Monday, October 31, 2005

Halloween in Germany

Italy vacation countdown: T minus 4 days.

Experience has taught us that a lot of US holidays and traditions are not followed in other countries, so I always wonder what we will see in our current host country when these familiar holidays roll around. Our years in Asia reminded us that Christmas and Easter are simply not big deals, which is understandable given the religions practiced in that region. So, it goes without saying that the secular holidays of Valentine’s Day and Halloween probably aren’t observed either.

It is with some surprise that I have noticed a lot of Halloween merchandise in German stores as well as publicity for Halloween activities in Düsseldorf. It's not really a traditional German celebration, but in recent years Halloween has become increasingly popular in Europe. Apparently, German kids don't usually go trick-or-treating, but Halloween has become a very “cool” party theme for young and old. Point in case: I’ll be attending an English-language Halloween night tour this evening in Düsseldorf’s Alstadt (old town area) with the American Women’s Club.

Still, there is something else going on in Germany with this time of year other than just Halloween costumes and parties. Related to the concept of Halloween, the first two days of November are Allerheiligen (Nov. 1) and Allerseelen (Nov. 2). These days are devoted to all of the saints (known and unknown) and to all of the “faithful departed,” respectively. In medieval English, All Saints Day (Allerheiligen) was known as All Hallows. All Hallows Eve (Oct. 31) came to be called “Halloween". Apparently, Eastern Orthodox Christians celebrate their own version of All Saints Day on a different date, on the first Sunday after Whitsunday (Pfingsten). In Protestant areas of Germany, Totensonntag or Ewigkeitssonntag is a similar observance for the dearly departed. This Protestant version of All Soul's Day is observed in November on the Sunday prior to the first Advent Sunday.

Suffice to say, tomorrow is the German public holiday, known as Allerheiligen, in North Rhein Westphalia (the state I live in Germany). Being that this area is predominantly Catholic in its origins, it is celebrated here but not throughout all of Germany. Still, it is a public holiday in many parts of continental Europe, including France and Belgium.

As for tonight’s Halloween activity, no costumes are required (thankfully), but it should be a nice fall night to hear some German ghost stories…full report to follow.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

How do you know daylight savings time is beginning when you don’t know that daylight savings time is beginning?

Italy vacation countdown: T minus 5 days.

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That’s a good question. Not every country around the world observes this time changing/daylight savings time (DST) phenomenon. For example, Korea does not. Neither does Taiwan or Hong Kong. And since we have not really lived in the US since 2001, well…we just weren’t clued in that the last Sunday of October was fast approaching AND that the clocks were changing, or as we say in the US, “falling back”.

No, our newspaper did not hint at it, but then again, our paper is a regional European paper. So nothing from that source. No one at work made mention of it towards the end of last week, but then again, why would they? If once assumes everyone in the world observes DST time changes, then one assumes everybody knows. Since we are still in the no-man’s land of no TV (we are going to try to get this issue resolved after Italy), we could not see any clocks on CNN or hear any newscasters refer to the time. Of course, phone clocks have to be re-set, so that was of no help.

Curiosity getting you? Well, the short answer is that we turned on our computers on Sunday morning, and we noticed that our PC clocks were different. Those Dell and Microsoft people are SO smart! Upon further inspection (and a reference to the Qclock software on my PC), we confirmed that the times in NY, Dallas, London, Paris, and Sydney were also different. Ah, it must be that DST thing.

I bet you’d never pondered this question before….

Friday, October 28, 2005

Come one, come all

Italy vacation countdown: T minus 6 days.

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Alright! The first travelers from the US have declared their intent to visit Hachie Gal and Budman in Germany, scheduled tentatively for March, 2006 (looking forward to it, Joe and JoBeth). Remember, Haus Young B&B is open and we are accepting reservations.

For those of you considering a trip this direction, let us know…even if your European travels take you somewhere other than Germany. We’ll come your way for a meal and a chat. Air Berlin – 89 euros roundtrip…

Bird flu

Italy vacation countdown: T minus 7 days.

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Before anyone gets too concerned, let me just say that we went through the Avian Bird Flu thing in Asia, along with SARs. It's serious and I suppose people are right to be cautious. Some folks are even known to consider cancellation of holidays to countries where “bird flu” has been identified (brings back visions of people canceling their international trips immediately after 9/11). It is certainly an economic issue for many people, but folks are also worried about health and safety.

With that said, I don’t mean to sound jaded, but after a while, the endless news reports on the rampant spread of disease across the globe does lose its sense of urgency.

I suspect the media contributes to the alarmism around this issue, as they often publish stories that scare and worry many people. Here is a sampling of the news reports on bird flu from this week's news alone:

(1) “As bird flu is spread continent-to-continent by wild birds, the seasonal migration that is normally one of nature's wonders is becoming something scary. Could bird flu reach North America through migrating birds? Biologists in Alaska and Canada are keeping an eye out and say it's possible by next year”. Watch out US....

(2) “So far, bird flu has been detected in both wild and domestic birds as far east as the Danube Delta in Romania. The virus was reported in poultry in Turkey, Romania, Greece, and Russia.” Oh yea, also 1 bird in UK died from bird flu, but that was a parrot from Taiwan who died in quarantine.

(3) “German media reports the discovery of more than 20 dead birds at a pond in western Germany (yes, this is the section of Germany where I live) has raised fears that avian bird flu may have already found its way into the country, though officials are urging the public to remain calm.” Could we have a little forensic evidence on that statement before we incite the masses to panic? A revised update from the government experts “found the virus in geese, but said there is no indication it is the form that can kill humans.” Thank you.

(4) "Croatian officials confirmed that swans found dead last week had the lethal H5N1 bird flu virus strain". In Germany, experts found the virus in geese, but said there is no indication it is the form that can kill humans.

Practically speaking, I trust an expert’s opinion (CDC) on this: “Of course, the bigger fear is that bird flu will mutate into a flu that is both contagious and deadly to people and which would quickly spread around the globe through international travel. However, the current bird flu is not easily spread to people.” Don’t you love the big build-up of the statement “contagious and deadly” only to be reminded that the current bird flu is not easily transmitted to humans?

I’ll anticipate your next question: Heck, no! Those upcoming trips to Italy and Turkey are still in the works.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Celebrity Combo Names

Italy vacation countdown: T minus 8 days.

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While it has absoutely nothing to do with living overseas, I couldn’t resist a comment on the recent trend of combining celebrity first names into one. What is up with that? Apparently, it is a sign “you’ve made it” into the popular iconology of celebrity culture. Not exactly sure to what I am referring? Trust me... read on, and you’ll know in an instant.

Ever heard of “Beniffer”? Sure you have, as it was THE term in almost every People Magazine during the entire time Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez were a thing. I guess Ben actually gets a "two-fer", since both his recent romances have the same first name.

Then, came “Brangelina”, which signaled the beginning of the Brad Pitt - Angelina Jolie romance.

Now, we have “Vinnifer”. I am not sure that Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn are even an item, but the media can’t seem to help itself regarding the creation of these cutesy names. (yes, I know, People Magazine is once again in the forefront on this important story. What would we do without them?). Does Vinnifer have the same ring to it as Brangelina? Does it even matter?

I have pondered the name-combo scenario for Buddy and I. Budly? Nah…Bully? No way! Hoddy? Hmm…not sure. Maybe I should try Robert and Holly instead? Robly? Rolly? Hobert?

With that said, I’ll pass if it is all the same.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

And while we are on the subject of hair salons

Italy vacation countdown: T minus 9 days.

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I am well past the fear and trepidation of having a perfect stranger who works at a hair salon that I literally walked into off the street, who can’t speak my language, begin to color, highlight, and cut my hair. Yes, taking pictures into the salon help, but that is not a reasonable solution to the inevitable questions that are posed to me by the stylist.

I went through this in Korea, Taiwan, and now, Germany. Strangely, I have made my peace with the fear and anxiety that descends upon me each time I enter the salon. Simply making the appointment is taxing as the receptionist and I use a calendar and sign language to hone in on what I am actually requesting: a hair appointment. Telephoning the salon for an appointment is out of the question.

As I sit in the chair, inwardly scrutinizing whether this stylist “knows what he or she is doing”, I usually come full circle from anxiety to quiet resolution. I always tell myself: worst case scenario, I can cut my hair short….

So, next time you are sitting in the stylist chair, think of me.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

A European Vice

Italy vacation countdown: T minus 10 days.

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I know that the Europeans (and Asians) have a totally different view of cigarettes, smoking in public places, and the concept of second-hand smoke. And for 5 long years, I have reluctantly made my peace with the fact that I should not only prepare for, but expect, cigarette smoke to be a common occurrence in restaurants, airports, offices (or at least many of them), and in most public places…in fact, to be blown into my face, my lungs, and my general direction. I get it.

For those of us familiar with non-smoking areas, the US has far stricter views of second-hand smoke and the protection for non-smokers’ rights in public places. Trust me, view this as a blessing!

Not so in most other parts of the world. Usually, I can physically and literally move past this issue, accepting what I cannot change and seeking out ways to adjust to the problem. This includes changing tables, or moving “upstream or downstream” (as the need be) past the smoker that is discourteously blowing ash and smoke in my face. Rarely, do I result to the “scowl” technique which is intended to shame smokers, since I know this is never really effective. Still, I find it hard to refrain from doing just this at times.

Point in case: A recent trip to the hair salon for much needed hair color, highlights, and a cut, required my presence in the salon chair for about 2.5 to 3 hours. During that time, the woman next to me (who was getting a permanent, as if the fumes from that were not enough to knock me unconscious) proceeded to light up not one, not two, but three cigarettes in that same period. Being a prisoner to my chair, I was at a total loss as to how to shield myself from the incoming carcinogens being sent my way. At one point, the burning stick was literally less than an arm’s length from my nostrils. I began to feel trapped in a sickening haze of smoke that was infiltrating my lungs, my hair, and my clothing.

I tried everything. I tried the “polite cough” routine (customer next door – get the hint?). Nothing. I turned and twisted my body in an attempt to provide a “star wars” shield from the incoming smoke. This resulted in doing nothing but irritating the stylist who seemed totally clueless as to what the issue was. I tried covering my nose and mouth, but I had to breathe at some point. I suppose I could have been straightforward and asked (or since I can’t speak German, signaled) for the other customer to move her cigarette. That seemed a little too confrontational. Finally, I resorted to fanning myself with my Entertainment Weekly magazine (another reason never to show up without reading material at the hair salon) in the hopes of fanning the smoke back towards her. Not sure it worked, but I felt better.

BTW, does it strike anyone as odd to see a person running, walking, biking, or exercising in any general manner with a “cancer stick” protruding from their mouth? (Sorry, did not mean to go caustic there). Doesn’t this seem to be a contradiction of some sort?

Monday, October 24, 2005

Does the world really need this?

Italy Vacation countdown: T minus 11 days.

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I did not post a comment when I read about it the first time. Or the second time. Yet, when I read about it for the third time, I had to respond. Does the world really need another Barbie doll? Apparently yes, only this time, it is called the “Angie doll”.

It almost didn't happen, as there was some doubt as to whether Merkel would actually enter the history books as the first woman to make it to the very top of German politics as Chancellor. Shortly before the Sept. 18 elections, a licensing agreement was signed with a toy company to produce a Merkel doll. And voila!

Merkel doll

A doll designed to resemble conservative leader Angela Merkel went on sale this week in a limited edition its designer hopes will appeal to collectors and supporters of the incoming chancellor. The baby-faced doll features eyes that open and shut and real human hair styled like Merkel's trademark cut. A dark blue pants suit worn with pearls and a pink T-shirt — is inspired by the outfit Merkel wore on election night last month.

And the draw is? At 189 EUR each ($225), the 18-inch doll doesn't come cheap. Not sure I’d be buying at 10 EUR.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

A wealth of useful information

Italy Vacation countdown: T minus 12 days.

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I have once again been reminded never to underestimate the knowledge, resourcefulness, teamwork, and collaboration of a determined group of women. This was never more apparent to me than this past weekend as Buddy and I attended our first social functions of The American Women’s Club of Düsseldorf. I had been previously aware of the American Women’s Club as an international organization as there are thriving chapters in Seoul and Taipei; however, for many reasons I was either unable to engage in the group’s activities or for whatever reason did not feel the need when living in these cities.

With 7 months of living in Germany now completed, there are still little things we are trying to figure out. I would group many of these questions/issues as items that would simply make life a little easier or more enjoyable, but are certainly not life threatening. A few items are things that have simply been thorns in our side since day one. Either way, with summer concluded, and the new year of the AWC/Düsseldorf in full swing, I decided it was time to connect with this organization, if for no other reason than for a little female camaraderie. I was not disappointed.

Friday night, I attended a wine tasting event at a local “winehaus”, hosted by AWC. Besides having a lovely buffet meal and learning a little bit about wine, I met some great couples, some who had been here for a number of years, others who were still relatively new. On Saturday night, Buddy and I attended an AWC dinner for “our zone’ (essentially our district in Düsseldorf), again meeting another set of couples and having a FAB meal at a local restaurant.

Suffice to say, we walked away with scads of useful pieces of information about where to buy what, travel anecdotes, local sporting and entertainment options, as well as making some new girl friends which for me has been sorely lacking. Here’s a sampling of things we learned this weekend:

* In Germany, ATM machines don’t print receipts. (For months I have been trying to figure out the German words on the ATM screen that would allow me to actually receipt a receipt for my transaction. I have now learned this is simply not an option, and I can now cross this one off my list).

* Buddy will need a golf license (essentially a golf permit) to play golf on any German public or private course. Without such a license, he will be turned away. Not only were we totally clueless about the need for such a license, we now have the name of a local golf pro who can help Buddy with obtaining said license. Ah, the Germans have a form for everything.

* Most people drive to Eindhoven, NL, Brussels, Belgium, of Luxembourg to buy US food items, household items, clothing, etc. that are unable in Germany. Things like: Gap jeans, Gold Medal flour, and PAM spray….Many of these drives are less than 1.5 - 2 hours away.

* Many people drive to the same cities to see English language films in the original version (that have not been dubbed into German). In Germany, we have few movie options that are in the original version.

* By law, we cannot be denied the right to put up a satellite dish for our apartment, although we now must mount it on a tripod. Apparently, other expats have had this issue when they requested to mount a dish on their apartment building and were turned down (like us). Bonus feature: there is a man who does installation for all the expats on these dishes, who speaks English, and can come out to the apartment, consult on the issues, and get us set up. I may actually have TV viewing options before the year end! AMEN!

* A beaucoup of recommendations for names for dentists, doctors, and relocation experts experienced in expat relocations (I am no longer beholden to “WRG” – Worthless Relocation Guy”, the name by which I lovingly refer to our relo expert).

I could go on, but I think you get the gist. If I sound a bit chirpier, you’re right. I found myself re-energized and ready to face the challenges of international living because of a merry band of women who have gone through this before me and are happily willing to share their learnings and experiences. As I was told, “if you’ve got a question, just pick up the phone and call”. Consider it done.

Thursday, October 20, 2005


Italy Vacation countdown: T minus 14 days.

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Although it is still only technically fall, I have officially kicked off the Christmas season by doing my first round of Christmas shopping last weekend. I could tell you more but that might spoil the surprise for some of you. Suffice to say, I am almost completely finished. Seems I do subscribe to the theory that the early bird catches the worm.

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Either way, in addition to the acquisition of many Christmas gifts during last weekend’s trip, I also learned my first German word relating to Christmas. Nußknacker translates to nutcracker, and there is an abundance of these little guys in every German shop. (Please don’t be too impressed as I still don’t speak much German; it is those translation URLs that are a lifesaver to be sure.)

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The good news is that many more shopping opportunities await as the German Christmas Markets will be in full swing beginning the last weekend in November, running up to a few days before Christmas. More to come on these markets as we are slated to hit several of them including the ones in Trier, Nuremburg, Alsace (France), Cologne, and Dusseldorf….just to name a few.

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There is time enough to talk all things Christmas though in the weeks to come. Still, to quote the words of Auntie Mame, “We needed a little Christmas now”.

Night Shots

Italy Vacation Countdown: T minus 15 days.

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Sometimes, I am shocked and amazed at the photos we are able to take. We succeed in spite of our lack of photography skills. So here they are: some of our night shots of our recent trip to the Bavarian town of Dinkelsbuhl. Looks a bit like Disneyland lit up at night, and yes, these are reflections of the wall and tower in the pond in the foreground of these photos.

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Tuesday, October 18, 2005

A little night tour

Italy Vacation Countdown: Can I just say it? We are a little over 2 weeks away from 2 glorious weeks in Italy. Bring on the vacation…bring it on, bring it on! Let the countdown officially begin as we are T minus 16 days.

Yes, I know…these tours can be a bit cheesy. Still, we show up for the “night tours” in some of these small German towns. In Rothenberg, we were pleasantly surprised, as our night watchman for the evening was a total hoot. And, he gave the tour in English. And, he kept the tour entertaining, light, and fun.

Since we had a great experience with our first night tour, and there was not a lot of happening activities in the town of Dinkelsbuhl on a Saturday night, we said, “What the heck? Let’s give the tour a shot!” Thus, at 9 PM sharp, we were anxiously awaiting the night watchman to make his magical appearance.

How would I rate the guy? To be truthful, we only lasted about 5 minutes on his tour. No, that is not a good sign. Here’s the scorecard:

(1) Costume, appearance, and “character” of night watchman: A-
Rationale: He looked the part, and costume and props (lantern and staff were cool) were in keeping with the character. Small point deduction due to weak horn blowing; I could barely hear it across the street, so I am not sure that it would have signaled the townspeople during medieval times that “the enemy is approaching” or “fire, fire, fire”. Still, we were encouraged and pressed on with the tour.

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Note: Is it my imagination, but does this man look a little like Waxahachie’s own Keith B.?

(2) Appropriateness for tourism: B
Rationale: Again, thumbs up for the concept and for having a tourist event in the evening. Thumbs down for language, as the tour was only in German. Granted, a large portion of the group was German, but this town is a tourist stop on the Romantic Road. We had seen tour buses all day, including many Asians and Anglos. Note to tourist bureau: Apparently, there is a reason that Rothenberg gets the lion’s share of tourists. Maybe consider getting a night watchman that can be speak something other than German? Just a suggestion. Again, we were not ready to give up on the tour just yet as it was a clear night and the entire town was well lit for night photos.

(3) Presentation: C+

Rationale: Maybe I am being too harsh. Plus, we only lasted 5 minutes on the tour so this may call into question my entire assessment. Regardless of the language spoken, you must speak loud enough for your tour group to hear. We had about 40-50 people in our group and unless you were on the front row, you would not have caught a word he was saying. Strike that: “…a word he was singing”. Yes, apparently the night watchman’s spiel was performed in song, rather than the spoken word. Points awarded for creativity, but more points deducted for lack of singing voice and volume issues. Final blow to rating: He was coughing. After each horn blow or sung verse, he proceeded to have a coughing spell. Yea, kinda spoils the whole thing. Maybe he was demonstrating that the life of a night watchman was a hard one, and in their jobs, they were prone to illness and disease?

(4) Tour guide capabilities: C
Rationale: As we left the night tour meeting point, the night watchman proceeded to lead the group single file, and in a serpentine fashion through the streets of Dinkelsbuhl, weaving in and out of cars, sidewalks, crossing the street to one side, only to immediately cross the road again to return to the other side. We just did not understand whether he was demonstrating the night watchman approach to making evening rounds, or whether it was a game of “follow the leader”. It was at this point that we jumped ship and set off for our own night tour.

Overall assessment: B- . Still not high enough to give him an hour of our time. Never fear, we caught some excellent night shots of Dinkelsbuhl that I’ll post tomorrow.

Drive to Dinkelsbuhl

Last weekend, Buddy and I decided to revisit the charming town of Dinkelsbuhl. Several reasons:

· We had driven through this town two weeks ago on a rainy Sunday afternoon…the town was too quaint not to make a return visit.

· A perfect opportunity to do much Christmas shopping in “one fell swoop”. I can’t tell you anymore, as some readers of this blog may be a beneficiary of a Christmas surprise that will otherwise be spoiled. Suffice to say, I am 90% finished with my Christmas shopping.

· It was a gorgeous fall weekend…cool fall temperatures, bright sunshine, and lots of fall foliage. It was simply too sinful to stay at home.

So, armed with GPS, a travel book and a hotel reservation, we set out for Dinkelsbuhl. Granted there was not a lot of occupy one once the shops closed, but an evening tour of the city, and an early night was just perfect, given the grueling travel schedule of the week before.

A sunny day in Dinkelsbuhl

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St. Georges Minster

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Some of Dinkelsbuhl’s city towers

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Buddy relaxing after Christmas shopping

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German band playing to the crowd

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Friday, October 14, 2005

Weekend Houses, the sequel

Thanks to an EDS colleague’s comment of a few days ago, a bit of trivia pertaining to these weekend houses I wrote about (blog post with pictures on Wednesday, October 12th). In his words…

“In German, these weekend houses are called "Schrebergarten"... which translates as allotment gardens and indeed, they seem to be common - not only in Germany but also in Switzerland. While it is easy to see why someone would want to be able to flee from their tiny apartments and do some gardening work, it is beyond my comprehension why anyone would enjoy one of those places by the road, railway, airport or highway.”

Thanks for that update….

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Lost in Translation

DAY 24 of “Chancellor Watch”- The chancellor question has been answered. Now, Angela Merkel must build an effective coalition government. She already faces criticism from disgruntled conservatives and Social Democrats over the division of power. Schroder says he will be stepping down in a few weeks but will do what he can to support the new leadership…hmmm. With the decision now officially made, this series of Chancellor Watch draws to a close. And to think, it only took about 3½ weeks.

We saw this sign during a recent weekend trip in Germany. I must confess, something has been apparently lost in translation….I was not aware that those “walking lights” were all that problemsome. What do they do? Get up, walk away, and leave you in darkness?

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Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Business travel…it's not that glamorous, trust me

DAY 23 of “Chancellor Watch”- Merkel prevails! She’ll lead as Schroder yields chancellorship, but her rivals will get 8 of the 14 ministries.

Thanks to those you who have sent email updates from home of late. Trust me, we love to hear what you are doing and what is going on in your corner of the world. And before another one of our friends remarks at the glamorous side of our recent travels and how their activities are not as exciting as ours, let me set the record travel is not all it’s cracked up to be.

In the past month, Buddy and I have separately traveled to Warsaw (3 times), London, Bristol, Paris, Chicago and multiple times to various German cities, including Frankfurt, Hanover, Hamburg, and Munich. In all those times, our extent of sightseeing has included the inside of taxis, airplanes, and trains, and visits to such exciting places as client data rooms, conference rooms, and suburbs of great cities, like Northfield, Illinois. Woo-hoo! Besides, my idea of sightseeing in London and Paris involves more than shopping at the duty-free shops at the airport.

Often, this travel means getting up before 5 AM to catch planes or trains, attending day long client meetings followed by the inevitable client dinners, and then playing catch up with email in the hotel room until after midnight. Then, there are those pesky flight connections. Finally, Buddy and I’s set of recent business trips have not even coincided, so we have been a bit of ships passing in the night.

Don’t get me wrong, we are enjoying the work. I just don’t want to leave the false impression that our travel of late has been that exciting. Apart from the language differences and better duty-free options, it could easily be D/FW airport.

Still, I can get onboard (no pun intended) with the accumulation of frequent flyer miles and hotel frequent stay points….

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Weekend Houses

DAY 22 of “Chancellor Watch”- Germany's conservative leader Angela Merkel has announced that she will be the country's next chancellor at the head of a coalition government. This marks the first time a woman has held the post. Merkel said she had reached a power-sharing deal with outgoing Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. As the part of the agreement, most of the seats in Merkel's new cabinet will go to Schroeder's Social Democratic party, including top jobs such as the foreign minister's post. The deal ends weeks of deadlock and paves the way for formal coalition talks between Merkel's conservative CDU and Schroeder's SPD parties.

Every time I am running along the Rhein or Buddy and I take a trip by car or train, we see these houses. Actually, that is not quite the correct term. These structures look like nothing more than tool sheds with an Alpine theme. They are usually neatly maintained, and always have little gardens surrounding them. And, there are usually several of them clustered together (5 -20 at any one time) along railroad tracks, along river banks, or other areas that are not necessarily ideal for residential or business use.

At first, we only saw these buildings clustered together along railroad tracks. Our first thought was “Is this the German equivalent of shanty town”? Yet, the buildings were often nicer than not, and the flower gardens were quite elaborate.

Later, we were told these buildings were the homes of workers employed by the Deutsche Bahn (German Rail Company). The close proximity to rail lines allowed them to easily get to and from work. Yea…then I really want that job…living in a house the size of a cracker box. We soon realized somebody was pulling our leg because we saw these same buildings along the sides of highways and along the various German rivers.

What gives? We had no clue as to what these buildings were, what they were used for, and why they existed. Finally, someone set the record straight. Before I share this revelation with you, here are a few photos to give you a visual of what I am trying to describe.

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OK, these are weekend houses! They are little buildings that have some basic utilities (some have electricity while some do not, none supposedly have toilets), but people are supposedly not allowed to sleep in them overnight (or so we have been told). The Germans keep these little plots of land for weekend get-a-ways outside of apartment life, to do a little gardening, to enjoy the great outdoors, etc. I guess when most Germans live in apartments, the need to get out and feel the dirt and plants between your fingers can become quite great. As we’ve traveled around Germany (and a few other countries as well), we’ve seen many people working their little plots of land. I guess for many Americans with "big ole yards", gardening and lawnwork is something we just take for granted as a necessary chore, rather than a hobby to enjoy.

Monday, October 10, 2005

DAY 21 of “Chancellor Watch”- German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and his conservative rival Angela Merkel have scheduled another round of talks on who should be leader for Monday, prolonging the country's political stalemate.

The last day of our Romantic Road three-day weekend was really our most favorite! Since our travels had taken us about 4 hours south of Dusseldorf, and yes, work and that pesky trip to Chicago was beckoning the following day, we decided to head back home shortly after breakfast. We also got an early start with the intention of seeing several of the smaller villages tucked along the scenic drive throughout Bavaria.

Well, we only got so far, because one of our first few stops was in a town called Dinkelsbuhl. Surprisingly, we found this town to be as charming as Rothenberg without all the tourism and tourist hordes. Granted it was still raining and had turned rather cold, but we fell in love with this little place. Don't you love it when you unexpectantly stumble onto a jewel in the rough? Thoroughly enjoy a movie you knew nothing about? Eat at a restaurant that you just wandered into with no preconceived ideas? Well, this was the reaction we had to Dinkelsbuhl.

Interestingly enough, Dinkelsbuhl was not destroyed during WWII so its buildings, churches, and medieval city walls, towers, and gates are not only well preserved but were never in need of restoration. So, everything is original. Here are some photos from the day.

Dinkelsbuhl's charming houses on Wein Strasse.

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Buddy in front of one of 11 fortress wall towers in Dinkelsbuhl.

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Dinkelsbuhl city wall and towers.

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Holly on the streets of Dinkelsbuhl.

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Another view of Dinkelsbuhl city wall and towers.

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Buddy taking a tour of Dinkelsbuhl.

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Dinkesbuhl has its entire city wall intact, over 11 towers and city gates and over 600 ponds. Holly showcases all of these in this photo…

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We enjoyed the visit so much that we are headed back this weekend for another look-see….

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Romantic Road – Rothenberg from A to Z

DAY 21 of “Chancellor Watch” – No real updates on this Sunday, but news sources are still saying that negotiations are taking place and that Merkel may emerge as Chancellor after the dust settles.

Normally, I would not encourage anyone to consider touring much on Sundays in Germany IF you want to combine any shopping with significant tourist activities. Often, stores will be closed and/or major tourist sights not open, as is the German way on Sundays. However, city fathers understand the tourism concept as it is alive and well in Rothenberg; ths, Sundays can be productive sightseeing opportunities in this little town.

Our second day in Rothenberg included a walking tour of the town during daylight hours, a 5.5 kilometer walk along the city wall that is totally sheltered by a roof (and the perfect way to walk around ¾ of the city on a rainy day…yes, it was STILL raining), and the first Christmas shopping of the season. Best meal of the trip was had at a little restaurant just a brief walk from the inn. Simple fare that included brat, sauerkraut, and potatoes. (Joe G.: you are going to love German food)! Yum.

Rather than describe the day, let these pictures provide the story…OK, visitors from Texas…we are ready for you…this is a place you MUST see.

A timbered house in Rothenberg.

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The streets of Rothenberg-ob-de-Tauber

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Buddy walking along the city wall.

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One of Rothenberg’s city gates. Over 2/3s of the covered city wall is still intact.

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A view of Rothenberg from the covered walkway of the city gate. A foggy day but a cool shot we think!

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Rothenberg markt platz, Rathaus, and tourist carriage.

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Another view of Rothenberg from the top of the Rathaus. Buddy ascended for the shot; Holly is shopping.

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Holly goes Christmas shopping; pics of some of the store windows:

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St. Jakobs Church, Rothenberg.

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Holly walking the city of Rothenberg-ob-de-Tauber

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A Rothenberg city landscape; castle gardens in the distance.

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Saturday, October 08, 2005

Romantic Road – Arrival in Rothenberg

DAY 19 of “Chancellor Watch” – Coalition talks between Germany's socialist SPD and conservative CDU ended on Thursday in Berlin with a statement that a final decision on the chancellorship could be announced on Sunday.

DAY 20 of “Chancellor Watch” – German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder denied that he was making a swan song foreign trip as head of Germany's government after meeting with Russia's President Vladimir Putin in Saint Petersburg.

Day 2 of the Romantic Road found us arriving in Rothenberg, a town that is world renowned as THE town to see on the Romantic Road. It’s not as if there is any one thing special to see. Rather, it is the combination of everything in this Bavarian village that makes it so quaint. Generally speaking, there are lots of German timbered houses, cobblestone streets, medieval city walls and tower gates.

While about 40% of Rothenberg was destroyed during WWII, this village has been lovingly restored and is an absolute delight. And the city fathers TOTALLY understand the tourism game, which is evident in the tourist activities that are available, information developed for all languages, and stores and restaurants that are open late into the evenings, Sundays, and holidays. Seems the people of Rothenberg have a special dispensation that allows them to keep shops open for tourists. “If you build it, they will come.” And we did….

Stop Number 1: We checked into our charming and extremely well-located inn. We knew we were off to a good start, even with the rain showers that had followed us the entire day.

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Stop Number 2: Arriving in Rothenberg early in the evening, our order of business was to find some grub. Our restaurant of choice was nothing more that the German equivalent of the US small town cafe. The food was great and portion sizes were huge, the service was efficient and friendly, the price was just right, and the place was packed. Always a good sign.

Stop Number 3: After dinner, we joined an evening tour of the “Rothenberg’s Night Watchman’s Tour. Normally, these types of things can be a bit cheesy, but hey, I was game to check it out as it had been highly recommended by the inn’s staff. So, Buddy and I, along with 50+ people, toured the town of Rothenberg in full rain and drizzle for about an hour. The dude playing the role of the night watchman was totally into the role and had a great sense of humor, so we gave it a “thumbs-up”.

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One of the highlights was watching the market square clock as it struck a new hour and seeing the life-size puppets that told the story of the city of Rothenberg being saved during the Middle Ages. Just thing cuckoo clock concept, with marionettes pooping out of third story windows every hour on the hour.

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Friday, October 07, 2005

Romantic Road - Wurtzburg

DAY 18 of “Chancellor Watch” – Germans still waiting for a new -- or old -- chancellor were left hanging once again when party leaders announced that any deal as to whome will lead Germany would not be completed before the weekend.

Well, I know the Romantic Road trip report is a long time coming but work has been crazy this week. Yea, was that trip just 3-4 days ago?

First, let me say that the reputation of Bavaria definitely lives up to its billing. As Buddy and I headed south last Friday evening, we made our first stop on the Romantic Road in Wurzburg. Technically, this city is the first and most northern stop on this famous tourist travel route. After a four hour drive to Wurzburg on Friday PM (a one hour traffic jam on the autobahn extended our journey just a bit), Buddy and I had dinner in a restaurant that opened its doors in 1415 and bunked at a local inn. While the inn was certainly no frills, it was clean and a convenient first night stop.

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The Marienberg Fortress.

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A view of Wurzburg from the Marienberg Fortress.

Saturday morning included a tour of the Residenz (famous palace), the Marienberg Fortress, Alte Brucke, and Markt Platz. It was a very rainy day, and extremely foggy as you will see from the pictures…something out of a German fairy tale. Supposedly, the creme de al crème of the city is the Residenz, an expansive barogue palace known for its super-sized Tiepolo mural painted on its staircase ceiling. Yes, the palace is amazing, but true to form, our streak of touring major sites that are undergoing significant renovation is intact. The mural was almost entirely covered with scaffolding and obscured most of the famous view.

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The Residenz.

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The Chapel in the Residenz.

Tomorrow...Rothenberg recap (for more pictures, check out the photo link on the right hand side of the website).