Thursday, August 27, 2009

The details

What am I supposed to be blogging about? I know there was something…

We have about a million pictures, and I had a bunch of things to say about each one, but throw all the pictures in one folder, give me a week or two, and I can't come up with an interesting story to save my life.

I guess that's why you're supposed to keep travel diaries and blogs. So that you will always remember the stories that are so important you'll forget them a week later.

Yup. Blogging is all about the memorable things.

So…a post. How about some pictures?

A dragonfly.

Doesn't he have a funny little face?

Did you know that they can tilt their heads to look at you quizzically?

Me either.

We spent a long time sizing one another up on Saturday afternoon. I guess a macro lens must look pretty odd with all those eyes.


A sunset.

Gorgeous, impossible to adequately capture on film (or in pixels, if you want to be all accurate about it).

One thing I really love about this apartment is the west-facing window.

A cat.

Wondering why I think it's funny that she's tucked herself into bed and pulled up the covers, and why I'm disturbing her nap.

Small things.

The details of life.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


I promised you a post about Bruchsal, didn't I?


Bruchsal is another town close to Bretten, and not quite so small. The people that we met in Karlsruhe were from Bruchsal. We wanted to explore the town, and so we headed out a couple of weekends ago.

We left around mid-morning, and went for a wander.

Sometimes, we go to a new place with a plan. We do our research, find all the tourist spots, make ourselves a list, and strike out.

Other times, we don't. We go, we walk, and we see what we find. Our feet take us places without any real direction, and we get a better feel for a place than we would if we stuck to the tourist spots.

This first day, we just wandered. When we got off of the train, we followed the crowd of people until it thinned to just one or two. We walked through the Saturday market in the town square. We wandered down side streets, looking for something to catch our fancy, to cry out to be explored.

We walked up a long hill, and happened upon a Kindergarten museum.

We weren't in a museum kind of mood, so we didn't go in. But they had a beautiful garden.

Then, we found a church with onion-shaped steeples.

It's too bad it was closed, because the sign said it had an incredible interior.

We wandered some more, and found a park with a bike trail that ran along the river. We didn't take photos, but we stopped there for lunch. We picked Mirabelles from a now-wild tree.

They later became part of the stachelbeeren jelly. Small, sweet. For those of you that know Rainier cherries, these are very similar, except that you replace the cherry flavor with plum.

We stopped at a café, and Branden had an icecream. It's practically a national pastime here, apparently. On a sunny Saturday all the Eiscafes have outdoor tables full of people enjoying elaborate icecream sundaes. I didn't take a picture. Probably because I was jealous.

My non-dairy ice tea was also quite good.

When we'd walked enough, we went back to the train and headed home.

We mentioned our trip to some of our friends, and they were surprised we hadn't gone to the castle. So, when we were close by with them, we stopped in and had a look.

In all our wanderings, we'd somehow missed the palace. A whole little world unto itself.

Or, if you prefer, you can be in the center of it.

(Click and drag in the picture to look around. It's interactive!)

The funny thing is that the entire façade is painted onto a very simple, almost flat exterior wall. No marble necessary. I've never seen this in a castle before.

I guess it saves on decorations.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Of cabbages and cats

I like cabbage. The problem is, that cabbages are never small. In fact, they are usually downright huge.

We bought a cabbage last week that was very big. Like, as big as a cat.


Artemis: You're comparing me to what??

Artemis: Oh. Ok. At least you're taking my picture.

Artemis: What is that thing, anyway?

We've been eating a lot of cabbage this week.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


It's been pretty quiet around here lately, and I've had one report of broken comments. We've checked, and are having no trouble from our end, so I'm not sure what's wrong. Send me an email (erica dot gunn at gmail dot com) if you're trying to comment and it's not working! (browser and login info would be helpful)

Butterfly Flutterby

A week or so ago, I was walking back from town, and saw a bush full of butterflies.

There were at least 20 or 30 of the orange ones, and 2 or 3 black ones.

And then there was a funny hover-bee kinda thing:

A little bit of unexpected beauty in the day.

I am so glad we got a macro lens.

Friday, August 14, 2009


There is an old Benedictine cloister in the town of Maulbronn, a few kilometers from Bretten. We've visited there with friends twice now.

Here's the central square:

(Click and drag in the picture to look around. It's interactive!)

Over by the gate is a little shop called "The Herb Witch" where we bought some rosemary and herbal tea.

The inside of the church is painted with frescoes dating back to the 1400's.

The stained glass windows are not originals; they were replaced after the war, but they are beautiful nonetheless.

The cloister gardens are still maintained, and are full of fruit trees, neat rows of vegetables, and raspberry brambles.

(Click and drag in the picture to look around. It's interactive!)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


It rained on our first trip to Karlsruhe, so we didn't really take any pictures worth showing. We went with friends from work, and ended up shopping, wandering through European malls gawking at all the American Eagle on the shelves. Really? How many torn jeans and stone-washed t-shirts does Europe need?

Our second trip felt a little more European and a little less imported-American. We spent an entire day exploring the palace in Karlsruhe.

This isn't the palace, but it's right at the edge of the palace lawn, and it has very pretty arches:

And here's a panoramic taken on the palace lawn:

Click and drag to have a look around.

There was some violence going on out on the pavilion.

I'm not sure who the guy with the club is, but it's clear that he's not fond of the dragon. He had a friend with similar objections to a lion.

There was also a very elite group of gods and goddesses, including Pan with his flute, Diana with her bow and arrow, and many others. I am not well-educated enough in classical mythology to identify them all, but the lawn was practically a god convention.

And the ones not on the lawn were parading across the palace roof. I guess that's allowed, if you're a god.

We went inside intending to look at the palace itself, but there was a special exhibit on Art Nouveau going on, and a very nice older couple offered to translate the guided tour for us. We weren't allowed to take pictures, so I have nothing to show you from that exhibit, but it covered the entire Art Nouveau movement, where artists sought to find design inspiration in nature. There were lots of curves and floral motifs, and a distinct focus on art in practical items. Some of our favorite pieces were chairs with very detailed floral designs made out of inlaid wood. It is also the period where wallpaper became common; bringing floral patterns inside the home. To be really fashionable, all of your décor had to reflect the same general pattern; the wallpaper should match the china, which should also coordinate with the furniture and the artwork on the walls. Better make sure you really love that pattern before buying!

The tour was very well done, and we got a lot out of it, thanks to our newfound friends who translated for the entire hour and a half. They live in Bruchsal, another small town in the area that we're hoping to visit soon visited last weekend and that I will write about when the pictures are ready.

This is the second time that complete strangers have gone out of their way to help us get the most out of our visit (Peter and Paul was the first). I would like to think that they would receive the same hospitality in the states, but I'm not so sure. I don't know that I've ever seen an American offer to translate an entire museum tour for a non-native speaker. It's certainly something worth emulating, though.

We had about an hour before the tour started, and so took a quick look at the palace itself. We went up a lot of stairs.

And enjoyed the beautiful view from the tower. (Click and drag to look around)

We saw jewel-encrusted crowns and swords.

And I think it's safe to assume that those are real jewels, and real gold. Hard to imagine wearing such a thing.

We also saw a photo of the palace as it looked after the bombing in WWII.

Scroll back up to the top and compare this with the building that you see today.

As Americans, we're not used to confronting the cultural losses of war face on, but here it's a normal part of life. Heidelberg is unique in that its cultural centers were not destroyed during the war (apparently, the damage to their castles was done by the French in smaller skirmishes…). Everywhere else, the great palaces, churches, and museums have all had to be rebuilt, and much was lost that cannot be replaced. It's a sobering thing to stand in these beautiful historical places and realize just how much destruction and rebirth has occurred on these grounds in the past century alone, and just how thoroughly wars shatter the cultural history of the countries that serve as the battleground. Suddenly the idea of "rebuilding" after a war takes on a whole new meaning.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Defensive cooking

As I have said before, I love to try new fruits and vegetables. Branden is not always so enthusiastic, but he generally displays a great deal of forbearance and usually goes along with this crazy habit. (And yes, he was completely right about stinging nettles...they're disgusting.)

I mentioned in the last fruit post that I'd seen another berry-like thing in the grocery store. This week, we bought some:

They're called Stachelbeeren in German; literally "thorn berry." Aren't they beautiful? Translucent green orbs, with lacy veins running through them, and a cluster of dark seeds in the middle.

We played a guessing game before tasting them. I bet that they tasted like kiwi fruit. I couldn't have been closer if I'd already tried one. (I hadn't.)

They are a lot like kiwi. Green interior, big, black seeds. Same almost-strawberry kind of taste. But no furry outside. And a lot of turgor pressure. You think it's hard to stab a cherry tomato with a fork? Hah. I see your cherry tomato and raise you gooseberry.

Gooseberries. I love Google.

People online said that they are very sour (so beware if you ever decide to try them yourself), but these are apparently the very ripe kind that are quite sweet. I like them a lot, but Branden objects to the texture of their skin, and the force required to pierce it.

We had gooseberries with breakfast on Sunday, and I left the tray of them on the table for eating. I was also scheming about a possible fruit tart later in the week. (Not needing to peel a kiwi for the tart = a big plus.)

I also added them to the list of odd things that I should grow in my garden someday. This list gets longer by the minute, as I become more and more envious of the gardens here. Everyone has an orchard but me! They are apparently a normal part of having a yard here. Of course, the fact that orchards come standard in your yard is not helpful if you don't have a yard. Ah, well. Someday.

This morning, I walked by the table and noticed that all of the gooseberries had turned red. There had been a few red ones before, but now the whole container was red. Closer investigation reveals a very interesting and rather dramatic trait of the innocent-looking gooseberry.

Apparently, when gooseberries get overripe, they take all that extra turgor pressure and use it to explode.

This is an extremely effective way for a plant to operate. I must commend them for their genius. This way, the seeds lay not only where the parent fruit fell, but anywhere else that their gooey liquid was able to carry them. Ingenious.

All in all, it is a rather helpful way for something to go bad. There's no mistaking it. If the berry has exploded, you don't eat it. Simple as that. I much prefer this to other fruits where you only realize that it's gone after you bite into it. And if something has to be nasty when it spoils, it might as well go whole hog and put on a show, right?

Of course, the show was rather messy, as they often are. Especially given that the projections of berry goo were apparently also an instant recipe for white mold. And they stink. Think banana peels that have been in the trash a day too long.

Gestunken. A lot.

(No that is nothing like proper grammar, but it makes me happy that I got to use gestunken in a blog post!!)

So, I did what any self-respecting hausfrau would do: I threw them out picked through the entire bin and pulled out all the unexploded berries.

Clearly, they needed to be used quickly, if only in self-defense. Visions of fruit tart were shattered.

But what do you do with exploding berries?

Boil them, of course.

After careful washing, I put all the gooseberries in a pot, along with some currants and some mirabelles that we'd picked on Saturday in the park in Bruschal. (No, you did not miss anything. In an odd twist of delayed-post-blogging, we have not uploaded these pictures yet, and so you know nothing of Bruschal, or of mirabelles. All in good time. For now, mirabelles are another new fruit, and we had a bunch of them.)

I put the mirabelles, exploding gooseberries, and some leftover currants in a pot, added a little bit of water, and boiled.

In about 5 minutes, all the skins had peeled off, and I was left with assorted berry pulp.

I pressed that through the pasta strainer, and was left with a very pretty red liquid. It smelled wonderful.

It tasted like I had swallowed the sourest black hole in the universe. Boy was that a pucker face. Branden was not here to take pictures, so I'm afraid I can't show you what it looked like, but I definitely think there had to be some kind of antimatter-meets-matter going on to pull that kind of vacuum.

So. Sugar.

I added sugar until I could envision actually enjoying this liquid (about a cup of sugar for the 2-3 cups of liquid), and then let it boil for a while. As I wasn't expecting to be coming up with uses for overripe fruit on the fly, I had no pectin* in the house, but I'd read that gooseberries are high in natural pectin, so there was some hope that this would turn into something like jelly.

The liquid did start to thicken, but not enough to get a good gel. Then I remembered that pectin doesn't work if you don't have enough sugar. And, if anything, this juice was a little short on the sugar. So I added some more, and it immediately got thicker.

This was a good sign. I kept adding sugar a little at a time until I had enough in there that the jelly started sheeting.**

And it did. Beautifully. I'm not sure that I've ever gotten a jelly this good with pectin added. After just a few minutes of cooling, it can hold its own weight (doesn't flop into a puddle), tears like jelly should (think lumps of Welch's grape), and tastes really good.

It's not quite a fruit tart, but I'm pretty happy with the save.

And those gooseberry bushes? Waaay out back, behind the shed.

*Pectin is the stuff that makes jelly gel. It's a fruit starch, and if the fruit has enough pectin, you don't need to add more. Still, you usually add extra pectin when you want jelly to make sure that you actually get jelly and not just a vat of boiling liquid.

**Sheeting is the term for when a jelly holds together and runs off the spoon in sheets rather than dripping. When your jelly begins sheeting, it's time to take it off the heat.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

On beer

Beer is not a drink. It's a social institution. Think about it. You don't get together with friends. You get together and have a beer. Backyard barbecues and summer parties are incomplete (in most people's minds) without large doses of the amber liquid. Even the president of our fine country apparently invites people over for a beer to make up for (real or imagined) political gaffes. Beer is not just a drink; it is practically a social currency.

All of this makes things difficult when you can't swallow the stuff. You are not refusing a beverage; you are refusing a gesture of goodwill. Even if the person offering it attempts to understand, it's still the equivalent of refusing a handshake in many situations. Despite this fact, neither Branden nor I have ever been able to feign a love for fermented wheat juice. We managed to fake our way into liking wine. It took a while, but eventually we even came to like the stuff.

Not so with beer.

Even in Seattle, land of microbreweries, we did not find a beer that we could drink without a grimace. (Smirnoffs and Mike's Hard Lemonade do not count...they are candy masquerading as alcohol.)

It was with some trepidation, then, that we entered into the social scene in Germany, where beer is even more of a national pastime than it is in the US. Americans drink beer. Germans live on it.

Just to give you some sense of the importance of beer in Germany, every type and brand has its own glass. You will never be served a Guinness in a Pils glass. That would be sacrilege. Every household owns a set of the glasses that correspond to their preferred brand(s) of beer, and you will be served in those glasses and no other, so they must have enough of each glass to serve guests also. This makes for very large glass cupboards. Every glass has a calibrated fill line to tell you exactly how much space to leave for the head, and exactly how much is in your glass when it arrives. It's like a graduated cylinder for beer, which amuses me to no end.

Even paper cups come with fill lines and volume markings. You will never again wonder if your friend got more than you, or if the waitress should have filled your glass a little more, because it says right there, on the glass itself. Nothing like precision.

It can actually cost more to get a glass of tap water in a restaurant than to get a liter of beer. And after dinner, everyone sits around and drinks a few more beers. And, unlike the US, nursing a drink for an entire evening isn't really an option. I've seen half a liter downed in a single swallow after the toast. Here, you drink your beer.

Of course, we had to try it. German beer is different than American beer, and you can't say you don't like it until you've tried it.* So we did. And, shockingly, it is palatable. I can't claim ownership of the idea that a cold beer is the ultimate, perfect end to a day, but we can actually drink (and enjoy) German beer. We even bought some in the supermarket on our own, without prompting. Will wonders never cease.

Of course, being able to drink German beer is not equivalent to being able to drink beer like a German. I think you have to train to be able to drink this stuff and keep your legs (which might have something to do with us buying it in the supermarket). It's not a shock that a half a liter does me in. I'm a lightweight. Always have been, probably always will be. But when Branden can feel it after a liter, that's some strong stuff.

Of course, if our newfound liking for beer does become an actual fondness for the stuff, we might be in trouble. Just about every German we've met (and probably some that we haven't) has told us that you can't get beer like this in the US, and that even German beers exported to the US are not as good as they are in Germany. There are even some stories about beers being shipped after their German expiration date, because Americans will drink anything.

I don't know how true that is (it has a whiff of urban legend to me), but I do have to agree that American beer and German beer are different. And, while we do like German beer, perhaps we should be careful not to fall in love.

*This is The Rule, though I freely admit that I do make exceptions in some cases. Blood pudding, sweet meat, and Haggis come to mind as reasonable exceptions to this rule. Good thing we're not in Scotland.

Friday, July 31, 2009

It's all because of the Germans

Next time you stop and wonder why English is such a wacky language, know that a large part of it comes from the Germans.

I've been doing well learning names of things at the grocery store, random things that you run into in everyday life, etc. But being able to point at random things and say their names makes you a pre-lingual toddler, not a conversationalist. It's cute for a while, but then it starts to get obnoxious (and a little boring).

So, I've been working on the verbs.

Can I just say that there are a lot of irregular verbs in German? Seven classes, to be exact. With subclasses. They are irregular in a surprisingly predictable way (German must have its rules, you know), but there are still a lot of them.

Ever tried to explain to someone why I sing, you sang, and it was sung?

That would be Ablaut class 3a. The i-a-u stem-changing verbs. Singen, sang, gesungen. Yup. It's all because of the Germans.

How about sinken, sank, gesunken? Springen, sprang, gesprungen? Stinken, stank, gestunken?

Language is so much fun.

And gestunken is a funny word.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

In which I talk randomly about not much of anything

Well, by the looks of this blog, our "adventures" must be pretty darned boring, huh?

Not really.

Actually, they've been pretty fun, but I've generally been off doing things rather than posting. What have I been doing? Let's see.

We went to Karlsruhe. Three times now. We did some shopping with friends, visited the palace, climbed the tower, wandered around the city, and last weekend we went to Das Fest. Das Fest is basically a crazy crowded outdoor (free) rock concert. Not usually our thing, but one of Branden's work friends invited us, so we went. It was fun. More on that later.

We've also visited a nearby town called Maulbronn (and its cloisters) twice.

I went walking in the woods with some new friends.

We've gone out to dinner with friends and sampled the local cuisine. It's good. We like schnitzel with noodles. (YES, Mom, I know that you now have a song stuck in your're welcome. Thought I should share.)

We bought a toaster oven. Did I post about that? I don't think I did. I wrote a post about that, but I think it's still in the drafts folder. See, there's this problem with not having internet for a while. We do stuff, I write a post, save it in a folder, and forget that I never hit "publish." On a blog, hitting "save" means that I'm done, content is posted, and it's checked off the list. If it gets saved to a folder rather than the blog, it gets checked off anyway, and I tend not to remember that I need to come back. This is bad for content actually making it onto the internet.

Plus there's the pictures thing. At the internet cafe, it took about an hour and a half to upload the pictures for the Peter and Paul post. That wasn't very many pictures, and it was really not very fun to sit and watch the little "loading" button flash on the screen for that long.

And then we got internet at home. I nearly danced for joy.

Then we tried to use the internet at home.

The internet thinks that we should learn to be satisfied with having and forget about using. Let's be nice and just say that it's slow.

That's a lot nicer than what I said about it earlier when it took me an hour to compose an email which then disappeared into the ether with a "page cannot be found" message. It didn't help that the email should have taken 5 minutes to write, except that it involved browsing to three whole webpages and downloading a very small pdf, which took the rest of the hour...

Anyway. Slow.

I think continents probably move faster most days.

We can't upload pictures from home, so Branden is ferrying the files to work with him and uploading them to the web from there, and hopefully I will be able to show you the things we've been up to soon. I hear that the Processing of Pictures might even be nearing completion, so they may someday be released from the Secret Folder of Mystery so that I can look at them and think about what to write. (Who me? Nag? Never!)

Ok, so technically I could probably access the Secret Folder of Mystery if I tried. But really? Panoramics don't look like anything until they are Processed.

On second thought, they look a lot like random pocket pictures. Except that they're not random and they're not of the inside of a pocket. But other than that? Totally like pocket pictures. Random bit of sky here, half a person there, crazy shot of nothing but pavement over there. Not much to look at, really. Unless you're a two year old and that random gum wrapper was really the most interesting thing in the palace. Then panoramic pieces might be fun. For the rest of us, it isn't really worth it until they are Processed, but then there's something to show. And it might even be worth waiting for.

So. There have been some adventures. Theoretically there will be pictures soon. And, provided that the ether does not return to swallow my writing the moment that I hit "publish," there will even be a blog post.

ETA: Miracles apparently do happen. There is still a blog post.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

New fruits

It’s not often that I find a fruit or vegetable I’ve never tried. I tend to eat all the weird things that no one has ever heard of, and it can be a challenge to find new ones to add to the list.

In our first trip to the supermarket, I was intrigued by these little berries:

They’re called Johannisbeere, and they come in red and black. They’re all over the place here; every supermarket has them. Of course, I had to try them.

So, I bought 500 g this afternoon.

They are very sour, just a little on the sweet side of a cranberry. Taste a little like cherries, and a little like grapes, but also not quite like either.

These are not berries that you would want to eat out of hand (or at least not more than one), which leaves me wondering what to do with them.

An internet search identifies Johannisbeere as currants, and suggests jam or other things with lots of sugar. I don’t have enough berries for a jam, and I don’t have an oven to make the myriad baked goods suggested, so I’m going to have to get creative. I’m thinking pancakes, but we’ll see what happens.

I also added dragon fruit to my list of things that I’ve tried. Ice cream shops are very popular here, almost like coffee shops in Seattle; every other building downtown seems to have an “Eis” sign. We were walking around downtown last week, and stopped to get some ice cream. I thought I was ordering raspberry based on the color, but one taste and it was clear that it was a fruit I’d never tasted before. That’s the fun thing about ordering from menus when you have no idea what they say. You’re very likely to be surprised.

At least this surprise was a good one. I like dragon fruit, apparently. It’s sort of like raspberry (maybe because that’s what I was expecting), but it’s also a lot like melon. Maybe a little bit like mango.

Actually, it makes me think of Air Heads candy for some reason. I have no idea what flavor. It’s been at least 10 years since I had an Air Heads, so who knows if they actually taste like dragon fruit, but that’s what comes to mind as something similar. I’m sure that the artificial flavoring of Air Heads candy does no justice to the fruit, anyway.

Unlike Johannisbeere, dragon fruit isn’t a particularly German thing. Google says that it’s an asian fruit, and I haven’t seen the fruit itself in shops here. I’ll have to look for the real fruit next time I’m in an asian grocery store…I think it would be worth a try.

Cats in (and out) of bags

Several people have expressed surprise at our decision to take the cats to Germany with us. Really, there wasn’t much of an option. Most people that we know are
  1. not pet people

  2. have pets of their own

  3. have children

  4. are allergic to cats

Clearly, the 1 and 4 groups are right out. It might be ok to foist one’s felines on an unwilling victim for one month, but six? No, they would need someone who at least likes to take care of animals, and someone that can breathe in their presence.

The cats themselves have ruled out the 2 group. If their interactions with foster kittens are any indication, they would spend the entire 6 months hissing and growling at the door that separates them from the other animals. An entire house is not enough room to ignore the presence of another cat, who must be shown who is boss at every moment of the day.

Children are an unknown quantity, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Especially since said children are generally on the younger end of things, and we don’t want to scar anyone (mentally or physically)…

So, they had to come. Germany has no quarantine rules, and a few days of travelling was easier than arranging a 6 month hotel around their finicky preferences.

We spent a few months acclimating the kittens to carriers, leashes, and cars when we first got them. They went on trips to parks and on walks in the backyard, until Mischief announced her strong dislike for anything outside of the house. Artemis still goes out in the backyard on occasion, but we’ve generally stopped taking them on outings in recent years.

With this in mind, we weren’t really sure how they’d handle the 3.5 day car ride at the beginning of the trip. We took them on a few shorter rides, and they did a lot of complaining about being in carriers in the car. Caterwauling is really the only appropriate term here. It is as loud and grating as it sounds.

I was really looking forward to be the one playing kitty chauffeur.

Branden built a divider for the hatch back out of PVC pipe and chicken wire, so that we could let the cats out of their carriers and give them access to food, water, and litterbox while we were on the road.

There was a fair bit of crying for the first half an hour or so of the drive, but then they realized that yowling wasn’t changing much, and they settled down. The first two days of the drive were between 88 and 93 degrees, and that kind of heat definitely has a soporific effect, which probably saved my sanity. I didn’t want to use AC in the front, since the air circulation isn’t all that good to the hatch area, and their carriers didn’t provide all that much shade. So, we drove with the windows open and the wind blowing. They got ice in their water, and icepacks under the mat in the bottom of the carrier, though Mischief preferred the natural cooling of her litterbox, and spent most of her time curled up in there. (At least it was clean…) After an initial period of crying each morning, they pretty much gave in and slept the entire way.

We also weren’t sure how the cats would handle hotel rooms, but we needn’t have worried. Their only complaint was not being allowed out of the bathroom fast enough. It generally took Artemis about 5 minutes to find and scale the highest thing in the room, and only about 15 minutes before they were finished poking their noses into every last corner and had settled in as if they owned the place.

The airport was a little less fun. They object to being confined to a carrier. It is an insult to the Dignity of Cat to be refused the right to explore at will. Artemis took to body slamming the inside of her carrier, trying to get out. Head stands and other gymnastics were added to the repertoire when body slamming wasn’t dramatic enough. The airline carriers are soft-sided, and so roll quite nicely, as she quickly discovered. Within moments of being placed on the floor, she’d start rolling off down the aisle in her carrier, unless trapped between a suitcase and a chair leg.

Cats must come out of their carriers at security, so that the bags can go through the x-ray machine. They were harnessed, and we were wishing for body armor as we approached the first check point. Vets no longer recommend sedatives for plane flights, apparently, since cats can’t regulate their body temperature when sedated. There have been a number of kitty heart attacks after flying, and so they recommend that you just deal with the crazed kitty in the airport rather than drugging them. We expected this to be a lot of fun.

The cats surprised us again, and were very easy to handle. I think they knew that there wasn’t much they could do to get out of it, and that playing along was a good idea at this point. They had probably been through enough already; getting in and out of the carrier was becoming old hat. They even decided that they wanted to get back in again at the other side.

We had a long wait at the airport in Madison, as I mentioned earlier. There were almost no people around, and so we did let the cats out briefly on their leashes before boarding the plane. It’s funny how many people are charmed by a cat on a leash. You’d think they were standing on their hind legs and speaking English or something. Really, it’s not that hard to make a cat put up with a harness. You start when they’re little. You put it on them. They walk around on their elbows and look miserable for a little while (if they’re Mischief), and then they get over it. If they’re Artemis, they come running because leashes mean that they can go outside and play tiger-in-the-grass. Bold and fearless hunters love leashes.

The Madison airport was the last time out of the carrier, except for security in Amsterdam. Other than that, there was bumping around as we ran through two airports, and then getting stuffed under airplane seats, all of which they handled with relatively good grace.

I think the cats were surprised that they didn’t have to get back in their carriers on the second day in Germany. It had become such a habit at that point. It was a little odd for all of us to suddenly not be on the move for a little while. Mischief had sworn off going anywhere near the carrier without shoving, but I think she still expected to be shoved.

They’ve now settled into the hotel/apartment as if they’ve lived here their entire lives. The papasan (the only chair in the room) is clearly meant as a large kitty basket just for them, and Artemis sits proudly on my pillow when she’s not following me around.

She has discovered a love of German cat food unlike any that she has had for American food. I’m hoping that we won’t have to import cans back to the US when we leave. I’m not sure she can go back.

Mischief is taking longer to convince, at least on the wet food. We have a few cans of American food with us, so she has a while to adjust. She has been hinting that she’d be quite happy on a diet of German dry food, but that’s not so good for her girlish figure. We’ll be heading back to the pet store this weekend to buy one of everything and see what she’ll actually eat. We’ve tried 4 different kind of food so far, and all have been buried with disdain.

Mischief has forgiven her carrier, and now sits in it almost daily, defying it to close on her. She has clearly won the battle, as it hasn’t closed yet. Artemis sits in it and wonders if we’re going to go somewhere else soon.

I think she kind of likes this world traveler thing…

Or maybe it's the accomodations.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Peter and Paul

Turns out that those fireworks were for an Independence Day celebration, after all. Peter and Paul Fest is the single biggest event of the year in Bretten. It’s a weekend festival celebrating the siege that marked the city’s independence from its neighbors back in1504.

For one weekend each year, the people of Bretten and several of its many sister cities put on a festival to remember their history. Everyone dresses up in medieval garb for the weekend, and there is a parade on Sunday where each section is dedicated to a different part of the medieval city life. There were soldiers, a knight on horseback, doctors, nobles, peasants, bakers, farmers, washerwomen, beggars, cobblers, minstrels, jugglers, a jester, prisoners in cages going to the gallows, peddlers, brewmasters, vinters, potters, woodworkers, blacksmiths, priests, basketmakers, metalworkers, ropemakers, weavers, candlemakers, shepherds, and anything else you can imagine.

We saw marching bands

and soldiers.


and the colorguard.

There were shopkeepers,

and peasants.


and ladies.


And coal-makers from the black forest (we were told that the people in this section made the coal themselves, specifically for the festival).


and Monks.

Brewmasters (their emblem says “Hopfen und Malz, Gott Erhaltz = Hops and Malt, God’s blessings”)

and a jester with a tiny cannon

that makes a big bang.


And jugglers.

And, inexplicably, Italians.

No one seemed to know why the Italians were there. Something about a sister city, maybe. Or maybe they’re just Italians. Who knows.

This year, there were 58 different sections in the parade itself, and then the craftspeople settle into their stalls on the side of the street and perform the trades that they represent for the rest of the day. The bakers, brewers, sausage-makers, etc. have stands where they sell fair food, sometimes made in large brick ovens or fried in cast iron basins full of oil, boiling over an open fire. That’s about as authentic as an elephant ear (fried dough) can get.

It’s an amazing event, if only for the number of people participating. Everyone was in on the action in some way or another, and there were throngs of visitors from other cities as well.

We were fortunate that a kind woman from Karlsruhe overheard us speaking English and took it upon herself to make sure that we understood the different parts of the parade, and the history behind the festival. She explained that the city had been under siege by its enemies, and had nearly given up hope, when they were inspired by Saint Peter and Paul to feed all of the food that they had left to a little dog.* When he was very fat, they let him run around the walls of the city, where the invading troops could see him. The enemies decided that a siege was hopeless if even the dogs were so fat, and moved on, leaving Bretten to its independence. There’s a statue of the dog in the town square, by the fountain, and the festival each year celebrates the victory.

*I didn’t understand exactly how Peter and Paul inspired this idea, but apparently they did…