Friday, April 19, 2013

Chapter 19: New Home

Our household goods came in last week, so we have spent much of the last week putting everything in its place and picking up a few new items to fill in blanks. It's really becoming a second home now--our first home for the next three years. Texas seems far away, to me at least, even though we are in daily contact through Facebook, Google Plus and phone. U.S. issues seem far away too. We don't have American TV, no cable or satellite. Our new "smart TV" uses internet access to run apps, and we have BBC and Euronews, which are much better, more serious institutions of reportage than the ratings-driven stuff that tends to pass for news in the U.S. They also report on the world, not just American-centered news. We've been following the bombing in Boston and the explosion in West, but fortunately not with 24 hour speculative reporting where reporters have to kill time by making guesses, asking uninformed questions of people who obviously won't know the answer, and basically just making stuff up to avoid dead air. The inability of Congress to pass background checks on guns looks so ludicrous from here in Germany, a country with sensible gun laws (you can still hunt) and low rates of gun related deaths.

Last weekend we visited the Hollenzollern castle (that name is missing some umlauts--I'm not sure how to type them). Upon approach, it is a magnificent sight, perched upon a hill that commands a broad view of the Swabian countryside. The fortification dates back to the 1100s, but strangely, not much about this castle is very old. Two castles existed before the present structure, which was erected in the 1800s with modern technology in the then fashionable neo-Gothic style, much like the British Parliament building. Also unique is the fact that no one ever really lived there. By the time the final version of the castle was built, the royal families were losing their grip on power, so that Hollenzollern became a state museum piece. It contains plenty of art work, armor, weapons, jewels, dinnerware and even Frederick the Great's flutes (he was a fine musician as well as a brilliant and powerful monarch). Today, youth groups can spend weekends there, which must be great fun. The view is spectacular, and these multi-level castles are great places to get temporarily lost in. So, basically, the castle never benefited the people who had it built. There is a chapel appended to the newer castle that dates back to the 1400s, the second castle. So, there is some older history here, and certainly the artifacts inside are fascinating.

Castles are everywhere around here. In Landstuhl, minutes from our house, there is a ruin of the Nanstein castle, which I just discovered today when I made a wrong turn while headed to the medical center. I was picking up a prescription, so timing wasn't urgent. When I saw a sign to Nanstein I followed it up the Landstuhl hill and through some attractive residential areas, then around a turnabout that leads to a hotel clinging to the hillside and a walking park that contains the castle remains. For a few euro on the honor system, you may walk and climb around the structure which is in a slow state of restoration. There are no tour guides, just a few markers in German and a cafe with an incredible view. Unfortunately, it was not yet open. Every day is a fascination here.



Speaking of the honor system, in the spring, farmers plant flowers along the roadside and for a few euros dropped in a lock box, people may cut flowers that they like. We gathered some tulips and daffodils which have added a splash of color to our still rather plain apartment. Soon, fresh vegetables and fruits will be available from the local farms. This spring is a late one, so the produce stalls have been delayed. The weather this last week has been spectacularly beautiful, and I have been bicycling tirelessly. It has been a joy. It's cooling again now, but the harsher bite of winter has almost surely ended.

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