Sunday, August 21, 2011


There have been a few things that I've seen in Germany that have reminded my strongly of my time in Lithuania as a missionary ten years ago. The excellent public transportation. Soup mixes. Windows that open in two directions. However, nothing has reminded me of Lithuania so much as the fantastic sour cream here.  Called Schmand here (and gretinė in Lithania), the sour cream is creamier, thicker, and by far more delicious than its USA counterpart. We had it most recently with a chili that we made, and it was fantastic. This goes with Nougatbrezeln (and other Brezeln), chocolate, and yogurt (Sara particularly likes Orange Stracciatella yogurt) in the category of foods that are way better here than in America.

(The text at the bottom: "Sour cream--also tasty on bread with chopped leeks!" Sounds like a gute Idee to me!

Stadt Blankenberg

Once again our incredibly kind landlady, Frau de Matos, decided that we're her favorite tenants and took us on a day trip to a tiny village called Stadt Blankenberg. Unlike Ahrweiler, (where we went on our previous trip with Frau de Matos) Blankenberg is quiet, secluded, and uncommercialized. Here are a few shots from the 10-minute walk from the parking area to the city wall.



The Blankenberg city wall was constructed in the 12th century, with several repairs and renovations along the way. Sometimes I wonder why the villages and cities are located where they are--for this one there's no question. Look at the view from their little hill.


The wandering river is an especially nice touch. It's the Sieg, by the way, which is a female river (die Sieg), as opposed to the male Rhine (der Rhein). Here is the city wall and one of the towers:


And then the houses. Sara and I were absolutely smitten with these houses. We've seen plenty of half-timbered houses already, but these ones have bright red wooden nails in them, just to amp up the cuteness. Also notice the doors intricate doors and overflowing window-boxes. We love how *all* of the cities here (especially the small ones) are ridiculously cute.




Is this picture crooked? No, that's the house. The renovations people have done in the village are very impressive--everything made neat and sturdy, without sacrificing the original warped beams.


For your viewing pleasure, a picture of the two of us--together--standing in front of a house with grapes growing over the windows.


After walking around the whole city (which took approximately 10 minutes), Frau de Matos treated us both to pie and ice cream. On the way back to the car, Sara noticed a sign indicating some old ruins a few minutes' walk away. We followed it to find what may be the best view I've seen yet.



It's a bit hard to tell from the pictures, but there are tiny villages--just clusters of houses, really--scattered around among these hills. Sara in particular was struck by how those tiny clusters of houses a couple of hours' walk away probably used to be the Blankenbergers' main contact with the world outside their walls. I think it sounds fantastic, but then again, I have a toy that, according to Wikipedia, only showed up in the early 19th century.

We walked for just a few minutes inside the castle/tower and found this great window with a view--the photo is from the perspective of someone sitting in the window seats. They were for the kids, I'm certain.


Thus endeth our time in Bonn. This week we're *trying* to move to Aachen (hopefully the stress I'm currently feeling in anticipation will abate or make an excellent blog post in about a week or two), so we won't be doing more day trips around Bonn. We've loved it here and are looking forward to our new home. And to Frau de Matos, vielen Dank! If you ever see this blog post, we've loved living as neighbors!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A Fancy and AUTHENTIC Castle


This is Burg Eltz. Pretty cool, huh?

Okay, I admit it, this is actually a picture I took of the front of the brochure I picked up at the castle. Lame, I know. But I had to show you what the castle is supposed to look like. This is what the castle actually looked like when we visited on Saturday:


Not quite so picturesque. The construction is supposed to be finished before next summer, so perhaps we can go again with visitors and see it in its newly-renovated glory. We each got a commemorative coin for our support of Burg Eltz and our patience with the renovation, though.

Now, to begin at the beginning: we met our friends Tim and Kimberly (formerly of Oakland, now of Frankfurt) in Koblenz on Saturday morning, where we caught a train to Moselkern, a tiny town on the Mosel River. From the Moselkern train station we walked for about 90 minutes through very pretty countryside to get to Burg Eltz. Here's a picture of us on the trail. (Hooray for friends who take pictures of us AND speak much better German than we do!)


And here's a view from the bridge leading to the castle:


Burg Eltz is a serious castle. It was built between the 12th and 17th centuries by the Eltz family, one branch of which still lives in the castle. There used to be three branches of the Eltz family in the castle. One died off (they only had daughters) and one sold their part of the castle to the third branch. The castle has never been destroyed, which makes it something of an anomaly. It's also furnished and decorated primarily with its original contents (collected by the family over several centuries). We saw 15th-century beds, 14th-century tapestries, 12th-century chests, etc, etc. Here's a tapestry I loved. Pictured are the nine muses plus a god-goddess pair; I'm not sure which. (Julia, any guesses? They're brother and sister AND husband and wife. Does that narrow it down at all?)


(Yes, this is also a picture of a picture. Photography is not allowed inside the castle.)

This is a view from inside the courtyard where our tour began. (It was in English. Hooray.) The glass in the windows was made by blowing balls of glass and then smashing them into discs. This glass is in almost every window in each of the castle's 100+ rooms. On a side note, this is perhaps the first original window glass we've seen in a significant pre-1945 building since we've been here. One is reminded of the devastation of World War II every time one enters a church in Germany.


We also got to see the castle's treasury/armory. It was most impressive. Here is a selection of cool items. (There are more on our Flickr.)

There were dozens of these intricate gold and silver objets d'art (some of which were supposedly complicated drinking vessels or candelabra). This is one of a series of three Greek guys holding spheres.


There was lots of beautiful china.


This guy has a different expression on each of his four sides, and each eye is shared between two sides. Pretty clever.


The list of cool things we can show you if you come visit us continues to grow!

P.S. This picture is on a sign near the Moselkern train station pointing the way to Burg Eltz. We were afraid they might not let us into the castle because we hadn't gotten the memo on proper German hiking and castle-visiting apparel. Kimberly and I left our skirts and pointy bras at home, and Tyler (and as far as I know, Tim) doesn't own a Peter Pan hat.


P.P.S. Tyler would like me to mention that he took his new toy for a spin the other day along the Rhine, and he liked it very much.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

toy, Toy, TOY!

So, call it an early birthday present, call it pretty, call me crazy, but here it is: my new Toy. (My instinct was to capitalize "Toy" because it's a noun--I decided to leave it.)


Yes, after more than a month of driving Sara crazy by talking about and ogling every bicycle I've passed (and been passed by), I found a guy in north-central Bonn who repairs and sells old bikes out of his garage. This was a beautiful bike that he picked "just for me" because it "fits my size". Whatever. I love it. It's pretty, light, and Sara loves the fact that the paint is slightly sparkly. The plan is, once I track down a helmet, some replacement inner tubes, a pump, and some lights, to take her (the bike, that is) for a spin from Bonn to Koblenz along the Rhine. I'll let you know if the rain here ever clears up enough to do so.

P.S. I chuckled out loud when I saw this bumper sticker the other day. (A "Bonner" is someone from Bonn.) I found it funny for two reasons: 1) it's just a funny thing to say, 2) I thought to myself, "Wow! I just understood a funny bumper sticker in GERMAN! Oh, no, wait. It's not actually in German. It just has an extra 'u' in 'honor' and I'm in Germany. Drat." What a silly world.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Römisches-Germanisches Museum (and some slightly lower-brow diversions)

We took advantage of this month's Goethe Institute trip to get cheap train tickets to Köln. Instead of taking the tour again, we went to the Römisches-Germanisches Museum. This was our 5th museum in as many weeks, and we are starting to feel the museum fatigue. Actually, I'm starting to feel it and Tyler pretty much can't handle it anymore. When we were counting the museums he wanted to include churches in the count, too. I can visit churches all day long, but Tyler is not as gung-ho. (In case you're interested, the first four museums were: Beethovenhaus, House of German History, Kunst (Art) Museum Bonn, and the Arithmeum, a museum that primarily displays calculating machines, which is more interesting than it sounds. You might also count the displays housed in the fortress at the BUGA, which would bring the museum total to 6.)

The Römisches-Germanisches Museum has a very nice collection, including this amazing Roman mosaic.


The mosaic (which was the floor of a banquet room in a Roman villa) was discovered in the 1940s during the digging of bomb shelter. The museum was built around the mosaic. One of the central figures is Dionysus, Greek god of wine; others are his attendant nymphs and things. Here are some detail shots.




This is a Roman funeral monument, also found in Köln.


And here's another huge mosaic, this one depicting seven wise men of ancient Greece. It was discovered in 1844.


I particularly enjoyed the jewelry displays.


This is a gorgon mask. Notice the freaky snake head sticking out of her hair.


After the museum we hid from the pouring rain in a little pizza place that turned out to be quite good. Naturally, we also stopped by Merzenich for a Nougat Brezel.

Speaking of pizza, we spent half a day a couple of Fridays ago on a quest for pizza. We had spent the morning searching for apartments, and after making two calls in German each we were drained and starving. So Tyler found a website called and we set out across town to try the reputed best pizza in Bonn. It's called Pizza Mann, and it took us about an hour to get there by bus and foot. We had a pizza with bacon, creme fraiche, large chunks of potato, and ridiculous quantities of cheese. It was immensely satisfying.

This past Friday we undertook another food-driven journey: we took the train to the Haribo factory store in Bad Godesberg. It was roughly the size of a grocery store, and was filled with people (mostly adults) buying boxes and boxes of fruchtgummi. We bought several different varieties ourselves, but I felt positively restrained by comparison with most of the other shoppers.


Our haul: cherry-cola bottles, black currant-flavored German flags, chocolate-covered marshmallows, some sour chewy things, extra-sour pugs, and ginger-lemon gummies. The things I've tried so far have been tasty, but I feel a little sick every time I think of our shelf stuffed with fruchtgummi.

Ahrweiler und Rolandsbogen

Our lovely and excitable landlady took us on a little excursion last week to Ahrweiler, a beautifully preserved medieval town in the Ahr River Valley about half an hour from Bonn. (She spoke lots and lots of German to us, which Tyler did a great job of understanding and responding to. I dozed in the car. She also bought us ice cream.)

We'd already gotten a taste of half-timbered cuteness in Königswinter, but Ahrweiler is all cuteness, everywhere you look, on steroids. The houses are not just half-timbered, but intricately carved and painted. The town is surrounded by 14th-century (I think) walls with towers and gates, and beyond are rolling hills covered in grape trellises. In short, it is stunning.



Because we had a third person along on the trip, we were able to take our first pictures together since we've been here. I'm including several, since these will probably continue to be rare.


This church is quite similar to Doppelkirche (the one we can see from our windows), but bigger and more beautiful. Like Doppelkirche, the interior walls are covered in paintings, some dating from as early as the 14th century.





If you'd like to see more of the ridiculous half-timbered cuteness, you can find more pictures on our Flickr: (look for the Ahrweiler set).


After Ahrweiler, Frau de Matos took us to see some picturesque ruins in Bad Godesberg (south of Bonn; still considered part of Bonn; I'm not clear on this point). Behind this 12th-century arch is a restaurant and civil marriage office.


Until recently the arch was covered with ivy, and what stone showed through was black. Frau de Matos seemed very indignant about its restoration.


The views from up here were even better than the ones you get across the river in Königswinter, in part because you can see Schloss Drachenburg showing off its glinting towers and golden stags on its hillside across the way.