Monday, January 27, 2014

Husband Speaks: The Little Things

Meet Husband: a funny guy and wonderful father, son, friend, employee, and—well, husband! He and I work well together in so many areas, but he’s never been a part of any of my blogs until now. He’s going to begin chiming in here from time to time to offer his own perspective on—whatever! In this, his first blog post, he shares a small slice of life in our little burg. Enjoy!

Americans who come to live in the German countryside around Bitburg and Spangdahlem for a few years often talk about how there isn’t much happening here. Most people feel inclined to get on buses and in cars and head far from here to find something to do. Of course, I understand that when you move overseas, you want to see the “big” places, and it would be a shame not to do that. But what if you don’t have the time, energy, money, or desire to go on even a small vacation? Is it possible to find something new (to you) and valuable in the small town you’re calling home for a few years?

You always hear that it’s the little things in life that really matter, and I believe that’s true. After all, you can’t visit the Eiffel Tower every day. Instead, you can make memories in a place that’s small and unassuming, maybe the kind of place you wouldn’t normally go or would overlook.

Find a place like this and get to know it well. Go there often. Venture outside your comfort zone and try to order something in German. My family always laughs when I try my German, but I don't mind. Sit in various spots within the place to see things from different points of view. Don’t be in a hurry. 

I came this morning to Theis-Mühle bakery for a reason. My normal routine has been to rise early and take a six-minute drive with classical music down the Sunday-quiet town streets. I’ve been popping in and out for bread on these mornings for the past couple of years, but today I wanted to sit down and listen to the laughter in the next room of locals who likely meet each week in the same place to catch up on small-town happenings. I wanted to observe how the one lady who runs this place serves and greets everyone. They know her, and she knows them.  

I’d noticed a big black and white dog tied up outside waiting for someone because this bakery doesn't allow dogs inside. In the bakery was a man I had seen walking all around Bitburg, causing me to wonder if he had a home or was down on his luck. I didn't know his story but he seemed interesting. Since every person who walks in says, "Morgen" to greet the others in the bakery, I was surprised a few weeks ago when this man looked at me and said, "Good morning." How did he know I’m American?  Was it the shape of my nose, or what?  I said good morning back to him. Then he noticed that I, in my so-broken-it-hurts German, was struggling to order something new under the lighted counter. He helped me out in both English and German.  Since we’d found some common ground through his small act of kindness, I wanted to know something about him. He told me he’s the man who owns the black and white dog. I asked him how he (the man, not the dog) knew so much English, and he said he’d worked at one time on a ship. 

I thought he might be sitting here when I came in this morning, but no such luck.  I watched a steady stream of mostly gentlemen coming in to get their Sunday bread of some sort. There aren’t many places open on Sunday mornings in Germany, and I got to thinking that perhaps the Germans figured out long ago that after working hard for the past week, on Sunday it’s time to rest, and rest well. I am learning to slow down and smell the bakery—get it?

There’s no more to this story—for now. Maybe the next time I venture into the bakery, I’ll see or learn something new. There’s value in taking an early-morning drive or a walk down a road that most don't travel.  Hop on a bike with your camera and a few coins and find a place that has lights on before sun comes up.  Go in, order something, and sit.  You’re living life in the here and now, not just during your weekends in Rome or Barcelona. Maybe you’re making a friend, and you’re definitely making memories.

Now you’ll have to excuse me. A man and a dog just walked up to Theis-Mühle. Think I will get another coffee mit kaffeesahne and sit a bit longer.

Friday, January 24, 2014

A Cemetery in Bitburg

Back in November, Husband and I stopped by Bitburg's Kolmeshöhe Ehrenfriedhof to take some wintertime photos.  We don't go to this cemetery often, but we always try to bring visitors here, because this small place in this small town has an interesting story

In 1985, American President Ronald Reagan made a controversial visit here while en route to Bonn. To make a long story short, his public appearance and wreath-laying with Germany's Chancellor Helmut Kohl was arranged without the President's realizing that some SS soldiers, most of whom died at age 17 or 18, are buried here. Rather than canceling the visit and embarrassing Chancellor Kohl, and probably straining emerging ally relations, Reagan went ahead with the brief stop.

A friend of ours who lived here for many years, and was present to hear Reagan's speech at the nearby NATO airbase that day, told us that what was reported in the news and what she saw and heard that day were two different things. Propaganda, anyone? I'm sure it happened on both sides of the argument.

It was reported that while Reagan did lay a wreath at the wall of remembrance, he did not look at the graves at all.

Did you know that there's even a Ramones song, "Bonzo Goes to Bitburg," about this historical event? Let's just say it's not exactly complimentary of Reagan's decision!

Friday, January 17, 2014

December Wrap-up, with Another Christmas Market

For the first time, we took the advice of friends and traveled an hour and a half or so to the Aachen Christmas market. We met up with those friends, who live nearby in the Netherlands, which made the visit even more fun.

We walked all around the market together (minus The Girl, her friend, and The Boy, who were set loose for a couple of hours). I took this photo outside the lovely Town Hall. We went inside briefly but opted not to take the tour, especially since our friends had already done that.

Husband just had to stop for a piece of pfannekuchen, a German puffed pancake with apple. They had some with plums, too, but he went with the traditional apple. If I am remembering correctly, he got another piece before we left the market.

Yay, another food hut! Bratwurst and pommes-frites, anyone? And speaking of food, guess whose kids managed to find a Thai restaurant and have lunch but not make it to the cathedral? Ahem. To be fair, they didn't know what they were missing (keep reading).

I took a photo of this for some reason; I believe this is the quaint exterior of the oldest pub in town.
We didn't end up with any pictures of the famous Aachen Cathedral, where Charlemagne is buried and more than 30 German kings were crowned. They want you to pay to take photos inside, and I just wasn't sure I could do this remarkable place justice with my iPad's camera. We fell in love with this cathedral, though--it has now become one of our favorites anywhere. It's a bit reminiscent, on a much smaller scale, of the Hagia Sophia. Seriously! We'll have to take pics another time.

Now let's move on to another day, after Christmas. We managed to pick one of the gloomiest days (weather-wise) of the holiday (and that's saying a lot--there were many to choose from!) to take the kids on an impromptu day-trip to Metz. The rain absolutely poured down on us during our drive, but thankfully, by the time we parked our car in a garage adjacent to St. Etienne Cathedral, the rain had stopped. This cathedral, built between the 13th and 16th centuries and considered one of the most beautiful in France, also boasts France's highest steeple.

Inside, I went straight to the series of stained glass windows I like that are by Marc Chagall. Beautiful! 

I kept trying to get some good shots in some of the darker parts of the Cathedral, but let's face it: the iPad isn't quite up to such a challenge. I do like this photo of the Fam, sitting somewhat patiently against a wall, waiting for me to stop being frustrated and just move along. I think they look like the members of a chill indie band.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

German Christmas Markets 2013, Part 1

Nothing like looking at Christmas photos in January, right? But since I did say I would share some Weihnachtsmarkt pics, I'm keeping my word, even if no one's in the mood for them now! And since I'll surely have more to share next year, anyway…

Here's a photo from our first market of the year, in a village called Dudeldorf, which is just down the road from us, between Bitburg and Spangdahlem. It's always one of our favorite markets, because it has a true small-town feel, with many vendors showcasing their goods insides houses and converted barns. Plus, it's low on junk and high on handmade goods. We bought some glass lanterns there a few years ago. One important note: it's held on only the first weekend of Advent every year. Now, I'm sorry to say that this is the only photo I took there this year--too busy eating, drinking, seeing friends, and wending our way through the crowded main streets. But this is Torschänke, one of our favorite German restaurants anywhere. It's impossibly quaint, and it's built into the old village walls, at the starting point of the market.

Check out this giant Advent calendar--it's a highlight every year of the market in scenic Bernkastel-Kues, 45 minutes away from us. It's pretty neat to be there when one of the windows is opened at 5:30, here in the heart of the market area. Everyone stands around with a bratwurst or a cup of glühwein, waiting for someone to appear in the lighted window. We were there with a group of friends, and the window that was opened that night was the teensy-tiny one at the very top. None of us could actually see what the picture was, but I believe it was an angel!

It's especially fun to visit this market on the evening when St. Nicholas arrives by boat to bring candy to children. He's accompanied by around 100 people in wet suits, swimming down the river from Kues to Bernkastel while holding torches! It's quite the sight to see. We posted ourselves atop the bridge that is just before the point at which the swimmers climb out of the water and add their torches to a bonfire.

The weekend after The Girl arrived in town from college, we all went for the first time to the Dom market in Köln. As the name suggests, and as you can see from the photo, this market is just outside the famous Cathedral. It was absolutely packed when we were there (we took the train right into the station next to the Dom, so we wouldn't have to find parking). It was fun, though, as people were really in the Christmas spirit and didn't seem to mind being jostled too much (I'm talking mostly about us--the Americans, who revere our "personal space"!). We found out later from a friend living in the Netherlands that there is another less-crowded market that she prefers over this one (Köln has a total of six or seven Christmas markets), but this one is still good. Next year we'll have to try the one she recommends.

We ate a lot at this market. One thing we shared was reibekuchen, a fritter that is made of potato, onion, and egg, and often served with applesauce. It's very popular in the Rheinland region, where we live, especially in Köln. It's the perfect street/market food: portable, cheap, and filling.

Just before leaving, we saw (and heard) these guys playing Alphorns. How cute!

I'll be back with a few more Christmas market and other Decemberish photos soon. Tchüss!
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