Saturday, October 27, 2012

Our "local" saint Elizabeth and her market

Hi family and friends!

SO, this post is out of chronological order, since the Elizabethsmarkt was the weekend of October 13 and 14, but well, I have time to post now, and didn't then. There was no kimchi like at the festival near the new home of my friend Emily ( but I think the Elizabethsmarkt was a bit more German and a bit less Korean!

First, let me tell you about Elizabeth, well, Saint Elizabeth of Thuringen.  She lived a long time ago (in the 1200s) and was a Hungarian princess, betrothed at an early age to Louis a "Landgrave" in Thuringia/Thuringen, they married, she had 2 kids, and he went off on a pilgrimage and died.  The tour guides at the Elizabeth's church here in Marburg seem to find it really important that despite it being an arranged marriage, she really loved her husband, but in any case, once he died, she decided to give up living like a noble, moved to Marburg, founded a hospital and chapel, gave a ton of her money to poor people, and died at the age of 24.  She accomplished a lot in those 24 years, and I skipped over lots of details: fighting with the in-laws, specific acts of mercy, etc...I'm sure you can brush up on the details elsewhere on the interweb. I can say that I'm definitely not following her on the track towards sainthood (and clearly am living past the age of 24).  Suffice it to say, She quickly became a saint and since she spent the last years of her life here in Marburg, people around here seem to view her as "their" saint.

In any case, there's a big market and festival that bears her name in October every year in Marburg, and Sasha and I decided to see what it was all about after church on Sunday.  It was great!  There were different things going on in different parts of the city, but we checked them all out.  Down in Weidenhausen (where we raced our ducks in September) there were the equivalent of garage sales for people without garages (tables where people were selling used stuff) and we bought a muffin tin and some books.  I don't have any pictures, because we were too busy book shopping ;-)

Next, there was a midway sort of area down by the banks of the Lahn (the river that goes through Marburg).  I wanted to go on the Ferris wheel, but my husband doesn't really like rides, so we didn't.  I probably could have talked him into it, but... at least we both have similar negative opinions about the rides that spin around and around and make you (us?) get motion-sick.
It's definitely funny to have a ferris wheel suddenly appear in the middle of town.

Much more exciting (to us) were the booths in the "Oberstadt" (the part of the old city that goes up the hill towards the castle) selling things like jam and purses and the other exciting findings like a story teller who will sell you 100 grams of story for 1-3 euros.  We, of course, needed to buy a story.  By which I mean that -I- wanted to buy a story and my husband humored me.  

I chose a "Märchen" (fairy tale) collected by the Brother's Grimm about a "Kind" (child) and he told us the story about the Sterntaler.  The story goes like this:

Once upon a time, there was a girl and she was very poor, and had no parents and no house and no bedroom and had only one outfit of clothing and one piece of bread.  As she was walking through the town (for what else do you do when you have no house) she saw an old man who looked even more poor and more hungry than herself, and he asked for bread and she gave him her entire piece of bread.  She went a little further and saw a child, much younger and colder than herself dressed all in  and the child asked for a piece of clothing, and the girl gave the child her jacket.  As she went a little further, she saw another beggar, who asked for (and received) her dress.  Now, it was becoming dark, and as the girl approached the forest, she saw another beggar in rags who asked for her shirt, and since it was now quite dark, the girl saw no need for a shirt, so she took it off and gave it away.  So now the girl had nothing, but the stars themselves saw what she had done, and rained down upon her, and the rain of stars were coins of gold (Taler, to use the old German word) and she found herself dressed again, and her new dress was made from the finest linen.  She gathered up the coins and was rich and generous for the rest of her days. 

This is a popular story here, and indeed, one of the many fairytale artworks around the city illustrates this story, this one lights up at night, and is on an old church/university building:
Sasha with his head in a cabbage.

BUT back to the Elizabethmarket.  In the Marktplatz, there was a stand selling sausages and "pommes" (french fries) which we came back for at the end of the day, and funny truck things that children/families went into, and there was this set of strange hemispheres that we decided needed to be checked out.  We walked around and stuck our heads into each and they were pretty cool...although I won't ruin the surprise and tell you what's inside them!
Could you pass up the chance to stick your head in something that looked like this?

The final set of interesting things was down by the Elizabeth's church.  There, there were booths with information about social services, etc.  We didn't really do much there, but there were people trying to educate you on the effects of driving drunk, and they had this awesomely entertaining pair of glasses that you could put on and then they gave you beanbags to throw and try to knock down a pyramid of tin cans.  I'm not sure their blood-alcohol equivalent (.8%) was accurate, but wearing the glasses, I couldn't even easily get the beanbags out of the volunteer's hands, much less throw with any accuracy.

Anna wearing "beer goggles"
Oh, I forgot to mention, we convinced a new church friend and her 16 year-old son to join us.  I warned them that we get excited by lots of stuff, and they were definitely patient about watching us buy stories, stick our heads into hemispheres, etc.  I hope they don't think we're too crazy now!  

Another great thing about the market was that all the stores were open on Sunday.  Usually, nothing is open on Sundays except for a bakery or two and some restaurants, but since our stuff STILL hasn't arrived on the boat, and I am getting tired of my single orange-ish sweater, I bought another sweater so now I have TWO sweaters in Germany.  Which has greatly improved my patience in waiting for the boat to bring our stuff (although I still really miss my racing bike).

Anyway, there you have it, that's what the Elizabeth market is all about.  At least if you are Anna and Sasha.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Rhein and our first overnight bike trip

Hello friends and family!

SO, we were really excited about going on overnight trips with our bikes, and after a daytrip test-ride (a 3.5 castle day) last weekend, we decided to go to the place with, to my knowledge (and no, I didn't consult the google to verify it) the most castle-y place around: the "romantic Rhine".  All the guidebooks tout the joys of the Rhein, and the bike paths that are clearly marked and that run along its banks and well, we have to admit it truly isn't just hype.  The river between Koblenz and Mainz/Wiesbaden is pretty awesome.

Our trip really started on Thursday as we were deciding that it really was going to be a nice weekend, and we could risk a late-October camping trip, and deciding what we needed to bring.  Friday, I left work early and we took the train from Marburg to Koblenz.  The train ride was pretty, even though we reached Koblenz in the dark, and then with sub-par maps managed to find our way to a nice hotel called the "Berghof".  OK, word of warning, if you want a nice river-level hotel, pick one that doesn't have the word "mountain" in its name: it was quite a schlep up a steep, dark hill with fully loaded bikes, but it turned out to be quite nice.

The next morning, we ate our nice continental breakfast buffet and started out by riding to where the Mosel meets the Rhine at an area called the "Deutsches Eck", or "German corner".  It was nice, but already full of tourists at 10-whatever in the morning.  From there, we headed mostly South and the map was largely superfluous for navigation, since the path was clearly signed, but the map was great for helping with castle identification:

 We were planning on going all the way to a town called Bacharach for the night, but got distracted by a particularly cool castle near St. Goar, set up camp early for the night, and went castle exploring at Burg Rheinfels.  There were tons of tunnels in the battlements and dark rooms at the top of hidden spiral staircases and great views of the surrounding vinyards, so it was definitely worth making Sunday a longer day of riding.  Also, we ended up camping at a smaller campground up a side valley, which was by a bubbling brook and was both away from the railroads and trafficky roads right along the Rhine AND it was practically deserted.  Two other couples were spending the night there, and they were quite quiet, so it was really nice. BUT back to the castle that made it extra worth it:

Sasha and I both have a weakness for the particularly large and ruined castles, and German ones are great, because they pretty much let you wander around at will.  They have metal bars around wells and such, but mostly to stop you from being inadvertently stupid; nobody and nothing will stop you from squeezing out an arrow slit and falling into some trees (if you are skinny enough and want to do so for some reason). 

I expect the castles are all mobbed in the "high season" but while we saw a few handfuls of people, it wasn't close to crowded.  It was nice to find someone to hand the camera to for a shot with both of us in it, though.

Sunday morning was cool and we woke up to a dense fog.  That helped us get through a number of kms early in the day, since I think we missed seeing 2-3 castles and we couldn't really see the Loreley (a rocky cliff made famous by a famous German poet, since he wrote about the mythical Loreley mermaid who lured sailors to their deaths in the treacherous bend in the river...I haven't read the poem, I guess that's what happens when you lean towards German classes about more contemporary issues while in college).

We stopped in Bacharach for lunch, and it was well worth a stop, although we haven't quite gotten used to the leisurely speed of German meal service, so the stop perhaps cut slightly into our castle photographing time.  The food was good, though (starting with my probably pumpkin soup, and continuing all the way to Sasha's apple strudel):

We stopped for one more castle tour, of Burg Rheinstein which was also cool and less ruined than Saturday's stop.  It was pretty cool, although Sasha seemed about as interested in photographing me as in photographing the castle (or was I just "adding perspective??" I guess we have only been married for what, 3 months? Anyway, some other post I'll have to upload the photos from my camera, so I have more of my husband).

The rest of the ride continued in similar castle-filled glory.  At Bingen we took the ferry across the river, because the map said the other side was flatter (And I think my husband wanted to ride in a boat). 

 There were a surprising number of bikes and cyclists that came onto the boat with us, although perhaps that should have been a warning of what was to come, since the next 25 km were largely spent dodging between families on foot and on bike who all seemed completely oblivious to the fact that they should share the path (And not all walk side-by-side). The river was still lovely, but it also flattened out so we were more enjoying the islands and the fall colors, there were fewer castles.

We were both getting hungry and tired and the light was fading when we finally found the Hauptbahnhof in Wiesbaden, but we successfully navigated two separate trains to get home to Marburg and managed to pull our camping gear out to dry before turning in for the night.

SO, the summary is: visit the Rhine if you like castles, rivers, boats, good food, cute towns, bicycles, trains, vineyards, hills, fall foliage, half timbered houses, gratuitous towers of various ages, etc. And if you can't find something you like on that list, well, I'm sorry.

I'll end this post with one of Sasha's favorite pictures from the last part of our trip. 

New Bike!!

Hi family and friends,

So as you know, we don't have a car here, and thus if we want to go anywhere we have to go by foot, bus, or bike.  The last one was difficult because Sasha didn't bring his bike with us (schlepping it would have cost more than the bike was worth) and it took about a month for the one we ordered here to make it to the shop and get built up, but now we are both mobile!

To celebrate, we went for a bike ride after church the weekend after the bike came (three weekends ago, now).  I saw in a newspaper that there was a crafts fair going on in a town 12km or so away from us, so decided that it should be our destination (I'm sure my husband would have rather go birding, but he agreed to come with me anyway).  We decided to follow the river and bike path, which turned the trip into probably more like 15+ km each way, but we didn't measure it. And it might have been a bit more since once or twice we (OK I) got too distracted by the scenery and missed a turn...easily remedied by a consult with the map and a passing cyclist.

The crafts fair was really crowded, but we found some cool things, including big slabs of tree trunk carved with castles and city-scenes and felted lamps that looked like towers.  Also, there was (as is true at any good German event) cake, coffee, and various schnitzel-y things for sale.  We even bought a few small things (since neither the lamp nor tree trunk were within our budget or very manageable on a bike).  Instead, Sasha found a cool red candle and I got a small nearly spherical gnome that I put in our "garden" once I got home:

We got some funny looks for wandering around in cycling clothing, but Germans as a whole tend to limit themselves to staring and then talking about you when you are (mostly) out of earshot. 

On the way back, we did stop to look at a few birds, although neither of us brought our binoculars.  Which probably ensured that we made it home in time for dinner ;-)

Since the weather cooperated, we have more exciting bike tours to report on from the more recent weekends but I'll post them when I have a chance.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Home is where you hang your hat?

We've been in Marburg, Germany for over a month now, and I'm trying to decide if it "feels like home" yet. Every time I see this view, I still think it's pretty amazing.  We're starting to feel a bit less confused about everything; we've found current favorite cookies and breads and bakeries, and we can successfully get money out of our account, have found good running trails, etc. But I think we still feel a bit like we're on vacation.  Will it feel more home-like when the stuff we shipped gets here (it's delayed until at least early November)?  Will we feel more at home when we have established a more specific circle of friends?  Or will the vacation feeling stay for a few years?

For now, it's still exciting to decide which pickle variety to try this week (although folks we met at church assure us that they all taste the same) and to pick random directions for bike rides, to explore more of the surrounding countryside.  Thankfully, Sasha's bike finally came, so we'll have more chances to explore together.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Answering the question that everyone asks when they find out we've moved to Marburg

The first thing that friends and family back in the US asked when they heard that we were moving to Marburg is "where is it"? Which I suppose is sort of a funny default question, since few US folks are conversant enough with German geography for the answer to be meaningful... But nonetheless, the answer I give is "about an hour north of Frankfurt by train" (by which I mean Frankfurt am Main, and the time varying slightly depending on the speed of train).   Marburg is a nice university town of 79,000 or so inhabitants.  It is in the state of Hessen, on the Lahn River, surrounded by hills and forests and farms.  

The first thing people here ask us is how long we are staying, which is always a good question to ask in a university town.  I mean, you go to different lengths to welcome people if they're staying 1 week, or 1 year.  The answer for us is that my current contract is for 2 years, but we might end up staying for more like 3ish, given the timing of the academic job cycle and the fellowship(s) that we do or do not get.  So the most accurate answer is that we'll be here for the foreseeable future. 

SO, with that preliminary out of the way, I can proceed to post about our great adventures in and around Marburg.  Although we'll see how good I am about keeping up with this blogging!