Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Are Cats Second Class Citizens?

The Germans love their dogs, which is so endearing to see. Everyone seems to be a dog owner, dog lover, purchaser or purveyor of dog supplies and equipment, and all-around dog aficionado. It is grand fun and quite entertaining to sit on the apartment balcony and watch the parade of dogs being walked by their owners.

The Germans appear to be breed agnostic. German Shepherds and Dachshunds are obvious favorites, but our neighbors also have an affinity for Labradors, Golden Retrievers, Dalmatians, Collies, Sheepdogs, Jack Russells, Spaniels of all sorts (Cocker, Springer, English, Brittany, and King Charles), Corgis, Scotties, Beagles, Bassets, Bloodhounds, Bull Mastiffs, Boxers, Pugs…oh, the list just goes on and on. Each evening, we see an endless stream of dogs walking along the neighborhood sidewalks as if they are strutting the runway of a beauty pageant.

The thing is this: While I have had my fair share of dogs in the past, currently I am exclusively a cat owner (and yes, there are more pet owners of cats than dogs in the US). I just can’t get a sense of how popular cats are in Germany, if at all. My anecdotal data suggests that the popularity of cats lags significantly behind dogs and that the “canine is king”, as these examples might show: · Our vet office only has pictures of dogs in the waiting room, as opposed to any other pets, including cats. Now why is this?

· Vet clinics in Germany do not board pets for owners who are traveling on business or pleasure. Recently, Buddy and I were provided a list of boarding facilities from our vet, yet when we called the companies on the list, only 2 of the entire lot were either willing or capable of boarding cats. Not sure why, as felines are a much easier animal to board. Even when we asked our local vet why this trend existed in Germany, he shrugged his shoulders and simply said “Dogs are more popular”. Yea…got that message.

· Pet stores have rows and rows of food and other products for the canine. Sandwiched at the end of the one row is the cat food, litter, and a small assortment of feline-related products.

· I have seen a few random cats skulking in the neighborhood but I can count on one hand the number of times this has occurred. Message: People either don’t own cats or don’t let them outside.

· A dog tax of 5% (of something) is assessed for those German citizens owning dogs; no such tax exists for cats. Perhaps the rationale has more to do with the need to pay for city “pooper-scoopers” rather than anything else.

Clearly, it’s a dog’s world….

Monday, July 25, 2005

Traveling with Others

It happens to all of us…you know...the weird and wacky things that happen to us when we travel with others. Thankfully, these are not life-threatening or serious, and usually can be looked back upon with a sense of humor and a good laugh. Although at the time they are happening, humor can be a bit in short supply.

Take my trip to London and Warsaw last week…again, with everything going on in London, it could have been a lot worse. I do recall having a few of those out-of-body experiences where I vacillated between moments of frustration, kiddy laughter, and a need to sit in the nearest corner and jot my thoughts down for the blog.

Let’s start with the simple premise: traveling with others can be demanding and challenging, but never dull. For married couples/people in committed relationships, we can learn to cope with the pet peeves of travel styles that are not in sync…one person’s need to overpack, the other’s inability to ever pack the right things…one’s desire to want to sleep in and relax, the other’s desire to hit the ground running and see all the castles in a 100 mile radius (which one is me?). Traveling with friends can also be dicey, but after a few “test runs” or practice trips, I can quickly determine who will be compatible travel companions. Trips of significant duration are only taken with friends who have adequately passed the practice trip assessment test. Experience has taught me that the quickest way to ruin a friendship is to embark on a two week trip without figuring out your friend’s travel preferences. Traveling with co-workers is an entirely different matter altogether.

The thing is, you can’t pick the co-workers you travel with…sometimes, it is simply the luck of the draw. And I kept telling myself this last Wednesday as I was making a mad dash though Heathrow Airport because my office traveling companions prefer to be the types that hurl their bodies across the jetway into the plane just as it begins to taxi out on the runway. I, on the other hand, am the “let’s get to the airport early, check in, have a leisurely coffee, stop off for a bathroom break, and re-read War and Peace all before boarding the plane” type. For some unknown reason, my team mates and I were all booked to travel to the airport together in one car. Yet, a small percentage of our contingency felt the need to continue to tweak and fine-tune our presentation up the last possible moment. Now, being a stickler, at times a perfectionist, and even a bit anal retentive, I understand the need to dot the "i"s and cross the "t"s but something about leaving for the airport with less than 55 minutes before take-off was just about enough to put me in a straight jacket.

I’ll spare you too many more details. Bottom line, I left in an earlier car for the airport, and was able to make my way through the baggage check-in line just in time for the rest of my team to arrive at the airport and cut in line at the very moment I was greeting the British Airways ticket agent. As you can imagine, we were all extremely popular with the travelers waiting in line behind us. Unfortunately, pay-back came only too soon, as we were forced to sprint the entire way from passport control and security, dragging our briefcases and suitcases behind us as we were “too late” to check them in anywhere else but the gate. By the time I actually collapsed into my seat, my arms and legs had no feeling in them, sweat was poring down my face, and conversation was virtually impossible. Thankfully, the flight attendant understood sign language and was able to fill my drink request.

The other issue is this: I am not an EU citizen, and as such, am usually instructed to queue in a separate line for passport control from all my EU colleagues. Immigration officials simply waive them through, where I, on the other hand, am lumped into the "all others" group which includes people who are non-EU citizens as well as those who have passport issues, forgot their passports, have no appropriate visa, or are from countries in which the EU places major travel restrictions upon. Upon witnessing my challenge, my EU colleagues gave me really sage advice, “Perhaps you should leave for the airport a little earlier next time.” Gee, now why did I not think of that?

After a pleasant and uneventful flight to Warsaw, our team arrived at the company offices in Poland without issue. Except to say that the tweaking and fine-tuning of the presentation commenced once again, meaning that dinner was pushed back till about 10:30 pm. No problems from me if there is work to be done, but by this time we were debating over font size and color of the graphics. A small coup d’etat was staged with the four of us having finished our work departing for the hotel in search of food. This is where the race car taxi driver entered the story (see blog entitled Warszawa, dated Thursday, July 21, 2005 for further details) depositing us post-haste at the doorstep of our hotel...white knuckles and all.

The good news is that our presentation went well, we raised a glass in celebration of our hard work, and we shared a good laugh through it all. Still, if it just the same with them, I’ll go back to my “arrive at the airport 2 hours before take-off” approach….call me a creature of habit .

Warszawa – Old Town

OK, I think I am getting this now….most European cities and towns have the concept of an “Old Town” and a “Market Square”. Still, I do not seem to tire of seeing another variation of this theme. My apologies for those visiting the Hachie Gal’s blog who have had their fill of discussions and photos of “old towns”. It always seems that old towns combine three of my favorite things: a sense of history and architecture, a place to people watch and shop, and of course, food.

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What is most amazing to me about the Old Town in Warsaw is that the city was annihilated during WWII. When I write about this destruction, for most of the city including Old Town, almost 100% lay in ruins at the end of the war. Looking at these pictures included here, it is amazing that these buildings have been reconstructed within the last 40-50 years using nothing but old plans and photographs. That this level of reconstruction could have been achieved during the Soviet period of governance is even more amazing.

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Today, the Old Town on Warsaw is the center of wonderful shopping, sightseeing, food, and entertainment.

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One of the highlights of the Old Town area for me was the Royal Castle, which was rebuilt in 1977. Of course, I am a HUGE sucker for a good old-fashioned castle; so please go the link on the right hand side entitled “Passport Photos” to see photos of the interior of the palace. A feast for the eyes.

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And then, there is the discussion of food. I would not have thought that Polish food could have been that delicious! My limited understanding of the Polish cuisine would have started and ended with Polish Kielbasa sausage and potatoes. Yet, there is a whole Polish cuisine that is making resurgence; and I can understand why. Here is a sample of our dining experiences:

1. A big part of the Polish dining experience centers around soups. Apparently, there are a few Polish standards that everyone says one must taste: (1) Hot and sour cream soup (which is a hot cream soup with a garlic flavor), (2) hot beet soup (red soup made from beets that have a taste of wine flavoring in it, along with little beef dumplings, (3) Borscht, a Polish specialty, and (4) Flaki (tripe soup – and no, I did not try that one).

2. Anything with mushrooms: mushroom garnishes, mushroom soups, mushrooms as vegetable sides, mushroom dumplings…being a gal who loves mushrooms, I was heaven!

3. Polish dumplings – this is where Buddy and I made absolute gluttons of ourselves. We had read that everyone needed to savor Polish dumplings that are made with everything from cheese, vegetables, beef, fish, pork, chicken as well as dessert dumplings. Having stumbled on a restaurant serving nothing but dumplings, we ate there not once but twice. Additionally, I had two meals of mushroom dumplings before Buddy even arrived. Suffice to say, if I had continued to eat nothing but dumplings, I would be the size of one big dumpling. The chocolate dumplings were to die for!

All in all, we found ourselves lured back again and again to this delightful corner of Warsaw…..

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Saturday, July 23, 2005

Warszawa – The Jewish Ghetto

On Friday, I celebrated my first “official” day off from work since transferring to Germany. After sleeping in “till I woke up”, eating a leisurely breakfast, and taking the morning easy, I took a three-hour sightseeing tour of the highlights of Warsaw. Normally, I do not often use the services of such a local tour group, but I figured that since my sense of direction is so bad and I was not really sure what the “highlights” of Warsaw exactly were, I would use Friday afternoon to do a little reconnaissance before Budman arrived.

The bottom line is that it was a good use of my time (only a three hour commitment), achieved my goal of identifying the city’s main sightseeing spots, and was only 130 PLN (zloty), or USD 35.00. Invariably, though, I seem to have a real oddball for my tour director. My luck ran true once again. This gentleman, while being very nice and trying very hard, told the worst jokes…over and over again. I began to feel uncomfortable for him, they were that bad.

There are a few areas that are indeed worth spending some time in: Warsaw’s Old Town, The Royal Route (which originally was the site of all the aristocratic homes and palaces, but today is the home of several embassies, museums, and art galleries), and the Jewish Ghetto. My afternoon tour did not allow much exploration or dilly-dallying around, which is OK because Buddy and I will check out in a bit more detail this weekend. Hopefully, the afternoon showers that plagued me on Friday will clear for the rest of the weekend.

I did learn a bit of history about Poland and Warsaw, in particular The Jewish Ghetto. Here is some information that I learned today about that area in Warsaw:

· At the start of WWII, Warsaw had over 1,000,000 inhabitants, with approximately 260,000 being Jews. Today, Warsaw is a city of 2,000,000 people, with approximately 2,000 Jews.

· The Jewish Ghetto was the area that the Nazis created in 1939; Jews were forced from their homes throughout Warsaw and relocated to this part of the city. A wall was erected around the Jewish Ghetto, separating the Jews from the rest of the Polish people. Guards were posted at all entrances; only those people working in labor camps were allowed to exit the Ghetto on a regular basis. At the height of the Jewish Ghetto (about 1944), there were over 600,000 people crammed into the designated ghetto area; approximately 7 people lived in one room.

· As the Nazis shifted their strategy from the ghettos to the death camps, Jews were once again forced to leave their homes in the ghetto and board trains for either Treblinka or Auschwitz, under the pretense that they were being sent labor camps. Throughout my tour today, I kept thinking about the movie The Pianist; it was as if I was reliving the experience of the main character as I was touring the area. Jews were shipped out of the ghetto at a rate of 5,000 per day. As the ghetto began to decrease its inhabitants, the Nazis moved the ghetto walls in, so that the space per person continued to be roughly the same.

· Towards the early part of 1944, a few hardy souls banned together to fight when the Nazis invaded the ghetto area to remove the last few people...known as the Warsaw Uprising. Eventually, the Nazis were too much for them, and many died in a suicide pact. Hitler apparently was so angry at this turn of events that he ordered Warsaw to be blown up…house by house with dynamite.

· Today, there is nothing left of the Jewish Ghetto, as most of Warsaw was blown up by the Nazis in 1945. There is a monument to the memory of those Jewish men and women who lived in the area, as well as a monument on the site of the railroad station where the Jews were loaded into railroad cars.

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For that matter, nearly all of Warsaw has been rebuilt since 1945. When I say rebuilt, I mean literally rebuilt from the ground up. Tomorrow, I’ll share more about the Old Town area, and the reconstruction efforts since WWII.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Not in London

Thanks to all who have sent emails, called me on my cell phone, and checked in on me in general. I had already left London a day before the latest set of bomb blasts. I really appreciate the concern, and all is A-OK.


Yesterday, I landed in Warsaw as a business trip has brought me to this Polish city. Thankfully, Buddy will be joining me for some weekend sightseeing following my business commitments. All I have seen thus far is the Warsaw airport expansion project, view of the outskirts of the city from the back of a cab, and Warsaw nightlife from the window of a conference room.

What can I tell this you at this time? I am afraid not very much. It has been a while since I exited and airplane directly onto the tarmac and was bused into the arrivals terminal. Thankfully, passport control, while a bit archaic, was relatively hassle free – no arrivals card required.

The most exciting aspect of my trip has been the wild taxi ride from the EDS office last night to the hotel. Myself, along with 3 other EDS colleagues learned that Poles and Texans apparently do have something in common: (1) amber traffic lights mean accelerate through the intersection rather than slow down and (2) driving 10 miles an hour (or perhaps kilometers in this case) over the spped limit is standard operating procedure. For a split second last night, I felt like I was an extra in the Steve McQueen movie “Bullet” as we careened our way through the streets of Warsaw, taking curves on one wheel or “The Dukes of Hazzard” as we flew over the tops of hills. OK, could it be so bad as all that, you ask? Even the veteran EDS Client Executive in the front seat was “white knuckled” as he held on to the dashboard.

The last minute race to prepare for a client presentation has demanded that my team mates and I hunker down in a “soviet-bloc” style office building rather than experiencing the sights and sounds of Warsaw. Give me a day and I promise I will share more…..

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Ah, London

Another great reason to visit London, besides the obvious things, is the food! There is every type of food available and usually within close proximity of your home or office. This includes Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Lebanonese, Thai, Greek, Italian, etc. It is a gastronomical smorgasbord!

It is not that Düsseldorf does not have these options as well, as they do. Yet, the flavor tastes as if a German is trying to cook Chinese or Indian food. Don’t get me wrong – I am sure there are delicious options just awaiting our discovery. In London, however, restaurant options are endless. Last evening, not having had a good Chinese meal since leaving Taipei in March, I had a hankering for that cuisine. Much to my delight, I easily and quickly located a Chinese restaurant and indulged myself in spring rolls, sweet corn soup with crab meat, fried noodles, coconut sesame shrimp, and fried rice.

Never thought I would consider Chinese food as a form of “comfort food”.

Monday, July 18, 2005


I tell you what I don't miss...Taiwan typhoons! There is one now raging over the center of Taiwan. Of course, government mandated "typhoon holidays" are great opportunities to get off of a day of work or school, but there is something about raging storms, high winds, and whirling debri that is just not fun....

It's the little things

I am constantly reminded that it is the little things that one takes for granted when living abroad. For example, today I embarked on a two-day business trip to London, which will be followed by two more days of business in Warsaw, Poland. I had forgotten the ease and simplicity of being able to coherently converse in a country’s native language (too many years in Korea, Taiwan, and now Germany). It is usually very broken German (or most recently Chinese) that I am trying to use when talking with locals. Which is not to say one should not attempt to speak the language of the host country, but it does not happen over night. And there are plenty of Germans who speak English quite proficiently and with great precision. It is just that my German is really bad and my vocabulary is non-existent. I was pleasantly jarred into reality when I stepped on to the British Airways flight this morning and the flight attendant greeted me in English. It just caught me a bit off guard because I do not often hear it spoken these days as a matter of course.

I took that observation to the next level when I arrived at Heathrow Airport and I was accosted by all the advertisements written in English, TVs and radios blaring in English, and millions of voices speaking in English. It was absolute sensory overload.

Add to that the simple ease of being able to direct a taxi driver to a destination without resorting to very poor German or worse yet, having to call a friend or colleague on my mobile phone to perform translation services. This morning there was a spring in my step as I realized I could navigate the entire process totally on my own without any translation issues or mishaps.

At lunch, I was reminded that I could actually use words and phrases to request my order rather than simply pointing at the foodstuff I desired and holding up one or two fingers to denote quantity.

It may not sound like much to you, but for a brief period this week I actually feel a bit more self-reliant and less mentally taxed in doing daily routine or mundane tasks. The next time you are at the dry cleaners and need to address a dry cleaning issue on a piece of clothing you own, just remember me….that conversation alone can wreak havoc with my day…

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Kirmes am Rhein

Where can one experience the following things, if so inclined:

* experience the thrill of the Alpina Bahn or Das Omen?
* eat corn-on-the cob, salt dill pickles, bratwurst, pork steaks, cotton candy, and chocolate dipped strawberries to one’s heart content?
* catch a view of Düsseldorf from high up in the air?
* partake of dozens of beirgartens?

At the annual Kirmes am Rhein of course, otherwise known to Buddy and I as the annual Düsseldorf summer carnival. Well, it is not exactly the State Fair of Texas (but again, what really is?) but it is THE place that for the next 10 days Düsseldorfers will be flocking to in order to enjoy the summer, be a big kid, ride the midway rides, and just eat, drink, and be merry.

Let me explain. Apparently, this is a big-time event in the summer lives of Düsseldorfers. Every summer, for about 10 days, a traveling fair basically sets up an entire fair ground with the typical things seen at a fair. Yes, there is a roller coaster (known as the Alpina Bahn), a ferris wheel, bumper cars, kiddie rides galore, a log ride (known as Wild Wasser), scrambler, fun-house…the list goes on and on. The names of the rides may be German but the concepts are universal. What is a bit fun are the local “tweaks” that the Germans have put on it.

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For example, today, the various “oompah bands” from around Düsseldorf dressed in their German traditional costumes, played their German music, and marched through the streets of the fair into the largest biergarten on the fairgrounds. Very festive, although the woolen jackets, knee socks, and hats were looking a bit warm to me. Actually, the words "itchy" and "hot" came to mind.

The annual fair started yesterday, and Buddy and I were invited to join some other expats for a Saturday afternoon of fair enjoyment. For Buddy and I, we must confess it was the food that was the best part, as we had not had sweet corn on the cob dripping with butter for months (the Germans are not big fans of corn-on-the-cob – we don’t know why.). The piece de resistance was the huge strawberries that were dipped in chocolate (choose your poison: white, milk, or dark chocolate). Usually there are 5-6 chocolate dipped strawberries on a stick…pure heaven (see shots below).

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After resting up after our first outing on Saturday afternoon, Buddy and I decided to check out the fair later that evening…lots more people, and a really nice summer evening to enjoy the festivities. The best part is that the carnival is literally located on the Rhein, about a 5-minute walk from our apartment. Of course, our neighborhood of Oberkassel has restricted driving access for the next 10 days so everytime we leave, we must make sure our special parking pass is prominently displayed in the car window, otherwise, there will be no admittance back into our neighborhood. Traffic is a bit of a challenge, but the proximity of the fair is perfect for heading down on foot from our place. So much so that we headed back down on Saturday evening for round 2 of "fair food". Not to be outdone, we went back today (Sunday afternoon) for a few spins on the ferris wheel (what a view of the Rhein), and yes…more food…including the chocolate dipped strawberries.

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The good news is that we have another week of “fair fun” (and “fair food”, for that matter) before the fair packs up and heads to the next German city. The bad news is that I head out on a business trip to London and Warsaw on Monday and will miss the rest of the fair…as well as any future food runs. Fortunately for Buddy, he will be here and since it is only a 5 minute walk….well, you know the rest of the story…

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PS – wonder how many more sticks of chocolate covered strawberries will be eaten by the Budman this week?

Friday, July 15, 2005

Diadeloso - Part 2

OK, I finally obtained pictures of the Baylor Diadeloso event (in case you are wondering what I am referring to, scroll down to the links section at the very bottom of the right hand side of the blog page, look for the “Passport Archives” section, clink on the link entitled “May 2005”, and find the May 31st posting entitled “Diadeloso”.

I always have my camera with me…it is what I do, who I am. So, why did I not have a photo of the BU alums? Well, my camera was sitting over on the picnic table when we took this (and other) photos. Don’t ask me why. When we were finally all lined for the photo, I simply thought that the one photo would be taken and did want to trouble the photographer with a personal request of a shot with my camera . I was sure wrong; instead, the photographer had 10+ cameras which to snap photos. Every one and their dog wanted a photo but it was now too late for me to run and add my camera to the group. So, I have patiently been waiting for Baylor to post the group shots….they finally arrived.

It was a sunny and hot day, but the weather did not dampen the spirits of the group giving the sign of the bear claw….

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P.S. Buddy and I are on the back row.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Observations of London

Yes, Buddy had a daytrip to London this last Tuesday. I wasn’t thrilled, given the recent events in that great city . Thankfully, it was a quick trip – fly in, fly out…all in one day. I was rather interested, however, to hear his observations about the mood of London just a few days following the terrorist bomb blasts.

Interestingly enough, he said that the Brits appear to have that “just get on with it” attitude. The main thing he observed (and was also told by the taxi drivers) is that traffic in London had been horrific over the first couple of days following the bombs. Apparently, many Londoners initially were taking taxis, rather than using the tube or buses. I suppose I can understand that… Apparently, even that activity has now subsided, just a week since the blasts.

My EDS boss and colleagues working in London chime in with similar remarks. My boss told me yesterday that Londoners are essentially “thumbing their noses at the terrorists” by returning to their regular routines, starting to use mass transportation, and just living their lives as they normally would. Apparently, the mayor of London has been taking the tube everywhere to show his confidence in using mass transport (lots of photos showing this in the European media), including going to and from work as well as to meetings.

I am headed to London next Monday for two days of business and then on to Warsaw, so I will let you know my impressions as well.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005


After seeing Cochem on Saturday, we were still feeling the need to check out more of the German countryside, so we headed to the sleepy town of Zons on Sunday afternoon. Just about 45 minutes from Düsseldorf, this very quaint village had something we had seen from the highway on a previous daytrip: a gigantic windmill (Is that redundant? I suppose all windmills are mostly large ones). Upon our arrival in Zons, we headed directly to this feature attraction.

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I must confess, I have never seen a windmill in person, let alone a medieval one that I could actually walk inside. Those things are amazing! I also realized that this tourist site was a bit “off the beaten path” because as we proceeded to enter the windmill, we noticed three local ladies sitting around a card table with a metal cashbox. (Brought back memories of sitting on Gingerbread Trail house porches in Waxahachie selling tour tickets). For the bargain basement price of 0.60 euros, or about 85 cents, we had our tickets in hand and began the climb to the top of the windmill. What a deal!

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The windmill actually has five levels:

* the basement floor, or entry into the windmill
* floor 1 - area where grain is sacked

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* floor 2 – area where grain is crushed by these huge mortar and pestle things that actually extend to the top of the windmill.

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* floor 3 – area where the gears operating the grinding arms are located

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* floor 4 – area where the huge crank wheel is located. This wheel is turned by the windmill arms on the outside of the windmill and gives the mill its power.

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To move from one floor to the next, we were required to climb narrow, steep ladders (see photo with Buddy for a look at the ladders). As we reached the top floor, as if on cue, the wind picked up the outside windmill arms and began to rotate them. Of course, these arms no longer operated the gears inside the mill, but it was still quite fascinating to see the arms whirling by (each floor had a little window that you could look out).

This charming village also has a fabulous church (in which we entered and listened to a bit of an organ recital), an old fortress wall that still surrounds the entire city, and several old lookout towers…here is a view from the top of the windmill.

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Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Reichsberg Castle

After a 15 minute trek up the hill, we arrived at the Reichsburg Castle. As previously mentioned, the castle was destroyed by the French and rebuilt in 1689 using the original plans from c.1027 construction. The castle has had several owners throughout its history, including the Third Reich, however, today it is owned by the city of Cochem. One can certainly understand how the castle was protected as it is surrounded by the Mosel river on 2 sides and sits atop a huge hill in which one can see for miles.

Let’s join Buddy on a tour of the castle:

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As we proceed upstairs, we will notice that the furnishings are from the late 1800s, rather than the medieval period.

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First on our tour, is the banquet room. Throughout the castle, there are ornate wood carvings on fireplaces, window frames, doorways, as well as ceilings and ceiling moldings.

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Directly off of the dining room is the ladies parlor. This is where the women would retire to talk, do needlework, and stay warm, (note the large fireplace covered in Delft blue tiles). Stain glass was prominently used throughout the castle, as well as ornate decorative ceiling painting.

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The hunting room, is the area where the hunting trophies were proudly displayed as well as ale (in large quantities) was drunk. Sorry, the photo is a little dark….

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The most magnificent room in the castle is the grand hall which is actually 3 large areas: a couple of dining areas, as well as a desk/work area at the far room. Our tour group numbered approximately 25 people, and this room literally swallowed us up.

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We exited the castle through the trophy room. While quite interesting because it had several medieval suits of armor, the room was so small that it was impossible to get a good shot. After a brief view from the balcony (see Monday’s posting), we exited the rear of the castle, stopping briefly by the courtyard and water well.

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Monday, July 11, 2005


A busy weekend meant a quiet blogger….

After seeing the only OV film in English we had not yet seen on Friday night (Batman Begins – remember, beggars can’t be choosers), Buddy and I set out bright and early for a daytrip to Cochem. Actually, bright and early was the plan, but we made a detour to Aachen (opposite direction of Cochem) for some carpet purchases... Yes, we were successful, but that is another story.

We noticed enroute to Cochem that Europeans apparently love to camp. Everywhere along the Autobahn we saw campers, camper trailers, RVs, and minivans with camping gear strapped to the tops of cars. It was not just the Germans either. I saw any number of license plates from France, Belgium, and the Netherlands with similar camping gear. It was as if the mother ship was calling them home…glad someone enjoys camping because it is not this gal!

We arrived in Cochem about 2:30 pm, with this view of the Reichsburg Castle greeting us. What a sight, indeed! Being a sucker for any castle, let alone a medieval one, we immediately began the trek to the top of the hill (yes, Terry, we walked it). Built originally in 1027, the castle was rebuilt according to its original plans after Louis XIV’s army destroyed it in 1689.

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Upon arrival at the castle, we took a great tour of the grounds, fortress, and castle interior. These photos are from the castle balcony and magnificently show the lovely Mosel River and valley. With a good subject, even a mediocre photographer can look good!

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The Mosel River area is known as “wine-country”, particularly for German Riesling wines. As a matter of fact, you can see grape vines all throughout the area, even along the sides of the mountain leading up to the castle itself.

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After a leisurely stroll through the town, we settled upon a charming outdoor café for a “delish” dinner of spinach stuffed chicken breast, potato croquettes, and salad. Yum…

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Friday, July 08, 2005

Taking the Waters

Well, as my blog mini-series on Aachen concludes, a description of the trip would not be complete without a brief comment on the “other” big reason people have visited Aachen.

Throughout its history, people have come to Aachen “to take the waters”, either by bathing in the warm thermal waters, or drinking its mineral water. During Roman occupation in the 1st and 2nd centuries, Roman baths were established here; during the latter part of the 1800s and early 1900s, Aachen became known as a spa town as wealthy aristocrats flocked to Aachen spas for its healing powers.

Today, most of the spas are located outside the city of Aachen, but tourists still travel to these spas for a little R&R. As for Buddy and I, we did not partake of the spa action this time, however, we did visit the site of the old Roman baths (no longer there). A fountain has been built to commemorate the site as a reminder of the importance of water to the city of Aachen and its development. As warm spring water fuels this fountain, we drank a bit of the water (yep, that is indeed mineral water). We knew we were in the general vicinity of the warm springs before we even arrived, as the sulphuric smell (or, as we say, the smell of rotten eggs) greeted us before we even had the fountain in our sights.

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Throughout the city, over 60 fountains of some shape or form have been erected as a testament to this part of the city’s history. As it was, we only saw about 5 or so during our brief trip, and they were all works of art in and of themselves. Here is a sample of a few (I have enlarged the photos so you can see them better).

This fountain features bronze marionettes that represent some aspect of Aachen history.

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This fountain shows an Aachen peasant who is stealing chickens, and made the mistake of stealing the crow. The peasant is whirling around to try to quiet the crow.

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A classical approach to fountain design.

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The "Charlemagne" fountain...

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Thursday, July 07, 2005

Rathaus and Town Square

This 14th century rathaus (town hall) was built on the original site of Charlemagne’s palace. The front façade of the building is adorned with the statues of over 50 German rulers, 31 of which were crowned in Aachen.

The building looks out onto the square and on this particular Sunday, was abuzz with activity. In the center of the square, a replica status of Charlemagne sits atop a foundation with the original statue located on the second floor of the Rathaus.

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Our observations: The building is indeed impressive from the exterior, but the interior was a bit disappointing. While the interior walls and ceilings were quite dramatic and well restored/persevered, the rathaus apparently is used for Aachen city council meetings and other civic events. Unfortunately, everywhere you looked there was ugly 1970s office furniture or “irrelevant” exhibits that did not make a lot of sense….the price of admission was validated if for no other reason than Buddy “had a chat” with the original statue of Charlemagne. Sadly, Charlemagne was tucked way off in the corner; had we not had our guidebook with us, would never have known this was the original statue that used to be displayed on the town square. OK…townspeople of Aachen, you need to do a little “revamping of your tourist sites”.

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Interesting sidenote: As we started to leave the town square, we were shocked to see an antique/carpet store that was open on a Sunday. What gives? Well, apparently the store was owned by a non-German who understands that tourists like to buy on Sundays just as much as any other day. Now, how he was able to legally be open, we have not quite figured out, but we’ll go back as he had some cool rugs for sale. Cultures collided when this pleasant Tehran-born, Iranian store owner began to lecture (perhaps diatribe is more accurate) these two Americans on the shortcomings of the German government when it came to promoting industry and commerce. Ah...some things are the same the world over...

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Aachener Printen (the tale of Aachen continues)

After departing Charlemagne’s chapel, we headed in the general vicinity of the Aachen town square. It was already well past lunchtime and both Buddy and I were ready for a snack. The day was a glorious one for sure….about 70 degrees, a light breeze was blowing, and a warm sun was beating down on us. After selecting an outside table at quaint little café for lunch and coffee, a string quartet proceeded to set up in the square and began to play for the diners, tourists, etc.

As we finished our meal, Buddy remembered reading about the local Aachener Printen, or gingerbread. Having been well trained by Joe Grubbs that one should always try the local foodstuffs of a given area, we shared a piece of Gingerbread for dessert.

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As it turns out, most bakeries in Aachen offer “variations on the gingerbread dessert theme”. According to the sales clerk (who sold us not one but three loaves of gingerbread), the gingerbread can be stored up to 3 months in nothing more than a plastic bag. Should it become a little hard, simply place the gingerbread in a tin with a little cup of water and store overnight. The humidity from the water will make the gingerbread soft again.

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Of course, when all else fails, simply dunk it in your coffee.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Charlemagne's Palatine Chapel

Charlemagne selected Aachen as the site for his vast Frankish empire and built the “octagon” (or the core) of his Imperial Cathedral in this area. Although the majority of the palace is not in existence today, this amazing chapel still stands. Not only was Charlemagne crowned as the Holy Roman Emperor in 800 AD within these chapel walls, but all the Holy Roman Emperors from 936 to 1531 were also crowned here as well. Pretty heady stuff :).

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The original cathedral included the octagon (see below), but subsequent rulers added the spires and other parts of the cathedral. The cathedral is a mixture of architectural styles, including Gothic, Carolingian, and Baroque.

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Although the treasury holds some of the greatest ecclesiastical treasures north of the Alps, unfortunately, the museum’s closure on Sunday will require a return visit. The cathedral itself contains not only the front altar table, covered in gold sheets (c. 1020), but also the Shrine of Charlemagne. Emperor Charlemagne was canonized as a saint in 1165 and shortly after that (early 13th century), a golden shrine was made to keep his bones in. It is on display towards the back of the picture below.

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The ambo, or pulpit, is also made from gold-plated copper and inlaid with precious stones and ivories (c. 1014).

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The copper candelabra, a gift from Emperor Friedrich I Barbarossa, hangs above the main congregational area.

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Charlemagne’s throne is also available for viewing but an appointment must be made at the Treasury in advance (again, another reason to go back). Below, a photo from the back of the church. Buddy is seated in the lower left had corner and appears to be taking it all in.

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