"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


The Cord that Keeps us Connected

This is the cord

that has taken over my apartment

that keeps on getting wrapped around the chair

that I keep tripping over

that Peneleope keeps trying to pull

and eat

the cord that connects me to the internet

Wouldn't you think that when you live on the campus of the 'best university in Germany' you would have wireless internet?
Oh no, my friends. The cord will not go away.


Yo! Welcome to my Crib

Little by little we are getting settled into our new digs. One of the first changes that had to be made was to take out the superfluous crib bedding. Apparently German babies sleep with a little pillow and duvet in their crib--a big 'No! No!' according to the American Pediatric Association due to the increased danger of SIDS.

So, after allowing Penelope to play around in it for a little while, we stripped it down to only the sheet--and gave ourselves a gold star for following our pediatrician's advice. But let's face it, the crib was way more comfy how it was before.

Now I'm off to find a crib bumper to keep those darned pacifiers from falling to the floor in the middle of the night!


The Venice of Germany

As promised, here are some photos of our new home away from home. Before arriving we knew very little about the town. But whenever we told people in Marburg that we were moving here their response was always, "Oooh! Heidelberg is so beautiful!" In fact, one German acquaintance told us Heidelberg was "the Venice of Germany." (Seriously?!) So, needless to say, our expectations were quite high.

So far Heidelberg has lived up to its reputation. In fact, we have become quite enamored by the town and can't seem to get enough of it. We took our camera with us yesterday and captured some of our favorite spots.

But first, here is our new home. Our apartment is located in the middle of the new university campus. Our place is small, but it is new, clean and has everything we need. There is even a bakery and cafe conveniently located right below us.

Outside our door. Penelope waiting ever so patiently for her parents.

The University Botanical Gardens are located just behind us.

A short walk down a main street leads us right to the Neckar River. The open grassy area that runs along the river bank was filled with people taking full advantage of the nice weather on this Sunday afternoon.

We ran into several people sunbathing on the grass, including a few old men in speedos and some topless middle-age women. That might take some getting used to.

The Neckar River and part of the old town (Altstadt) in the background.

Making our way to the old town along the footpath that runs by the river. The old bridge (Alte Brucke), city gate (Bruckentor) and castle (Schloss) are in the background.

Close up of the old bridge, castle and old town.

The bridge with the castle in the background.

The father and little one on the old bridge. Behind, on the other side of the trees in the distance, is where we live.

The old gate.

The town hall (Rathaus) situated in the Marktplatz, which is covered with outdoor cafe tables.

Another view of the busy Marktplatz and the Gothic Heiligeistkirche (Church of the Holy Spirit) on the right. A great place to have a drink and people-watch.

Walking back home along the Neckar.

As you can see Heidelberg is a great place to be. We're excited to see what the year has in store for us here.


Crossing the Border

This past weekend the generous Fulbright people took us on another journey, this time to an important border crossing station between the old East and West Germany and to the Museum of the Inner German Border. We didn’t really know what to expect from the trip other than that we would end up in the old East Germany and that it would be a long bus ride (about 2 hours).

As is her custom, Penelope spent most of the bus ride through the magnificent German countryside sleeping, nestled cozily against her mother’s sternum (a soon bruised sternum!).

Our education about divided Germany and the wall began soon upon arrival. The story of the wall and the division between East and West is fascinating and complex, but almost always told from the perspective of the "winners" (or the West). One needs to keep this quirk of history in mind.

Here is a picture of the famous newspaper headline from 1961 in which the DDR chairman Walter Ulbricht declares that no one in the East "has the intent to erect a wall." Well, two months later, during the night of August 13, the border was closed and constuction of the Wall began.

This is an old DDR border marker, with the symbol of East Germany.

Here is Penelope testing out the effectiveness of one of the electric fences.

This is some of the remaining infrastructure of the road-blocking devices at the border crossing. This machine could secure the entire road crossing in about three seconds.

This is Penelope pausing for a snack in the shade of one of the old border bunkers.

This is the little one and the father playing around outside of the old bunker. I couldn't help but wonder what one of the little men huddled in this thing so many decades ago would think of its use today--a source of shade for tourists and a curious plaything for a little girl.

This is us just wandering around on the eastern side of the border. The West is in the distance. Sooooooooomebody forgot a hat to protect the little one's head. A burpcloth will have to do.

This is a leftover frangement of the Wall.

Even this little piece was hard to climb. I think we'd be stuck.

All in all, we had a great trip, and we are quite thankful for a unified Germany in which we can enjoy the beauty of both east and west.


Election Day!

So we are safe and sound and LOVING Heidelberg...but more on all that later.

The big news in Deutschland is that tomorrow is Election Day. It has been really interesting to follow election season here as outsiders. All things considered, we've learned quite a bit about the parties, the issues, and the ways in which Germans think about politics; but we still feel like complete interlopers when we discuss issues with the natives.

Here is a helpful link for those who would like to know a little more about Election 2009 and election politics in Germany. Der Spiegel is sort of the German version of Time Magazine, and this is their "German Politics for Dummies" site.


Here's a top 5 list of the most amusing, confusing, or disconcerting things we have observed about German elections:

1. There's a party called "the Pirates." And they're seriously on the ballot.

2. You always have plenty of choices. You even get to vote twice, and not necessarily for the same party. For your first choice you have 5 parties to choose from. For your second choice you have about a dozen. Coming from the US, where in an election one is obliged to choose between only two shades of bad, the diversity here is refreshing.

3. The Marxist-Leninist Pary is still around, which is kind of cute.

4. APPD is reason enough to love German elections. This group is the Anarchist Pogo Party of Germany, and they are actually quite active on the campaign circuit. They claim to represent the "social parasites" of Germany. Evidently, this party was created in 1981 by two punks in Hannover; they took part in the 1998 election to the Bundestag with the promise to pay the voters with free beer. We find that they are full of creative ideas. For instance, they believe in the right to unemployment, with full salary and benefits; they believe that retirement pensions should be transformed into youth pensions; and they support the creation of zones where people who want to work can work, and in turn finance the leisure of those who don't ever want to work.

*Pogo, if you were wondering, is a dance, where you jump up and down.

5. CDU (or Christian Democratic Union) is Germany's most powerful party today and purports to uphold "Christian values." In the 2009 election this has translated into support for tax cuts, delays on the phasing out of nuclear power plants, and opposition to Turkey joining the EU. I'm sure Jesus would be...ummmmm...confused.

We will be sure to update you all on the results of the election. Now that we finally have a T.V., we are looking forward to quite the election party on Sunday night!

Here is an APPD sign. And here is Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU).


Heidelberg Bound

So long Marburg...hello Heidelberg!

Our bags are packed, the train is booked, our expectations are high, and we are on our way.




where the little germans play

little penelope is making her way through playgrounds across the country


Kitchenette Feast

This photographic evidence is to prove once and for all that you can make a delicious, well-balanced meal in a dormroom kitchenette with minimal untensils and ingredients.

The Menu

First Course
Fieldgreen salad with tomatoes and cucumbers and a balsalmic and olive oil dressing topped with grated parmesan

Second Course

Couscous with sauteed mushrooms and spinach and Bratwurst for the meat-eater

Third Course

Brie and multigrain Wasa crackers

Even Penelope approved!


Her Bum is Genius

Many a university student has looked quizzically upon the strange items hanging on the clothesline outside their dorm these past six weeks.

Yes, we are the crazy people who use cloth diapers. But not just your mom and pop’s cloth diapers. The Mercedes of all cloth diapers—Bum Genius 3.0. They’re gentle on your baby’s bum, super absorbent, chemical-free, cost-effective, and super cute. Plus, you can give yourself a ‘pat on the back’ every time you change a diaper since yours isn’t going to spend the next 500 years in a landfill--unlike the disposable diaper of the mommy next to you.

The only downside is the time you spend washing them.

But happy bottoms make happy babies.


Lessons from Kaiser Wilhelm

The Kaiser Wilhelm Tower is perched on the top of a ridge overlooking the town of Marburg. It’s the highest point in town and known for its wonderful views of the surrounding area. Since we first arrived in Marburg we said repeatedly that we were going to climb up to it. One week after another passed until we decided to do it—for real. But the Kaiser had some lessons in store for us along the way…

Lesson #1: Always consult a map before embarking on a climbing adventure.

We decided to wing it and walk in the general direction of the tower. This resulted in us ending up on the wrong side of the ridge. Instead of going the way everyone else went, we took the most indirect route possible.

This is me exhausted and annoyed that we took the wrong path.

Lesson #2: Don’t let a Biergarten get in the way of your goal.

So we never actually made it up to the tower that Saturday, but we did make it to the café several hundred yards from the tower. The cold drinks were just too tempting, and the rest of the way to the tower was straight up a hill. Can you blame us? The view from the Biergarten was scenic enough for us.

The temptress.

The look of defeat.

Lesson #3: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

Since the past weekend was our last in Marburg and we were running out of options, we decided to listen to Kaiser Wilhelm and attempt the climb again. This time we consulted the map for the most direct route.

Unfortunately, the most direct route was also the steepest route.

We (mostly me) needed to stop and rest a lot.

At least rest stops make good picture opportunities.


Lesson #4: Don’t forget to check your watch.

We were so immersed in the views and congratulating ourselves that we made it to the top that we neglected to check what time the tower closed. At first we were confused why the door leading to the top of the tower was locked, but upon checking the sign and our watches we realized why. The observation deck had closed five minutes prior. Oh well. We decided the drinks at the tower café were more appealing anyways.

Lesson #5: Always be on the lookout for danger.

And sometimes danger comes in the form of little hands. The father learned this lesson when his glass full of Apfelwein was suddenly knocked over by Penelope’s hand when he turned away, resulting in wet pants for the both of them.

Penelope without pants after the incident. Notice the smirk on her impish face. The father opted to keep his pants on even though it appeared to each passerby that he had just wet himself.

Thank you oh wise Kaiser Wilhelm for these insights, but we will not be back to visit your tower again.