Monday 28 January 2019

Read in 2019 - 2: Jahrgang 1963

Jahrgang 1963 - Eine Kindheit unter dem Einfluss der Kriegsgeneration und progressiven 68er
Holger Hähle

As I said in my next-to-last post, I've been reading two German books in a row; quite a change from my usual reading habits.
This one was an interesting read in that the author describes his own childhood and youth, and since he is only 5 years older than I, there is a lot I can relate to.

Much of the book is dedicated to young Holger's struggle with what he perceives as his own inadequacies, and trying to understand the world around him. 
He has an active mind and is interested in many things, but not overly keen on spending his afternoons with the other children of his neighbourhood - he is happiest when he can roam the woodland behind his house all on his own, making discoveries about natural life he is sure the others know nothing about and are not interested in anyway.

More often than not, he is told (at school and home) that he could do better with some effort, and his clumsiness is frequent cause for breaking things and feelings of low self-esteem. Only when he finds out that practise does indeed make next to perfect, this changes somewhat; he excels in sports by sheer tenacity, pushing himself to his physical limits - never to impress others, but to prove to himself that he can do it.

The world around him is confusing and puzzling. He grows up in an era where in this country (Germany) many of the teachers from pre-war times were still teaching, but at the same time a new generation of young, liberal-thinking teachers were starting their work at schools all over the country.

Some of the elderly men had not changed. WWII may have been over decades ago, but they were still sticking to their old ideas of discipline and racism, acquired during the Nazi years when they were studying to be teachers. In contrast, the new teachers were anti-authoritarian and did not want to teach discipline, but free thinking. A perfect mix to confuse any student!
For young Holger, it means he can not find anyone he really sees as a guide among the adults; his family members and neighbours are just the same as the teachers. Their contradictory claims on what is right and what is wrong is inacceptable. There is only one way - he has to find out for himself, and make up his own mind, his own set of rules and values to live by.

He comes to love mathematics and natural sciences, as they are so clear and logical; there is no confusion in maths about what is right or wrong, and the natural world follows its rules without constantly changing them.

I liked this book, even though I found it unnecessarily lengthy in places. The author obviously tried really hard to convey what he was thinking, and why, but repeating the same thought several times just in different words does not necessarily bring home a point any clearer. Also, there are quite a few bits where he uses a term or expression wrongly, but I should not be too strict - at the time of writing, the author was obviously not (yet) a well-practised or trained writer.
And besides, this was of course a free ebook - one more reason not to complain.

Monday 21 January 2019

An Update on Plans, the Weather and Family

Sometimes I wish my eyes and my weekly schedule would make blogging as easy and frequent as it used to be. But instead of starting a whiny post, moaning and complaining about things I can not do all that much about, I'll give you an update on my plans for this year, the weathere and my family.

First things first: My Dad keeps making progress! Last week, he has been on a short walk entirely on his own for the first time since the end of September/start of October. It was really only very short (I would not even think twice about it if it were me to walk from my parents' house to where my Dad had an appointment), but he really wanted to go on his own, and he did. One small walk for me, one big step for my Dad after all he went through the past months!
Also, he has started to cook again. Both my parents have always been good cooks, and when he still worked, my Dad enjoyed cooking on weekends, either on his own or with my Mum. We loved almost everything they put on the dining table for us, and thanks to my Dad's taste, we were familiar with hot, spicy food from an early age, and there was little we would not eat. No such thing as NOT wanting anything green, hating spinach or cheese! When I was little and other kids in kindergarden or at school said they did not eat this or that, I was always puzzled as to how come they didn't love spinach as much as I did, or enjoy bread and cheese.

I digress; I said I was going to tell you about plans for this year.
Because of my Dad's illness, my sister and I cancelled the Yorkshire Holiday we were supposed to go on last October. We have finally managed to re-schedule and are now going at the end of March. It will probably be too early for the bluebells, and possibly the weather will not always be walk-friendly, but we are always happy to be there in "our" cottage, see the family and friends and (re-)visit places we love, such as Fountains Abbey.
We'll be away on my birthday, something that has only happened twice before, if I remember correctly: Once when I was 10, we were on Easter holiday in France, and when I turned 20, I was at Librarian School. I remember my sister and a friend sending me a telegram together - the first (and so far only) telegram I ever received!
Anyway, this year, I have booked Champagne Afternoon Tea at Swinton Park Hotel for my birthday. We've been to this beautiful place in 2017; you can look at the pictures and read about it here.

Now the weather: We've had snow (as you know from my next-to-last post) for a few days, but it was soon all gone.
Last Thursday on my way to work, I saw this beautiful pink sky in the morning:

View from the office window later that morning:

The day was mostly sunny, and when I left work at 5:00, it was still almost daylight! Friday morning was a different story, though... it snowed again (but did not last long):

I arrived at O.K.'s after an uneventful and punctual train trip on Friday evening. Saturday was the most beautiful day we've seen yet this year, with wall to wall sunshine. It was cold, but the kind of cold you can dress against easily. It would have been a shame to stay indoors, so we had only the briefest of breakfast and headed out for about 4 hours of walking, somewhere between 16 and 17 km altogether.

Here are some pictures of that walk.
This is Schloss Ortenberg (Ortenberg Castle), where we've been before (as seen on this post and others):

Panoramic view of the vineyards where we were walking, taken by O.K. Clicking on the picture will enlarge it. On the horizon you may just about make out a chain of mountains; these are the Vosges (in France).

I was surprised to see this ilex still so full of berries:

On Sunday, it snowed again, and I worried about my train trip home - unnecessarily, as both my trains were punctual, and I was home at 20 to 11 pm after a very cold (but short) walk from the station to my flat.

The view on Sunday morning from O.K.'s balcony:

Thursday 17 January 2019

Read in 2019 - 1

For a change, I read two German books in a row. They had a lot in common: Both were easy and interesting reads; both were written by authors who have no formal education or training as writers (and it shows in their choice of words and use of grammar), both books are non-fictional real life stories, and I found both for free on Amazon's Kindle store.
This was the first one. 

Robert Birch

The author describes his own experiences during a week's internship with an ambulance crew. He already is a surgeon and works long, busy hours at a hospital in a city in southern Germany. The city is never named, and road names were changed, but a lot in the book makes me think it could be Stuttgart, the big city next to my home town.

He needs to get a certain number of critical missions with the ambulance under his belt in order to qualify as an emergency practitioner. Critical in that context means that the situation they are called to is a real medical emergency, life-threatening for the patient, and that what the doctor decides to do on-site saves the patient's life.

One would expect the young doctor to find his week of emergency missions exhausting, but he describes it as feeling almost like a holiday - away from the stressful long hours on the hospital's ward, and a lot of just waiting in the ready room for their beepers to go off. During those waiting times, there is some friendly (and some less friendly) banter with the other doctors, nurses and emergency crew; they share meals, have naps or read.

The moment their beepers go off, all is action. It is really interesting to read about how they manage within minutes to be where they are needed, and what happens once they arrive. The situations they are called to during that week greatly differ one from the other, and they never really know what to expect beforehand, in spite of the basic information given from the control room.

Sometimes they need to break their way through the door of an apartment, only to find that the person they were supposed to help has died days or weeks ago. At other times, upset relatives already expect them, and some patients seem to think the ambulance is a taxi and the crew's job is to help them moving their bags for a long-planned stay in hospital.

On the way to their missions, the driver gets regularly mad at other drivers - the city roads are very busy, and not everyone seems to understand that when an ambulance car comes racing along, with sirens on full blast and flashing blue lights, you better make way - and fast.

The reader learns next to nothing about the young doctor's private life, but a lot about the professional lives of those working in and around a hospital. We all may, at some point in our lives, depend on them; be it on their skills as drivers so that we can be taken to hospital within minutes after an accident, or as paramedics, assistants, nurses,
doctors - they all have their own defined set of tasks and competences, all important, and we should be grateful if we are lucky enough to live in a country with a functioning healthcare system and not take it (and the people who work in it) for granted.

As mentioned above, the writing style is not that of a "proper" author. But that does not make this (relatively short) book any less worthy of my reading time. I now understand better what the work of an ambulance crew involves, and next time I hear an ambulance's siren (and we hear them a lot in my home town), I can imagine what's going on right now and what could be happening next.

Monday 14 January 2019

Last Week

For myself and O.K., work began again last Monday after the Christmas/New Year break. It was good to see everyone at work again, and the first days were not so busy as to already erase the feeling of being well rested. 
Still, I was surprised at how knackered I felt on Wednesday night - with only three working days under my belt!
It started to snow on Wednesday afternoon, and my neighbours' gardens and houses looked like this on Thursday morning around 8:00:

I loved the blue-ish morning light before proper daylight.

Just before lunch, this was my view across the Eastern half of Ludwigsburg from my office on the 9th floor:

It snowed again on Friday, so much so that visibility was very limited:

By the time I arrived home shortly before 5:30 pm, this was the view from my kitchen window:

An hour later, I was on my way to O.K.'s. The train trip there went a bit different than planned: Instead of taking a local train to Stuttgart and from there, an InterCity which would take me directly to Offenburg with no further changing of trains, I found out that the local train I meant to get on was cancelled and the IC 90 minutes late. 
The alternative offered required two changes, but I was glad for the opportunity to end up with a total delay of only half an hour by taking a different local train to Stuttgart, from there a TGV (Train Grande Vitesse, a French high-speed train that reduces travel time between Stuttgart and Paris to about 3 hours!), and for the last bit from Karlsruhe to Offenburg, an ICE (InterCity Express).

I must admit I was rather exhausted by the time I arrived there, but O.K. made it well worth by serving a delicious evening meal of salad, bread, our favourite types of cheese and a bottle of red. (Of course it would have been well worth even without anything to eat - just seeing O.K. is enough reason for me!)

Saturday saw the snow being washed away by rain, and when I arrived home on Sunday night (with both my trains being punctual on the dot!), there was not a single snowflake left to see. 

On TV, we see the masses of snow in other parts of Germany and Austria, with thousands of skiing holiday guests being stuck in small towns and villages where all roads leading to and from those places are blocked by snow and fallen trees. Some people have been unwise enough to go skiing off the official slopes, and several have died in avalanches. 
We were talking about this yesterday, and I said that I'd probably not even start my holiday right now if I had booked something in one of the places so badly affected. The firemen, Red Cross staff, volunteers and other helping hands are busy enough as it is.

Today is a mix of cloudy and sunny; not very cold. It gives us a welcome break before more rain or sleet forecast as the week moves on.

Sunday 6 January 2019

And On We Go

...into this still rather new year which the majority of people on this planet have agreed to count as 2019.

After the very busy back-and-forth period around Christmas and New Year, O.K. and I settled down quietly for a few days at my place. It did us both good, and just being able to sleep in, have meals when we felt like it, and not having any appointments was very relaxing*.
Also, I really enjoy cooking when I know someone is there to appreciate and eat what I have prepared. Last night, for instance, I made a kind of Shepherd's Pie, and was really pleased with the outcome. We had white wine with it; the bottle was a birthday gift back in March from someone at work who has a friend with his own vineyard in Marbach, the small town where I regularly work (and sometimes post pictures of).

I also like to try different combinations of ingredients with my salads, such as pineapple and goat cheese, or dates, feta and nuts (thank you for that excellent idea, Pat!). Our breakfasts this week were rather late and more like lunches, sometimes with crispy fried bacon and eggs sunny side up on buttered toast. 
There was the occasional G&T at night, but other than that, we had mostly coffee and water; somehow, there was enough drinking on the holidays itself so that we simply did not feel like more of the same.
Having said that, I did in fact have more booze than planned on Friday night; we met up with my sister at our favourite (and nearest) Indian restaurant for dinner. I had been looking forward to an Apérol Spritz for starters, and somehow, the waiter misunderstood me when he took our orders for drinks later on - he brought me another one, and I did not refuse it. But it was with plenty of food, and I was definitely NOT drunk afterwards (ask my sister and O.K.). 

The weather was cold, but not below freezing during the day. When I cleaned up the kitchen on Thursday night, I saw that it had begun to snow. It was a beautiful sight but would have probably been too dark for a good photo, and so I took one on Friday morning. I apologise for the slight blurriness:

We went for a walk in the afternoon, and I was amazed to see not a monochrome world of black trees and white snow, but green patches of grass on some fields, and a lot of rusty browns leftover from autumn.

There were no deer or squirrels coming up for food this time, as they often do in the park; maybe it has not been cold long enough for them to approach humans. Many birds were around, though, some of them sounding like spring.

Yesterday, Saturday, was a bit warmer. It rained on and off all day, and most of the snow is gone by now. We went for a short walk only, because the wind was blowing sprays of rain straight in our faces. How I love coming in after such a walk! The warmth of my flat, lighting a candle, making coffee and having cake or cookies with it - and how grateful I am that I have all that, a warm place to return to and a well-stocked fridge to make dinner from.

Today, the weather is pretty much like yesterday, maybe less windy. I have not been out except for going to the car with O.K. who went home after our (late) breakfast, early enough to (hopefully) beat the worst of the end-of-the-holidays traffic, and to give himself a few hours to unpack and settle down in his cottage before work and daily life will resume tomorrow.

After we were all hoping for a better year health-wise (in both my and O.K.'s families) than what 2018 had put on our plates, this morning I learned that a close family friend had a bad fall at home and is in hospital with half his face broken; surgery is scheduled for Tuesday. I was told not to go and see him today, as there will be other visitors, and he can (and should) not speak. 

Phew. I truly wish for normal life to return.

* Don't get me wrong - I enjoyed all the celebrating, and the travelling back and forth was entirely our own doing. Both our families matter to each other, and we also like meeting friends and neighbours.