Germany 2016: Almost ready to leave!

Packing and organizing for this year’s trip to Germany, starting tomorrow, May 26! Our trip will take us to Antje’s mom’s home in Osnabrueck, Germany, but also to Munich, Prague, Berlin, a conference in Amsterdam, Hamburg, and maybe a glimpse of the Baltic as we visit Antje’s sister, who lives near a Zen retreat in Schleswig-Holstein. If you’re curious, there’ll be daily blogs (by Antje) accompanied by photos (by Mark) because that’s the only way we can remember our own trips. Check out the blog and leave us comments if you’re curious!

Friday, May 27, 2016: Arrival

Bert, Michael and Judith’s cat, who feels quite at home at Imke’s

Lupine with visitor
We almost surprised ourselves by making it to Germany without any hitches between yesterday and today.  When we left Hastings, the weather was fine, but we soon got a series of thunderstorm, flashflood, and tornado warnings, and the drive from Lincoln to pOmaha with our friend Richard was very soggy–but this caused no delays in either Omaha or Minneapolis, even though I developed such a case of travel nerves about it the previous night. (What I should have worried about was the continuing weather at home, because while we were in the air bound toward Amsterdam, a huge hackberry tree fell on part of the Hasrings house! But that’s a story for another day.)

There were no hitches about our arrival, and we took the train from Amsterdam to Osnabrueck, which takes about 3.5 hours. The only exciting moment came at the Dutch-German border, where a drug-sniffing dog came on board, and a couple of American kids who were traveling from Amsterdam to Cracow got their luggage searched (they had no drugs on them, but obviously had been to a (legal) Dutch smokehouse for long enough for the dog to get a whiff!

When we got to Osnabrueck around 6 pm, where my mom (Imke) and my sister (Judith) picked us up from the train station, and we got a ride in my sister’s new and very luggage-friendly Renault Kangoo. At Imke’s house, we had a lovely soup and salad dinner, and we sat outside and chatted in her garden, since it was both still light and one of the first warm-ish days they had. Mark took some great pics of my sister and brother-in-law’s cat, Bert (who is always on a long leash hanging out on the terrace when visiting my mom–but today showed special talents by catching a mouse while leashed!) and of a bumblebee in my mother’s lupines. I was tired enough to eventually give up on translating for Mark, and that was a clear sigh that it was time for bed!

Saturday, May 28, 2016: Osnabrueck

A walk with the family

A fun carnivorous plant from Florida — in the botanical gardens

In the botanical gardens (blooming things)

In the botanical gardens (teenagers, this one an imported species)

Cornflower with guest

A “Dompfaff” (German red-breasted bullfinch) in Imke’s garden

Lots of people time today! We slept well and started the day by taking a walk with my sister and her husband (Judith and Michael), a stroll that ended with a trip to the corner bakery for fresh German rolls and fresh bread. Mark took a couple of photos before being told he couldn’t (industrial espionage in a bakery) and them we took our haul home and prepared a German breakfast for all of us and a close family friend, Uschi, who showed up around 9. It was sunny and warm enough for us to have a buffet of the classic cheeses, cold cuts, jams and spreads inside and just take our plates into the gardens to eat–a great way to start the day and visit with everyone. After breakfast, Mark, Kai, and I took the bus trip downtown (about 15 minutes) to run some errands including getting Kai’s smart phone fixed, getting data plans for both tablets and two of our phones for the coming month (all for under €100), and buying shampoo and conditioner ar our favorite drug store (for € 0.5!). We finally got back home around 2 pm, and had a couple extra hours with Uschi in the garden before she had to leave again, making plans for her next visit to the States, hopefully next year.  Then the rest of us, including even Kai, went for walk through a park, where we stopped to listen to live Dixieland band for a few minutes, and through the nearby botanical gardens, where Mark found a lot of photo ops for blooming flowers. When we got back home, Imke, Judith and Michael made a fabulous dinner with roast vegetables and a feta-based dip. The others had had strawberry cake earlier, mid-afternoon, but Mark and I had it as dessert!  It was still both light and fairly warm after dinner, so we stayed in the garden, with more photo ops for both critters and people. My mom is going to be moving to an apartment later this year, and she is excited for the move, but this is her last summer with a garden, and she is loving it that Mark is taking all these great photos. Later, around 9:30, old friends of Judith’s who grew up with us, Katja and Udo, came by, and we had a great time, still sitting outside, talking until almost midnight. It was especially fun to compare notes of our memories of our home town (the dangerous crossing across a highway we had to use to get to school, the year the ALDI first came to town as a source of super cheap candy, the couple that taught us all in the standard ball-room dancing lessons that all teens were taking at 15… My mom even her dance lesson story about her date not showing up to pick her up for the ball at the end–he had gotten sick and nobody had bothered to let her know!). We were very tired when we finally went to bed, but also proud of ourselves for lasting so long! Maybe we’ll manage without major jet lag this time!


Sunday, May 29th 2016: Osnabrueck

Three pine cones
The next back yard
Imke’s new street
Imke’s new place, just the bottom floor

This was Judith and Michael’s last half-day with us. We had breakfast with them and went for a short walk to the edge of a nearby lake and back, enjoying all the green around us, and e many blooming plants (rhododendrons and azaleas are in full bloom right now). Then all six of us piled into two cars and went to the apartment that my mom, Imke, is going to buy (or rather, trade with the owner against her own house). The woman who is currently renting the apartment kindly agreed to let my mom show us all her future home. It’s the ground floor of a three-story town home, built in beautiful Art Deco style in 1903, in a fabulous, quiet neighborhood quite near Osnabrueck’s city center. The apartment is gorgeous, with a “Wintergarten” (enclosed veranda) and access to the small, walled garden that will be my mom’s. It’s gorgeous (and will be more so when my mom puts up her own wall decor and uncovers just some of the tile work in the veranda area that the renter does not want), and my mom was super excited to show us.

After our tour, Judith and Michael and their cat-child, Bert, took off for home (a 4+ hour drive on a good day), and we went home to measure furniture and cut out little paper versions to scale with Imke’s blueprint of the new apartment, so she can shuffle furniture around and see whether it fits. She is going from a two-story home to 1280 square feet (120 sq meters), but she is thrilled to shrink her possessions for the move. We had a late lunch, a nap, and a long (4-mile) walk around the lake that we had visited briefly this morning. It’s been cooler and overcast, but quite pleasant, and my mom loved the company and the exercise. Afterwards, we had a late German-style dinner–bread, cold cuts and various cheeses, plus tea (at my mom’s house, at any rate), and called it a day, which was nice after yesterday’s intense social schedule.

Monday, May 30, 2016: Osnabrueck

Ring of flowers
Old door

Imke’s backyard


We enjoyed another fairly quiet Osnabrueck day.  Kai has a bit of a cold and wanted to just stay home and sleep in, but Mark and I walked downtown and back (about a 5-mile walk total, and mostly familiar sights for both of us. Our path downtown took us past the botanical gardens, where new plants fascinated us–a primrose species that has its blooms arranged on a sort of wheel with spokes, and fern leaves in the process of unrolling–and past a statue that we’d never noticed before, called “Liars.” Mark said it reminded him of American politics.  We walked to the old town city center, where we’ve been many times, and peeked into the two churches that were at the center of town in medieval times, each with their own market square, but only two blocks from each other.  The Cathedral (“Osnabruecker Dom”), founded in the 8th century looks like it’s always looked the way it does now, and some parts of it (like the door with its hand-wrought hinges that Mark photographed) are very old. But it was actually. built, rebuilt, and added onto many times, including after WWII, when it incurred substantial damage in one of the many bombing raids. Osnabrueck was pretty heavily bombed and 65% destroyed, which is hard to imagine now. The loss of life was relatively small (under 2,000 people), because of the ubiquitous air raid shelters–we learned today that they held up to 100,000 people and that some of them are still around, although hard to find.  


Our way through downtown led us through the pedestrian shopping district, including a store with super-creepy child mannequins (we took a photo for the record), and past the other two churches beyond what would have been the earliest city walls, but within the post-medieval city limits, and then past the 18th-century palace that was the residence of the ruler of the region and is now part of the university, the courtyard full of bicycles, since the semester is still in session.  We walked home through Katharinenstrasse, the “bike-only” street that my mother loves so much, and we actually took the side street that has her new apartment building on it before stopping for a coffee and a “Coke Zero.”


We got home a little before 1 pm, and I made leftover lunch since my mom was putzing around in her beautiful garden. Mark took a great pic of the kitchen (which I’ll miss when my mom moves) and of her back yard, which is one of my favorite places on earth. My mom and I went for a quick run to the Aldi (I brought back a supply of German candy for Kai to cheer him up, as well as some cake for the ritual of afternoon coffee), and Mark and I napped but set an alarm, after yesterday’s 2-hour nap that got us all groggy.  After coffee, we tried for a walk, but there was a thunderstorm brewing, so we came back home and watched the storm from a dry spot (in Southern Germany, the rain storms caused major flooding and even some deaths, as we found out on the evening news).  We had our usual bread-and-cold-cuts dinner, and then took our walk, with Kai in tow, through a park, past farms and fields of grain (not amber waves, but a very pale green), and past a playground where the kids used to play on previous visits. Everything is very lush and almost jungly after all the rain, and every walk we’ve taken has been a pleasure because of that. We came home around 9:30, when it was still light, and wrapped up the day with blogging.



Tuesday, May 31, 2016: Osnabrueck

City Gate


Fields within walking distance

Ducks on the lake

Swan taking off

Field of little yellow flowers

Miniature horse


Today was another fairly quiet day with lots of walking, about evenly split between city & country, since my mom’s house is right at the edge between the two.  We walked downtown to the busy city center this morning and met my mom there, who had biked there.  Most of our tentative shopping missions (shoes for Kai, a Chromebook for my mom) were unsuccessful, but it was a beautiful, summery morning with blue skies, and we had lunch outside at an old haunt of ours, a cheap little outfit called “Bottled,” which is good for pizza and a salad (Kai had French fries), and which is right next to a busy playground.  We’re no longer in the running for this or for the kids’ menu, but it features, as its last item, a fabulous “pirate platter” for 0 Euro: “Kids get a plate of their own and steal from mom and dad.”  


After lunch, we took the bus home and bought some cake for our afternoon coffee on the way back to my mom’s.  A nap and said cake restored us, and Mark and I went for a 4.75 mile walk through the nearby woods and around the lake (“Rubbenbruchsee”), alongside many walkers, joggers, and cyclists.  We havd fun watching the ducks, geese, and swans on the lake and the eerily quiet water which looked like it was being snowed on by the ubiquitous linden fluff. We also walked by one of our favorite buttercup meadows in full bloom, and by our favorite lawnmower, a scruffy little pony among several sheep.  It’s hard to believe that all these countryside summer pleasures are so close to the city!  It was still warm when we came home, and we had dinner outside under my mom’s apple tree. Now we’re all packed for tomorrow’s adventure–the train trip to Munich!

Wednesday, June 1, 2016: Munich

From Osnabruck to Munich

Subways are fast and clean here





Olympic tower is in view from our place


We took off this morning without a hitch–even Kai was packed and ready in time for the four of us (Mark and me, my mom, Kai) to wheel our three suitcases to the bus, take the bus to the train station, and get on the train to Munich. We were really lucky with the weather; it was supposed to rain but didn’t until late at night. We took full advantage of the amazing German public transportation system and were also once more really lucky. (Boredom alert–I am a tad bit geeky about the wonders of public transport, so here goes: We only had an official 8 minutes to change trains (and platforms) in Hanover, and the train was running late, so we thought we had no chance to catch our InterCity to Munich; the conductor even wrote something on our ticket so we would have been allowed to take the next train, but then they announced that the other train would actually wait an extra 5 minutes!  So there was some running involved, but we made it, and were in Munich before 4 pm as planned.  We had a subway ride to our vacation rental, but it was only about 20 minutes without changing subways, and a 3-block walk at the end.)  The vacation rental was a bit of a disappointment. It is big enough (we rented for six) but the beds are weirdly arranged, with a pretty inconvenient shower/tub in the bathroom and very minimal furniture and dishes (as in, 4 chairs around a kitchen table; we are really going to be six for a day and a half when we have visitors!) But we made do; Kai and I went to the very conveniently located nearby Aldi and got food for tonight & later (40 Euro gets you very far at the Aldi, where butter is 70 euro cents and so is apple juice, while a bottle of bubbly water is 60 cents!  Another thing to geek out about–German deep discount grocery stores!).  

Then we had our usual German Abendbrot/cold-cut dinner, and Mark and I went for a little walk around the block. This is clearly a multi-cultural, residential neighborhood with a lot of really boring apartment-block houses, but also lots of little stores, bakeries, Turkish fast-food outfits, and discount groceries, but the buses and the subway are close by and there’s plenty of vegetation, so it’s nice. We can also see a tall modern tower from here, and we figured out yesterday that it is the Olympia Tower in the big park / Olympic Games area that was built for the 1972 Olympics. We got home just as it was getting dark around 9:30, and called it a night.  Kai has opted to sleep in a small storage room, and we wheeled one hide-a-bed in the living room for my mom, so we sorted out the bedroom situation, and decided to call Kai’s room the garret and Kai himself Harry.