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.
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.
How do two Americans in Germany celebrate a birthday? They travel to Schleswig! Now I have my German friend’s attention. They’re all thinking, Schleswig, what the hell is so special about Schleswig? Everything and nothing, friends, it was a fun, laid-back, easy, romantic weekend away.
In July Andreas brought me to Lübeck for my birthday. So, I said that he should pick his favorite place for his birthday. Easier said than done. So many choices! One week I was told that we would travel to Spiekerroog, the next week to Föhr, every few weeks he would choose a new place. Finally, a week before his birthday I begged for a decision, so that I could Google the place, and his finger landed on the map at the town of Schleswig in northern Germany.
Andreas is born and raised a “Fishhead.” He loves fish, cold, windy, rainy weather and sitting in little cafes eating “Kuchen” listening to the locals speak “Plattdeutsch” by large bodies of water. Schleswig was all these things.
We stayed in a small hotel instead of an Airbnb which is unusual for us, but it was attached to a little restaurant, included breakfast, and was on the water. The hotel was located by Holm an old fishing village. In the center of the village is the oldest Abbey in northern Germany.
A beautiful, idyllic place full of cafes and artisans. The people in the village are proud of the age of their homes and often have the year posted in large iron numbers.
They and the rest of the city are also extremely fond of roses. There are two or three trained rose bushes on the front of every house and most stores. It must be amazing when the roses are in season. We were lucky enough to see some blooms in November.
The biggest surprise for me in Schleswig was the art collections. We visited an Outsider Art museum located in a poorhouse from 1630.The building was almost more interesting than the art. Next, we walked to a modern art museum located in the old stables of Gottorf Castle.
We also viewed the art collections in the Castle as well.
We found the Cathedral of St. Peter of Schleswig (hard to miss the tallest building in town) that had its original stained glass. Most of the churches we’ve visited so far have been bombed and replaced with modern glass so this was really exciting. (for me)
Between museum visits and walking around town in the rain were many stops to café’s for coffee and cake. Andreas had birthday cake many times over the weekend.
In the first café we sat near a Danish girl in snow pants who also celebrated a birthday. Her family played a tiny music box and sang Happy Birthday in English.
We didn’t just eat cake in Schleswig, although it felt like it, Andreas also enjoyed many fishy dinners with local beer which made him pretty happy.
The best indication of whether Andreas and I like a place is if we start researching housing prices, which we did on our third café morning. I recommend giving Schleswig a visit. It seems to be very popular with bicyclists during the summer months. There is also the Hedeby Viking Museum which we missed due to walking distance and time restraints. I’d like to return there someday.