January 2009


I’m not sure if hamburgers were invented in Hamburg, but I decided that my only hamburger on this trip would be in Hamburg.  The photo of the Hamburger hamburger is above. Don’t worry Betsy, I didn’t eat all the fries. It actually didn’t taste very good. American hamburgers are a zillion times better. The food here in Germany has otherwise been most extraordinarily good, and yet never so tempting as to over-eat. My main diet has been a piece of bread or pastry in the morning with coffee, and then either a Wurst mit Brötchen or a Döner in the afternoon. That’s it! The Döner in Düsseldorf is absolutely awesome. I have no idea why some Turk doesn’t take the idea to the US and open a Döner restaurant. He’d make a killing. I’ve also had sauerkraut here in Düsseldorf that was unbelievably good. It makes Steinfeld’s sauerkraut at home taste like Hundefutter (dog food). In Stuttgart, I don’t remember the names of the things I ate, but they also were remarkable. No wonder our grandparents were such good cooks. It has been said that the best cooks in the world come from France and China. I don’t believe that for a second. While I love Chinese food, Thai and Korean food, as well as Indian food, competes quite amply. It was the Italians that taught the French how to cook. The best bakery goods in the world are not found in France but in Austria and Germany. I’d take a meal in Deutschland any day over the best French restaurant. This is not meant as an offense to my French friends, as they have much to be commended for. Jamaican food also is in a class by itself, and nobody could compete with Jerk as one of the best foods of all time. But, back to Germany.

Classes have continued. I find it easier to speak and read. I’m continually hindered mostly by remembering the genders of things. It is very frustrating. Why should a wall be feminine and window neuter? Why is auto neuter but a wagen (car) masculine? It makes no sense to me and frustrates my learning. I find that only after unbelievable repetition, one finally gets it. It’s probably why I will never be perfectly fluent unless I live in a German-speaking country for a while, but then, I don’t think that Betsy would tolerate that, and she’s the most important thing to me, than just learning another language. Oh well.

I’m getting around town a bit more and finding my way downtown without problems. I’ve found some good bookstores, and even the bookstore where Heinrich Heine was born in the Altstadt, so I had to buy a book of Heinrich Heine poems in that store.

For my studies, I must say with Heinrich (Henry!)
Anfangs wollt ich fast verzagen,
Und ich glaubt ich trüg es nie,
Und ich hab es doch getragen,-
Aber fragt mich nur nicht, wie?
A rough translation (I hope is correct!) … At first, I thought that I would despair, and believed I could not bear it. Yet, I did it, but don’t ask me how!
And a poem for Betsy’s and my Wander-year…
Wo wird einst des Wandermüden
Letzte Ruhestätte sein?
Unter Palmen in dem Süden?
Under Linden an dem Rhein?
Werd ich wo in einer Wüste
Eingescharrt von fremder Hand?
Oder ruh ich an der Küste
Eines Meeres in dem Sand.
Immerhin mich wird umgeben
Gotteshimmel, dort wie hier,
Und als Totenlampen schweben
Nachts die Sterne über mir.
Just like Shakespeare or Edgar Allen Poe fails when translated into German, Heine or Goethe fails when translated into English. My apologies to my English-speaking friends. Try learning some Deutsch! Eat your heart out, Doug Bond! Shakespeare sucks!
As mentioned before, the most expensive shopping mile in Germany is in Düsseldorf, on the Kö, or, Königsberger Allee. I take walks at least several times a week to the Altstadt, and so have to cross the Kö.

There’s also a large open-air market nearby in the Altstadt…

There is this strange fixation in Germany on Amerikan politics, and many bakeries now offer Obama bagels and Hillary donuts…

Both are fitting. The Obama bagel has a large hole in the center, and the donut has a central hole, plus sugar and spice but nothing nice. I don’t think that they intended those interpretations, but they are most fitting.
Hamburg. Hamburg was a beautiful city, and I enjoyed it thoroughly.  The Elbe river runs through the city, which you could see from the Jugend Herberge (Youth Hostel) where we stayed.

The Elbe is a bit larger than the Willamette where it runs through Portland, Oregon, but not as large as the Columbia in that same area. You don’t see bridges going across the Elbe, I presume in part because Hamburg has huge shipping traffic and a very large bridge would be required. A century ago, the first tunnel was dug under the Elbe, and we were able to walk it…

We went to the Speicherstadt, which was a part of town where duty-free goods were unloaded in the past, resulting in Hamburg becoming the 2nd largest container port in Europe. It looks like Amsterdam. It’s funny what the absence of taxation does to the overall economy.

We visited the St. Michaelis Kirche, and were able to go up to the top to see the city from an excellent view…

We visited the Rathaus, which does NOT mean “house of rats” but rather, is the City Hall. It was stupendous, with a large fountain in the center court…

By evening, we made it past the Music Hall, which had a Memorial (not seen) commemorating Johann Brahms, who came from Hamburg.

The next day, we went to the FischMarkt, took photos of Hamburg, and took a boat ride up and down the Elbe, looking at the massive harbor cranes and ships in the harbor…

They also do ship-building and repairs in Hamburg, and the last photo shows a massive ice-breaker in dry-dock for repair. Finally, one of the students, a Russian-born kid, now living in New Zealand, speaking both Russian and English perfectly, insisted on going to KFC for lunch. As per my comments above about Hamburger hamburgers, KFC in Germany is not as good as at home.

The last photo shows the group with Marcel and Hannes, who were our German Zivis. They were wonderful. We also visited a Modern Photography Museum, and all agreed that it was awful (sorry Diane, but modern art is just plain sick-it’s not that modern art doesn’t say anything, but that what is says is offensive).
So, now I’m back in Düsseldorf, and I’m wrapping up the last week at the Goethe Institute. My next post should be coming from Herbert’s Haus. Until then, hang in there.

Noch in Düsseldorf

The memorial words of JFK “Ich bin ein Berliner” were laughed at by the Germans. The above photo shows you a Berliner. It is a jelly-filled doughnut. Don’t worry, Betsy, I bought only one, just to say I had a Berliner. JFK should have said “Ich bin Berliner”.

Last week, I returned to Krefeld and spent the weekend with Herbert. I had a wonderful time practicing German, and Herbert had a not-so-wonderful time listening to the most horrid butchered German one could generate. I am finding that I know more German than I thought but far less than I’d really like to have. Conversations are becoming easier, and I’m constantly learning more abstract words, and daily phrases, to allow for better rapport on the street. I am amazed at how many people speak English. Virtually all the students from Japan are fluent in English, the student from Iran, the student from Turkey, the student from Italy, and the students from Russia all are quite fluent, and will often ask me to explain a German word or phrase in English to them. I am also overwhelmed by the extreme kindness that others from foreign lands are to others. I’ve never felt the sense of “hating” the dirty American. The German people also have been outstandingly kind to me, so I just haven’t seen the Prussian Militarist type sentiment yet in Germany.

While with Herbert, we went to Venlo, which is an ancient town on the Maas River in Holland. It was a little strange having to contend with yet another language. Dutch is sort of a form of bastardized German. All you need to do is either say the word in English (Street vs. Straße), or add a “j” here or there, and double some of the vowels. Then you have Dutch. My apologies to my Dutch-speaking friends. Venlo was nice, and we went to the Altstadt, where it is now many shops on several streets. Here are some photogs.  One building had the most grotesque door header. I have no idea what it was meant to symbolize.

Other street scenes showed many shops and old buildings.

This last week, no Stammtisch. It occurs too late at night. I wouldn’t get home until about midnight or later. So, you probably won’t get any reports about Stammtisch. The snow is now mostly melted, and the only thing that makes one uncomfortable is that it is a little windy. It is now much easier to walk the streets. Classes are going well, and I am doing nothing but speaking, reading, and even thinking and dreaming in German.
This weekend, I had the most wonderful time with an old friend Debbie (Gasser) Fuchs, and her husband Heinz. Heinz had moved to Portland soon after Betsy and I moved to Chicago for residency. During that time, they had gotten married and moved to Germany. So, I knew Debbie quite well as a young girl but had never met Heinz. It was a most unusual meeting. I took the train from Düsseldorf to Stuttgart and then transferred to the train going to Benningen, where Heinz and Debbie live.

I should mention that train travel is incredibly easy in Europe. You can easily go just about anywhere, and at a very low cost, if you purchase Eurail passes in the US. The trains and busses run unbelievably on time, even on the day when there was a horrible snowfall. It should be the envy of Americans, though even our best city transportation is horrid compared to the transportation system in Germany. While visiting Heinz and Debbie, besides the wonderful fellowship I had with them and their family, I did four things.

  1. 1.Visited the Schloss Ludwigsburg. This is the largest palace in Europe outside of Versaille, and the magnificence was breathtaking. It was not damaged during the war, so has been kept intact. Some of the many scenes follow…There was a full theatre with orchestra pit for opera, a large chapel, hunting lodge, enormous gardens, etc., making the splendor beyond imagination.
  2. 2.Finsterott – Heinz offered to take me to Finsterott, about 30 km away, which was where my grandfather came from. By the time we arrived, it was fairly late at night, so I couldn’t take the best photos. It is a very small village, up on a plateau that was quite hilly, mostly used for wine growing. Just north of Finsterott was the Evangelical Taufer Gemeinde Kirche, which is almost indubitably the church that grandfather and great-grandfather attended. There is a connected Altenheim (old folks retirement center) where I wish I could have asked the folk about our grandparents.  Here are photos.
  3. 3.I went to church with Heinz and Debbie at the Ludwigsburg ETG church. What a delight! It was absolutely wonderful hearing Zion’s Harp songs (from our old church Hymnal) being sung, except auf Deutsch, and other songs, such as “How Great Thou Art” being sung entirely in German. Fortunately, I was able to understand over 90% of the sermon. They serve lunch in the church immediately after the service, and I was able to talk to a number of folk and eat traditional Wurttemburger food. Just awesome! The church had a wonderful mix of young and old, with many children. I felt totally at home.
  4. 4.Stuttgart. Heinz and Debbie took me to this hill overlooking Stuttgart, I don’t remember the name, but it is where the WWII rubble was stacked as a remembrance of the war.The last photo is overlooking Stuttgart.

I’m back in Düsseldorf now, and ready for another week of study. Stay in touch. Viele Grüße auf Düsseldorf!

Nach Düsseldorf

As I sit in the Chicago airport, with a four-hour delay until my next flight to Düsseldorf, I am barraged by the sewer pipe. I learn that Obama now is opening up and growing up. Wow. I earn that there is a mess in Israel (Gaza strip), which is a very hard problem. I heard that phrase before when the intellectual elites discuss things such as medical ethics. It a really hard problem to tell somebody that their physician will not kill them(?). I don’t think so. If somebody were to go on a lunatic rage, all would have no problem identifying the person as crazy. But, what if an entire group of people go on a lunatic rage? Then whose fault is it? Why do we treat groups of people completely differently from individuals?  There is such a thing in medicine as a Folie a deux, where two people are insane when together, but normal when separated. Can such a thing happen to groups of people? I think so. Maybe the world is crazy? I learn from the Gaza strip games that sane people do very insane things. Both sides! It is the worst setup for disaster.
I simply could not sleep on the airplane, but it was most delightful to Herbert waiting for me in the airport. The next day was spent at the Düsseldorf zoo, but I’m not sure on which side of the cage stood the most dangerous animals.

Monday AM. Woke up, the alarm clock was keeping time, but making no sound. Looks like I need a new Wecker. I eventually discovered that my iPhone has a clock in it with an alarm, and it is working just fine for that function.
It had snowed the night before, and there was at least 8 cm of snow on the ground. I couldn’t roll my baggage, and so had to carry it to the Bushalterstelle where one catches a bus. I needed one connection (Umsteig) in downtown Krefeld and then was off to Düsseldorf. The busses ran on time, though traffic on the Autobahn was at a standstill (Stau). The people at the Goethe Institut (from now on GI) were all very friendly, and I proved the efficiency of about B1-B2, so they decided to stick me into B1, which was what I preferred since I needed nothing but a lot of practice speaking, and Grammar work, so an easier class would suit me fine. I took the taxi to my Hausmutter, a very pleasant older couple, who had an upstairs room for my use–alles sehr bequem (very comfortable). So, tomorrow I start my German lessons.

The last photo shows the stairwell up to my room. It’s a fairly steep climb. The bus ride takes about 20 minutes, but it’s a 10-minute walk to the bus stop, and a wait from 5-20 minutes, so ties up about 1/2 -1 hour to actually get from “home” to the class and then the same time in return.
Lessons are with a middle-aged male teacher named Roman. He is actually quite adept, and much of the time is spent repeating and repeating various sentences, with many corrections. It’s nice to learn from the mistakes of other students. I spend a little time after class, which ends at 1 p.m. and study in the Media room. It is there that I am also able to make internet connections to you all.
I haven’t had much ability to explore the city. The temperature remains below zero, and it is really biting cold. They had a walking tour today that I skipped out of since it was too dastardly cold to consider staying in any longer than I needed.
Thursday 08.JAN2008 The temperature has finally warmed up a touch, though most of the snow remains. Here is the outside photo of where I am staying… it is still early morning and quite dark outside when I leave in the morning.

It was comfortable enough to take a walk downtown, and see Königsallee (Kö), the most expensive shopping district in Germany. It was. I didn’t buy anything.

This evening will be our first Stammtisch. You’ll hear about it next time. Until then, keep your stick on the ice. I’ll stay in touch. BTW, it is extremely difficult for me to write this is in English. Ich hätte nur auf Deutsch geschrieben. Bis bald.