Day 28, Sunday, June 23, 2019: The Schleswig-Holstein Lake District

The boat that took us on our 2-hour tour of the Grosse Plöner See.
The town and castle of Plön from the lake.
A 500-year old oak on the grounds of the former Benedictine convent at Preetz.
The convent’s church at Preetz.

After our day at the seaside yesterday, this day was our Lake District day. Even thought the state we are in (Schleswig-Holstein) has plenty of ocean water surrounding it (the Atlantic on the West, the Baltic on the East, with only a hundred or so miles of land in between), it is also full of lakes. The district we are in right now alone has 60, of which 5 of them fairly large (although the largest, the Grosse Plönsee with its 30 square kilometers (under 12 square miles) is not exactly one of the Great Lakes. But the landscape, shaped by the ice age, is gorgeous and the lakes are all very pretty, with little towns and villages and boat docks all along, and bird sanctuaries in between. 

So, after breakfast and a somewhat slow-moving legal conversation we needed to get through, we went on our tour of the lakes and their district. First, we drove to Plön, a town right at the water front about 20 minutes from J & M‘s house, and walked around the town with its beautiful former palace/seat of the regents of the area (now a school for opticians run by Germany‘s largest manufacturer of glasses), the Schloss, its old red-brick church and its beautiful little houses and shops. We had a cup of coffee and tasted some cake Judith and Michael thought was especially good, and then wandered to the lakeside and bought tickets for a 2-hour boat ride. It was getting warm but it was still cool enough for us to sit on the top deck in the bright sunshine and watch the coastline as the boat maneuvered through various little islands (Michael calls them mole hills, but their are green, either with shrubs or actually little wooded areas with mature trees). We went past the so-called Island of the Princes, a peninsula famous for the fact that the sons of Germany‘s next-to-last emperor were educated there, from 1896 to 1910, after military high school, to learn about agriculture and water management. (This is the kind of information that came from the tape that the captain of the tour boat played at the appropriate moments). Just past this island, we briefly saw a sea eagle on one of the trees—too far away to photograph, sadly—and then also quite a large colony of white swans, more than I have ever seen in one spot.  

Beyond that, the lake tour was mostly just little stops at various small villages and a beautiful, slo-mo view of the beautiful landscape surrounding us. After about 2 hours, we got off at a stop near Plön and then walked the rest of the way back to town along the lakeside, in the shade of the trees that line most of it. Very nice. By now it was after 3:00 pm, and I was getting hungry (or at least had a sugar low). We drove to another nearby town J & M knew well, and went to a jack-of-all-trades „international cuisine“ restaurant, since Judith and Michael knew that they had thick-crust pizza that was actually very good. So I had a lovely calzone (as did Michael) and Mark a pizza (as did Judith), with Imke sampling a tomato salad, everything very fresh and yummy, and then we strolled across a flea market on the main square that was slowly nearing its end. We didn‘t end up buying anything, but it‘s always fun to see what people are selling! We left after checking out a very lavish former Benedictine convent with the usual imposing brick church and 20+ outbuildings that varied in style from „country house“ to neoclassical temple, and a beautiful old oak that Michael estimated to be at least 500 years old, given its size. We then returned to J & M‘s apartment for a little while to rest. 

Then the two drove us to our train station, Neumünster, where we all had gelato for dinner (since lunch was at 4 pm, that seemed appropriate), and by 7:30 we were on our train back to Osnabrück, with a short stop-over in Hamburg. Unfortunately, we had a huge delay in Hamburg (70 minutes for an ICE is a lot!) and so we were not really on our way until way after 9:30, and finally in Osnabrück at midnight, just at the right time to catch the last bus to Imke‘s house! We were good and tired. Nonetheless: 

What a great weekend, and such wonderful times with both my sister and my mother. I can‘t believe how great the weather was—it was supposed to be significantly colder, but a) it was perfect for our excursions, and b) the lack of clouds made it seem much warmer than it was. So we were all actually grateful for the lower temperatures, especially since it is gearing up to be very hot again in Germany—beyond the extent of what is usual in Germany. 

Day 29: Monday, June 24, 2019: One more day in Osnabrück

Imke, Uschi and Antje, just enjoying the moment.

My friend Tony would say: 6 months until Christmas! That is normally a horrifying idea because I don‘t like winter, but right now, it at least reminds me of the idea that it COULD be cool. It was quite warm—a high of 87 may not sound like much, but for some reason, it feels quite warm. Tomorrow, when we are leaving, it‘ll hit a high of 96, which is extremely unusual here. Hopefully, it won‘t be so bad in Frankfurt, where we are headed. 

We slept in a little (until almost 8 pm) after getting home last night after midnight, and then had a light breakfast with rolls and yogurt. I did our last batch of laundry while starting on the packing process and dealing with some e-mails, and then Mark and I walked downtown to run our last few errands, which mostly entailed buying baby clothes and a couple of other presents for Kati, Krynn, and Kai. Nothing big, but a few minor little things that we know they love. We also had a light lunch, in an indoor food court with air conditioning, which has some Asian fusion fast food. I had something that could possibly barely pass for sushi (pickled ginger with un-Japanese things rolled in rice, does that count?) and Mark had a lovely mild curry. Then we walked back home around 1:30 and did some more of the packing and organizing, while waiting for our friend Uschi to get here for a quick stop on her way to visit friends in nearby Münster. 

Uschi got here about 4 pm, and we walked to the gelateria that we love so much, and that Uschi had never gone to with us or with my mom. Even though it was warm, we took a slightly longer route and the walk did us all good. We had lovely gelato concoctions—Uschi had their cassata, which I had never tried, but I had an ice cream „cup“ with hazelnut gelato, cream, hazelnuts and halzelnut syrup, which was delicious. Mark had a rum-raisin cup, and my mom picked her own flavors to combine. Then we walked back home and had some coffee (Mark didn‘t, but he was a good sport and sat with us, even though the translations remained partial as we chatted about our trip and Uschi‘s plans for upcoming trips this summer and fall. She had to take off around 6 to continue on to her friends, and after she left, we did a bit more packing, and I gave Imke a couple of short lessons for using the essential functions of the older I-pad that we had passed on to Judith and that Judith now passed on to her. She actually really liked the idea of just being able to use it by touch, and the way she can download and look at photos that we send her by e-mail is much more intuitive on the i-pad than on her computer. So she warmed up to the idea fairly quickly.  But I wish we had had a few more days to answer questions that will inevitably come up. I remember my first i-pod and not being able to figure out how to make things work because swipe, enlarge and shrink were not intuitive at all! Now it is all second nature. 

Then we had a traditional bread-and-cheese dinner and Mark and I went for a farewell walk through downtown Osnabrück for about an hour. It had cooled down nicely after a hot day and we really enjoyed it. We were home about 10, took showers, and called it a day! 

Day 30: Tuesday, June 25, 2019: from Osnabrück to Frankfurt

A highrise in the “American side” of downtown Frankfurt
The historic main square of Frankfurt’s Old Town
Robotics artwork (moving all the time) by Yves Netzhammer
One of Theo Jansen’s “strandbeests” (beach monsters)
Takayuki Todo’s expressive robotic head with its big sad eyes.
Füseli’s Night Mare, in the painting gallery of the Goethe House
A portrait by Angelica Kauffmann, in the gallery of the Goethehaus.
Love locks on the footbridge across the Main river in downtown Frankfurt.
The Frankfurt skyline

Today was our day to travel to Frankfurt and to explore its downtown a little bit, since I had never really been there except at the airport and the train station. We said our goodbyes after a lovely last breakfast with Imke, and got to the train station nice and early, trying to futz with the station‘s free wifi because we now no longer have data on our phones—our cheap but mighty data flat rate (6 gigabyte for less than 20.00 euro per device) were for 4 weeks and our time was up. We tried to add on for at least one device but failed to do so because the wifi was so sketchy at the station, and then non-existent on our first train. Thankfully, though, we started the data a little later on Mark‘s i-pad mini, so it supplied us with the information we needed as we went through our day, having to do normally simple things like checking in to our flight and getting our electronic boarding passes early. It made me realize how spoiled we‘ve been with the data access here the entire time. Not having a good internet connection was just never even an issue either in Germany or in Italy. 

We had to change from an IC to an ICE in Cologne, and despite a brief delay of 10 minutes, everything went quite smoothly, and the ICE actually finally did have wifi. What it didn‘t have is fully functional air-conditioning (always a problem in German trains and buses; it is needed so rarely that when it is, it tends to underperform or be broken). This was an issue because it was getting to be a very hot day, and so we were already hot when we got to Frankfurt. Our hotel, only 4 minutes from the main station, was newly renovated and did have air conditioning, so we cooled down for a little bit before we ventured out. That was actually a bit of an adventure—I had known we were going to be in a slightly seedy neighborhood right by the station, but we are basically right in the red light district, even as we were also only 15 minutes from the historic district, so it was a bit of an interesting walk, with homeless beggars and a few prostitutes sitting and standing around the street corners with their seedy bars and clubs. 

But once we were past that, we found our way without a problem to the two museums that we wanted to check out. The first was a totally random discovery that we made yesterday, during a conversation with Uschi. When she visited us, we had shown her the wonderful „Strandbeests“ or beach monsters of a Dutch artist name Theo Jansen, big animal-like machines made out of pvc pipes that move across the beach just through windpower or being pushed a little. When we were on our walk yesterday, she remembered that and asked about the artists‘ name and where his work was to be found. As I was googling the answers, we discovered that the Strandbeests are currently part of an exhibit on empathy and technology at the Frankfurt Kunstverein, together with the works of two other artists! So of course we had to check that out. There were two of the creatures there, and one of them, you could „walk“ yourself by pushing it forward. The other one is much bigger and needs to be demonstrated in action by an expert—so that only happens Thursday nights and on weekends, and we didn‘t get to see that. Nonetheless, it was exciting to see them, and the other works, several machines and computer simulation videos by Yves Netzhammer and a robotic head by Takayuki Todo that only moves the eyes, eyelids, and eyebrows, but seems very expressive somehow, were also pretty interesting. 

Then we walked to the Goethe House, which we only rather quickly looked through, because it wasn‘t very interesting—it was really completely bombed to pieces and reconstructed after 1945, although some of the furniture was squirreled away and saved. In addition, the third floor (where Goethe‘s room as a young man would have been, and where they also show the puppet theater that he had as a kid and that influenced him so much) could not be shown today because it was simply too hot up there. So it was really mostly a dud, but I had come to see the collection of late 18th- and early 19th-century paintings that are part of the museum‘s collections. Those were a bit more interesting, but the exhibit rooms were also uncomfortably hot. I felt sorry for the woman who had to trail us and the other couple of tourists that were looking around all over the hot rooms. But at least she and I struck up a conversation; I am pretty sure she was an art historian / curator‘s assistant and not just a guard. There were a few individual interesting pieces, for example by Goethe‘s friend Tischbein (although the famous Goethe in the Campagna with the badly proportioned left leg is only a copy—the original is in the Staedelmuseum, and I wasn‘t going to go to another museum!), and by Angelica Kaufmann. The most famous piece was probably the Nightmare by the Swiss painter Heinrich Fussli, to whom a whole room was dedicated. And overall, the rooms were well documented and organized. But the museum is being done over and will soon become a much larger museum of the Romantic era. 

By about 4 pm, we were thoroughly done with the toasty museums, and we did walk around the little bit of Frankfurt‘s historic old city center that is still left. Frankfurt has mostly a very modern downtown with skyscrapers, erected after most of the inner city was destroyed by bombs, and looks very American that way. But side by side with this shiny glass and steel downtown, there a few individual 18th- and 19th century townhouses and streets, and the complete and very spiffy main square with the Römer and what not, where all the tourists were milling around despite the heat. We left this behind pretty quickly, tourists and all, and went down to the banks of the Main, the river that runs through Frankfurt, hoping that it would be a little bit cooler there. No such luck, but we walked across the footbridge and back, and then turned towards the train station to find some quick and easy food for dinner, ignoring the appealing-looking little Turkish, Indian, and Afghani cafes on the way because they looked very warm to us. 

The station is enormous and there was a large food court, with brand-name fast-food places, and we got some mediocre pasta/salad to go, with coke/ Apfelschorle, and had it in the pleasantly cool food court. Then we headed back to the hotel for a little, just to cool off, and ventured out again at about 7 for some gelato (our last chance!) and to wander about a bit more. We crossed a few more Main bridges, and watched people do outdoor jazzercise, have their picnics on the lawn by the banks of the river, mill around the clubs and bars, and even have some pretty intense across-the-street fights in the red-light district. We were back in our room a little after 9 and definitely done with the hot day—showers felt great and we are ready to take off tomorrow. But it was interesting to study the contrasts in Frankfurt‘s culture and atmosphere, all within a few hundred square feet of space, and it seems like a very diverse and interesting city, even as we probably wouldn‘t want to live close to the train station! 

Day 31: Wednesday, June 26, 2019: From Frankfurt back to the US

Micro Bananas

This was our long, long travel day. We woke up about 7:30 and went down to breakfast in our hotel. It was a pretty nice spread, but most of the breakfast room was pretty toasty from yesterday‘s heat. We sat by a door that was open to the street, but that meant cool air plus construction noises. Still, better than stuffy and 85 degrees!

Because it was still so early and our flight was not until 2 pm, we took one more walk along the Main river, which is only a couple of blocks from the train station and hotel area. We had walked the same stretch yesterday, but it was a little cooler, especially under the beautiful trees that line part of the promenade along the Mainkai, the banks of the Main. We also walked through a little garden called „Main Nizza“ as in Nice, France (Nizza in German), which started in the 18th century as infill of a side arm that left a little island in the river. It was full of Mediterranean plants, and there was even a banana plant with very teeny green bananas, about 1 inch in length.

At about 10 am, we had returned to our hotel and checked out, and for lack of anything better to do / stay out of the heat, took the elevated to the airport, which only takes about 15 minutes. We found our way to the check-in counter and then milled around in the food court for a while (there was a very elaborate jungle gym and we watched a bunch of kids tumbling around), before going through security and waiting at our gate until boarding time for our flight from Frankfurt to Amsterdam around 1:30 via bus. We ran a little bit late, but thankfully they made up for most of that delay, so that we got to our gate in Amsterdam just fine and were on our Minneapolis flight before it took off around 5 pm. The flight seemed very long—neither one of us could get to sleep, with a very crabby toddler crying for a lot of the flight nearby, and with me having pulled something in my left arm so that it was really difficult to get comfortable. So instead, we watched movies—we both started with the Incredibles 2, and then I watched a couple of documentaries and a feature film called The Big Sick that I liked a lot, and Mark watched Captain Marvel and a Star Wars rerun. The food was decent, and they even served a warm cookie halfway between the big meal at the start and the sandwich plus ice cream at the end of the flight.

Things in Minneapolis with customs and passports went smoothly, even though we didn‘t bother declaring the remains of the trail mix that had traveled with us FROM the States and then came back to the States as „fruit“ we imported. I never know what to say about snacks, which we‘ve learned not to travel without. Then we still had to wait almost 3 hours for our connecting flight to Omaha, but we did get to Nebraska before midnight, and Mark‘s friend James picked us up and dropped us off at home. I was so exhausted that I actually slept through the entire last flight (I have no memory of the safety instructions) and through the 1-hour drive home! The cats greeted us enthusiastically and were very happy to snuggle up with us in our very own bed. Unpacking won‘t happen until tomorrow!