Friday, September 1, 2017

Vacation Signs

I already gave a little travel report about our summer vacation, but there's one aspect I saved for a separate post.

The signs.

If you've read some of my other posts you might have realized I really like signs. I've described warnings of dangerous trees in the Bavarian Forest and showed some really beautiful signs in my own town before.

So now for some vacation signs.

While driving through the German state of Hessen, I was tickled to see their construction signs. It seriously made the construction zone easier to take because I kept wondering what the next sign would look like.

We saw this sign on the path leading down to the lake and warning of the steep slope. AKA "Beware of out-of-control inline skaters!"

This sign is posted next to a tiny little stream, and seems to be warning about a tsunami.

I mentioned in my other vacation post that our campground's swimming area had been drained to remove the muck and silt at the bottom of the lake. :( This sign warned us not to try to walk on the instable lakebed.

A fancy chain took over this older hotel in Meschede and turned it into a swanky, expensive place to stay. You can still see the original building on the left, the new one on the right. For historic purposes, they left the original sign next to the staff driveway. Looks like the beginning of a 1950s horror movie, doesn't it?

Finally, this isn't technically a sign, but it is a sign. One of the most unique things about where we vacationed was how popular it was with Dutch tourists. Our campground was located in Germany but filled with about 75% Dutch people. These flags were on a lake cruise we took. Notice how the Dutch flag is bigger than the German one?

I hope you enjoyed these signs like I did. I think I'll end with a bonus picture: a sign of a silly dog ;)

All pictures by me or my family.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Vacation Time - Sauerland and Hennesee!

Pretty river landscape in Meschede, Germany

My family and I spent this summer vacation in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. We stayed in an area called Sauerland at a campground right on the lake Hennesee. Being from Michigan, and living in a lakeless area of Germany, I was really excited to be on the water for a whole week.

Turns out, the advertising was a little misleading. A main road separated the campground from the lake. And there was a bigger, more important difference.

The lake was man-made, created from a dammed up river. It turns out they were cleaning this portion of the lake, removing truckloads of muck and silt. So the below picture shows the "swimming area" for our campground. 

In case the lack of water didn't make it clear, the security tape encourages you not to dive in.

Disappointing, but the rest of the lake was still full of water, and we enjoyed a nice boat ride. The temps were pretty low, but the kids even managed to get in some swimming at a stony beach down the road, at least until they came out with teeth chattering.

My kids (and dog) making a rare, but still anonymous appearance on the blog :)

I love the way it looks like these rocks are growing up out of the ground on shore
We also got to walk on the dam itself.

The area is extremely hilly, and a long, long, long stairway was built so you can walk up to the top of the dam from the other side. Seriously, once on these stairs was enough.

Looking down
Looking up the Himmelstreppe or Stairway to the Sky

The region is known for its slate mining, and many houses were covered in it, giving them a dark but really unique appearance.

House in Meschede
House in Eversberg. It's built into the hill so this side only shows the upper floors.

Being a reader, I liked the buildings in the village of Eversberg even better. They had phrases painted on them. My favorite house reminded kids to keep their bedrooms clean!

The phrases are in the horizontal timbers.

In Eversberg, we hiked up to the ruins of a fortress built in 1242 for a lovely view.

View from the top

Something I wouldn't have noticed on my own, but my husband did, is how all of the roofs are dark slate, compared to the red tiles in Franconia, where we live.

As for whether I'd recommend this area for a vacation...let's just say there were some nice aspects, but it was generally less suitable for sightseeing that most of the places we've vacationed in Germany recently. But we enjoyed our relaxing time there nonetheless.

Bonus pic: I had to prove I actually visited the ruins, didn't I?

All pictures by me or my family.

Friday, July 28, 2017

A Laughing Eye and A Crying Eye

In Germany, when people make a big change, like moving to a new job or a new city, they often say they do it "with a laughing eye and a crying eye," meaning they're looking forward to the new thing coming but will miss what they're leaving behind.

Today is the last day of the school year here in Bavaria (I know, I know, so late!). For us, it's an even bigger "last"—it's the last day any of our kids will be in elementary school. *sniff*
Class T-shirt

I've written before about aspects of the educational system here in Germany I don't like (the sorting of kids after fourth grade). And I've written about parts I think are absolutely wonderful, like the rite of passage of starting first grade.

For the most part, we've been really happy with the elementary school. And now we're facing another milestone: the end of elementary school.

After fourth grade, kids are split into tracks: college prep, vocational and a middle route that could lead to either one. That means the kids--friends and neighbors--are more or less torn apart and sent to different schools. *sniff*

So on to "the end." There was a school assembly, to which parents are invited. The kids put on two plays, sang songs, danced. The fourth graders received little presents made by the first graders they'd mentored this year (another idea I love!).

Like every year on the last day, the tall, soft-spoken, less-than-one-year-until-retirement principal assigned the kids three important pieces of homework for summer break:
  1. Play, every day!
  2. Sleep in, every day!
  3. See your friends, every day!
The kids cheered like it was a rock concert, and my heart swelled, knowing we'd never be there for that again.

And then the assembly ended with everyone waving and singing a goodbye/good luck song to the fourth graders. 

Some kids cried.
Some parents cried (stop looking at me).
Some teachers cried.

If that's not a sign of the wonderful community in our elementary school, I don't know what is.

I'm sure next year will be great, but I know from experience that things in the upper schools are a bit different. The student bodies are bigger and more anonymous; there's less involvement by the families.

But nothing can take the mostly lovely elementary school memories from my kids or from me. I'm so glad I got the chance to be a part of this community.

All pictures taken by me.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Felsenlabyrinth (The Rock Labyrinth)

On Friday afternoon, one of my kids and I took a spur-of-the-moment jaunt with some neighbors out to Wunsiedel to the Felsenlabyrinth (Rock Labyrinth). 

It's basically a hike through a labyrinth of immense boulders. We weaved around them, climbed over them, and sometimes even crouch-walked under piles of them that would crush us in a second with the slightest shift of the ground.

The boulders are made of granite, formed by erosion. The locals recognized the uniqueness of the area and began setting up paths to turn it into a tourist attraction in the late 1700s. Goethe, for example, visited in 1785.

Many boulders are carved with quotes from the early 1800s. This rock, as big as a two-story house, had a longer text. I only photographed the last couple of lines, carved in August 1817.

"Lebe recht, Wanderer! Träume glücklich und stirb ruhig. Du verlierst deinen Traum, und gewinnst Ruhe!" – Live well, wayfarer! Have good dreams and die peacefully. You lose your dream, and gain tranquility*.

The entire area is now a nature reserve. One surprise was the rare bioluminescent moss we happened upon.

In some spots, it felt like we'd stumbled onto a movie set. Lord of The Rings, anyone?

This is clearly an Ent bending over to shove the boulder, right?
I'd highly recommend a hike through the Felsenlabyrinth if you're ever out that way.

There's also an amphiheater for the Luisenburg Festspiele right next to the Felsenlabyrinth, and they incorporated the landscape into the stage. We got to see Cats, and my ten-year-old has been humming the songs ever since.

Luisenburg Festspiele stage
For more professional pictures of the Felsenlabyrinth, see this link.

Had to prove I was there, didn't I?

*Translation by me. Feel free to comment if you think I translated incorrectly. ;-)
All pictures by me.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Goodbye Sutton's Bay, Hello Stars

For a few months now, I felt like my blog design needed some work. I loved my picture of the beach in Sutton's Bay, Michigan (you should go there if you ever have the chance!). But it did make for kind of a busy look.

My problem is that I'm not a very visual person. Design and I just don't mix.

And then I noticed a tweet from Operation Awesome, a website with resources for writers, interviews and writing contests (highly recommended!).

Most importantly, I saw the tweet at exactly the perfect time—meaning I was fast enough to win!

Leandra Wallace from Operation Awesome created a new header for me, and I changed the rest of the blog design to match. I'm pretty happy with the new clean look. And the sci-fi geek in me loves the stars!

So, thank you, Operation Awesome and Leandra Wallace!

PS - if you'd like to win a graphic from Leandra, I heard she might do another giveaway in the future. Follow them on Twitter to keep an eye out for the next contest! 
Operation Awesome on Twitter
Leandra Wallace on Twitter

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Sundays in Germany - A Love/Hate Relationship

The past two weeks have been sunny with just the right amount of rain, so the hedge next to my parking spot has exploded with growth. Add to that a fully packed calendar, and I haven't had time to trim it. Two days ago, one of my kids could barely get in the car.  Yikes.

image by Wayne Stadler via Flickr - not an actual picture of the state of my yard ;-)
Today is Sunday—the first day I had time get out the hedge clippers.

BUT—today is Sunday, and I live in Germany.

It probably depends on where you live in Germany, but where I live, Sunday is quiet time. Seriously, quiet, like to the point of having to pay a fine if you're reported for doing something loud like mowing your lawn. In addition, there's no shopping (stores are all closed on Sundays!). No washing or vacuuming the car. No repairs around the house.

On the one hand, this forced quiet time can be nice. At least once a week, you're guaranteed a day of downtime. Take a bike ride to a biergarten. Drink coffee and eat cake with friends. Maybe go out to a matinee with the kids.

On the other hand, it means any work you need to do on a weekend all has to be done on Saturday. Grocery store aisles are packed, store parking lots are even worse. Then there's mowing the lawn and trimming the yard, fixing the bike, washing the windows, etc. All packed in on Saturday.

A lot of farmers live in the village where my husband grew up, and if a person rides by on a tractor on Sunday, you can bet someone in the family will go to the window to identify who dared to do that. One of my neighbors said she's been chastised by others in the neighborhood for doing yard work on a Sunday.

So here's me, an expat with this knowledge, standing in front of my overgrown hedge on Sunday. I know next week will be hectic once again, so I went ahead and trimmed the shrubbery (with manual clippers! I wouldn't dare use electric ones!). In the twenty minutes it took to do that, no less than five neighbors walked or drove by my house and eyed my quiet, yet verboten work. No one said anything. And I kept it short.

So that was my Sunday, living dangerously during quiet time.

Bonus pic: proof that using Sunday for coffee and cake can be worthwhile :-)

All pics by me or my family if not otherwise indicated.

Monday, May 1, 2017

My First Maibaum (Maypole)

Happy Labor Day! 
Or Happy May Day!  
Or happy whatever other holiday you celebrate on May 1! (according to this link, May 1 is very popular as a holiday worldwide)

2017 seems to be the year to catch up with German traditions I've missed. Back in January, it was molybdomancy. Yesterday, I watched a Maibaum (maypole) being erected.

The Maibaum (maypole), decorated and ready to be set up.

The maypole is put up on the last day of April (or on May 1, depending on the region) and is a symbol of the beginning of spring. There are a lot of stories as to the origin of the maypole tradition. Most cite Germanic rites and forest gods. 

Four groups push up the maypole, using tree trunks called Schwalben. Here's the first group.

So yesterday I watched one being erected for the first time. It was a big deal in my in-laws village. About thirty men were needed to erect it. It was hard work—my husband ended up with scraped and bleeding hands. I also learned that erecting the Maibaum is a guys-only thing.  ¯\_()_/¯ Anyway, all total probably 100 people attended. Not bad for a village of 280 people. Besides the fun of watching the maypole, you could buy beer, soft drinks and bratwurst.

The second group joins.

As for the maypole itself, different areas in Germany use different types of trees, often birch or spruce. Some strip the trunk and decorate it, and some leave the tree as it is naturally. Other areas of Bavaria tend to decorate in blue and white, whereas we in Franconia use red and white.

With each additional group, the maypole is pushed higher. Here, the third group has joined with their Schwalben.

I've been told that the size of the tree doesn't matter, but when we drove through a neighboring village and saw how short their maypole was, we may have chuckled and called it a Bonsai Maibaum.  ;-)

Now all four groups are working on it.

How can you make a maypole even more fun? By stealing it! Seriously, stealing the maypole is a popular tradition, so often a few guys camp out next to the tree to guard it. If someone does manage to get away with it, they demand ransom–usually beer and food—before they'll give it back. And no, I have no idea how you'd steal something that big.

The maypole is so tall, I accidentally cut off the top when taking the picture!

The funniest examples I heard of stealing a maypole were:
- the people who used a helicopter to steal one from the Zugspitze mountain.

There are a lot of different maypole traditions around Germany. If you know of any (also from other countries!), I'd love to read them in the comments!

all pictures by me

Monday, January 9, 2017


I have no idea how I've escaped this German tradition so long, but for the first time ever, on New Year's Eve, I poured lead to predict how the new year will go.

What is this cool word Molybdomancy? And how does that work?

Molybdomancy is Bleigießen in German. Still not helpful? How about Lead* Pouring?

Here's how it works. You buy a Lead Pouring kit, which consists of small shapes made of lead** (which my husband says is most likely actually tin) and a spoon. You don't want to use your own spoon because it turns black with soot.

Light a candle, place a piece of lead on it and hold it over the flame until it looks like the liquid metal of a T-1000.

When it's melted, carefully pour it into a container of water. Be sure to hold it very close to the surface of the water before pouring because it can spatter (we ended up with lead flecks all over the table in one case).

The melted lead hardens immediately in the cold water.

But how does this help predict how the new year will go?

Look at the shape of the cooled lead. Hold a light behind it and check the shadow it throws on the wall. Then compare the shadow to the handy-dandy list of highly scientific translations provided with the Lead Pouring kit.
The shapes my family made.
My shape looked suspiciously like a teardrop to me, but since that wasn't one of the options (thank God, because it sounds like a year full of sorrow!), my friend suggested the shadow was the shape of a bottle. Perfect! A bottle means a year with good friends.

Just for fun, here are a few other shapes you might get (or hopefully not), and their meanings:
Tree – Fulfillment of wishes
Egg – An addition to the family
Antlers – Bad luck in love
Any number – good luck in the lottery
Hedgehog – Jealousy
Moon – High honor
Cross – A bad time to have an affair
Palm Tree – A good business year
Coffin – A death
Shoe – A happy life
Cup – Avoid alcohol
Pipe – Joy

Have you ever poured lead for New Years? What did you think about it?

*I realize molybdenum and lead are different elements, but that's how the internet translated it for me.

**The package said the metal should not be put in the mouth, must be kept away from food and beverages, and should be handled as "problematic waste," so I'm thinking it's really lead. Not sure I want to do this again.

All pictures taken by me.