"One day it occurred to me that it had been many years since the world had been afforded the spectacle of a man adventurous enough to undertake a journey through Germany on foot. After much thought, I decided that I was a person fitted to furnish to mankind this spectacle. So I determined to do it. This was in March, 1878." Mark Twain, A Tramp Abroad


A Nazi Encounter

One evening we decided to enjoy a leisurely dinner at an outdoor café in the Marktplatz. This large square is usually buzzing with people enjoying a drink at the various cafes, shopping at the nearby stores, or just hanging around the steps of the fountain. On this particular evening there was a group of people by the fountain that stood out amongst the crowd: dark grungy clothes, skin covered with tattoos, head partially shaven or in dreadlocks. You know the type...

Here is the view from our table. The people I'm referring to are on the left side of the picure.

As time went by this group got larger and larger, but they were pretty quiet and kept to themselves. Then a couple of them unfurled a large banner. We got a quick glimpse of the word “NAZI” written in bold letters followed by another word in German that we didn’t recognize. This got us a bit worried as to what this gathering was all about. That was also when we began to spot police cars parked next to the various exits to the square. Then we were more nervous.

Here are the policemen that were a few feet from our table.

A few minutes later a car pulled up next to us, and two men unloaded some speakers and hooked up a microphone. The group of people by the fountain started migrating over towards the people with the speakers. Now we were right next to the action. That got me even more anxious about what was going to happen. A man stood up with the microphone and starting talking in German. Every so often he would raise his voice and the people in the crowd would answer back. Unfortunately we couldn’t understand a word.

Here is the crowd of people listening to and chiming in with the person speaking into the microphone. You can't see the person talking, but his speaker is in the far left of the picture.

When things started picking up we decided to quickly pay our bill and hightail it out of there. As we were leaving, the Father stopped a young-looking police officer by one of the exits and asked what this was about. “They’re protesting the Nazi’s. We’re just here in case the Nazi group shows up and things get out of hand.” Ohhhh…I guess it helps to know German in these circumstances. The banner actually read “NAZIS FLEE!” Still, an interesting cultural experience.


Frankfurt on my Mind

On Saturday the three of us made a tramp to Frankfurt am Main (pronounced “mine”) and attended Frankfurt’s famous Museumsuferfest. Frankfurt is, for the most part, a modern city with imposing skyscrapers, trendy shopping, and a steady flow of international visitors. Frankfurt is also in many ways the central nervous system of Germany: it is the home of Germany’s financial sector (the European Central Bank is here, and Frankfurt’s stock exchange is the world’s 4th largest), and its airport is the point of arrival and departure for most visitors to Germany.

Fortunately for us, Frankfurt is only about an hour trip by train or auto from Marburg. We chose the later option this time and headed south by bus with a group of other Fulbrighters.

A proper visit to Frankfurt begins where Frankfurt began, in Römerberg (or the old central squaure) of the Altstadt (old city), on the northern shore of the river Main. Römerberg remains the political and social center of Frankfurt. Many emperors have been elected here, but in today’s Germany it is the site for events like the famed Christmas market. On our visit we even witnessed a few weddings taking place.

The city of Frankfurt was mostly leveled during WWII, so the majority of the Römerberg square is composed of reconstructed half-timbered houses. Dominating the center of the square, however, is the 16th century Gerechtigkeitsbrunnen (or Fountain of Justice).

Here’s Penelope, bundled up outside of the old Rathaus (or city hall).

One of Frankfurt’s most well known attractions is Paulskirche (or St. Paul’s Church).

The Church was originally constructed (in Neoclassical style) to serve as the city’s principal Protestant church. It is now famous, however, as the gathering place in 1848 of Germany’s first democratically elected assembly. Given the church’s namesake (St. Paul!), we were excited to make our visit. Things quickly became depressing. The Paulskirche, despite the name, is no longer a church (no pastor, no congregation, no gatherings of worship) but rather a hollowed out secular monument.

All Christian symbols have been purged. In their place, the vacant space has become memorial to the idea of German political unity. This unity is expressed by the flags of the 16 Bundesländer (or states) that wrap around the walls of the interior.

Paulskirche is a tragic reminder (especially for American churches) of why Christians refuse to adorn their sanctuaries with national flags and to pervert their liturgies with secular celebrations like the 4th of July, Memorial Day, et al. For those churches unfaithful in this matter, see St. Paul’s “Church.” MENE, MENE, TEKEL, and PARSIN!

After Paulskirche, we ascended the Maintower and took in the spectacular views of Frankfurt.
We held on tight and tried not to get blown away by the cold wind.

Then we proceded down to the Museumsuferfest along the banks of the River Main. There are 20 museums that line the shore of the river, and this festival celebrates them. Though we didn’t venture into any of the museums, we did wander along the river and take in the sights and smells of the festival outside.

The streets were lined with stalls featuring crafts and foods, both local and international.

There was no shortage of beautiful meats.

Apfelwein (literally “apple wine”), the drink of Frankfurt, was also readily available. It tastes similar to apple cider, but it’s more sour than sweet. The stalls selling Apfelwine were charming and sometimes extravagant.
We were amazed at how civil and refined this festival was compared to those we’ve experienced in the U.S.: the drinks were served in real glasses, there wasn’t trash strewn about, the music was pleasant, the tables were decorated with candles and flowers, and people were dressed nicely. The weather also hovered between a bit cool and just perfect, which was quite unlike summer festivals in the States.
We both got our fill of apfelwein, which ended up being a bit more potent than either of us anticipated.
Penelope even wanted to give it a try.
Apfelwein, of course, wasn’t the only drink at the festival. Being in Germany, there was plenty of beer, and also all kinds of cocktail concoctions.

Near the end of the evening, as we headed back to catch our bus, Penelope spotted the city park. She insisted that she be allowed to play just like the other big kids.

Just before heading back to Marburg we made one final stop at the bakery to get some last minute refreshments for the journey home. We are quickly becoming rather efficient European travelers.


In the Footsteps of the Grimm Bro's

The town of Marburg is known for its connection to Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm who attended the University in the very early 1800’s. While they were here they collected and recorded the local fairy tales. In honor of these fine fellows Marburg mounted symbols from several of these tales in different parts of the city and provided a map to help you locate them. They market it as a fun exercise program, and by the time we were finished (or given up is more like it) we understood why…

Here we are: me, Sam (the navigator with the map and a German dictionary), Jamie (Sam’s wife), Evey, and the father (taking the picture). The dark red timber-frame house directly behind Sam is where the Grimm brothers lived while studying in Marburg.

The Frog Prince (you know, the one where the girl has to kiss the frog in order to turn him back into a prince)

The Porcupine and the Hare (I have no idea about this one except that it has something to do with a hare chasing a porcupine, or maybe it is the other way around???)

A donkey with gold coins coming out of its butt (I don’t know either…)

Something about somebody killing 7 flies with one swat. You can see the metal and glass flies on the side of the building. (Don’t know this story either—I guess my parents didn’t read me very many fairy tales as a child.)

The Billy Goats Gruff (I always thought there was a troll involved, but it looks more like a bear here.)

Some quote from the Grimm brothers with the castle in the background (Being the only non-German speaker in the group I couldn’t read it, but it has something to do with complaining about how many steps exist in Marburg and that it’s a pain getting around. As the story goes, that is why the Grimm's left Marburg.)

The Seven Dwarves (you can see the tips of their hats poking out above the castle walls, but no sighting of Snow White)

Here’s where we ran into problems. Supposedly there is some symbol from Hansel and Gretel as well as the golden shoe from Cinderella in this courtyard by the church. We looked and looked but couldn’t find a thing. Finally, I decided that this little house was good enough for the Hansel and Gretel story (you know, the gingerbread house where the witch lives), but we never found the shoe. I have gone back twice since then looking for the ridiculous shoe, but still no luck. Some guy we ran into said he found it, but I believe he is lying.


Welcome to Gummy Bear Heaven!

Germany is home to the Gummy Bear, and I located an amazing shop in Marburg that has dedicated itself to the delicacy. There are gummy bears in every flavor imaginable and tons of gummy bear creations--Gummy bear liquor and tea, a birthday cake made of Gummy bears, shish-ka-bobs made of Gummy bears, and even a Gummy Bear pizza. My personal favorite is the super sour toungue-shaped gummy bear. It's tickle-your-taste-buds delicious!

The Gummy Bear store

Gummy Bear Pizza (but who puts eggs on a pizza??)

Penelope sort of resembles a gummy bear

By the time I leave Marburg I will be a gummy bear connaisseur!

Gummy Bears reign supreme here in Marburg. Here, at the Marburger Hof Hotel, they leave "sleepy sheep" gummy bears on your pillow instead of mints. I've also seen gummy bear cookies at the local bakeries. Mmmmmmm!


Friendly Advice

Yesterday I had an interesting encounter with a woman on the street. I was strolling the little one in the center of town while she peacefully napped. It was overcast, and it happened to be sprinkling when she fell asleep, so I had my handy-dandy plastic rain cover over her stroller to protect her from getting wet. I love this thing! It fits perfectly over the top part of the stroller and has mesh fabric on the sides so that air can get in. It's a great invention, and I never leave home without it when rain is in the forecast.

So, as I'm walking down the street a lady stops me and starts motioning to the stroller and speaking to me in German. I react with my set phrase that I'm now accustomed to saying, "I'm sorry but I don't speak German." The woman then continues in English and says emphatically, "You need to take that off. Your baby needs fresh air!" I pause for a minute because I'm not quite sure how to respond. Who does this lady think she is telling me what to do with my child? And why does she even care if Penelope has enough fresh air or not?

I respond by first trying to point out the air vents on the side and explain that she fell asleep when it was raining and I didn't want to disturb her. But the woman is still very concerned and again tells me to take off the rain cover since it's not raining anymore. So I give in (because it suddenly dawns on me that I may be committing a cultural faux-pas and I'm afraid of the consequences), and tell her thank you and keep walking.

When I get home I consult with the father (my German culture go-to for the moment) and seek an explanation for what happened with the lady on the street. He laughs at my ignorance, tells me to get used to it, and explains that Germans feel that it is their duty to let others know how to do things--the 'correct' way of doing things.

The next day I'm once again walking in the city strolling Penelope. She is taking her morning snooze in the stroller. To keep the sun out of her eyes I have her blanket draped over the stroller. And that is when I pass the same advice-giving lady.

We smile at each other and keep walking.

Hooray for Visitors!

Our first visitors--Aunt J and Uncle M!

We had a great time hanging out and showing them the town of Marburg. They were lucky enough to stay at the Marburg Hof hotel instead of crammed into our dormitory suite. Upon viewing their hotel room, I decided I would be content just spending the entire day there--t.v., internet, phone, minibar, trouser press...what else do you need?! After they pulled me away, we spent the couple days they were here seeing the sights of the city. Here are a few highlights...

In search of the perfect view. (Yes, all visitors to Marburg are required to make the trek up to the top of the city.)

Uncle M sips an espresso in the Marktplatz...

...while Aunt J teaches Penelope how to hold (eat) the camera.

Uncle M carried the little one (who felt not so little) all the way to the top...

...where she preformed a victory dance for us.

Penelope loves her aunt and uncle and can't wait to see them again at Christmas!


Marburg: Take Two

The main thing I’ve learned about the town of Marburg is that it goes up, and up, and up. But a hike to the top is worth the effort. Most of the town, called the Unterstadt (Lower Town) lies on either side of the River Lahn where it is fairly flat, but the oldest and most picturesque parts of the town are on the side of a hill and called the Oberstadt (Upper Town). You go up a little and there is the Marktplatz (Market Place) with lots of fun shops, and then up some more winding lanes and steps to the Pfarrkirche (a Gothic turned Lutheran Church) and then to the very top where the Landgrafenschloss (Landgraves Castle) is perched. There are great rooftop views all along the way. Here are are a few we encountered.

The River Lahn that runs through the low valley area of Marburg.

View of Marburg from the Oberstadt. Directly behind us on top of the hill is the Kaiser Wilherlm Tower, which we plan to hike up to later this week.

Farmer’s Market in the old Marktplatz on a Saturday morning.

Everything looks very yummy, but a little too pricy for our pockets.

A view from the courtyard in front of the Pfarrkirche.

One of many drinking fountains in the old part of the city. Believe me, you’ll want a sip or two--in spite of the green stuff--when you’re climbing the steep streets here!

Up, and up and up we go on the winding, cobblestone streets. Argh!! My calves are killing me by this point.

Almost there--just another hundred steps to climb….

We finaly made it!

Wandering the gardens of the castle…

…put Penelope to sleep.

Quaint cottage in the woods…perhaps the home of the Seven Dwarfs?