Friday, April 30, 2010

The Art And History Of Toys

The train ride was not overly exciting today. Most of the view was small towns with a few of
their own industrial plants or small villages without any industry--i.e. houses and a church.
Once at Nuremberg I faced a walk along the old city wall to the next U-bahn station (German
underground/metro) and across the bridge would be the hostel. The directions were fairly
accurate except there was construction on the street I was to turn down. I checked the next
road back to see if I could cut through, but I couldn't. I walked back around and sure enough
the construction didn't start until halfway down the street. The hostel was very quiet. I
think I might have been the only one there this morning besides the two people "working"; by
working I mean napping in the back room until the bell rings. I ended up being on the 4th
floor which was deserted. This meant I had the 8 bed room all to myself. Awesome! Hopefully
good sleeping tonight.
[Human Rights monument]
After a salad and yogurt lunch I plodded out to view some churches and a museum. First up on
the list was the toy museum or, in German, Sp... My Grampa used to work for the Marx Toy
Company as one of his jobs so I was eager to check out all the memorabilia inside. I have
been thinking about him quite a bit during my travels in Germany. To be honest, I'm really a
mutt when it comes to cultural/genetic heritage. The largest portion, however, is German on
my Dad's side. Hence my very German last name which, has been duly recognized as such when I
go to check in at the hostels here in the S of Germany. From what I have calculated with my
parents, I am about the 5th or 6th generation here in the US. Philip came over through Ellis
Island on a boat in 1850 from somewhere in Germany and settled in central PA. Oh how wonderful! Somehow while I was in the museum for 2 hours it started to rain.

Naturally I've been pondering family roots and what it is that makes people who they are.
What makes German people German (or insert any nationality)? What does it mean to be a
certain nationality? What claims are people making? Given German history in the 1900s, which
is really not so very long ago, I've always struggled internally with knowing that I was of
German heritage. If I say I am German, am I not claiming at least a partial relationship with
the terrors of the World Wars? How do I reconcile these pieces of myself? I hadn't given
much thought to my heritage until I took a week long trip to Ireland in the Summer of 2008.
Just over a year earlier I had made a randomly selected recipe for colcanon (potatoes, bacon,
cabbage, butter) and when I tasted it---some part of my being was awakened and I deeply
resonated with the fact that I was part Irish. Part of this journey was to explore my German
roots more and find out something more about what it means for me to be part German.

In a roundabout way, the toy museum was critical to this discovery path. Oh how wonderful the
museum was! Four floors of toys, history, memories and stories awaited me. It was as much
fanciful and playful for me as it was historical and informative. Sadly no pictures were
allowed, so you will have to imagine the toys in all their splendor. Apparently toy making is
deeply rooted in German culture. Back before trade and decent roads allowed for the exchange
of goods, local families would make their own toys. The most abundant resource at the time
for Germany was wood. When I was growing up wood toys were mostly blocks and abstract shapes. Here there were cases of carved wooden toys that mooed and could be milked or that could be dressed up for tea parties. My favorite display from the first floor was the ring cut toys. To speed up production, a ring of wood had the basic outline of an animal carved into it. Using a saw, the ring was then sliced into individual animals. One ring could produce 80 rough cut 1.5"x 1" cows!! They would then be sanded and painted to finish off the design. Makes it much easier to imagine how Noah's ark and farm toys could be created for the high demand of children.

One floor up was a series of rooms with dolls, building, tin and train toys. Did you know
there was a doll made of balsa wood that not only floated in water, but could mechanically
swim?? Adults who liked to build things produced metal strips with holes in them that could be built into all kinds of creations using nuts and bolts. These toys were touted to encourage young engineers from their early years. Tin was not just for soldiers. Cars, clowns, towns, monkeys climbing ropes can all be made from this malleable pressed metal. By far, the train room was the best. Some were about 1.5" wide and others were 6-8" wide! Where would anyone keep such monstrosities?? One was about the size of my lower leg--and that was just one box car. Another floor up displayed household toys. Kitchen sets that were not only child life-size, but used paraffin heating sources to cook food. Laundry sets, doll houses and altar sets. Yep you read it right. Kids could at one point play church with a full altar set. Some religious groups saw this as disrespectful, but most saw potential for it to spark an interest in young boys for further ministry training and work. For the girls, household toys were crucial in teaching them skills to mimic later in life. This floor also had outdoor toys with riding horses, pedal cars, jacks, marbles, and baby doll carriages.

The last floor covered toys in the post WWII era to today. The different decades were grouped
and labeled, but now that I've sent the map home to the US in a box I can't share with you
what the titles were. By this time the museum was closing so I had to leave quickly. On the
way back to the hostel I stopped at the organic grocery store I found on the way to the
museum. I found some Austrian chocolate along with other tasty foods that would comprise my

Thursday, April 29, 2010

On A Colt, The Foal Of A Donkey

What to do with another day in Munchen? Outside the NW part of town is a huge botanical
garden a few tram stops past the former royalty's summer house. I wanted to go in the morning
to enjoy the weather and have enough time to spend there. In the blah city of Munchen there
is a jewel in the botanical garden. The place is brimming with flowers packed into the ground
and leafy greenness bursting all over. There were beds filled with tulips in every color
possible. Some appeared to be on fire with orange while others were the palest pink. A whole
portion of the garden was devoted to pine trees and another to rhododendrons. I came across a
stream where I sat for a while to enjoy the bubbling noise. There was a section of water or
swamp plants which was quite neat. They had them in small concrete pools raised about 3 feet
off the ground. Small faucets would drip or run water into the pools as necessary for the
kind of water movement for the plants growing there. Best of all were the 10 greenhouses
filled with cacti, tropical plants and plants from the Jurassic period (the ferns were
enormous!!). It was a delightful mix of greens, textures and colors. On my way out I
realized after a few minutes walking that the shirt I had with me was no longer on my bag.
After retracing my steps back about 200m I found it lying on the dusty ground where it had
slipped off the top of my bag. Glad I found it. No more losing things!!

Even in a beautiful place like the botanical gardens, one does grow tired. I took the tram
back into town and headed toward the Jewish Museum. Since I'm in Germany I felt that I should
spend some time on WWII information. After locating the museum I parked myself outside at a
small kids play area and ate my lunch in the sun. The museum focuses more on contemporary
Jewish life than what happened during the war years. They do have an area devoted to sharing
stories from local people who lived through the war. Alas these were all in German. The
piece with a floor map of the city and these 2ft. tall and rather heavy plastic stands was
cool. Placing the stand on the spot of the city where the story happened lit up a photo on
the wall from the story. These were in English so I got a taste of what some Jewish people
did 70 years ago in Munchen.

My last trip of the day was to the National Museum for some history. One part was filled with
carved wooden creations from the local area in SE Germany over the last 6-8 centuries. They
were nice and rather intricate, but didn't interest me overly. Just down the street was more
what I was looking for; a couple floors of artifacts in an interesting building. Part of the
building was an old church which had additions built on to connect it to other nearby
buildings. Just when you reached the end of one corridor and thought that was all the museum
had, a whole other room opened up with another portion of history and tons more artifacts to
observe. Rooms full of maps, suits of armor, paintings, sculpture, and furniture kept me
busy. By far though, my favorite piece in the museum was a carved, wooden donkey on wheels
with Jesus on top. I'm sure it had some holy use in a special religious parade, but you can't
beat walking around the corner and seeing a wooden Jesus on a donkey--with wheels! Even
better, the way some people here pronounce 'danke' (or German for "thank you") sounds like
donkey. I tried not to laugh too loud since I seemed to be the only one in the entire museum
except the guards.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Real Confession

Munchen is definitely not my favorite city. It does provide a good base for visiting Augsburg--or so sayeth the guidebook. I have to say though that when I arrived in Augsburg and started walking around I noticed a couple of hostels which would have been just fine. Once again the guidebook fails to guide me. The train ride gave me a lovely view of the countryside with small towns along the rail line and rolling green hills dotted with pines and white birch trees. Something you don't see much of in PA. The town itself feels similar to the ones I loved in Provence (Aix-en and Avignon). Modern parts mesh with areas preserved from long ago centuries filled with charm. There were two main places I wanted to visit in town for certain: St. Anna Church where Luther hung out and the Fuggerei a housing unit for poor Catholics.

Finding the tourist office was a bit of a challenge. Usually they put them near the train station so you don't have to look too far. This one was in the center of the old town. Good thing I did some map research online before coming! It's always easier to move around these towns (even the small ones) with a map. I started my explorations at the Catholic Dom just up the hill from the old part of town. But first I must tell you about the best thing I've bought since I've been here. On my way down the street I ran across a E1 shop which had a rack of socks displayed outside. They happened to be short sport socks and looked to be about my size. Since S France it's been rather warm here--often in the mid to upper 60sF. The socks looked just right. I opted for 2 pairs and continued down the street. When I reached the Dom plaza I stopped to eat lunch. I thought I'd try out my new socks to see if they fit since my knee high wool ones were making me rather toasty. Oh my gosh! It was like starting the day all over again. A new pair of fresh socks can turn your entire day around. To this I can attest. Now back to the church... Like most massive cathedrals it has all sorts of side chapels and stained glass. My favorite part about this one was a small quiet space half a floor down in what I assume was (still is?) probably the crypt. It's always a treat to find these quiet spaces when you stay in busy, noisy cities.

From here I headed to the Fuggerei which is a series of housing units built in the 1700s or 1800s for poor Catholics by philanthropist Jacob Fuggerei. Rent was either the equivalent of E.80 for a month or a year. Either way, still a deal. During WWII the units were badly damaged when Augsburg was bombed, but rebuilding went underway as soon as it was safe from war threats. In the old bomb shelter they have a display about how the war affected the local people and specifically the housing unit. I got some good background on the war which put a few more historical puzzle pieces together in my mind. The other cool part of this place was the model units they had on display. One is furnished to today's standards and one like it would have looked when first built. The units are equivalent to the space of a nice two bedroom apartment in the US. I wish I could afford a place that nice. Not that I want to become a poor German Catholic. Some of the original trademarks are still in use such as the unique door bell ringers for each place. By feeling each of the distinct handles you could find your way back to your house after dark. Now, of course, they have modern lighting. The most impressive fact about these housing units is that they are still being used today. What a gift for people in need of help to have the opportunity to stay in a decent place for an affordable rate to give you a chance to work toward a better living situation.

St. Anna Church was next on the list. The building was rather empty and unclear about where you could visit. Apparently it's common for Germans to keep doors closed and while it's perfectly fine for you to check them out, you must take the initiative to explore said rooms by trying the door handle to see if it's locked or not. I found a few locked doors and a few open ones. Like most European places there's scaffolding all over the towns. St. Anna had it inside where their famous chapel was being restored. I was more interested in the Luther display upstairs so I breezed through the main sanctuary and headed up a long flight of old wooden stairs. All of the information was in German, but I know the Luther story right? Hopefully there was no new info. The best part was the original bibles and books Luther and his cohort used. I think I even saw an authentic copy of the Augsburg Confessions. Some of them are enormous--like 10" high when closed. I have to say I was a bit disappointed that they didn't have a bit more to look at. Maybe if I could read German I'd have been satisfied by their posted boards. While walking around trying to decide what else to do in town, I spotted an ice cream cafe. Being so sunny I couldn't pass up a yummy, cool treat. I sampled coco-choconut and something fruity I can't remember now. I know it all tasted delicious and hit the spot. It even came with a gummy bear on top!

My map suggested St. Ulrich and Afra would also be an interesting place to visit. A short 500km down the road was a small Protestant church "glued" to a large Catholic church. A sign out front seemed to indicate both were closed and the Catholic one was under significant reconstruction. Since it was around 4pm I thought I would wander the shops a bit and scout out a good place for dinner before taking the train back to Munchen. Like many of the smaller towns I've visited so far, amidst the old part of town is a large pedestrian shopping area. Thanks to Italy the pedestrian sign is branded in my brain as Zona Pedonale no matter what language is on the sign. I walked through a few clothing stores (yes, I got my H&M fix just like almost every other town I've been in) and cased the main streets before deciding to head toward the area where one of the restaurants was from my guidebook. I expected it to be on more of a side street, but there were quite a few nice non-commercialized shops down there as well. The menu for the restaurant seemed to promise food I would like so I grabbed a seat outside. The waitresses wore more traditional style German clothing with the flowing skirted dresses and aprons. I felt bad for the younger girl who had on this blue gingham get up. It gave the "I feel like I'm wearing a clown costume" vibe, but she wore it happily and had enough spunk to pull off the outfit. It's hard to remember the exact name of the meal, but I think it was something like Rauschauerbraten. Visually translated this meant perfectly tender beef roast slices in brown gravy with a bread ball dumpling and red spiced sauerkraut. I sampled a brown lager which was quite good and complimented the beef nicely. The sauerkraut was by far the newest item. It literally was red cabbage sauerkraut with a hint of what I'll take a stab at saying was perhaps cloves and cinnamon. It gave a lightly sweet spiced cider flavor to the sauerkraut. I was sad to leave the lovely town of Augsburg.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Law And Order-ing Food

Arriving in Munchen (Munich) was not as exciting as I'd expected. My guidebook says that no trip to Germany is complete without a trip to the fabled city of Munchen. Well I beg to differ. Similar to Frankfurt, Munchen is a rather modern town. There is little history to be found about the town which I would call fabled. Sure there are museums and city parks, but nothing that really gave me a history lesson about why Munchen has been so important.

I began my explorations with lunch in the Hofgarten park near the Residenz Palace. Outside the gate to the garden was a 5 piece band playing classical music and selling CDs titled something with the "4 piece band." Why then were there 5 playing?? The music was a great backdrop to my outdoor meal similar to what I had in Heidelberg (cheese, bread, hot dog balls, tomato, yogurt). I'm a fan of these tasty nutritious meals outdoors that are inexpensive.

From the garden I walked around the huge palace to the entrance. Inside were 90 some rooms waiting to be explored. Better yet the ticket price included an audio guide so I could actually get some history. The Munich Residenz served as the seat of government and residence of the Bavarian dukes, electors and kings from 1508 to 1918. It was also part of the Wittelsbach royalty and bears architectural features from the Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo and neoclassical eras. It seems strange to me that part of Germany was still being ruled by kings in the early 1900s. I suppose I thought it was the country it is today ever since the US became an entity. The palace was a vast array of huge rooms filled with lovely furniture and many paintings, some framed and some on the ceilings. My favorite room had green fabric on the walls with stars and lines woven into it and a lime green fabric on the furniture. Everything was simple and elegant. I can't remember the guy's name who this room was designed for, but I do remember that the furniture was specifically chosen because he liked to keep things simple. The other striking decorations were the ceiling paintings which depicted essential things for knowing how to properly rule a nation: law, justice, war and peace. One series showed a ruler receiving tablets of law from heaven akin to Moses. In this time period law was seen as divine order and not to be trumped by human creations or inventions. Another depicted an old man robed with a mirror showing the past, present, future and a necklace with a golden heart. This was to show that wise counsel should be taken from someone older with knowledge of the past/present/future and who considers the heart as well as the facts in matters of importance. At the end of the tour was a long hall of the royal family line portraits. One I particularly liked showed that you certainly don't have to be pretty to be a princess.

After such a stimulating adventure I walked around the area to get a feel for the town and also to seek out a place to eat dinner. I wandered through the Viktualmarket where you could find just about any kind of food item in a market stand--fish, meats (raw, cooked, dried), veggies, fruits, sweets. I think there were even flowers and a pharmacy of sorts. It was an overwhelming mix of sights, sounds and smells. People swarmed all over in odd directions being drawn by the sight of one thing and the smell of another. Being a pedestrian area, there are usually restaurants galore. I found one with a menu that seemed to convey spatzle which I had been wanting to try. For dinner I enjoyed the spatzle with cheese, salad including potato salad/mustard dressing on greens/red cabbage coleslaw, and for dessert apple strudel with a warm vanilla custard soup over it. I sampled an unfiltered lager for my beverage which paired nicely with my meal, the smoothness of the beer matching the bite of the cheese on the spatzle. I managed to waddled my full stomached self back to the hostel and prepared for my day trip to Augsburg.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Disputing Heidelberg

The train ride from Frankfurt to Heidelberg reminded me again that Germans like scalloped shingles, steeply pitched roofs and out in the country roofs typically have solar panels. I've seen a few windmills as well. Houses are more modern looking in Germany too. Similar to shapes and styles you'd see in the US with concrete walls instead of aluminum siding. Housing colors stick mostly to whites and creams unless made from stone/brick, which is rare.

I know little about Heidelberg except that Martin Luther spent time here in April 1518 known as the Heidelberg Disputations defending his theology including the bondage of the will.

Knowing that I was only spending one night in Heidelberg meant I had to be quick about seeing the sights in town. I started by taking the furnicular up the hill to the Schloss, a gargantuan castle perched high on a hill overlooking Heidelberg and the Neckar River. First I paused to eat lunch in the garden outside the castle. I feasted upon gouda cheese, leftover pretzel, hot dog balls with smiley pirate faces stamped into them, green grapes, a whole tomato and pineapple yogurt. The first part of the castle was finished in 1214 by Ludwig I and later expanded into 2 castles around 1294. In 1537 a lightning-bolt destroyed the upper castle. Through subsequent wars with the Swedes and later the French the castle sustained heavy damage. The French used mines in the thick walls to damage it as much as possible before they finally left around 1693. In 1764, another lightning-bolt destroyed a portion of the rebuilt tower and the people decided it was the divine will that the castle should not be repaired or used any longer. The tour I took was excellent, though I can't remember much of what was said. Names of rulers and dates just don't stick in my head like the funny stories about the added toilets on the 2nd floor that used the law of gravity to deliver their products onto the ground below. Or the vomit basin in the main dining hall for those who wished to continue eating even though they were already full. Plus it doesn't help that there were a long line of rulers in the Wittelsbach royal family. At any rate, the views of Heidelberg were gorgeous and walking through the renovated parts of the castle was entertaining. You really had to use your imagination as much of the castle, having been so badly damaged by fire/war over the years, had literally disappeared. One of the most surprising sights was the enormous barrel below the castle which could hold 49,000 gallons of wine. Yikes! It was so large the people only filled it three times before deciding it was simply too much wine to drink. Cleaning the barrel was no easy task and only small adults and children who could fit inside the tiny door were able to scrub it down. Now that's a qualifier for Dirty Jobs.

Heidelberg is one of those towns that I would love to spend more time in simply to enjoy the atmosphere, but would need a few more things to keep me busy. The university fills the town with young adults, but when you don't speak German, it's hard to talk with them. The town had a nice vibe and calm feel. Not to mention the gorgeous view of the town along the river surrounded by verdant hills of forest. Sigh. Beautiful.
[the big barrel]
I finished at the castle around 5pm and decided to take a walk along the Philosophenweg (Philosopher's Way) on the other side of the river. What I didn't know was that to get to the trail you had to walk up hill on a winding alley like stone path. It wasn't too bad, but it was challenging. The view of the town from the other side was quite nice. I could pick out the 1km path where I had walked from the hostel and the places I had visited already. Walking along the path you notice small fenced areas on the hillside that seem to be backyards or vacation spots people have permanently staked out below the public park on the hill above. After a half hour I decided to head back down to town and walk through the streets to enjoy the atmosphere while I scouted a place to eat for dinner. Like most smaller, quaint towns there is a large shopping area filled with modern clothing and shoe stores along with the typical pharmacy, salon and restaurants. Usually these are all in one pedestrian area.

I found a restaurant listed in my guidebook that seemed to have a good menu outside--meaning there were enough words I could understand in the German that it sounded like I could find good food to eat. Fortunately they had an English menu and I chose the Meatloaf with Fried Potatoes and a Maibock beer (lager style brewed in house). When you hear meatloaf you expect to eat beef right? Hence my surprise when a large slab of Spam looking meat arrived on the plate on top of a mound of potatoes. Turns out the meat was pork sausage based. It tasted quite good, but was still a surprise. After walking all day I made sure to take the bus back which was a nice treat.

Sunday, April 25, 2010


First priority today was to visit the botanical gardens in the NW part of town. The walk through the quiet neighborhood on a Sunday morning was delightful. Parents walked with their kids in strollers or on bikes. Everything had a relaxed, sleepy feel to it. What a treat the gardens were! Throughout most of southern Europe the flowers have been in short supply. It's not just the season or weather either. These countries simply don't plant flowers in public places whether from lack of funding, laziness or interest. Apparently all the flowers are in Germany. Spread out before me was a vast array of greens, whites, pinks, reds, oranges--all the rainbow was present as I wound my way through the park. One of the best parts was the greenhouse area filled with pod shaped rooms of plants from various climates and parts of the world. Cacti filled the hot and dry room with types of succulents I've never seen before. By far my favorite rooms were the tropical, humid ones. Vines, orchids, pitcher plants and palm trees filled the room from floor to ceiling. Everything was so lush and green. Vibrantly colored blooms dotted the scenery. Fabulous!

After such a lovely morning I wasn't much in the mood for museums so I wandered through the town taking a long route toward the NE and winding down through to Romberg and the river. Packed into one sentence makes it seem short and sweet. In reality I probably walked a good 3 or 4km. I couldn't come up with much else to do so I sat by the river for a while and read I and II Peter (being Sunday and all). My guidebook suggested a restaurant a ways down from the river and I thought I'd give it a try. Near the hostel most places are Indian, Asian or doner kebab (looks to be gyro like food) restaurants. It was quite a bit further than it looked on the map, but it was well worth the trip. The neighborhood was nice to view and the food was excellent. I sampled the schnitzel (thin breaded pork), fried potatoes and side salad with a yummy mustard viniagrette dressing. Naturally I had the apfelwein to go with it since I wouldn't be able to enjoy it outside of Frankfurt. All in all, a relatively relaxed day.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Hot Dogs Anyone?

[View of a small town along the Rhine River on the train ride.]
On first glance Frankfurt is not much of a quaint city. As soon as you step out from the Hauptbanhof (train station), all you can see are skyscrapers in a multitude of shapes and twisting designs with their shiny glass windows. [Frankfurt, home where all Euros are produced] Some of the ground level buildings are closer to more traditional German styles, but even they are rather modern looking. It's not until you venture closer to the heart of the city that you discover a tiny piece of what Frankfurt used to look like from before the bombings of WWII. Romberg, a thin strip of Frankfurt along the Rhine River, is all that remains pre-bombing. Focusing around a central square are 4-5 story buildings which survived the war along with about 4 churches nestled amongst them in the close surrounding area. The square is lined with small tourist shops and a few bars serving up a variety of beers, but the local brew is apfelwein--an apple cider wine. Surprisingly Frankfurt is not known for its wieners, but for its drink.

Wandering around the area took me into a Protestant church along the square. I've been in so many Catholic churches I'd almost forgotten there was a difference, especially when the buildings often look the same. This one was quite new and made of pink stone. I didn't spend too much time inside as a group of youth were practicing some kind of presentation. The design was simple and appealing to my taste in architecture. I traveled a short distance down the street to the Dom which was more of a maroon red stone and in a Gothic style with lots of scallops and statues all about the outside. I was surprised the inside was so new and simple looking when this was one of the few buildings that remained after the war. I expected it to be preserved differently. Evidently this is a busy church as noted by the recording paraphernalia inside and the church radio broadcasting van outside.

Having wandered through the sights of Romberg, I headed toward the river to enjoy a stroll. There are some great views of the surrounding city and the many bridges over the river. The popular thing to do is to grab a patch of grass down by the river and sit for hours drinking and eating with friends. I found a few more streets that had a bit of a charming look to them with plenty of restaurants, taverns, hotels and bars lining them. Anxious to try the apfelwein, I stopped back at Romberg square where I procured 250mL for E1.60. It's similar to a slightly bitter pinot grigio, but the color of pale apple cider. I can see why people enjoy it.

Dinner was easy tonight. The hostel offered a free pasta meal. Ziti with red sauce, cheese and fresh cracked black pepper. I had two helpings while chatting with Jim from CA who was traveling with his wife after visiting his sister in England. They were delayed for a while from flying back because of the volcano in Iceland. Hopefully the air will clear out soon as I look toward flying to England. [Yet another protest in the city where I happen to be. This was something about Romania.]