"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

30.10.09

The Neckar

"Germany, in the summer, is the perfection of the beautiful, but nobody has understood, and realized, and enjoyed the utmost possibilities of this soft and peaceful beauty unless he has voyaged down the Neckar on a raft." ~~Mark Twain

The Neckar is our river. It flows a few feet from our house; we see it and cross it everyday. So we thought it appropriate to do a post in honor of it (especially since we already have pictures of it and Mr. Cord has not yet returned).

view from above--if you look hard enough, you can see our apartment




view from the bridge--this is where we cross the river everyday




viewers take in the view




One of the great things about the Neckar is the boats that pass through. You see everything from the industrial barge to the tiniest kayak.


lonely rower





group of wanna-be rowers





barge



empty barge



miniature motorboat rentals



29.10.09

The Talking Box

dinner is done, dishes are done, baby is asleep, and now it's time for a little German t.v.

here are the options:

1. French movie in French with German subtitles--seems to be something about teen angst and includes a great deal of sex and nudity (no blurred images here!)

2. Independence Day dubbed in German--Will Smith with a higher, squeaky voice

3. Popstars--German version of American Idol where the judges have clearly been type-casted to conform to the American model and the talent is much worse, which is great for us because even the 'good' ones are funny

4. Home renovation reality show--German version of TLC's Trading Spaces; and it's just like Trading Spaces, but without the jokes

5. German version of the Lawence Welk Show--full of Lederhosen and local music; apparently the format still works

6. German news--just like American news but doubly incomprehensible

7. OMG! The Princess Diaries in English--wait, nevermind, the song is over and we're back to dubbing in German

8. CNN in English--but not the real CNN, some lame international version with Christiane Amanpour on all the time

9. Eurosport featuring Snooker--great, another sport; but at least I don't have to endure the World Series this year

10. MTV--the one channel we can compromise on; in English, but with German subtitles; unfortunately they're all the reject reality shows that didn't make the real MTV--if you thought it couldn't get any trashier, it does

27.10.09

Technical Difficulties

Ladies and Gentlemen, we are currently experiencing technical difficulties. Please bear with us for the next few days until the problem is fixed.

The camera cord decided to go on an overseas trip to Charlottesville, Virginia, USA over the past weekend via Ross's baggage (see recent post "The Photographer Visits"). But don't worry, after reprimanding the cord for its rebellious behavior, Ross has since sent the cord straight back to its proper home in Heidelberg. Provided the camera cord doesn't make any detours along the way, we will be back to regular posting in a few days.

25.10.09

The Tongue

Inside that cute little mouth is the longest tongue known to man.



She keeps it hidden most of the time, but every so often it makes an appearance.

At first, it just peeks out. But when it approaches a tasty object (like a table leg)...




it unfurls itself completely...



...in order to get a nice, long lick.



Mmmm...mmm...metallic goodness!

23.10.09

Adventures in "Universal Health Care"

Well, this is a controversial topic these days (or so it seems when we read the news from back home). But we just took Penelope to the doctor for her 6 month checkup, and it's on my mind.

I'm not here necessarily to weigh in on the debate. The most important thing I've learned since being over here is that too, too much of what I used to think about health care in Europe is simply false, and now I realize the same is true about health care in the U.S. So my own cards are guarded--if I even have any cards to play. I just want to talk about our experiences, with our family, in our city. So here's a list of general and specific observations.

1. The Europeans think American health care is CRAAAAAAZY. So everyone knows that we are the "only industrialized nation that does not have a universal health care system"--this fact is repeated ad nauseum. For what it's worth, we don't exactly hang out with the riff raff here in Germany, and it's fascinating to observe how superior European's view the European system to the U.S.'s. Not only do they think Americans are morally unjust in not fasciliating a more democratic system, they think a corporate/profit system is inferior even in terms of quality. They seem simply unable to understand why all people should not have a basic and sufficient access to healthcare. And moreover, they think their own care, for all people, is better. Whether or not these judgments are true is another issue.

2. The Christians we have met are especially troubled by the health care probelm in the U.S. (and yes, despite what you have heard, there are Christians in Europe). They don't understand why hospitality is not the impulse of American Christians. They do not mix words here. They view us--yes US!--as hypocritical in calling ourselves Christians and yet possessing an access to a basic dignity that others must struggle to acquire.

3. So when I'm not busy making sure the earth still spins on its proper axis, I read some news, and what amazes me is how many political pundits (on both sides) talk about universal health care as if there is no private option. Countries vary in this issue, but the existence of a public system does not mean the elimination of a private option (and certainly not in Germany). It is just silly the way this is discussed in the American news cycle. What is interesting, however, is how many people who could choose a private option do not.

4. You often hear in the U.S. that we should not trust the government with decisions about our health. Europeans wonder why we should trust profit-making corporations. They can really stump you on this one, believe me.

5. Not only do you have a general private option here, you can get done anything you want to get done, provided you pay. We have a cosmetic surgery practice just down the road from us, and from the pictures on the window they do a great job with boobs.

6. The general care for babies is more comprehensive here. Penelope was given sonograms on her hips and kidneys, which our insurance in the U.S. did not cover. The doctor insisted on it, and it made me feel like we were coming from a third world country. Throughout our close to 1 hour visit with our doctor here (YES, 1 HOUR!), issue after issue came up in which the system here offered significant advantages (the European Vaccination Card sounds like a great idea, by the way. I want one!).

7. The medical system here is also quite efficient. We had a 9:30 appointment. We arrived at 9:15. We had no paperwork to fill out. We simply gave them our contact information and previous records and sat down (we had previously discussed our general situation over the phone). At 9:30 (YES, 9:30, the time of the appointment) we were taken to the thoroughly homey, huge, and well equipped room for the checkup. We were greeted and treated by competent nurses and the extremely kind and observant doctor. We never felt rushed. We could ask any question, and the doctor was very thorough in his responses.

So there you have it. This round obviously tilts in favor of the European system, but this is just our recent experience. I'm not sure what system is best for the U.S., mostly because the U.S. is so much bigger than the individual European countries (but we can all agree the current system is a disaster--or have you ever negotiated with your insurance lords?). It is unfortunate, however, that so much dicourse in the U.S. about universal health care is altogether incorrect, even among those supposedly "in the know."

What is most important for us is that Penelope passed her exam with flying colors, except that her head, evidently, is a bit asymetrical. And in response to that news she left her mark, peeing on the examination table twice.

21.10.09

The Photographer Visits

Over the weekend we had our first Heidelberg visitor. Ross is a photographer (as well as an eligible bachelor), and he was on his way back from a project in Israel. He negotiated a layover in Frankfurt and so was able to spend a few days with us.

If you haven't already heard of Ross or seen his work, you should get to know him quickly. He is just finishing up a year-long project, funded by a National Geographic grant, called The American Festivals Project. It captures America's small, hidden, and bizarre festivals. Ross has photographed everything from the "Combine Demolition Derby" in Hillsadale Fair, Michigan, to the "Middle of Nowhere celebration" in Ainsworth, Nebraska. Over the past year he traveled to 48 states and drove over 50,000 miles. Ross has seen more inches of the American landscape than any other human being I know--and believe me, he has many stories to tell! Check him out here:

The father and Ross had quite a good time playing around with cameras and lenses over the weekend.

The aspiring photographer in front of the Old Bridge.

Ross gives me a quick lesson and hands over his camera for me to give it a try.
Here's my masterpiece: the two photographers on the Philosopher's Way.


Penelope examines Ross's cool black and white camera.
Ross pointed out this wall covered in green moss, and it quickly became the backdrop for several fun and "creative" pictures.
pensive...
freaky!
Ross and the father captured some great views of the city from the castle gardens.
Ross also enjoyed snapping pics of us as we were walking around town. It was like being followed by the paparazzi.
Penelope and Ross became best friends. Penelope was as fascinated with Ross's whiskers as she was his camera.
Penelope is getting used to posing for photos. She prefers to do it upside-down.

19.10.09

Cuckoo!

The father entertains the little one with a little game of 'cuckoo' (German version of 'peek-a-boo') while I make dinner. And Ross secretly videos.

video

We put the FUN in 'Funicular'

Funicular = a railway up the side of a mountain pulled by a moving cable and having counterbalancing ascending and descending cars

One of Hedielberg's pride and joy is their funicular. Built in 1890, it is Germany's oldest and longest.

Here is the funicular arriving at the station. The cars are actually from the early 1900's. They have been carefully restored and the moving parts replaced with stronger, modern ones. The old, wooden car made for a very creaky, shaky ride, which left us a bit concerned for our safety.



Here we are inside the car

Our photographer friend Ross whose visit gave us the excuse to take this ride, and who kept referring to it as the "Vernicular." (By the way, although the father would like to take credit for these pictures, all the good ones were taken by Ross.)



We enjoyed taking in the views of Heidelberg from this new vantage point.
A close-up of the Heiliggeistkirche (Holy Ghost Church) and the Neckar River from the window of the funicular.
View of Heidelberg and the surrounding villages as we reached the top of the hill.
The funicular driver at work.
A funicular works on a type of pulley system. There are two cars that are connected by a metal cable that runs along the track. The one car actually acts as a counterbalance to the other car. The descending car's weight helps pull the ascending car up the mountain, and the ascending train keeps the speed of the descending train from going out of control. It's a simple machine at it's best!
About halfway up the track splits and you end up passing the other car that is going down. Our driver decided to show off for the camera by opening his door and reaching out to give the driver of the other car a 'high five' as we passed. Super cool!


Here is the station at the top. This part of the track is the steepest with a 43% gradient. You can feel the funicular slow down and lurch forward a little as it is pulled up this part. (It's like going up a hill on a roller coaster but without the free-fall that follows--unless the funicular cable breaks.)


When we got out of the funicular it was suddenly much colder and windier. This is the highest point in Heidelberg. It sits 550 meters above seal level and is fittingly named Koenigstahl (King's Chair). You could see across the Neckar valley for miles and miles. (Unfortunately you could also see a cloud of smog hanging over the towns.)


For those of you who have never had the pleasure of riding a funicular, watch this video and you can live vicariously through us and take your very first funicular ride.

video


18.10.09

Dungeons and Dragons Reenactment (?)

During a walk along the Neckar today the father and our friend Ross (more about him later) encountered a strange scene. We've seen some bizarre games being played in this park, but I think this tops them all. It appears to be some mix of rugby, dungeons and dragons, home-schoolers, and renassaisance fairs.

By the way, you should really watch to the end--we find what appears to be the "resurrection of the dead" the best part.

Drei, Zwei, Eins...

video

If you have any idea as to what this is, please enlighten us in the 'comments' section!

17.10.09

Bundled Up

Fall has arrived, and with fall comes cooler temperatures. Thus the little one had to be introduced to a new clothing phenomenom--THE HAT.




Penelope had a bit of a difficult time with the hat, especially because this particular hat is a tad too big (or perhaps her head is a tad too small). With every wiggle of her head the hat creeped further and further down until the world suddenly went black.



This became a handy way for the little one to sleep while in the stroller and on the go, but it became increasingly annoying for the parents to continue to adjust the hat while the little one was awake. So we have decided to reitre this hat until it is a better fit.

In the meantime, the temperatures have grown so cold that a full array of winter clothing is in order, so we brought out the full onslaught of winter clothes.

Here is Penelope all ready for a walk to the store. She has on a shirt, sweater, tights, pants, shoes, coat, mittens, hat, and a hood. She was a little confused by her reduced mobility with all of the layers.

This is the "why is mommy torturing me?" look.



And the "where did my hands disappear to?" look.



And the "enough pictures mom, let's get this show on the road!" look.


Now it takes us ten times as long to get ready, but at least the little one is nice and toasty!



16.10.09

The Natives are Getting Restless

On one of our visits to the Altstadt (old part of the city) we were met with a very strange scene--bedsheets hanging from windows and strung across the street with messages written on them.

"We want to SLEEP!"

"NOISE, URINE AND SMUT MUST GO!"



"We also need sleep!"


Some nightshirts for added emphasis.
I guess this is a problem too...
We found this same scene throughout the entire city. Apparently the native inhabitants were protesting against the excessive partying of the people down below--perhaps having something to do with the students returning to the university for the school year. I think they got their point across.

I understand their frustration. I too am awakened in the middle of the night by a noisy person who doesn't pee in the toilet.
But don't these people choose to live in this part of town, above the popular bars and restaurants???

15.10.09

Yoga Baby

Today Penelope is 6 months old! Since having mastered the sit, she is now exploring the new territory of the crawl. In order to prepare for this important developmental stage, Penelope has been putting herself through intense training--yoga. Below are some of her favorite poses:

The Plank


Downward-Facing Dog (with a calf-stretch)


The Frog


The Fish Hook


The Standing Triangle
Child's Pose

The Praying Mantis

Namaste!