Germany, the first weeks of exploring:
Well, I've spent a few days in Germany now after arriving safely via two KLM flights. Highlights have included sightseeing and of course eating. My first meal was in Munich at a Bavarian restaurant that was both traditional and authentic. By this I mean that while the staff wore the stereo typically German busty dresses and suspendered shorts, the place was filled with locals instead of tourists; atmospheric conversation instead of Oom-Pah-Pah tuba music.
I went for a walk through Edenkoben in the evening with my guide, Katrin, who grew up here. Much like in Canada, German kids liked to play in the woods, go to the pool in the summer time, and want for different surroundings. In the case of this 'small city', the woods are much like mine in Tsawwassen or Port Moody; the pool here is fed from a stream fed by the mountains; and most of the land has been converted to vineyards, as is the case for the surrounding towns as well. Who drinks all this wine? Some years, not enough people do, leaving the growers with a lot left over. But the land here is perfect for the task of growing good grapes. It's the soil, one of the most important factors in wine making. 'Edenkoben' actually means 'basket of Eden', a namesake that reveals a long history of agricultural success. And on another tour guide note, though Edenkoben should be designated as a town based on its size, it is considered to be a city because the king of Germany, the Kaiser, made his home here of all places.
Two things summarize the past few days here: Christmas Markets and delivering prescriptions. I saw my first Christmas Market in Speyer, a nearby smaller city of great historical importance. A market is called a Weihnachtsmarkt (weih = 'blessed' ; nachts = 'nights' ; markt 'market'). The bratwurst was great and far leaner than what is generally available in North America. My next market was in Landau, where most kids in the neighbouring towns attend high school. I heard stories of how some students would come to the markets on their lunch breaks to sample the warm wine (it is called Glühwine, which means 'glowing wine'). I opted instead for the non-alcoholic variety of drink, which is very similar in taste and temperature, except that it is simply a very sweet juice. The effect is comparable to hot apple cider. The last market I was at was in Mannheim (translation: man's home). Between two huge department stores owned by the same family-owned company, a whole street for one block has been converted into a marketplace. As with most markets, there are a variety of food vendors and craftspeople selling their creations. The booths are packed side to side and decorated lavishly, an effect bolstered by the age of the solid old-wood construction materials. The avenues between the booths are not typically wide, so people rub past each other, Glühwine in hand, on their way to some other place. Wreaths and garlands, all naturally green and dotted with small white bulbs, adorn cheese stands, beeswax candle shops, bread sellers, wood carvers' huts, and so on. The corridor between these places winds around sudden outcroppings of high chairless tables where people are drinking and laughing and eating meat buns, chocolate-covered marshmallow things, cheesebreads, and so on. The smells mix together in different ways as you walk past and under the red and white lights, and inevitably past a carousel, be it small and suitably tacky or immense both in grandeur and age. I tried three things at the Mannheim market. First, a bun with pork inside. The pork was prepared in manner unique to the area: lots of crackly, fatty skin around it. It was good. I chased that with a dessert found at all markets: a kind of whipped cream / marshmallow blob about 3 inches high placed on a wafer 1 inch across, and covered with chocolate (that's the basic model anyway -- many varieties exist)! And to finish the night, I tried the Glühwine. Didn't really like it -- it tastes like wine.
For the last three nights, I have helped Katrin deliver prescriptions to patrons of her family's pharmacy (or 'Apotheka'). Pharmacies here are almost nothing like the ones 'back home'. Here, they are small and carry a smaller variety of medicines. This allows for many to exist in a small area without really competing while at the same time allowing for a staff to become knowledgeable with what they carry. The Brunnen Apotheka caters to a fairly wide district, and each day, medicines are delivered to various homes in surrounding towns. The best part about this delivery process is trying to find each house. Where one would go wrong at the outset is in using simply the provided address. This is a mistake. If you are ever looking for a place in a small European town, insist on directions. There are issues about street names that I will not even go into here, so presuming you have found the right street, the house numbers then take their turn defying your intuition. Sometimes the numbers are even on one side and odd on the other. Sometimes it just seems that way until the number you are looking for is missing. Sometimes the numbers appear to be out of order until you realize that they are in order after all: up one side of the street to the end and then down the other side back to the beginning! And if there seems to be a gap in the sequence, look for a side street. It may or may not have the same street name, but the numbers could have wound their way up there like a stream sent off course. Once you arrive at the correct building (assuming you found the door), you must typically choose from one of 5-15 buzzers, each representing a house at that address. And finally, you navigate your way back to your car, which has probably been left a few twists and turns back and parked half-way onto the sidewalk.
Yes, one of the greatest candy/toy combos in all of history. They are illegal in the U.S., fantastic in Canada, even better in Europe, and are the best in their country of origin, Germany. Did you know that twice a month there is a new special collection of premier toys rotated through the eggs on a one-time limited basis? In Canada there are no commercials to tell us so, but it is true. And the late-November toy was Star Wars Hippos! (Hippos are THE Kinder Egg toy theme.) Last night I bought 12 eggs at a store and opened them all on the way home. I got 1 Darth Vader hippo and 2 Yoda hippos and 9 generic, assembly-required toys. I always thought the toys you got to build were the best ones (and I still do), but here they are the fillers and often referred to as 'crappy little cars.' I have 6 of the 10 Star Wars Hippos so I guess I'll be visiting the store tonight.
I went to a protest with Katrin and her dad, who is a pharmacist, and joined a rally againt govermnent legislation that hurts local pharmacies. I got to dress up in a lab coat and listen to some guy speak passionately to a small mass of students and professionals. Naturally I understood none of it, save for a few words like 'the' and 'and', but it must have been good based on the crowds pleasure.
I visited the museum of the printing press, the first widely reproduced books, and one of the finest collections of early writing from human history. It's gist shop sells the most popular souenier in the city, the world's smallest book, which, in a volume half the size of a dime(!), reproduces the Lord's Prayer in seven languages. And it is thin too! Only 25 Euro ($35 Cdn). After all those courses I took in publishing, it was pretty cool to see the actual press and book that started it all over 500 years ago. That first print run of Bibles has a reported 50 copies still in existence, one of which I saw -- not in the gift shop mind you, as the price would be fairly steep i imagine. But behind the controlled environment of filtered glass, temperature/humidity regualtors, and 2 foot thick vault doors, it looks to be in readable condition.
What a fantastic movie! Can't believe it'll be another year I have to wait until the third part though! We saw it in Mannheim as a double feature with part 1. The theatres are different than in Canada. Reserved seating every show, copious smoking in the packed, night club-like three floor multiplex, a smaller screen, 25 minutes of TV commercials (one movie preview), and seemingly lower standards (though this might not reflect any other theatre in Germany). Some guy came in and told us (in German!) that the English language soundtrack may not be the rightr one, therefore making the first feature a German language / no subtitles affair. I would have been pretty shocked had Katrin not been there to translate. (The movie plays well even if you don't understand a word of it). Then the second feature was in English, but the title screens and the subtitles were German! At first scary!! Then I had to get the in-the-ear subtitles throughout the movie. Have to see it again soon -- it'll be nice to hear that 5 minutes I didn't quite get when the English language soundtrack quit.