Thursday 13 June 2024

A Week At Home

After my busy Berlin week, the first full week of June was spent at home with only two days at the office in Weilimdorf. The weather was a mix of sunshine and mild temperatures with a few showers thrown in, and I was able to walk a lot.

On Monday (3 June) morning, my usual train wasn't running because of the flooding that has been affecting much of south Germany. But an alternative connection worked well enough, so that I was home only about half an hour later than usual.

After work, I enjoyed my standard walk to Benningen.

The fields look more like what you'd expect in early July than June.

Tuesday (4 June) and Wednesday (5 June) saw me working at the office in Weilimdorf. On Tuesday afternoon, a gathering to celebrate the end of a big project was held, and since I had been contributed to that project, I was invited. There were a few speeches, the main project staff were given flowers and chocolates, and we had drinks and snacks. The gathering ended officially at 6:30 pm, and I left a little before that.

Wednesday morning was off to a bad start when my downstairs neighbour rang my doorbell just as I was about to leave for the train station. 

In our house, we've been having problems for a long time with people not cleaning the stairs and the paved area around the house when it is their turn. I am one of three owners, and the three of us have decided to employ someone for that service who does not live in the house. My neighbour rents the flat from one of the other two owners, and he misunderstood a few things when his landlord informed him about the change. He had nothing better to do than to unjustly accuse me, and shout at me in the stair case - before 8:00 am! His wife was very embarrassed about his behaviour and dragged him back into their flat, and I left for work.

I was upset, but managed to focus on work. Walking home from Zuffenhausen after work helped to further clear my head, and as soon I was home, I asked the couple to come upstairs and sit down to talk about it all in a civilised manner. We succeeded and are now "friends" again; the wife was so relieved at our peace-making that she nearly cried. Nobody needs "war" in the house - there is already too much aggression in the world as it is.

The process of finding someone who will provide us with that service at a reasonable price is ongoing.

On the fields between Stammheim and Pflugfelden
A beautiful sunny day followed on Thursday (6 June). My Mum and her friend met up with me for Wine After Work by the lake. It was a pleasant evening, followed (for me) by an equally pleasant sunset walk home

The pedal boats one can rent during the day are parked for the night.

For lunch, I had met with a friend who gave me his keys for the weekend. The family have a cat; they were spontaneously going away for the weekend and needed someone to look after the cat, something I am always happy to do for them if I am available - and this time, I was.

Because of various appointments for both of us, O.K. and I spent the weekend separately. Therefore, I was neither on a train to Offenburg on Friday (7 June) after work, nor was there any need for me to prepare things for us to stay at my place.

I had not been to Steinheim (where my parents used to have an allotment for many years) in quite a while, and so I took advantage of the wonderful early summer's day and the free time. 

What used to be my Mum and my favourite walk is nice in all seasons, and it takes just a little over an hour to reach the allotment from the train station in Marbach. I walked further on, to one of my favourite spots - the "grassy path" I have visited many times, and shown on my blog before.

With the recent rain and mild temperatures, the grass was elbow high and the path overgrown in parts. It wasn't the best idea to walk there with bare legs, but I had sprayed myeslf with insect repellant before leaving the house, and as soon as the overgrown part ended and I was on a "proper" path again, I brushed down my legs thoroughly and examined the hems of my shorts and the rims of my socks and trainers very carefully so as to avoid any ticks.

The river Murr, as seen from the bridge in Steinheim, was higher than usual, clay brown and fast flowing. It was obvious that it had been overflowing not long ago.

"My" grassy path

This was one of the better parts - in other parts, you'd hardly know there was a path at all.

All in all, I walked a solid 3 hours before I reached the station in Marbach again and took the train back to Ludwigsburg.

Back home, I had a short rest and something to eat before setting off again, this time to look after my friends' cat. He is a Maine Coon, one of two brothers. I looked after them before, but since one of them died, Haku is on his own. He was obviously very glad to have company, being used to a lively family with two girls of 8 and nearly 6 years old.

Haku at almost full length. Of course you have no comparison here, but believe me, he IS a big cat!

It was 9:00 pm by the time I was back at my flat and ready to call it a day.

On Saturday (8 June), I did the cleaning and other household jobs I usually do on a Friday. Mid-afternoon, I was booked for a massage; my neck and shoulders really needed it. Morning and evening, I went to look after Haku, and I combined my evening shift with a visit to a friend who lives nearby. We exchange books every now and then (she always lends me the latest Richard Osman), and it is always good to see her and catch up.

Sunset on Saturday (8 June) after a shower earlier that evening.

Haku's family were returning on Sunday (9 June) evening, so I was only required to check on him in the morning. Afterwards, my sister and I went to her garden and spent part of the afternoon in that beautiful oasis of peace and wildlife.

At 5:00 pm, I met my Mum in town for the "Brautage" ("brew days"), a small beer festival in the courtyard behind the townhall. They are not limited on beer, but there are also stalls that serve wine and cocktails. We had two drinks each, listened to the music (it was Rockabilly / Rock'n Roll, with the guys at the instruments being rather good but the lady at the microphone hardly up to the task), talked and left after about two hours.

A quiet evening at home followed; this relaxing weekend was really welcome, especially in view of a busy week and even busier weekend following.

Sunday 9 June 2024

My Mum's Cheese Bites

In this post, I mentioned my Mum's home-baked cheese crackers (on the Thursday in that post). Some of you were asking for the recipe, and here it is.

Maybe "crackers" is not the right term for them. One of the characteristics of a cracker is that it cracks when you bite or break off a piece. These don't; they are softer than crackers. So maybe we should call them cheese cookies (sounds odd), cheese straws (not really) or cheese bites (suits them best, I believe).

Anyway, here is what you need:

For the dough:

120 g grated cheese (a good, well-aged cheese such as a Conté works best - remember, the saltier and spicier the cheese, the less spice you'll need for the dough)

240 g regular white flour (not self-raising)
120 g cold butter, diced
1 egg
60 g sour cream
1/2 tea spoon salt
1/2 tea spoon sweet pepper powder
some pepper (preferably freshly ground)

For the topping:
1 egg yolk
1 table spoon milk
seeds (sesame, poppy, caraway, whatever you like and have at hand)

Make a dough and let it rest in the fridge for at least an hour. Take it out about 1/2 hour before you proceed; if the dough is too cold, it will be brittle and hard to work with.

Heat the oven to 180C.

Roll out the dough, not too thin. Now you can either cut finger-length strips and twist them once or twice (depending on their length), or cut out shapes like hearts etc. with cookie cutters.

These were the "twisted" ones we had the other day.

But they work just as well for Christmas or a New Year's Eve celebration.

Cookie cutters come in all shapes and sizes.

They are nice all year round!

Mix the egg yolk with the milk and spread it on top of the strips or cut-out shapes. Sprinkle liberally with the seeds.
Bake in the oven for about 12 - 15 minutes. Don't let them get too dark; keep checking. Let cool on a rack before trying one for quality control :-) and of course before packing them in a tin or other container. They won't keep well all that long, not like some sorts of Christmas cookies you can still eat weeks or even months later. Therefore, you better eat them soon - they taste best with a glass of wine or cocktails, and with friends :-D

Monday 3 June 2024

Berlin Week

Although I only spent the first three days in Berlin, the week was dominated by this work-related trip.

On Monday (27 May) morning, I boarded the first of three trains that took me from Ludwigsburg to Berlin, a journey of about 620 km one way. Much to my surprise and delight, all three trains were almost punctual - I caught all my connections, the seats I had booked were available, and I arrived at Berlin Alexanderplatz with enough time to spare before the 4:30 pm meeting at the hotel where I was staying.

The hotel wasn't really at Alexanderplatz, in spite of its name - it was almost 1 km away, but it was an easy walk with my little red trolley suitcase. After checking in and moving into my room, I went downstairs to see who was there already and grab a coffee.

My room was modern, comfortable and surprisingly quiet.

This explains the quietness of my room - my windows faced a church (St. Bartholomew's).

On the way to my room


The meeting (the annual general assmbly of the association of Data Protection Officers [DPOs], of which I am a member) took place as planned, with no big surprises. 

We had a few minutes to ourselves afterwards before the informal Get Together started. Maybe some of you think that DPOs are not among the most exciting folks to party with, but believe me - there are some colourful and inspiring characters among us, and one never lacks of topics for conversation (where data protection does not feature as highly as you'd expect).

Good food and drink were provided, and I had a fun evening before retreating to my room relatively early, tired after the long journey.

The conference began in earnest on Tuesday (28 May) with sessions from 9:00 to 5:00. Before, in between and after, we were very well cared for in terms of food and drink, and there was a good choice of talks and presentations to attend.

The evening was dedicated to a gala dinner with an award ceremony. Not too posh to feel stiff, and again, with very nice food, drink and conversation.

A longer than usual coffee break mid-afternoon allowed me to pop across the road to Volkspark Friedrichshain, a beautiful park with plenty of fountains and sculptures to discover. I would have liked to explore more of it but of course time was limited - still, it was good to have the chance to stretch my legs and air my head.

The church as seen from the street.

Märchenbrunnen ("fairytales fountain") in Friedrichshain park

I loved the stone basins each with two pups looking over the rim!

This elephant was my favourite sculpture. There were loads more, but schildren were playing there, and so I didn't take more pictures. 

Wednesday (29 May) was the second and last day of the conference, again with a series of (more or less) interesting talks and good meals. Because of my long journey home, I didn't stay until the very end, knowing that I wasn't going to miss anything terribly important, but left early in the afternoon. Again, my trains were on time, and by 9:45 pm I was home.

One of my fellow DPOs had her 1-year-old dog with her. He was extremely well behaved.

Good job that Thursday (30 May) was a public holiday (yes, another one) in my part of Germany! Much as I enjoy such trips and events, they are tiring, and I was glad to have a chance at sleeping in and then spend the day at my own leisurely pace.

The weather was better than expected, and I enjoyed a walk of a bit over 2 hours late afternoon. Also, I got a few things done at home which I had meant to do for a while but hardly get round to on a normal working day.

Cornflowers are supposed to be all blue, right? Not these ones!

On Friday (31 May), I finished work early and met my sister for a few errands in town. Back home, a late light lunch was followed by the usual cleaning round in my flat. I packed the little red suitcase for the third time that week and headed to the station. Quite miraculously, my trains were on time yet again! I arrived in Offenburg with a delay of only five minutes or so.

Our customary and always delicious meal of salad, bread and cheese, accompanied by a bottle of wine, started off O.K. and my weekend together.

Friday had already been a largely wet and somewhat chilly day, and Saturday (1 June) looked to be no different. It rained almost all day. 

Mid-morning, we were invited to a birthday brunch in a small town nearby. A few hours at home followed, then another invitation, this time within the village. One of O.K.'s fellow musicians in the village band and I have been preparing something for the upcoming fête marking the band's 100th anniversary, and the family of five invited us to stay for a meal as well.

Sunday (2 June) was a little better weather-wise. After it had been raining rather heavily all night and the entire morning, the sun came out, making for an uncomfortably hot and humid afternoon - it felt like I imagine the monsoon season in tropical latitudes (not that I've ever been anywhere near a tropical country). We wanted a walk, and while it was good to be out and about without constant rain, it was also exhausting due to the muggy heat.

We had been listening to the news several times during the day. There were severe floods in the south of Germany, and while our area was not immediately affected, the local rivers were running rather high, and several trains were cancelled because their routes were through flooded areas. 

It didn't look great for my trip back to Ludwigsburg on Monday morning, but it appeared even worse for the Sunday evening, and so I decided to remain at O.K.'s and go home on Monday morning, as planned.

Thursday 30 May 2024

Rainy Week

It rained every day last week. That didn't make it easy to fit in walks and other outdoors activities, but I still managed not to remain stuck at home or at the office all the time.

Monday (20 May) was a holiday in Germany (Pentecost Monday), and I was still at O.K.'s. It was exactly the kind of day I love, from beginning to end.

We packed our rucksacks with sandwiches and water bottles, donned our hiking boots and walked straight from the cottage at about 11:30 with a more or less clearly formed idea of where we wanted to go.

The first stop was Nächstenbach, just outside the neighbouring village of Zunsweier. A parking lot there has an information board with suggested walking routes as well as a set of sign posts. On that day, the annual Brunnenfest ("fountain's fête") was held on a nearby crossing: benches and tables were set up, and one could buy food and drinks from a row of counters. There was even an icecream van parked in one corner. A number of people were already there, but (surprisingly) nobody we knew. Anyway, we had only just started on our walk, and so we stopped briefly just for a small shandy each.

On we went into the woods, following the signs for what used to be a tiny settlement of 19 buildings that had sprung up in the 19th century near a mine where ore had been found, in the middle of the woods. The mine was given up long ago and the houses left to crumble, until nowadays nothing more than a few low walls and bumps in the ground remain. One of the entrances to the mine is still there, but closed.

entrance to the former mine

We stopped at a clearing with benches to eat our sandwiches before continuing on to the village of Diersburg.
My view from where we sat down to have our sandwiches
It's been a few years since we'd last visited the ruins of the castle there, and we had a good look round - quickly done, as it is rather small.
 View across Diersburg

(partly?) abandoned farm on the outskirts of Diersburg

On the way back to O.K.'s village, a little rain fell; not enough to make us wet through but enough to make us glad that we were close to home. By the time we reached the cottage (with 20 km under our feet), the rain had stopped, and we could sit outside with O.K.'s Mum for a sundowner. 
Later, O.K. roasted green asparagus for us and served it with spaghetti and different types of pesto - delicious!

I took my usual Monday-morning-trains on Tuesday (21 May) back home; they were on time so that I was able to start work as expected. After work, my sister and I went for a walk.

My office day on Wednesday (22 May) was uneventful until it was time to go home: Trains stopped in Zuffenhausen and didn't continue to Ludwigsburg. Fortunately, after we'd had torrential rainfall mid-afternoon, the sun came out; also, I was wearing comfortable shoes. And so, although I had not planned on walking home, that's what I ended up doing, taking in the cemetery along the way where I visited my Dad's and friend R's graves.

For Thursday (23 May) after work, my Mum, her friend and I had actually planned to meet at the "Wine After Work" event by the lake (maybe you remember it from last summer), but it was threatening to rain (on and off) and was windy, making it feel colder than it was. Instead, we met at Mum's friend's; she has a kind of self-built conservatory off her flat leading onto a beautiful garden with many flowers out this time of year. We shared a bottle of sparkling wine and my Mum's home-baked cheese crackers - delicious!

More rain followed nearly all day on Friday (24 May). After work, it was cleaning, shopping and washing - the usual. A little after 9:00 pm, O.K. arrived, and we had a meal of bruschetta with a salad of baby spinach leaves, yellow pepper and feta cheese.

Saturday (25 May) would have been my Opa's 110th birthday. My sister, O.K. and I met at my Mum's for pizza and wine in the evening. For breakfast, O.K. and I had spontaneously decided to go to "Bubbles", a favourite café of ours in the middle of town, where we were joined by my sister.

We spent the afternoon of Sunday (26 May) again with my sister, this time at her allotment. The garden really is very beautiful, and an oasis of wildlife, peace and quiet (provided the noisy neighbours aren't there). I brought Tabouleh which I had prepared the day before, and grilled slices of Zucchini which I had made before breakfast that morning. My sister provided most of the drinks as well as plates etc., and of course the entire "venue".
When the first rain drops started to fall, O.K. and I went home. We had a small dinner (not much appetite left after what we'd been eating during the afternoon), and a little after 8:00 pm, he drove home. The rain had stopped by then, and there was still well over an hour of daylight left, which made me decide for an hour's walk around Osterholz, the small wooded area between Ludwigsburg and Asperg.

I was glad to have gotten so much walking time in - the following week, a working trip to Berlin would mean spending my days mostly sitting on trains and in conference rooms.