And we are back to the travel posts, with our first glimpse of Germany!
Taking the train to Germany always has some interesting moments. Changing trains onto the more local line is particularly good fun, because the signs at the station don’t always mention the name of the station that is on your ticket, and one has to wander around with a large suitcase looking for a map which might suggest the likeliest train to get on. Fortunately, I did manage to find my way onto a train to Mainz Hauptbahnhof, where I was met by my friend A.
A has an apartment just on the edge of Lerchenberg, near Mainz, which is full of windows and light. Below, there is a carpark, a row of trees, and then open fields. At this time of year, even though Mainz isn’t really that far north, the horizon never gets absolutely dark.
I’d arrived in the late afternoon, and A had just finished her University semester, which had been fairly taxing due to several conferences late in the term and the fact that she is actually working in a neighbouring country and taking the train back to Mainz every weekend. Given that I had been busily walking my feet into ribbons all over Paris, and was still recovering from that endless cough, I was very happy with her plan for a quiet few days, and a chance to sleep in and catch up.
We took a walk through the fields near Lerchenberg, which I foolishly failed to photograph – there really are long fields of barley and of rye, with the occasional bright red poppy raising its head. This was very lovely, and the first taste of an Arthurian theme which would recur several times in our German travels.
Then we returned to my friend’s apartment for a very German dinner of potatoes, asparagus and fried egg (eggs are *the* German vegetarian food, it seems), and to watch France play Albania in the football, because I wanted to see what all the shouting was about. We amused ourselves by crying out ‘oh la la, c’est pas possible!’ every time France missed a goal. We had to do a lot of shouting. France was very good at keeping control of the ball, but that didn’t mean they knew how to kick straight…
On Thursday, we slept in, and it was glorious. In the afternoon, we went to Heidelberg, and were Tourists, which was fun.
We walked around the old streets, and went to an all-year-round Christmas decoration shop (or rather, I went to the shop – A felt that this was a bit more kitsch than she could cope with and left me to it pretty early on). There were some very strange decorations there – a whole set of ornaments featuring beer and people in lederhosen or dirndls, a giant peacock, and a remarkable number of glass cucumber ornaments. A told me that glass cucumber ornaments were supposed to be traditionally English. (I have never heard of this, and suspect the English are pranking the Germans. Or is it just a tradition I’m unaware of?)
We also dropped in on the Heiliggeistkirche, which is rather gorgeous.
We then decided that we had to take the funicular up to Heidelberg Castle.
We wandered around and enjoyed the view, and were alarmed by tourists perching on very narrow ledges to be photographed.
There had been a lot of flooding in Germany, and we could see that the river was higher than it should have been.
Also, I saw my first ever medlar tree. The only context in which I have ever heard of medlar trees is in Romeo and Juliet, where Mercutio is using them to make puns about female genitalia (this being Mercutio’s favourite thing to do in any situation).
I shared this useful information with A, because that is what friends do. She agreed that if you are determined to make everything about genitalia, medlars do give you a certain amount of help.
(I have no photos of medlars to share. I could claim that this is because my blog is strictly G-rated, but I think the last paragraph gave the lie to that statement. It has more to do with the fact that I found other things more photogenic.)
Then we decided to take the other funicular up to the top of the mountain.
This is the old funicular, which was built in 1907, and still works, though it does make the occasional alarming creaky noise. It goes up a gradient of 40°, and you can feel that it is quite hard work – we felt glad that there were only three other passengers there.
We admired the foxgloves out through the window, and started discussing German versus English names for plants, and their medicinal properties, and were joined in our discussion by one of our fellow passengers, who turned out to be an organic chemist from the ANU in Canberra.
(My friend had been saying that she was feeling like a minority as an Actual German on our touristy activities – it was entertaining to realise that on this particular occasion, the majority was actually Australian.)
At the top of the mountain, there is a spectacular view.
There is also a take off point for hang-gliders. I immediately wished for a hang glider. My friend did not. I also speculated about the advantages and disadvantages of flying foxes versus waterslides, which my friend, who is not fond of heights, was also not buying.
Lacking a more adventurous means of transport, we took the funicular back down the mountain.
Which is still pretty spectacular.
And then we drove back to Mainz for dinner and to watch Germany play Poland. (It was a draw.)
Friday was another glorious sleep in – I hadn’t felt as though I was overdoing things in Paris, but my exhaustion suggests otherwise – and then a drive to Deidesheim in the afternoon for a book launch at a former synagogue. A is a theologian, and the book was by her boss, and was about the body of God in the Old Testament – which body parts are referred to, and how literally this should be taken.
I was interested to discover that I can follow about as much of a theology seminar in German as I can of a biology seminar in English (and indeed, it turned out that at least one of the words that kept on being repeated and I didn’t understand was actually in Hebrew, so I reckon I get a pass on that one). It was also amusing to note that sarcastic-under-the-breath-commentary, snorts of disbelief, and the inevitable points-disguised-as-questions are behaviours that transcend academic genres…
We were then invited back to my friend’s boss’s house for dinner, along with a number of my friend’s colleagues. This was very kind, but also very intimidating, at least for me – I have never mastered ‘professional mingling’ in English, and my formal German is definitely not up to this. (I can never remember how to cope with the various cases relating to the Sie form.)
Most fortunately, I was rather adopted by one of my friend’s newest colleagues, W, who comes from Heidelberg and is absolutely charming. He is an expert on Job, and was very kind and also very amusing when explaining the bits I’d misunderstood from the seminar (along with his own views on the matter). Between him and my friend, I learned a lot about possible images of the Jewish God from before the ‘no graven images’ part was codified into law. Apparently, one text suggests that Jah had the body of a hippo, the head of a lion, and a penis. And so does his wife. OK then. (I asked how this fits in with the idea of humans being made in God’s image, and W just widened his eyes and made a gesture that implied that well, *obviously* humans look half like a hippo and half like a lion and why was I even asking this question?)
It was an unexpectedly fun evening.
Oh, and there was a klezmer band at the book launch, who were really great. The launch, as I mentioned, was held in a former synagogue, which looked unexpectedly small to me – a single, square room, and not a large one. But apparently, the reason the building is even there is that it was too large for its congregation and was thus sold before the Second World War. And so it survived destruction.
We got home too late for the football. It was probably for the best.