Grapes from Thorns

Location: Cincinnati, Ohio

Monday, October 30, 2006

Beautiful Bavaria

Last weekend, I traveled to Munich to visit some old college friends of mine, Alex and Marcus. Some readers of this blog will remember them from graduate student days in Philadelphia. They were wonderful hosts and I had an excellent time. The train trip there and back was also very good with the trains staying right on time despite the trip that spanned the north-south length of Germany. All together it was nearly a six-hour trip.

Alex and Marcus live some distance outside of Munich in a little village next to a church that has an onion-shaped steeple, a distinctive
The first night, Alex cooked us a great meal. The next day, we drove to Neuschwanstein, where the famous disneyland-like castle is located. Very interesting and a good walk up some Alps. There were lots and lots of people but the crowd was nothing compared to what it is during the summer when thousands visit the castle every day.

After the castle we drove through the beautiful countryside with the Alps showing through the clouds from time to time. We went to the Kloster Andechs, which is an old Benedictine cloister but is also a fine German beer garden with a 12th-century church. For photos see:

The next day, on Sunday, Alex took me to see the private boarding school where she teaches. It is a very impressive institution with an interesting history and a beautiful campus. Then in the afternoon we explored Munich or Menchen as they say it here with an oomlaut over the first "e." We walked around the center of the city through many medieval passageways and past the square where the Rathaus is situated. Then, it was on to our real destination, the Hofbrauhaus. After visiting the branch in Cincinnnati, I felt I had to visit the motherlode. On a dare, I ate the sausage that is rather famously connected with Munich, a weisswurst. Boiled, the oddly-white sausage is delivered with two of them floating in a rather elaborate white bowl. Eating one requires a bit of surgery first because one does not eat the casing. Using a technique my father once explained to me about skinning a catfish in Missouri, I stuck my fork in one end and peeled the skin back. Worked quite well. In fact, with an ample does of sweet mustard, the weisswurst was not half bad. And of course there was a very large beer, ein Mass, to wash it down!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Of Bells and Churches

Lubeck has some great historic churches, especially St. Mary's. Construction began in about 1250 and continued for 100 years. Not only is it unique in its size in northern Germany but it is also a memorial to the Second World War. The bells of the church fell to the ground as the church collapsed under Anglo-American bombing on March 29, 1942. Bent, battered, and partially melted, the bells were left in place as a memorial to the loss of life during the war. On the wall nearby are two huge nails from the cathedral at Coventry in England that was destroyed by German bombing.

As i explored the church, a group of church women came in and began singing hymns near the altar. I have to admit that it was very moving to hear the strains of Amazing Grace in English and German inside walls that had seen so much.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Queen of the Hanseatic League

Lubeck is known as "the queen of the Hanseatic League" because of its prominent commercial position during the Middle Ages. Remnants of that great wealth are apparent through the city even though it was badly bombed during the Second World War.

Of special interest to me at Lubeck were the medieval warehouses where Luneburg salt was stored. It was from the port of Lubeck that Luneburg's salt found its overseas markets and it was the salt trade that build Lubeck into the great city that it was.

More than at Luneburg, the city's' defenses are quite apparent, including the old walls and water obstacles (not quite a moat anymore). The rathaus is very impressive showing its growth over time and while I don't believe it is as beautiful as Luneburg's it is older and larger. Much of the downtown area has been turned into a pedestrial area with shops and restaurants and I found a great neighborhood on the just outside of the center that had even better offerings.

There was a kind of sailor's club or organization right across the street from a church dedicated to the sailors. Very interesing and very much a Scandinavian tradition.

One of the most important areas is along the waterfront at theRiver Traver. It is possible to see what the place might have looked like hundreds of years ago. I am going to attach a waterfront photo, a rathaus photo, and a street scene. Another post will carry photos of some of the beautiful and historic churches of the city, churches that were all destroyed or damaged during the bombing in WWII.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

A Walk in the Park

I live pretty close to the university. Often I take the bus but it is about a half hour walk. Most of the walking route leads through a beautiful park and I am posting some photos of it.

The park was created in the nineteenth century when Germans believed that the air in Luneburg was particularly healthy, being away from the big cities and having salt in the air. Of course, it is also true that fires were burning to distill the salt from the water ....

Anyway, the park then was aptly named Kur (or cure) Park and people came to the park to take in the fresh air. They still do. On a sunny weekend, the park is very busy with people sunning themselves, throwing frisbees, and playing with their dogs.

It is a nice walk and, now that it is getting colder, the leaves are beginning to change colors and fall to the ground. Not so green but just as beautiful.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Rolling out the barrels

Here are some additional Sulfmesiter Festival photos. Some barrel rolling and a couple of the characters roaming the streets. The guy on the left was making salt in a tent and the guy on the stilts was wandering the streets grabbing caps off old men's heads. I'm surprised no old-timer tried to topple him over!

Monday, October 16, 2006

At the Hauptbahnhof in Hamburg

This a group photo I took of most of the students on the first group trip to Hamburg. You can see they are a youthful and enthusiastic bunch. Our program director, Iris Heine, is front and center.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Celebration a la Luneburg

Last week, we had a combined celebration in the city of Luneburg. On the one hand, it was Unification Day, an official national holiday to celebrate the unification of East Germany and West Germany. On the other hand, it was the Sulfmeister (Salt Master) Festival to celebrate Luneburg's heritage and its 1050 birthday.

In the Salt Museum, which tells the history of salt mining and processing at Luneburg, a document is displayed that for the first time mentions Luneburg and salt and is signed by the Holy Roman Emperor. The date is 956.

The celebration featured a parade and lots of music. One evening, they had a Swedish Big Band playing American swing music to the German audience. It was great to hear Count Basie, Glenn Miller, and Duke Ellington (two black men and a Jew) on the medieval streets of Luneburg. The crowd call them out for three encores!

I'm providing you a couple of photos of the parade. There were lots of people in Medieval costumes and a bunch of American-style marching bands. In particular, I got some photos of the Black Diamonds Marching Band but there were others. Also, there were several marching musical groups in kind of traditional unforms. Very colorful. The musical emphasis was a refreshing change from some Fourth of July parades in the US that feature beer trucks.

One highlight of the festival was in a tent where a man dressed like a medieval worker was making salt right on the spot by apparently boiling salt-laden water. Interesting. And hard work.

Also, both the Catholic and Protestant churches were represented with large marching contingents. The Catholics featured, in part, altar boys dressed in the traditional black cassock and white surplus I remember well from my own days as an altar boy. The Lutherans sported t-shirts that read "Du bist Luther" or "You are Luther."

In another post, I'll provide some poor but entertaining photos of the beer barrel-rolling competition.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Immigration encounter

This photo is of the busy Hamburg waterfront along the River Elbe from where millions of Germans left the country since the 18th century hoping for a better life in the United States and elsewhere. Next weekend, I plan to go to the immigration museum in Hamburg. They also have one in Bremenhaven.

I learned of this heritage firsthand a couple of evenings ago when I ventured into a local Spanish restaurant for some tapas. Tapas are sort of like hors d'oeuveres or snacks (or poo poos in Hawaii) except they are not only very tasty but substantial as well. They are understandably popular with students and professors because they are comparatively inexpensive. For about 4 euros, or about 5 bucks, you can get a pretty good meal. Potatoes, a little fish, some sausage, cooked vegetables, cheese, some raw vegetables, along with bread and a garlic spread. Add a beer or two and it is quite satisfying.

This particular Spanish restaurant, Sin Nombre, had been recommended to me by a faculty member so I was pretty confident about it and was not disappointed. There are also a couple of Portugeuse restaurants that offer similar tapas.

I settled down at a table in the restaurant. It was a little early and I was the only customer. The young woman working the bar waited on me. As I struggled through some German, she patiently helped me with my order, so that I did not order a washingmachine or something similar. Then, when she brought me a cool "gross" (large) glass of Jever, a regional brew, we started talking in English.

I rarely believe that Germans really know where Cincinnati is when I tell them that is where I live but this time the woman's eyes got wide as she said "I've been to Cincinnati."

Turns out that a few years ago, she got a phone call from America. Some Americans had been doing their geneology and they had tracked her down. They were her relatives. And they lived in Fort Mitchell, Kentucky, just across the river from Cincinnati.

Angelina, the waitress, and I laughed as we realized how unlikely our encounter was. But we talked about Cincinnati and places she had been. She had a particularly good memory of eating at the Montgomery Inn Boathouse on the Ohio River. Like so many young Germans, her English is very good but she kept peppering me with German trying to get me to stretch my vocabulary.

She is a student at the university and since our meeting at Sin Nombre I have seen her on campus. She told me that she has many relatives in the Cincinnati area and feels very close to them now, a family that a few years earlier she didn't even know she had. It has been interesting to find someone in this small German town who has such a personal connection to Cincinnati.

It reminded me somewhat of my first trip to Ireland some years ago. Within the space of three days in Dublin, I met two people who had ancestors who had immigrated to Butte, Montana. While Butte was, of course, a great magnet for Irish immigration, the possibilities that I would run into two people with Butte connections was a bit of a shock.

The world is a rather small and entertaining place.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Luneburg's Rathaus

Last weekend, I was fortunate to be able to make two trips to Luneburg's beautiful Rathaus, or city hall. Parts of the rathaus date back to the 13th century and perhaps even earlier. Last Friday, an assistant to the burgermeister or mayor of the city met a group of about 70 students (and me) to welcome us to the community. About half of the students present were Americans with the USAC program but probably most were students from other parts of Europe through another program called the Erasmus program.

Hanseatic league cities like Luneburg built these beautiful rathauses to show off their wealth as well as to provide suitable facilities for meetings of Hanseatic businessmen who led the league.

The image at the top is of the rathaus on the Friday we toured it. The fierce looking medieval creature in the next image is perched atop a banister in the rathaus. The beautiful weather we have been having is slowly beginning to change and there is a chill in the air here in northern Germany.