Thursday 11 July 2024

First Week of July

July was off to a chilly and wet start - not unusual for my part of the world. I have often found that July, although "high summer", can be colder and wetter than June, and sometimes we have the most beautiful summer weather in September. It was an unusual week for me work-wise, as I was at the office four days instead of my average one or two.

Since I had not been away for the weekend, it was easy to be at the office before 9:00 on Monday (1st of July) morning. Normally, I don't work for this company on Mondays and Fridays, but as an exception I can make it possible. We had a workshop about the sensible and legally compliant use of AI in the insurance industry. I left when the session ended around lunch time, since I had an appointment in the afternoon working from home for my other employer.

After work, I went for my standard walk to Benningen. The cooler and sometimes rainy weather with its mix of sun and clouds was not very July-like, but walk-friendly.

What's this in the middle of the high grass?

Is it a brown fox?

No - a cat, and he or she was not even remotely interested in talking to me!

Tuesday (2nd of July) was cooler at a max of 18C/64F, nearly constant rain and no sun to be seen. Again, I worked at the office during the morning and picked up my other work at home in the afternoon.

A further drop in temperature made Wednesday (3 July) more autumn-like than anything else. Grey skies, rain and somewhere around 13C/55F is not exactly summerly. I was at the office all day and went to visit my former upstairs neighbour after work. It was good to see her; we'd not had a chat in a while, only exchanged the occasional text message. Of course she wanted to know who lives in "her" old place now, and it was nice to just generally catch up. Also, she gave me a very nice meal which I had not expected, meaning I didn't need anything else at home.

My fourth day at the office was on Thursday (4 July), with the weather being very similar to the day before. But the sun reappeared late afternoon, and when I walked from the train station to my Mum's, it was so warm I would have liked to get rid of one or two layers of clothing.

I went on an errand for my Mum before we sat down to a delicious meal she had prepared for us.

Friday (5 July) was gorgeous - sunny, dry, and not too warm at 24C/75F. I didn't have time for a walk, because I followed my usual Friday routine of work in the morning, cleaning in the afternoon and travelling to O.K. in the evening.

Taking photos from a high speed train is not easy.

But I tried anyway. The sky was just too beautiful, with the two hot air balloons floating above.

All went well, and by 9:00 pm, O.K. and I were ready for our customary meal of salad, bread, cheese and wine to ring in the weekend. I had been on the train while the Germany - Spain match was on, but my sister played "live ticker" for me and kept me updated via text messages.

O.K. and I drove his Mum into town on Saturday (6 July) for an appointment. The morning had started beautifully, but big black clouds were already gathering early on, and by the time we reached town centre, it was chucking it down. We dropped O.K.'s Mum off, parked the car and then made our way between shops and covered shop fronts where we could shelter from the rain. 

When O.K.'s Mum had finished, we went to eat at a relatively new place none of us had been before, a restaurant offering "Asian Fusion" kitchen, their "fusion" mainly meaning a mix of Japanese, Chinese and Thai food. I liked my creamy but spicy coconut curry with fried vegetables very much.

Back home, we rested for a while and spent the remainder of the afternoon quietly. By 7:00 pm, I was getting so tired (from doing nothing!) that I was ready for bed. Instead, the rain finally let up a bit, and at 7:45, we were able to go for a brief walk around the village, always keeping an eye on the ever-present inky black clouds.

When we were back in the cottage, it did indeed rain more, but there was also a beautiful rainbow above "our" end of the village.

View from O.K.'s cottage

On Sunday (7 July), the village band were playing in Diersburg for the village fête. Of course I came along; it was a fine day, similar to Friday when it had been sunny and warm but not too hot.

After the band's performance, we had something to eat before returning to the village. O.K. changed out of his uniform, and we were back in the car, driving to Offenburg. Ice cream was what we wanted, and ice cream we got!

Afterwards, we walked from town centre to a part of town where we like to walk sometimes, for its beautiful houses, plenty of green and nice views from the hill. This time, we walked different roads, taking in an old church and the large, park-like cemetery.

A castle? No - the front of a water reservoir on the hill of Lindenhöhe, a part of Offenburg.

Information about Weingarten church, a place I'd not been before. The original building dates back to the year 1396, but has been added to and modernised throughout the centuries.

Back at the village, we sat with O.K.'s Mum on her patio for an Apérol Spritz before retreating to the cottage.

It's funny how going to the office feels like a big effort now. Up until some years ago, I didn't think twice about it - it was self-understood that Monday to Friday, one left the house in the morning and returned in the evening. The pandemic changed that for many people, myself included. And although I've been regularly working from home for almost 14 years now, it was never as exclusive as during those few strange years under pandemic regulations.

Friday 5 July 2024

Last Week of June

The last week of June was warm to hot until the Sunday, when a rather drastic drop in temperature and some rain rang in a chilly, wet spell that lastet for most of the first week of July.

On Monday (24 June), unlike most Mondays I travelled to the office in Weilimdorf mid-to-late morning. A company-wide summer event was taking place, complete with a sort of mini trade show where most departments (including mine) had a stall where they presented themselves and their work. 
It was good to meet some colleagues face to face I had so far only ever spoken to in online meetings or on the phone, because they are based at our Cologne branch.
At 5:30, we were all gathering in the canteen for speeches from our top level management. Once the (brief) speeches were over, the four top managers donned aprons and took their positions on the patio at the grills and counters - like at last year's summer event, they fried, grilled and served our food. 
A variety of dishes were on offer, and nobody remained hungry.
Eventually the grills were turned off, and two of our four top managers switched roles once again: They were now back in the canteen, on stage as part of the company band, playing rock and pop covers everyone knew. We were (nearly) all singing and clapping along; it was fun and they played well, especially considering that they aren't a regular band and only meet for rehearsals two or three times before the event.
Beforehand, we had been informed that at 9:00 pm, the canteen staff would throw us all out, since they had to clear up and rearrange chairs and tables for a conference the next morning.
I left at about 8:30 pm when I knew I was going to have a convenient train connection.

Tuesday (25 June) was sunny and warm at 28C/82F with not a drop of rain. I worked from home and went for an hour's walk with my friend before my first meeting of the day. I had not seen her in weeks - she had been away on work trips to Las Vegas and Vienna, returned from the Vienna trip with Covid, and it took her a good while before testing negative. 
My lunch break was spent having a massage at the nearby day spa, something I try to fit in once a week for my neck/shoulder problem, originally caused by scoliosis but of course not made any better by sitting at desks and working on computers all the time.
After work, I went for a walk on the fields for just under two hours, enjoying the warmth and early evening sun. I spotted a hare and saw many birds and butterflies, but as usual was way too slow getting my mobile phone out to take pictures of them. The fields and meadows didn't run or fly away, though!

I was back at the office on Wednesday (26 June). The day started sunny again, but a late afternoon thunderstorm meant no walk other than the few minutes from my house to the station in Ludwigsburg, from the station to the office in Weilimdorf, and back.

Thursday (27 June) was also off to a sunny start, but with clouds drawing in towards the evening. It was warmer than before at 30C/86F, and more thunderstorms were forecast. We were lucky in that they came down in other places, not in Ludwigsburg.
At 7:00 pm, I met my sister near the station, and we walked into town together, meeting our Mum at the bus stop near town hall. We had tickets for an open air theater in the walled garden of a former brewery bang in the middle of town, a popular venue for events.
A small group of only six actors performed "Nathan der Weise" by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, a play widely known in Germany and (at least it used to be) part of the curriculum at school. At its heart is an ancient tale of three rings, symbolising the three main religions Judaism, Islam and Christianity. The tale's (and thus the play's) morale is that no matter what religion or ethnic/cultural background, all humans are essentially equal and should be treated accordingly. A timeless truth, particularly poignant in today's heated atmosphere of aggression and intolerance.
The performance was unusual in that Nathan (the main character) was a woman, and it had a modern twist, which we liked very much. There were sprinkles of humour as well, but the message was serious and offered plenty of food for thought. You can find out more about the original play on Wikipedia (in English).

I worked again from home on Friday (28 June). O.K. and I spent the weekend apart, as he had appointments without me, and so I had time to attend a work shop for interested citizens hosted by our town's administration. 
The work shop dealt with questions about the future of our town, how we want to live, what is possible, what needs doing, under different aspects such as economy and tourism, living and education, environment and climate, building and mobility. It was very interesting, and it is good that as a citizen, one has the chance to participate in the preparation of important decisions that will affect our lives in the years to come.

Saturday (29 June) was the hottest day of the year so far. At 33C/91F, it was extremely humid, and a walk or other outdoor activities were not advisable. I spent the day quietly behind drawn blinds, doing the odd little job around the flat, reading, playing my favourite computer game, and resting. 
In the evening, I slowly walked to my sister's. We watched the Germany-Denmark match together; it had to be interrupted because of a thunderstorm, and it all took very long before the final whistle, and the result of 2:0 was confirmed. Still, it was an entertaining evening. Walking home a bit after 11:00 pm, it was dark but still warm and muggy at 28C/82F.
With all windows open, I tried to get some sleep... but maybe a couple of hours later, a strong wind rose, creating a lot of noise outdoors and causing things to flap about indoors. I got up, reluctantly shut some of the windows, made sure everything was alright and went back to bed. It wasn't a night for good sleep, though - too warm and noisy.

My sister had invited two friends, my Mum and me on Sunday (30 June) to a BBQ at her allotment. However, the temperature had dropped considerably over night, and it was raining almost all day. Therefore, we met at her flat instead and had a pleasant afternoon and early evening with all the food and drink we'd prepared for the BBQ, and of course enjoyed the company.

I walked my Mum home and arrived at my place at around 8:00 pm. With the cooler air, I was looking forward to sleeping much better than the previous night.

Saturday 29 June 2024

A (Somewhat) Quieter Week

After the very busy week and weekend (see my previous posts), the week from June 17 to 23 was somewhat quieter. Weather-wise, it was a mixed bag of sun and rain, with highs of up to 30C/86F and a lot of humidity.

On Monday (17 June), my trains home from Offenburg to Ludwigsburg were almost on time, and I was able to start work as usual. My last video call for the day started at 4:00 pm, and a little after 6:00, I was ready to set off for my standard walk to Benningen. 

Most of the time, I simply walk without checking which train I might catch for the way back, but that day, I looked it up and found that if I paced myself well, I would reach a convenient train; missing that one would mean a wait of half an hour. Since I was getting hungry and didn't feel like waiting, I sped up and made the walk in record time: about 1 hour 40 minutes, when usually it takes me about 10-15 minutes more than that, depending on the number of photo stops, red lights at busy roads, and so on.

I worked at the office on Tuesday (18 June) on what was the hottest day of the week. My office faces north and does not get direct sunlight, so it was good to open the windows in the morning and let fresh air in (no A/C in that part of the building) and still have a pleasant temperature in the room during the afternoon.

No walk after work that day, since I had two ladies coming to my place at 7:00 pm to talk about the service we wanted for the house, cleaning the staircase and the small outside area. They (mother and daughter) arrived a little earlier, and we soon agreed on the terms for the daughter doing the regular weekly cleaning, while together with her mother she would start with a thorough cleaning on Thursday. I was very pleased with our arrangement and liked the two women instantly.

Another day at the office on Wednesday (19 June); afterwards, my sister and I watched the Germany - Hungary match at her place (so far the only match of the European Championship I have watched properly).

Thursday (20 June) was another warm day of much humidity. I was working from home, awaiting the two ladies for their first thorough cleaning. They arrived as arranged, and after only a sip of water (my offers of coffee or tea and, if necessary, using my toilet anytime were declined) they set to their task, working a solid 3 1/2 hours - the stairs, front door, basement room where we all have our washing machines, and the area around the house have not been so clean and tidy in a long time! They also cleaned the windows in the staircase and did a really good job.

I had to leave them to it about an hour before they finished, since I was meeting  my Mum and friend R at the small palace by the lake for the weekly Wine After Work. 

It was nice, but the music from the stereo was a little too loud for our taste - we wouldn't need any music there at all; one of the nice things about the place by the lake is that it is peaceful and quiet, and birdsong provides enough background music for us. But apparently, many other visitors are of a different opinion. When I went to the wine stall and asked them politely to turn the music down a little bit, they did so immediately. A little later, someone else must have gone and asked to turn it up, because it was louder again. Never mind - we still had a beautiful evening, and as usual, I enjoyed the walk home.

On Friday (21 June), I hosted a web conference from 9:00 am to a little after 1:00 pm. After something to eat and a brief rest, I wrapped up work, did my weekly cleaning and packed my little red suitcase for the weekend.

The train to Offenburg was only about 3 minutes late, and by 9:00 pm, O.K. and I arrived at the cottage.

Saturday (22 June) started off nicely, but heavy rainfall in the early afternoon meant a drop in temperature. O.K.'s work place had their annual summer fest; spouses, partners and families were invited, and so I went along as well.

A good variety of food and drink were on offer, and a large tent meant we were sheltered from the rain - at least from above! There were puddles under nearly every table, and one really had to place one's feet carefully.

We went on a guided tour of the building (which O.K. of course knows like the back of his hand), had something to eat and drink, talked to O.K.'s colleagues and their families, and left a bit before the official end.

Instead of driving directly back to the village, we stopped at a big shop for sports clothes and equipment. O.K. needed a pair of trainers for everyday use (and found them), and I couldn't decide between two pairs and therefore bought both.

Back at the cottage, we prepared three glasses of our favourite summer cocktail (Apérol Spritz) and took them across the road to O.K.'s Mum, which was a nice start of the evening.

For the first time this year, on Sunday (23 June) O.K. and I had our morning coffee on the balcony in the sun - it wasn't too hot yet, and dry for a change!

We then set off for a walk in the Black Forest, straight from the cottage, our rucksacks filled with our standard fare for walks and hikes: flasks of water, sandwiches, raw red pepper cut in strips, quarters of apple sprinkled with lemon juice, and a small container with tomatoes. We liberally sprayed ourselves with mozzie repellant, resulting in only a few stings and bites along the way (mainly where we'd washed or sweated off the repellant in the course of the day).

The place names won't mean anything to you, but I record them here for my own benefit: Hucken, Niederschopfheim, Riedmühle, Diersburg, Lendersbach-Hütte (where we had our sandwiches), Pionierstein, Rebmesserstein, Gutta-Hütte (where we stopped for a shandy and sausage), Kammweg, Barack, outskirts of Zunsweier, and back to Hofweier.

It's a good year for wild poppies.

Also for cornflowers.

A poppy field, soon ready to be harvested.

Foxgloves line many paths in the Black Forest.

We ended up with about 29 km (18 miles) under our belts (or hiking boots). It was the longest walk/hike we've been on in a long time, and I enjoyed all of it - even the uphill bits, where I habitually puff and pant like an old steam engine. Of course we were tired afterwards, but tired in a good way; not the kind of drained exhaution you get after a long day at work or from lack of sleep.

We watched the football match Germany - Switzerland, but only half-heartedly, and went to bed straight afterwards, since Monday was going to be an early start.

Friday 21 June 2024

A Very Busy Weekend

With a busy week behind me, a very busy weekend was ahead: The Village Brass Band were celebrating their 100th anniversary.

It wasn't the first festivity of this year to mark this special occasion, but it was the biggest: All of Saturday and Sunday, we had a schedule choc full of brass bands, a parade, a variety evening on stage, a large beer tent, stalls serving food and drink, activities for children and more.

Many of the band members had taken the Friday before and the Monday after off work, in order to set up the large tent (bigger than the one we usually rent for the May fête) and pull it back down.

On five past 8:00 on Saturday (15 June) morning, we arrived at the parking lot at the centre of the village, along with many others. Rain had fallen during the night and early hours, but now the sun was peeping out, and it was beginning to warm up. A blustery wind helped to dry off the square, but there were still puddles right where we wanted to set up some of the stalls.

Never mind, we did it, and a little after 12:00, we arrived at the cottage for a brief rest and a quick snack of fresh fruit and yoghurt. We showered and dressed properly (of course we'd not been in our best clothes for the physical work), and a little before 3:00 pm, I was back at the tent.

From that moment on until 8:00 pm, I was constantly busy and on my feet nearly non-stop, and from 6:30 pm, a fellow band member and I were on stage to serve as MCs for the evening program which consisted of four different acts, all in honour of the 100th anniversary.

Two were bands who played different kinds of music, and two were dance groups; one of those were in traditional costumes of the area, performing traditional dances, while the others were teenage girls dancing to hip hop music - you couldn't get more contrast than that. It was to show not only the support of the other clubs and bands in the village, but also how during the century the band has now been in existence music and dancing have changed and developed.

My colleague and I each had a cordless mic and improvised a lot - most of the time, we prepared only very roughly who was to say what, and when. But it worked a treat, and apart from me holding the mic too far away from my mouth so that people found they heard me less well than my colleague, the audience seemed to be as happy with us as with the various performances.

Once we'd got off stage for the last time, O.K. and I went outside to get drinks, and then mingled with the many visitors. At 9:00 pm, a brass band of local and regional fame, consisting of 9 young lads, went on stage. We alternated between listening to them and getting more drinks. It was a good evening; the mood inside the tent was great, with folks eventually dancing on the tables and benches (not us).

We left around midnight, but the band kept playing for about another hour - their energy seemed endless.

No sleeping in on Sunday (16 June) for us - mass was held in the large tent at 9:30 in the morning, and of course we had to be there well before that. While O.K. and his fellow musicians got ready to accompany the hymns, I was handing out the music sheets to the church goers and directed the odd unsure person to where they would find an empty seat. 

It was an unusual setting for mass, but very well attended, and I quite liked what the vicar said. The music was beautiful, and I sang along like nearly everybody else.

Immediately afterwards, I was expected to help inside town hall with a reception for the leaders of the nine other brass bands who were here for the day. We prepared flowers, put out glasses and snacks and got the sparkling wine and other drinks ready.

The mayor was there, of course, and a few congratulatory speeches were made. O.K. and four others played a few pieces of traditional brass music, and the glass doors to the roof terrace were opened so that we could wander outside and see the village from a very different perspective - that was my favourite part of the reception.

Preparing the reception

View from town hall across the stalls, with the fest not yet started.

A view across the village I had never had before.

The five musicians at the reception.

I helped putting everything away again and then set off up the main village street to where a small truck had been set up - my place of work for the next two hours or so.

At the other end of the village street, the 10 brass bands had been gathering. Now one after the other, they marched down the street lined with spectators, playing music. First came the "birthday child", of course.

My colleague and I stood on our impromptu platform, mic in hand, and announced each band as they were approaching. We told the spectators a few facts about the bands and sprinkled in a little light humour; by now, we had come to like this MC lark and knew how to do it as a spontaneous dialogue.

One of the visiting bands on their way to the top end of the village street

Each band was special in their own way, but the most special part was yet to come:

Once they had all marched down towards town hall, they gathered on the main road that cuts through the village (it was of course blocked for traffic on this occasion). Imagine somewhere around 500 musicians, all in their band uniforms and holding shiny brass instruments, in one spot - and now imagine them all playing one song together! It was a moment for goosebumps, and many people were moved to tears.

Too many to get them all in one picture!

The one to the right is "our" village band, the one celebrating their 100th anniversary.

Finally, O.K. and I went home to freshen up a little, and he changed out of his band uniform. We went back to the fest, had something to eat and coffee, and at 5:00 pm we were manning one of the drinks stalls.

Usually on such shifts behind the counter we are rushed off our feet, but not so that evening. After what had been a mostly sunny day with only a few sprinkles of rain, a series of showers set in, and with the parade as the main event being over, many visitors left. The ones who were still there were more interested in beer, wine and other alcoholic drinks, none of which were available at our stall.

It was really slow going, but to be honest, after the two very busy days, it was welcome not be working an exhausting shift. We agreed to close our stall an hour before it was actually meant to close and started to pack up.

From 9:00 pm, the other stalls followed suit, and by the time we started to clean and fold away the benches and tables in the big tent, rain had set in properly. We helped with various jobs until after 10:00 pm, and were back at the cottage by 10:30, too tired to do anything else than get ready for bed and go to sleep.

It had been a very busy weekend indeed, but also a great one - it was fun to be involved, and we were mostly lucky with the weather; at least it had not rained on the parade :-)

Thursday 20 June 2024

A Very Busy Week

Being busy sometimes feels good, and even being VERY busy can feel good - provided I get enough time to myself in between, before or after such a period. Last week was a good example, and much as I enjoyed all the various activities, I really wouldn't be able (or willing) to keep that sort of pace for long!

On Monday (10 June), I boarded a train to Fulda, a city in a different federal state from mine. I arrived there at about 1:30 pm, found my hotel easily and checked in. A few of my fellow Data Protection Officers were already there, but with having sat on the train for a few hours and the prospect of more sitting at the conference we were having that afternoon, all I wanted was to stretch my legs and look around. 

My room at the hotel - very 1990s!

...and the view from it - but it was clean and quiet.

Across the road from the hotel was a park, a former cemetery. At one end, a gate lead across another road and into a second park, also a former cemetery. Both parks were beautiful, but quite different in their layout and atmosphere. I had a leisurely stroll and looked at some of the old headstones, the statues, the old trees and the wild flowers in the high grass.

The conference ended a little after 6:00 pm, and our group of about 12 was booked at a restaurant in the town centre. One of us knew the place well and offered to take those who were willing on a little detour on our way there, in order to show us a few highlights of the historic old town. I was among those who went on the tour, and although it was a little rushed so that we arrived at the restaurant in time, it was really interesting.

Fulda has a strong church presence with monasteries and a large baroque cathedral. Even some of the traffic lights pick up on the religious theme!

We had our meal, which was alright; many restaurants in Germany are closed on a Monday and so the person who organised the meal had to make do with what was open. Service was middling, but all things considered, it was ok.

Afterwards, our colleague who had given us the quick tour offered to take us to the area near the river, which was a long green stretch of parkland. There was still enough daylight left, and about half of us were eager to walk after the long hours of sitting and the meal.

A brilliant rainbow appeared and made the walk even better. Fulda is really a beautiful town - I had not known the place at all and was pleasantly surprised. Definitely worth returning to at some stage!

If you look closely, you can see there were actually two rainbows.

Not a river, but the lane along the long green stretch of parkland glistening with recent rain.

By the time I was back in my room, it was 10:30 pm and dark.

The conference continued on Tuesday (11 June). I spent part of the lunch break in the park next to the hotel again. When during the afternoon I learned that the middle part of my train journey home had been cancelled, I arranged with two colleagues who were driving in the direction of my area to go with them.

The three of us had a good old chin wag on the trip home (with no traffic holdups, thankfully), and I soon caught a local train from where the ladies dropped me off, arriving home at 8:30 pm.

The next day was sunny and bright, and as it was Wednesay (12 June), I worked at the office. Walking home from Kornwestheim took about 50 minutes, after which I spent a quiet, relaxing evening at home.

On Thursday (13 June) I learned that my favourite neighbour had died the previous week. Hers is the beautiful garden I see best from my kitchen window, a view you are all familiar with. Last year, she moved into a nursing home, where I went to visit her. We spoke on the phone every now and then, and I was planning my next visit - her death came unexpected, even though she was nearly 93.

Friday (14 June) was nothing out of the ordinary: I worked, I cleaned, I took the train to Offenburg where O.K. picked me up at 8:30 pm. We had our customary end-of-the-working-week meal of salad, bread, cheese and wine.

The weekend deserves its own post, I think - and then you'll understand why I have chosen the headline "A Very Busy Week" :-)