February 25, 2014

Down in the Ba-Wu

The first half of my time in Germany was based in Offenburg, at the volleyball house where my wonderful friend, Tanya, lives with some of her teammates. Offenburg is an average-sized German town in the state of Baden-Württemburg, the "California of Germany" (something about the weather and the wine). I was well-connected to the bus and train systems, and everyday presented new and fun snapshots of the "Ba-Wu." The German rail company, DB Bahn, has great all-day ticket deals for their regional trains, and I was able to take advantage of their "Laender - Baden-Württemburg" ticket twice.

{I'd like to take the opportunity to extend an ENORMOUS "THANK YOU" to Tanya Schmidt for allowing me to be a part of your world for a few days. You opened your home and heart to me like you always do, and it is a privilege to consider you my friend. Thank you for our talks, walks, and adventures!}


The flower market welcomed me to the church.
Exiting the hauptbahnhof was a bit confusing. In every direction was either a freeway or massive construction, but after a few wrong turns and backtracks, I was able to make it to the Schlossplatz. Of more interest to me was the church tower tucked behind the square, and, as I drew nearer, the organ music beckoned me to enter, sit, and listen. Right in the middle of an intense World War II book about the German theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, sitting within these historic walls prompted the following words in my notebook.

"The church survived the Nazis. God was, and always will be, greater than man...the message of the Gospel DOES NOT and CANNOT die...the pure Word of God is sustainable beyond all things, peoples, places, and ideas. The corruptibility of mankind has cast shadows and darkness over the Truth, but the following generations have continued to understand and rehabilitate the revelation of Jesus Christ and the Holy Scriptures. The power and endurance of God can be stupidly underestimated, but NEVER permanently denied."

(My best friend - the same one who gave me the Bonhoeffer book - and I like to joke that if we had been born men, we would have made really good pastors. Our conservative stances have kept us from pursuing this as women, but maybe I'll write my "Why Death Is Good, But God Is Better" book someday anyway.)

On a lighter note, I also found a large open air market, where an old German man and I communicated through charades for my purchases of the local white wine and some nourishing apples.

ULM - Feb. 20, cont.

What stopped them at 530 feet?
With my Laender ticket, I was able to see both Stuttgart and Ulm on the same day for one price. I'm so glad I made it all the way to the edge of the Ba-Wu (Ulm is on the border of the state of Bavaria, made famous by Munich and Neuschwanstein) to this charming half-timbered town. For all of the medieval decor that Stuttgart lacked, Ulm made up for it in droves. The beautiful Rathaus (city hall) was covered with scenes from fairy tales. Ulm also boasts the tallest church in the world, the Ulm Münster. The Tower of Babel vibes in the square were a bit overwhelming.

Walking along the old fortifications.
I walked through the very socially and historically educating Bread Museum, learning how much influence food (especially bread) has had over political and cultural movements throughout history. It made me hungry (there was no on-site bakery to solve this problem), but I also felt very spoiled because I have never experienced famine, or a true and terrifying lack of food. I left this museum much more aware of my health and wealth, thankful for the life I have been given.

Hey, swan, hey!
My favorite part of this city was strolling along the banks of the Danube, just next to the Fisherman's District. I found myself a seat made from a broken concrete wall, and said hello to the swans and ducks as they passed me by in the setting sun. When I finally got around to eating dinner, I chose an adorable restaurant right inside the city walls. The dinner itself was a pile of goodness; potatoes, roast beef, and eggs - totally my thing. But the dessert was incredible - baked cherries surrounded a tower of Toblerone ice cream (where has this been all my life?!), with "sides" of whipped cream, a warm donut, chocolate sauce, and a wafer.

Every happy day ends with a dessert like that.


Chapel Quest: accomplished!
I had about an hour before I was going to meet Tanya for lunch. I thought I would spend it in cute alleys and shops, but that changed as soon as I arrived. The sloping hills of vineyards twisted and swirled upward behind the city's facades, only to be topped by a miniature white chapel, in all of its glorious serenity! My insane climbing instinct took over, and 300 steps and some trails later, I was inside Saint Jacob's Chapel, in holy solitude. Scenes from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) hung in simple frames alongside the pews. I gently lit my candle with the flicker of the only other candle in the place; now our prayers could stand together.

The beautiful village of Gengenbach, on the edge of the Black Forest.

Our greatest moments are found in silence and peace.

The actual medieval town of Gengenbach is something straight out of a Disney princess animation, and bears a striking resemblance to Fantasyland in Disneyland. I think Walt Disney has a lot to do with instilling the idea of "magical Europe" in the hearts of children, and, if I live here until I die, you can blame him.


[This is what I want to do with my life. Like after volleyball, and in between a ton of traveling. And not in German.]

When Tanya's team was going to have their trainer do a workout instead of practice, I didn't really know what to expect. Euro trainers have been really hit-and-miss when it comes to general knowledge and experience, so I just went with low expectations, and ready to modify any exercise that might compromise my athleticism (it's happened here before). It ended up being a hardcore awesome workout, that yes, was something akin to yogaerobics boot camp. I couldn't do all of it perfectly, but it was so much fun! I kept cheering like I was in a Billy Blanks' Tae-Bo video, gettin' ripped! During the entire two hours, my energy and intensity fused together and it was as if everything in the world was perfect. I want to lead killer rad group fitness classes, and I have a German-Italian dude named Antonio to thank for that confirmation.


For the real totally organic experience, go to the Friedrichsbad thermal spa. This excursion is NOT for everyone, but for those of you brave enough to try it, you will not be disappointed (just ask RICK!). It's very affordable (from $30-$60), especially considering the fact that it includes a soap scrub massage, steam rooms, saunas, a variety of pools and hot tubs, and even NAP TIME. The catch? No clothes allowed. But just know I had started to get a sty in my eye the night before, and by the time Tanya and I were halfway through the bath treatments, it was totally healed.

I'm a believer, and I'll be back.

FREIBURG - Feb. 22, cont.

Yes. We morphed from Egyptian queens at the baths of Baden-Baden to pro Euro soccer fanatics on the fields of Freiburg the very same day. With Ba-Wu beer and German swear words sloshing about, we watched the home team lose 2-4 in the last few minutes of the game. We only had to dodge flying beer twice, and had a great time pretending to sing what basically translated to: "Give us a goal, please!" 

But every time I see soccer, I can only think about what a good friend once told me:

"What is soccer? Running in disguise."

The rest of the night was dedicated to finishing the Bonhoeffer book and preparing to leave Offenburg the next morning.

HORNBERG - Feb. 23

I took the train along the Schwarzwald Bahn (Black Forest line), and arrived at the Hornberg station on the hill above the town. My taxi came on time, and as we drove away from the safety of other people, the driver asked me, "You do know the hotel is not in the center, correct?" I replied, "Yes, yes, I saw it on the map. It's about twenty minutes, right?" He nodded his affirmation. A few minutes later, as we began to climb the forested mountain, he dropped the lines that no passenger ever wants to hear.

"You know, at this point of the drive, most people think I am kidnapping them because I'm taking them into the forest."

Nervous laughter. "Ha, really? No kidding."

His comment made me feel better and worse all at the same time. Was he telling me this "joke" to make me feel at ease; i.e., don't worry, I'm not evil incarnate? OR was he baiting me by trying to make me think he wasn't a kidnapper, then he could catch me with my guard down? Either way: NOT awesome.

My forest survival skills are somewhat less than exceptional.
I stayed calm, and held my paranoia in check knowing that I could outrun this guy anywhere, even in his own forest, and I had all of my important items with me. Of course - and thankfully - my cabby who liked to chat about kidnapping did, in fact, bring me to the hotel. I will send him a list of appropriate taxi talk topics at a later date.

And this, my friends, is what kicked off the next half of my German experience: my week in the Englischhausen.

For more on my #strasbawulyontrip...
My Sunniest Strasbourg
Say What You Want To Say...In English
Have ONE Bag, Will Travel