket/wish list for this sabbatical year is checked off. I created a new body of work, had an art exhibit, and last week I was given the opportunity to speak to five high school art classes. I was also invited to visit their school and interact with the students as they worked on their projects.
Since I’m an art instructor in America and students in Germany study English, I thought it would be fun to visit a class to show them my artwork and have conversations in English. Through my show at Art Impressions Gallery I became friendly with the gallery owner, Fernando Valero who invited me to his garden birthday party. There I met local high school art teacher, Christiane Matthai who teaches at the Geschwister Scholl Schule in Bremerhaven. I told her I was interested in speaking to students and she not only brought her students to my exhibit but invited me to her classroom.
Both experiences were wonderful. At the gallery I spoke about the theme for my show and then a little bit about each work individually. I shared my inspiration for the images and the watercolor and watercolor pencil techniques used in rendering them.
I showed a Power Point presentation that I prepared on the Ship last summer for the scientists about the other art mediums I work in, and about my past artistic and work experiences. I wanted the students to know that I haven’t made a career out of painting old women in diners, I also paint goats on skateboards, make stained glass windows from garbage and drive an Art Car.
I really enjoyed each class. I was curious about the similarities and differences I would observe comparing German kids to American kids. No differences I could see or sense bar one and that was that the German students showed more independence. The teacher was recently sick and I asked her if she had to pay for her substitute like the teachers do in California. She said that that subs are not hired for high school classes. Her students acquired the key for the room, worked independently and cleaned up after themselves. That was shocking to me. I could see how it was possible though after spending time in her classroom. I observed the students set up their projects, work independently when their teacher wasn’t giving them one on one time, and clean up their area. They spoke to each other quietly and worked steadily throughout the long class period without need for redirection.
The German student’s clothing, shoes, hair styles and demeanor were so similar to my students. I told them if I saw them in America I would never guess that they were from Germany unless they spoke to me. It’s interesting how access to the internet is changing design cross culturally. Also, their English vocabulary and pronunciation was very good; better than they think it is.
I feel very lucky to be given this experience and hope to work with Christiane again during our future visits.
Newark, Delaware artist Dragonfly Leathrum exhibits new work in Bremerhaven Germany. The artist exhibited seventeen watercolor and colored pencil paintings and thirteen pencil and colored pencil drawings. All artwork was created in an eight-month time span while on sabbatical.
Exhibits in Germany, thirty works created in eight months, watercolor paintings? Who is this person? Me? How did that happen? If someone had read that first paragraph to me two years ago and said that’s going to be you, I wouldn’t have believed them. I would have said that it sounds even more far fetched than some of the goals I set for myself in my sketchbook. If you follow this blog you know how this happened. If not, the cliff note version is that I met a wonderful German/ American Oceanographer just shy of two years ago. We started dating, fell in love moved in together, moved to Germany for a sabbatical, and got married. For the detailed version of that journey see previous posts.
So here I am in Germany for a year and I have the freedom for the first time in my life to dedicate most of my time to creating art, but my studio and supplies are in Newark, Delaware. I can’t paint in acrylics or oils and I can’t create stained glass windows (or can I?) without a large investment in new supplies, and then how do I ship them home? My solution to this first world, artist problem was to switch to watercolors and colored pencils. This worked well on our research trip in the Arctic and has been a wonderful solution to creating new work quickly that is easy to ship and can also fit in a suitcase.
My art goals during my stay in Bremerhaven were to 1. Practice a drawing/ painting skill that I want to improve on for future work, 2. Create a new/full body of work with one theme, in one medium that I can exhibit when I return to the States and 3. Icing on the cake, and a dream, to have a show in Germany.
So, what to paint? The blank tablet of watercolor paper asks, “What will it be, ma’am?” I ask myself what would I like to see on the wall? What do other people want to see on their walls? What’s important to document? After a lot of thought I chose to create dining companions. Portraits were my challenge that needed a lot of practice and I enjoy figure drawings more when the background gives some information. I was also a bit lonely. I chose to paint friends, relatives, people from the newspaper, a few faces from online sources and one self-portrait. If the face was interesting and the figures were in a dining situation, I was ready to paint them.
One theme and all in watercolor with colored pencil. (this is unusual for me) In the few months since I began this project my drawings and paintings have improved with practice which inspires me to keep going.
Now for a show in Germany, I approached a few galleries, some were interested but didn’t have an opening until 2020. By chance I found a gallery close to my neighborhood with an opening in April and I was able to book it. Yay, a show!
Uh oh…now I need to matte and frame thirty pieces of artwork and I can’t bring these frames home to Delaware. The Owner of Art Impressions Gallery saved me the matting costs by applying for and receiving a grant from the city for exhibiting an international artist. For frames I did something I would never consider doing in Newark and that was to purchase all the frames from IKEA with plexi windows instead of glass.
(I can hear my artist friends and my framer 4000 miles away screaming NO!!! in unison.) Those were not easy to transport on the 505 bus. I will donate them to the gallery or a school when I leave for student artists.
We had the show opening on April 27th 2019, it was a success. Four of the paintings were sold through commission, three sold through social media before the show and two sold opening night. Framing costs covered.
The local newspaper covered the show twice and I’m looking forward to two art classes from the local high school to visit the show next week.
My next goal is to complete at least three more paintings before mid-July and to apply for a grant through the Delaware Division of the Arts.
We traveled to Vienna in the Middle of April so Andreas could present at the European Geophysical Union Conference. We chose to travel by train for about eleven hours which would have been fine except that the trains we booked, and the seats we reserved, were cancelled a week before we left because of track construction. This made coming and going to Vienna pretty miserable.
We booked an Airbnb room in the Alsergrund neighborhood. Former Alsergrund residents include Mozart, Freud, Schubert and Beethoven. The rented room was nice with a little kitchen, bathroom and a view over a palace’s back garden. Also eye level with a raven’s nest. When we booked the room, we chose it for the price and how minimally it was/ was not decorated. Silly us did not consider its location in reference to the museums in Vienna or more importantly Andreas’ conference. Live and learn. It worked out in the end because our little neighborhood had some great restaurants, wasn’t touristy, and public transportation is really easy in the city.
I chose to walk everywhere. I feel like I can understand a place better by taking my time and being on the street. Thus, I walked on average six miles a day. Not too bad. Andreas prefers to move as quickly as possible from A to B so he opted for trams, the subway and bike shares. He didn’t have much time to be a tourist. He visited one site with me, otherwise we saw each other in the late evenings.
Left on my own was a bit lonely but I chose what I wanted to see in the city. Top of my list was anything related to my favorite artist Hundertwasser. Hundertwasser was a painter and an architect mainly. Vienna is home to some of his creations and has a museum that he designed that features his paintings and prints among other cool stuff. The museum was so special to me that I visited it twice.
Second on my list was the Leopold Museum which houses works from other favorite artists of mine. Namely Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, Oskar Kokoschka and their contemporaries. This museum has wonderful collections. I saw these exhibits before I visited the Hundertwasser Museum and I’m glad I did because I hadn’t realized how similar Schiele’s and Hundertwasser’s work are. I have a new appreciation for Schiele’s work after seeing more of his oeuvre.
A friend of mine on Instagram noticed my Vienna posts and alerted me to the fact that Wes Anderson and Juman Malouf curated a wonderfully bizarre exhibit at the Kunst Historisches Museum. I’m really happy I went. Not only was the exhibit incredible (I walked through it three times), but the Museum itself was lovely and I saw some artworks I wasn’t expecting to see.
On the fourth day I was art and museumed out and decided to try to be a more serious tourist and do something touristy like walk to the famous St. Stephansdom. After getting lost a nice policeman helped me find the church where I saw the floating pink art exhibit inside. I didn’t go up to the roof or down to the catacombs which are its cooler features.
On my last day I wanted to see some modern art that I could understand so I walked along the Danube Canal where graffiti is legal. I was not disappointed. There were some beautiful pieces including a clever yarn bomb. Check out this map of graffiti in Vienna.
At the end of the art display on the canal I noticed that I was close to the Hundertwasser Museum so I visited again and was joined by Andreas for a drink.
My friends said, “Oh, you’re going to Vienna, go to the cafés and drink coffee.” Yes, this is a fun idea, but when you’re walking around by yourself it’s a boring one. I did go to one cafe’ every morning for a smoothie and coffee for breakfast after Andreas left for the day. I learned that I had to ask for an Americana if I wanted a regular coffee.
Most evenings Andreas and I were able to have dinner together. I wanted to have foods that are hard to find in Bremerhaven. The first night, a night with Andreas’ PHD student, and a dinner by myself were enjoyed at the Beaver Brewing Company restaurant across from our Airbnb. It was a mostly pub food/ burger place owned by an American. We liked this place because they had dark beer and the waiters, who were from all over the world, spoke mostly English. We also dined at a Vietnamese place, had a fancy five months married anniversary dinner of traditional Viennese food and stumbled upon a wonderful wine tasting in our neighborhood after vetoing a smoky Bolivian restaurant.
The most important and wonderful thing about Vienna in my eyes was how civilized it felt. What does that mean? To me that means that the city was very clean, the people were friendly and not rushed and I felt pretty safe walking around or using public transport.
Did we do Vienna right? Ha ha no, not even close I’m sure. Still, I had a good time, Andreas connected with a lot of scientists and the city is high on our list for a second visit. Maybe we’ll fly in next time.
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.
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.
Look out! Don’t cross yet! Watch out for the scooter! These phrases peppered our trip to Amsterdam. The bicyclists and the sheer number of bicycles are bananas. The bicycle path is SERIOUS business. We were warned about them in every guide book and video about the city. Do not step into these lanes carelessly and be as cautious about them as cars when crossing the street. The bike lanes host motorized scooters in many variations as well and everyone is keeping speed.
I think it’s great that so many people commute by bike. It’s interesting to see what it looks like when bicycles outnumber cars four to one in a city. Parking for bikes seems to be a problem. They crowd most sidewalks in front of stores and on residential streets. Small children ride seated with parents on the bike either front, back or in a covered cargo bin on special bikes. I didn’t see many under ten pedaling in the lanes. Fun fact: They say that they pull out 12,000 to 15,000 bikes from the canals every year.
Andreas and I met my brother and his family in Amsterdam for the beginning of an eleven-day trip. Amsterdam, gray and drizzly was wonderful.
I loved the canals, the tall crooked houses and the friendly, English speaking people. It was a nice break from Bremerhaven, Germany to be able to speak English with someone and not feel embarrassed about it. We stayed in an Airbnb with steep staircases, a little kitchen and giggling neighbors in the next house over; twenty minutes walking distance from my brother’s hotel.
Thank God Andreas has a good sense of direction. I was always pointing the wrong way.
The six of us toured the city and the art museums. My brother’s family saw many more museums than we did for the kids. Andreas and I are pretty content to sit in a coffee shop and people watch. We did visit the Rijksmuseum which I loved. It wasn’t very crowded and there were some wonderful portraits.
The Van Gogh Museum was lovely too but very crowded. I did enjoy seeing so much of his work in one space. I came away with a new feeling about the paintings.
Andreas and I travel differently. I’m used to traveling with some bread and cheese in my backpack, a couple of candy bars and bottle of water. He finds the best coffee and has it ground for the Airbnb, he likes nice restaurants and orders what he doesn’t know how to cook himself and wine. In the morning we look for bakeries and eat fresh bread and pastry. We stay in safe, clean places. I definitely prefer this type of travel. Ha ha.
The experience in the city was a little overwhelming at times but wonderful especially before Christmas. Get to Amsterdam, it’s unlike any city I’ve visited.