Sunday, June 21, 2015

commemorating failure

Hi Friends!

So I'm thinking about all the adventures Sasha and I have been on over the past 3 years (almost) here in Europe, and I am realizing how much we haven't told you about.  That's fine; we wouldn't want to make you too jealous, and it's more fun to have adventures than to write about them.  But I decided it would be fun to make a short post with snippets from various trips that share a common theme.  Failure.

The first one is a monument close to our house.  It is a memorial to a guy who accidentally was killed while hunting because he mis-loaded his gun.  I know, it's pretty tragic, actually.  It just strikes me as a bit funny, though, that all the other big stone memorials and such around here are to saints or famous dudes who were local rulers (or their wives) or Nobel prize winners, etc., and as far as I can tell, the only claim to fame of this guy was his unfortunate demise. I'm sorry for ya, Konrad, really I am.

"Here Konrad Diffmar from Wehrda died suddenly from his own misloading of a hunting rifle on the 3rd of January, 1979."
The Vasa; ancient boat, modern rigging
The second is much more impressive; so much so that there's an entire museum built around it, and it was one of the highlights of our trip to meet up with my parents in Stockholm, Sweden, in the summer of 2013.  The Vasa Museum.  The Vasa was a warship built in the 1600s that sank almost immediately on its maiden voyage.  Oops.  As far as we could tell, the king Gustavus Adolphus decided that he wanted a taller boat about half-way through construction, and the boat builders said "OK king, will do" but then the lower row of cannon ports was too close to the waterline, so when the ship leaned over, as sailboats are wont to do, it quickly filled with water and sank. Luckily, though, it sank in brackish water instead of the open ocean, which meant that instead of instantly being eaten by ship worms, the boat remained mostly intact for 300 or so years, when it was found by archaeologists, and was raised up off the seafloor in one piece, and was quickly treated with a polymer that prevents the wood from decaying too quickly, and they built an entire (highly climate controlled) museum around the boat.  It's really impressive how much of the detail is left of the carvings and such, so although the boat might have been a failure, the museum is pretty awesome, and the boat is quite a feat of conservation.

Intricate carvings on the ill-fated cannon ports
Boat-building failure, conservation success, and pretty darn cool as a thing to visit
The third is much more tragic; the Maginot line.  Between the world wars, France built a series of fortifications along its border with Germany, to prevent another German invasion.  Which totally failed because the Germans just went around it by attacking through Belgium.  Oops.  I guess it may have stopped a massive frontal assault over that border, but it was eventually attacked and overrun.  We went to an old casement turned into a memorial and museum on our way back from Switzerland this past spring. I'm not a historian, and can't tell you all the details about the battles and the war, and I can't even really speculate about what France should have done to repel attack.  It has got to be pretty hard with such a flat, long border. And (in terms of preventing the invasion via Belgium) deciding whether or not to build defenses along a border with an ally/non-aggressor. But once again, my opinion was only reinforced that war is a stupid waste of lives and resources.
Why not invest a lot of infrastructure, manpower and resources defending a long, flat, easily circumvented border?  Casemate turned museum.

But let me be honest, war is a stupid waste of resources and lives; as far as I'm concerned, all wars can go on the list of failures...because even if one side enters for "just" reasons, wouldn't it be better if they hadn't have to?

But, I'm not sure what we should take from these things.  Maybe that while we all strive to succeed, if you fail spectacularly enough, you can still be remembered for it?


Easter is a four-day holiday weekend here in Germany, and we decided to travel for Easter this year.  We rented a car and drove down to the Jungfrau valley in Switzerland.  I had been there in 2002 when my parents came to visit while I was working in Germany for the summer, and had liked it so much I wanted to show it to Sasha.

We rented a car and drove down.  We rented a small "vacation apartment" Which turned out to be a room with a refrigerator and hot plate and a bathroom in the basement/first floor of an old farmhouse.  It wasn't quite what I expected, but was in a good location, and our host was very nice.

We drove down on Friday, and didn't have time to do much besides cook ourselves dinner.  It was pretty cloudy, so while we could see some of the mountains, it wasn't particularly spectacular.

Wild chamois
Saturday, we woke up to clouds and a forecast of rain, and just as we were about to set out to do a hike or something, it started really raining, so we changed plans and instead of driving up into the mountains, we drove around one of the lakes in the area, the Brienzersee, got tasty treats from a bakery in Brienz, tried to bird along the lake (well, I guess we did bird along the lake, there just weren't many birds to see) then drove up somewhat aimlessly, trying to stay below the cloud line, following a cute looking road that led to a cute little restaurant where we ate Rösti for lunch (a traditional Swiss dish of pan-fried roasted potatoes, often covered with tasty things like cheese and bacon and egg), and just happened to pick a time when there was a large herd of wild chamois goats grazing in the yard (they aren't something you see every day).   Then after lunch, we went for a hike to a pretty waterfall, the Giessbachfälle, which we hadn't heard of, but decided to follow the random signs pointing to a waterfall.  Rather than one tall falls, it was a series of shorter cascades, so we had fun hiking up a fair ways, trying to see how much of it we could see (after a while, the trail veered away from the water, so we decided to press on instead of getting all the way to the local maximum). On the other side of the lake from the waterfall, there was a cool old church with a ruined castle in the town of Ringgenberg, and since we like castles, of course we had to go investigate.  Although I'll admit I was too cold and wet at that point to get as excited about it as it deserved (and thus can't tell you all of the interesting historical facts on the signs, because I didn't want to stand around long enough to read them).  We went into Interlaken for dinner, and ate Thai food, which is something we can't really get in Marburg.  It was OK, although the sticker shock of paying about $20 for a plate of Pad Thai that is about take-out food quality is rather drastic.

This is what happens if you eat too many rosti!

Sunday was Easter, and we decided to go to church in the town of Lauterbrunnen, since we wanted to hike into the mountains above Lauterbrunnen after the service.  Yeah, the service was in Swiss German, and although my "high German" comprehension is pretty good, Swiss German is basically another language, and I could barely understand a word of the readings or sermon.  But it sounds vaguely like I -should- be able to understand, so that was kind of frustrating.  I guess I know how Sasha feels now since I drag him to all sorts of things in German, and especially at the beginning, he couldn't really understand most of what was being said.  We did, however, get chocolate bunnies after church, and they were very tasty.  To go for a hike, we decided to take a cable car up instead of hiking up from the valley floor, and it was bizarre to go from spring down on the valley floor to winter higher up; we were walking on a packed snow path, and it was actively snowing for much of our hike.  We stopped for another Rösti lunch, but cooked dinner in our apartment to save a bit of money. 

Spring in the valley....

...winter up on the mountain!

And friendly sheep (unless I just smelled like food...)

Monday morning was bright and sunny, so we changed our plans and instead of hitting the road right away, drove back up into the mountains.  We took the train up to Kleine Scheidegg.  Most of the other people were skiing, and after the fresh powder the day before and overnight, it was pretty appealing, but alas, no downhill skiing for us this trip... we contented ourselves with a bit of walking and a lot of picture taking, and I got a wood-fired pizza to eat on the train down, and it was delicious.

Wow, those are pretty mountains!

Wood-fired pizza on the train ride down!
We had a long drive ahead of us, so didn't stay up in the mountains as long as we might have wanted, but also we decided to make a few tourist stops on the way home to break up the drive and keep our legs and such from cramping up.

The first bit of the drive was pretty, at least the bits of it that weren't in tunnels (although there are a LOT of tunnels in Switzerland). The first stop was Lucerne/Luzern.  It looks like a pretty cute town, but we limited our stop time in order to keep from getting home too late.  The most famous landmark in Lucerne is the "Kapellbrücke"; an "old" covered bridge with paintings in the rafters.  I say "Old" because although the bridge was first build in the 17th century, it was seriously burned in a fire in the early 90s, and so is mostly a re-creation.  It is funny, actually, because there are 2 old covered bridges, and we saw the 2nd and less famous one first, but didn't realize it wasn't the Kapellbrücke until we went a bit further in our quest to stretch the legs, and saw another, longer bridge.  We also got some really delicious gelato before hitting the road again.
Painting on the 2nd bridge

Re-built Kapellebruecke

Our next stop was a memorial/museum commemorating the Maginot Line, in France, in Marckolsheim.  I'm going to talk about it more in another post, because this one is getting long.

After that, we just stopped one more time for dinner.  Breaking up the drive made it much, much better.  But, all-in-all, although the weather could have been kinder, we had a nice Easter weekend in Switzerland, and Sasha can add another country to his list.