Friday, 27 November 2015

November Sun

As I was putting together this post, I realized that I have used the same title twice before: Once in 2012 and then again in 2014. Well, good things come in threes, don't they? And so I have decided to give this post its most fitting - if a little repetitive - title: November Sun.

Look at what it was like here two Sundays ago:

Even the little lambs were out, enjoying the sun :-) (This super-kitschy deco was near a restaurant we walked past on our way into the woods. I found them so kitschy they were almost cool.)

It was less sunny on the steep path leading through the woods down to the river, but plenty of sunshine again at the bottom:

 Another more shaded path took us uphill along the river.

We stepped out of the woods to find this beautiful, almost alpine landscape:

 Round the bend, and back down to the river again we went:

And once more uphill, past former vineyards:

We arrived at the edge of an orchard and were ready for a break. The sun was so warm now, we had taken off coats and jackets, and I even did some sunbathing - in November! Temperatures were at about 20 Celsius (68 F), and probably even more on the ground where we rested.

I looked up in delicious drowsiness to see this right above me:

It was one of those moments when life seems perfect and you don't want to be anywhere else.

I'll show you the second half of our walk in my next post.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Just Very Quickly... let you know what difference the past three days have made here:

After a spring-like November (we had temperatures up to 20 Celsius - that's more than some "summer" days achieve...!), it has suddenly gone cold enough for the first snow this season. It's all gone now; today's sunny afternoon took care of it. But it has certainly put me in the right mood for attending the officially opening of our Christmas Market tonight.

Sunday morning greeted me like this:

It was snowing quite a bit yesterday morning:

Today the sun was back:

I still have a very nice sunny walk in the woods to tell you about - taken a week ago Sunday, when it was warm enough to sunbathe (in November!!) at the edge of an orchard when we took a break. But right now (6:30 pm), I have to put on an extra jumper and a pair of woolly socks over my tights so that I won't get too cold at Christmas Market.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Read in 2015 - 34: Das Barocke Herz der Stadt

Ludwigsburg near Stuttgart in Baden-Württemberg, South Germany, is the place where I was born and have been living nearly all my life. It is not only my hometown on paper but also very much so in my heart. You've often seen parts of it - the palace grounds, the parks, the view from my kitchen window - featuring on my blog, and earlier this year, I've decided to add a new label on my blog for those Ludwigsburg-specific posts.

I love reading about my town's history, such as this book, or seeing Ludwigsburg from a different perspective as usual, such as here.

Therefore, when I saw this book at my parents', I asked to borrow it, and have finished reading it this week. The title means "The Town's Baroque Heart", referring to the market square. It tells the story not only of how the first markets here came about, but also talks of what else has been taking place here over the past 300 years.
2015 was the 300th anniversary of the weekly markets on this square; a fitting occasion to publish such a book.

Compared to most of the surrounding towns and villages, Ludwigsburg is a young city. There was nothing but woodland here until the year 1704, when the then Duke of Württemberg, Eberhard Ludwig, decided he wanted a "small hunting lodge" built for him and his hunting parties to use when they were in the area.
The house soon grew into a palace, and the idea of having a town next to it was born. At first, not many people wanted to live here. But when the Duke promised to not only supply building material for private housing but also offered the first 10 years tax-free, the small settlement around the palace began to expand.
As of 2015, Ludwigsburg has more than 90.000 inhabitants.

The market is still a regular feature: Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays it's groceries, flowers, cheese, meat, fish, bread etc. One chapter in the book introduces some of the exhibitors. Some families have been selling their produce on the market for generations, while others are relative newcomers. But they all agree on that they feel like part of a family on the square, occupying the same spot week after week.

Then there are the yearly events such as the big Market Square Festival, held in the summer, and of course the wonderful Christmas Market (which I have talked about before on this blog, for instance here), which starts next Tuesday.

Old photographs and drawings show what the square looked like at various points in history. At times there were trees surrounding the fountain in its centre with Eberhard Ludwig's statue on it, and for decades, it was used as a parking lot (I remember that from my childhood). Today, there are neither trees nor cars on the square, but it is what it was designed to be: the place for markets and festivals, for meeting friends, sit in the sun, have a drink or an ice cream in the summer, or find presents for your loved ones at Christmas time.

The last part of the book contains recipes handed in by readers of Ludwigsburg's daily paper, all cooked with ingredients fresh from the market.

I really enjoyed this book; a great present for anyone who knows and loves Ludwigsburg. 
The author, Beate Volmari, is a journalist with a background in art history and archaeology.     

Saturday, 21 November 2015

A Special Event

Do you like the Bond movies? Or going to the cinema in general? To be honest, I am not keen on either - and yet I found myself attending the première of "Spectre" on the 5th of November.

In the late 1980s, some of my former school mates hosted a "Bond Night", watching all Bond films that had been released by then in one very, very long session (48 hours for 17 movies). Out of the 40 people originally in attendance, 7 remained until the end. They were so "into" the entire 007-world that they started to make their own film a few years later, with the very basic means at their disposition. 

Since then, there have been three of their home-made 007-movies, starring my former school mates as Bond, the Bad Guy (named Kaftan) and his two side-kicks (the "Twin Towers"), their wives and girlfriends as Bond girls and using locations in and around Ludwigsburg for the filming. The movies are a lot of fun if you know the people and the places; they follow the typical pattern of Bond v. Bad Guy, including car and boat chase. 

When "Skyfall" came out a few years ago, the group of friends got in touch with the owner of Ludwigsburg's largest cinema and arranged for a première party for invited guests. I was one of them, and RJ and I went to the party. We didn't care all that much about "Skyfall", to be honest - a depressed Bond simply doesn't work for me, I'm afraid. But we laughed out loud at the home-made film that was shown before the main movie, and we had champagne and waited along the red carpet for the limousine carrying the "stars" - the guys I've known since I was about 12 years old.

This year, the première for "Spectre" went pretty much the same way. The cinema was packed, every last one of the 430 seats was taken by friends and family of the film team. Instead of Daniel Craig and Lea Seydoux walking up the red carpet and clinking glasses with the première guests, Volker "Bond", Ralf "Kaftan", their friends as "Twin Towers" and their wives as "Bond Girls" arrived in front of the cinema amidst a cheering crowd and flashing lights from numerous cameras.

Their home-made movie was once again a lot of fun, and this time, I also found the real Bond movie entertaining (although I still think Christoph Waltz wasn't at his best). We had a fun night out, meeting some of my former class mates and their families and enjoying the general mood at the private cinema party. Still, I'll never be a Bond fan, and certainly wouldn't have spent any money on going to the cinema had it only been to see "Spectre".

I went to the party dressed as my very own version of a Bond Girl. Did I succeed? 

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Read in 2015 - 33: Buried Cities

"Buried Cities" by Jennie Hall was a non-fiction read I truly enjoyed and can highly recommend.
Originally published around the year 1900 (I couldn't find any clearer information) and aimed at children, "Buried Cities" describes not only what life must have been like when Pompeii, Olympia and Mycenae were bustling cities, but also how they came to be lost and eventually were found again.

The chapters about Pompeii and Olympia each start with the story of a child living (Pompeii) or visiting (Olympia) there. Characters, places, rooms and situations come alive by very vivid descriptions. Even without the many pictures that originally were part of the book (but not in my free kindle version), it was easy to mentally see the sites, hear the sounds and even smell the scents.

Pompeii's story is of course much more dramatic than Olympia's, and Mycenae is different from both. But all three are "lost cities" and offer a fascinating glimpse into worlds long gone, where a lot of what went on in people's daily lives wasn't all that much different from ours, if looked at some of the most basic aspects.

What I read in the chapter about Olympia regarding Praxiteles' statue of Hermes with baby Dionysos made me do some research about the artist and his works. Also, I looked at some interesting websites about Pompeii and Mycenae - I love it when reading one book leads to such excursions and a bit of extra learning.

Jennie Hall (1875-1921) was a historical writer and teacher. She must have written quite a lot: shows 37 entries for her. But information is sparse - there is not even a wikipedia entry about her. I would have liked to know more, but all I could find after taking a closer look at the first pages of some online replicas of her books was that she was an "Instructor in History and English in the Francis W. Parker School, Chicago".
Seems like I am not the only one wondering about her - I found this blog while looking for more information on the author.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Read in 2015 - 32: Christmas at the Cupcake Café

"Christmas at the Cupcake Café" by jenny Colgan was exactly what it sounds and looks like: A very cozy read, just right for the time of year when you're glad to pull the door closed from inside your warm flat after you return from a long day at work and have been out in the cold and dark on your way home.

It was part of the pile of paperbacks my mother-in-law had set aside for me when I went visiting her in Yorkshire in the summer, and I couldn't resist this one.

I do like seasonal reading in the period leading up to Christmas, but I guess I should have waited two or three more weeks before starting this:
Snow and crisp, cold days are frequently mentioned, while right now it is so unlike winter here in Germany - we're having sunny day after sunny day, with temperatures reaching near 20 Celsius in the sun some afternoons, really exceptional for November.

Not the book's fault, of course! It was actually a rather nice story about love, friendship, business and what really matters in life. No surprises, but I do not always look for surprises in a book - sometimes a bit of cosiness is all I'm asking for.

Izzie runs a café in London, mainly serving her own creations of cupcakes, with the help of two friends. She lives with her boyfriend and his 11-year-old brother, and things are looking good on all fronts: The café is going really well, she enjoys her work and is very much in love with Austin.

Then Austin is offered a job in New York, and circumstances make a permanent move there look like a very good idea. But is it really?

After he has been over for a few days, Izzie joins Austin in New York. But what was supposed to be an enjoyable visit to test the waters is cut short when it becomes clear that Izzie's café can't cope without her, and some other things that happen do not exactly endear the Big Apple to her. The couple end up facing Christmas separated by thousands of miles - and maybe not just geographically.

But trust this kind of book to not disappoint its readers. Some small and some not so small "miracles" happen - nothing supernatural -, and in the end, it is a most wonderful Christmas for everyone.

Every chapter begins with a cupcake recipe. Some sound easy and delicious enough for me to want to try them, but I know myself well enough to guess that I probably won't suddenly turn into a kitchen fairy. Still, I imagine a lot of people will love the whole "foody" approach; it is a nice touch, and the story is well written with good-natured humour thrown in.

There is a prequel which I haven't read (in that book, Izzie starts the café and of course has to overcome many an obstacle before things finally begin to look up for her), but "Christmas" can be read on its own without a problem.

It was my first book by this author. Jenny Colgan has written quite a lot, and I am not surprised she has a substantial following. Although I would not spend money on her books myself, I liked this story and wouldn't mind to read more from her.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Autumnal Woodland, Part III

The last of three posts about our walk two Sundays ago shows you where we were actually headed: Birkenkopf ("birches head"), one of the highest hills around Stuttgart. It is not only a fantastic viewpoint and popular spot for people to visit, but also a memorial.

Birkenkopf today is 511 m high. Until the late 1940s, it was 40 m less high. Where did the additional height come from?

Stuttgart was heavily bombed in WWII: during 53 raids (25 of them in 1944 alone), nearly 1.5 million bombs landed on the city, destroying more than half or up to 70 % of all buildings (numbers vary, depending on where you look for information). After the war, the more than 260.000 people then living in Stuttgart did what they could to clear the rubble and rebuild their lives and their city. Far into the 1950s, many buildings were still ruins. 

The rubble had to go somewhere, and Birkenkopf was chosen. Lorry after lorry rumbled up the hill which was steadily growing in height.

It was decided to leave parts of buildings and street pavements visible on the very top of the hill, so that people would never forget those terrible times.

The plaque reads: "This mount, piled up after the Second World War out of the ruins of the city, stands as a memorial to the victims, as a warning to the living."

The view from Birkenkopf across Stuttgart and the surrounding wooded hills is truly spectacular, especially on a day like that:

It was my first visit here, and I had not expected to be so deeply touched by looking at all those parts of buildings and bits of pavement. I couldn't help but think of the incredible waste of lives; once people lived, worked, loved and argued in these houses and walked those streets, until Germany so stupidly and misguidedly brought the horrors of war upon itself.  What a tragedy!

To see this beautiful butterfly resting on a broken column in the middle of a pile of rubble somehow had a highly symbolic character:

It was one of most touching places I've visited in a long time.