Auntie Fly and Uncle Andreas attempt a family Christmas

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.

Christmas eve and Christmas day's dinner ingredients from local Bremerhaven markets.
Christmas eve and Christmas day’s dinner ingredients from local Bremerhaven markets.
Uncle Andreas cooking soup all afternoon. Luckily he has some wine. Notice the laundry pile in the corner by our baby washer.
Uncle Andreas cooking soup all afternoon. Luckily he has some wine. Notice the laundry pile in the corner by our baby washer.

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 playground in the middle of the zoo. Auntie Fly spies on nephew with telephoto lens, nephew spies back.
The playground in the middle of the zoo. Auntie Fly spies on nephew with telephoto lens, nephew spies back.

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.

Taller nephew's favorite napping spot. He couldn't stay awake in that chair.
Taller nephew’s favorite napping spot. He couldn’t stay awake in that chair.
Learning Skat from the master.
Learning Skat from the master.

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 Pickle
Christmas Pickle

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.

Tiny tree/ shrub
Tiny tree/ shrub

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.

Hurry up and eat that breakfast, sleepy nephew! We have an early train to catch.
Hurry up and eat that breakfast, sleepy nephew! We have an early train to catch.

Family, surfing swans and a sad beach at Christmastime

Not a creature is stirring on a Saturday morning in Neustadt in Holstein. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum
Not a creature is stirring on a Saturday morning in Neustadt in Holstein. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum

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.

The beginning of our walk along the coast in Neustadt in Holstein Germany. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum
The beginning of our walk along the coast in Neustadt in Holstein Germany. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum

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.

Winkie the Viking display at the Christmas market. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum
Winkie the Viking display at the Christmas market. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum

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.

Coffee time by the sea with Lothar. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum
Coffee time by the sea with Lothar. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum
First time for everything. Stop laughing at my egg. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum
First time for everything. Stop laughing at my egg. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum
Christa is a wonderful quilter. This is a gift she made for her friend. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum
Christa is a wonderful quilter. This is a gift she made for her friend. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum

We took advantage of the gray, cold weather by walking a few miles along the Baltic following a sculpture trail towards the family campsite.

Christa's favorite sculpture along the path. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum
Christa’s favorite sculpture along the path. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum
Swans in the surf. I have never seen this in America. I thought this was so cool. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum
Swans in the surf. I have never seen this in America. I thought this was so cool. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum

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.

A sign that needs replacing
A sign that needs replacing
The stone for the mass grave. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum
The stone for the mass grave. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum

We kept walking quietly after this …

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Andreas wrote about this event in 2013 as well.

“You may find yourself in another part of the world.”

I never dreamed that I would be sailing off Greenland starring at an iceberg. To quote the Talking Heads, “This is once in a lifetime.”IMG_2380 (2)

First iceberg sighting.

Traveling is never easy in Germany for us Americans abroad: Andreas and I left Bremerhaven, Germany for Reykjavik, Iceland, but upon arrival at the station we learned that our train had been cancelled. Stress, panic, can we catch another train to catch our plane to catch the ship? Or would we be, “Letting the days go by” incognito in Bremerhaven? Have a month offline to ourselves to work on other projects and maybe show some of Andreas’ old iceberg photos at the end of the month? It didn’t sound like a bad plan.

Bremerhaven train station

Bremerhaven train station. Andreas took this shot to prove to the conductor that our train was cancelled.

Alas, our replacement, slow, and very local train delivered us in the nick of time to Hamburg airport although much later than we hoped. This put us at the end of an hour-long check-in line for Iceland Air. No quick kiosks here. We queued up behind two giant backpacks which were hiding two German Physics students from Berlin. Here we met a laidback, cynical Canadian Professor who studies birds somewhere in California. The hour-long chatting about Iceland, ships, politics, and philosophies of life and traveling was the highlight of our travels. We all made it to Iceland with no time or sweat to spare. This is our second experience with Iceland Air in a month: we know how to work their video on the headrest, we have their introductory video, and we have their Iceland advertisements memorized. Yet, both Andreas and I forgot headphones and we had to read lips watching in-flight movies.

Three hours later we landed in Keflavik, Iceland where the captain announced that he was dropping us off at the front door and that we had to watch our step. He wasn’t kidding. In Iceland they let you off the plane parking on the tarmac and everyone walks to buses ferrying you to the terminal. In contrast, we were blown by the welcomed cold wind towards the terminal. [It was unseasonably hot in Germany.] A taxi was waiting for us, because the ship’s agent had arranged this transport to the ship docked in Reykjavik.

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The Harbor where the ship was docked in Reykjavik. Top: Photo from the ship. Bottom Watercolor and colored pencil.

The forty-minute taxi ride included background music of Joy Division on the radio and a landscape of rocks. Iceland is like no other landscape I’ve seen. I kept pointing out the window exclaiming, “Ooh look at this and did you see that?” We saw a lot and I mean A-LOT-OF-ROCKS. We saw rock sculptures, rock gardens, random rocks, rocks to divide parking lots … We also saw a sign for Dunkin’ Donuts, cold people on bicycles, beautiful mountains in the distance, and empty plains with more rocks.

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Rocks! Watercolor and colored pencil of the landscape near Keflavik. 6.5”x9.5”

Iceland, wow. Where am I? David Byrne to the rescue:

“How did I get here?”

“This is not my beautiful house.”

“How do I work this?”

“Under the water, carry the water

Remove the water from the bottom of the ocean,” and measure the salinity and oxygen levels, please.

 

Written by: Dragonfly Leathrum       August 18, 2018

Hell Bent for Spandex*

Bremerhaven is the best city I’ve ever lived in for bicyclists, even though I’m told that the local bike club considers the city to still be in the middle ages for German bicycling. There are separate bike paths on most sidewalks that share a wide space with pedestrians. This means the rider is a curb above and away from traffic. The lanes and riders are respected by most, but once in a while you’ll get stuck behind a grumpy old dude in a jazzy chair or a family of six with a pram.

Bicycle parking at the train station. Beyond the bikes you see here are little bike boxes that you can lock your bikes in that I call veal huts. Beyond that is a large caged area for maybe long term parking?20180723_105145

I like bikes and support bike culture but I haven’t been a daily rider since 1993. Andreas, on the other hand, has been commuting by bicycle almost as long as I’ve been alive. He is bike culture. The other day he said, “Riding a bicycle is as easy and as enjoyable as drinking a glass of wine.”

Andreas the biker at the Fischmarket.20180722_154642

This is wonderful for him, and for me when we run out of something and he happily rides off to the store. A fun time for Andreas involves a long bike ride to get there. He will laugh at that statement because a long ride for him is very different than my idea of a long ride. Over the past few weeks he has been “pushing” me to ride further and further each day to build up my endurance. This is not appreciated at all. I’m a walker, not a biker. My biking muscles went away with my last mohawk.

Andreas puts up with a lot of grumbling and dirty looks from me. Especially when he changes route to go to the familiar places. “What’s down this road, he asks, let’s go check it out.” “No, I say, you can check it out I’ll find my way home.” I’ve blamed frustrated, tired tears on wind and sunscreen in my eyes more than once. COBBLESTONES, oh my God, cobblestones…try keeping up with Speedy Gon German on cobblestones. No, really, I challenge you.

Lately he has decided that riding behind me so I set the pace is a better idea. This is a horrible idea. I feel like a fat, snail loser making him ride so slow, which for some reason makes me mad and then the sunscreen tears pop up. Grrr, also, I don’t know where the hell I’m going.

Me in the bike lane on my chunk of a coaster brake bike. The brand is Stevens. I call it Stevezie after Bill Murray’s character in the Life Aquatic.  Photo by Andreas MuenchowDF_0439

Now, all whining and complaining aside, I love that my boyfriend, almost a decade my senior, is super fit and happy. I’m sure that after my year here I’ll be more fit too. I can tell that I’m very very slowly getting a little stronger every day. I have also seen some cool things and been to some beautiful places that I never would have discovered on foot.

Andreas very happy after a bike ride to one of his favorite places.20180720_184504A mural we discovered after turning down a new street.20180722_154505

Andreas looks longingly at the couples that pass us loaded down with traveling saddle bags on their way to other countries with hilly terrains. If our relationship survives this “training period” imagine the adventures we’ll have.

P.S. * Andreas wouldn’t be caught dead in Spandex, or with a helmet, Camelback or lights on his bike. (I think lights are required by law here)

The author at the Fischmarket preparing for a long ride home.DF_0445