Friday, March 29, 2013

Der Früling in Heidelberg

Der Früling is just around the corner. Who or what is der Früling? It's the spring! The season, not the creaky things in beds. It has been a cloudy and cold winter in Germany and spring is definitely trying to take hold. 

If only Mother Nature would cooperate. I have decided though, that Mother Nature is a cruel and vengeful witch when she gave us one week of sunshine and temps above 50F° and then took it all away and replaced it with clouds and a biting cold wind from former East Germany. So that's what we get for tearing down the wall, huh? Cold wind? Thanks. Thanks a lot.

It is Good Friday today so everything is closed up tight and the roads are empty.


After running a quick errand, I saw how deserted town seemed and so I took a quick drive around Heidelberg. Streets that are usually packed with bikers and pedestrians had become ghost towns. The sky was mostly cloudy, but the sun kept trying to peek out and so I walked along the Neckar and enjoyed my city.

The river was slow and lazy today, meandering down from villages higher up in the canyon and sliding quietly by me.

The river was so calm that these two guys were able to do this.

I walked along the river and noticed across from me daffodils had sprung up along the banks.

Bunches of crocus had erupted in formerly all green lawns.

The clouds were getting thicker and the air still had a chill of winter about it, but everywhere you looked it was undeniable that spring was fighting its way into our little corner of Germany.

I stood under the bridge, waiting for the sun to come out one last time (it didn't) so I could a picture of the river with the sun sparkling off of it. When I finally realized the clouds were here to stay I looked up and saw I was right under the old gate tower. 

To millions of people all over the world, Heidelberg will just be that place where they had an amazing vacation. Not me. It will be that place where I lived for a year. Where I walked, and ate, and got lost, and turned the wrong way on Einbahnstraßes (one way streets), and looked for parking, and made friends, American and German. And lastly, where I started to think, "hey, I can do this. I can live in Germany." Because for awhile there, I thought I couldn't.

I walked back to my car and passed tourists getting on buses.

The streets had been fairly empty, all except for these guys. Apparently they didn't get the memo that Germany shuts down Easter weekend. 

Just like spring was slowly working its way through Germany and taking hold, Germany was slowly working its way through me. And taking hold. I drove home thinking about no matter where I move to next or where I go in this world, I will always have been a Heidelberger at one point in my life. 

Which means I will never have to go in here.



*Heidelberger du jour.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

What Her Milkshake Brings

I just returned from the local gas station where we usually fill up. There are very few pay-at-the-pump options in Germany, or even all of Europe for that matter, so I always get to go in and do a little convo with the clerk at the counter. Must be why all my best German happens to be numbers 1-10 and the word for pump, which is pump but pronounced poomp. I love saying poomp.

I am standing at the counter paying for my petrol when the song "My Milk Shake" by Kelis comes over the speakers in the station. I had a little out of body experience. I find it very strange to be in Germany and to see or hear something that takes me right back to my old life in America. It's like travelling between dimensions or something. I was sucked right back when the clerk starting singing along with the words. Sounded something like this...

"My meelk shake bringz all zhe boyz to zhe yahrd, und zhere like, itz betteh zhan yourz..." 

Because it would be rude to stand there and laugh, all I could do was sing along with her.

"Dahm right, itz betteh zhan yourz. I cun teazch you, but I haz to charge."

Yeah, we totally bonded.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Easter Tree - Der Osterbaum

A German custom every Easter is to take fresh cut branches from a tree and place them in your home and decorate the branches with Easter eggs. Or decorate a tree or bush outside your home like this man here. The result is your very own der Osterbaum. In shops all around Germany you can buy fresh cut, bundles of branches. Please feel free to cut your own from your own trees. Neighbors tend to not like people sawing away on trees in their yards. Just a little advice from me to you.

Here is our first attempt at der Osterbaum. When my husband came in and saw the tree he said, "Hey! My mom used to do the same thing when I was little!"

I don't think he realized that it was a German custom. I think he thought his mom was really crafty and ahead of her time. Let's give him the benefit of the doubt, shall we? 

The proper way to do der Osterbaum is to blow your own eggs, like this, and then hand paint them. Or you can buy plastic eggs and string them up. When I searched the stores for plastic eggs, stamped on the back of every one was "Made In China." Um... I didn't come all the way to frickin' Germany to buy plastic eggs that were Made In China. But I really wasn't in the mood to blow my own eggs either. So I headed off to the very beautiful, very expensive German store of hand-made crafts and invested in 13 hand blown and hand painted by-a-real-live-German Easter eggs. 

Not bad, huh?

My husband was none-to-happy to hear what these German Easter eggs cost. Needless to say, I could have probably bought 75 dozen regular, non hand-blown, non hand-painted by-a-real-live-German eggs. What can I say? You want that authentic Handmade In Germany stamp? You're gonna pay for it.

The Easter Bunny, or der Osterhase, actually derives from ancient Germany. The early pagans of this area saw all the rabbits, who were usually nocturnal animals, start running around during the day and propagating like crazy right around their festivals celebrating the ancient pagan goddess of spring and fertility, Eostre. That's pretty much how rabbits became associated with Easter. 

So every time you bite into a delicious chocolate rabbit at Easter, thank those early German settlers who came to America and brought with them their symbols of early pagan goddess worship. Mmm... pagan worship tastes good.

I have loved walking around in Germany and seeing all the little bushes with eggs blowing in the wind tied to them. Easter is a big deal in Germany. They celebrate the whole week before (Holy Week), and they also get Good Friday and Easter Monday off from work. I had never heard of Easter Monday before I moved here. I am apologizing now for living such a sheltered life in America.

I think the idea of Easter Monday is great! Everybody needs an extra day to look for chocolate eggs and jelly beans and then eat these same chocolate eggs and jelly beans. In Germany, they usually have a big dinner on Easter Sunday and Easter Monday. Let's hear it for Germany!

And what goes better with hand-painted eggs than a German table runner with Easter eggs on it? This wasn't hand sewn, but it was made in a German factory. Good enough I think.

Wishing you a Happy Easter or Frohe Ostern or a Happy Pagan Goddess Worship Ceremony. Whatever floats your boat!



*Enjoyer of all treats deemed pagan and non-pagan alike.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Hirschhorn In The Hills - Germany

The medieval town of Hirschhorn sits 26 kilometers east of Heidelberg. It's a tiny, little place situated right on a horse-shoe bend on the Neckar River. Matt and I went on a quick day trip for some lunch to Hirschhorn. 

Hirschhorn is described as "The Pearl of the Neckar Valley," (their words, not mine) and is nestled in the crook of misty, green rolling hills.

The castle on the hill (built in 1250) dominates the view and is the main attraction in town. Matt and I hiked up to it.

The castle, which has a modern addition that functions as a hotel and restaurant, is surrounded by ancient crumbling walls. 

As I walk around all the ancient ruins across Europe that we have seen, I am always left to wonder... Who lived here? Was this a happy place? Did anyone ever joust for someone's hand in marriage perhaps?

This is the gate house. Right next to this, there were some goats that were bleating at us as we walked by. "Meeyyyya-a-a-a!" Is that a goat bleat with a German accent I ask you?

I could live up in that little room up there. In my own castle, with goats in the yard, and servants (of course!) to do all my bidding. 

I would climb to this tower and pretend to be a princess, no maybe a queen. And in my German-castle-fantasy, I would rule my land with a just and rightful hand. If people did what I want.

And when I wanted to escape the drudgery of court-life and protocol, I would take this trail behind the castle into the woods and ponder what it meant to be royalty. And then I would come back to a scrumptious feast prepared by all my happy and willing servants.

After walking around the hills and the castle for awhile we snuck back down to the village to have lunch among the common folk. It is proper for a queen to disguise herself as a villager and mingle to see what her subjects are saying about her.

In town we discovered that everything was closed for lunch. As in much of Europe, this town takes a lunch break from 12:00 to 1:30 where everything locks up tight and the common folk retire to their own homes for a little beer and bratwurst. 

Upon seeing how lazy my pretend subjects of my pretend kingdom were, I abdicated immediately. No village of mine would be closed for lunch!

We walked out to the river to bid a proper Auf Widersehen.

And so we said good-bye to Hirschhorn.

But I must leave them with a little advice. Instead of being "The Pearl of the Neckar Valley," you should change your slogan to "The-Pearl-of-the-Neckar-Valley-that-is-open-only-from-9:00-to-noon-and-then-1:30-to-4:00." 

Just so there is no confusion.


Queen Kelly*, Former ruler of Hirschhorn

*I am always on the lookout for new kingdoms. If you know of any up for grabs, tell me! Thanks in advance.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Porsche And Stuttgart - Germany

My husband is a life-long aficionado of the car company Porsche. He informed me when we were dating that he planned to own one by his 30th birthday. That did not end up happening. Our third child, Aidan, was born two months after his birthday and with the appearance of Aidan, so disappeared Matt's dream of owning a Porsche at 30. He then readjusted his dreams to 40. He spent his 40th birthday in the deserts of the Middle East. Poor guy. He just can't catch a break. I don't know if he has now set his sights on 50, but I can tell you this: it probably ain't happening. 

We drove down to the Porsche museum in Stuttgart (pronounced Shtoot-gart) last weekend, because everybody knows that it always makes someone feel better to show them what they can never, ever have, right? Don't feel too bad for him. He has owned three BMW's in the past and is the current owner of a BMW motorcycle that never gets driven. We have also owned together a Volkswagen and an Audi. That's a lot of German cars. Here's a little side note about Matt. He loves Germany. He loves all things from Germany (big surprise there). He thinks that anything made in Germany is far superior to everything else in the world. You could stamp Made In Germany on a dog turd and he would spend 30 minutes praising and extolling on the design and the functionality it. "Doesn't that dog turd just look better than the dog turds from America?" or "Look at how aero-dynamic that dog turd is!" American design, or lack of it, is a conversation held often in our home. 

Back to the museum. The Porsche Museum is located in Stuttgart and is easily accessible off of the autobahn. There is adequate parking in an underground garage. If you want, read about it here. There is an audio guide available in several different languages. The placards for the cars, however, are only in German and English.

Here is the first car we saw.

Now I'm a little confused. Isn't that a Volkswagen? It may take me a little longer to catch on than a regular person, but I'm pretty sure I can tell the difference between a Porsche and Volkswagen. Turns out that this is the first car designed by Ferdinand Porsche and it is in fact at first called the Porsche Type 60. It was then changed to a Type 1, and finally to what we all know and love, the Volkswagen Beetle. I think Ferdinand should have stopped right there. It looks perfect to me. I present to you, The People's Car, circa 1934.

The first "real" Porsche didn't come along until 1948. Even Ferdinand Porsche said it was "basically a souped-up Volkswagen."

The Porsche Type 356.

I walk around the museum, feigning interest. Cars, not even Porsche's, really hold my interest very long. I see few women, and the few I see I share looks of boredom with.

Definitely a boys club.

Finally a car catches my interest. 

This car, designed by Ferdinand's son, Ferry Porsche, was built exclusively for the North American market. It seems American military stationed in Germany after WWII were able to buy these cars in Germany. Germans would see them out on the road and then question the Porsche company why they weren't in the catalog. Seems they were none to happy to find out that there were models that were only available to Americans. 

I stopped listening to the audio guide about a third of the way in. It was just way tooooo much information about Porsche. I took in aesthetically pleasing sights. I may be bored, but I'm not brain dead.

A pretty interior.

Lots of design and racing awards.

A pretty champagne colored convertible.

When my kids and I saw this car we started having imaginary conversations between the Polizei (scary German police) and the criminals they were chasing. In their Porsche police car.

Polizei- "Give back zhat bratvurst!"
German Criminal - "Nein!"
Polizei- "You can run, but you can't... vait. I am in a Porsche. Vhy even run?"

After a couple of minutes of this, I started getting side-ways glances. Turns out not everyone finds my Polizei impressions amusing like my kids do.

A different color for every day of the week.

Why is he standing like that? Because you are not allowed to touch the cars. At all. No finger prints, bitte, on zhe Porsche's.

After I did the complete loop around the museum, I noticed that Matt was only half way done. He was listening to the entire audio guide. So I found a way to entertain myself. I told the kids to drop the last syllable from Porsche making it sound like Por-shhhh. This is something that drives Matt crazy. Really crazy. I know this. How evil am I?

Matt is giving the thumbs-up because he likes this car. Ashlenne is giving the thumbs up because she loves my plan and is ready to say Por-shhhh. 

Of course, what museum is complete without an expensive give shop full of things to make you feel better that you can't afford the real thing.

Por-shhhh shirts, (ha ha ha!)

Little tiny Porsche's that were really, really expensive.

Finally we came to a Porsche you could touch. You could even get in it.

Dare to dream, boys. Dare to dream. 

We finally said good-bye to the Porsche Museum and headed off into Stuttgart. The clouds were rolling in and the wind was picking up. We ate at McDonald's (don't judge me, they're everywhere.) After dinner it was pretty dark so we got back in the non-Porsche Volvo and headed home to Heidelberg. Until next time, Stuttgart.

Thanks for the memories Por-shhhh Museum!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Are Americans Rude(r)?

Before I moved to Germany, I was warned about the amount of anit-American sentiment there was in Europe. I was told stories by friends how they disguised themselves as Canadians and wore red maple leafs on their backpacks when they had travelled over here. I know there may be other reasons why people from other countries dislike Americans (multiple wars, foreign policy, and so on) but I wondered if Americans had a reputation for rudeness. I decided to check it out.

In the four months we had before we moved here, I watched everything on television I could find with the names of Europe or Germany in the description. A show that I became hooked on was 'House Hunters International.' It showed many families, mostly American, moving across the world and their experiences. If you're not familiar with the show, read about it here. A common theme I was seeing was that American families were told they were too loud in Europe. Well, that's a problem I can start on right here and now.

I started something with my kids called EV. What's EV? EV stands for European Voices. When we would be out in public, say like in Target, and my children would raise their voices, I would look at them and say "Shhh. EV." It worked really well. It got my children to pay attention that not everyone in a 25 foot radius is interested in hearing our conversation about how much the dog threw up that morning or who poked who in the eye back in the car. EV, people. EV.

We were quieter. I felt ready for Germany.

Our first trip down the Hauptstrasse, or main street, in Heidelberg was met with stares. A lot. I leaned over to Matt and asked why they were staring. He answered, "Probably because we have four kids. You never see that over here." Great. So much for being able to blend in with our European Voices.

I asked my friend who was born and raised in Germany if she thought Americans were rude. She gave me a weird look. "Really," I said. "I want to know." So in typical German form she gave me blunt answers. "I don't think Americans are rude, I think they are obnoxious. Americans are really loud. Their voices carry. They think everything is funny. They take up too much room when walking down the street. Instead of walking in smaller groups, they will all walk side-by-side preventing anyone from getting past them. And they don't dress warm enough and then they complain that it's cold."

Here are some other comments I received on the rudeness of Americans.

1. Americans are loud. (I heard this one a lot.)
2. Americans are too informal in meeting strangers and how we deal with people.
3. Americans think everyone is interested in them and what they are doing in Europe.
4. Americans assume everyone understands English.
5. Americans dress sloppily. Jeans, sweatshirts, and sneakers are workout wear. Not going out wear.
6. Americans are often late.


I am sad to say that this list seems mostly true. Americans are loud, but I don't know why. I know I am loud because I grew up with a parent who was partially deaf. We had to be loud in my family. The rest of America? Maybe it's all that rock music that we listen to. 

If we are informal with people, it's because we are comfortable with them or because we view others as our peers. Back home in my neighborhood in America, it was no big deal to walk into a neighbors house with a quick knock on the door and flop on the couch. You were family. We might not realize that that same open behavior comes across as disrespect in other cultures instead of familiarity which we view as a good thing.

I do think Americans think everyone is interested in Americans. That's because when people from Europe come to America, we are so interested in them. I spent a summer working in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. We got a lot of European vacationers. We, the employees, were always so excited to talk to them and ask them where they were from and where they were going. We just assume that the same will be thought of us when we travel abroad. I guess not.

We think everyone speaks English. I think this might not be all our fault because many people do speak English. In Sweden, the rate of people who speak English is 90%. In Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and Belgium it's 60%. France and Italy lag behind at around 35%-40%. That's still a lot of English being spoken. It's not hard to find someone to understand you. I do understand though how it comes across as rude. I recently went to lunch with some friends in France and was a little shocked when the Americans next to us spoke English to the waitress without even asking if she spoke English in her native tongue. We had had the same waitress and I knew her English was spotty. I saw a look of fear cross her face as the Americans rattled off what they wanted. She scuttled away and I saw her conferring with another waitress who then came to their table to retake their order. I then spoke as much rusty French as I could dig out of my brain to her. I thought the Americans behavior was rude myself. But who knows? Maybe that was rude of me to slaughter her language. I tried, at least.

As far as Americans dressing like slobs, I just don't see that. I have been in nine different European countries now and it seems everyone dresses like that. When we went on our first trip out of Germany to Paris, I was really worried that people would think the way we were dressed was messy. Then I got there. I saw people wearing flip-flops, sneakers, pants with holes in them, hijabs, tank tops with no bras, track suits, saris, and T-Shirts with naughty slang words on them. So many different and beautiful styles of dress were there. When we were at a street cafe, a French family sat down right next to us. I looked over at them and they were all wearing shorts with white socks pulled half-way up their calves. And to top it all off, the mom and dad were wearing fanny packs.  Honest-to-goodness fanny packs or bum bags. If you don't know what that is, read about it here. In America, the fanny pack, or bum bag, is the epitome of a fashion disaster. I decided I wasn't going to worry too much about what we were wearing. That our attitudes and behavior while travelling abroad were much more important. 

And on being late. I think that is just part of our informal society. Aren't all times followed by an ish? As in, "I will be there at 4ish." Which means I will be there as close to 4:00 as humanly possible, but I might be late.

What about you? Do you think Americans are rude travelling abroad? Have you been told you are rude?

5 May 2014 - First, let me say, whoa. And wow. I was surprised about the backlash that came about during my blogging hiatus about how rude Americans are when traveling. Americans are in no way perfect. They can be very loud. I had to tell my own family to quiet down a couple of times when they visited. But I will be honest, everywhere we go people ask us where we are from. (You would be surprised how many Europeans assume we are from England. It's actually kind of cool.) When we tell them we are from America, 99% of the time we get "oh! I love Americans! So easy going! They smile! They want to see stuff! And they buy things from me! Let me tell you about my trip to America!" All good stuff, right?

I have my own list of who I think is rude in Europe. (Italians, I'm giving you a side glance...) Does this mean I think everyone from the country is rude? Absolutely not. Will I use one encounter to judge the whole country? Absolutely not. What I think needs to happen is visitors need to do their part to try not to offend. Notice how I said try. No matter what, sometimes people will get offended. Just like when I lived in America. I got offended by Americans every now and then, and I'm sure I did some offending. Visitees - I also think you need to relax a little. Tell people when they are being extremely rude. If it's just regular rudeness, feel free to let it go. Let's all try to get along! Travel on friends! And try not to be rude!

- Kelly

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Are Germans Rude?

Since I have been here in Germany, I have been asked several times by friends back home, Are Germans Rude?

Yes. And no.

Does that clear things up?

Let me back up a bit. I was born and raised in America. I am a fourth generation American on one side and on the other side I have ancestors that came over from Europe in the 1720's. We've been in America a long time. My parents never raised me to think Americans were better than anyone else. America did that for them. In school learning about World War I and World War II, the idea that a good life depended on capitalism, and the media. Especially media. We are the Land of the Free! and Home of the Brave! (play ball!), the birthplace of Wonder Bread and Mac'n'Cheese, Coke and Pepsi, jeans and sneakers. All things American are better and therefore Americans are too. I felt safe in the knowledge that I was who I was. American.

Then I met this guy, Matt. Matt was also an American. But instead of being raised by people who grew up in a middle class, Southern California home like I was, he was raised by people who grew up in Germany, during and after the war. We were the same, but oh, how we were different. 

Matt and his parents were blunt. To put it mildly. I will never forget when Matt's mom said to his sister one day, "I don't like your shirt." Matt's sister then turned to me and said, "Kelly has one too." She then looked at me. "I don't like it when Kelly wears it either."

What?! You don't like my shirt?! I felt personally attacked. What am I if not what I wear! My clothes are me. To attack them is to attack me.

Through the course of our relationship she has also told me that she didn't like my choice in paint colors, carpet selection, the layout of my house, what I named my children, and a few other things that I have blocked from my mind. Every time she, or anyone else in Matt's family, informed me of something she didn't like I felt hurt. Now let me say she never told me that she didn't like me. She just said that some of my choices she didn't like. When she did like something, she let me know that too. She loved my yard and my flower beds and constantly approved of my selection of furniture. She also complimented me on my parenting. Why could I not forget that she didn't like my shirt?

Being raised an American, I grew up with the moral lesson from the movie Bambi. "If you can't say nuttin nice, don't say nuttin at all." Wise advice, Thumper. In my life I never said anything purposefully rude unless I wanted to be just that. Purposefully rude. So Matt's mom must be thinking the same thing. Right?

Fast forward to August, 2012. I now live in Germany. My only experience with Germans were my in-laws. I was nervous, but hopeful. I would give Germans a chance. My first experience with a German in Germany came the week we lived here. We live in housing on the American base. As we started up our government issued washing machine to do a load of laundry, I heard a POPPING sound come from deep in the washer. Water continued to fill the machine, and then went over the washing bin, and over the top onto our government issued floor. We quickly shut off the water main for the laundry room and put in an after-hours call to the repair service contracted to work on base. 

Knock knock. Our German repair man was there. 

First, he was very put out that he had to come over at 8:00 pm and he let us know that. Why couldn't our washing machine break during more respectable hours like 9:00 am to 12:30 pm or 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm, hours that many German businesses are open. He walked into our laundry room and as I described what happened he held up his hand and said, "Stop. This is your fault."


He then went on to tell me that because I left the lid open on my washing machine, the water didn't shut off. 

Are you for real? The washing machine repair man doesn't know that washing machines have a load setting on them that tells them how much water to fill the bin with? What kind of repair man is this? He then informed me he wasn't a repair man, he was a plumber and he could do absolutely nothing but tell me I am an idiot for not knowing how to properly operate a washing machine. He then got one last comment in. As he walked out of our laundry room he turned and said, "You need to clean this up."

Thanks for the tip because I was just going to leave it and hope it evaporated.

After the repair man/NO repair man left, my husband just shrugged his shoulders and said, "Typical German." That is probably my worst experience with a German here. But here is a list of top complaints from non-Germans and Germans I know about things that have happened to them. At least Germans are equal opportunity offenders. 

1. Getting doors to shops slammed in their face as they try to enter and the shop wants to close.
2. People cutting in line. 
3. Accidentally dropping a piece of trash and getting yelled at for littering before you have a chance to pick it up.
4. Getting honked at if you wait at a green light longer than .08 seconds after it has turned from red.
5. Told they are being too loud.
6. Told they are taking up too much room in a walk way in a store.
7. Told they are taking too long at a cashier.
8. Told they don't know how to properly park.

I wanted to write an objective piece so I asked three Germans their opinions on if Germans were ruder than other nationalities. They all answered yes, followed by a but. 

One of the Germans who I asked grew up here in Germany, has lived here her whole life, but is married to an American. She told me a story of going to the store, asking if they had marzipan, and then the clerk telling her "I suppose we do," and then the clerk turned around and left. My German friend found this to be extremely rude. But she understood why the clerk did it.

One reason Germans are perceived to be rude is that they take things quite literal. If you ask a German "Do you know what time it is?" They will look at their watch and say "I do." After all, you didn't ask them to tell you what time it was.

Another reason Germans can be seen as rude is they feel it is their place to let you know you are messing up right then and there. Being too loud? You need to be quiet. Taking too long? You need to hurry up. Too fat? You need to lose some weight. Too skinny? You need to gain some. Some of my American friends find this bluntness too much. Others embrace it.

Take this German scenario: someone is being too loud in a movie theater. As soon as the German thinks that someone is being too loud, they turn around and tell them to be quiet. Can't that person see people are trying to watch a movie? The loud person will do one of two things.

1. They will say Entschuldigung, excuse me, and then be quiet, OR
2. They will say something close to Lassen Sie mich in Ruhe, leave me alone, and continue to be loud.

If scenario number one happens, all is well. If scenario number two happens, the German will throw up their hands in defeat and realize that the offender is beyond help and get up to find another seat. And that's the end of it.

Things don't escalate in Germany like I've seen them in America. Let's play this same scenario out in America. Someone is being loud in a theater. The American who thinks someone is being loud will usually sit there in silence, fuming, turning around giving "The Look," but it usually takes Americans being annoyed for awhile before they work up the nerve to confront someone. And the person being confronted? Will they say sorry or will they get confrontational themselves? Will we have ourselves a big ol' movie theater brawl? 

Back to Germany. Germans are not warm and fuzzy. Being born and bred in suburban America, I like my warm and fuzzy. I like small talk and chit chat with strangers. I like smiles. I like greetings. If you say "hi" to a German, they will stop and ask, "Do I know you?" Happened all the time to my husband when he lived in Berlin. I have found that some Americans here feel slighted if Germans don't go out of there way to make you feel welcome or liked. Are Americans such babies that we need to be coddled all the time? Like me, affirm me, shower me with kisses (I am guilty on this one, say you like my shirt!)

Another common complaint is lack of customer service. Our good friends lived in Japan before here and they said they experienced culture shock moving from a place where the people bent over backwards to help you out to a place where people didn't really care if you needed help or not. 

You wouldn't think that so many small differences would cause so much offense. We all are considered "Western Civilization," right? We all enjoy similar standards of life. Can't we all just get along? 

On the other side though, Matt's aunts and uncles who I met for the first time embraced me and my children like long lost family members, which I guess we really were. They were kind and accepting and excited to hear all about our time in Germany. 

I guess what it boils down to, is that it seems (to me) Germans are intolerant of ignorance. You can't use the phrase "I didn't know" to give you a free pass. If the German knows, you better know too. There is real rudeness, and then there is perceived rudeness which turns out to be nothing more than cultural differences most of the time. My mother-in-law wasn't being rude in the slightest (she thought) to me when she told me those things. People have always spoken their mind to her and she was just doing the same. I have a great relationship with my in-laws. They are amazing people who made a home and raised a family in a foreign country. Now if I could only get them to like my shirts.

What have your experiences been? Have you felt that people have been rude in your travels? Have you found one country or culture to be ruder than others? Let me know.

Stay tuned for tomorrow - Are Americans Rude(r)?

This blog is merely the opinion of one little American girl and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of all Americans or reflect the politeness of all Germans. This blog was not meant to be offensive, it was meant to be thought provoking. And of course, funny.  

Friday, March 8, 2013

Heidelberg Castle - Germany

The Heidelberg Castle or Heidelberger Schloss is a top tourist destination in Germany. The castle sits on the south flank of the Neckar Valley. We had hiked up to and around the castle, but had never taken the tour, so on a rainy day in February we scheduled it in.

This is the view of the castle from Heidelberg's Altstadt. The best way to get to the castle is to take the Heidelberger Bergbahn funicular railway. You can buy a combination ticket for the castle courtyard and funicular railway at the Heidelberg website here. The train leaves Heidelberg from the Kornmarkt, stops at a halfway point where the castle is, and then continues up to the top of the hill, I mean mountain, which provides a panoramic view of the castle, town, and river valley from above. 

From the top you will see things like this. A cute German house perched on the hillside.

Or this. The bricked in path in the center of the picture is the Philosophenweg, a hiking trail that traverses the northern side of the Neckar Valley up to a beautiful point that provides great views of the castle and town from another vantage. 

I highly recommend taking the train to the castle. Or you could walk. There are a few parking spots, but they fill quickly during the summer.

You can walk around the grounds and the gardens of the castle for free. But to go inside the courtyard or castle and get the tour you have to buy tickets. They offer German and English speaking tours. Prices are listed in several languages and the ticket sellers spoke English.

The castle is built around an open courtyard. 

The castle has a long and painful history. It seems like it was in a constant state of building or destruction. Every time part of it was repaired, acts of God, like lightning or the French army, came along and messed it all up again.

A structure was first built on the site in 1225. It was small, but it served its purpose. It was added to sometime between 1294-1303. When Rupert III of Germany became Emperor in 1401, he found the castle too small to serve his needs. He added on and turned it into a fortress.

It was continually added on to until 1619, until the outbreak of the Thirty Years War. It was at the start of this war that the castle was attacked for the first time. 

The French attacked the castle in 1688. It seems like France and Germany haven't always played very nice with each other. At times the border between France and Germany was the Rhine River which is in view of this castle way out in the valley.

The French blew up one tower in 1689 as they withdrew. But then in 1693 they had a chance to finish their work and they blew up more portions with mines. Oh, France. If you had only knew what was coming (Germany invaded France three times in a 70 year period).

After this last attack of the castle by the French, the Elector Palatine (the guy in charge of this area of Germany at the time) decided that Baroque hill-side palaces weren't fitting his needs and he moved his court to Mannheim and built a new castle there.

Once the castle was abandoned, it became fair game. Towns people took stone, wood, iron, and even ornaments to build their own houses. Further destruction of the castle happened when it was struck by lightning in 1764.

In 1868 people started debating if they should restore the castle to its former glory. It was decided that rebuilding it would be too difficult, but that they could preserve it in it's current condition.

Work on the castle to prevent further destruction of it by the elements.

Over three million tourists visit the castle every year. It's reputation has spread far beyond Europe and it attracts visitors from all corners of the world.

They do over 100 weddings a year, right here in this chapel in the castle.

Although the castle is famous for many things, one item stands out. 

The Heidelberg Tun or Großes Fass, built in 1751, is an extremely large wine vat in the cellar of the castle. It can hold around 220,000 liters or 58,100 gallons. That's a whole lotta wine.

There is also a German Apothecary Museum located in the cellar which houses 20,000 objects used in the history of compounding medicine. It is supposedly the largest collection anywhere. 

I love living in a town with its own castle. Can't wait to go back. Want to join me?

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