Saturday, December 22, 2012

Advent in Germany

Note: all my relevant pictures are on a different computer, and only Sasha knows the password, and he's gone birding along the North Sea with his brothers, so I will update this post as soon as I can with photos.
 I write this with a bit of hesitation, since I think a full 1/3 of my normal blog audience is now here in Germany with me, but for friends and family still stateside (or Asia), here are some thoughts on Christmas time in Germany.

The short version: it's awesome.  

That about sums it up, but since nobody turns to a blog for a 2-second diversion, I'll give you the long version, too.
Germany (and Germans, as a whole) LOVE Christmas. This is a good time to note, for those of you unfamiliar with German politics, etc. that that whole separation of church and state thing that makes the US a (hypothetically) tolerant place for Muslims and Buddhists, etc. isn't at all a policy here.  When you move to Germany (or within Germany) and go to the Stadtsbüro to register, in addition to asking where you live, your name, etc. there's a box where you fill in your religion, and if you put in one, money is taken out of your paycheck.  This "church tax" goes to the regional/national organization of the religion of your choosing, which mostly means the Evangelical (aka Protestant) or Catholic church, and then gets divied out to the local churches based on number of people in the geographical area aassociated with that church. Also, there are lots more religious pre-schools, I think there can be religion classes in the schools, etc. They are making a push to become more friendly to the sizable Muslim minority, but all things considered, this is still a Christian country, even if many (most??) people don't actually go to church regularly.

That is just a long-winded way of saying that there are no pan-religious "Happy holidays" signs around here, it's "Frohe Weihnachten" and manger scenes aren't uncommon, even in public places. Holiday parties for the MCB department at Harvard tended towards the awkward, but the one here at the MPI was pretty awesome, with plenty of bratwurst, Glühwein, and games and other entertainment: 
Who says scientists can't dance?

Just like in the US, there's a steady summer-ward creep of Christmas.  Around Halloween, we started seeing advent calendars, special christmas cookies (including Lebkuchen and Spekulatius. Yummy!) but things get serious when Advent officially starts.

That's when many towns set up a Christmas market with lots of little stands/tents selling all sorts of fabulous Christmas food: roasted candied nuts, bratwursts, and mulled wine (aka Glühwein) at a minimum, and if you're lucky, things like roast chestnuts, potato pancakes, cookies, etc.  There are also stands selling all sorts of arts, crafts and "gifts" of varying qualities and types.

I have been to 3 different Christmas markets this year and they were each vastly different experiences.  We had great plans to go to Nürnberg, one of the most famous, but in the end, we have to wait until next year for that one.

First up was Groβseelheim, a small village just outside of Marburg.  Their Advent market lasts only one afternoon/evening of the year, and it was great.  Unfortunately, I don't have the photos on this computer, but I'll add them as soon as I can.  As far as we could tell, their market was really a community affair; all the farms and stores and clubs had tents or openned up a room of their barn or yard to sell food or crafts, and it was clear that most if not all of the crafts were made by hand, and that some of the foods were things like the cheese from that farm, or that family's favorite goulash and polenta recipes (which were yummy).  

Even the gas pumps showed the holiday spirit, dressing up like Santa.  The entertainment was also more interesting, including a fire dancer and a variety of musical acts.  The one that probably was the most emblematic was a group of, ehem, "musicians of a certain age" dressed more or less in Santa suits who, when we first walked by were doing a German version of "Rudolph the red nosed reindeer" (or something similar) and then switched to a heavily accented English version of "How many roads must a man walk down".  Awesome.  I felt a little rude, I started laughing so loudly when they started that second song, but it was just such a strange combination of awesome, I couldn't help myself.

Next, we took a brief tour of the markets here in Marburg (ahem, merely scouting in preparation for our family's visit....).  There are actually 2 small Christmas markets here, one up in the "Oberstadt" (the old part of town that's up on a hill) and one around the Elizabeth's Church.  These are much more commercial than Groβseelheim, but have just a handful of stands, and it seems like it's still mostly locals hanging out, drinking Glühwein, and listening alternatively (at least as I've been passing through) to surprisingly talented kids, or to the local brass band, who also were quite good, I have to say. 

Today, while Sasha was out birding with his brothers, I hit up the market in Frankfurt as I went to meet my family.  It was HUGE in comparison to the others, and had pretty much all of the foods I listed above and more: nuts, cookies, candies, bratwurst, pretzels, crepes, waffles, potato pancakes, dunplings of various types, and of course, Glühwein and other hot beverages.  In good McLoon fashion, we munched our way through the market, trying one of, well, if not each, at least many of the options.  There also were tons and tons of stands selling all sorts of stuff, some cheap, some nice. Do you want a stuffed Santa climbing a ladder to hang from your window? We could have gotten you one.  What about lovely ornaments made of glass or straw? Those were available, too.  We heard a LOT of languages being spoken, so I definitely felt like this was more touristy than the others two markets, but then again, we were out in the early afternoon, and I did see flocks of German teenagers, so while there were plenty of tourists, I didn't feel like it was -just- a tourist trap.  Besides, who doesn't want an awesome bicycle cookie cutter?

Well, this is getting long, but that brings me to the next great thing that Christmas means in Germany: FAMILY!!  We are feeling the family love after many months of only Skype contact since my mom, dad and sister, and Sasha's mom, brothers, aunt and grandfather have joined us here.  Together, we'll do some serious exploring of Marburg and surroundings, and of course, some serious cooking and eating, so stay tuned for more about Christmas in Germany.

And, since I may not post again until after the holiday itself, "Frohe Weihnachten".

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Lacrosse in Germany!

OK, friends, I know what you're thinking; "aren't you a swimmer/skier/runner/rower/cyclist/paddler"? and the answer is, well, yes, I love all those sports to varying degrees, but Marburg is not a great ski area, my road bike hasn't made it to our house yet, and besides, the perpetual mud/drizzle and the fact that I am effectively in lab for all daylight hours makes riding a bit depressing. But what better way to meet people when arriving in a new place than doing some sports with them, right? So I decided to take a class through "unisport" (like rec sports at a US university).  There was this great little booklet that appeared on the lunch table with all the class offerings, and I tried to decide which would be the most fun. Soccer sounded good, but the women's classes were too early in the day, so that was out.  I didn't want to do strength training, and couldn't picture myself doing Zumba or Spinning, and it seemed like team sports would be something new and exciting.  So, I settled on Lacrosse.  You know, that team sport derived from Native American games, where each player has a little basket on the end of a stick and you use that basket to try to throw a ball into a goal.

Now, if I were you, the next questions I'd ask would be: "wait, you went to Germany and are learning a sport invented in North America??"  And the answer is, well, why not?  and then, "Wait, aren't you just like one big slow twitch muscle from all those endurance sports?" and the answer is, well, yes. I think I'm about as good at sprinting as I was in high school, and back then, the splits in my 2-mile were the same speed as when I tried to do any shorter distances....(needless to say, my coach back then never had me do any short races).  And, I'm probably the oldest person in the class by almost a decade, and I'm the only one whose German is decidedly not that of a native speaker.  But all that is OK because I'm having So Much Fun.  Class is on an artificial turf field in the evenings on Thursday, and happens rain or shine (or snow).

SO, last weekend, we went to Münster for a tournament.  Awesome.  Keep in mind, we are all total beginners, and have been playing once a week for almost 2 months.  Two months really isn't much when the first few practices probably looked more like broomball than like Lacrosse (you have you use your stick to pick up the ball, and that's harder than it sounds). And most of the opposing teams actually knew what they were doing.  Oh, and instead of outside on the field, it was inside a gym with this bizarrely bouncy rubber-ish floor.  But I am serious about the awesome.
Marburg (the club, not our UniSport team) vs. Münster, I think. 
 It was a low-key sort of tournament; the teams kept borrowing each other's goalies, and the coaches and players doubled as refs and scorekeepers, but it all worked out.
Maggie (right, #33), one of our class instructors/coaches in action. She's also on the German National team. 

The first game was a bit miserable.  I drew the short straw and was stuck in goal, and while my teammates were trying to figure out how to pick up the ball off the bouncy floor and how to not have the ball snatched away from them immediately, I was being pummeled as time after time the opponents made it to the goal and took shot after shot.  I have to say, that's not a sports experience I am used to...half the time I couldn't even  
see the ball before it went past me into the goal.

The next games were more fun.  Partly because I got to run around more (One of my other teammates was in goal next and then found she actually liked it) and partly because we actually figured out how to deal with the ball some.  Although to be completely clear, our coach congratulated us after one of the early games for actually getting in 3 passes in a I'm not talking true expertise here.

Friday night, we camped out in a gym with all of the visiting teams for lacrosse and all of the other sports playing at the same time (it was a crazy multisport tournament, taking over all the gyms across Münster's campus and beyond).  It was a strange experience seeing hundreds of sleeping bags laid out in every configuration in a gym, but people were amazingly quiet and respectful of each other.  The partying went on outside and in the giant cafeteria building.  To that, I can only say that I am about as old and boring as I'd feared.  Oh well.  I am sure the "extra" sleep gave me a leg up the next day...
Some groups still hadn't shown up yet, but you get the was better than it looks

Saturday, we played the other teams that had lost most of their games the previous day, so we were less out-matched.  In fact, for the last game, we played a team from Osnabrück, and they were also beginners, so it actually looked like a game.  They scored a few points more than us, but due to some bad calls from the refs, they decided a few of those goals were invalid, so we went into sudden death overtime, and I actually scored a goal (?!?!?!) so we ended up winning and coming in 7th out of 8 teams!!  I can't remember when I've ever done that poorly (excluding some of the times I've raced with the men), but it's kind of refreshing to admit that you are going to be really bad at something and do it anyway.
Marburg UniSport team after the last game
It's actually fun playing a team sport (yes, crew and cycling kind of count, but in very different ways), and I think it will be better when we actually figure out how to catch balls.  Right now, our strategy leans towards "get the ball and run as fast as you can to the goal and shoot", and I think the game can be a lot more nuanced than that with passing and stuff.  Give us a few more months. We play Giessen tomorrow; we'll see how that goes!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

My new favorite game: "Find a Castle"

Hi folks!

In some ways riding around Marburg reminds me of riding around Colgate.  Sadly, I haven't found such a nice group to ride with, but the terrain is hilly, there are tons of awesome dirt roads, and the pavement is generally really good.  The major difference being, instead of playing my "favorite" bike riding games from Colgate (1. how many cows in that field will look at me? 2. Is the farm Amish or not Amish, with the old-order Mennonites adding some confusion now and again, and 3. Is that scary dog going to chase me?), my favorite game here is "find a castle". 

This is how you play "find a castle".  Step one: look on your trusty "Marburg + Umgebung" map and locate a close-ish castle symbol.  This area is dotted with them, which makes the game a bit easier.  Step 2: Plot out a bike route there. Step 3: kit up and put your plan into action.

Sometimes step 2 bears repeating mid-ride.

Now, you may think that this game should be easy, I mean, you'd think castles are hard to overlook.  Alas, castles are so ho hum here that they've let tons of them fall into ruin.  I mean, if you were a medieval peasant and there was an old pile of hewn stones near you that wasn't being used for anything, you'd take a few for your house, too, I suppose.  Plus, the towns are full of steep hills and narrow streets and tall houses (relatively speaking) so, for instance, when I picked Fronhausen for a destination (which has not just 1 but three castle symbols near it on the map) I lost the game.  I did not see any castles near Fronhausen.  In my defense, it was rainy, so I wanted to minimize map viewing, but still...I came home cold and soaking wet and only saw "our" Marburg castle on the way home.

Other days, I luck out and just happen upon signs pointing to a Schloss.  That approach led me to discovering this one in Rauisch Holzhausen (or as Sasha has taken to calling it, Rauisch Hotzenplotzhausen, after a character in our favorite German kids book).

It's owned by the University of Giessen and used for retreats and such, I think.  Too bad Harvard didn't own a castle.
Sometimes the castles are more ruins than castles, and involve more poking around in the woods to find.  Since my road bike STILL isn't here, poking around in the woods makes me feel justified in leaving the Mud2 tires on my cross bike, so that's still cool.    This past Sunday was a 3 "castle" day, or I guess more accurately, 1 castle and two VERY old ruins of fortified settlement/dwelling places.

First off, I went a town called Nordeck, which was a cute little town to begin with, and then it had a nicely maintained castle to boot.
It is clear that this one is still inhabited; some of the windows had cute curtains and, you will note, around the back there was a fire exit.  You may rest easy, the folks living right under the roof will still be able to get out safely in an emergency.
I loved the horns over the door.  If a jackalope is antlers on a rabbit skull, what is this, a castlelope?
The next two stops took a bit more careful navigating, and weren't nearly so picturesque. Although I will say that even the most ruiny-est ruin is still pretty satisfying to me.  The next stop was an unlabelled "ruined castle" symbol on my map, just outside of Dreihausen. It took some wandering through the muddy woods to find, but the signboards were quite helpful.  There were excavated stone foundations of a few buildings, and some wall remnants, but not much else from this 800 AD ruin.  Still, given the German climate, even that seems good.

The signs said this was a church.  I remain unconvinced.

Outer?? fortifications and my bicycle. 

The third and final stop of the day was a presumably even older fortification, and one that (although it gets a symbol on my map and on the town map) doesn't even get a nifty explanatory sign.  I visited it shortly after getting to Marburg, but didn't have my camera.  At first glance, it just looks like a hill or mound, but then I realized that the mound was almost perfectly circular, and had a big depression in the center with a raised mound inside it.  At one end, the inside mound connects to the outside.  Either it's so old that any stonework is buried, or there were only wood buildings that have long since rotted away.  I swear that I made very similar sand castles...
It's too odd of a thing to be photogenic, but hopefully this gives you some idea.
That ended this past weekend's round of find a castle.  3 castles in a 3ish hour ride (on cross tires with a smattering of dirt roads, even) which is a pretty good castle per hour rate.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Thanksgiving in Germany

Hi folks,

I hope our US based friends and family had a great thanksgiving, full of food and friends and blessing counting.  Sasha and I enjoyed the holiday, celebrating it together for the first time (last year, Sasha was in Argentina, and before that, we celebrated with our respective families, etc.).  Since I had lab meeting on Thursday and we had other Thursday commitments, we decided to celebrate on Friday instead.

One thing that I had heard from other US ex-pats was how hard it is to find a turkey in Europe.  I was, however, pleasantly surprised that such is not the case in Marburg.  While I wouldn't entirely have minded having an awesome "Mission: locate turkey" story like my friend Amber ( I'm OK with it being easy.  I had seen small turkeys in the "frozen meat" section in our local grocery store, but since they seemed small and I wasn't sure we'd have the fridge space for defrosting, I decided to go to the local market instead.  The market here is AWESOME!!  I went last Saturday on a recon mission, and bought the pumpkin and various root vegetables that I would need to round out our feast (and a few pastries, and a bottle of young fermenting cider, a sausage, some yummy cheese...which did NOT last until Thanksgiving), and found a friendly butcher's stand and ordered a turkey, to be picked up on Wednesday.
Shopping at the market! Sorry it's blurry. There was food. I was excited.

SO, on Wednesday I biked down and picked up a gorgeous looking bird.  And I think it might even have been organic, free range, fed by hand with only the choicest of seeds and bugs...OK, maybe just organic, but let's just say that while fresh turkeys were not hard to locate in Marburg, you pay dearly for the luxury.  Totally worth it, though. AND, I found a cool fall-colored centerpiece.  Normally, I'm like my mom and when it comes to decorative stuff, my favorite response is: "who do you think I am, Martha Stewart?" BUT when I saw this, I decided it would be perfect:
Take that Martha S. Who's classy now?

Sasha picked up most of the other things we needed at the grocery store on Thursday and in the evening, we went over to a German friend's house to have turkey with her family, so in a way, we even got 2 thanksgivings this year.

Then on Friday, I got up early and (for the first time without my mom or housemate Sian) started preparing for the holiday.  First up: apple pie.  Then, over the course of the day I made beet clementine salad, sauteed parsnips, sauteed sliced brussel sprouts with pecans and shallots, mixed roasted root vegetables including sweet potato, pumpkin (OK, not technically a root vegetable), onion, turnip and carrot, cranberry apple sauce, and a pumpkin cheese cake following a new recipe from my Saveur magazine ( Including the rolls that Sasha made, our little toaster oven was working for most of the day.
The cheese cake was a bit tricky, since the crust was supposed to be made from smooshed ginger snaps, and, well, we couldn't find any.  Nonetheless, the German holiday spice cookies called Spekulatus were a tasty substitution, and making my own pumkin puree worked fine in the absence of canned pumpkin.  I did wish for a food processor at some points, though. 
Anna the human food processor, preparing cheesecake crust.  Yes, that is a water glass in my hand.
  SO, maybe you are noticing that I haven't mentioned the turkey yet.  Needless to say, our toaster oven could not handle a big bird, so figuring out how to roast the turkey was more problematic than locating it in the first place.  BUT after looking into many options, our friend Kristin saved the day and let us roast the turkey in her oven AND did the basting over the course of the afternoon.  It was perhaps amusing to have to keep dashing between buildings to check on the turkey, but in the end, the bird was quite yummy.  Kristin also brought mashed potatoes and stuffing (I guess it's dressing for you grammar mavens, since we baked it outside the bird, or maybe dressing is just a Southern term, I'm not sure). Add friends to the evening, and the feast became Thanksgiving.  
What a gorgeous bird, right?

With thanks, thanksgiving.

Aside from an incident with the stuffing and the floor, the evening went incredibly well given all the hurdles, and gave me ample time to count my blessings.  I am thankful  for food, the opportunity to spend a few years in Europe, friends to make the experience more pleasant, family supporting us from the states, and (of course), my faithful partner in this crazy adventure, Sasha, the bestest husband I could have.

Sasha hiding the party's evidence in good German fashion.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Ausländer in an Ausland

So, Anna and I have been in Germany for more than 2 months now, so I thought I’d share some of my experiences as an Auslander (foreigner) in an Ausland (foreign country).  It has been a great experience so far, and full of adventure!  Living in Germany is much like living in the United States, except that everyone here speaks German.  Actually, that’s not true, since it is one of the most international places I’ve lived, and for many of the internationals, English is the common language.  It’s not uncommon to overhear conversations on the street corner in Spanish, and in my GSL (German as a Second Language) course, I’m the only person from the United States.  But a lot of people speak German.  And it is a little strange to be partially illiterate.  I’m also trying to figure out what the word is for when you can’t speak a language.  Whatever that word is, it applies to me with respect to German!  But that’s changing slowly and steadily.  But you really don’t need that much German to get by from day to day.  For example, I’ve managed to go grocery shopping, rescue my books from customs, get a hair cut, and figure out why an international wire transfer failed (they sent our money to Bosnia).  Granted, many of these activities have benefited from the English speaking skills of the Germans (which are generally pretty good), but still, I take pride in what small victories I can.
Kohlmeise (Great Tit) on our feeder

The birding here has been slower than I expected, but there are lots of fun new birds, and I still enjoy watching the Kohlmeise, Blaumeise, and Kleiber coming and going to our feeder.  It has been a switch to go birding primarily by bicycle – especially on rainy days.  For example, there is no car to duck back into to wait out short showers, and coupled with my poor direction sense, a shortcut home might actually increase the length of the trip by about 5 km .  On the other hand, the roads are very bike friendly, and you can get to a number of locations very easily by bicycle.  I’m starting to get a good idea of what is where in the region, and working on tracking down a lot of the local common species.

Blaumeise (Blue tit, bottom) and
a Kohlmeise (top) on the feeder
Kleiber (European Nuthatch) at the feeder

 Restaurants are also a little bit different in Germany.  Fortunately, most of the restaurants (if not all?) are non-smoking, which is a pleasant surprise given the prevalence of that deadly habit here.  But they don’t automatically give tap water (das Leitungswasser.  If you’re wondering, all Nouns are capitalized in German.  Weird, I know).  In fact, one Restaurant refused to give me Tap Water unless I ordered another Drink as well and when the Water came, it was in a Glass the size of 2-3 Shot Glasses (okay, I’ll stop with the German capitalization with English words).  On the topic of capitalization, it turns out that capitalization of nouns is important, since sometimes the uncapitalized version is a verb.  And it turns out the word for bird, (Vogel) when conjugated improperly in the plural and not capitalized, is slang for having sex (synonym for the f word, basically).  Yes, I found this out the hard way in my German class by trying to write that I study birds...  Live and make mistakes, right?

The pricing system here is better – all the prices include sales tax.  So if something says $5, it really is $5!  Not $5.05 or whatever obscure amount it is with sales tax.  Unfortunately, the Germans say their numbers backwards though, so I still get some funny looks when I try to give drei und sechzig (three and sixty) instead of sechs und dreiβig (six and thirty).  By the way the funny β is called an eszett – it’s actually a double ss, and makes no b sound whatsoever, unless mispronounced by a foreigner.  But generally people are pretty forgiving here.

So far, it’s been a great experience, and a lot of fun.  And it’s certainly given me a greater appreciation for what international students in the US are experiencing!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Kassel and the stinky cheese

Hello family and friends!

After a few quiet weekends in Marburg, I decided it was high time for a new Adventure, and I was in a castle sort of mood, so after a bit of googling, at the end of the week, I asked Sasha if he wanted to go to Kassel on Saturday.  Since the forecast was for yet another cold rainy day (ie.not so good for local bike rides or birding), and since he likes castles almost as much as I do, it did not take much convincing.  SO, we got up a bit earlier than usual on Saturday, and took the train to Kassel for the day. 

Kassel was great. Although there isn't an "Altstadt" (old part of the city) since the town was heavily bombed in the war, there is still a lot to see and do. We decided to first explore the region called Wilhelmshöhe to the west of the city.  We got a map in the train station and took a Strassenbahn and a bus to our first stop of the day: 
Nice, convenient, clean public transit!!!

a giant Herkules statue of which Kassel folks are perhaps not unjustafiably proud.  Our Lonely Planet calls it "a massive statue... atop a towering stone pyramid atop an octagonal amphitheater atop an imposing hill" which pretty much sums him up.  Although it leaves out the fact that he is stark naked and bright green.  Minor details. There was a visitor's center, which probably explained something about why he was built, etc. but we skipped that and went right up to the top of the amphitheater and pyramid, which have nice views of Kassel and surrounding areas.  While it was a bit misty, it was still a nice view. The amphitheater was covered in scaffolding because apparently they used a local stone, and tuff is just not very tough and is falling apart, but it was still impressive.

Herkules in all his green and naked glory
Tuff is not very tough

We still got our spiral stair fix, even though there were no castle (or cathedral) towers this trip. Thank you giant green Herkules.

Going down the hill from the Herkules is a set of man-made waterworks, ponds and fountains and waterfalls and such.  They turn the water on every Wednesday and Sunday between May and early October.  Since it was neither the right day nor the right month, we did not get to see water flowing (except a natural trickle from previous days' rain), but on the plus side, we didn't have to contend with crowds, either.  We decided we'd have to come back at some point on a water day, so didn't make too much of an effort to see all the cool things.
Still impressive even without the water.

Instead, we headed for the first castle of the day (since the impressive Herkules isn't really a castle),

Löwenburg. Löwenburg was built in the late 1700s by a local Landgraf/Fürst, Wilhelm the 9th I think, who had a thing about the middle ages.  Lots of rich people back then were pretty keen about the middle ages, so they constructed all sorts of fake medieval castles and ruins on the grounds of their own "modern" castles, and Löwenburg was built as a retreat and was actually inhabitable, although the interiors were Baroque and austensibly much more comfortable.  World War II helped turn parts of the castle from quasi-ruined to actually ruined, but much of it has been re-built and a lot of the original stuff was saved, so it was actually quite a nice 1hr tour, and it was nearly a private tour, since there was only one other couple and a family with very small kids who left after the first room ("no touching" tours are difficult for toddlers, it seems).  Alas, the tour guide still spoke only German, so I don't think Sasha understood more than a word here or there (and it was all said too quickly for immediate translation), but I learned some interesting random tidbits (which I have not fact-checked).  For instance, the baroque beds seem rather short to us, and that is partly because people were shorter, but the tourguide also claimed that people did not sleep laying flat on their backs back then, because they believed that if they did so, their souls would leave their bodies.  And that "eau d' toilette" was not just used to cover the odors of people who didn't bathe more than a handful of times a year or to cover your nose whenever an inferior peasant walked by, but also was used in copious amounts for handwashing.  And since the water was not very clean, the high alcohol content probably would work for killing germs.  So, these were some of the random tidbits (true or not) that I learned during the tour.  We would have had to pay extra money to take pictures inside on the tour, so no inside shots here, and I apologize for the mist that made this picture blurry.
Gotta love medieval castles, even Baroque ones

After that, we went down to the "main" castle, the Schloss Wilhelmshöhe.  There is a wing with period furniture, etc. but I was more in the mood for art, so instead we went into the larger center part of the castle, which has an impressive collection of paintings by the old Dutch Masters like Rembrandt, Dürer, Rubens, and their less famous contemporaries.  Some were nice and others were, shall we say "not to my taste" but it was also funny to see some of the English translations of the commentaries.  Like you will be interested to note that Cleopatra died after being bitten by a poisoned snake (rather than a poisonous one).  Perhaps in fairness, I will make a post later about my own humorous mis-speakings in German...except that I probably don't even notice many of them.
Wilhelm's baroque baroque castle.

After that, we took the Strassenbahn into town, had an early dinner, and then wandered around being entertained by random public art and trying to  balance locating the church with the interesting steeples (Sasha) and staring at all the stuff in the shiny shop windows (me) before catching our train home.
Modern art and Anna

Although we had quite a nice day, the trip was almost ruined by a series of compounding small mistakes that I shall call: "The Tale of the Stinky Cheese".  Mistake #1: we stopped at the grocery store before the trip and got sandwich fixins to make lunch to take with us and we grabbed a New Cheese.  Our usual grocery store has 100g packages of sliced cheese that are just right for sandwiches, and we often just get Gouda because it's cheap, and it's fine, but I like change and trying new things, so every so often I decide we should get a different cheese.  This one had all sorts of small holes and looked cute, so we got it.
Mistake #2: since we stopped at the grocery store after going out for dinner and then ice cream with friends, it was very late by the time we got home, so rather than making sandwiches on the spot, we decided to take the package of meat, the package of cheese, and the bread to make sandwiches somewhere in Kassel.
Mistake #3: I was hungry after we had left the Löwenburg, and since it was raining, we didn't want to sit down anywhere for a real picnic, so I decided to open up the package and have a slice of cheese.  Now, I must say that ordinarily, I like stinky cheeses, but this one was VERY pungent and it was warm-ish from being in my bag instead of the refrigerator.  For those of you who don't ordinarily venture broadly in the cheese department, think of the smell of really gross gymsocks and concentrate it, and it will be close. 
It tasted OK, but the smell was a bit overpowering and while I could eat a piece and could imagine that it would be better with bread, Sasha took one bite and then couldn't finish his slice and didn't want to bury it in the woods (we were walking through the woods between castles at this point) so carried it for a ways in his gloves (mistake #4).  
Mistake #5: we reached the next castle and were still thinking that the cheese and bread should be eaten at some point, so we put the bag and the cheese (although we had it in a ziploc, the package now opened, remember) in a locker.  Needless to say, after much looking at paintings, not only did the pocket of the bag containing the cheese smell, but the whole bag smelled and our coats that were merely in the same locker with the cheese also smelled.  I nominated Sasha to take the bag and make a bee-line for the nearest trash can, but it's rather amazing how cheese smell can linger, so although we no longer had the cheese, the rest of the trip found us walking a fine line between being as far away from the still stinky bag as possible, and yet maintaining control over the bag that contained such important things as our passports.  I am happy to say that a day later, the bag now mostly doesn't smell.

The moral of the story is: boring Gouda will now be our default cheese for travel days, but Kassel is definitely worth another visit.