Thursday, June 21 (Schleswig/ Schloss Gottorf)

Hercules statue (salvaged original)
Hercules and the Hydra (restored in the baroque garden)
The Nydam boat (from the Viking age, 2nd or 3rd century AD)
Inlaid wood in the prayer room at the chapel in Gottorf palace
A peek at the baroque-age globe in the gardens at Schloss Gottorf
Medieval chalice with beautifully simple gemstones
The beautiful double rainbow after the many squalls of the day
Rainbow over the marina
A gelato feast (Walnut Cup)
We got up at about 7:30, and Uschi, who was up a little bit before the other two, came over to chat for a little bit before Mark and I took off for today’s adventure a little after 9 am. The weather forecast for the day had looked pretty dismal (cold, rainy until the late afternoon), and we had decided we wanted to go to a museum that was mostly indoors, and then see whether we could add some good-weather activities later. So we drove to Schleswig, where the former dukes of Schleswig-Holstein-Gottorf used to rule until the early 18th century, from a palace/castle that now houses multiple museums curated by the state of Schleswig-Holstein. Schleswig is only half an hour from here, further inland, and we got to Schloss Gottorf just about 10 am when it opened. Since it wasn’t raining yet, we went to visit the gardens first—they are baroque-era gardens, but were apparently long in disarray and were just restored 10 years ago. They are very prettily terraced but were mostly designed with shrubbery and not that many flowers, so they pale in comparison with what we saw in Berlin. But there was an interesting sandstone sculpture of Hercules slaying the Hydra in the bottom-most lake—we found out later that it fell into the lake in the early 19th century and was left there until pieces were recovered in the 1990s and could be used for a reconstruction. The pieces were on display inside the museum along with other statuary from the original gardens. The gardens and the main portions of the castle all date from the mid-17th century, although the foundations date back to medieval times, and the 18th-century owners added some parts of building, which also had to be repaired after a major explosion in the 19th century, but sustained no damage during WWII.
We then went inside and started with the oldest stuff in the archeology museum: there is a famous Viking longboat on display that was excavated from the omnipresent bog of this region with all the wooden pieces intact, even as it had fallen apart. Technically, it was first found further north, in Nydam, in what is now Denmark, but at the time, the area we are in was Danish as well. The boat was displayed in various museums and now has its home in a really detailed display that shows how the pieces were actually found vs. how they were reassembled into a giant boat. They also showed some of the other, more recent archeological finds around the boat, including belt buckles etc. Then we continued along the same lines inside the main building, by looking at Iron Age and Bronze Age artifacts. The main finds in this area are urns with human remains, plus gifts that were added to many graves. Some of these were found in various types of megalith graves, others in urn cemeteries.
The biggest / most dramatic finds from this area, though, are the bog “mummies,” of which there are three in this museum. They were fascinating because of the way the peat preserves corpses in the moor, but I was intrigued mostly because I finally got a better sense of what the current archeological view on these is. „My“ idea of the bog people is derived from Seamus Heaney‘s famous poems, especially from „Punishment,“ which was inspired by 1960s-era ideas about a bog find of a young person, the Windeby Girl, now renamed „Windeby Child“ from a book that Heaney read. The idea that the dead person was a teenage girl probably killed as punishment for being an adulteress was Heaney‘s objective correlative for addressing the way „fraternizing“ women were treated during the Irish troubles, and his poem does this in a haunting and beautiful way. When I saw the Windeby „Girl“ it was hard not to have this going through my head—but archeologists now think that this child, 15 to 17 years old, probably died from an infected tooth in the lower jaw, and that this was perhaps a (rather unusual) burial. And they apparently really cannot tell the gender of this child; the DNA samples are ambiguous. And yet… the powerful poem holds great sway over me. The bog people, and a number of other older archeological finds we saw, all had the usual 19th century archeology problem—they were inexpertly treated and restored, so I actually walked away with a less clear sense of what bog corpses were really about than I had before. But the fact that fabric and hair was preserved by the peat in the moors is still pretty amazing.
After we had looked at the archeology portion of the museum, we went to have a little snack at the cafe in the castle/palace/residence (“Schloss” is so hard to translate). Their lunch was rather on the expensive side, so we just had something to drink and shared an excellent piece of apple cake. They also gave us a teeny piece of sweet (nougat / caramel crunch) that came free with our entrance fee. When we were ready to get back into the museum, it was pouring, and we had to rush back across the courtyard from one side of the building to the other to make sure we didn’t get too wet!
The ground floor for the art history / cultural history tour through the castle was fascinating, but also exhausting. It started with the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, and moved through the baroque and all the way to the early 20th century. We spent over two more hours there, trying to focus on a few items but a bit overwhelmed by the mass of things to look at—a mix of furniture and dishes with paintings, statues and altarpieces that was especially extensive fore the 17th century, and got pretty thin for the 19th, when most valuables from the castle were taken to the new Danish ruler‘s court in Copenhagen. Nonetheless, some things were fascinating. A list so that I don’t forget:
1 the wood-carved baroque chapel with its prayer room that was all made from elaborately inlaid wood;
# 2 the stucco ceilings in various rooms that had been restored, especially in the elaborate „Hirschsaal“—everything was a lot simpler than in Sanssouci, but in a way seemed more reasonable and a bit down to earth even when ornate;
# 3 the recreated or „imported“ farmers‘ living rooms from various estates, with their dark paneling, their „box beds“ behind the paneling, and the big stoves with entire walls of tile behind them;
# 4 some samples of Wedgewood ceramics, much more interesting to me now that I know a bit about Wedgewood from my art history class.
# 5 a couple of paintings by Angelica Kaufmann, which I didn‘t expect find here (there were also some works by Cranach the Elder that I was impressed by, but more because he‘s famous than because I liked them.
# 6 a totally surprising and very quiet gallery of Northern / local art nouveau on the second floor. Along the lines of the Broehan museum in Berlin, I really liked some of the art nouveau / Jugendstil furniture and dishes, especially some of the extensive work of an artist I had never heard of, Wenzel Havlik, who was apparently from Bohemia but settled in the north.
# 7 there was also an impressionist Northern (Danish?) painter named Hinrich Wrage who was new to me, but captured some of the coastal landscapes here very well.
We were pretty museumed out after that, and did not continue on to the outbuildings, where there would have been more modern art! Instead, we drove home in the rain, since the weather was no good for any walking around in the nearby city of Schleswig or for a nearby outdoor Viking museum. It only took us 30 minutes, so we were home by 4. We took a little bit of a rest (Mark took a nap), and then the others came to join us at 5:30. We ventured out to diner in between squalls (well, almost—we did get wet on the way, but were amply compensated by a fabulous double rainbow over the sailboats in the harbor! Tonight, we had excellent tapas at a Spanish restaurant that Uschi had suggested (her treat). The food was lovely and the service wonderful, so we were very happy (what a contrast to yesterday!), and we even had room for gelato for dessert. After a little bit of roaming around, we found a gelateria downtown and had amazing concoctions—even though I ordered a smaller serving this time, it was still rather large. And yummy. Then we came back to the apartment and chatted a bit more, and Imke, Uschi, and Dorothee left around 9 pm to go back to their place. Mark and I went for a brief walk while the sun was still out (sunset: 9:57 pm) but even though the sky was clearing, it was chilly and windy, so we didn’t stay out long. We wrapped up our journaling and called it a night!

 

Friday, June 22 (Along the Schlei)

Early morning light after midsummer! Sunrise before 5:30 am.
The “drawbridge” opens at Kappeln to let boats through once every hour
The big three master going through the open bridge at Kappeln
A floating piano & baritone on the Schlei outside of Arnis
Taking a break during our walk along the Schlei: Imke, Uschi, Antje, Dorothee–I’ve known Dorothee since I was 6 and Uschi since I was 16. So great that my mom is still best friends with both of them and we all keep in touch.
Drawbridge with a weight at Lindaunis (with train tracks)
Thatched cottage in Sieseby on the Schlei
Interior of the church in Sieseby, founded in the 13th century (Romanic style) and enlarged in the 14th (Gothic style)
Uschi found a funny painted stone in a donations basket and Mark took a camouflage photo of it
Selva Negra playing jazzy flamenco at the Spieker music venue

 

What a gorgeous day we had today! Even though it was still cool and a bit windy in the afternoon (with a high of 63), it was mostly sunny and perfect for a bit of a road trip with little walking bits. In fact, the sun was bright and the sky clear at 5:30 am, lighting up the water and the military ships we can see at the navy harbor across from us, so bright that Mark woke up and immediately grabbed the camera to capture that early light (military ships or not). Just for the record, we did go back to sleep for a bit after that! When we got up at 7, we had a bite to eat (I got a couple of croissants and a raisin brioche from a nearby French bakery) and went for a walk along the promenade because it was so nice, while Kai got himself ready. When we got back home at 8:45, he walked to the train station with me to replace his lost Bahn Card, the discount card that gives a 25% rebate on German train fares, and that only costs 10 euro for under-18-year-olds. Then I showed him where the supermarket was, since he wanted to re-supply himself with snack food and lunch, and met up with Mark to go catch up with the other three for a little 5-person road trip. I had forgotten some items at home, so they jointly retrieved Uschi’s car while I went home to get an all-important map and a book. Then we all set out to drive along the Schlei.
The Schlei is a fjord-like inlet/bay just north of here that goes inland from the Baltic to the town of Schleswig (where Mark and I were yesterday), for 20 idyllic and picturesque miles of coastline dotted with little villages. We drove from Eckernförde to Kappeln, where you can cross from its southern or Schwansen shore to the northern or Angeln side (Angle as in Anglo-Saxon, because this is apparently where this particular Germanic tribe lived for a while) on a drawbridge called a bascule bridge (the kind that opens up in the middle from both sides). This one opens up an hour (during the daytime) to let
boat traffic through, and we crossed it before it opened at 10:45. Then, we parked in the city center and walked along the pier, where there are still real small-outfit fisheries that have their colorful bins for fish all over the harbor, and on to the bridge, where a whole bunch of sailboats and a big three master (without the sails) went up”stream” (the Schlei not being a stream at all, but just a brackish body of baywater without a major inlet/outlet). We also wandered through some of the pedestrian shopping district with its quaint little old houses and lots of greenery. These towns with all their gardens, bushes and vines along the walls, and little beds of flowers would be pretty anytime in the summer, but it is a “bumper crop” year for roses, and we see them everywhere with many buds and blooms—just gorgeous!
We continued after our little walk to the next charming town on the Schlei, Arnis, which has the distinction of being Germany’s smallest incorporated town (at something like 265 inhabitants now—obviously, it was of some importance at some point in the Middle Ages, when it became a town, but now it’s just an adorable one-street village directly on the bay, with a ferry to cross it that fits two cars and a few bicycles and pedestrians (we watched it cross but didn’t take it). Here, we walked the town and found a cafe at one end that was right by the waterfront, and had lovely, simple food for an uncomplicated lunch. While the others ordered, Mark and I went back to the car to repark it from far out of town (i.e. 200 yards away) to closer by (i.e. 50 yards away), and spotted an interesting surreal object: a float with a piano and a baritone horn alongside the sailboats in the harbor across from the parking lot! We never did find out what that was about. When we got back, our food was just about to be served! Bruschetta for Uschi and me, pasta for Mark, and soups for Imke and Dorothee recharged us, and we took a little walk along the Schlei in the sunshine before moving on.
The next leg of our adventure led us back across the Schlei on yet another type of movable bridge, outside the town of Lindaunis—a “rolling bascule bridge” with a weight to make it lift up. This was especially adventurous because it was a one-lane bridge that also doubled up as a train track! It would have been easy to miss the turn to get back off the tracks and onto the road, but we managed! Back on “our” side of the Schlei (where the town with our rental apartments is), we drove to another small town that Uschi knew about because she once ordered something from a goldsmith who has a small studio there. It’s called Sieseby (“by” always being the word for “village” or “very small place,” and pronounced “bü” not “bee” or “by”) and there is confusingly also a Rieseby and a Krieseby! We almost drove by it, but then turned back and found the village street, which featured one cafe, one studio run by multiple artist where that goldsmith had some of her work on display, and where Imke found an adorable sweater for Jupiter, and about 10 cottages, all thatched and whitewashed, with roses and shrubbery. It turns out that the entire village, with homes from the 19th century and an 800-year-old church, is on the national register for historic buildings (“unter Denkmalschutz”). We checked out the modest little church, whitewashed with remnants of frescoes, and again looked at the Schlei, now from its south bank.
It was about 3 pm by now and getting to be a bit windy, and we were beginning to get tired, so we decided to drive back home (only a 20-minute drive). Imke, Uschi and Dorothee went home after we successfully parked the car in an adventurously small parking spot in very dark parking garage, and Mark and I dropped our stuff off and went for a walk while there was still some sun. We climbed the hill on the other side of Eckernförde (Borby) where there is a nice panorama point, and then found ourselves a really nice cafe where we had coffee and tea and a lovely piece of simple sheet cake (Streuselkuchen for me, Apfelkuchen for Mark) to tide us over until dinner. We came home about 5, putzed with photos and blog stuff for a little bit, and then took off with Kai to meet the others at a Greek restaurant for dinner—Dorothee’s treat. The food was wonderful (and the service good in my view, although “the Germans” thought they weren’t quite fast enough—the place was rather busy)—Mark’s gyros and my souvlaki were wonderfully tender, and the rice and tsatsiki were great too. But it was much, much too much—only Uschi was smart enough to order a senior portion. Between trying each other’s meals and taking samples of Kai’s vegetarian platter, we each had food left over and had it boxed up (I am glad that that works in Germany now). When we were done, it was time to sample another concert at the “Spieker,” where our fake Blues Brothers had been. Uschi and Kai both decided to go home, but we other four stayed for a guitar and percussion duo that was playing flamenco music with some jazz and Latin elements. They were very good, even though they were German—the guitarist spoke very good Spanish, but also had a southern German accent. Halfway through, I figured out that they must be from the Black Forest—their band name was Selva Negra. It was a nice evening, although to me it was more background music (all instrumental) and I had also sat too long, so I was a little twitchy and eventually stood up because I couldn’t sit anymore. But Mark and Imke in particular really liked the music, and we did have a good time. We walked home a little after 10 and wrapped up the day around 11.

Saturday, June 23 (Eckernförde)

Getting ready for a German-American breakfast buffet for 10
My friend Andrea catches Mark at sneaking a photo of us
Half of the Gang of Ten on our walk: Uschi, Imke, Dorothee, Judith and Michael (Judith’s husband)
Kai and Antje the boardwalk (with Andrea’s husband Peter right behind Kai)
The cruise ship Artania in the bay, with tenders (the boats that take the passengers to shore) below
The candy-making machine at the famous candy store the making licorice-orange “half-moons”
Remnant of a medieval fresco behind the altar of the church in Borby
Andrea playing with Mark’s lens (taking a photograph of a white rose)
Sailing out in the bay on a windy day
After many tries, Mark finally “caught” one of the super fast swallows zipping around the beach
This was not a travel day, but a family & friends day. We are, of course, already 6 people anyway, neatly tucked away in our two rentals, but today was the day that both my sister Judith and her husband Michael and my long-time friend Andrea (whom I met in first grade, and with whom I’ve been best friends since 8th grade) and her husband Peter came to join us. So we were 10 and started the day out with a big German-American brunch at our rental. I made a potato-based breakfast casserole and a French toast casserole and there were the traditional German cheese, cold cuts, and jams as well as some yogurt. Uschi, Imke, and Dorothee brought fruit salad and some cut veggies, and Judith and Michael came with shortly before 10 with fresh rolls and coffee and filters for the coffee maker. Andrea and Peter, who arrived by train around 11 (we sent Mark and Kai to the station as a greeting committee), had made brownies, but we saved those for the afternoon. We had a wonderful meal with great conversations, and then endeavored to go for a walk despite the fact that all day long it was either drizzling or starting to drizzle. So we did the walk thing about three times in various constellations when it was reasonably dry (even though it never stayed that way). It was a Saturday, so the town and even the beach walk were busy despite the marginal weather, partly because a cruise ship had docked in the bay and a 1000+ extra visitors were strolling around. This is a relatively new thing for Eckernförde, and we watched the tenders unload a boatload of 60 passengers while a sea shanty choir with accordion welcomed them. As Mark always does look for the name, we found out that the name was “Artania” and the Wikipedia entry yielded the usual tonnage and age information—but I was in for a surprise when we were out on the pier and a woman asked me for the name and was beyond thrilled that it was the Artania and knew the captain’s name. It turned out (as Peter knew, since he knows everything about TV) that there is an unbelievably-lame-sounding but popular reality TV / documentary show (“Verrückt nach Meer”—and untranslatable homonym/pun that means either “Crazy for the Ocean” or “Crazy for More” that follows this ship’s and one other cruise ship’s “adventures” (basically just everyday life on a cruise ship). They are in the 8th season now and have filmed over 170 episodes. Dear God. At any rate, the cruise ship was out in the bay all day, from 10 to 4 pm and one of the few things on our walks back and forth in the drizzle that was unusual. We walked the shopping district, where we showed Kai the amazing candy factory again, where a wonderful boisterous candy “chef” demonstrates and explains the process of making candy from behind a huge glass window—there were probably at least 30 people watching, and after he and his silent assistant made orange-licorice candy, everyone got to try one. Kai also got to pick out a little baggy from the choose-your-own bins. Fun times. We later walked across to Borby and visited the little church up on the hill by the panorama point (Mark and I had skipped that on our last walk up there). Again, it was a church going back to the 12th century, and a recent restoration had uncovered a bit of a medieval ceiling fresco that we could see to the left of the altar. Andrea and Mark had fun taking lots of photos throughout our walk (including sneaky ones of all of us), and Mark finally “caught” one of the super-fast low-flying swallows that dart in and out of the crowds hunting for insects.
But mostly our walking was just about getting a bit of fresh air and exercise, and about talking—Judith and Michael and I about possible plans for a joint road trip in the US; Andrea and Mark about photography; Andrea and I about family and family worries; Peter and Kai and I about Peter’s most recent script and his next project (he is a script writer for TV but works freelance now and has some really amazing projects going), Dorothee and Andrea about art; Uschi and Judith and Michael about J & M’s upcoming trip to Japan, and so on. It was a lot of fun, including for Kai, who adores Peter in particular, and didn’t feel even once that he needed to withdraw and be away from us. That was a win. He also felt validated because after
Then we had coffee and brownies at about 4 pm, we watched the “best of” videos from the musical, and Peter in particular (who understood more of the lyrics than anyone else) was a huge fan. The two of them also had extended conversations about what to do with one’s life, about the creative process, about different ways of coming up with an idea for a story, etc. It was a great joy for me to hear them.
After ANOTHER walk in the drizzle (Imke and Dorothee stayed behind because they had it with the weather), we went to the Indian restaurant across the street and had food from their small but wonderful buffet—there was an eggplant masala that I especially liked, but several chicken dishes and the dal were also quite good. They incongruously had a Northern German desert, a fruit compote with vanilla sauce, but that was a nice little finish—and the simplicity of all the food was nice, especially since we all felt like we’d eaten all day long.
We spent the rest of the evening just sitting and talking at the apartment, with Judith and Michael taking off around 8, and Dorothee, Imke and Uschi shortly after. We hung out some more with Peter and Andrea, and walked them to their 9:20 train (it takes about 2 hours to get back to Hamburg from here by train). Kai talked some more of his ideas over with me when we got back, and we wrapped up the busy “people day” a little after 10. Let the record show that we at least checked on the outcome of the all-important soccer game that Germany won against Sweden at the last minute, and that prevented them from being kicked out of the WC at the quarterfinals stage. But we didn’t watch any of it and basically had a soccer-free evening. 🙂

Sunday, June 24 (Eckernförde)

Old-fashioned lightbulbs and fuses at the Eckernfoerde city museum
Walking around the Windebyer Noor and talking about cooking
Cute little bird at the Windebyer Noor (so much for our ornithology expertise)
Birds on rocks at the Noor (the rocks are granite that was pushed into the bay during the last ice age)

 

Although we woke up to gray skies, the day ultimately turned out to be considerably nicer, warmer, and sunnier weather-wise. We started the day in a fairly leisurely fashion with some blogging and photo selection for yesterday. Then I used ALL of yesterday’s brunch leftovers to put together one more breakfast for the six of us—we literally didn’t need anything we didn’t already have in the fridge or on the counter. Kai was clearly still peopled out from yesterday and didn’t join us, but we old farts all had a good time. Then Uschi packed up this and that to get ready to go back home to catch up with her granddaughter Lena and her friend Leah, and I walked her to her car, but promptly failed to guide her properly to her vacation rental, so we took about a 10-minute detour for a 2-minute drive. Oh well! She gathered her luggage from the rental, and took off for her hometown, Oldenburg (sadly, it took 6 rather than 3 hours for her to get home because there were two major construction-related traffic jams). I went to talk to Imke and Dorothee for a little, and then walked back home. I tided up for a little bit and we went for a little walk along the beach until it was nearly 2 pm, when we were supposed to meet Imke and Dorothee again and check out the teeny Eckernförde Museum with them.
There wasn‘t much at the museum (the former town hall on the adorable market square), but surprisingly, there was a small „history of old electric stuff“ exhibit that I‘m sure was some electrician‘s collection. We got to look at old methods of wiring, at old lightbulbs, switches and doorbells, and that was obviously a lot of fun for Mark. There was also the history of the town, of course, including the minor but locally famous „battle of Eckernförde“ during the war between Denmark and Schleswig-Holstein 1849, which was mostly remarkable for an explosion on a ship that happened AFTER the Danish fleet had already capitulated. So we got to look at the salvage from that and a dramatic painting of the battle, but that was not nearly as interesting as the doorbells and a china chamber pot that was apparently specifically designed to be used underneath long skirts for lengthy church services. 🙂 There were also a few photos from the all-important flood from 1872, which destroyed quite a lot of houses here, although no lives were lost, as well as documentation on the town during the Nazi era and in the immediate post-war time, when a lot of German refugees came here from areas of Germany that became Polish and Russian—of some interest to me because my mom and her family actually came to this region (to Rendsburg, about 20 miles from here) from further East. But because her own mother’s family actually originally came from here, she was never in one of the refugee camps that dotted the landscape here. The ration cards, various cooking contraptions like a „Kochkiste“ and, remarkably, a 1945 bridal gown sown out of parachute silk were all part of the ephemera that were collected here. We stayed for about an hour and then had coffee and Andrea‘s remaining brownies—with excellent vanilla gelato we had picked up on the way home—at our house. It was looking nearly sunny outside by the time Imke and Dorothee left around 4, and so a little while later, after Kai had actually gotten up and taken his shower, we decided a long walk was in order.
We decided to walk around the Windebyer Noor, the odd body of water that is immediately west of Eckernförde, separated from the bay by a natural dam of several hundred feet that gradually silted up and separated what was really originally another ice age bay from the ocean. The noor now looks like a lake, but has no outlet and no visible surface connection to the ocean. But there is enough subterranean connection to make the water „brackish,“ half salt water, half fresh water (3% salt). The walk around it is lovely, leading partly through tall trees, partly through wetlands and around the banks of the noor; we saw a lot of birds and a few major granite boulders pushed here all the way from Sweden by the last ice age. There were many little educational signs with good info on it, including one about the bog people, since the „Windeby girl“ and other bog „mummies“ were found right here, but most of our entertainment came from Kai asking me questions about cooking. I am not sure how much he‘ll retain, but theoretically, he now knows how to make stuffed mushrooms and a whole range of different potato dishes. Since he decided to become a vegetarian, that may really come in handy. We had walked a total of about 7 miles by the time we got home after 7, and had dinner right away. Kai „made nails with heads,“ as the Germans say when someone follows through with something, and had me show him how to sauté veggies and make an omelet. That was his dinner, while Mark and I had the left-over Greek food from the other day, and some Turkish Fladenbrot (not flat bread, but a soft wheel-shaped loaf with sesame seeds). It was all delicious, and we ARE finally working down our food stores to „manageable,“ since we are leaving tomorrow. We started one more load of laundry; Kai and Mark talked a little about tech, and we called it a day at nearly 11 pm.

Monday, June 25 (from Eckernförde to Hamburg)

Miniature Wonderland hippie camping scene
Miniature Wonderland circus performers in snowy “Norway”
The spectacular Elbphilharmonie at the Hamburg waterfront
Inside the Elbphilasrmonie, observation deck
The old Elbtunnel, built in 1911, and completely tiled. This is one tube; the other is being renovated
Departure day after a week on the Baltic—admittedly, we could have had warmer weather but it was beautiful anyway! We got up, packed and had breakfast, but then still had quite a bit of time to doofle around, because Kai was still packing up and he, Imke, and Dorothee weren’t scheduled to leave until 11:50, so Mark and I strolled around the promenade and through the downtown one more time. We took the returnable bottles and glasses back to the store (got 3 Euro and 10 cents back), and went to a little store right below Imke’s rental where I had seen a beautiful thing for Kati, so I was buying that just as Imke came down with some trash! So we spent a few minutes upstairs with them and then returned, at about 10:15, only to find out that we should have been out of the apartment by 10! I somehow had thought checkout time was noon, as it was for the other apartment. But we scrambled just a little and were out by 11 (the owner reassured me that it was fine—I e-mailed her right away, obviously). Mark took Kai and me and all the luggage we had to the train station, and we unloaded and waited for Mark to get Imke and Dorothee and THEIR luggage, since the little Kia is so small that four people’s luggage would never fit. We repacked Mark and my suitcase, plus all the leftover food etc. that needed to travel with us, and left the others at the train station to catch their train to Osnabrück and Hanover, respectively. Kai will stay with Imke for a few days because he feels he didn’t get enough Osnabrück time—he loves the town—and we are taking a couple of extra days to spend in Hamburg and Oldenburg.
So we took off for Hamburg just after 11:30, and miraculously got through to our destination (Andrea and Peter‘s apartment in the Barmbek area of Hamburg) by 1:15, surprising everyone by not getting into any traffic jam („Stau“ in Germany is an everyday experience, especially on the crowded freeways), despite a few construction areas. We had made ourselves sandwiches for the road because we fully expected to be stuck, but we ended up eating them at Andrea and Peter‘s place for lunch at 1:30. Then we took off for the harbor area of Hamburg—really the heart of the city—a little bit ahead of Andrea and Peter, to go to one of Mark‘s favorite places in the world, the Miniature Wonderland (MiWoLa). We went four years ago, but he really wanted to go back, so we got time-stamped electronic tickets for 3 pm while we were still at Andrea‘s—so easy! It is basically a gigantic model railroad over two flights of a huge building, but the fun parts are the elaborate scenes that are built with teeny tiny buildings and people, and the tech—which doesn‘t just extend to hundreds of model trains that get controlled from a control room, but also the cars, which have an intelligent system with individual microchips, and even an airport with a series of airplanes taking off and landing (we got to watch the space shuttle land). I enjoyed miniature Hamburg most (miniature „America“ is very strange and seems to consist of Vegas, „cowboy land“ with canyons and deserts , Florida (with Everglades and Miami Beach), especially since it features the buildings in the Speicherstadt, the red-brick harbor storage buildings, which are now a gentrified shopping and living district, where the miniature wonderland is located—so you could see the building we were in in miniature size in front of you. We had a good time (it wasn‘t quite as crowded as last time we were here, but it is always very busy), but next time, Mark wants a behind-the-scenes tour.
We left a little before 5, and met up with A & P outside the building; we then went a few hundred feet further to the Hafen City section of the harbor, where the newest and most famous building of the harbor area now sits: the Elbphilharmonie, the big Hamburg philharmonic with its unusual shape and famously fantastic acoustics in a huge concert hall for classical music. It opened a year and a half ago, and they still sell out for every concert, and the building’s features and location attract a huge number of visitors. There is a visitor deck for which we needed tickets (they are free but limit the number of visitors a bit), but A & P had already gotten those for us). There were hordes of people going up, between deck visitors and people coming for a 6 pm concert, and even though it was grey and drizzly, it was really interesting to go up and to be up there.
Then we took a little coffee break (I was surprisingly tired) and walked over to the old tunnel under the river Elbe—„der alte Elbtunnel“. A & P had showed us that last time we were here, but for some reason we didn’t have enough time to actually walk through it, so we did that this time. The 450-meter tunnel was built, for vehicles, in 1911, with huge car elevators and two tubes, one for each direction—currently, one tube is being renovated, so the other one is open just for bicyclists and pedestrians. The early 20th-century style of the tunnel is just beautiful—it is all tile, with occasional decorative majolica tiles that show either local fish and other animals (flounders, lobsters, etc) or „captains of industry“ type of stuff, celebrating Hamburg‘s industry. There was even a tile with a zeppelin and a double-decker airplane. I really find this thing fascinating, even though it no longer leads anywhere people need to go (obviously, there are some bike paths on the other side since there was a constant stream of cyclists going both ways)—and I still cannot believe I never even knew this existed when I lived in Hamburg for four years!
After our tunnel adventures, we decided to take the U-Bahn (subway) back home, because we still had some drizzle, and were back at the apartment about 7:30. We had a wonderful dinner of pasta with meat sauce and salad, with „Eis and Heiß“ (vanilla ice cream with a hot mixed-fruit topping) for dessert. We sat up and talked for a little bit, but I was pretty yawny, and glad to be in bed before 11.

 

Tuesday, June 26 (Hamburg)

Decaying pump station at the former water treatment station of Kaltenhofe, now a nature preserve
Kaltenhofe with a view of the very new natural gas power plant on the banks of the river Elbe
The escapement of the clockwork exhibited in the “Golden Cage” performance space at Entenwerder, on the banks of the river Elbe
Hamburg’s amphibian tour bus takes off for the harbor at the Entenwerder pier
The “Riverbus” on land, after it came back out of the water (dripping below)
Mark made the bus driver wave. We do not know why the Riverbus has an anchor.
Public swimming area on the Elbe in Wedel, west of Hamburg
Welcome Höft (welcome station) in Wedel welcomes a freighter
Mark and Peter relax at Hamburg’s small boat (“Yacht”) harbor
Peter and Mark and a big old buoy at the Yacht Harbor
We had a wonderful Hamburg adventure day today, and—finally, after a week of cooler, cloudier weather, it got sunny and warm and we had to think „shade“ and „sunscreen“ for the first time in quite a while! We had a leisurely breakfast at Andrea and Peter‘s apartment and then took off a little after 9 am for Kaltenhofe, a place I‘d never been—even as I lived in Hamburg for four years as a student, Andrea and Peter always know of the most amazing little nooks and corners I never even heard of. This one is a nature preserve on a little island upriver from the harbor where an old sewage treatment plant was converted into a nature preserve and bird protection area. The 19th century pump stations at the 22 basins that are now little lakes have been left to decay, and the main building, a beautiful Victorian brick building, has been turned into a museum and info center. We walked around the areas that are not fenced in to keep trampling feet out, and loved how peaceful and pretty it was—even as we were so close to an active freight harbor and all kinds of industry—on the other bank of the river is a huge container storage facility, and practically next door to the preserve is a brand new natural gas power plant! Then we walked along the Elbe for a bit toward a little cafe/picnic area near the pier at Entenwerder—the so-called „Golden Cage,“ which is a „walkable work of art“ with a little coffee station nearby. Hard to describe! Just a two-story metal (brass?) structure that has holes all over, with places to sit and look out. We got coffee / juice and had our picnic food there, and while we were river watching, we saw the brand-new amphibian tour bus, the riverbus, get into the water! A & P said that it’s constantly booked out, even though the tickets cost 40 euros. I can imagine why! All of this, near the part of Hamburg called Rothenburgsort, is only about 5 km (3 miles) from the city center, and we could actually see the giant Elbphilharmonie and the bridges across the harbor from where we were.
We then decided to check out the other „end“ of the harbor activity by going out to Wedel, last Elevated station that still belongs to Hamburg in the East (even as it is technically no longer Hamburg, but already in the state of Schleswig-Holstein). From there, we took a 1-mile bus trip to the Elbe, to a place called Willkomm-Hoft, or welcome station, where all the big freighters coming and going get announced with country of origin and flag they fly under, tonnage, and destination, and then their national anthem gets played. We only got to catch one of these partly, because it was a very slow harbor day and we eventually started on our planned walk instead of sitting around waiting for more big ships to come by. We walked along the river, which has sandy banks so that there was even a little swimming area (complete with a beach bar that features potted palm trees), and then Hamburg‘s small-boat harbor (the Yachthafen). After that, another nature preserve begins, all along the dyke that separates the river from the marshland behind it. You would have never known that we were so close to an urban area, with the sheep on the dyke and the marshes with reeds and birds everywhere. Just beautiful. But we were not up for any additional walking (we were probably at about 5-6 miles by then and still had to go back), so we turned around and then hung out a bit more in the shade by the welcome station, watching smaller boats go by. It was very relaxing.
We took the bus, the El, the subway, and then again the bus to get back home (that took over an hour total) and arrived around 7. We had a simple pasta/leftover dinner here and sat around for a bit and chatted—but I crashed way earlier than the others and went to bed at 9:30, while they stayed up and talked photos and life in general until 11 or so. It‘s so nice to be with friends who can just go with the flow that way!

Wednesday, June 27 (from Hamburg to Oldenburg)

Blooming plant in the tropical greenhouse in Oldenburg’s Schlossgarten
16th-century painted ceiling in an Oldenburg shoe store, depicting the four known continents. This is a Native American (?) riding an armadillo (?)
The painted ceiling: scientifically accurate depiction of the common unicorn of Asia.
Uschi’s favorite grave cover in Oldenburg’s church, depicting some duke or other in an obvious state of happiness
Picture postcard view of the shopping district of Oldenburg with its beautiful townhomes
Today, we had a farewell breakfast with Andrea and Peter and then took off to go from Hamburg to Oldenburg, a town approximately the size of Osnabrück two hours southwest of Hamburg, where our friend Uschi lives. The drive was fine, but we did have to beat the GPS into submission, because it would show us the massive traffic jam by Bremen that would cause us a 50-minute delay, but no detours that would avoid it. I found us a pretty reasonable detour, and we were still in Oldenburg by 11 after leaving at 9. Uschi guided us from her house to a free park & ride parking lot, and then we walked back from there to town through the idyllic city park, formerly the park belonging to the local regent‘s palace (now a museum). Since the park, hothouses and beautifully landscaped beds and lawns and all, is right across the street from Uschi‘s apartment, it is her backyard and she takes quite a bit of pride in the care the city takes to make it so pretty. We then walked through the outer areas of said palace, which features a city museum and two nearby buildings with additional art museums (paintings by the expressionists from the Bridge / Brücke movement (Karl Schmidt-Rotluff, Emil Nolde, etc.) and the artists living in the artist colony Worpswede near Bremen, especially the awesome Paula Modersohn-Becker, are on display there). But we decided the weather was simply too gorgeous to spend our time in the museums, so we walked on to the downtown area of Oldenburg, which I have always loved—a generous pedestrian „zone“ with lots of little shops in 18th- and 19th century houses, in an oval-shaped area around the main church. Uschi mentioned that this was one of the first pedestrian shopping areas in the country, created in the mid-60s, and I remembered that we sometimes came here as a family in the 1970s because that was still rather special then. (My hometown is only about an hour away by car.) She showed us some of the special gems that we would not otherwise have found: a building with a crazy painted ceiling from the 16th or early 17th century that is now simply a Birkenstock shoe store. The ceiling represents the then-known four continents, and we were highly amused by the presumed Native American riding on a presumed giant armadillo! „America“ also featured animals looking very much like camels, while „Asia“ had a unicorn… European colonialism/exocitism at its most bizarre! We also took a peek into the church and were in for a surprise: the outside looks like a standard Northern European red-brick Gothic church, and one would expect the classic cross-shaped layout with a big rectangular nave—but inside is a pantheon-style neoclassical dome from the late 17th century, while with beautiful details on the ceiling, and a room behind the altar that has various sarcophagi and coffins of rulers on display. Uschi‘s favorite is a guy in full armor who has a blissful smile on his face—and his right hand directly over his crotch. Hmmm….
After our city tour, which also included a stop for coffee at a little market cafe, we went back to Uschi‘s apartment, which is in one of the most beautiful streets of all of Oldenburg, with gorgeous whitewashed town homes, mostly from the 19th century, and with very pretty features. She has a gorgeous ground-floor apartment with a balcony looking out on the street and another out back, and we had a lovely lunch of sausages, jacket potatoes, and salad, with Quark (untranslatable German dairy dish, a bit like yogurt) for dessert and coffee and chocolate! Very sumptuous.
We sat and talked for a bit, and then it was already time to leave—Uschi walked us back through the park and we took it from here, and were on the road by 4 pm—convenient because Germany was playing in a World Cup soccer game (their last, as it turned out, since they lost against South Korea in overtime) that started right then, and the freeway was relatively quiet, except for the many many trucks that had to keep moving, soccer or not). We got back to Osnabrück in a little more than an hour, and hung out at home for a while. But we had an evening commitment at 7:30 (after a hush settled over the city because the soccer loss)—we all went to see my former high-school teacher Detlev Brandt, and his husband Heinrich, because they had invited us for a little get-together, partly to give Kai a chance to talk music with Detlev. They live in this same neighborhood, in Katharinenstrasse, and like Imke, they live on the ground floor of a historic town house, with access to their own little garden nook. So we sat outside with wine and beer (Kai sampled both) and bread and cheese and talked, mostly in German, but with the occasional bit of English (I think it was a bit boring for Mark). Detlev took Kai to his stereo at some point and played him the Appassionata by Beethoven, and otherwise, we just talked about music, life, and—briefly, since the topic is so depressing—American politics. (Mostly, people are just baffled by what is happening in the States, as are we. Since the news of Anthony Kennedy retiring from the Supreme Court came right in the middle of our evening, we three Americans were especially mopey and dispirited and actually steered the conversation elsewhere fairly quickly). We left Detlev and Heinrich at about 10 pm and I went straight to bed—I was pretty tired!

 

Thursday, June 28 (Osnabrück and Fürstenau)

Picture postcard view of Antje’s hometown’s main street with the old city gate–Grosse Strasse mit Hohem Tor in Fürstenau
Hohes Tor in Fürstenau–with crooked ladder
In our friend Sabine’s magical garden
Blooms and butterflies in Sabine’s garden
Schaum family graves (Antje’s dad, grandma, and memorial for grandfather with unknown death date), with Antje’s stepmother’s grave next to it.
Another picture postcard view of Fürstenau–the Schloss = castle (now city admin building, with the church in the former council hall or “Rittersaal” on the right)
View of the castle from the road to main street (formerly a drawbridge)

 

We took it fairly slowly this morning—we were scheduled to leave by car for Fürstenau, the town I grew up in, by 10, but Kai was not quite ready, so it was about 10:30 before we left. Mark drove, Imke directed him, and that worked pretty well once I stopped trying to interfere from the back seat. It‘s about an hour‘s drive (very scenic); once we were there, we took care of some banking business, and went to the local gelateria (of which I have very fond memories, all the way back to when it first opened and a (small, inch-diameter) scoop of gelato cost 10 Pfennig in Germany‘s old currency—whenever I had allowance to spare, I‘d get 5 scoops in five flavors!). Then we went to see some of our oldest friends who have stayed in town, a couple named Dieter and Sabine, who moved here in the late 70s, a bit after my parents, and were always part of their friend group. Sabine had prepared a lovely light lunch of tomato soup and bread, and we had coffee afterwards, all in their fantastic garden, truly a magical place that has nooks and crannies far beyond what you would first expect (including slides and sandboxes for their grandkids, and a „secret pathway“ between hedges right at the edge of the garden). Kai and Dieter talked about choir music, because Dieter is in a nearby mixed choir, and we had a good time all around. Then we walked to the nearby cemetery, where my dad‘s grave is (as well as my grandmother‘s and stepmom‘s), and Imke could reassure herself that the gardener who is maintaining the grave is doing a good job. No plastic flowers on German graves! They are either just stone and evergreens, or someone takes care of changing the flowers seasonally. My mother, who is a saintly woman in all respects, not only pays for the maintenance of the grave of the man she divorced in the 1990s, but has insisted that his grave has the same arrangement of plants on it as his second wife‘s (maintained by the same gardener).
We then went for a little „memory walk“ that led from the cemetery to the park and the former castle, the moat of which was made into two small c-shaped lakes that are part of the park, while the castle itself is now part city administration, part Catholic Church. There are some very old fortifications and cool tunnels, but all on a very small scale. The city jail from the 18th century, which was partly in use until the early 1970s, is supposed to be made into a hotel, but I did not see any signs of that yet. We were back by the car after an hour, and drove through my old neighborhood and past our old house, which is enormous by comparison with many other houses in the neighborhood because it has this huge addition that was built in the 30s—that struck me as funny, because everything else seems to have shrunk over time, but that big old house has not. It shows a bit of wear and needs a new roof, but I am happy that it is still lived in and looks good.
We got back at about 4 pm and took it easy that evening—had a simple early dinner of bread and cheese, and then Mark and I went for a long-ish walk through downtown, through the park by the university, and along a walkway the river Hase which leads back into the downtown area. We had something to drink at a cafe (again with VERY slow service—we‘ve had that in many places) and walked home. Since it was warm and sunny after a long-ish cold spell AND also the first day of the 6 weeks of school vacation (Schulferien) for all kids in this state, the city was just full of people basking in the sun—in the parks, in the street cafes, etc., so it was a really nice walk for people watching!

Friday, June 29 (Osnabrück)

Kai listening to classical music with Detlev Brandt
A monument made out of tiles created by Osnabrück citizens; center: “Willi Schröer,” a local musician who played the lute, and whom I knew as a kid because he was my friend Anke’s grandpa. It was very surprising to find this tile!
Epic gelato lightsaber battle at our favorite gelateria
A slow day of just BEING in Osnabrück—how nice is that! We took it easy at home, futzing with laundry etc., and then dropped Kai off at my former teacher‘s, Detlev, whom we’d visited a couple of days ago, because they wanted to listen to / talk about music some more. Mark and I took a walk in the meantime, stopping at a couple of stores that I wanted to check out (specifically, I was looking for a specific book that I had mentioned to my mom and to Peter and Andrea), and came back by Detlev‘s around 12:20 and sat around for a bit while the two of them finished listening to one of Schubert‘s works. We decided on the spot to all go to lunch together at an outdoor cafe downtown, the ubiquitous Bar Celona (also in Hamburg and elsewhere), and although it was almost getting too hot to sit outside, we found a spot under one of their big umbrellas and had a light lunch while Kai managed to explain some pretty complex musical ideas in Germany. We sat together until about 2 pm, and Kai really enjoyed having found someone whose opinion he really respects when it comes to music, while Detlev was impressed that someone as young as Kai understands and „feels“ classical music as well as he does.
The three of us then wandered through the shops a little more, and finally had our gelato at our Osnabrück favorite, the Cafe/gelateria Fontanella. We really had fun because Kai had a kid‘s ice cream dish that was supposed to represent Star Wars (only the photo will really show how that worked, but it was genius), and I had „gnocchi“ made of ice cream with this fabulous nut sauce they make. Mark was very pleased with his banana split, too. We then went home and took a little break & nap, since it was so hot, and later, Kai and I went grocery shopping at the Aldi, both to get some things Imke needed and so that he could get some candy to bring home (I got some chocolate for the same purpose). We came home and later had a regular German dinner at 7 pm, and ended up going for one more walk with Kai, who was, however, not really up for any crowds, which, given the weather, were everywhere, both in the park and downtown. The fact that there was terrible bad music on the main market square finished him off, and we just wandered back home.

Saturday, June 30 (Bremerhaven)

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Today was our last excursion—we went to Bremerhaven to get a special tour of the Klimahaus, an experiential museum about climate zones, and of the town, by Klaus, my mom‘s boyfriend, who has a management position at the museum. We had to get up very early to take a 7:00 am bus and the 7:34 train to Bremerhaven (which takes about 2 hours), and Kai really managed to do this without making us all panic, even though it took a bit of explaining for him to understand why his grandmother had reminded him about this all week long rather than treating him like an adult—that it was really important to her that this day would go smoothly and that we would all make mutually good impressions on each other—Klaus on us and we on him. 🙂
Everything went really smoothly on that count. Klaus is a very nice man and a great guide, and he also speaks excellent English. He picked us up from the train station and we all took the bus to the port, now mostly used for museums and shopping, and called the „Museumshafen“ (museum harbor). We’ve been there before to see other things, like the little maritime zoo and the Emigrant House, but this visit was mostly about the Klimahaus (Climate House). Klaus („Climate Klaus,“ he said) has been with the Klimahaus ever since it opened in 2009 (we were there in 2010 with Uschi, and I remember a rather rushed walk through with the kids when it was very very busy). The museum (or „experiential space“ as they prefer to call it) starts with everyone following a young man‘s journey around the world along the 8th degree of longitude, i.e. roughly the longitude of Bremerhaven, through all climate zones. By walking around the exhibit spaces, we travel south around the globe through Switzerland, Sardinia, the Sahara (Niger), the rainforests of Cameroon, Antarctica, Samoa, Alaska with a detour to visit the starry skies over the North Pole, and then to a Hallig, or islet without any dykes, just north of Bremerhaven. It was really interesting, and because the environmental message was so understated, with very few explanatory plaques and statistics, it actually had more of an impact. On the surface, the emphasis was on „get to know the people, plants and animals of each region,“ but beneath that was clearly the idea of climate change and other environmental issues—rain forest deforestation, ocean trash, and the use of drinking water by uranium mining companies in the Sahara. Of course, it is geared to people, especially kids, that may not have spent as much time thinking about the horrible impact we have on the planet as we already have. I walked out of several rooms with tears in my eyes. I do wish there had been more of a „final chapter“ or additional exhibit about what visitors can do to change their impact, and I swear that they had such a room in 2010. But Klaus didn‘t know what I meant when I tried to ask about it, and may have misunderstood me. We spent all morning, from 10 to almost 1:30, in the Klimahaus, and he said we only saw about 25% of what there is to see. He is clearly very proud of this impressive museum, and rightly so.
Since we were in a harbor, it was only fitting that we then went to have lunch on a ship, a three master outfitted as a restaurant that specializes in ocean fish. Kai, the vegetarian, was able to find a chickpea curry, and Mark had pork Medaillons with Spätzle, but Imke, Klaus, and I had various kinds of very well prepared fish. It was a lovely lunch, and Klaus had even brought presents—a bilingual book about Bremerhaven and the annual Klimahaus magazine. Afterwards, we walked along the dyke to the part of the harbor to watch the lock system in action—the little yacht harbor is protected by the locks from the fairly dramatic tidal changes here at the mouth of the river Weser (Klaus said the difference between low and high tide could be up to four meters). In the background, we could see the actual port, where car exports are now the biggest thing, whereas in the late 19th century, this was of course the port of exit for most emigrants from Germany, even more so than Hamburg’s port. The last part of the tour was the main pedestrian area, the so-called „Bürger“ (after „Bürgermeister Smid Strasse,“ named for the first mayor of Bremerhaven, which became the new port for Bremen in 1827, a city stamped out of the ground where there had been none, because the river Weser downstream, where Bremen originally had its port, had gotten too shallow for freight due to silting and the ships having gotten bigger. This was something I didn‘t know about Bremerhaven, which is about an hour by train or car straight north of Bremen almost at the open sea—even though I‘d been there multiple times with Uschi, whose significant other, Wolfgang, lived there for many years and showed us various aspects of the city. (He died a year and a half ago, and I fondly remember his fascination with everything having to do with ships and harbors.)
We looped back around to the Klimahaus via yet another highly recommended gelateria, but this time, we just got a scoop each to go and walked to our bus stop. Klaus went on the bus with us and then took the train home to his train station, while we took off for the 2-hour trip back to Osnabrück. We also slept for a while on the train—the weather is beautiful, but also warm, and the busy day had wiped us out. We were home about 7, had bread and such for dinner, and then I still got busy—I had to bake brownies for tomorrow and tussle with two loads of laundry (always a big production in Germany), so I was busy until about 10:30 with that, while Mark putzed with computer things.