Friday, July 2, 2010

This past week was a special one for me--my mom came all the way from Columbia, SC to spend eight days in Germany.  We spent the first five days in and around Hannover sight-seeing and visiting friends and "family" and then three days in Heidelberg and Baden-Baden and the northern part of the Schwarzwald (Black Forest).

As a surprise, here is a special guest post from my mom herself:

  View from Heiligenberg in Heidelberg

It is amazing how fast the time went by and hopefully both Germany and Patrick survived my visit.    Patrick was a great host and guide and only put me in quiet time for asking too many questions a couple of times.  The food and drink were excellent and I know where my love for breads, potatoes, ice cream, cold cuts and wine came from - I was in heaven.  Patrick's co-workers and the Althofs (who we met in Spenge) were all very gracious.  It was amazing how they went out of their way to make sure we were (really) well-fed and that our time was occupied.  Expected visits of a few of hours turned into all day affairs.

 German Eis (ice cream) Cafe Menu in Hannover

The culture and way of life in Germany are different; they are more conscious of the environment.   They do have some SUVs and even RVs but also drive a lot of smaller cars and yes they drive crazy.  Patrick didn't get to fully enjoy the Autobahn because during the day a lot of the areas had speed limits up until 8:00 p.m. (120 km).  I missed the conveniences we have in the US and also mourn the "modernization" of Germany.  I enjoyed touring the old German areas/towns and it was sad to learn they are moving away from clay tile roofs to cement tile roofs.  I loved all the outside cafes (they do not rush you to turn the table over) and the beautiful flower gardens and flower boxes that are all around.  We are very fortunate for having not had a war on American soil since the Civil War, and I wonder what Germany would look like today if all the destruction had not taken place.  Pictures cannot do justice to the beautiful gardens, structures and landscape.

 View from Neues Schloss in Baden-Baden

I will treasure my visit and have a more compassionate view on non-English speaking people visiting our country.


St. Martins Kirche  in Spenge (church my ancestors helped build)

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Ostfriesland Weekend Part 2: Wattwandern and Spiekeroog

 View of the Wattenmeer from the beach

The great thing about Ostfriesland is that it's very small town Germany, and the bad thing is that small town  Germany has relatively awful train/bus connections.

We woke up early Sunday morning and after hastily packing and getting ready, headed to breakfast where we definitely skewed the 8:00 am age demographics.  After a (fairly) quick train/bus ride we were at Harlesiel and ready to start our Wattwandern adventure.

 Abby knee-deep in Watt

We finally started our Wattwandern around 11:00 am, and it took us approximately four hours to cover the 9 km stretch of Watt with several breaks so that our Wattführer Frank could explain various biological, ecological and geological facts about the unique Watt-landscape.  One of the amazing parts of the hike was how quickly the Watt conditions changed from knee-deep slimey mud/marsh fluff to fairly solid sand to waist-deep water channels we had to cross called Priele.

 Wattwurm "Spaghetti"

Ecologically, the Wattenmeer is incredibly active and diverse from various mollusks and shellfish to the famous Wattwurm (Watt worm).  The Wattwurm lives in a little u-shaped tunnel just below the surface of the mud.  It filters through the sand/mud on one side and every half-hour or so "poops" out the filtered sand through the other side leaving little mounds of what's called "Watt Spaghetti."  Try to imagine walking through the Watt and having nothing but these little hills of "sand" worms as far as the eye can see--it's really quite amazing.

I honestly don't think we could have had better luck with the weather this weekend for our Wattwandern.  The skies were mostly clear, the temperature was just right at around 75°F with a nice breeze instead of the normal strong winds.

 Go Gamecocks!  It's harder to write in Watt than you would think.

 The Wattwandern Crew

Once out of the Watt, we had time to explore the island of Spiekeroog for a few hours which is unbelievably quiet due to the ban on cars and discouragement of bikes.  The sleepy little island was mostly devoid of tourists the day we were there due to the ferry service being stopped earlier in the day.  The five of us trekked to the main village on the island where we celebrated our completed Wattwandern with some beer, Jever again!, and great local seafood at a small restaurant.  After dinner we had just enough time to grab some ice cream before heading to the harbor where our ride back to the mainland was waiting, a small Fischkutter (fishing boat).  It was amazing to take the boat back approximately where we had, just hours before, hiked over the tidal flat.  Frank the Wattführer even had the boat captain toss in a small net to catch some wildlife and gave us another short ecological lesson on the local marine life.

The island of Spiekeroog

Our ride home: a German Fischkutter

Back on mainland at the Neuharlingsiel Harbor, probably one of the cutest small-town harbors in the world, we had just enough time to grab tea and coffee before starting our long journey back to Hannover.

After everything was said and done, it was a great weekend with great friends and a perfect final hurrah with Jackie and Abby!

 Frank the Wattführer showing how to determine the sex of crabs

 What's that Frank?  Cuttlefish, you say?

 Neuharlingsiel Harbor

*Edit: Our Wattführer's name was Frank Ralf but went by Frank (Thanks, Jackie!).

Ostfriesland Weekend Part 1: Jever

Way back in September when I first got to Germany, I randomly came across the term 'Wattwandern' in a guide book and put it on my Niedersachsen to do list.  The more I read, the more excited I got--I probably mentioned it at some point to anyone who would listen to me here in Germany.  Kind of makes you wonder how I have friends (but that's neither here nor there).  Anyways, this weekend I finally made it to the North Sea for a Wattwandern Wochenende.

Let me stop here to explain what exactly is going on.  Germany has two coasts, the Nordsee (North Sea) and the Ostsee (Baltic Sea).  The small northwestern part of Niedersachsen on the North Sea is known as Ostfriesland (East Frisia) which includes a group of seven inhabited barrier islands known collectively as the Ostfriesische Inseln.  Fun fact, if you want to remember the order of the islands from East to West just remember the German mnemonic device "Welcher Seeman liegt bei Nelly im Bett?" (Which seaman lies with Nelly in bed?) to remind you of Wangerooge, Spiekeroog, Langeoog, Baltrum, Nordeney, Juist and Borkum.  Getting slightly back on track, the arm of the North Sea between these barrier islands and the mainland is known as the Wattenmeer (Wadden Sea).  Watt is German for a tidal mud flat and Meer is another term for the sea.

  Ostfriesland and the Wattenmeer on the North Sea coast

What exactly does all of this mean?  At low tide, the waters of the North Sea almost completely retreat past the barrier islands leaving a 5-15 km wide strip of mud flats while at high tide there is shallow sea.  Pretty cool, eh?  Putting it all together, Wattwandern is the unique activity of hiking across the tidal mud flat, Watt, from mainland to one of the barrier islands (or vice versa), which is what we did on Sunday.

Backing up, gee whiz this is getting complicated, Bill, Jackie, Sara, Abby and I left early Saturday morning for Jever in Ostfriesland, a city most famous for its namesake beer, Jever Pilsener.  I had originally tried to book a tour for the Jever Brauerei, but sadly it was already booked up.  Instead, we walked around Jever which is a small town of about 14,000 people that was settled sometime in the 9th Century and given town rights in the 14th Century.  The town was definitely nicer than I had expected and a really nice beachy, town to wander.  After our fair share of Jever (the city and the beer) we headed back to your youth hostel where we goofed off for a bit and explored the countryside surrounding the hostel.  The day was capped off with a few rousing rounds of Bananagrams and some more Jever beer, of couse.  After a fun-filled day we went to bed early in preparation for our big adventure the next day.


Monday, June 7, 2010

Pfun over Pfingstferien

 View of Marburg from Marburger Schloss

Pfingsten, or Pentecost as it's known in the US, was the reason for our second long holiday weekend in May.  School was pretty busy the week before (post-Krakow), but I still managed to fit in an action-packed program for the weekend.

 Fish and Chips at Daniel Wischer in Hamburg

Saturday afternoon I headed to Hamburg to do a bit of sightseeing before meeting up with Megan and JJ to go see the New Pornographers, a favorite band of mine out of Canada, play at a small club on the Reeperbahn.  We grabbed a quick dinner in St. Pauli and a few beers before the concert which ended up being amazing.  They played at Molotow which turned out to be a pretty small club which meant a pretty small concert.  We were so close to the band that I could have reached out and touched Carl Newman if I had wanted to (but of course that would've just been creepy!).  We managed to catch the last S-Bahn to Stade and crashed at JJ's apartment happy and exhausted.

 The New Pornographers at Molotow on the Reeperbahn

Sunday morning I headed back to Hannover for just a few hours before getting back on a train headed to Marburg in the German state Hessen.  While in Bucharest, I met four German girls at my hostel who all study at Marburg University.  After hanging out for two days and partying together, we exchanged contact information and that's how the whole trip came about.  I got into Marburg around 6:00 pm and was met by two of the Marburger Mädels (as I've come to call them) before we headed to Doro's for an awesome night of grilling.  This weekend was one of the first truly nice (and pretty warm) spring weekends in Germany and thus a perfect time to grill well into the night.

 St. Elizabeth's Church

Monday was sightseeing day in Marburg, and I was given an awesome tour of the city including visits to the Oberstadt, Marburger Schloss, St. Elizabeth's Church (where Paul von Hindenburg and his wife are buried with hardly a sign marking the spot) and most of the neighborhoods around the Lahn River.  After a great dinner at Beck's place and after dinner drinks on the roof (the actual roof outside her apartment window), the girls wanted to play the American drinking game "Circle of Death" that I had taught them in Bucharest.  Afterwards we went to a local, popular pub for some Marburger beer and shots of the local speciality "rote Korn" (schnapps).  On Tuesday the girls showed me around the university campus before I headed back to Hannover early in the afternoon.  All in all, it was a great Pfingsten weekend!

Circle of Death on the Roof

Me and the Marburger Mädels!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Was ist hier denn los?

The forecast tomorrow for Hannover is 73 F and sunny!  I honestly don't think I've seen a forecast of sunny for at least two months!  It might be June already, but warm weather is finally here (hopefully to stay!).

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Osterferien Update Plzeň: The Journey Ends

Plzeň was my last stop--it was the end of my epic Eastern European Extravaganza (new and improved E^4 ®).

Plzeň is largely considered the capital of western Bohemia and is the fourth largest city in the Czech Republic.  The city was first documented in 967 as the site of a battle between Bohemia and the Holy Roman Empire and grew prosperous as an important stop on the route between Bavaria and Prague.  Even with all of this history, Plzeň is probably most famous for the beer brewery Plzeňský Prazdroj, known internationally by the German name Pilsner Urquell which literally translates to the "original source of Pilsner [beer]" (first brewed in 1842).

I rolled into Plzeň late on Easter Sunday and had an interesting time navigating my way from the central bus station to my hotel where I took it easy and had a nice Easter dinner that consisted of a bottle of a nice bottle of red wine I brought from Vienna (classy, right?).  The next day I got up early and did some sight-seeing including the old town market square which is centered around the Cathedral of St. Bartholomew, a beautiful gothic-style cathedral that is also the tallest church in the Czech Republic.  Climbing to the top was quite a scary feat but gave great views of Plzeň and the Easter Market below (Easter Monday is a widely observed holiday in Europe).

The day was capped off with a tour of Pilsner Urquell which did a great job of showing the history and innovations adopted at the brewery that takes you through the original brewery process, changes made in the 20th Century and the newly renovated 21st Century brewery.  The highlight of the tour is definitely the end when they take you down to the original beer storage cellars where beer was allowed to finish aging.  At the very end they actually tap a giant beer barrel and everyone gets to taste the unfiltered, unpasteurized beer--incredible and really different taste and mouthfeel than what comes in the bottle!

After loading up on some really good Czech food, checking out the Easter Market and enjoying a few more beers, I went back to my hotel to catch some sleep before my long-haul back to Hannover the next day.  There's nothing like celebrating your birthday on a nine hour journey through Central Europe!

By the way, more Pilsner Urquell brewery pictures after the jump!

Monday, May 31, 2010

Osterferien Update Prague: A Worthwhile Stopover

Even though I had already been to Prague during my study abroad program in Lutherstadt-Wittenberg, I couldn't in good conscience pass through Prague in transit from Vienna to Plzeň without at least a quick layover in the beautiful capital of the Czech Republic.  It was definitely worth it.

Knowing that it was Easter Sunday, I really didn't expect anything to be going on in Prague since many European cities practically shut down during Easter weekend.  Ha!  Little did I know that I would stumble upon an awesome Easter Festival in the middle of historic Prague.  Painted eggs, sugary baked goods and Easter streamers were plentiful and Czech beer was flowing!  Even though I was only in town for about five hours, it was one of those spontaneous decisions that made the trip.  I even managed to fit in a walk across Charles Bridge to Prague Castle--one of my favorite places in Europe ever!