Monday, June 11 (Austria to Weimar)

Our hotel in Weimar. We had the “attic windows” with the rounded tops.
And the view out of one of our hotel windows!
Picturesque ruin in the huge city park–actually left standing after an Allied bombing destroyed it, but it fits right in with the monuments, buildings, and fountains in the park
Affectionate alley cat at the Roman House in the park on the Ilm
The gate house and old tower at Weimar City Castle
Graves at the historic cemetery
The Goethe family gravesite at the historic cemetery

 

 

We got up early (before 6:30) and I walked with Loisi (as it turns out, a pet name / diminutive of Aloisia—I had been wondering about that) to the bakery and we picked out some rolls for our breakfast and lunch sandwiches. We got back to the house at about 6:45, and I had a pretty hurried breakfast while also making our sandwiches before Michl picked us up at 7:15. He drove us to a nearby train station from which we could catch a regional train to our actual connection, and since we also had two additional stopovers, our train trip ended up being: Attnang – Wels; Wels – Nürnberg; Nürnberg – Erfurt; Erfurt – Weimar, all between 8 am and 3 pm. Throw in a delay after Nürnberg that had us looking for a new Erfurt-Weimar connection, and a long walk from the Weimar train station to our hotel, and it was a fairly complex travel day, given our big suitcase. But the scenery en route was very pretty, we got a few naps in, and although the cobblestones of Weimar were not our friend, we did make it to the hotel ok. The trend of “Antje and Mark get put in the room at the very top under the roof” continues from Geneva and Zurich, and by 4 pm, we had settled in an enormous suite with kitchen (although it’s the cheapest hotel on our trip so far) on the top floor of the Fürstenhof am Bauhaus in Weimar, a nicely renovated 4-story Victorian with a beautiful view, but very strange and useless wifi and NO elevator.

It was a little cooler here and overcast, but that was actually welcome relief after all the hot weather we had in Austria. Since I know Weimar from a previous trip in 2009 with my friend Uschi, I knew fairly well where we were after a glance at the map, and showed Mark around—the hotel is only a block from one of the main pathways into the park at the river Ilm. I love this park, and we rambled around exploring the various funky features, like the now-picturesque ruin of a building that was left partly standing after an allied bombing in 1945, or the various statues of Liszt and Shakespeare, the Roman villa and Goethe’s garden house, and we even went into the “Park Cave” (really a system of underground tunnels that were initially dug for a beer brewing operation in Goethe’s time, but then repurposed as a bomb shelter in WWII. There are a few spots where the geology of the region is visible in the cave, and there are also some fossils that were actually dug out and catalogued partly under Goethe’s oversight. But the cave was a bit of a disappointment, while the park was gorgeous and a lot of fun. Nonetheless, the highlight was probably finding a cat who REALLY REALLY wanted to be petted for a little.

Actually, the park in Weimar is wonderful, and I fell in love with it in 2010. It is one of the first parks that was designed to just invite people to stroll and contemplate various spots, and if I am not mistaken, it was designed from the beginning to be open to the public, even though the land belonged to the Karl August, the famous ruler (Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, to be precise) who brought Goethe and so much amazing culture and art to Weimar in the late 18th and early 19th century (after his mom had already gotten started with the now world-famous library). I tried to give Mark a quick sketch of why this man and his buddy / semi-tutor / high-level civic servant Goethe were so famous and influential—but it’s pretty hard to put that in a nutshell. Maybe the only way to encapsulate it is to point out that there are EIGHT world heritage sites right here within a couple of square miles, and then three more in the outlying areas.

We then walked from the park to the historic city center and wandered around the beautifully preserved 18th century and older homes. The plazas in Weimar are especially pretty—very old cobblestones and nice big spaces between the buildings giving way to crooked little alleys like everywhere else. We strolled around pretty much all the famous spots—the palace that so obviously was a funky little castle before the palace was added in the late 18th century; the houses where Goethe and Schiller lived, the Wittumspalais, where Karl August’s mother, Anna Amalia, lived as the dowager duchess after he was old enough to rule, and the national theater with the statue of Goethe and Schiller in front of it. Then we found ourselves some super cheap (and bad) Asian food and ate it at the foot of the Goethe-Schiller monument, watching skateboarders practice their moves and high schoolers doing a sort of Weimar scavenger hunt. We had gelato for the dessert, but our portions were huge and we actually left some in our dishes, which never happens. We strolled around a bit more and found our way back to our hotel; it was a pretty quiet night in town (probably because it was Monday and the museums were mostly closed), and we were pretty tired. So we only explored one more thing right by our hotel, namely the historic cemetery (which I hadn’t seen last time I was here). That was pretty cool, because the old, broken-down, moss-covered graves were really interesting to look at. Many had grave plaques on a wall (some legible, some not) rather than on the ground, and much of the cemetery looked very unkempt in a very romantic and appealing way). We looked at the Goethe family plot (I liked that it included a favorite servant) and walked around the improbable Russian orthodox chapel and mausoleum that was built for Maria Pavlova, wife of a 19th century grand duke, in the middle of the cemetery at the back of the family crypt. We couldn’t go in because of renovations, but just seeing the outside, with little gold onion domes etc., was quite interesting.

Our last heroic act for the day was to climb the three floors to our rooms, and now we are just enjoying having this much space in hotel accommodations—a kitchen, a living room, a bed room, and a total of five windows.

Tuesday, June 12 (Weimar and a little Berlin)

The Snail. Or rather, one of the many.
The temple to the muses at Tiefurt park

 

 

The neoclassical dining room at Schloss Tiefurt
Statue of a freezing woman (“Die Frierende”). “She isn’t wearing much,” Mark pointed out.
The view through the “state rooms” at the Goethe House. The big Roman profile was thought to be a portrait of Juno in Goethe’s time.
Goethe’s study
Study poster on music / sound theory on Goethe’s bedroom wall
Study poster on geology on Goethe’s bedroom wall
Lunch at Caroline’s Cafe, the garden cafe at the Herder house
Side salad–with an edible flower (which as a slightly peppery taste)
Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche in Berlin
Our hotel neighbors enjoy the courtyard outside our hotel room windows–with construction cranes as the main view

 

We got up a little bit later than we have been, and had a leisurely and delicious hotel breakfast from their buffet. I was able to double-check with the woman at the reception re: a memory I had of a very lovely walk to Tiefurt Castle, an 18th-century estate not far from Weimar that is tourable, and she gave us some extra directions. Then we set out, again with no rain in the forecast, and walked the 3.3 kilometers (2.5 miles) to Tiefurt on a bike path that quickly led from town through the woods and then gardens to this estate. We saw hundreds of snails and slugs on the path (Mark took a representative portrait), and when we later saw a street sweeping vehicle clear the bike path, Mark made me laugh out loud by suggesting that it was a snail-picker-upper.

Tiefurt is an estate that was designed and built by Anna Amalia, the duchess whose son Carl August transformed Weimar into the arts and culture center it was to be throughout the 18th century.  Initially, it was intended for Constantine, her younger son. When Constantine died rather young, at 41, his mother used the estate as her own summer residence. It has a huge, lovely park area with lots of little stopping points that she had put into the park design—monuments to various people including Constantine and her husband, who died young, but also to Mozart and Virgil, and even more generically the Muses, which have a little templet right by the river.  There are lots of open spaces and many walking paths, and we walked toward the actual „Schloss“ (not much of a palace, but more of a large estate) through most of the park. The Ilm, the same river that runs through Weimar and its park, also runs through the park. The estate didn‘t open for tours until 11, so we found a little cafe and had a snack and a cafe au lait (well, I did have the coffee; we shared the snack), and looked at the village church and the spot where there had been a water mill on the Ilm since the Middle Ages (a teeny hydroelectric plant is still in that spot, but we couldn‘t quite see it). 

Then we took a tour of the Tiefurt estate, in big felt slippers to protect the floors. Although it belonged to the ruling family of the Weimar region, the furniture and decor were simple because the taste of Anna Amalia was fairly sparse 18th century neoclassicism, except when it came to the porcelain, which seemed fairly ornate. But overall, the simplicity that reigned made the house very appealing, and most of the art work was also neoclassical and quite streamlined. We liked the statue of the „freezing woman“ in the hallway on the way to the apartment of Anna Amalia‘s Lady in Waiting, but the really loud wallpaper behind it was a pretty stark contrast. There was also what I would think was the first „fan room“ for Goethe, dedicated to him and featuring several Goethe-related portraits and scenes from his novel The Sorrows of Young Werther.  

We left a little before noon and walked back the same way we came. It took us about 45 minutes to get back to town, and we found our way to Herderplatz and to the „Herder House,“ where the writer and philosopher Herder lived in Weimar for many years on Goethe‘s invitation (until he died at in the early 1800s at age 59). I had remembered from my trip with Uschi 9 years ago that there was a little garden and a little cafe in the house, and we actually decided to have lunch there—a simple but lovely meal out in the garden. I had potatoes with apple cream and Mark had spaghetti with pesto and arugula, and we both had a beautiful salad with an edible flower (nasturtium, I believe) and a glorious  shot glass of panna cotta for dessert. 

We then walked to the Goethe House and decided to make that our last stop for the day. Touring that house was both a nice continuation from Tiefurt and quite different—some features of the neoclassical furniture were quite similar, but there was much, much more art, since Goethe was such a collector of art, including majolica plates by the hundreds. Even if he didn‘t fill all of his rooms with the art that is in them now, the decor and the space is made for the copies and sketches of Roman and Greek statuary, including the giant head of „Juno“ (it wasn‘t really Juno, but that‘s what Goethe and his contemporaries thought). The back rooms, where Goethe and his family actually lived, are now filled with Christiane Vulpius / Goethe‘s wife‘s heirlooms. Christiane was his common-law wife before he officially married her, but I didn‘t realize that of his four children, only his oldest son, August, survived his childhood, got married, and had children of his own (he later committed suicide in Rome, where I‘ve seen his grave). And then there are the really interesting back back rooms, where Goethe lived in very sparse surroundings after Christiane‘s death. He didn‘t want to be surrounded by comfortable furniture, because he claimed that took away his motivation to work. He had a study with a sitting and a standing desk, a library (currently empty because the books are getting digitized), and a bedroom that didn‘t have a heat source (the servant‘s room next to it did!). That‘s also the room where he died, sitting in his armchair, in 1832, after a very long life of incredible fame, and I remembered that bedroom well from my last visit. The most interesting feature are actually two „posters“ on the wall, one with information on music theory and the other with geological terminology. Goethe apparently used posters like these all his life as study aids and had them hanging on his walls to learn things. Pretty amazing.

We took a quick peek at the garden that came with the house (which incidentally was bought for Goethe by Grand Duke Carl August, and which Goethe‘s last living grandchild bequeathed back to the ruling family, then represented by Carl Alexander, in the 1850s or 1860s). Since that was basically like giving it back to the state of Saxe-Weimar, the house could immediately become a museum (one of the oldest tourable houses by a writer or artist). Our last somewhat rushed stop was the actual Goethe exhibit in the building adjacent to the house, where a lot more art and artifacts relating to him are displayed. So I could show Mark some of the early fandom products (people bought Goethe medaillons and crockery as early as the 1770s, and famously people dressed in the yellow pants and blue stockings that his character Werther says he is wearing at one point in the bestselling Sorrows of Young Werther. We also looked at some of the scientific collections (rocks, minerals, plant specimen, fossils) and the work for the color theory that Goethe was developing (he got optics wrong, but at least he tried). And I was glad to see that some of his collection of ancient erotic art actually made it into exhibit, too. I always liked that Goethe wasn‘t a prude! 

But then we had to leave—it was getting past 3 pm, so we rounded up our luggage at the hotel, took it to the nearby bus station, and took the bus to the train station (NO MORE LUGGAGE LUGGING!). We had enough time for me to absorb more information about the instrumental role that Karl Alexander (ruler from 1853-1901—Karl August‘s grandson, and the son of Maria Pavlova of the little Orthodox Chapel on the cemetery we saw yesterday) played in preserving so much of Weimar‘s cultural history and heritage. Many of the buildings and collections wouldn‘t have survived without him, and he was even responsible for erecting the famous Goethe and Schiller monument in 1857. 

We then had a seamless trip from Weimar via Erfurt to Berlin and got to the main station at 6:30, and to our hotel right by the Kurfürstendamm by 7 pm. We found ourselves a little Asian fusion place with outside seating for dinner, checked out the famous church ruin, the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche (deliberately left as ruin after being bombed during WWII, and meant to be a reminder of the devastations of WWII) and the fountain by the Europa center on the way back to our hotel. Since we are on the ground floor this time, and so low that it’s possible to climb out the window into an atrium that overlooks a massive construction site, we ended up having a funny conversation with our neighbors, who heaved some of their furniture outside to lounge about (and smoke), and asked whether we wanted to come out and have a beer with them.   But we were ready for bed, so we didn‘t end up partying with them—I guess we are old fuddy-duddies! 

Wednesday, June 13 (Berlin and Potsdam)

 

The view of the “ruins” (not real, but artificially constructed for picturesqueness) from the plaza behind Sanssouci

 

Iconic Sanssouci photo
“Glitter bomb” room with many rococo tendrils, including the very cool spider web
Same glittery room, but this time with tourists visible in the mirror.
Carved-wood ornamentation in the Voltaire room, complete with parrots hanging off the walls
Voltaire in a box in the Voltaire Room
The cooking machine (installed in the mid-19th century) in the Sanssouci palace kitchen
The view up into the cupola of the picture gallery
The view down the length of the picture gallery. Too many pictures!
The Chinese Haus–Rococo Chinoiserie to the max
The ceiling of the Chinese House, with everyone looking down at us.
The view of the New Palais from the back
Statues in a cage–waiting to be restored
Critters constructed from shells in the Grotto Room at the New Palais
The Russian underneath the paintings dates back to the occupation after WWII, and apparently says “Death to the German occupants”
The great reception hall with its elaborate marble floor

 

We got up fairly early and had a good hotel breakfast—not as wonderful as before, but certainly big—this hotel is for hundreds of guests and the breakfast room is huge. They also had scrambled egg and sausages, but those weren’t that great. The most novel item was that they had little edible cups for the jams and honey (made out of the stuff from which sugar cones are made). Then we took off for Potsdam, way outside of Berlin, because I had never been here before and wanted to see some of the gardens and palaces. So we took the train out of town about 40 minutes, then a bus for another 20, and bought tickets that would let us see all the buildings that are part of Potsdam‘s palaces. We started with Sanssouci, then wandered through the humongous park and formal gardens, stopping at various other buildings, and eventually also toured the New Palais at the other end of the park.

The Kings of Prussia started to live here in the 18th century, and Frederick the Great in particular was responsible for the major palaces, his „retreat,“ Sanssouci (French for „No worries“) and the New Palais, which was the more pompous and representative building that was needed as Prussia became more important. Even though he was king during the 18th-century enlightenment and endorsement rational thinking and „enlightened absolutism“ (and at times big buddies with Voltaire, until Voltaire had had enough of him), his taste in the arts was solidly 30 years out of date, and he ordered everything to be done in rococo style—completely overblown and overdecorated in gold, silver, shells, and elaborate wood carvings. Of course I learned about the rococo in my art history class, but this was over the top even for rococo and, because it is so far behind its time, is actually known as “Frederician rococo” for Frederick the Great’s preferred style. Examples for over-the-top-ness were a room with dozens of almost identical paintings all by Watteau, the prime French rococo painter of his time, as well as a room with gilded ceiling and wall decor that included a golden spider’s web, and a room covered in colorful 3-D wood carvings that included not just flowers and leaves but also parrots and a monkey, all bending down from the walls. This was all just in Sanssouci, where Frederick received special friends and entertained his favorite intellectuals with French conversation (his German was terrible) and with music. He played the flute even during military campaigns and brought his flute teacher along (that’s the kind of stuff you learn from Audioguides). 

But beyond Sanssouci, we were in the Sanssouci kitchen (which was not added until the 19th century and had a very practical-looking cast-iron stove of enormous proportions) and in the picture gallery. This was a beautiful marble hall, but had too many pictures in it, mostly Frederick’s “rejects,” the Dutch paintings by Rubens that he didn’t particularly like, and a Caravaggio, but otherwise mostly minor painters and simply too many of them. Among the many, many scenes from Greek mythology with naked men and women, we did discover an especially risqué one, “Sacrifice to Priapus,” which provided a bit more entertainment.  We then took a little break from the ornamental excesses and went to look at the reconstructed windmill right by the palace, which was not only tourable but also actually running. That was fun to see. We then had sandwiches made with mill bread and a shared piece of raspberry cake for a light lunch, so we could keep going. 

We also found our way through the park to the “China House,” which was another ridiculous rococo contraption featuring the fad of “Chinoiserie” or Chinese-style decor, including vases and Chinese-style wall ornamentation, but in this case also gilded statues that were a wild orientalist mix of Chinese straw hats and umbrellas, turbans and veils, and even (we thought) some Native American feather headgear. 

By this time, we were getting a little tired of the rococo, but we did walk through the rest of the park to the New Palais and did the tour there as well.  That was probably overkill—I was definitely getting very tired of the gold, silver, and silk excesses in the many, many rooms there. (As Mark pointed out, it looked like a glitter bomb had gone off in every room—rather painful given that my taste in room decor is basically Bauhaus/ Frank Lloyd Wright plus Ikea!) But the main “state rooms” for entertainment/pomp and circumstance were interesting—downstairs, a huge room decorated with shells and mollusks all over, unique for an indoor space rather than an outdoor grotto, and because rulers after Frederick decided it wasn’t crazy enough and added colorful pieces from their mineral collection to the decor. And upstairs, directly above it, an equally huge room with a very beautiful marble floor that has always had structural problems because even though it is 70 meters (70 yards!) long, it has no supporting columns because Frederick insisted that would mess with his grotto. Apparently, only the restoration a few years ago finally fixed the issue after many, many repairs. 

The restoration of the Palais is actually an ongoing process—we could only look at some of the rooms and there was visible damage in a number of spots on the walls and ceilings. There was also a spot where the Cyrillic writing of Russian soldiers who lived in the palace after WWII was left visible behind the paintings. And an exhibit that covered several of the rooms documented the exit of the emperor and his family from the castle in 1918, since this is the 100th anniversary of the end of the German Empire. The Palais was pretty much not kept up for many years after WWI and then especially WWII, and the current restoration is a never ending process. We saw tons of statues (literally) that are currently “in prison” as they are being restored—a strange sight, but there are hundreds all over the exterior of the building, and many in bad shape from environmental damage. 

After the New Palais, we were definitely done! We took the train back into town at about 4, and met up with Kai and Bruce, who had flown back from Greece today, at the McDonald’s at the main station (very classy). We retrieved Kai’s luggage from Bruce’s hotel room and then took the S-Bahn to Laurie’s in Charlottenburg. Kai had a pretty good memory for where it was, so we found the apartment complex quickly, re-met Mauro and Stella, Laurie’s kids, and then went to get Indian take-out for everyone around the block. It was delicious, but we really didn’t get enough vegetarian options—I felt bad because we thought about it the wrong way, but we did ok nonetheless.  We stayed only a little while after dinner, because Bruce needed to get back to his hotel, and Mark and I were rather tired after a long day. We said goodbye to Bruce as we got out 3 stations before him, and were back at the hotel by 10, too tired to do our blog! 

Thursday, June 14 (Berlin)

Cray 2 super computer at the German Technical Museum
Turn table for trains at the German Technical Museum
Car exhibit at the German Technical Museum–a somewhat confusing attempt to build a symmetrical car…
A rather odd motorcycle–but allegedly very fast!
a 1950s camping trailer–nickname: “Wanderniere” (wandering kidney)
The staircase for horses from the days when the technical museum was a cold storage facility (around 1900)

Schloss Charlottenburg from across the lake in the Gardens

This morning, the forecast was a bit better (yesterday, it had been overcast and rather cool—the first time we really needed jackets), so we got ready for a day with indoor stuff early in the day (when it was still in the lower 60s) and outdoor things in the afternoon (74 and sunny—about perfect). We had breakfast at the hotel around 8 and then took the S-Bahn to the Technische Museum, to get rid of our tech exhibit deficit that we’ve had since the visit to the paper museum that we had to cut short. It was really a lot of fun. We skipped airplanes and boats, but we went to pretty much every other part of the museum, which included:

1. a couple of separate exhibits on computers and on the development of various communication “nets” from telegrams to today’s internet, with many things we had seen before, but also a Cray 2.

2. many, many trains (part of the area is a former train station, Anhalter Bahnhof, with a restored turntable and storage area for locomotives that now holds classic examples of old trains and wagons and whatnot.

3. There were also exhibits on many industries and processes: photography, paper making, suitcase making, jewelry making, etc etc. Nothing was completely new, but there were some interesting moments—especially when we raptly watched a video on how metal pot scrubbers used to be made with a kind of knitting machine.

4. We did look at a lot of classic and unique cars and a few motorcycles, although my favorite in that exhibit was a small oval 1950s camper, lovingly called the “Wanderniere” (wandering kidney) and a very very pristine Karmann Ghia, one of my favorite 60s cars because they were actually made in the city where my mom lives.

5. Because the museum also integrates a former cold storage building from the 1910s, it features a really unexpected horse staircase

We spent a total of almost 4 hours at the museum, and then headed back to Charlottenburg to have our Indian leftovers for lunch with Laurie and a rather grumpy Kai, who decided to stay behind when we ventured back out at about 2 pm. It was beautiful as predicted and we walked the 2 kilometers to nearby Schloss Charlottenburg, another Berlin palace. We had walked there two years ago, but now the renovations are complete and it looks pristine from the outside—but we still didn’t want to tour yet another glittery building, so we just walked around in the really beautiful gardens, along the Spree river and along shady avenues. Then we visited one more museum, the Broehan Museum, which exhibits beautiful art nouveau and Art Deco pieces (some a bit over the top, but others just gorgeous in design and concept—there was a “lady’s secretary” that was just perfectly designed), but currently also has an exhibit on the very opposite of Art Deco—the 1910s and 1920s Berlin realists and their attempt to raise awareness about the misery and hunger that run rampant in the Berlin of those years. They featured sketches, paintings, photographs, and prints by Kaethe Kollwitz, George Grosz, Otto Dix, and Heinrich Zille that were really impressive (and depressing), although I still have a really distinct preference for Kollwitz, whose human touch sets her apart from what I think as really cold and hostile about Dix and Grosz in particularly. That said, I came for the Art Deco, but ended up liking the realism better—especially Kollwitz and some of the posters and direct appeals that these artists designed and that I wasn’t aware of.

We stayed until about 4:30, then walked down the Schlossstrasse and eventually took the subway back to the hotel to get Mark’s computer and my iPad before returning to Laurie’s. We worked on our blogs and photos and helped a little with dinner preparations until Laurie and Stella came back from Stella’s theater class. Then we had a lovely pesto dinner with arugula, tomatoes, and mozzarella, and some cake we’d brought home for dessert. We watched a few bits and pieces of Kai‘s performance in Big Fish, and then Mark and I took off at about 10 pm to catch the subway back home. It‘s nearing midsummer, so it was still light outside and we thoroughly enjoyed the nice cool air and the last bit of daylight outside. Fun days in Berlin—tomorrow, we‘ll go back to my mom‘s.

Friday, June 15 (from Berlin to Osnabrück)

Broken Church from inside U-bahn.
Antje relaxing at Mom’s garden

 

We had our last hotel breakfast in Berlin at the Azimuth hotel around 8, walked around the nearby Ku‘damm neighborhood, which includes the „broken church,“ as I mentioned before, and then checked out a little after 9.  The hotel was definitely the oddest out of the places we‘ve stayed—it is a fairly new hotel, apparently part of a Russian chain that has started to branch out to Austria and Germany. They must have taken over a much older, late-19th century hotel, of which they preserved a couple of big carved pieces of furniture, some huge wall paintings leading up into the lobby, a big marble staircase, and a reception room, now a bar, with a ridiculous amount of gold and red velvet trim. The rest of the hotel is all modernized, and our basement room („ground floor“ my butt) was down a labyrinth of hallways and locked doors. But we got to watch construction cranes in action—always a plus, right? 

We got to the train station at about 9:20 and waited for Laurie to drop off Kai. Mark got an impressive show of German police in action that was kind of funny. We were waiting by one of the train station exits, and an older homeless man put his things nearby. He then started to become very irritated and began to kick the ground and mutter to himself. I nudged Mark and we moved ourselves and our luggage to the other side of the entrance, to get away from him—I figured the man felt that we were in his way or in his spot. Within seconds of us moving away from him, three policemen showed up and talked to him, very gently but firmly, about moving on, and then came to talk to us, saying that he was harmless and that moving out of his way was the right thing to do, but were we ok? Then they moved on, one of them with what seems to be the German substitute for a cop‘s donut, because he was clearly carrying a bakery-wrapped package of „Blechkuchen“ (sheet cake). 

Kai joined us soon after, we said good-bye to Laurie, and then we were off—first to the main station on the S-Bahn (Berlin‘s „Elevated“), and then to Osnabrück on the fast train, which got us there in 3 1/2 hours. We napped for part of the way and talked to our seat neighbor, a girl from Amsterdam who is working in epistemic logic (and who memorably made herself a sandwich from scratch by cutting slices off an entire bread, cheese off an entire hunk of cheese, and cucumber off an entire cucumber with a sizable knife), and got to our destination at about 2. We caught a bus right away, and when we got to my mom‘s, she had lunch waiting for us, and had even baked a blueberry cake that was (unsurprisingly) excellent. Then we unpacked a little bit, started some laundry in her brand-new but very German washer (a German washer needs more instructions than most computers, takes anywhere from 1-2 hours per load, and, in this case, since it had an integrated dryer, more safety precautions than your average circular saw), and headed downtown for a little walk and a few items we needed. Kai also wanted to make sure he had his bearings and revisit old haunts (he lived here with me and Kati for a year after all, but of course Imke‘s apartment is a new location and requires new pathways to the downtown area).  He was wearing his Heelies (shoes with built-in wheels that he‘s been wearing for the past two months) and reveled in the stares he got when he suddenly wheeled past on what look like regular-soled shoes. Silly! We got home about 5, resolved a few more logistics issues (having to do with Imke‘s computer), and had dinner (bread, cheese, cold cuts) just before 8. Now we‘re wrestling with a little more laundry (= another 3 hours of wrestling with the washer) but we can sit in the garden while we do that, listening to a blackbird sing from a rooftop, and I think we‘re all glad to have a quiet evening and no traveling for a few days. My mom‘s place is always home—even though it‘s technically never been my or Kai‘s home.  🙂 

Saturday, June 16 (Osnabrück)

A nice quiet day with walks and not much else! Mark and I practically slept in (until 8 am), had a very light breakfast (yogurt instead of rolls) and then went for a walk. The original intent was to go back to the Botanical gardens, but they are closed on Saturday mornings, so we went along other familiar paths for an hour and a half—across a very nice park and farmland area called the Westerberg towards my mom‘s former home, and then back through some of the lovely residential streets near here. We were curious about the renovations at my mom‘s old house, but it was hard to see what the new owners have changed without trespassing! We then hung out at home for a while until Kai was ready to walk downtown with us. We had lunch at Bottled, a cafe/bar with lots of outdoor seating where we have had lunch many times. But it was pretty lame (sort of fake American—burgers and tacos) so I think we won‘t be back. We picked up a few minor things we needed and also went to the historic market square, where we happened on a wind band from Osnabrück’s academy of music performing. That was Kai‘s thing, of course, and we stayed for the 20-minute concert and had a good time. We also briefly visited the exhibit in the Erich-Maria-Remarque house—he is the author who wrote All Quiet on the Western Front, the famous anti-WWI novel which was later burned by the nazis. Kai read it last semester for history class and really liked it, so it‘s finally something special that this author, who later emigrated to the US and then to Switzerland, was born and raised in Osnabrück.
We came home at about 3:30, and Imke, who had had other plans, was home by 4. It was lovely and sunny, in the 70s, and we sat in the garden with our books and papers and read. Very relaxing. After a typical German meal of bread, cheese, and cold cuts, Imke, Kai, and I went to a nearby cafe to hear an old friend of my mom‘s and former high-school teacher of mine, Detlev Brandt, speak about Chopin, with musical examples. Kai really enjoyed this, while I mostly enjoyed his enjoyment, and got a bit frustrated with this meandering style. He didn‘t get nearly as far in Chopin‘s life as he had planned, and had an overinvolved expert‘s tendency to dwell on sideline ideas. But he played several pieces by Chopin on CD and had a young pianist there who played one of the Nocturnes live, so it was somewhat interesting. The audience (mostly regulars, Imke said) was mostly in their 60s and up and are apparently used to his digressions. We only chatted a little bit, but he said he‘d invite us all to dinner (he lives just around the corner) after we come back from the Baltic. He was always an interesting if completely eccentric man (my family has known him since the early 1970s), and I think that a dinner with him and his husband will be highly entertaining.

Sunday, June 17 (Osnabrück)

Kai and Imke
Passion flower
Our last day to just relax at my mom‘s before we‘ll be back on the road tomorrow! We had Sunday breakfast (which entails coffee and soft-boiled eggs at my mom‘s) and then all four of us went on a walk to the Botanical gardens. That was fun, especially since Kai could practice his German with Imke, who asked him lots of questions about his trip to Greece with his dad.
We came home around noon and puttered around with laundry and packing, and then had pasta with vegetables and meatballs for dinner. Mark and I took a little nap and then went for a very long walk (7 miles / 10 kilometers) to the lake nearer to my mom‘s old home, so we had to get there first and then walk around it. It is a lovely relaxing walk, lots of people were out and about on bikes, on foot, and even on horseback, and we also walked by an open-air bar near the Westerberg just as the buzz of excitement triggered by the first match of the World Cup involving Germany began. Many people here watch the matches jointly at bars and on major roads that get set up as „Fanmeilen“ (fan miles) with huge screens, and that‘s kind of fun to see, even though we don‘t give a hoot about soccer.
We returned around 5:30 and then wrapped up the day with the usual evening meal and the last of the packing. Tomorrow, we‘ll drive to the Baltic!

Monday, June 18 (Osnabrück to Eckernförde)

The panorama makes the vacation rental look enormous–but it is quite big and can seat 8 at the table!
Lots of jellyfish on the beach (and in the water)

We got up early and ran some errands between 9 and 10:30, including buying some German sweets for poor, candy-deprived Kai and exchanging a printer cartridge for my mom‘s printer, and then got ready to leave for our first German car trip. We were already packed but had to wait for Kai, who was looking for (and not finding) his lost wallet. Eventually we had to give up and took off around 11, and drove from Osnabrück to Eckernförde, a small town of about 10,000 on the Baltic. Mark drove my mom’s little Kia, I passed on the info from the iPhone directions, and Kai used his headphones to listen to music for most of the way. (My mom took the train; we were basically the luggage and auto transport system for all of us.) Apart from a few construction sites where traffic slowed down and one stop to have our lunch (sandwiches from a bakery that we had picked up earlier), we didn‘t stop and took the shortest route, so we got there at about 3:20. The woman who manages our vacation rental met us near the rental; she is a friend of my sister‘s and super nice, and the apartment, „Ostseeblick“ („Baltic Ocean View“) is absolutely adorable. It has two bedrooms and a huge living room area with a fully equipped kitchen, including a large dining room that comfortably sits 8. That‘s perfect because my mom and two old friends of the family, Dorothee and Uschi, were in a second rental with much smaller common space, and so we can have everyone and guests have meals and conversations here all week—we‘ll be here until next Monday, June 26, and we‘ll have various visitors. 

After we settled in, we briefly checked out the bay that is basically feet from the apartment, across the street and one more row of houses down to the promenade, and right to the beach. It’s a beautiful but very shallow sand beach with a lot of jellyfish and many „beach baskets“—the contraptions the Germans rent for the day to have a place to sit on the beach and a place to store their belongings. But nobody was renting one, because it wasn‘t very nice and kept drizzling off and on, so we saved the beach for later; our main task was actually to get some shopping done so we could all have a meal together later. We managed to get that done by about 5:30, get the food we had home, and then drive to the train station to pick up Imke and Dorothee, who came on the same train. We took them to their vacation rental, in the middle of the very picturesque downtown, and then drove back to our own rental so I could get a German Abendbrot ready for everyone. They all came over around 7, and we ate and talked and had a great time. My sister, who lives only about an hour from here, came about 8:30 and joined us, and we sat and talked some more until everyone got tired and the four of them left.  My sister had taken Tuesday off from work to be with us, and was staying overnight, but the other rental was more convenient for that than ours, so we just settled that we‘d get together the next morning. Mark and I took our showers and went to bed with the windows wide open and the sea air coming in.  The water in the bay is so quiet, though, that the waves (such as they are) make no sound! 

 

Tuesday, June 19 (Eckernförde)

Eckernfoerde’s beach
At the end of the pier–Imke, Judith, Mark, Antje (and Uschi as photographer)
Out for a walk: Dorothee, Judith, Imke, Antje
Sisters–and a son/nephew

 

We got up about 7:30 and had a little breakfast of yogurt and tea when Imke, Judith and Uschi came by (Dorothee was going to catch up later, because she likes to sleep in). Kai slept in, but we others got ready to explore a little. We had one more little squall of rain, and then it cleared up, and we went for a walk along the beach, and then also through the cute little downtown, back to Uschi‘s rental. We stopped by there for a little bit and had coffee before doing a bit of shopping (now including Dorothee, while Mark went home with a couple of items ahead of us)—Judith was looking for a specific raincoat, but actually found not just that, but also a skirt and a leather jacket she liked—she got one item from Imke for her birthday, one from me for her birthday, and bought the third, so I think that worked out well! Then we went grocery shopping for a big joint lunch, with Judith and me as cooks, and we actually went back ahead of the others to start fixing the salad and pasta for everyone. We worked really well as a team and made us a lovely feast for 7—pasta with a broccoli cream sauce of my sister’s invention, and a salad with my ever-popular balsamic vinaigrette, and then fresh strawberries and ice cream. 

After lunch, it got downright sunny, and we pretty much spent all of the afternoon outside and/or napped in various combinations of people. First, all of us except Uschi went for a walk toward the next little town, which is just right across a footbridge on the other side of a little canal/port entry, and down its promenade. Kai went with us for a little bit but then turned back and hid from the grown-ups again (as he has a perfect right to do, given that he is completely outnumbered by us old farts), and we others continued through the downtown again. I had been really interested in a beautiful cardigan earlier and my mom offered to buy it for me, so we went back to the apartment for her purse and got it. My sister got to stay until about 5 pm, and Uschi, Mark and I walked her to her car near the train station and then bought some bread for the evening meal on the way back to the rental. Since it seems like all we ever do is eat, we did continue along those lines and had Abendbrot while we talked about possible plans for tomorrow. Around 6:30, my mom, Uschi and Dorothee left, and the three of us went the other direction on the beach until there was no more beach, and walked back along the promenade. It was a gorgeous evening, and we sat with the windows open while blogging and reading until past 10 pm without even having to turn the lights on—Midsummer is on Thursday and we have gloriously long hours of sunlight. Looking out at the Baltic from our living room at all hours makes my heart soar with happiness. 

 

Wednesday, June 20 (Eckernförde & nearby beaches)

OCEAN TIME! The water is a little cold, but feet in the water are a must
Even Ka had his feet in the water!
… and Antje’s mom was barefoot, too!
Boats in the harbor at Damp
“The Blues Bandits” at the Spieker music venue
The bassist was definitely on a mission from John Belushi
The Spieker–a former warehouse now turned music venue with free local concerts where a hat gets passed around for the musicians
Our day started out with a little bit of a walk along the beach and through town, including some grocery shopping in the super market and on the open market that happens here every Wednesday.
Then Uschi, Imke, and Dorothee came to our apartment so we could all take a two-car drive to a nearby beach. But because of Kai‘s classic „ready 10 minutes after scheduled departure time“ we had different start times, and trying to find a suitable beach AND each other turned into a complicated logistics maneuver. I had found a beach resort town that sounded appealing in the description that we found in our tourist magazine for this summer—even though the name of the town, Damp, isn‘t appealing in English regardless of a German or an English pronunciation („dump“ or „damp“? Hmmm….). But it was built up in a really ugly 1970s minimalist way, and although the beach was fun to walk on, the 45 minutes of parking / meeting point logistics were not, and the promised windsurfers and kitesurfers were not in evidence. We walked around a bit, and then went to a restaurant which also turned out to be a disappointment. Although they were very few guests, our service was painfully slow and when the food we ordered finally arrived, a couple of meals were only lukewarm. Dorothee sent hers back (which kept us there longer, since they fried her a fresh fish); Uschi ate hers, but with mounting dissatisfaction, since the fish she‘d ordered was just below par in preparation. I had various types of pickled herring (Matjes) which I have to have once on every German trip, and they were fine but not fabulous. Kai‘s lasagne had a very chewy bottom leaf, and Mark‘s goulash soup tasted basically like chili. So nothing was quite what we wanted! It would have been funny if we hadn‘t been so grumpy about it. Once we were done and had peeked at the other half (the North side) of the beach, we started to feel more cheerful, especially since the weather was gorgeous—sunny with a few clouds and temperatures in the upper 70s, just right for a walk on the beach. We decided after some discussion to drive convoy-style to another beach which seemed more rural and peaceful, so Mark, Kai and I, armed with the iPhone‘s directions, got us to a beach between two resorts, called Weidefeld, which was really nice—wide, quiet, and with less seaweed than we’ve seen elsewhere. Uschi and Dorothee sat down at the local cafe (there was just that one—nice) while Imke, Kai, Mark and I walked down the beach, dipped our toes in the water, and practiced skipping rocks. It was truly lovely and even though there were no surfers here either (the wind must just have been going the wrong way), we had a very good time. We walked back to the others and had ice cream cones/sandwiches (just the regular commercial kind, nothing special, but very beach-appropriate), and then drove back home. We would have stopped at a little place near the estuary of the Schlei, the river just north of Eckernförde, but Kai had had enough, so we just drove the 20 miles / 30 km back, parked the car, and returned to the apartment.
I had invited the others to dinner at 6:30 and so I got started on the cooking (simple: pasta and salad) fairly soon afterwards, and we had a lovely, hot, and punctual meal that outshone the restaurant stuff by far with very simple ingredients. We had some leftovers, plus pasta with pesto (and diced ham for those who wanted to add it), a salad and some tomatoes with mozzarella, and strawberries with yogurt or ice cream for dessert. All with a view of the Baltic from the window at our great big dinner table. Then everyone except Kai walked along the promenade to the so-called “Spieker,” a former warehouse on the quai (from when Eckernförde was a much more important trade town). Uschi had found out earlier in the day that the ground floor is a culture center (with a minimal bar and funky decor) that features different concerts almost every night, with just a hat being passed around. Tonight, the band was a five-man outfit in their 50s and 60s that played blues and had a bit of a Blues Brothers cover band flair. (Name: Blues Bandits.) They played a variety of blues and traditional Rock’n’Roll, including a few tunes from the Blues Brothers movie (“Soul Man;” “Sweet Home Chicago”), and were highly entertaining. The singer wasn’t great, but had a good gig going, and the other musicians were quite good. The classically stoic bass player was the most impressive as a blues brothers imitation, but for the second half, they all took their trademark hats and jackets off because it got too hot. Everyone in the audience (maybe 20-30 people) was somewhere between my age and my mother’s (50s to 70s) but both the band and the audience had a really good time. We were there until the encore (“Sweet Home Chicago”), and when we left at 10:30, it was still light enough to see. Mark and I went straight to bed when we got home, but it appears that Uschi, Imke, and Dorothee sat up with some snacks and wine until 12:30! They are much tougher than we are when it comes to partying, clearly. 🙂