Bombs, Riots, and Sinking Bridges: Everyday Perils of the Last Month in Deutschland

It began last month when we arrived home from Ireland. In the wake of modern-day terrorism scares around Europe, a reminder of the past resurfaced. A 500-pound World War II bomb had been discovered in downtown Wiesbaden and was set to be diffused one Sunday evening. Fortunately residents (ironically including many Americans) were given notice to evacuate the area beforehand.

This wasn’t the first time this has happened either. Last year another WWII bomb was found and detonated near a stretch of Autobahn not far from the Frankfurt Airport. As my dad commented when I described these situations, “I guess wars never really end.”

The next morning, news came during Monday rush hour that the Schiersteiner Bridge between Wiesbaden and Mainz was closed for repairs due to having unexpectedly sunken several centimeters. This continues to be a major problem off and on, with what I assume will not have an easy end in sight. While the severely unstable bridge situation is being worked on, a ferry has become available for transporting people and their cars across the Rhein. This, in addition to people making use of the local trains, has generally helped the traffic problem. The real problem here is that there are only two other bridges for cars between these two state capital cities.

To cap off the month, this Wednesday saw what was supposed to be a heavily populated anti-capitalism protest in Frankfurt’s financial district turn violent and destructive. Cars and buildings were set on fire, and from pictures I saw from bystanders and in the news, it looked like a war zone. I was lucky enough to be coming from the direction that wasn’t affected by this mess, so I didn’t even experience any public transportation delays. I knew that the demonstrations would be going on but was absolutely shocked when I saw how the event had turned. What a way to waste getting a message across credibly.

I feel fortunate that my biggest complaint in the midst of all of these dangers has only been traffic disruptions. Regular traffic jams and road construction are par for the course in Germany, and having come from Washington, DC where the traffic situation is one of the worst in the U.S., that kind of disorder is only to be expected.

New Running Route

Starting behind Schloss Biebrich
Starting behind Schloss Biebrich
Park view from behind the castle - path loops around from the right
Park view from behind the castle – path loops around from the right

Spring along the Rhein brings everyone outdoors for bike rides, picnics, waiting in long lines for ice cream, and scenic jogs. Here I take you along my favorite new jogging loop through the Schlosspark behind Schloss Biebrich in Wiesbaden:

Start of the path
Start of the path

On your mark, get set…

Go! This 3.2 kilometer (two-mile) run starts behind the elegant salmon-and-beige Schloss Biebrich. A gravelly courtyard and garden directly behind the castle leads back into a long straight stretch shaded by a row of tall leafy trees on either side. As we head further away from the castle, the trees become less orderly and the grass and wildflowers more overgrown.

Between the lake and Mosburg Castle ruins
Between the lake and Mosburg Castle ruins
Far street entrance and loop turning point
Far street entrance and loop turning point

1 Kilometer

At this point, we come to the ruins of Mosburg Castle on the right and a small lake on the left. Shortly past the tip of the lake, we reach the far entry gate to the park that opens onto Äppelallee, a main road that is home to a sizeable modern shopping area. From here, the path loops back around the other side of the lake and continues straight, parallel to our first leg of the run.

Around the other side of the lake
Around the other side of the lake
Heading back in the shade
Heading back in the shade

2 Kilometers

Continuing beneath the shade of more trees along the path, we can look toward the middle stretch of the park to see a large open area of green space. People and dogs mill around here and a few ducks fly overhead. Shortly after this point, we make a slight detour onto a small loop near the far side of Schloss Biebrich past a small rec center building.

Side loop toward the end
Side loop toward the end
Back behind Schloss Biebrich
Back behind Schloss Biebrich

3.2 Kilometers – The Finish Line

Having returned to the main path, we’ve come back to the garden and two white fountains directly behind Schloss Biebrich. Looking up at the back of the castle, we see an array of statues overseeing us at the end of the run.

…A Few of My Favorite Things – Part 2

And the travels with family continued the other week! So here are the continued highlights – one more post to sum up this set of adventures coming soon.

Schloss Biebrich in Wiesbaden faces the Rhein River
Schloss Biebrich in Wiesbaden faces the Rhein River
  • Wiesbaden: Featuring an unexpected medieval festival

A short distance from downtown Wiesbaden stands the illustrious Schloss Biebrich with a tidy park area that flows out behind it. With long pedestrian trails and a small lake, the Schlosspark makes the enormous palace look small by comparison. Today the castle itself contains a restaurant and hotel and is used for events. The park is enjoyed by many, and we even saw a few people practicing tightrope walking between two sturdy trees.

Spring festival in Kochbrunnenplatz
Spring festival in Kochbrunnenplatz

Our visit to the Kochbrunnen (thermal springs) in a downtown square, happened to coincide with a Historical Spring Festival. In this case, “historical” translated to “medieval,” so the festival featured many people in medieval costumes, dolls and other crafts made out of brooms, archery games, and mead and dried meats.

 

Residenz palace in Würzburg
Residenz palace in Würzburg
  • Würzburg: Amazingly reconstructed palace and quaint college town

Würzburg was so enjoyable, we ended up visiting it twice during the week. About an hour and a half southeast of us, this small city is a true blend of history and modern-day. The most impressive sights are the Residenz palace and the Festung (fortress) Marienberg, both originally homes of the prince-bishops of Würzburg. During World War II, the furnishings of the Residenz were moved to the fortress high above the town for safekeeping. The Residenz, as predicted, was then severely damaged but has been entirely rebuilt. Even the showy mirror room, a spectacle of foreign-themed paintings on glass covering mirrors on all four walls and the ceiling, was reconstructed based on slides of the room taken before the damage.

Old Bridge in Würzburg
Old Bridge in Würzburg

Würzburg is home to a university of the same name, and the town reflects the university life. The old bridge leading over the Rhein from the Altstadt (old town) to the Marienberg fortress, is lined with small bars and restaurants. We enjoyed a riverside lunch on the patio of an old mill at the Gasthaus Alte Mainmühle.

 

Luxembourg City with the Casemates along the right
Luxembourg City with the Casemates along the right
  • Luxembourg City, Luxembourg: Two-hour drive to a new country

Much of Luxembourg City sits in a bowl surrounded by the Bock Casemates, a defensive wall with passageways built into the cliffs. This provided storage areas for cannons and other equipment, soldier barracks, and escape routes both over and under the bridges.

The country of Luxembourg has its own language, Luxembourgish, though French and German are also commonly spoken here. The food served in the cafes leans more toward French cuisine, with quiches being popular lunch fare. We did, however, see a band of chefs with the typical tall white hats carrying baskets of pretzels to a town square. Luxembourg City has an extensive American cemetery, mainly the resting place of World War II soldiers, and is the headquarters of many European Union offices.

Symbol of Luxembourg City:  the red lion
Symbol of Luxembourg City: the red lion

A visit to the Luxembourg City History Museum provided some artistic insights into societal changes in the city (languages, politics, household appliances, commercialism, etc.). The museum also has a multimedia exhibit featuring a Luxembourg City legend of the mermaid or siren Melusina. A count had supposedly fallen in love with Melusina in human form and, when he discovered her true identify, she disappeared forever. The elusive mermaid is said to still be hidden somewhere along the Alzette River.

 

Frankfurt
Frankfurt
  • Frankfurt: Birdseye view

This trip to the modern city of Frankfurt consisted of a walking tour with sights such as the Altstadt reconstruction project, Goethe’s house, and the Alte Brücke (old bridge). The tour culminated with a visit to the top of the Main Tower, providing a view of the whole city.

 

Hohenzollern from afar
Hohenzollern from afar
  • Hohenzollern: Prussian kings’ castle, still family-owned

Atop a hill about two and a half hours south of here, near Stuttgart, sits Burg Hohenzollern. This castle still belongs to the family of the former Prussian kings. The current “Prince of Prussia” is Georg Friedrich, who studied economics and works for a marketing company. He and his wife Princess Sophie have twin sons, but only the oldest son will succeed him in the family’s nominal title.

Hohenzollern from the inner courtyard
Hohenzollern from the inner courtyard
Statues on the surrounding wall
Statues on the surrounding wall

What is Fasching All About?

Fasching, Karneval, Fastnacht… It’s all a last grand hurrah before the somber pre-Easter season of lent begins.  And the way Germany does it puts the somewhat festive American Mardi Gras to shame.  Mainz rivals the city of Köln to put on one of the best and biggest Karneval celebrations in Germany.  But I must say that downtown Wiesbaden and Mainz-Kastel put on enthusiastic shows too.  So what is Fasching all about anyway, you ask?  Here it is in a nutshell:

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Even Gutenberg gets into the Fasching spirit in Mainz
  • Weiberfastnacht/Schmotziger Donnerstag (Donnerstag = Thursday) kicks off the Karneval seaon the week before Ash Wednesday.  And the first day belongs to the ladies.  On this day, to symbolize their power, women are allowed to cut any man’s tie in half.
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    Huge crowds gather for Mainz’s Rosenmontag parade

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    More crowds in front of Mainz’s theater
  • Rosenmontag (Montag = Monday) before Ash Wednesday is the biggest party day of Karneval.  This day features the largest crowds, parades, and parties.

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    Post-parade confetti in Mainz
  • Fastnacht Dienstag (Dienstag = Tuesday), AKA Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday, is the final day of Karneval.  It’s also a day for celebrating, though not as important as Rosenmontag.

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    Animal marching band in downtown Wiesbaden’s big parade on Sunday
  • Costumes:  Not just for kids.  Germans young, old, and in between don costumes to watch parades and party in the street.  Costumes range from any kind of animal you can imagine to clowns, jesters, dolls, Smurfs, babies, pirates, and a small handful of “scarier” costumes like witches and monsters.  During Karneval, towns belong to the Narren and Närrinnen (fools) so most of the costumes are rather cute and silly.  On Ash Wednesday, the fools supposedly return the key to the city to their mayor.
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    A Fasching float in Wiesbaden

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    Colorful balloon costumes in Mainz-Kastel’s parade on Saturday
  • Parades begin at 11:11 a.m. or 11 or 33 minutes after another afternoon hour.  The official start to the Karneval season is November 11 (11/11) so the parade schedules traditionally adhere to multiples of 11.  Marching bands, dance groups, and floats pulled by tractors parade through the streets for literally hours on end during each of the main Fastnacht days.  Costumed parade members shower the costumed spectators with candy, bags of popcorn, small toys, and confetti.  Street sweepers follow the tail end of the parade, tidying up the streets.

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    “Helau! Helau! Helau!” from Wiesbaden
  • “Helau” vs. “Alaaf”:  In the Mainz area, cries of “Helau!” (Hehl-ow) can be heard as greetings to other costumed strangers and parade groups.  Three “Helau”’s are often shouted at the parade groups as they pass.  In Köln, however, the standard Karneval greeting is “Alaaf!”
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    Parade spectators showered with confetti in front of Wiesbaden’s Rathaus (town hall)

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    A band on parade in Mainz-Kastel. Red, yellow, blue, and white are popular Fasching colors.
  • Musik is loud and upbeat.  A mix of traditional German songs, modern German dance music, and many remixes combining the two styles set an energetic tone for the parades and street festivals.  Dancing is also popular for young people in makeshift nightclub tents.

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    Drunkard float in Mainz-Kastel
  • Alkohol is (hopefully) never more abused here than during Karneval.  Because of open-carry laws, beer, wine, and schnapps can be consumed in the streets.  And this seems to be the time that people take it to the extreme, starting before 11:11 a.m. in some cases.  Unfortunately, this leads not only to overly friendly and wound-up spectators, but also a lot of glass underfoot.
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    Mainz’s street festival next to the Dom (cathedral)
  • Festival food, rides, and games provide an ongoing fun and festive atmosphere in the town squares.  This is the first time I’ve spotted popcorn in Germany, though most of the street food smells are very sweet:  candied nuts, gingerbread, cotton candy, and crepes.  In addition, you can find hearty, tasty meal foods like bratwurst and fries.
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    Giant heads in Mainz’s Saturday parade

Tis the Season… for Christmas Markets!

IMG_1628Germany celebrates the Christmas season with an appealing sense of old world charm.  Towns all over the country open their own individual Christmas markets in the shadow of their central churches for about a month leading up to Christmas.  In Mainz, the Christmas market has been open since November 28 (coincidentally the same day as the American Thanksgiving holiday and this year’s first night of Hanukkah).  Wiesbaden’s market opened a few days earlier.  Slightly different in their layout, the Mainz market flows through a few connected town squares while Wiesbaden’s market has a narrower and more roundabout route confined by a maze of metal gates.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Despite their differences, it’s what in the markets that count:  The butcher, the baker, the beeswax candlestick maker, and more.  Large wooden shed-like buildings offer handcrafted woodwork, glasswork, leather goods, Christmas ornaments, bake ware, and so on.  And the food.  As you walk through the market you pass through smells of gingerbread, chocolate, candied nuts, roasted chestnuts, bratwurst and currywurst, potato pancakes, and (perhaps most importantly) a hot mulled wine called Glühwein.  Huge wooden barrels with long benches and a table inside serve as seating for at least nine, in my experience.  You can also stand at a tall table made from a log cut in half.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

On weekends in particular, the markets are jam packed.  People shuffle along shoulder to shoulder and cram in to buy crafts and food.  My favorite times to visit the markets are weekday afternoons and evenings when the crowds are a little lighter.  Time is running out for the markets but I hope to visit a few more before next week.  Merry Christmas/Frohe Weihnachten!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA      IMG_1629 IMG_1631 IMG_1632 IMG_1599 IMG_1606

Wrong Side of the River?

IMG_1534     IMG_1539   Over the Rhein River from Mainz lies the city of Wiesbaden.  While they are next to each other, each city is the capital of its respective state:  Mainz, Rheinland-Pfalz and Wiesbaden, Hessen.  And the residents of each strongly feel that their city is better and that everyone else lives on the wrong side of the river.  Yesterday James and I took a break from studying for our driving tests to further explore Mainz and then introduce ourselves to downtown Wiesbaden.  Actually this also helped us review the street signs we had been learning and was much more interesting than reading the tedious manual (James literally fell asleep one day reading about traffic laws).  Among the signs we saw was the Residential Area sign that indicates streets where pedestrians have priority over vehicles.  It’s much cuter than any street sign I’ve seen in the U.S.:  a stick-person adult and a stick-person kid kicking a ball back and forth next to a house with a car in the background.IMG_1530

We had first taken a pleasant but uneventful walk to Mainz Oberstadt, a mostly residential area a little further out than the shopping and cultural centers of Mainz I had visited before.  There were some nice parks filled with trees and falling yellow leaves.  On the way back we saw an old-fashioned looking train that was used for tour groups driving just ahead of a modern street car.IMG_1531

Next it was over the river to investigate downtown Wiesbaden on a comfortable thirteen minute train ride.  At €5.20 roundtrip, it was about comparable to a weekend-rate trip on DC metro.  My first impression of Wiesbaden was that it is a larger and more populated city than Mainz, with wider but fuller streets.  The tall-towered Marktkirche cathedral loomed over Wiesbaden’s almost-ready Christmas market.  Wiesbaden’s Christmas booths are painted light blue and topped with yellow stars or moons, setting them apart from Mainz’s unpainted wooden barrels and sheds.  Most of the Christmas markets in the area start next week and remain open for about a month.IMG_1535IMG_1537IMG_1554

I thought the highlight of downtown Wiesbaden was the Kochbrunnen, or boiling fountains, in Kranzplatz.  Wiesbaden has long been known for its sodium chloride hot springs which you can see erupting from several sources in this town square.  Because the outside temperature was about 5°C (40°F), billows of steam rose continuously off of the water, which reaches 66°C (almost 151°F).  The water is clear but when the minerals in it reach the air it appears yellow and leaves a red residue on the stone fountains.  From Kranplatz, the spring water is directed to be processed at Kaiser-Friedrich spa and then on to other parts of the city.  It’s used to heat the city hall and other buildings, and is believed to have health benefits for various ailments.  James and I felt and, of course, tasted the water.  As you might expect, it has a salty taste and left a rusty residue on our hands.IMG_1547IMG_1553