Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Final Week in Germany

I know you're all excited to hear of this farming stint, but bear with me, I've got a few chronologically correct items to share first.  Trust me, I'm bursting at the seams, ready to note every detail of this place to you.  For now, I'll tell you this much: we adore everything so far!

Where did we leave off? I guess it was Berlin.  After such a fantastic start to our journey, it was difficult to leave.  We'd found favorite cafes and restaurants and felt relatively comfortable getting around the city.  There seemed to be so much more to see.  However, we had a commitment to stay with a friend in Ludwigshafen, Germany, so we bought our train tickets, stuffed our bags, and took off.  Austin, Kyle's friend and my acquaintance from high school, is a chemical engineer with a 6-month post at BASF in Mannheim.  He kindly met us at the train station, where we commuted to the neighbor city of Ludwigshafen, which according to the Germans, is an embarrassing trash heap of a city that they're not so keen on claiming.  To us, it looked like any old, slightly run down city in the U.S.  I mean, we lived in Toledo for four years...

The week was quite uneventful, but pleasurable nonetheless.  Austin's company sent him to intensive German language lessons for the week, so we had mornings and afternoons to ourselves, then reconvened in the evenings together.  We visited a few grungy, dark bars, continued our binge of German beer, and also tried some of the region's famous wines.  Austin made us feel completely at home, and with his fully stocked kitchen, I lost myself in preparing a few old favorite recipes for the two hungry men.  We explored the city in our favored fashion, taking long walks, getting lost, then finding ourselves again.  It was relaxing after the flurry of activity we found in Berlin, and I know I don't speak only for myself when I say it sure was nice to have someone outside of our couple to converse with, especially an engineer, a close enough relation to the family of physics.

Kyle on the Rhein which separates Ludwigshafen and Mannheim

One day we woke up and hopped on a train to Heidelberg, the next biggest city.  During WWII, the U.S. Army used this city as a garrison, so it went mostly unscathed considering what damage was done to the rest of the country.  As such, it has many of the oldest buildings in the country, such as the oldest library.   We walked up and down the cobblestone streets, gawking at the beautiful old buildings.  This all happened after I threw a mild hissy fit about it being so damn cold.  The air felt chilly but reasonable when we left Mannheim, you see, but Heidelberg is in the foothills of some decent-sized mountains.  Plus is started sleeting rather ferociously which made my umbrella useless.  After I pouted for awhile, Kyle found us a cafe and grumbled about my mood, then after some caffeine and nutrients, we both became much more agreeable.  We walked through the city a bit more before heading back to Mannheim.

The Church of the Holy Spirit in Heidelberg

All smiles after the sleet stopped

The city square in Heidelberg with what remains of the city's castle in the distance

Searching through the fog for a girl whose mood isn't so dependent upon her stomach

The streets of Heidelberg

After several nights in Austin's flat, we had our first adventure as Couch Surfers.  Have you heard of this?  The website may explain more clearly, but basically, people lend out their couches for a night or two to travelers looking to save money.  There is no cost for the couch; it's a community of people who have couch-surfed themselves and are looking to give back. Maybe they plan to surf in the future.  We contacted some potential hosts in Berlin, but as we have no experience and thus no references/reviews with the organization, nothing worked out.  A kind-looking girl called Jacqui contacted us when she saw from our profile that we'd be near Mannheim.  She commutes to Mannheim, she told us, and would be happy to host us in her small village of Goennheim.  We checked out her profile and, although we had a place to stay with Austin, decided it would be a good first trial.

Jacqui picked us up after work near the train station and drove us to her apartment.  She lives in the small village of 1000 or so residents with her husband and two cats (!!).  Along the drive, we discovered the only place she's visited within the U.S. is Columbus, OH.  She asked, with a very hopeful tone, if the old bookstore in German village still stands.  It was quite interesting to imagine a real German spending a few weeks in the German village of Columbus that we so adored when we lived there.  She wrestled a bit with her GPS system -- despite having lived in the area her whole life -- and pulled a basket of groceries out of the trunk when we arrived.  She seemed genuinely interested in sharing her little town's stories as she guided us up to her second floor flat.  It was situated in a large building with a Turkish man living below her, some of his relatives in the flat across the driveway, and her father's carpentry shop below them.  It was an adorable little village, with matching architecture throughout.  Jacqui and Christoph prepared pizza while I stalked the 2 year-old tigers.  We laughed over dinner, comparing our respective experiences with German and American TV, films, and books.  The apartment was decorated exclusively by Jacqui, who enjoys finding old furniture then reconditioning it.  The TV was propped on a set of old, painted crates.  The dishes and silverware were housed in a very old pushcart.   

Christoph and Jacqui thought it was ridiculous, but they truly wanted to give us a tour of their town.  It was rather dark after dinner, so they toted a spot light, with Christoph lighting up the appropriate building or doorway as Jacqui narrated.  There was one bakery, one salon, a handful of restaurants, a library that only opens on Friday evenings, and a convenience store that also serves as a bank and post office.  It was really wonderful seeing the more traditional life of German people.  The next morning Jacqui laid out practically an entire continental breakfast then made several sandwiches to take on our train ride to Strasbourg. I patted Peanut (who's said to have a brain the size of his namesake) and Pumpkin's heads one last time, as they simply refused to be squirreled away in my luggage.  We nodded hello to Jacqui's father in his workshop, then drove through the gorgeous mountainsides of western Germany to the train station. 

No comments:

Post a Comment