Friday 31 July 2015

Read in 2015 - 22: Der Ozean am Ende der Straße

The only fault I could find with Neil Gaiman's “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” was that it was rather short, and took me only 3 or 4 evenings to complete.

If you have read Neil Gaiman before, you know to expect the unexpected. There is magic and there are gods and supernatural beings mixed with everyday reality, making his stories a tightly woven fabric where the reader comes to see nearly anything that happens, even the weirdest and strangest things, as normal or natural.

Fantasy books are not my preferred genre (not anymore - I was heavily into it from when I was about 13 until maybe 18); apart from the Harry Potter series (and Narnia, of course!), there are few I really like. Neil Gaiman definitely is among those few. 

The main character tells the story from his perspective. He is a middle-aged man when the book starts and ends, but the actual events takes place when he is seven years old. Most of the time, what he thinks and how he perceives his environment appears rather credible for that age. What I find hard to believe, though, is something that happens early on in the book: His parents' tenant commits suicide, and the little boy understands what the pipe leading from the  exhaust into the car means when he arrives at the scene. Would you have known the meaning of such a set-up when you were seven? Not me, that's for sure.

Further down the road from where the boy (who remains nameless throughout the book) lives is a farm. There, a trio of grandmother, mother and daughter live: the Hempstocks. 11-year-old Lettie Hempstock makes friends with the boy, and it is with and through her that he embarks on an adventure that is beautiful and terrible at the same time. When the children emerge at the other end of the story, nothing will ever be the same again.

I really wanted to know what would happen next, and was not disappointed. There were danger and friendship, spooky and funny moments. I'm not a fan of horror stories, so I won't read all of Neil Gaiman's books, but I truly liked this one and I also enjoyed "American Gods" some years ago. Had "The Ocean" been available when I was a child, I think I would have liked it a lot, too.

[The copy I was given to read was the German translation. A very good one, this time, not like "Die stille Kammer".]

Monday 27 July 2015

Somewhere New

Recently, I have begun to make regular visits to an area east of Stuttgart that, so far, I had not been familiar with. A new friend of mine lives there, and I've been shown around the area a few times, and can't wait to be back for more.

In this post, two of the abandoned houses are from that area.

Yesterday, I've been visiting again, and we've made use of the good, not too hot weather and went for a walk about a 15-minute drive from where my friend lives.

This place is called Kloster Adelberg (Kloster means monastery). It has ceased to be a monastery centuries ago; in fact, not much of the original buildings is left, and what is still there to see is from different ages.
The first chapel here was dedicated in the year 1054. The monastery followed over a hundred years later in 1178. War, reformation, fires, changes of ownership; all left their marks on the place, making it he mixture of buildings and style you can see today.
Most buildings are private property now, but tourists can come and walk various paths inside and outside the ancient wall that make the boundary of Kloster Adelberg.

The wall and towers visible here are among the oldest bits of the entire complex.

Leaving Adelberg behind, we walked down the hill towards the woods, where there is a lake, rich in bird life. Even though it was a Sunday, there weren't too many people about, and we had a nice quiet walk around the lake, resting on the bank for a while.

Thursday 23 July 2015

Read in 2015 - 21: A God in Ruins

Some time ago, I read "Life After Life" and enjoyed it very much. (My review is here, if you're interested.) My sister had recommended and lent the book to me, and recently, she gave me "A God in Ruins" (called GiR for the rest of this blog post) - more a companion than a sequel to "Life After Life" (LAL), according to the author.

While LAL focuses on Ursula Todd's life in its many different incarnations, GiR tells the story of one of her brothers, Teddy. He of course appears in LAL, too, but now we learn about him and his life in much more detail. This time, it is not a multitude of different paths explored, all of which could have been as true as any of the others. No, it is one life, one long story spanning the 98 years Teddy lived. 

The Chapters do not follow a chronological order, but the reader is never in any doubt as to where or when something takes place. Nothing is confusing; of course it helps to know LAL (because most people and many events are familiar then), but GiR could just as well be read on its own and still be enjoyed, I suppose.

A lot of what makes Teddy Teddy has to do with how he experienced WWII. Kate Atkinson says in the author's note that she wanted to write a novel about the war, and realized what a complex task this was turning out to be only once she'd started. LAL was written first, and the chapters that deal with the war are mostly centred around Ursula's life in London during the time of the Blitz. In GiR, Teddy's years as the captain of a bomber crew are described, from life at his airbase down to the mechanics of bombing.

How he raises and cares for his family after the war also takes up many chapters in the book, and those were my favourites.

I am sure this happens to you, too: You enjoy a book very much and therefore want to space it out, so that you can have the pleasure of reading it longer, and at the same time you really want to know what happens next... "A God In Ruins" was that kind of book for me.

If you have read and liked LAL, you should definitely read this. Kate Atkinson has certainly become one of my favourite contemporary authors with these two books.

Monday 20 July 2015

More Mölln

{Warning - lots and lots and lots of pictures!]

Why and how I came to be in the north of Germany (roughly 800 km away from home) on that very hot first July weekend, I've already told you here. On that first evening, our friend walked with us around the old town, the park and the lake. Mölln is a beautiful place, a small town of 19.000 inhabitants, and many buildings show an architectural style very typical for northern Germany.

See for yourself:

The old town of Mölln, as seen from the opposite bank of the lake:

An abandoned house that used to be either a surgery or a lawyer's office; my friend wasn't sure which.

In the spa park:

This looks like a castle, but in fact it is a water reservoir:

 Can't say I'd mind living in this house - it looks like somehing out of a storybook:

All those red brick and timber facades are typical for this area. Everything looked rather well cared for (apart from the abandoned house, maybe), and it was a pleasure to walk there; it was still very warm, but there was always a bit of freshness in the air coming from the lake.

Friday 17 July 2015

Guest Post By My Mum: Savoury Cookies (Cheese Biscuits)

Before I'll get back to show you more from my very hot weekend, here is a guest post my Mum has sent me this morning:

Cheese Cookies
[Meike says: These are savoury cookies or cheese biscuits, and they are very popular with all our family and friends.]
Whenever someone throws a party in my circle of friends and acquaintances, I am asked to bake and bring my homemade cheese-cookies. They are really easy to make, young and old people love their taste, and so I thought it would be nice to share the recipe with Meike's blog readers.
We recently got a very kind letter from a reader, which was also a reason for my decision to give you the recipe, it made us so happy.
Also, this week we celebrated our Golden Wedding anniversary, and I baked hearts for our guests.

Here is the recipe:

250 g flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 level teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon pepper (paprika) powder "edelsüß", that means sweet, not the hot one
1 whole egg plus 1 egg yolk
125 ml cream
125 g cold butter, cut into small pieces
200 g grated cheese, Emmental or Gouda or Gruyere
1 egg yolk for spreading

Make the dough and put it for at least 1 hour (better 2 hours or over night) into the fridge. 

Then flatten it on a floured surface 1/2 cm thick and cut out the cookie shapes you like, if you have no cookie cutter, you can use a small glass. 

Spread the cookies with egg yolk and decorate with poppy seed, sesame seed, caraway seed or coarse salt.
Bake cookies in the oven for about 12-15 minutes at 180 degrees Celsius, or at 160 degrees in a fan oven. Don't let them get too dark.
When they have cooled, you can keep them in a tin box for a few weeks, but I never manage this, because they always are all eaten very soon!

- - - End of guest post - - -

As you can see in the last picture, the cheese hearts were not the only baking my Mum had done for this special occasion. She also made some mini muffins for those of her guests who preferred something sweet to go along with their glass of champagne or cup of coffee.
What can I say - I was very sorry that I didn't get to eat a single one of those delicious heart-shaped cookies, or the mini muffins! We (i.e. the immediate family and closest friends only) had been out to dine at a good restaurant to celebrate my parents' Golden Anniversary, and by the time we arrived at their place afterwards for some more drinks and conversation to wrap up the evening, I was way too full up to eat anything else.

But there will always be a next time :-)
(My sister can make these, too - I think I am the only one who has not yet tried her hand at this recipe...)