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.

No comments:

Post a Comment