Sunday, December 16, 2007

We Are Loving Germany!

We are having a blast in Germany. We got here in the early morning hours last Thursday and after getting lost in the Frankfurt airport and somehow circumventing customs and coming out on the wrong side of the arrival terminal, we found our son (or he found us) and we started making our way back to his city via many stops en route. It was absolutely wonderful seeing him and his fiance and immediately getting a tour of a couple of German towns before we got back to his apartment.

The second day we were here (I think ... cause time is completely out of whack for me!) we went to Rothenburg. One of the cultural differences that has really struck me here is that regardless of how cold it is outside ... and cold only begins to describe it ... people still get out and go places and do things OUTSIDE! My first real taste of that was our day in Rothenburg ob der Tauber (that means that this town of Rothenburg is the on that is above the Tauber River. Apparently Bavarians might have several towns with the same name and distinguish one from the other by where they are located. This one is distinguished from the others because it is located above the Tauber. Now you know!). Rothenburg is an ancient, medieval town that is well preserved, has survived many wars and continues to thrive.

RothenburgAs anyone reading this surely knows, it is one thing to know something intellectually and something altogether different to know it through close observation. Our day in Rothenburg impressed upon me the very different sense of history and time that Europeans have from those of us who have spent our lives in the 'new world'. There are buildings in Rothenburg that were built in the 1400s and 1600s. Those buildings have stood and are still in use since long before Western man had a clue that the Americas even existed. They still believed that the world was flat. Just think of the history that has transpired since the day someone decided to build those buildings and build the wall around that town. Their perspective is much longer than ours in more ways than one.

As I mentioned, the German's don't stay inside when its cold. I lived in Michigan for a few years and really kind of expected it to be cold in much the same way it is in Michigan. Its not. At all. We are woefully unprepared for the cold and have had to buy more to keep warm because we are spending most of our days and evenings outside in spite of the minus 2,000 degree weather. Okay, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but I'm not sure its much of one. My poor Southern bones are just not used to being this cold.

We spent all day and well into the evening outside, enjoying the sites and sounds of Rothenburg. And it wasn't just us crazy people. The place was full and everyone was walking around, enjoying the Christmas market, enjoying the shops and doing tourist-y things in the frozen place. They even put their babies in strollers and take them out - thickly wrapped in some German material that has a super sekret ingredient for warmth. 'How do they stand it', I asked my Beloved Curmudgeon, with chattering teeth and shaking bones. He said they are used to it. Its their culture, he said. They just don't let weather stop them from what they are doing. Oh.

At one point we go into one of the horse drawn open air carriages for a pleasant tour of the town in minus quadrillion degree weather. The driver of our carriage could have just walked straight out of central casting. He spoke to us in German and when he saw our blank stares, he spoke in English. His English was good as far as it goes. He was obviously accustomed to English visitors. Imagine Arnold Schwarzenegger's accent and multiply that by 100 and you will have some semblance of an idea of how this man sounded. His red hair was cut short in what appeared to be some sort of buzz cut, at least what I could see of it under his hat. He had the complexion and demeanor of a man who had spent most of his days exposed to whatever elements God provided from day to day. I imagined that hard work without complaint and hard were his lot. I imagined that was just fine with him.

RothenburgHe told us the outrageous price for a thirty minute carriage ride through town enhanced by his guided tour. We turned over the Euros and got into the back of the buggy. I greedily pulled a heavy woollen blanket over myself and offered to share a corner of it with Beloved Curmudgeon. Beloved Curmudgeon took what I offered, which wasn't much I'm ashamed to say. My Soldier Son and his fiance climbed into the other side and under another blanket. Somehow that blanket offered an unbelievable amount of warmth. I wondered if they made wool thicker in Germany. The horse chose that moment to urinate on the sidewalk. Our driver/tour guide said something to the effect that we would have to wait on the horse as he must clean up his pee. He went to the back of the carriage and pulled out a large container and once the horse was done he poured the contents of the container on the pee and then we began our tour. As the driver got back up into the carriage I commented on the cold. The wind was blowing and the only warm part of me was what was under that wool blanket. He looked at me quizzically and stated, 'It is winter'. Why yes, it is. That was the end of that.

As we went along our driver would point out sites of interest, such as ancient torture chambers and places of hanging and punished those who needed public humiliation to keep them in check. He seemed to enjoy describing these techniques to us. Maybe I just imagined that, but I don't think so.

Both of the horses pulling our wagon had to stop and ... how do I put this delicately ... answer the call of nature. This called for the driver to stop, grab a bucket and put it up to their rears to catch the waste. It was not a pretty sight or pleasant smell. My son thought my reaction was hilarious and only made it worse by making funny remarks. He was sitting further back than me. They were right in my face. The second time this happened it was the horse right in front of me and our driver seemed to enjoy that my son and husband were making viscous fun of me while I tried to catch my breath somewhere ... anywhere ... away from the smell. As he held his bucket behind the horse and turned more or less in my direction he remarked that the shop on the corner right next to us was a great place for very large sausages if we were hungry. He described the sausages in detail with a twinkle in his weather worn eyes. I looked at him to try to determine if he was joking or completely oblivious to the sight and smell that was permeating the entire wagon at this point. I didn't want a sausage right at that moment.

RothenburgAs the day went by it became more and more obvious to me that the Germans don't let the weather interfere with their good time and have a variety of ways to keep warm. The market place was full with happy and festive people. St. Nicholas was there digging through his knapsack for gifts of brochures to give out to whoever. The night watchman walked the grounds in black robe and carrying a long wooden double bladed axe that was a very convincing crime deterrent. My husband and son climbed the highest tower and saw the world from that height while we watched from below.

By the end of the evening, even though I was still chilled to the bone long after we had returned to the warmth of my son's apartment, I understood why the German people go out regardless of the weather. They, at least the Franconians, are a people who enjoy life and find any excuse whatsoever to have a festival. In fact, as best as I can determine, they have festivals all the time. By the time we went to the local Christmas market (again) last night, I wasn't so cold. We stayed till it closed, had a fantastic time, meet a lot of random people, I laughed till my face hurt at stories told in German that I couldn't understand but were still funny and I didn't feel all that cold. I've discovered some of the secrets of the locals to keeping warm. It really is a lot of fun. We are just loving it here!

We are leaving for Munich in a couple of hours for a couple of days. I just wanted to steal a few minutes to say hello and write a quick update. I know my son will have us up well before dawn to start the trip. He's gotten so bossy (smile). I apologize for the wordiness and will try to cull it down a bit when we return from Munich - although then we are going up north for the wedding so who knows when I'll be online again. I'll also try to tell you about our trip into the mountains to go to a Monastery at the very top of an icy/snowy mountain and try to order food that we didn't know what it was and they couldn't tell us. Its all an adventure ( ;) ) Thanks to all the wonderful people who are posting here while we are gone. I hope everyone will visit their blogs because they are great people and have a lot to say that is worth reading!