A Natural Enclave

     In a recent post, I commented on the ubiquity of castles in Germany. Besides these rather massive medieval monuments, more delicate and recent palaces abound, a reflection of the country’s division into myriad principalities until not-so-long-ago, each of which flaunted its status with its own stately domicile. One such palace graces Herrnsheim, an incorporated suburb of the city of Worms.

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The edifice’s current incarnation rose out of the ruins of late Middle Age and Baroque precursors. In the early 19th century, it was erected in the eminent Empire style, named after Emperor Napoleon. The surrounding estate, designed as an English landscape garden in the 18th century, has been maintained in the same style up to the present.

     As Herrnsheim was the hometown of my best friend, and near our mutual high school, I frequented the location throughout the years. It took on added significance when my now husband and I strolled around its grounds, newly in love, in an attempt to walk off nervous energy, before he met my parents for the first time. All these sentimental reasons combine and I find myself irresistibly attracted each time I am in its vicinity. Last year was no different and I returned to it on more than one occasion, finding its timeless beauty augmented by its autumnal attire.

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     The principal building can be toured once a month, or by special request, and the adjacent orangery now houses a café, but I did not make use of either, since the destination’s main appeal lay in its outdoor scenery.

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A gravel path led me past stretches of lawn complemented by groves of deciduous trees, to a lake with a central island, covered by canopy of fall foliage. Even though a gazebo, bridge, and diverse statuary were clearly fashioned and placed by human hands, the harmony between manmade and seemingly natural structures was very appealing.

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I don’t recall the first time a striking statue of what appears to be an African woman materialized at the edge of the isle in the middle of the pond, but I have sat opposite her many a time and pondered her meaning.

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The forest and water have always attracted a variety of creatures, among them waterfowl and raptors. All enhanced the impression of a wild place, with a slight reminder that even wilderness needs to be organized.

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Only in Germany: Birdhouses with numbers :=)

     In typical fall fashion, the weather was changeable and alternated between sunshine, overcast skies, and gentle showers. I opened and closed my umbrella repeatedly, which happened to share the color of the leaves.

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One memorable moment, I stood agape, admiring a golden “leaffall”, brought on by a hefty gust of wind. Not many people were out and about, and despite the relative smallness of the park and a nearby busy road with its muffled engine noise, I had the sense of being far away from the crowds. I regularly seek solitude wherever I go, and even small enclaves of nature have the power to restore in me a sense of well-being and belonging. This colorful gem in the old country, though exceptional, is no exception.

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

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2017/03/02/eine-naturliche-oase/

Where Do Babies Come From?

The dark point circling in the sky assumes shape, size, and color with diminishing distance, and soon I recognize a large white bird with long red legs and beak. Its head points straight forward, its white wings and black trailing feathers beat measuredly up and down. I am not the only one who anticipates its return. Before me, inside a stick nest on top of a tall pole, two nestlings flap their wings impatiently. Once the adult alights and regurgitates food, the offspring commence to devour it hungrily, while the regal elder surveys the surroundings. Luckily, at a distance of 100 yards I pose no threat, for all three ignore me.

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After five minutes, the adult takes off again and leaves the young ones to their own devices. Until the next visitation by mother or father, who are not easily distinguished at first glance (the males tend to have thicker and longer bills), the youths fill their time inside their nursery by sitting, pacing or pumping their wings in preparation for the day in the not too distant future when they will fledge. They observe their environs and a cock crowing nearby captures their attention. Their heads turn in synchrony toward that sound, rendering their black beaks obvious, a contrast to the adults’ bright red ones.

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I know of this White Stork nest in the southern portion of Hessen in West-Central Germany from a previous visit. In June 2015 I reach it by first ferrying across the Rhine River from my childhood home in Rheinhessen, and by riding 5 miles on my bike. I am thrilled to find it occupied again, and elated to observe clusters of storks in the sky overhead. Ten individuals suddenly descend, land behind a tractor, and follow its wake, where they pierce whatever scuttles underneath their beaks.

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Culinarily not choosy, their menu includes earthworms, insects, fish, frogs, snakes and small rodents. Nearby, in the town of Biebesheim, I find the explanation for their abundance when I happen across an animal refuge which is home to a stork colony. The air is filled with the sounds and sights of storks. They are coming and going, feeding, and clattering their elegant bills. This latter activity translates as klappern and is responsible for one of many common German names of this beloved creature, Klapperstorch.

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White Storks typically lay three to four eggs, and in times of abundance as many as seven, but only two to three hatchlings survive into adulthood. After 33 days they emerge from the eggs and the nestlings mature for two months before they take flight. Called European White Storks, their distribution is not limited to that continent. Breeding also occurs in Asia Minor and the various flocks migrate to their wintering grounds in Africa. This happens in two distinct patterns. From Western Europe they fly across the Straits of Gibraltar to West Africa, whereas eastern groups follow a route across Turkey, the Bosporus Strait, the Sinai Peninsula, and the Gulf of Suez to reach East and South Africa. The flight path across the Mediterranean Sea, albeit much shorter, is not feasible because it lacks the required thermal uplifts which are only generated where soil is heated by sun.

Growing up in Germany forty years ago I never encountered wild storks. This did not prevent me from following a folk custom related to me by my grandparents. To encourage the birds to bring me a sibling, I placed many a sugar cube on the windowsill. Sadly, it didn’t work. In school in the 1980s, I learned that these magnificent avians were threatened by extinction and their future appeared dire. All the more welcome the news that their numbers have not only stabilized, but have grown in the last decades, in Western even more than in Eastern Europe.

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This recovery of their ranks is at least partially attributable to changing migratory patterns (many of the storks overwinter on the Iberian peninsula where they find enough food, instead of undertaking the treacherous trip south), but human preservation efforts also play a role in the storks’ success story. Provision and caretaking of breeding spaces on tall poles or rooftops, restoration of wetlands and meandering streams, decreased use of pesticides, and insulation of high-power utility lines to lessen the risk of electrocution contribute to attracting breeding pairs, and to promoting the survival of their offspring.

In this day and age when we are overwhelmed by sad tidings about the demise of so many species, the example of the White Stork reminds and admonishes us that we humans are, indeed, able to protect and share habitat through concerted efforts. I am happy that the legendary storks which populate German nursery rhymes, songs and myths once again populate the German landscape.

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

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2017/02/08/er-hat-ein-schwarz-weis-rockchen-an

A Charming Capital along the Neckar River

Until recently Stuttgart was virtually a blank page for me. Even though my parents and I visited relatives in its suburbs throughout the years, these social calls were usually in connection with birthdays, or my cousins’ confirmations, and did not entail sightseeing. So it was with fresh eyes that I encountered Baden-Württemberg’s capital during my travels this past fall. My aunt and uncle housed and fed me royally, and my aunt also introduced me to her home turf by taking me on a circuit of the city’s center.

Our tour began at the new Central Library, completed in 2011. This fabulous futuristic cube affords Escheresque views on the inside, and a panorama of Stuttgart from the rooftop’s observation platform.

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The town developed in the picturesque Neckar River valley, but is composed of a number of vales and hills. The river climate is conducive to the thriving of forests and vineyards and I was pleasantly surprised by so much verdure and viticulture.

From the library, we strolled to the Main Train Station which was saved a few years ago by citizen protesters from demolition in the context of Stuttgart 21, a controversial public transportation renewal project whose ongoing process has resulted in ubiquitous construction sites. The railroad hub sits at one end of downtown’s main shopping avenue, the Königstraße. Parallel to this pedestrian zone runs the Upper Castle Park with a number of historic buildings.

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We admired the elegant Opera House and the Neues Schloß (New Castle), the 18th century baroque residence of the former kings of Württemberg which now accommodates offices of the state legislature.

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It replaced the neighboring Altes Schloß (Old Castle) whose origins date back to the 10th century, after it had outlived its purpose. Since 1969 it is home to the state museum.

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Like many German communities, Stuttgart was in the crosshairs of Allied bombing during World War II, and was heavily damaged. The two palaces have been restored to their former grandeur, but of the nearby Stiftskirche (Collegiate Church) mainly walls remained, and it was rebuilt with major modifications. Surviving stone fragments highlight the original architecture, and glass panels on the ceiling are arranged to imitate the former existence of a main nave and two side aisles.

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At the beloved art nouveau Markthalle (market hall), which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2014, the appealing aroma and appetizing aspects of an assortment of local and international foods provided a veritable feast for the senses.

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Enticed by its ambience and attractions, I returned downtown repeatedly. An amazing 4 story bookstore, Buchhaus Wittwer, with a dizzying array of regional, national, and global titles, and comfortable chairs, kept beckoning. Near this buzzing book hive, I encountered an extensive string of soap bubbles, enchanting to the young, and the young at heart. The shopping district’s proximity to numerous notable structures creates a very alluring combination in the core of the city.

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I was delighted to detect that the Upper Palace Park was only the first in a succession of connected oases of greenery that run like a ribbon through the urban landscape. It is followed by the Middle and Lower Castle Parks, as well as the Rosenstein Park. Miles and miles of non-motorized trails wind through copses and alleys of trees and along scenic creeks and lakes. My stay coincided with a string of sun-kissed days, stimulating to man and animal alike and I relished the brilliant arboreal colors.

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My family also introduced me to additional local landmarks, among them the Max-Eyth-Lake, nestled adjacent to the Neckar. Along this stretch of the river, one of the embankments is steep and covered with vineyards, the opposite gradual, with high-rises. A Black Swan seemed as enthralled by the sights as I.

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In Ludwigsburg, a short distance north of Stuttgart, my cousin and I strolled across the Saturday market and caught a glimpse of the baroque palace and gardens. With more time at our disposal we would have paid the fee to view the annual gourd festival which features artistic cucurbit displays.

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On a stunning Sunday we joined what appeared to be the majority of the resident population on a pilgrimage to the Württemberg, the state’s eponymous hill, where King William I expressed his love for his wife, the Russian Duchess Catherine Pavlova, in a magnificent edifice, after she passed away prematurely. He commissioned her sepulchral chapel in the neoclassical style with a dome modeled on the Pantheon in Rome.

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Its prominent position offers jaw-dropping views of the scenery, similar to those from the nearby Kernenturm (Kernen Tower) in the midst of the flamboyant fall forest.

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I was spoiled by this beautiful Swabian locale, the clement weather, and by my obliging hosts. Stuttgart and surroundings will definitely remain on my travel wish list, and I highly recommend it as a destination.

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

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2017/01/26/charmante-landeshauptstadt-am-neckar/

Birding in Germany

It is a stroke of good fortune that my father’s residence is located a mere 3 miles from one of Germany’s 30 so-called “hotspots of natural variety”, islands of re-naturalized habitat wrested from the surrounding agricultural and industrial landscape. They are living proof that nature, given the opportunity, will reclaim its own. Since the regional branch of the country’s largest conservation group (Naturschutzbund, aka NaBu) completed this particular site in Rhineland-Palatinate in 2011, called Rohrwiesen am Seegraben, which could loosely be translated as “reed meadows near the creek bed”, a minimum of 160 bird species have re-populated this oasis, along with additional animals and plants.

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Pond seen from viewing platform

It is formed by a creek, called Seebach, a tributary of the Rhine River, one of Europe’s major shipping arteries. In order to facilitate nautical traffic and to prevent flooding prevalent throughout many centuries, the large stream and its side channels were straightened, resulting in loss of habitat. Once the creek in question was allowed to again leave its prescribed bed and to flood fields, it created ponds and wetlands in the process which attracted numerous resident and migratory birds. A viewing platform and an observation hut invite the nature lover to linger and observe the environs.

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Observation hut in the morning sun

One of my regrets is my non-interest in birding when I grew up in Germany. Except for our frequent feathered denizens, I did not know most by name. I also was not aware of birding enthusiasts, or of dedicated groups, like the one I belong to in Colorado which meets weekly. In another bit of luck, my visit in Germany this past fall coincided with Euro Birdwatch, a continent-wide bird count each October. So when I had the chance to set out with four experienced local birders for this European event at this very hotspot, I jumped at it, benefited from a higher number of avian sightings than I could have reached on my own, and expanded my German vocabulary. Among the rarities I surely would have missed were Dunlins, Little Stints, Spotted Redshanks, and Common Greenshanks. Just thinking of shorebirds characteristically puts me into a state of complete confusion.

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Mute Swan, juvenile

After count day I continued to frequent this serene enclave. One morning, I happened upon a pair of Mute Swans, one adult and one juvenile, still asleep in a pond, seemingly without a worry in the world. Only when approached by Eurasian Coots and Common Moorhen did they pull their elegant necks from under their wings, survey their watery realm regally, and commence their morning toilette.

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Mute Swans, adult and juvenile

A flock of Graylag Geese interrupted the silence as they circled noisily, before landing in a lake where they continued their garrulous chatter.

I typically encountered Great Egrets, Gray Herons, Little Grebes, Mallards, Eurasian Green-winged Teals, Tufted Ducks, Gadwall, and a lone Common Shelduck. Common Buzzards were, indeed, common, but on a few lucky occasions I saw Red Kites and Eurasian Marsh Harriers.

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Northern Lapwing

Cormorants, Common Kingfisher, Common Snipe, and Northern Lapwing also counted among the regulars, and some of the smaller callers were Eurasian Wrens, European Stonechats, Common Reed Buntings, Northern Wheatear, and Great Tits. The latter are among Europe’s most abundant and gregarious little birds, as cheerful to behold as the related chickadees in North America.

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Great Tit

Sunrise and sunset painted the boggy, reedy scenery in warm auburn hues and the air was filled with the waxing or waning of bird calls. I immersed myself in this sanctuary as often as possible. During a previous trip I had learned about the increasing numbers of the White Stork population in Western Europe. This thriving ecological niche was a further encouraging example of what can be accomplished when humans put hearts, heads, and hands together.

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

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2017/01/11/auf-vogelsuche-in-deutschland/

The Year in Pictures

As the year is winding down, I am sharing a few more photos. They either show favorite places, or activities, and have not made it into my previous posts. I am trying to embrace the motto expressed on a historic clock in downtown Colorado Springs: Dum Vivimus Vivamus. While we live, let us live.

I hope you had a good 2016, and I wish you happiness, good health, and peace for the coming twelve months.

JANUARY

Snow Mountain Ranch, YMCA of the Rockies, near Granby, Colorado. Our preferred destination for Nordic Skiing.

Snow Mountain Ranch, YMCA of the Rockies, near Granby, Colorado. Our preferred destination for Nordic Skiing.

My favorite view in Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs, Colorado. January often does not have snow along the Front Range

My favorite view in Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs, Colorado. January is often snowless along the Front Range.

FEBRUARY

Snowshoeing at Mueller State Park, Colorado, with view of the Western Mountains.

Snowshoeing at Mueller State Park, Colorado, with view of the Western Mountains.

Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum, one of my favorite places.

Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum.

MARCH

Pasque Flowers, some of the earliest spring flowers along the Front Range.

Pasque Flowers, some of the earliest bloomers in Colorado’s foothills.

Heavy spring snow along Colorado's Front Range. I wonder how the Pasque Flowers fared.

Heavy spring snow along Colorado’s Front Range. I wonder how the Pasque Flowers fared. And I hope the birds will find enough to eat.

APRIL

Blooming crabapple tree and Barker House, Manitou Springs, Colorado.

Blooming white crabapple tree and Barker House, Manitou Springs, Colorado.

Blooming crabapple tree at Evergreen Cemetery, with view of Pikes Peak, Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Blooming pink crabapple tree at Evergreen Cemetery, with view of Pikes Peak, Colorado Springs, Colorado.

MAY

Yellow Warbler. By virtue of its location at the border of the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains, springtime is a haven for migratory birds in Colorado Springs.

Yellow Warbler. By virtue of its location at the border of the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains, the Front Range is a haven for migratory birds in springtime.

Spring brings new generations of Cottontail Rabbits into our neighborhood.

Spring brings new generations of Cottontail Rabbits into our neighborhood.

JUNE

Manitou Lake with view of North Face of Pikes Peak. Teller County, Colorado. The snow has not been gone long at this elevation.

Manitou Lake with view of North Face of Pikes Peak, Teller County, Colorado. The snow has not been gone long at this elevation (7,700 feet).

Heron rookery near Manitou Lake.

Great Blue Heron at Heron rookery near Manitou Lake.

JULY

Colorado Blue Columbine (Aquilegia caerulea), our state flower. June through August are best for viewing wildflowers in the mountains.

Colorado Blue Columbine (Aquilegia caerulea), our state flower. June through August are best for viewing wildflowers in the mountains.

Mariposa Lily (Calochortus gunnisonii).

Mariposa Lily (Calochortus gunnisonii).

AUGUST

View of the Front Range during a typical afternoon thunderstorm from the plains that abut Colorado Springs.

View of the Front Range during a typical afternoon thunderstorm from the plains east of Colorado Springs.

Clark's Nutcracker in an aspen tree in the mountains of Colorado.

Clark’s Nutcracker in an aspen tree in the mountains of Colorado.

SEPTEMBER

Fortuitous photo-op during sun- and birdrise.

Fortuitous photo-op during sun- and birdrise.

Black-tailed Prairie Dog. This iconic rodent of the Great Plains often is the victim of development.

Black-tailed Prairie Dog. This iconic rodent of the Great Plains often is the victim of development.

OCTOBER

City Hall, Auxerre, France. I visited my best friend and her family.

City Hall, Auxerre, France. During my trip to Europe, I visited my best friend and her family.

Auxerre is situated along the picturesque Yonne River.

Auxerre is situated along the picturesque Yonne River.

NOVEMBER

Landscape of my childhood. Rhine River with fall colors, Germany.

Landscape of my childhood. Rhine River with fall colors, Germany.

More fall impressions from my dad's hometown in Germany.

More fall impressions from my dad’s hometown in Germany.

DECEMBER

Frosty view of Pikes Peak from the deck at Fountain Creek Nature Center, south of Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Frosty view of Pikes Peak from the deck at Fountain Creek Nature Center, south of Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Virginia Rail near Fountain Creek Nature Center.

Virginia Rail in Fountain Creek Regional Park.

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

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2016/12/28/das-jahr-in-photos/

Happy Holidays

The month of December seems to magnify the distance between my current home in America and my childhood stomping grounds in Germany, but whenever I am overcome by wistfulness, carrying on some of my childhood customs is a comfort, and intertwining traditions from my two worlds an enrichment.

Our festive holiday season in Colorado typically commences with the flickering of the first of four advent candles. In Germany, we used to have advent wreaths, braided from coniferous boughs, with tall wax columns, but ever since my best friend from France presented me with a brass version, we burn votive or tea lights, which gives my husband occasion to rekindle his skills as candle maker. The stellar shape sits on a doily fashioned by my mother many years ago, and I console myself with the thought that she would be pleased with the knowledge that we cherish it, while we remember and miss her.

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The daily surprise hiding behind a door of the advent calendar between December 1 and 24 has always been one of my favorites, usually because it involved chocolate. Lately I have preferred the chocolateless variety, and look forward to being greeted by a sweet critter from behind each flap, instead of the stale Easter-bunny-turned-into-advent-calendar-morsel of cacao.

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December 6 used to be anticipated with some trepidation. It is the day Sankt Nikolaus makes his rounds with his assistant, Knecht Ruprecht, with a sack of goodies for the good kids over his shoulder, a switch for the bad ones in his hand. Even though I usually deserved the latter, somehow my parents always put in a good word for me, and I escaped a spanking. Nowadays, next to fruits and nuts, I get to enjoy my mother-in-law’s scrumptious sandies and date bars.

I no longer have to wait until December 24 for our Christmas tree, as was our wont in Germany. Many American families decorate theirs on or shortly after Thanksgiving, but we tend to acquire and adorn ours a week or two before Christmas, and keep it until January 6, known as Epiphany. On that day, in many countries, children dressed up as the 3 Kings, Wise Men, or Magi parade through the streets, collect donations for a good cause, and conduct a blessing of the house and its inhabitants, by writing the initials of their names (Caspar, Melchior, Balthazar) on the lintel above the entrance, together with the year (e. g. 20+C+M+B+17).

In recent years, the procurement of our own tree starts with a visit to the local National Forest Office in Colorado Springs to purchase a $10 cutting permit, followed by the one-hour drive west on Highway 24 to the Pike National Forest outside of Woodland Park which offers sweeping views of the north face of Pikes Peak.

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Within the designated cutting area we park and peruse the perimeter of our chosen circle for Ponderosa, Lodgepole, or Limber pines, Engelmann spruce, or Douglas fir. It’s a win-win situation: we get to select our own affordable arbor and help the Forest Service thin out the sylvan growth, thereby lowering fire risk, a constant threat in the drought-stricken West.

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We are only allowed to take trunks measuring up to 6 inches and it helps not to expect symmetry. Despite the theoretical benefits, severing a healthy stem from its roots always creates pangs of conscience which we allay by thanking our chosen tree for its involuntary sacrifice. After we carry it back to the car and trim enough branches to make it fit, we chauffeur it home, with the radio tuned to the Christmas music station. My repertoire of seasonal songs has definitely become more sophisticated. How I ever lived without hearing the Chipmunks sing Jingle Bells is a mystery to me.

Long ago I gave up any hope of a color-coordinated conifer. The storage box from the basement disgorges an eclectic collection: primeval baubles from my husband’s grandmother, antediluvian globes accumulated over the course of decades by his parents, and hand-made ornaments from his elementary school days, and each piece continues to be honored. At least I was allowed to replace tinsel with straw stars and painted wooden figures. Fire danger finally convinced my husband to replace the ancient light string, even though a battered star from a different epoch still crowns the arboreal pyramid each year. The possibility of fire also rules out open flames on the tree, a favorite practice in Germany. Instead, paraffin in a variety of shades and shapes and sizes is spread throughout the rooms and provides a festive glow during this, the darkest month of the year, thanks to the candle creator in the family.

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As every child in Germany knows, the Christkind brings presents on Christmas Eve. Here, I have to show patience because Santa Claus, who takes over the job, makes everybody wait until Christmas Day, on account of his traveling on a reindeer-pulled sleigh, and the expectation that he savor cookies and milk at every chimney stop. To be fair, he has never overlooked me, and delayed gratification is probably a valuable lesson for me.

Whatever my faith, or lack thereof, my fondness for the holiday traditions endures. Whether we celebrate Winter Solstice, Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa, may our beliefs and rituals fill us with joy, and all of us with Peace on Earth!

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

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2016/12/21/frohe-feiertage/

A Day in Speyer

For the first time in decades, while in Germany a month ago, I spend a day in Speyer, an easy one hour train ride from my father’s house. Only vague recollections of a former visit persisted in my memory, but as soon as I arrive at the Main City Gate (Altpörtel in German, literally: old portal), they are refreshed.

Altpörtel

Altpörtel

The prospect before my eyes must be one of Rhineland-Palatinate’s, if not of Germany’s, most iconic. This medieval gate with foundations reaching back to the 13th century, opens onto an ample avenue, named Maximilianstraße, the main west-east artery.

Maximilianstraße with Cathedral

Maximilianstraße with Cathedral

It is bordered by an amalgamation of age-old and modern buildings and culminates in the heart of this city, which is also one of Central Europe’s most awe-inspiring edifices: The Imperial Cathedral of Speyer. This exemplifies one of three sacred structures in the state built in the Romanesque style, alongside Worms and Mainz. Among those it is the tallest, most spacious, and, in my humble opinion, most beautifully colored. Its polychrome sandstone hues offer a warm welcome, even when it’s raining cats and dogs, as is the case when I am there.

Imperial Cathedral

Imperial Cathedral

Romanesque architecture reached its acme in the 11th century and is characterized by semi-circular arches, as opposed to the pointed equivalents of the Gothic design which followed it. To me, the former appear more massive and create a down-to-earth feeling, compared with the soaring sensation engendered by the latter. Indeed, upon entering through the heavy bronze door of this colossus nearly a thousand years old, I feel dwarfed and awe-struck, an effect most likely intended by the builders.

Choir and apse of Cathedral

Choir and Apse of Cathedral

After my steps and gaze travel through the towering central nave, choir and apse, I descend the stone stairs into the crypt whose geometry and dimensions wow me no less. The sheer size of this subterranean space also sets it apart from the cathedrals of Worms and Mainz. What all three have in common are hefty stone tombs in which the remains of former secular and spiritual rulers rest for eternity.

Crypta

Crypta

One of the chapels is dedicated to relics, body parts of saints, a custom as alien to my understanding as it is intriguing.

Relic of Saint Paul Josef Nardini

Relic of Saint Paul Josef Nardini (1821-1862)

I would linger longer at this church if the Emperor’s Hall with its famous frescoes, and the observation platform in one of the towers were not closed for the winter season. I am not alone in my admiration: In 1981, the cathedral was added to the illustrious list of UNESCO’s World Cultural Heritage Sites.

In close proximity to the main thoroughfare, additional destinations abound. I direct my steps past churches from more recent centuries, as well as memorials to prominent citizens. One of them, hitherto unknown to me, was Sophie la Roche (1730-1807), a woman writer who achieved fame in the 1700s. Her novel, Geschichte des Fräuleins von Sternheim, catapulted her out of oblivion, and into the limelight of the German literary stage. She founded the first German women’s magazine, Pomona: For Germany’s Daughters, and had significant interactions with and influence on the likes of Wieland, Klopstock, Goethe and Schiller. How I had never heard of her I do not know, but I am currently remedying my ignorance by reading her biography.

Sophie La Roche's Former Residence and Museum

Sophie La Roche’s Former Residence and Museum

Speyer, Worms, and Mainz represented major centers of Jewish learning and culture in the Middle Ages. They were known as ShUM cities, an acronym derived from the initial Hebrew letters of their medieval names, Shpira, Warmaisa, and Magenza. All three suffered similarly in the wake of the Anti-Semitism that ebbed and surged throughout the ages, which resulted in the repeated destruction of residences and places of worship.

Mosaic of Medieval Speyer at the Museum

Mosaic of Medieval Speyer at the Jewish Museum

The Judenhof (Jewish Courtyard) commemorates the horrendous history of the local Jewish residents with a museum, the ruins of the erstwhile synagogue, and the oldest ritual bath north of the Alps. The synagogue was completed in 1104 and served the Jewish community for nearly 400 years, until one of many waves of banishment.

Ruins of Synagogue

Ruins of Medieval Synagogue

The structure was then repurposed by the town fathers. Except for surviving portions of the walls, it was destroyed in the Palatinate War of Succession in 1689 which wreaked havoc on vast expanses of this state. The ritual bath (mikvah in Hebrew) dates to 1120. Its second use as municipal arsenal after 1500 protected it from hostile interventions, and its underground position from the conflagration of 1689.

Mikvah

Mikvah

Successors to the medieval synagogue were destroyed by the pogroms of November 1938, known as the Night of the Broken Glass. Since 2012, Speyer has a new Jewish religious home, a hopeful symbol of acceptance and peaceful coexistence. Because of their legacy, the three sister cities are being considered for world heritage status by UNESCO, and a decision is expected in 2021.

New Synagogue

New Synagogue

I regret that the fading hours of the day put an end to my exploration. The verdant park surrounding the cathedral which links it to the promenade along the nearby Rhine River, the Historic Museum of the Palatinate, and further alluring sites will have to wait for a future trip.

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

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2016/12/08/ein-tag-in-speyer/