Sunday 31 December 2023

Fourth Advent Week

The Fourth Advent week culminated with Christmas Eve and feels "long gone" - unless I look at my living room, where Christmas is still very much present in the shape of all the cards and presents I received.

Monday, 18 December, was off to a pleasant start when I met my friend for a morning walk at 9:00. We had both started work early and could well afford an hour's interruption, and it was good to catch up with her before she and her family were off to the US to celebrate Christmas with their families back home.

The day was sunny and dry, and our last visit to the Christmas market as a family (Mum, sister and I) after work was not cut short by rain this time.

My Mum and I, listening to three brothers playing carols on bassoons

Enjoying mulled drinks of various kinds

A rare frosty night this December followed; we had -3C on Tuesday (19 December) morning. The day was sunny again but became overcast later.

View from my kitchen at 8:04 that morning...

... and at 8:05.

I had a mid-afternoon appointment for a haircut and then kept working for a while. Apart from a quick walk to Aldi and my visit to the hairdresser's I did not leave the house.

I worked at the office in Weilimdorf on Wednesday, 20 December, and with three of my six immediate colleagues went to the Christmas market afterwards as our mini Christmas celebration from work. We had a fun couple of hours together, and it felt weird to have been at the office for the last time this year. During the day, I had occasion to speak to a few other colleagues who I have befriended over the years, which was nice.

Thursday (21 December) was very windy, if not to say stormy, and wet, but mild at 9C. I worked from home (which was really busy with 8 calls from my boss alone, plus four others from various colleagues) and met with my volunteer group afterwards. We distributed chocolate Santas and tangerines in front of our office at the train station, which was fun - the reactions of people we approached ranged from disbelief and fear of having to sign or pay something to smiles and joy, and brief conversations.

Three of us went to Kullman's Diner for a meal and drinks from there before going home. A good conclusion to this year's rather limited activities with the group.

Friday, 22 December, was my last working day for 2023. I expected it to be relatively quiet (which it was) and over by lunch time (which it wasn't).

I went to my Mum's at lunch time for a delicious soup and getting started on the Christmas tree, but in the end my Mum and my sister decorated it without me as I had to go back to work. I worked until almost 4:00 pm when my former neighbour came for a short visit; we exchanged gifts and she took her mail that still gets delivered to this address in spite of her and her family having moved in May. It was nice to see her one more time this year.

With stormy and rainy weather, I did not miss going out for a walk - and would not have had time anyway.

Saturday (December 23) was dedicated to household things, and I went for a walk of about 2 hours when it wasn't raining, admiring people's Christmas decorations and letting my mind wander. 

I had time to read, play, write emails and watched some TV in the evening.

On Christmas Eve, I opened the last doors on my two Advent calendars. I walked to the cemetery but got rather wet half way through and so cut short what I had intended to be a longer walk on the fields. 

All four candles on my Advent wreath were lit.

Some presents are already waiting on the sideboard.

O.K. and I spoke on the phone and I rested a bit in the afternoon before setting off to my Mum's at 5:30, where my sister and I spent Christmas Eve with her.

We had our traditional meal of Wiener sausages and spuds salad, and star-shaped ice cream for dessert. With the candles on the Christmas tree lit, we even sang a few favourite carols! The amount of gifts amazes me every year.

Christmas tree at my Mum's
More presents!!!
The rest of the evening was spent talking, reminiscing, thinking of those loved ones not longer with us.
Walking home, I stopped to take a picture of my favourite "public" Christmas tree, next to a bank.

And because this is my last post for 2023, let me wish you all a Happy New Year! Thank you for your reading and commenting these past 12 months. 

Display at a wine bar in Ludwigsburg
I know it won't be all that happy and cheerful for some of you, but I hope you will still find some solace and joy in being with loved ones, reflecting on whatever good things 2023 held for you, and looking forward to what 2024 may have in store for you.

Friday 29 December 2023

Read in 2023 - 34: Lost Places im Schwarzwald

Lost Places im Schwarzwald

Faszination des Verlassenen

Jasmin Seidel

As some of you will know, I have always been fascinated by what nowadays are officially called Lost Places. 

One of my presents for Christmas 2021 had been "Lost Places in der Region Stuttgart" (Lost Places in the Stuttgart area), which I have reviewed here.

This year in October, I was browsing the stalls at a trade show in Offenburg while O.K. and the village band were performing, and came across this book. I took a business card of the author, whose photos were for sale as large prints at the stall, and then mentioned this book when asked what I wanted for Christmas.

When I arrived at O.K.'s on Christmas Day, we exchanged gifts, and this book was among mine. Over the next couple of days, I had time to read it, and here it is - my last review for 2023, while the other "Lost Places" book was my first review in 2022.

Jasmin Seidel's website is here; her pictures are worth looking at. She was born and raised in a small town roughly 60 km from where O.K. lives, and knows the Black Forest very well. 13 places in the region are introduced each with a bit about their history, followed by photos.

The places range from an abandoned chocolate factory to hotels to a nursery to hospitals to an old farm, in various states of decay. Some are still carefully guarded and seem ready to return to life with little effort, while others have been subjected to so much vandalism they are left almost beyond recognition.

As with the book about the Stuttgart area, some places are well known, while the exact location of others is kept secret so as not to encourage more destruction.

Like the author of the Stuttgart book, Jasmin Seidel has the same attitude towards Lost Places and adheres to the same simple rules: Take nothing but photos, leave nothing but foot prints. Whenever possible, she asks for permission by the current owners or custodians of a place; if no contact can be made, or a place is in such a state that every step inside could be your last, she only takes pictures from the outside.

Her way of researching every place thoroughly appeals to me, as do her photos. I have certainly not browsed this book for the last time.

Read in 2023 - 33: The Bullet That Missed

The Bullet That Missed

Richard Osman

The third book in the Thursday Murder Club series, I enjoyed this one just as much as the first two.

A friend I know through my volunteer group lent me this one (just like she did with the first two), and she said she already has the fourth one ready for me when I want it. You can find my review for the 1st book here and for the 2nd one here.

My friend said she liked this one well enough but not quite as much as the other two, since in her opinion there was too much focus on the romantic relationships between members of the cast.

Speaking of which, we meet all the familiar "faces" again; Elizabeth (who in my mind looks excatly like Helen Mirren) and Stephen, Joyce and her dog, Ibrahim, Ron and Bogdan. Chris and Donna return, as does Patrice and the infamous Connie Johnson.

There are also some new people, such as Mike, Pauline, Viktor, The Viking, Heather and Jack. Not everyone of these new ones makes it alive to the end of the book, but I won't tell you who, or why and how.

Anyway: The Thursday Murder Club have just started investigating the presumed murder of a journalist who was about to uncover a major VAT fraud nearly ten years ago. Her body was never found... but someone somewhere must know something, right?

Almost as soon as Elizabeth and her friends have enlisted the help of Donna and Chris, things take an unexpected turn: Now Elizabeth has to decide whether or not to murder an old friend... or a newer friend of hers will die.

As I said, I enjoyed this one very much; the dialogue and descriptions are pure delight, and in spite of the often rather absurd scenarios playing out, somehow each and every character is (in my opinion) fully credible.

I have other books to read before I borrow #4 from my friend, but read it I will!

Thursday 21 December 2023

Third Advent Week

The week saw some musical highlights, as well as more sun than we'd been having before. Only one substantial walk was possible, but it was still a very good week altogether.

Because we had been at my place for the weekend, I did not have a train journey to make on Monday (11 December) morning but could start work very early. That meant I was able to finish early, too, and had a good walk to Benningen across still sunlit fields mid-afternoon. It was windy, but mild at 12C/53F.

Nearly sunset

Benningen townhall, right next to the train station
In the evening, I met a former colleague (now retired) and his wife at the Christmas market; good food, good drink and good fun.

This eight-legged housemate waited for me in the stairwell when I arrived home that evening. He or she is about the size of my palm.
Tuesday (12 December) was still mild at 9C, but it rained all day, and I did not set foot out of my front door; just worked, had my meals and a quiet evening.

An uneventful Wednesday (13 December) was spent, as most Wednesdays, at the office in Weilimdorf. There was sun until about mid-afternoon, but the day ended in rain, and I had no opportunity for a walk.

My Mum, my sister and I met up for the Christmas market on Thursday (14 December). After a cloudy morning, the sun came out around lunch time and made us hopeful for a dry evening. But almost as soon as my Mum got off the bus where we met her, it started to rain, and became too unpleasant for us to stay outside. Instead, we retreated to the pub where we had our usual food and drink (fish & chips and cider for me).

By the time we left the pub, it had stopped raining, so that we still got to walk around the market together before we accompanied our Mum to the bus stop.

On Friday (15 December), my sister and I took the Christmas parcel for our family in England to the post office. As it was lunch time (and not raining!), we had our favourite food at the Christmas market before going back to work.

I finished work, did my usual cleaning, packed my little red suitcase for the weekend and headed to the train station shortly after 6:00 pm, by which time rain had set in again.

With only 10 minutes delay, I arrived in Offenburg. O.K. drove us home to the village, and we had our favourite Friday evening meal of salad, cheese, bread and wine.

We were up comparatively early on Saturday (16 December), because at 9:00, setting up the village hall for the village band's annual concert started. Many hands worked together for a few hours, and by around 12:30, we were back at the cottage for bowls of hot soup and bread.

There was not all that much time for a rest afterwards, as the band's last practice for the concert started at 4:00 pm. We went across the road for a bit to see O.K.'s parents, then he left for the village hall while I was only expected there at 7:15 to begin my shift at the drinks and snacks counter.

The day was cold but beautiful, and I went for a quick, short walk of about 35 minutes to take in the golden afternoon light and sunset.

After showering and putting on my concert finery, I walked to the village hall and arrived well before 7:00. That way, I had enough time to get the counter ready and organise myself with the other three who were to man it. 

We were a good team and sold a great many snacks and drinks before the concert began, during the half-hour break and afterwards, until shortly before midnight when we had run out of the most popular drinks and food, and closed our counter.

The stage is set!
The concert was great fun: Instead of a regular succession of pieces of music played by the band, there were two actors who enacted a crime mystery on stage, interspersed with the band's music. The audience were invited to guess whodunnit (it wasn't all that hard, really), and at the end of the concert, the winner was announced and received a prize.

It was the first time they had done their annual concert that way, and a great success, judging from the audience's reactions.

Once we had closed our counter, I joined O.K. and the other musicians for drinks and chats. We were back at the cottage by 1:30 am.

As the saying goes, there is no rest for the wicked: We had to be up early-ish on Sunday (17 December), since putting the village hall back in order started at 9:00. For a change, I opted out of helping, but remained at the cottage instead. I needed a bit of time to get showered, dressed and ready for departure at 11:00, when O.K. took me to the train station in Offenburg.

I was home as planned at 2:00 pm with just enough time to grab a quick coffee and get changed into something more suitable for my 2nd concert this weekend: The Christmas Sing-Along my Mum and I love so much.

We arrived at the venue with half an hour to spare, so I got us a glass of sparkling wine each, and we met friends and relatives to chat to, which was lovely.

The concert was as wonderful as usual, the songs sung in turn by the nine (!) different choirs on the stage and the audience. When almost 1,500 voices join to sing those familiar Christmas songs... that is quite something. There were tears for both of us, but funny moments as well. All in all, we had a fantastic time.

Our seats were perfect!
I walked my Mum to the bus stop before going home, and was quite ready for a quiet evening on my own, lighting three candles on my Advent wreath. A beautiful conclusion to a busy and festive week.

Tuesday 19 December 2023

Read in 2023 - 32: The Brewery Murders

The Brewery Murders 
(A Yorkshire Murder Mystery Book 9)
J. R. Ellis
Is beer worth killing for?
Someone definitely seems to think so. A dead body is found floating in the fermenting tank of a brewery, just as the annual local beer festival is coming to an end.
It soon becomes clear that the victim did not accidentally fall in, and equally soon it transpires that people care more about the disruption to the festival and to their tranquil community than about the dead man, who had more enemies than people who liked him.
Add to that the rivalry between the two breweries in the small town - not only are the owners competitors in business, but also estranged siblings - a bunch of men who can not accept women at the head of a brewery, and rumours of the secret recipe to a much prized beer making the rounds, and you have a mystery right up DCI Oldroyd's alley.
As soon as I started reading, I knew that the place where it all happens is based on the small market town of Masham, famous for its two breweries. I've visited this pretty place several times and was pleased (but not surprised) to find out from the epilogue that I had guessed right.
Masham is not far from Harrogate and Ripon, the part of North Yorkshire I know best. Even the 36 bus, which my sister and I use frequently, is mentioned!
The story is well plotted and the characters multi-faceted as always in this series. It is a delight to "meet" Oldroyd and his colleagues again, as well as his partner and his sister. This time, the story's sidelines about their private lives deals with house hunting, addiction and forgiveness.
For the second time this year, I had the pleasure of reading a book of this series; the previous one's review is here.
And again, I send a heartfelt "Thank You" to Monica, as it was through her blog I originally came across the series, and it is again through her that I usually find out about the latest installment.
I enjoyed each and every page, and am happy to see that Amazon's kindle shop shows #10 in the series as being available in April 2024.

Thursday 14 December 2023

Second Advent Week

As mentioned in my post about the First Advent Week, the heavy snowfall in some parts of Germany meant much disruption to public transport. It was therefore not much of a surprise when we got up at 5:20 on Monday morning (4 December) and found that my train to Stuttgart was cancelled.
There was, however, a reasonably good alternative connection, and I arrived home only a little later than planned.

It was very cold in the morning with icy rain later, but milder temperatures in the late afternoon. I was on trains once more, this time to meet up with a group of colleagues for a meal out in Leonberg.
The food was good and the company even better, and although it would not have been difficult to get back by train, when a colleague who has to drive through my town to get home offered me a lift, I gladly accepted.
Until then, I did not know all that much about this colleague, and it was very interesting to learn that he reads a lot, and most of it non-fiction. He is Turkish and told me a bit of how he and his wife do volunteer work to encourage and help children and teenagers with a similar background.

Tuesday (5 December) was sunny again, and milder. Along with another set of colleagues, I was scheduled for a business visit bang in the middle of Stuttgart. The visit went very well, and it made a nice change to be out and about in daylight on a working day. 
I told my boss I was going back home to work from there but that he was not to expect me online immediately; instead, I got off the train in Zuffenhausen and walked across the fields, arriving home in just under 2 hours. I'd not been that particular way in a while, and it will probably be months before I have the opportunity again.

At 5:00 pm, my sister and I met to go to the Christmas market together. In one of the shops near the market square, I made a new friend:
An unventful grey and cold Wednesday (6 December) saw me at the office in Weilimdorf all day.

The sun was back on Thursday (7 December), and working from home meant no stress before meeting some of my volunteer group at the Christmas market. As always, we had a good time and enjoyed our hot food and mulled wine, but it was rather crowded, and sooner or later I always reach the point where I am either cold or want to get away from the crowds or both, and that evening was no exception. Still, it was good to be there, and with them.

Rain was forecast for Friday (8 December), but it arrived only late in the afternoon. This gave me and my old school friend the chance to meet for a walk during our lunch break. She lives only about 15 minutes away, but in some years we manage to meet only once or twice. This was, I think, the third time we'd met this year. It is always good to catch up with her.

O.K. arrived at my place at 9:30 pm, and my hot and spicy thick, creamy vegetable soup of spuds and parsnips with fresh crusty bread and a bottle of Primitivo made for a nice meal to start off our weekend.

Saturday (9 December) was milder again, with an overcast sky shedding rain every now and then. After a leisurely breakfast, we walked into town for some errands and a stroll across the Christmas market - our only chance together, since O.K. won't be back in Ludwigsburg until after Christmas. 
O.K. took a selfie of us - but I am only allowed to show my half of the picture.

It is rare for me to see the Christmas market in daylight, but pleasant because it is less crowded.

Back home, we had enough time for a bit of a rest before setting off again, this time to my Mum's.
We had ordered takeaway food from the Indian restaurant half way between my place and my Mum's and picked it up on the way there. The four of us (my sister was also there, of course) spent a pleasant evening together.

The thermometer showed 9C/48F on Sunday (10 December) - not completely unusual for December, but not exactly "normal", either. 
The sun lured us out with only our first mug of coffee and a few Christmas cookies in our stomachs; we walked to the small palace by the lake and back on a different route, ending up with roughly 9.5 km under our belts. Because we had not eaten properly, I really needed to sit down for a minute when we came home before we had our brunch at 12:30.

Although O.K. left about 2 hours earlier than usual (the village band's annual concert is coming up, which means he puts in more practice than usual), we had enough time for coffee (and more Christmas cookies!) in the afternoon and a filling meal of Kässpätzle and salad in the evening.
Two candles were lit on the Advent wreath, and more cards have arrived. I love this time of year!

Sunday 10 December 2023

Read in 2023 - 31: Northerners - A History

Northerners - A History

From the Ice Ace To the Present Day

Brian Groom

One of the books I bought back in July at The Little Ripon Bookshop, I was really looking forward to this work of non-fiction.

At first, though, I must admit that "Northerners" did not quite live up to my expectations. Especially with one or two chapters in the first part of the book, it felt like trudging through a rather bleak and exhausting part of a walk, always hoping for a more interesting, beautiful view and less challenging path after rounding the next bend of the path.

There were just too many Oswalds, Oswins, Edwins and other names that jumbled through my head as the history unfolded in that chapter, where it seems that no two brothers or father-son relationships ended any other way than in murder. I struggled through it and was left with an overall impression of violence and war left, right and centre. Life can't have been much fun or offered even a minimum of security and stability to the average person back then.

Gradually, I found myself liking the book more and more. Each chapter looked at a particular period of the North of England's history, and examined its political, cultural, social, religious and economical aspects, painting an overall picture with bold strokes.

Some aspects were given more attention than others, and those more detailed accounts made for the most interesting reading in my opinion.

I doubt that I will ever read the book again cover to cover, but it definitely makes a good work of reference if I shall wish to brush up on background knowledge about a certain period in the future. My overall feeling after I finished reading it was that, indeed, we humans never learn. If we don't get along for one reason, it's another, and it seems just short of a miracle that some countries (fortunately, mine is one of them) have managed to live at peace with its neighbours for several decades in a row now.

According to the first page, Brian Groom is a journalist and leading expert on British regional and national affairs, and this is his first book.

"Goodreads" gives a good account of the contents, if you want to know more. I could not find an "own" website for the author, but here is an interesting interview with him.

Thursday 7 December 2023

First Advent Week

Last week saw several Advent-related acitivies for me, and fittingly, this season's first snow that remained on the ground for a while.

Monday (27 November) was cold, wet and windy. I was working from home and did not leave the house apart from a quick stocking up of groceries at Aldi, 5 minutes from this keyboard.

Tuesday (28 November) was similar: I worked from home, went to Aldi again (on Monday, they had run out of my preferred brand of coffee, organic and fair trade certified - but it still wasn't there) and otherwise spent all day indoors. At some stage during the afternoon, the rain turned into the first light snow fall, but did not stay.

As most Wednesdays, this one (29 November) saw me on my usual two trains to the office in Weilimdorf. While we were having lunch at the canteen, the sun broke through and made for that very sharp, clear, brilliant light that often occurs against a backdrop of heavy grey clouds this time of year. Two of my colleagues went for a walk, but I had plenty to do and did not want to extend my lunch break.

The sun soon retreated, and it started to snow again.

After work, I met up with my Mum and my sister for a stroll across the Christmas market; a pleasant evening with our favourite food and drinks at the market.

This restaurant in one corner of Ludwigsburg's market square is always decorated very nicely this time of year.
Working from home on Thursday (30 November) with the first meeting only starting at 10:30 enabled me to go for a morning walk with my friend V. We'd not seen each other in a while, and so had plenty to talk about during the hour we spent together.

On the fields just outside Ludwigsburg
Friday, the 1st of December, had a nice Christmassy or Advent-ish feel about it: While I was opening the first door and the first little box of my two Advent calendars, snow started to fall, and it remained on roofs and the ground.

View from my kitchen window

View from my bedroom window; there are still khaki on the tree, but beyond my reach. 
A friend I know through my volunteer group paid me a quick visit during my lunch break to lend me the third book in Richard Osman's Thursday Murder Club series. 

After work, I did my usual cleaning and then started to put up a few bits of Christmas decoration and get things ready for our annual Rubbish Secret Santa, something my "girl friends" and I have been doing for many years and greatly enjoy. The one of my friends who moved to Northern Germany around 20 years ago made the trip down here to be with us, and so I turned my Third Room (which is where I sit when working from home) into a guest room for the night.

My overnight guest arrived at 6:00 and the other ladies an hour later. Great fun was had by all! And all the time, the snow kept falling.

It still snowed on Saturday, 2nd December. Some areas of Germany had had so much snow that roads, airports and train stations were blocked. My friend had to rush to catch an alternative connection after she discovered that her original train was cancelled; she didn't even have time for coffee or a shower.

My trip to Offenburg was a little easier; one of my three trains was also cancelled, but I had enough time in the morning to do everything that needed doing, and even though I had an unplanned 45 minute stop at Karlsruhe's main station, I arrived in Offenburg with only half an hour's delay.

Main hall at Karlsruhe station

At O.K.'s, we had soup, bread and cheese for our (late) lunch and then time for a bit of a rest before we wrapped up warmly again and walked down the village road to where a small Advent market had been set up. O.K. and four of his brass band mates played Advent and Christmas songs there, and I was part of the crowd watching, listening and applauding (some sang along, too). 

After an hour of playing, O.K. and I browsed the market stalls, had some food and drink and chatted to his fellow musicians and other people until we were cold enough to return to the warm cottage.

The 1st Advent Sunday was that week's only chance to sleep in. We woke up to sun and blue sky - how wonderful to see that after what felt like a long series of grey days!

A walk along familiar paths on the outskirts of the village through vineyards and orchards felt very good.

At 3:00 pm, we crossed the road from O.K.'s cottage to his parents', for coffee, cake and cookies. Like my Mum, O.K.'s mother is very good at making delicious meals, sweet or savoury, and we enjoyed the apple pie and Christmas cookies very much.

O.K. had to leave early, since the village brass band's annual concert is coming up and an extra band practice was scheduled for the evening.

The rest of us gave a hand at washing the dishes and putting everything back in order. Back at the cottage, I prepared things for the Raclette O.K. and I had after he returned from band practice.

We spent a warm, cosy evening with just the two of us at the dining table, Raclette in the middle, sharing the food and a bottle of wine while listening to all sorts of Christmas songs on the radio.