Monday 29 January 2024

Windy Week

Last week saw a mix of rain and sun, plenty of wind and quite a rollercoaster in terms of temperature. It ended with a première for me: My first ever political demonstration.

On Monday (22 January), I worked from home as I do nearly every Monday. Half of my lunch hour was spent at the nearby spa for a very necessary back-and-shoulders massage. Because of the rain, I didn't go for a walk at all. (The five minutes to the spa and another five back do not count.)

Sunrise from my kitchen window that morning.
Another train drivers' strike was announced to begin on Wednesday, and so once again, I made Tuesday (23 January) my Office Day instead of Wednesday. Within the building, my department are moving from the fourth to the 2nd floor. I prepared everything I could do myself - there are not many personal items in my room anyway, so it was done quickly. The rest is up to facility management (moving my desk and chair) and IT guys (moving my computer, monitor, headset, keyboard etc.).

It was mild, mostly sunny but very windy. By the time I was ready to leave work, rain had set in - another walk-less day.

I made up for two days without a walk by being out for a bit more than 2 hours on Wednesday (24 January), walking to Pattonville one way and back another. The thermometer rose to 12C/53F in the windblown, sunny afternoon after a rainy morning. As is my habit, I couldn't help noticing that Christmas Eve was exactly 11 months away.

4:00 pm on Wednesday - you can almost see the wind rushing the clouds along, can't you!

I used to work on the 9th floor of that tall building.

10 past 5:00 pm, sunset.

On Thursday (25 January) after work, my sister and I met at our Mum's. I had asked for a particular kind of soup (vegetable broth with semolina dumplings) which I know my Mum makes to perfection, and that evening was no exception. The day had been mostly sunny but with not enough time between calls and tasks and meetings to afford a walk other than the 10 or so minutes it takes me to get to my Mum's.

O.K. was supposed to arrive at my place on Friday (26 January) evening, but... One of his colleagues had been home with a cold earlier in the week, returning to work the next day. Only the day AFTER, he casually suggested O.K. - who had been working in the same room with him all day - self-test for Covid, since he himself had tested positive the day before... Why on earth he didn't say a word the day before, or - better still - stayed at home is anyone's guess! I was quite angry at such inconsiderate behaviour and a little upset, and of course it meant that O.K. and I were to spend the third weekend in a row without seeing each other - he ended up testing positive, too.

It was wet and windy but mild all day, with the sun putting in an appearance shortly before sunset, as seen from my windows:

Saturday and Sunday (27 and 28 January) were days of azure blue skies and wall to wall sunshine, frosty nights and mornings with temperatures below freezing and milder afternoons with 7 to 9 C/44 to 48 F.

Housework and food shopping didn't take very long, and I had ample time for a good walk to Hungerberg and back through the deer park. It was beautiful in the sun but as soon as I was in the shade it felt cold. 

The monoliths at Hungerberg - an over-sized sundial, really.

If you click to enlarge, you should be able to see the "rocket" that is visible from many places around here.

A swan made of an old car tyre... would you put this in your garden?

The deer park was THE place to be that day, judging by the numbers of people. It was as good as impossible to take a photo without people in it.

My Mum and I met at our nearby Italian restaurant for a pizza (me; Mum had gamberi in a slightly disappointing white wine sauce) and a glass of wine each. It was nice to catch up on things, just the two of us.

My Mum took this picture of me while I was taking a picture of our food :-D

I don't know if you are aware of what has been going on in Germany now for a while. In short, a political party of extreme right-wing views has steadily been on the rise. The German Domestic Intelligence Services have been investigating and observing them for years. Recently, a network of independent researchers have made public a "secret" meeting of some of the party's high-ranking members with various other figures, planning on "re-migrating" millions of people they deem to be not worthy to live in Germany. Sounds familiar? Exactly!

Once this was known, people started taking to the streets. In many cities across Germany, protest marches and rallies started to be held, all of them drawing much bigger crowds than what the organisers expected, and all of them peaceful.

Yesterday, Sunday, Ludwigsburg held just such a rally in the townhall's courtyard. It was organised by an alliance of politicial parties, volunteer groups, industry associations and others, and the variety of those who spoke was reflected in the diversity of people who attended: Families with children, old people, middle-agers such as my sister and myself, colourful and less conspicuous folks - all ages, sizes, shapes and looks were to be seen.

An estimated 7,000 crowded the courtyard, but in spite of this large number, it never felt uneasy and we were never shoved about or squeezed, and I was not worried for one second that we could easily leave anytime we wanted to.

This was just as we arrived; more people kept joining the crowd throughout the rally.
The building in the back is our city hall. The 1960s concrete block to the right is the Kulturzentrum ("culture centre") of Ludwigsburg, holding among other things the city library where I was trained and worked from 1986 to 1992.

A series of speeches - most of them clear and concise, with only one of them elaborating in a way I could not competely agree with, and only two of the speakers being so nervous they had to read from their notes - was interspersed with protest songs performed live by a man with a guitar. Placards and banners were held up, some of them rather witty. The atmosphere was relaxed, not fired up in a way that made you fear the mood could swing to aggression anytime.

Ludwigsburg's Lord Mayor put emphasis on the fact that, much as it matters that people come to rallies and protest marches, it is even more important to actually DO something - and he meant things like voting (we have several elections coming up this year), speaking up when we hear someone making a racist or nationalist comment, do volunteer work and quite clearly position ourselves far away from those who still believe that the human species consists of 1st and 2nd class invididuals, those who deserve to enjoy freedom, peace and prosperity and those who don't.

Monday 22 January 2024

Wintry Week

Last week brought more frosty nights and a bit more snow, but also sunny blue skies and several good walks for me.

On Monday (15 January), I had to be out and about early in order to make it to my regular eye check-up in Stuttgart at 9:00 am. With my eyes, all was as good as can be expected, and I was back home by 11:00, working from there for the rest of the day.
It was cold, the thermometer not rising above -1C/30F all day, and it started to snow around lunch time.
Mid-afternoon last Monday
Late afternoon, my former neighbour called for a chat and to thank me once more for the wall calendar I gave her for Christmas, printed with my own photos. She is such a nice lady, never complaining although she is struggling to adapt to life at the senior home, and I am certainly going to visit her again before long.

Because icy rain and dangerous conditions on the roads and for public transport were forecast for Wednesday, I went to the office on Tuesday (16 January) instead. 
With the sunny day it turned out to be (but still as cold as Monday), and knowing I would not get a chance for a good walk the following day, I left as early as I could and walked home from Zuffenhausen. This usually takes a little under 2 hours, and although not all of it is beautiful, the part across the fields under a wide open sky always feels good.
Morning sky at 8:00 that day

late afternoon light on the fields, not far from home

A rosy glow on the snowy field comes with sunset fast approaching.

The icy rain materialised as predicted on Wednesday (17 January). That evening's news were full of reports about chaotic traffic and many accidents. The day's temperatures ranged from -4C/24F in the morning to 9C/48F - a freak weather day! No wonder I had a headache in the evening.

Nonetheless, my sister and I were at our Mum's at 6:00 pm for a delicious meal; my Mum wanted to try out a new recipe, and the mixed vegetable patties, fried a crispy golden brown, were a hit, along with a rich peanutbutter sauce and a fresh leafy salad. With the evening being so unusually mild, a bottle of rosé wine was the perfect drink.

The mini glimpse of spring was replaced by the return of winter on Thursday (18 January). I worked from home and went walking for an hour, incidentally meeting a member of my volunteer group. We'd not seen each other in a while, and it was nice to briefly chat with the young woman and her little daughter.
Someone's garden in my neighbourhood. There was something about the small wooden handcart, covered in snow, that I found appealing.
On Friday (19 January), I only worked until lunch time and then took a train into Stuttgart, where I met my sister at the main station. Soon, we were on a train to Karlsruhe, arriving there less than an hour later.

My birthday gift for my sister had been two tickets for an exhibition there. The topic: The 1980s! That decade was decisive for my sister and me; I was 12 in 1980, a school girl still playing with Barbie dolls, and 22 in 1990, about to get married for the first time. Everything that happened in between mattered - finishing school and starting work, first boyfriend (whom I was daft enough to marry), first move out from my childhood home, and so on.

The exhibition covered about every conceivable facet of life in the 80s, from politics to culture, society, work, sports, music, fashion, games, electronics - you name it, they had it. And especially with music - you name it, we knew it! Music was HUGE for us as teenagers, and it was great to see a collection of record sleeves on display along with a musical memory game (which was easy).

In the fashion department, they had a clothes rack full of coats, jackets, hats, legwarmers and other things for visitors to try on. We had fun with that - I wish I could show you the photo we took, but my sister is in it and of course she won't have it.
Another beautiful morning sky from my kitchen window.

Schloss Karlsruhe (Badisches Landesmuseum)
Look at this "mobile phone" to be used in cars! "Pocky" was state of the art in 1988 and available at the incredible price of 15,000 DM - roughly 16,000 € today, or 13,000 pounds, or 17,000 US $. For size comparison, I held my iphone next to the display.

A selection of products that could be found in many households in West Germany in the 1980s.
Back then, we were not politically minded, but of course we knew about the most important goings-on; you couldn't escape the news. Now, we could refresh our memories and at the same time marvel (coupled with a sense of despair) at how much was already known about the state of the planet, all the measures that were suggested, and what has come of it several decades later...? I leave it up to you to answer.

What we found very interesting was the East German perspective. In the 1980s, my family had no contact with anyone in the "other" Germany, and what we knew about life across the fiercely guarded border was limited. Now we could see for ouselves what their take was on those topics so familiar to us.

You can have a look at the exhibition's website here. Scroll down a bit (or use the menu at the right side of the page) to look at the music - you don't need to understand German for that bit :-)

After a very interesting and pleasant couple of hours, we had looked at everything that was there to look at, and were in need of sustenance. Walking back towards the train station, we stopped at the first café we saw, and had a large piece of cake and coffee each.

The journey back home was uneventful; by 7:30 pm I shut the door to my flat from inside. A great day out it had been!

Just like the previous weekend, and for the same reasons, I was on my own. On Saturday (20 January), I did all the usual household things before going out for a walk in the afternoon sun. It was cold (-7C/19F in the morning and no warmer than -3C/26F later), but as long as I kept moving and the sun was shining on my back, I was fine.

Sunset is now at around 5:00 pm, by which time I arrived at Benningen's train stop (you can't really call it a station) and took the next train back to Ludwigsburg.

Sunday (21 January) was milder with the afternoon temperature being at 4C/39F and much of the snow and ice on the paths (and on the lake!) thawing. After a leisurely morning, I walked to the small palace by the lake, where we'd been for several "Wine After Work" events last summer. Of course, I wasn't the only one to have that idea - the place was packed, and the kiosk doing brisk business with hot sausages and mulled wine. 
I only took a few photos and then walked back.

About a dozen unfamiliar birds visited the khaki tree in front of my bedroom window on Saturday and Sunday, eating what they could get out of the fruit still hanging from the bare trees. With O.K.'s help, I identified them as Wacholderdrosseln (Turdus pilaris), from the thrush family.

The lake was frozen - but thawing had begun already, and wisely, nobody stepped on the ice.

It is good to know that next weekend (unless either of us falls ill), O.K. will be here - we have talked on the phone every day, but of course that is not the same as spending time together "for real".

Sunday 21 January 2024

Read in 2024 - 2: The Next Girl

The Next Girl (No. 1 in the DI Gina Harte series)

Carla Kovach

As has been so often the case with my reading in the past ten years or so, this was a freebie on Amazon's kindle shop, meant to entice the reader to get interested enough to buy the following books in the series.

It has not quite worked that way for me, because although "The Next Girl" certainly was a very gripping read, especially as events picked up speed in the last third of the story, I did not get quite as deep "into" it as the author would like. Not her fault, but probably my own way of handling what I sometimes found hard to bear.

A young woman, mother of two small children, disappears on her way home from work, seemingly without a trace. Four years later, just as her husband and the children are coming to terms with her probably being dead and never returning home, an abandoned newborn baby is found - and a DNA test (prompted by an anonymous phone call) shows that it is the missing woman's child.

DI Gina Harte, who investigated the original case when Deborah Jenkins first went missing, has never quite overcome her guilty feeling at having failed back then, not having been able to give the Jenkins family a definite answer as to what happened to Deborah.

Now she gets a second chance at solving the case, and is determined to give it all she can - not easy when her entire department is understaffed and running on a tight budget.

Her own family life is problematic, too; her late husband has left dark memories behind she has never shared with anyone, leading to her daughter becoming more and more estranged.

Is Gina going to find Deborah before it's too late, and will she make her grown-up daughter and granddaughter be part of her life again? Also, there is a budding relationship she does not know yet whether to pursue or not... Enough material for more books in the series :-)

For a change, in this story the investigating officer is not in danger of being hurt or killed herself. But her own memories keep haunting her, being too close to what she believes the missing woman must be going through.

It was the combination of Gina's memories and Deborah's reality during the four years she's been missing that I found hard to bear. Knowing that such horrible things really happen to countless women all over the world, in all parts of society, is bad enough; reading about them is not what I'm looking for in reading for entertainment.

This was the first time I'd come across Carla Kovach and her work. You can learn more about her and her books on her website.

Saturday 20 January 2024

Read in 2024 - 1: All Teachers Great and Small

All Teachers Great and Small

by Andy Seed

A gift from my sister, this is the first book in a series about the life of a village school teacher in the Yorkshire Dales.

Sounds familiar? Yes, and there certainly are similarities to Jack Sheffield's "Teacher" series - you can find my reviews of those delightful books by entering "Jack Sheffield" in the search box in the top left corner of my blog.

In both cases, we have a young teacher starting his first job at a village school in Yorkshire. And it's not only work itself, the children at the school, the other staff and living in a new place, but also entering a new phase in their adult lives, starting their own family, that needs some adjusting to.

Also, both series are set in or around the 1980s - a time I remember so very well myself, because it was the crucial period of teenage years and transition to young adulthood (I was 12 in 1980, and 22 in 1990) with the milestones of leaving school, starting work and so on.

But still, it would be unfair to say that Andy Seed has just created something like a copy of Jack Sheffield's older series. He, his wife, the school staff, the school itself, the village, his neighbours and so on are all their own characters and no cheap copies.

The book follows his entire first year at the school. Each chapter's headline is the name of a boy or girl who features prominently in that chapter. Built around those individual children are all the events of the school year, successes and dramas alike.

There is a school trip, a Christmas panto and nativity play, the old Head Teacher leaves, a memorable football match takes place, and the school year ends on a game of rounders with the opposing teams being children v. staff.

In the meantime, the new young teacher and his wife find their first own home, make it habitable, meet their new neighbours and have a baby.

No shortage of events there, and I expect the next installments to be similarly entertaining (I already have them on my kindle).

The author's website is here. Like Jack Sheffield, Andy Seed really used to be a teacher, and much of what happens in his books is based on real happenings from that time.

Read in 2023 - 35: A Christmas Posy

A Christmas Posy

by Mrs. Molesworth

Every year around Christmas, I try to get in at least one seasonal read, in some years with more success than in others. Not long before Christmas 2023, I started on another one of the many old children's books I have on my kindle, several of which were written by Mrs. Molesworth (clicking on her name will take you to her wikipedia entry). You can find my other reviews of her books (one as recent as October 2023) simply by typing "Molesworth" in the search box in the top left corner of this page.

The one I chose last Christmas was a minor disappointment in that it was not really about Christmas, in spite of its title. 

Several short-ish stand-alone stories are supposed to leave the young reader with a warm feeling and a boost of morale, encouraging good behaviour but not in a sour-faced way. There is humour, too, but all things considered, I found none of the stories as engaging as some of the author's other works.

Each story is about overcoming a difficult situation, usually with the help of others, but also last but not least because the hero or heroine draws on their own goodness and strength of character.

The topics range from a lost, much treasured family heirloom returned to its rightful owner to a boy who wishes nothing more than to learn to play the violin. Maybe the stories were just too short for me to really warm to the characters.

And I am not saying I did not enjoy the read or consider it a waste of time, it just was neither particularly Christmassy nor engaging.

Originally published in 1888, my free kindle copy came without illustrations and of course did not have the ornate cover I am showing you here.

I actually finished it in 2024, but read 80 % of it in 2023, so it is my last read of 2023 and first of 2024 at the same time.

Monday 15 January 2024

Frosty Week

All of last week, the termometer did not reach above freezing point. We had cold nights and mornings, -8C/17F being the coldest I experienced. No new snow fell after what came down last Sunday night, but because of the cold, it simply remained where it was, hardly melting under the sun. Yes, the sun! Several sunny days in a row were really enticing for walks, but never very long; the cold eventually made itself felt, no matter how warm I dressed.

My longest walk last week was on Monday (8 January) when I took two hours out of work in the afternoon, not having any meetings, and walked my standard route to Benningen. At -3C/26F, it was not too bad as long as I was moving.

View from my kitchen window at 1/4 past 8:00 that morning...

... and at 1/4 to 2:00 in the afternoon.

On the way to Benningen

An uneventful day was spent at the office on Tuesday (9 January); waiting at the train station was not very nice at -7C/19F, but I survived :-)

Maybe some of you have noticed that I work at the office mostly on Wednesdays, not Tuesdays. I changed that last week, because train drivers were on strike from Wednesday to Friday.

Wednesday (10 January) was another sunny but crispy cold day. 

After work, my sister, my Mum, two close friends and I met at our favourite Italian restaurant to celebrate my sister's birthday. That place is our favourite not because of the food (although it is good, I wouldn't call it excellent), but mainly because we like the familiar atmosphere and the nearness - we can all walk there within 10-15 minutes from our respective homes, and are made to feel very welcome, no matter how busy.

It was nice to bump into two friends of mine who happened to be there, too; we had a brief chat, but of course I was there for my sister and so we really kept it brief.

The thermometer showed -4C/24F on Thursday (11 January), and it was sunny again. I made use of that late afternoon, walking on the fields for 2 hours and taking in the sunset. By the time I arrived home, I was really glad to get back to the warmth of my flat.

A shady figure!

There's the shady figure again!

View from the opposite direction of what is one of my favourite places.

O.K. and I were spending the weekend separately; we both had separate and time-conflicting appointments and so decided to remain each at our own place.

Friday (12 January) saw me working as usual, but already at 3:30 in the afternoon, I had to leave in order to be on time for a meeting related to my volunteer work. 

As part of a group of around 40 people, I was invited to view and evaluate different plans and ideas for how the former industrial area next to the train station could be opened to the public for different uses. I wrote about that area on my blog a few times, for instance here.

The event lasted until after 7:00 pm, by which time I just wanted to go home and settle in front of the TV for a quiet evening.

With an early bedtime on Friday, I was up early on Saturday (13 January) and finished all my cleaning etc. before meeting my Mum and my sister in town at 11:00. After a few errands, we were glad to be out of the cold and sit in a café for an early spot of lunch - very nice (the café and the food), very full (the café) and very filling (the food) :-)

My Mum took the bus home, while my sister and I walked first to her place to drop off her groceries etc., then on to my Mum's. We helped pack and put away most of her Christmas decorations; a lot of climbing up and down a ladder to the attic is involved, much easier for us than for her.

Coffee and a remainder of Christmas cookies were welcome before going home, where I spent another quiet evening relaxing, reading, playing my favourite computer game and watching TV.

Sunday (14 January) was just as sunny and cold as it had been during the week. I fully intended to go for a long-ish walk, but was back after only 1 1/2 hours - actually, not as much because of the cold, but mainly because I needed the toilet, and since no shops are open on Sundays (and I was not near any shops anyway), I had no alternative but go home.

Now let me treat you to photos O.K. sent me - he spent Sunday afternoon walking in the Black Forest near the village for nearly 15 km, and look how beautiful it was:

I just wish I could have been with him! My urban walk - apart from being only half as long and far as his - can't compete:

But don't get me wrong - I really like my hometown, which I hope is obvious from when I blog about it.

Such a largely quiet weekend on my own is not standard for me, and of course I love spending time with O.K. either at my or his place, but every now and then it is quite welcome. And of course we spoke on the phone every day, sometimes twice, to keep each other updated with what we'd been doing and how our various events went.