Thanksgiving

During my childhood in Germany, we celebrated Thanksgiving, if at all, during a church service on a Sunday early in October, as an occasion to acknowledge and appreciate the abundance of Mother Nature. The cornucopia of the autumnal harvest typically was on display, similar to the one I came across during my recent visit there.

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I was grateful that my trip coincided with the ripening of a variety of produce, making me the beneficiary of many a delectable bite: the last fragrant raspberries, fleshy figs, and flavorful heirloom tomatoes still maturing in my father’s garden, chubby-cheeked grapes smiling at me from their vines, daring me to ignore them, plum and apple trees waving branches heavy with juicy morsels, walnuts and chestnuts scattered on the ground underneath their arboreal cradles, ready to be collected.

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As is so often the case, we don’t always treasure what we have until it’s gone. Growing up in one of Germany’s regions in the Upper Rhine River valley whose mild climate is conducive to successful agri- and viticulture, I didn’t think twice about the yearly bounty which presented itself. Now, residing in Colorado, in a semi-desert environment, I am conscious that raising even a fraction of those fruits and vegetables involves a much higher effort, and might prove impossible altogether.

     Thanksgiving, only a few days behind us, plays a much larger role in the United States than in Germany. It is one of the most beloved major historical and cultural national holidays. Families often travel hundreds, if not thousands of miles to meet their loved ones. Invariably, it is observed on the last Thursday of November and recalls the fabled celebration in 1621 of those English settlers who had arrived at Plymouth Rock on the Mayflower the previous fall, and who had survived their first year on a new continent. Pilgrims and American Indians of the Wampanoag tribe, without whose knowledge of the land and its crops there likely would have been no survivors, peacefully assembled to give thanks for the gifts of the earth. In a revival of an idealized past, each year people still gather in appreciation of good food, family, friends, and other blessings.

     As in years past, Hilda, Mike, and I spent this day again with friends, Esther, her two sons, George and Don, Hazel, and her daughter Valerie, so that eight of us convened around our laden table. Even though each family has its own customs, the traditional dinner ingredients are turkey, stuffing (or dressing, depending on the region), mashed potatoes, a sweet potato dish, green beans, and cranberry sauce or relish.

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My husband and mother-in-law are traditionalists when it comes to this meal, and Mike’s anticipation of and pleasure in his turkey feast and leftovers are remarkable. He takes his role as chef very seriously and lovingly plans, procures, and prepares each item on the menu.

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This is usually complemented by a delicious salmon filet for the pescatarians among us (me), contributed and baked to perfection by Valerie. Mike, moreover, introduced a new recipe, a delicious vegetable medley consisting of onions, carrots, celery, squash, and apples, baked in and topped with an apple cider reduction.

     As if this plenty were not sufficiently filling, following a culinary pause not nearly long enough, we proceeded to dessert. It consisted of Hilda’s luscious chocolate cake with pumpkin frosting, my minor contribution, standard pumpkin pie, and a present by Hazel and Valerie, pumpkin pie supreme, which equaled pumpkin pie with additional calories. Pumpkin in some form or other is indispensable on this day.

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     Be it on this American holiday, or during my trip to Germany, copious and good food tastes better when savored in good company, with good conversation. I have so much to be thankful for. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Click here for the German version/klicken Sie bitte hier für die deutsche Version:

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2016/11/26/thanksgiving/

 

My Favorite Windows

Whenever I am in Germany a journey to Mainz is a personal necessity, for nostalgia’s sake, and always includes a few must sees. From my father’s house I travel about 22 miles by train, profiting from the expedient public transportation system, and disembark at the station named Römisches Theater, on account of the surviving ruins of an ancient theater, one of many relics in this erstwhile Roman hub and present-day capital of Rhineland-Palatinate.

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The proximity of the railroad tracks to the urban center facilitates sightseeing. Through the Augustinerstraße with its eminent rococo church and its half-timbered, centuries-old houses, I reach the core of downtown Mainz.

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Its central plaza becomes the picturesque stage for a farmer’s market on three days each week throughout the year. My eyes feast on the color spectrum of fruits, vegetables, and flowers, on countless appetizing breads and cheeses.

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The square is flanked by ornately decorated villas and one of three Romanesque Catholic Cathedrals along the Rhine River, along with Speyer and Worms (see previous post). Each Saturday at noon, an organ matinée invites visitors to take a contemplative pause. In Colorado I miss this widespread availability of free music in one venue or another, and gladly make use of the opportunity.

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Adjoining the market place opposite the cathedral is a museum, named after Johannes Gutenberg. The city’s most famous son also lent his name to the local university, my alma mater, where I met the love of my life nearly 27 years ago. In the 1400s, Gutenberg invented printing by moveable type, at least in the Western hemisphere (the Chinese preceded Europeans in this technique by hundreds of years). This revolutionized the printing process and resulted in the supreme rule of books which lasted for centuries and has only recently been slowed by the advent of digital letters. I am happy that my re-exploration after many years shows the museum as informative and interesting as I had hoped (more about the spellbinding history of paper and printing in a future post).

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Following a 10 minutes’ walk, I reach St. Stephan’s Church which towers over the hilly southeastern flank of Mainz. Originally dating back to the year 990, the current incarnation rose from the rubble of bomber attacks in World War II.

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Its shattered crystal was replaced with spectacular stained-glass windows after the resident pastor had the brilliant idea to commission them from artist Marc Chagall (1887-1985). Fortunately, he agreed. Russian-born, he left the Soviet Union a few years after the Revolution and moved to Paris. When German troops invaded their western neighbor, he went into exile in the United States until his return to France after the war, where he made his home until his death at the age of 97. Mainz is among the fortunate recipients of his inspired art. He designed 9 windows and oversaw their completion at a studio in Reims, France, during his lifetime. After his passing, his fellow artist and friend, Charles Marq (1923-2006), continued the task, using similar colors and techniques but realizing his own style nonetheless. The collection of 28 windows of varying size which run the gamut of concrete biblical scenes to more abstract motifs was concluded in 2000.

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Regardless of how often I enter the unpretentious church building, I am never prepared for the cobalt splendor about to embrace me.

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A deep blue suffuses the interior and it feels as though I am diving into a profound, calm pool. The short wavelengths emanating from the glass create the illusion of depth and contrast magnificently with bright and cheerful golds, reds, greens, and purples.

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I am overcome with an immediate sense of calm and arrested time, and when my eyes adjust to the ambient light, the contrast of the colors deepens. On a sunny day, the tones sparkle and dance, but even under cloudy skies they luminesce with a strength of their own. This is not a destination to hurry through. Rather, it welcomes the viewer to decelerate, take a seat and a deep breath, and contemplate the glory.

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Chagall, having escaped the threat of deportation and death by the Nazi regime because of his Jewish heritage, graciously contributed to reconciliation between Germany and France, Christians and Jews, with his exceptional bequest. What a wonderful way to propagate his pacifist ideals, and to let the visitor participate in his beautiful vision.

Click here for the German Version/klicken Sie bitte hier für die deutsche Version:

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2016/11/22/meine-lieblingsfenster/

Thank You

I intend to keep writing about my visit to Germany, now that I have returned to Colorado, and I want to start with the following thoughts while they are fresh on my mind. It is hard to fathom how the weeks could speed by so swiftly, but I am grateful for all the gatherings with family and friends who welcomed me with open arms and made me feel very special.

Dear Papa and Regine, I owe you the greatest debt. Thank you for showing your support in so many ways. Your smiles greeted me at the airport upon my arrival, you graciously opened your home to my coming and going, adjusted your routines around mine, wined and dined me. You are a genius when it comes to electricity, Papa, and you made sure that my laptop and camera were in working order despite different current and voltage (I still don’t quite get your patient explanations). You chauffeured me to town and country, took me on walks at destinations of my choosing, and even lent me your car. Your scrumptious plum and apricot cakes filled the house with their delicious fragrance, and my mouth and tummy with culinary delights.

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Regine, your loving touch makes this house a home daily and I will miss the beauty of your flower and herb garden and your artistic arrangements which appear everywhere as if placed by a magical hand. We never lacked flower bouquets. Thank you both for being there for me, through thick and thin.

My days at your rural paradise in France were among the nicest. Heike and Pascal, merci encore une fois (click here for a link about my visit). I wish I could have stayed longer, or returned there once again. I think of your home as the realization of your dreams which always has room to embrace others. Needless to say that the food was extraordinaire.

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Renate and Egidio, I am so glad that I finally followed your invitation to visit you in Stuttgart. What a nice surprise when you picked me up at the train station, Egidio. Thank you both for sharing your cozy rooms with me, and many stories about the history of our family. You live near one of the most beautiful city parks where tall trees and bird chatter were much esteemed. Your personal tour of the city let me see some novel aspects of Stuttgart, Renate, and being in the swimming pool after weeks away felt really good. I can’t begin to list all the meals you prepared for me, and the succulent cakes and fruit bread, but I savored every bite.

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And every swallow of espresso, latte macchiato, or cappuccino, lovingly prepared. I now know that love is to wake to an espresso served to the late riser by the early bird.

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While visiting your parents in Stuttgart, Allegra, I appreciated you joining us for lunch before your trip, and you were as lively and chatty as ever. Tamara, Sven, and Chiara, I really enjoyed my hours at your house, the appetizing lunch, your piano serenade, Tamara, and your philosophy about life, our trip to Ludwigsburg to the Saturday market and castle, and the hikes to Max-Eyth See and the Württemberg. You opened my eyes to the verdant enclaves scattered all around the capital of your state, Baden-Württemberg. Not to mention to pomegranates which have become a staple on my daily menu since.

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Even though our prearranged meeting in Stuttgart did not happen as planned, Susanne, owing to my misinterpretation of your instructions, and the fact that I am a dinosaur and do not own a cell phone, I am grateful that you and Bernd made additional time and invited me to your home. Thank you both for the all-too-brief afternoon into which we nonetheless packed two tasty meals and a walk through the vineyards in the beautiful light of a late fall afternoon.

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Back in Rhineland-Palatinate, I was spoiled with more invitations to residences and restaurants. With regard to my favorite German tradition, the 4 PM culinary pause for Kaffee und Kuchen, I benefited from the baking skills of so many. I have already mentioned my dad’s extraordinary talent to create the world’s best yeast dough, and to decorate it with delectable fruit, but his were not the only ones to add pounds to my hips.

Thank you, Elke, Arnim, Marius, and Dani, for sharing an afternoon and evening with me, for cake and coffee, and the creamy pasta dish, cum fresh garden herbs, created in your kitchen (I forgot to take a picture), despite the temporary use of only one arm, Arnim. I hope your shoulder will continue to heal.

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I also hope that your canine companion, Forrest, will experience his own healing. Your travel suggestions about my planned trip to England were very helpful, even if my plans ended up in the Channel, so to speak. You enlightened me with political insights into the red-hot political situation back here, and helped us bear the outcome of the elections with gallows humor.

Gisela and Siggi, I am glad that we were able to find time to get together, and that you have kept in touch throughout the years. One could not hope for better (former) neighbors. It was such a special touch to eat light and fluffy apple cake baked according to my mother’s recipe, and to keep relishing your homemade sweet raspberry-strawberry jam before I left. Despite life’s challenges you continue your caring and loving ministrations, and I wish you only the best.

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Ingrid, you have known me and my family throughout mutual ups and downs. Your comfortable dining and living room have offered many pleasant hours, but also some sad remembrances.Your fruit-and-cream-topped waffles-in-lieu-of-cake, and your baked feta tasted as good as in my memory, even if I cut the tomatoes the wrong way-again! You never let me leave without sweet greetings.

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Ute and Dieter, I am glad whenever we can get together to spend an evening, dine, and talk about travels and the state of the world. Thank you for inviting me to several meals, and for remaining interested in my life.

Thank you, Maritta, Michael, Melanie, Maike, Helma and Jürgen, for having me over for yummy cherry-chocolate cake, and for taking me out to the Flammkuchenhaus for dinner. It was a pleasure getting to see all of you on several occasions and to learn more about your lives. I am sorry that I didn’t take photos.

Marina, even though it’s never easy to wrestle time out of your busy schedule, somehow we manage to meet at least once. When I am back in your kitchen and dining room, it feels as though I had never left.

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I enjoyed cooking together, and devouring your baked feta topped with heaping vegetables, sharing our woes and happy thoughts. Thank you also for your tokens of friendship. Your pretty souvenirs from Moscow remind us of you.

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I am always reminded of the value of good neighbors when I am in Germany. My dad’s must be some of the best around. Little presents of cake, candles, candy, or wine get passed back and forth across a low wall between the two properties, and as night falls earlier and earlier, lanterns with lit candles spread a welcoming light. Trudy and Josef, I am thankful that you include me in your neighborly care, and invite me each time I am there. Your library is my envy, and you create the most appealing vegetable and cheese platters. I only regret that there was no room left in my stomach for chocolate pudding.

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It is impossible not to have overlooked something or somebody, and I apologize in advance, but I hope what I forgot is only a fraction of what I remember. I already miss all of you, send you my love and good wishes, and look forward to seeing you again. Let me reiterate: Hilda, Mike, and I like company, and our house in Colorado has many rooms, so please come visit.

Click here for the German version/klicken Sie bitte hier für die deutsche Version:

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2016/11/17/vielen-dank/

A Walk through Worms

Multiple trips to Worms are par for the course whenever I have occasion to visit Germany. It is my birthplace and even though I grew up in two nearby villages, I spent nine formative years there, attending high school from grades 5 to 13, inextricably linking my memories with this city built adjacent to the Rhine River.

It is well-nigh impossible to stroll through Worms without stumbling across clues of its long history, with archeologic digs proving human settlement as early as 5000 BC. After the passing of the Celts and the fall of the Roman Empire, in the 5th century the area was the purported realm of the King of Burgundy and the Nibelungen, fabled Germanic peoples known for the all-too-human-traits of love, envy, greed, revenge, leading to murder and mayhem. Their trials and tribulations were immortalized in a great epic, the Nibelungenlied, recorded in the 13th century in Middle High German, and multiple monuments in present-day Worms depict its protagonists. Since 2002, the drama is re-enacted in an annual open-air festival attracting spectators from near and far.

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Fountain with Siegfried, hero of the Nibelungenlied, dragon slayer

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Hagen, villain of the epic, about to drown the treasure of the Nibelungen in the Rhine River

The Roman Catholic Church erected its own monument. The Cathedral St. Peter was begun in the 11th century, on the site of a basilica from the year 600. It is one of a trio of Romanesque Imperial Cathedrals, including those of Speyer and Mainz, located south and north along the river, respectively.

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West towers of St. Peter

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St. Peter’s nave with view of apse and altar

The seismic event that rent the Christian church asunder also happened here: the Diet of Worms of 1521, in which Martin Luther was summoned before the Emperor and ecclesiastic hierarchy, in order to withdraw his criticism of the church which he had propounded in his 95 Theses in 1517. He did not renounce his beliefs, and Reformation and the foundation of the Protestant denomination were the consequence. Luther himself was rendered in stone for the ages and continues to proclaim from his pedestal, “ I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. Here I stand, it can’t be helped. So help me God. Amen.

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Luther Monument

Not far from the reformer rises the Church of the Holy Trinity, marriage chapel of my paternal grandparents. As was the case for many nearby buildings, it was bombed by the Allies in February 1945 and rebuilt with modifications in the 1950s.

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Holy Trinity Church

Another victim of the most egregious chapter of Germany’s history was the Jewish synagogue. Originally built in 1034, it was destroyed in a conflagration in the so-called Night of the Broken Glass between November 9 and 10, 1938. It, too, was reconstructed and serves as a reminder of the atrocities committed, and a hopeful beacon to tolerance and peace. Miraculously, the Jewish Cemetery, Holy Sands, with its oldest documented grave stone from 1076, survived the Nazi regime and continues to draw pilgrims.

Exterior of Jewish Synagogue

Exterior of Synagogue

Interior of Jewish Synagogue

Interior of Men’s Synagogue

Jewish Cemetery, Holy Sands

Jewish Cemetery, Holy Sands

As I amble through familiar, yet altered pedestrian zones with new storefronts, I am heartened to find my favorite book shop, displaced and downsized as a result of our Amazonized universe, but thriving nonetheless, having just celebrated its 100th birthday. As a teenager, I spent many hours here, and most of my allowance. I wend through parks, past benches that invite to linger under the canopy of stately trees, and in the presence of fragrant floral creations. I get lost in narrow residential streets endowed with their own character, find myself next to the former town wall which has been enlarged numerous times to protect the ever-growing community.

Residential area of Worms with its old town wall

Often I let my gaze follow the current of the Rhine on its way to the North Sea. The flood of nostalgic recollections tastes sweet, but is laced with the inevitable melancholy which comes from the realization that I will have to leave again soon, that I am neither completely here, nor there — the problem of straddling two worlds.

Click here for the German version/klicken Sie hier für die deutsche Version:

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2016/11/09/ein-spaziergang-durch-worms/

For the Love of Books

When I realize that my sojourn in Germany coincides with the Frankfurt Book Fair, there is no question in my mind that I will attend. Despite living in Germany for the first two decades of my life, in those years I either lacked the opportunity, or the curiosity.

The annual five-day affair is tailored to facilitate the interaction between publishers and sellers, but the doors also open to the public for the last two days. It is a dream for any bibliophile. I delight in being surrounded by my favorite (and humanity’s most enduring) medium in myriad shapes, sizes, and languages, encompassing the gamut of fiction and non-fiction. One chosen country is featured in detail during each fair, and this year’s Guest of Honor is the Netherlands and Flanders, the Dutch-speaking region of Belgium.

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From Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Icelandic Sagas, to modern-day global megahits, such as the eighth (and supposedly final) installment of Harry Potter, one gains an inkling of the breadth and depth of humankind’s literary accomplishments. Visitors range from children to seniors, attesting to the abiding appeal of books. The peaceful gathering of individuals originating from numerous nations, cultures, and religions, and our shared adoration of the printed word strengthens my belief in Homo sapiens, our common interests and ideals. The only shadow of this overall enchanting world results from the awareness that there is no way to taste even a fraction of the perpetual stream of novel tomes and volumes of literature.

As soon as I arrive at the venue, I regret my decision to leave my camera at home. In addition to the beautiful displays, it would have been fun to record various attendees dressed as their favorite character, a visual proof of the powerful sway of our imaginary realms. I am grateful to have shared this madness with circa 277,000 fellow addicts, united by our mutual love of books. After all, there are multiple less edifying addictions.

Click here for the German Version/klicken Sie bitte hier für die deutsche Version:

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2016/11/03/aus-liebe-zum-buch/