Friday, April 22, 2005

A Week in the Scottish Highlands

Tomorrow, we're off to the Scottish Highlands for a week of vacation, April 23-30!

I know, I know. You think I'm already on vacation here in Germany, which is indeed true. But Donica isn't and she needs it! Every year, as participants in two separate vacation clubs, we have two one-week vacations to somewhere in the world, like our trips to London, Rome, Paris, Oahu, Pocono Mtns, New Hampshire, etc. We usually prefer spring and fall weeks away from the high-tourist season. Cold/cool weather doesn't bother us. In fact, we prefer it. Low 50s will be nice, like here in Hannover right now.

Our landing airport (from Hannover to London to Scotland) is Inverness on the NE coast. It's not a one-stop place to get to! Just a hair south, 44 miles away, is Loch Ness, where our Great Glen Water Park Club is (click on the map to see it better). And that's about all we know. We were told it can be pretty out-of-the-way in the Highlands and that getting around almost certainly necessitates a car. So we've got a rental car reserved and, knowing us, will probably drive all around as much as possible, on the "other" side of the street. (Send us good wishes for turning the corners correctly--that's where Americans most get themselves in a pickle!)

When Donica found out there was clay-pigeon shooting at the water park, she just about lost it. Maybe I'll try it as well but I'll have just as much fun taking pictures of her. I think we both look forward to the relaxing stillness of the area and will try to take advantage of it. We are so used to going-going-going, it'll be hard to slow us down. But we'll try.

Supposedly this is the type of "apartment" we'll live in for the week on the shores of the loch. So charming. Maybe if we're still enough and have good intentions, we'll actually see the Loch Ness monster! HA. But don't expect me to have the camera in hand when we do.

Don't know if we'll have access to the internet while we're gone, so if this Blog is silent, you'll know why. In the meantime, ciao. (What country am I in anyway!)

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Herrenhäuser Royal Gardens

Yesterday, on a gloriously cool (50°F), sunny day here in Hannover, I did my Royal Gardens trek. I purposely waited till now, wanting to catch the spring flowers in their peak. Because I went on a weekday, there were relatively few tourists around. Sometimes I felt I had the entire complex to myself.

The Herrenhäuser Royal Gardens were built in 1666 by Duke Johann Friedrich of Calenberg but are owed mainly to Sophie, princess-elect of Hannover, who preserved and developed them. They are one of the city's most popular attractions, with its garden festivals, concerts, fireworks and theatre performances during the summer months. They are considered the only surviving intact Baroque gardens in Europe and are maintained by over 200 gardeners who work daily to keep the plants in shape (many of whom I saw!).

Over the centuries, three gardens have developed as follows:
1. GREAT GARDEN (Grosser Garten)
Very little has changed in the garden since the days of the Electors and later Kings of Hannover (who were also the Kings of Great Britain), escaping the fate of most baroque gardens which were converted into landscape gardens. The flowers, statues, fountains, and neatly-cut hedges invite visitors to stroll, linger and enjoy it all, night or day. The world-famous Niki de Saint Phalle has converted the garden's old historic Grotto into her unique work of art for the 21st century.

2. BOTANICAL GARDEN (Berggarten)
In contrast to the Great Garden, the botanical garden emphasizes the individual beauty of each plant. There are over 3,000 species of succulents alone and more than 3,900 varieties of orchids. The Rainforest House has 6,000 different jungle plants, a waterfall, exotic birds and butterflies.

3. GEORGE GARDEN (Georgengarten)
This is a landscape garden created in its present form 150 years ago out of former estates of the court nobility. There are open spaces, areas of water, and meadows, carefully shaped to be pleasing to the eye. This is where the Leibniz Temple and Wilhelm-Busch Museum (Caricature and Critical Graphic Arts) are. And this is where I felt I was in Heaven! I love the big trees, the quaint bridges and the narrow lanes.

On the far southernmost edge of the George Garden, across the Herrenhäusen Avenue, is Hannover University, whose main building faces the Garden. That's where I exited my trek, enlivened in a different way by the "ethos" of student life. Like Mom, I feel like the "professional student," wanting to learn about everything I see.

BREMEN (Germany) Weekend

Bremen (pop. 546,000), Germany's oldest port city, is absolutely our Dream City here in Germany thus far. Following on the heels of much larger Hamburg (see last post), we almost wished we had started the weekend here on Saturday when the shops were open. Maybe we're learning that the smaller cities have a different charm we appreciate more, like out of some story book....

Speaking of which, the Brothers Grimm have a fairy tale about Bremen's Town Musicians as seen here in the Market Square. Everywhere you go you can see some art form of the 4 animals: the donkey, dog, cat and rooster on top of each other. It's a riot! I was able to capture several of the caricatures around town, sometimes through shop windows because they were closed on Sunday. As you may already know, Grimm's fairy tales can be quite grim, but this one is tame enough that we bought a coloring book of it for Nicholas. We'll have to embellish the story a bit but we think he'll get a kick outta it.

Bremen's Market Square area is something for the, say, The Three Musketeers! That's how we felt about Bruges in Belgium several years ago. Being there just takes you back to a different time. The Town Hall and St. Peter's cathedral are 2 sides of the Square at right angles to each other. The other two sides are
the Chamber of Congress and old patrician homes, which you can see in my photos (above link). One pedestrian street off the Square, the Böttcherstraße, is famous for its extensive art collections, one of which, the Paula Modersohn-Becker (1876 - 1907) exhibit of the Expressionist movement, we enjoyed.

I'll share a DUH! experience I had with my camera inside St.
Peter's cathedral. I was complaining to Donica about how I hated my inside shots being so dark (like in Paris). She told me there was a special setting on the camera for inside shots, which I promptly started to use. Sometimes I'm like that--you have to hit me over the head with a hammer! But once I get it, I get it! Needless to say, shots like this made me a much happier camper! But now I want to go back to Paris and re-do all those shots inside the Pantheon and the St. Germain and St. Sulpice churches. Live and learn.

Last but definitely not least (!) was The Schnoor district, beginning with St. John's church in the oldest part of Bremen, a couple streets away from Market Square. This was where Time stood still for us as we walked up and down the pedestrian-only crooked lanes where 100 houses rub shoulders with each other. The oldest was built in the 13th century. That's a long time ago!

On one of the houses is a Bremen saying in Low German that points to an old Bremen virtue: "Through saving and preserving you come to prosperity." Sounds like a good motto for those of us who come from a throw-away society. Come to think of it, sounds like a good motto for our entire globe!

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

HAMBURG (Germany) Weekend

Hamburg is Germany's second largest city (1.8 million) behind Berlin, the capital (3.5 million), and is the country's busiest port, situated on the Elbe River in the north. If you connected the dots, from Hannover to Hamburg to Bremen to Hannover, you'd have the triangle trip we made this past Saturday and Sunday (more on Bremen in another post).

As a large industrial city, Hamburg still has plenty of charm. Over the Alster Lake (artificial) and all the canals off the Elbe River are 2,321 bridges, more than any other city in the world. And I just
did a post on the 100 charming Water-Carrier figures all over the city that made the city worth it for them alone.

As with most of these cities, I'm finding out, there's a general 3-part theme of the Town Hall or Market Square (City Center), the key churches, and everything else.

So, here we go:

1. The "everything else" of the city we saw, besides the water carriers (which did indeed deserve their own, separate post!), can be summed up in the beautiful buildings like this Alster Arcade off the lake, just a stone's throw from Town Hall. This is when the city tours are worth their weight in gold, especially if all you have is a day!

2. The 5 churches in Hamburg considered to be "the fab five" (my term, of course--GO BLUE!) are St. Peter's, St. Jacob's, St. Nicholas (in ruins), St. Katharine's and St. Michael's viewed here. Though not my visual favorite of the five, St. Michael's is considered the "hallmark" of Hamburg, with it's great pipe organ and bright, open sanctuary, used for music concerts all year around. There are places in the city where you can see all 5 church spires at the same time. We saw one such spot on our tour bus but, alas, I couldn't take the photo fast enough to show you.

3. The Town Hall, built in 1886-97, is incredible. There was a great fire in 1842 that destroyed 50% of Hamburg's buildings and then the allied bombers destroyed much of the rest of the city in 1943 during WWII. That means what you see is not that old by European standards. The re-building after the war, even here in Hannover, blows me away. I guess it's just what you do!

One last trivial thing about Hamburg. At lunch, I ordered a meal with fried parsley that got my curiosity. Oh my! I have never experienced anything like it. It must have been fried in butter because it was very rich...but very melt-in-your-mouth crispy-light.

I guess you could say I will most remember Hamburg for its Water Carriers and fried parsley. Sometimes it's the little things that count the most!

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Hamburg's Water-Carrier Whimsy

After spending a day and a half sorting through 600 photos (!) from our weekend trip to Hamburg and Bremen, I'm jumping at the bit to tell you about Johann Wilhelm Bentz (1787-1854), aka Hans Hummel, Hamburg's most famous water carrier.

Johann was an ill-tempered bloke the kids made fun of by calling "Hummel, Hummel" ("bumble bee"). Because he was carrying water, he couldn't catch them but would yell after them "Mors, Mors," a Low German word translated as “Arses, Arses.”

There are 100 of these water carriers around Hamburg, painted by different artists and auctioned off to benefit “Ein Dach für Obdachlose” (“A roof for the homeless”). In the 6 hours we toured the city, we found 71 of them and, yes, I took photos of all of them, a handful of which are here.

Someone please help me out: do you know of any city in the States where there is an outdoor collection like these water carriers and the Buddy Bears in Berlin (4/9 post)?

These whimsical collections are so Soulful to me and help to put these cities on my map of the world!

Friday, April 15, 2005


All day on the BBC news channel, I have heard that today marks the 60-year anniversary of the liberation, by British troops, of this concentration camp just 60 km north of Hannover. On Sunday there will be a commemoration service on site. Of the total number of 110-120,000 prisoners, Bergen-Belsen claimed the lives of about 50,000 prisoners of the concentration camp, and 20,000 prisoners of war in its 5-year history. Anne Frank died of typhes there in March 1945. In 1946, after the war, this Jewish memorial was unveiled.

It seemed appropriate to add this post after the Berlin Wall. Not all of my time here in Germany reminds me of the atrocities of the Holocaust, of course. But while Berlin is fresh on my mind and 60 is an important number for me right now, my thoughts have taken this route this week.

I make no apology for drawing attention to this part of our world history (it's not just Germany's history!) nor do I attempt to downplay it's importance.

The Berlin Wall

Unlike my mother (who majored in it at Smith College), history is not my forte. I have to be spoon-fed it or stand in it to get it. But once I get it, I'm nearly overwhelmed by it, especially if it's history of magnitude, like the Berlin Wall.

The photo on the left above is a part of the original Wall that is cordoned off from the public so as not to sustain further damage. The photo on the right is part of a the "East-Side Gallery" (near the Oberbaumbrücke bridge, one of the 5 border-crossing points) that is 1.3 km long--the longest stretch of the Wall still standing in one piece. In 1989-90, after the border was opened, it was painted by 106 artists from around the world and later restored in 2000. While the above link gives you snipets of all the paintings, here are my own photos, along with the bridge, that give more detail on some of them.

You can read up on your own all the details of the Wall, but my biggest surprise of everything I saw/read was this: the Berlin Wall ran not only through the city but completely around West Berlin, the free side. In other words, while the East Berliners were the ones not allowed to enter West Berlin, it was West Berlin that was walled in! Because Berlin was in East Germany, under Soviet control, a trip from free West Berlin to free West Germany (the Federal Republic of Germany) passed through non-free East Germany (the German Democratic Republic) and required official crossing of borders on the way out and the way back in. Talk about complicated!


  • I was in high school when the Wall was built in 1961. The Wall was not part of WWII per se (when I was born) but was a by-product of the Cold War between the Soviet allies and the US allies after the war, when I was entering adulthood (i.e. not very long ago!).
  • The Wall came-a-tumblin'-down in 1989 and the two sides of Berlin were unified in 1990, the year my divorce took place--the year my two "sides," living in a straight marriage as a gay woman, were brought together into a unified me.
  • Often there is a "bridge" nearby that is ready for us to cross when we need to go from here to there. That's what the Oberbaumbrücke (brücke = bridge) will always represent for me from now on.
  • After the fall of the Wall, the German Democratic Republic (DDR), along with the collapse of the Soviet Union, ceased to exist. I had collected worldwide stamps most of my early adult life and had an extensive collection of DDR stamps through a friend. In 1990, the last year DDR stamps were made, Pope John Paul II was honored on a stamp because of his contribution to the end of the Cold War. The very Pope who just died!

"Many small people who in many small places do many small things
can altar the face of the war."

Hannover's Red Thread

You begin the Red Thread 4.2 km walking tour of the city center "under the tail" of King Ernest Augustus' statue in front of the Hauptbahnhof (train station). It is said that no one pays attention to him any more but to the tail!

This tour is "guided" by a red line that is painted along the entire route, and thus has become known as the Red Thread. You can buy a self-guided tour book that documents the 36 or so sites to be seen along the way. It took me 3-1/2 hours to do the tour on my own, taking millions of photos. To simplify things, I've organized the lot into the 3 categories below, as well as a left-over album for everything else.

1. CHURCHES: there are 3 key churches viewed from this tour, the most famous of which is this Marktkirche (Market Church). As you'll see from the photos, you can see it throughout most of the tour. This particular photo I took from the dome of Town Hall on a gorgeous, sunny day when I did the walk. The other 2 churches are the Aegidienkirche (in ruins) and the Kreuzkirche, both of which have their old-architectural charm.

2. TOWN HALL: I loved this building because I was able to go to the top of the dome and take photos of the city, as well as the innards of Town Hall itself and its Masch Pond and Lake. Along with the Marktkirche (kirche = church), this is one of Hannover's principle landmarks. The elevator that takes you to the dome is on an oblique track, set at an angle, and apparently a technical rarity. The building is from the Wilhelminian Period, built between 1901-1913, and as such is the new Town Hall (the old town hall stands next to the Marktkirche). Because the ground was too marshy to support it, 6,026 beech pilings had to be rammed into the ground to provide a firm foundtion. At its official opening, the town clerk proudly reported to Kaiser Wilhelm II, "All paid for in cash, Your Majesty!"

3. Hannover's OLD TOWN: Through this Marstall gate/archway, you enter Hannover's picturesque Old Town. The gate bears the arms of King George I of Great Britain and Hannover, and was originally part of the riding stables built in 1714. In these photos you'll see the half-timbered facades of houses from the 16th and 17th centuries. They were collected together from various streets in Hannover after the war and erected here in a uniform row. You'll see Hannover's oldest house from 1566. That's the front section, actually; the rear of the house is two years older. This is also where the Beguine Tower stands along the River Leine and where the city holds the oldest flea market in Germany every Saturday.

Wow! I'm not sure what it is about antiquity but I just eat this stuff up. It may sound pretty boring on paper but, as they say, "You had to be there!"

Thursday, April 14, 2005

It's A Miracle!

Within an hour or so of coming back to the apartment from the Internet Cafe, I received a call from Donica at the Paris airport on her way back to Amsterdam (a quick one-day trip to France). When I told her we still weren't connected to the internet, she told me to plug in the LAN cable. Yesterday she had told me to disconnect the cable because, with wireless, it didn't make sense to use both.

Well, guess what! Plugging in the LAN line connected me. Who cares right now that the wireless connection is kaput! Did it really take today's agony and grief--letting go--to allow the bird to fly back? Or Ruth, maybe it really was your powerful radiation of flames and intention for me. And Amy's love and empathy. And Donica's computer expertise.

All of the above. Celebrate with me on the rooftops! I probably won't sleep all night....

Kein Anschluß

In two words: NO CONNECTION! The good news is that the DSL green light is on, since yesterday. The bad news is that there's still no connection to the internet. Technology!

So, apart from masking my discouragement after almost 3 weeks without "her" here in Hannover (I'll have to give my laptop friend a name!), I'm back at the Internet Cafe to tell you what posts-with-photos I am so eager to send you:
  • The Red Thread 4.2 km walking tour of the city center here in Hannover.
  • The Berlin Wall, after reading a book we bought last weekend and getting my history clarified.
  • The United Buddy Bears, all 120 of them from countries around the world--I'm reading about every one of them. A native from each country has painted their own bear. Look at these from the United States and Canada (click on Interpretation).
  • Michael Moore! I finally watched his documentary Bowling for Columbine last night (one of the 12 movies I brought from home) and want to read/see everything he does. I spent time on the special features and fell in love with that passionate, principled but gentle man. Yes, I had already seen Fahrenheit 911.
  • Inventing the Rest of Our Lives: Women in Second Adulthood by Suzanne Braun Levine is a book Ruth gave me for my early birthday in Paris. Oh my! Yes, this is what I'm doing: figuring out the Big Question of this Second Adulthood, "what am I going to do with the rest of my life?" I don't think it was coincidental that I watched Michael Moore last evening after reading Braun most of the day. I wonder what I'm going to be "passionate, principled and gentle" about in the years to come?

That's a start. These posts are growing inside me, bursting to be created the way I envision them. Perhaps Hamburg this weekend will be another chance (since my laptop has worked only away from Hannover thus far!).

We use our 3rd and 4th of eleven EuroRail days on Saturday and Sunday, first in Hamburg to the north of us and then, on the way back to Hannover, stopping briefly to also see Bremen. We both love these excursions. Talk about being Soulful!

Saturday, April 09, 2005

BERLIN (Germany) Weekend

During our time in Hannover, we are taking advantage of our weekends and the EuroRail system to see as many places as possible in 11 days of rail travel in 3 different countries: Germany, Austria and Switzerland. We picked Berlin for our first two days this weekend (going and coming back).

Rain/snow was predicted for the entire weekend but so far, though it's been cold, we have not had either. Today we took the city tour where you can get on and off the bus all day long, which is the way to go because you can take as long as you want at any particular spot.

I'm not sure anything says "Berlin" more than the Brandenburg Gate. We both are caught up in the history surrounding this place and even had tears at different times, especially when we got to Checkpoint Charlie. Ruth, you know how you feel that you lived through the Resistance in Paris in your past life? I wonder if I lived through the Holocaust in some way, perhaps even as a Jew? It's something you feel somewhere deep inside you....

To add levity to the day were the United Buddy Bears we saw all along the way. First created in Berlin for the 120 countries of the UN, they are a collectible set in various sizes, from life-size to mini 3-inch bears, that speak volumes: "We have to get to know each other better!" These bears promote tolerance and international understanding and, through their individual designs, help us learn about the differences between countries.

Click here for my photo album if you want to see the city as I/we saw it.

[BTW, it's when we travel away from Hannover that I am able to use my laptop's programs on our hotel's connection. Hopefully by Wednesday that will all change when DSL has been promised to us at our apartment!]

Paris ReVisited (with Photos!)

In conjunction with my last post on our Paris birthday celebration, here are the photos. Better late than never! I'm trying out a new photo album, where you'll get more pictures by clicking below on the main categories. In the meantime, here also are some appetizers:

1. MONTMARTRE: the artists' square and the next-door Sacre Coeur basilica.

2. PLACE des VOSGES: the oldest square/plaza in Paris for lazing around and entertainment du jour.

3. ST. GERMAIN des PRES, LUXEMBOURG GARDENS, PANTHEON: the two churches, St. Germain and St. Sulpice, the lovely gardens in early spring, and the Pantheon, where the great men (and one woman) of Paris are entombed.

Here are the four of us ready to go out on the town. Don't you just love the photo of Ruth and Don strolling along! That's how the long weekend was--a time of strolling along in leisurely celebration of being alive in a great city and sharing it with those we love.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Paris Birthday Celebration

[Once again, no DSL at the apartment, so I'm at an Internet Cafe without access to my laptop programs. Photos will have to come later, hopefully next week!]

All Donica would tell me was that we were going somewhere in Europe for the weekend, making a "connection" in Paris, and I needed to take at least one nice outfit. Supposedly she was to meet up with a MN co-worker, David, flying in from Detroit to hand her some documents, before going on his own way. Oh yes, and we were going to stay till Tuesday because she had a business meeting on Monday wherever we were going.

It all made perfect sense to me, so I never once suspected that the "co-worker" flying in from Detroit was really Ruth and Don...and that the "business meeting" on Monday was going to be the celebration of Don's 50th birthday, 4/4, and my 60th early (6/13). As we were waiting for "David," I spotted someone coming through the line with a SOLVAY sign and I said to Donica, "There he is!" And then I went pale, she says, when I saw it was Ruth and Don!

Surprises are just like God, of course! The whole thing had been planned with Ruth and Don since January, when I was going through my down-sizing at work and eventual retirement. Donica has a way of doing this and I have a way of never suspecting. I guess that makes for a perfect combination.

Once I am up-and-running on my own computer, I'll add photos, which always speak louder than a thousand words. In the meantime, here's a peek at what we did, spending our 3 full days, Saturday-Monday, around 3 main areas in Paris:

1. MONTMARTRE (Saturday): the artists' square at Place du Tertre and the Sacre Coeur basilica. Donica, Ruth and I were there in October, but it felt so different to just be there and not have any other agenda than to just absorb the ethos of the place. To sit at an outside cafe and drink coffee or eat ice cream while people-watching was like heaven. We even took in a Salvador Dali exhibition which blew us all away.

2. PLACE DES VOSGES (Sunday): the oldest square in Paris and one of the most beautiful in the world. This was one spot we missed in October, so it was a real plus to see it with Don and Ruth in all it's sunny, Sunday glory. The grass was full of families having picnics with their kids, and artists and musicians showing their wares/talents under the colonnades. It was a great place to relax and just take it all in.

3. St. Germain des Pres, Luxembourg Gardens, and the Pantheon (Monday): This was the only day we had a spot of rain but it certainly did not rain on our parade! The St. Germain church is the oldest in Paris, from the 6th century. Nearby is St. Sulpice church where much of Dan Brown's action takes place in The Da Vinci Code, and where the obelisk is. The Luxembourg Gardens were in their spring glory, as was the Medici Fountain, on our way to the Pantheon. We were unable to enter the Pantheon in October because of a political riot going on outside, so it was special to see it this time--the place where the great "men" of Paris are entombed. The only woman, Madam Marie Curie, who discovered radium and who has a historical part in Solvay Pharmaceuticals, Donica's company, is also buried there, along with her husband, Pierre.

In between our walking around, of course, we saw/visited the Eiffel Tower (at night), the Louvre museum, Notre Dame and other famous landmarks in the distance. Also spent a lot of time in the Tuileries next to the Louvre, resting and people-watching, just a block or so away from our Inter-Continental Hotel.

Talk about a surprise! Talk about a nice weekend vacation! Thanks to Don for sharing his birthday with us; thanks to Ruth for once again being our great tour guide; and thanks to Donica for planning the surprise party of the decade!

Friday, April 01, 2005

Our Hannover Apartment

Yes, I'm finally online with my own laptop but NOT in Hannover. I'm in Paris celebrating my 60th birthday early with Donica, Ruth and Don (from Michigan)! Let's just say that Donica threw the biggest surprise party of the decade, celebrating my 60th (in June) and Don's 50th on Monday. I was the only one who was surprised, but that's another post entirely, for later.

For right now, let's start at the beginning! I've been so off-kilter after a week of not being able to do posts. So I'm gonna start with where we're staying here in Hannover.

Grosser Hillen 25 is a charming building in a lovely southeast neighborhood of the city. See that skylight at the tip of the peak? That's our bedroom window up in the attic. That makes our apartment the "penthouse attic" and is absolutely charming! It's airy, white and bright, with vaulted and angled ceilings. I've guestimated it to be approximately 550-600 sq. ft. That may seem small when you're used to a house, but it's definitely larger than a hotel suite and much homier. I love it.

In Europe, the first floor of a building is the main/ground floor. So as far as Germany is concerned, we live on the 3rd floor--65 steps up--instead of what's the 4th floor for us. We walk into the living area, with the dinette, desk and kitchen on the left and the couch area with TV on the right. Straight ahead is the bedroom and bath. Like I said, very cozy and charming. What more could you ask for in a short-term living situation!

Once we get back from Paris on Tuesday, we hope to find our DSL connected. Won't that be nice! A miracle at this point. And once connected, just watch me go to town to catch you up on my first week's impressions...and the surprise birthday gift of Paris. I can hardly wait to share it all!