Saturday 29 November 2014

Read in 2014 - 42: Der Stechlin

For a change (and because this book was part of the birthday gift from my sister, intended to educate me in terms of better reading), I have read another* classic of German literature: Der Stechlin by Theodor Fontane.

Der Stechlin simply means "The Stechlin", and refers to a lake in North-East Germany by this name. The lake really exists; the village, the palace (actually, a large mansion) and the aristocratic family by the same name are the author's invention.
Written in the years 1895 to 1897, it was first published (as used to be the case for so many books) in installments in a magazine in 1897, and two years later appeared in the shape of a book for the first time.
It was one of the last works Fontane ever wrote; he died a year after publication.

The plot is quickly told: Dubslav von Stechlin, member of an old aristocratic family, a man in his mid-sixties, is a quirky, lovable character with very liberal views not shared by many of his fellow aristocrats and village dwellers.
He has one son, Woldemar, who spends most of his time in Berlin, working at his military career.
Dubslav loves discussions and conversations and surrounds himself with people from all walks of life and with different political and religious views. 

Back in Berlin, Woldemar strikes up a friendship with another aristrocratic family: an elderly widower - not unlike his father in character - with two daughters, Armgard and Melusine. Armgard is pale and beautiful, quiet and ladylike, while Melusine, already in her 30s and of a more vital beauty, is divorced, very clever and witty. After one of Woldemar's visits, the reader expects an engagement, without at first knowing which of the women Woldemar will choose, as he seems on equally friendly terms with both of them.

Before anything further happens, though, Woldemar is called to the Royal Court of England for a mission that is never really explained in detail. He spends several weeks away, and upon his return, immediately visits his friends in Berlin again. A few days later, the engagement of Woldemar and Armgard is announced.

The couple and Melusine visit Dubslav at his country mansion over Christmas. At the end of February, Woldemar's and Armgard's wedding takes place in Berlin. While the newlyweds leave for their honeymoon in Italy, Dubslav returns to the country, where he falls ill.

His illness turns out to be rather severe, but right until the end, the old gentleman does not lose his characteristical wit. He dies without having seen his son and daughter-in-law again. After their return from the honeymoon, the young couple live in Berlin for a while, but move to the old country mansion eventually. The novel ends with a letter from Melusine.

Although this sounds like a family story, Fontane's intention was to write a political novel. And there is a lot of politics going on, mainly referred to in conversations between the various characters. This was a time when old and new ideas in Germany clashed on so many levels, and the characters represent this Old and New very well. Dubslav himself is a good example; his liberal ideas represent the New, but his mere existence as a retired Major, offspring of a long line of aristocrats, is Old.

I enjoyed this book very much. The language is different from the way a modern German author would write; the people are interesting and well written, the places are as full of character as are the people.
* Click here for my review of the "Buddenbrooks", maybe THE classic German novel.

Wednesday 26 November 2014


I need a break, which is why I am using a few minutes of my WFH* day for this blog post.
In my "puzzle" post, I told you that I was going away for work and referred to another Munich post from a few years ago.

Last week, I've been working at the electronica from Tuesday to Friday. We did not have a power outage this time, but we had two VERY busy first days, one fairly busy Thursday and a very boring Friday, when many stall holders started packing up their stuff shortly after lunch time because most visitors had already left by then.

I did enjoy working the trade show again, although this is not my line of work anymore. It was a welcome change from my usual office work, and gave me a chance to use all my languages again, something not necessary at all during my day-to-day tasks.
My Chinese colleagues were as polite and nice as before; some were here for the first time, while I'd met others before. My friend, whose company I worked for, had been as efficient in organizing everything as in the past. She really is very good at considering the big picture as well as thinking of the small detail that can make a big difference.

My hotel room was large and clean. We'd been to the same hotel two years ago, but there had been (and still was) some renovating and redecorating going on, which probably explains the complete absence of pictures on the walls of my room (not that I missed that! I prefer an empty wall to the sometimes rather hideous "art" in hotels).

Although I did not know it beforehand, some of my working outfits matched our booth very well. Here is an example:

Some years ago, my friend, her colleague and I had been to a Turkish restaurant in Munich one night. We all had enjoyed the food very much, and went there this year again. I wasn't particularly hungry and ordered only a starter and a salad - and look what I got:

I ended up having more food than the others who had ordered main courses :-) The food was as excellent as we had remembered it.

Altogether, I enjoyed my busy week in Munich. It was physically demanding, spending every day between 8 and 12 hours on my feet without ever sitting down once. But I knew it was going to be like this and came well prepared, both in terms of fitness as in wearing the right shoes.

This was the last time this year that I've been away from home. Now I am looking forward to the days and weeks leading up to Christmas - our beautiful Christmas market opened last night, and of course my Mum, my sister and I have already been there to sample the delicious food and drinks and browse the stalls!

* = Working From Home

Saturday 22 November 2014

Visiting Strasbourg - Part III

In my previous post, I showed you pictures of the old town centre and just a few glimpses of the cathedral. I said that the minster deserves its own post, and here it is.

As for its name: officially, we are talking about the "Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Strasbourg". Strasbourg has changed hands in the past several times between France and Germany, and the German place names are still well known throughout the Alsace (Elsaß) region. In German, the building is officially called "Liebfrauenmünster zu Straßburg". in English, Cathedral of Our Lady.

So, when is a church a cathedral, and when is it a minster? I can explain this for the German words, but am not sure the same applies to the English words. We were told this by our tour guide in Ulm when I stayed there in March for the first part of my course. A church is called Münster (minster) when it was not originally built as a parish church but as part of a monastery. It is called a Kathedrale (cathedral) when it is the seat of a bishop. And when would you call it a Dom (dome)? Churches that have special importance in architectural, religious-cultural or historical terms.

According to wikipedia. the Strasbourg Minster (or Cathedral) is one of the biggest sandstone buildings in the world. And having a look at it from the outside, I can easily believe that:

Building took from 1176 to 1439, and until 1874, it was the highest building on Earth, with its north tower reaching 142 metres.

Have a closer look at the roof - can you see the small, flat-roofed house on top of the church's roof? I was most intrigued by this and wanted to know what it was for. Did anybody actually live up there? I found out that it was used by visitors for dance parties at night and as a restaurant for hungry and thirsty tourists after their climbing up the tower. 

Now let's go inside.

Some of the windows are still the original ones from the 12th to 14th century. The next pictures are for my Mum, because she likes angels so much:

And here is the astronomical clock:

So impressive! You can get a good idea of its size from the first picture, where you can see someone's hand pointing up in the lower right corner. Its oldest parts are from 1353, but it underwent restorative work and had many additions throughout the centuries until it reached its final form, the way we see it today, in 1842. Did you know it is the only clock in the world that strikes 13?

I am not sure who this lady represents; a rich donor or a saint, but I like her face.

A visit to the Minster is something I'd highly recommend; there is no admission charge (unlike at York Minster, which was truly disappointing), but the inside of the building is very dark, and there are lights set up to illuminate the various points of interest if you put in coins. People are very ready to pay for that, and everyone else who happens to be in the same spot benefits from the one coin. I much prefer this method of getting at least some money out of the many visitors than charging a general admission fee.

That was the last of my Strasbourg posts. Next up will probably be Munich, where I spent all of last week for work.

Wednesday 19 November 2014

Visiting Strasbourg - Part II

As promised in my first Strasbourg post (go two posts back to read it, if you are interested), here are the pictures I took during the afternoon spent on our own in the old town. 

Strasbourg Minster deserves a post on its own, therefore, you'll get only glimpses of this magnificent building in this post.

The last picture of that beautiful courtyard was taken by my sister - because by that time, the battery in my camera was flat, and the replacement I always carry with me turned out to be flat, too. Doesn't really matter, does it - these are certainly enough pictures to give you an impression of what the old town of Strasbourg looks like.

We ate Flammkuchen (regional specialty) for a very late lunch (after 3.00 pm) in a restaurant where we were the only guests. After that, we were very much ready for our walk around the town.

Tuesday 18 November 2014

Read in 2014 - 41: Champagne and Lemon Drops

"Champagne and Lemon Drops" by Jean Oram (first time I've heard her name) is what usually gets classified as “Contemporary Romance” (in fact, the subtitle reads "A Blueberry Springs Chick Lit Contemporary Romance"), and it fulfills this class very well: Young woman is torn between two guys; which one will she choose? 

The setting is a small town – small enough for everyone to know each other –, where Beth is busy making plans for her upcoming wedding to the man she has loved for years before he realized she was not just his little sister’s best friend. 
So immersed is she in her plans and dreams of a “happily ever after” in the lap of a big, reassuring family, that it takes her a while to see that something is bothering her fiancé. 
Finally, he admits to be unsure about who he is, who he wants to be and where he stands in life, and the wedding is cancelled, much to Beth’s devastation. The small-town gossip surrounding her wherever she goes, from her workplace at a nursing home to groceries shopping or the garage, does not make things easier.

But then a new doctor arrives at the clinic attached to the home where Beth works, and he seems to have everything her ex-fiancé lacks. She still loves her ex, but… the doctor seems to be offering so much more in terms of romance, lifestyle and education, apart from being entirely sure of his abilities and plans for the future.

From the moment this doctor first appears in the book, the reader knows what is going to happen. For a while, though, what decision Beth will take in the end is not so obvious; the story could go either way. But at a certain point a little more than halfway through the book I knew what was going to happen, and merely kept reading on because I wanted to confirm that I was right.

Beth, both as a character as well as in her general behavior, was not really my cup of tea; I could relate to few of the things she did and wanted, but I am sure that type of woman does exist. I much more sympathized with her ex-fiancé as well as with her new guy, the doctor; with her sister, with her best friend, and even with her gran.

While this was certainly a pleasant enough read for the exhausted evenings after long working days at the trade fair, with no challenge for my brain, I won’t start looking for the author’s other books. This one was – of course! – a free ebook on Amazon’s kindle store, so no harm done :-)

If you would like to know more about the author, click here for her website.

Saturday 15 November 2014

Visiting Strasbourg

Last month, my sister and I both took a day off and travelled to Strasbourg as part of a group organized by our hometown's Community College. We had a comfortable bus and a chatty driver, but no proper organization which was a bit daft if you consider that we were supposed to be booked for a visit at the European Parliament as a group. Well, it all worked out in the end; we had a long question-and-answer session with one of the Vice Presidents (who is originally from our area; I've met him before and he is a really decent man, one of the few who seem to be able to maintain their personal integrity in the middle of the swamp that European politics sometimes appear to be), had a guided tour of the building and were then taken back into town by our chatty driver and left to our own devices until late afternoon when it was time to board the bus again for the drive home.

It was a very interesting day altogether, and I'll show you pictures of Strasbourg's old town center in one of my next posts. But first, here is where the European Parliament meets:

There is a roof garden up there, you can just about see the trees. I wonder who has access to it.

Inside the building, there was a lot of natural light from the top and the glass walls. Certainly not the worst of work places. The room where we met "our" Vice President, though, was windowless and filled with a most unpleasant smell coming from a combination of the dark blue leather armchairs and whatever cleaning stuff had been used on them.

Here is where parliament sessions take place when in Strasbourg:

You should now be able to work out where my "puzzle" picture in the last post is from :-)

Is this a way to leave one's work place behind?

The wood-covered cupola above the Parliament Room seen from outside, and the entrance to the visitors' gallery where we were allowed:

Media court and the background for countless pictures of politicians and visitors:

Your very own European Librarian! Now, would I make a good member of Parliament or what? (Of course I'd dress up for that, I promise!)