customs

More Breckenheimer Wine Fest photos…

We almost didn’t make it to the second day of the wine fest in Breckenheim, mainly because of the weather. Yesterday, it rained a fair bit, which we really needed. But it did sort of put a damper on our enthusiasm to join in with the festivities. Bill and I decided to go to the fest anyway, because I wanted to see if anyone was there. Sure enough, plenty of folks had shown up for wine, live music, and street food.

We were originally only going to have one glass of wine at the stand we missed on Friday night, but we ran into some people we knew, and I was enjoying watching people dance, sing, and drink. Lots of kids were there, too, having a good time. I got some photos and videos of the fest. Although there’s no rain on the forecast, I don’t think we will attend today, because frankly, my body is still recovering. We have a bad habit of not eating when we attend these fests, thinking we’ll eat at home. And then when we get back, we don’t feel like cooking. 😉

As you can see, I was sporting the drowned rat look, because we didn’t bother to bring umbrellas.

Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay…
I videoed this for my friend, Andrew, who is a fellow Sting fan.
Crazy Little Thing Called Love.
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customs

The first night of Breckenheim’s very first wine fest!

This year, we seem to be attending so many wine fests! It’s probably on account of COVID-19 restrictions finally going away. October is coming, and there may be new restrictions, based on what the virus does. For now, Germans are having their beloved festivals, and where we live, they’re all about the wine. Remember that we moved to Wiesbaden in late 2018, so we missed the 2018 season. In 2019, it was “normal”, but we were dealing with stress associated with our departure from Stuttgart that put a damper on our spirits. Then came 2020 and 2021, and fests were significantly reduced. In 2022, things have rebounded a lot.

Our little town of Breckenheim is up and coming. We just got a weekly market, which started last week, probably to justify the installation of the new public toilet (which I got to use last night). This week, had a market AND a wine fest. I anticipate that there will be a lot more socializing in our village, and it’s a great thing. I’ve stated more than once how much we have enjoyed how convivial Breckenheim is. It’s a very different, friendly, mostly inclusive vibe here that helps to make up for losing the awesome beauty of the Schwarzwald in our backyard.

Bill came home from his latest business trip yesterday afternoon. He took Arran to the vet, because he’s been a little “off” lately, plus his run ins with the hedgehog in our backyard resulted in his getting fleas. Hedgehog fleas apparently don’t infest dogs and cats like regular fleas do, but they do bite. I noticed Arran had swollen popliteal lymph nodes, too. So he got a fine needle aspirate, antibiotics, and flea meds. One of the fleas was kind enough to jump off of Arran when he was being examined. Bill said the vet, two techs, and he all worked together to corral the nasty beast so it can be studied under a microscope. I’m hoping that whatever has Arran acting odd will turn out to be related to the fleas and isn’t due to cancer. He’s about 14 years old now, and our last three dogs succumbed to cancer. Arran was a little slow this morning, but after he had some breakfast and a walk, he perked up a bit.

The wine fest is going to go on all weekend. We’ll probably go again, because we had so much fun last night. At first, there were a couple of ladies giving us the side eye when they heard us speaking English to another American. Later, our next door neighbor’s mom came over to talk to us. She went over and sat with the ladies, and probably told them we weren’t tourists. Then our landlord bought us a round of wine. And then the young family who is moving to our neighbor’s vacant apartment came over with their kids, and we had a great time chatting with them. I have a feeling they are going to be good friends. They even asked us to carve a jack o’ lantern for Halloween, because they want to celebrate it. I’m happy to do that. I’m not very good at carving pumpkins, though.

Halloween is kind of hit or miss in Germany. One year, during our first stint in Germany, we had people come to our door and we weren’t prepared. Then we weren’t home other years. Bill now picks up candy in case anyone rings the bell, but no one ever does. Looks like this year will be different. This is the same family who brought me a piece of the pretzel the other day. I found out that the mom is half Italian, which explains why she found the Stuttgart area to be less friendly. It’s my experience that Italians are stereotypically a lot warmer– sympatisch— as my Italian friend who lives in Germany would say– than people from Swabia are. At least at first. I’ve found that most Swabians will eventually warm up, once you get to know them. It just usually takes more time than it does up here in Hesse.

We were only going to stay a little while last night, then go home and have dinner, which is why we didn’t try the food vendor’s wares. Instead, we ate a pretzel with Spundekäs, which wasn’t enough… especially considering how much wine we enjoyed. There were maybe four or five wine stands going, plus live music, plenty of seating, and the new toilet, which we learned last night cost taxpayers 120,000 euros or so… No wonder so many people were upset about it and a news guy from the local radio station was asking for opinions last year! But it is a nice facility, at least for now. And it’s Kostenfrei (free of charge), which really makes it special. 😉 I tried the new toilet, but failed to lock it properly. Luckily, I was finished when someone opened the door on me and said, “Entschuldigung!” (excuse me) I suppose I’ll learn the right way to lock the door, now that the village is about to be bustling with events.

Below are some photos from last night’s fun, plus a couple of videos from Bill’s return home.

Arran and Noyzi were delighted to see Bill after his trip. So was I!
Arran had to give his favorite person a hug. I was working on my latest puzzle.

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customs

New neighbors clue me in to a German tradition I had never heard of…

Bill had to go out of town on business, so I’m spending most of the week alone. We got a bunch of Amazon deliveries yesterday– a new spool for the weed whacker, dog food for Noyzi, contact lenses for me, and two bottles of liqueurs that I was curious about trying. I thought I was finished answering the door when the bell rang again. I will admit, I was a little annoyed, mainly because I wasn’t wearing clothes that people outside of the household should see. But I answered the doorbell anyway…

It was our neighbors-to-be, whom we met on Friday night– mom, dad, and two young children. They were all dressed up, and the wife was holding a plate with what appeared to be a piece of bread on it. She said, in her heavily accented and somewhat broken English (which is still much better than my German any day), that yesterday was the first day of school, and it’s a tradition for sweet “Brezels” to be served for good luck. I think she also said that it was tradition to share the treat with a neighbor, and originally she had described what looked like a yeast bread as “cake”.

In ten years of living in Germany, this has never happened to me before, so I was unaware of the custom, but I was very moved by the gesture, nonetheless. Especially since they are going to be our neighbors as of next month! I did enjoy talking to them at our party the other day, mainly because she was born and raised in the Stuttgart area and had some rather candid opinions about her hometown that I found amusing. Let’s just say that she has the same impressions of the Swabian culture that a lot of people seem to have, and she prefers living in Hesse. Personally, I really like the Stuttgart area, but I have to agree that Hessians are stereotypically friendlier.

She presented the piece of “Brezel” to me on a lovely plate. I asked her what I should do with the plate when we were finished with it. She said I could return it when they move in next month. I am enjoying the Brezel bread for breakfast today, with my coffee. I thought it had raisins in it, too, but now that I’ve tasted it, I think they’re chocolate chips! Even better!

I posted about this surprise gift on Facebook, and my German friend– also hailing from Baden-Württemberg– was initially confused about the tradition herself. But then when I explained that the “cake” was actually Brezel, she wrote “alles klar”, and explained that it‘s customary for sweet pretzels (Brezels) to be made for the new school year, and passed out to the kids. Usually, one only sees them at New Year’s, when they are made fresh and passed out to family and friends for good luck and cohesion. However, in some areas, they also make them for St. Martin’s Day, or for the new school year, which starts in September in these parts.

Here’s a video about the New Year’s Pretzel, which I guess is the same as the pretzel handed out yesterday.

My friend asked if the bread was braided, and I wrote that I couldn’t tell, as it was only a generous sized piece of the Brezel, and not a whole one. But after a few minutes of research, she was able to find the answer for me. Now that I think about it, I believe our new neighbor’s husband’s family– who is also going to be our neighbor– is from a bit north of Wiesbaden. He brought some special beer to the party that can only be found in that area, and he and Bill bonded over it.

One of the things I like about living in Europe is that there are a lot of surprises. Most of the time, they’re pleasant surprises, like the time we lived in Jettingen and I got serenaded by three kids dressed up for Three Kings Day. They were collecting money for the Catholic church, and they were so adorable I couldn’t resist giving them some spare euros. There’s always something going on here, and so many traditions. We’re also heading into my favorite time of year, when the summer heat dissipates, and the weather gets cozy. I can stop wearing my t-shirts and Daisy Duke shorts (which I can’t pull off worth a damn), and wear pretty sweaters, scarves, and jewelry.

Hopefully, this new family will turn out to be actual friends. So far, so good. The wife even laughed at my jokes… especially when I was talking about having to leave Stuttgart early the first time and said, “I was PIIISSSED…” Come to think of it, I was probably also “pissed”, in the British sense of the word, when I was telling that story… But it’s a good sign that she wasn’t offended. 😉

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customs, markets

Breckenheim’s very first village market…

Yesterday, something happened that I’ve been eagerly anticipating for awhile. Our little village had its very first neighborhood market on the Dorfplatz. It was also the first day of September, which means that, right on cue, the weather started to change in earnest. I’ve lived in Germany for ten years of my life and it never fails. As of September 1, it immediately gets cooler in Germany, even if it was broiling hot the week prior. Usually, by the 15th, I consistently need to wear a jacket, and have put away the air conditioners until summer comes around again. In fact, just a few minutes ago, I pulled the air conditioning hose inside and closed the window in my office for the first time in weeks. It’s really cooling down outside. I hope that means we’ll soon get some rain.

Some people might not think the neighborhood market is a big deal. I mentioned it on social media, and two of my American friends posted that their towns in the United States are doing the “same” thing. With all due respect to my American friends, I don’t think it is quite the same. Remember, I spent a good 35 of my 50 years in the USA, and have lived in several states, so I’m in a position to know something about life there. I would be very surprised if I went to a market in, say, my home state of Virginia, and found someone selling fresh harissa, locally produced sausages, or unpasteurized cheeses, which are usually pretty hard to find in the US.

I would also be surprised if they were pouring local wines. In the States, there’s a big emphasis on alcohol laws. Anyone appearing to be under 21 will be carded. This isn’t to say there are no booze laws here, but the drinking age is lower, while the driving age is higher… and fewer people drive here, anyway. And drinking seems to be more of a normal part of society, just as smoking is. In our case, the market was just down the hill from our house, and all of the people at the market are literally our neighbors.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t wonderful markets in the United States. I just don’t think they’re quite the same there as they are here. The market that happens in Wiesbaden is totally different than the market we had last night, which was very small and felt more like a wine stand with a few vendors selling their wares. However, I have a feeling that once the market catches on, it will be bigger, and there will be more things to buy than what was available last night. As it was, there was a flower vendor, someone selling vegetables, and a Turkish Feinkost represented. And the wine kiosk was open, so they were selling wine, beer, Schorles, and other non-alcoholic beverages. It looked like they had the usual Brats and Brotchens, too. I had Noyzi and Arran with me, so I didn’t get very close to the action.

Maybe it sounds petty, but it kind of annoys me when people back home assume they know how it is here… and claim it’s the “same” as it is in the United States. As an American who has lived many years in America, I know it isn’t, really. But then, a lot of things in the USA are not the same as they are in Germany. For instance, it’s pretty hard to find some of my favorite American style comfort foods over here. I am fortunate enough to shop at the military commissary, order from Amazon.com, and have stuff come through APO (government mail for US citizens). I regularly buy high quality grits from a farm in South Carolina, which are vastly superior to the Quaker quick or instant grits “crapola” in the commissary. I wouldn’t be able to find grits at all in a German store. Instead, I’d find polenta, which is not really the same. It’s only somewhat similar. Grits are also NOT semolina (Cream of Wheat). They are made of ground up hominy, which is corn.

The boys were amused by the sights and sounds of our little market.

It’s been my experience that Europeans tend to be more community minded than most people in the United States are, but of course there are always exceptions. And I’ve found that Breckenheim is a lot more of a friendly community than either of the towns we lived in near Stuttgart. Maybe it’s because of the wine. Stuttgart does have wineries, but the emphasis in the southern part of Germany is more on beer. Up here near the Rhein, it’s wine country. Maybe it’s because Hesse is not Swabia. Seriously… there is a different mindset in the Swabian region of Germany. It’s not that the people aren’t nice. They are. It’s just that it seems to take longer to make friends down there. The mood is a bit more insular, especially in smaller towns. There’s a different dialect that even native Germans sometimes have trouble understanding. And people, on the whole, seem to be more reserved and formal than they are in Hesse. In that sense, Germany IS like the United States, because as we all know, there are many different cultures within the regions of the US, too.

Anyway, below are some photos from last night. I didn’t get as close as I would have liked to, because we brought the dogs with us. Noyzi still gets pretty freaked out by strangers, although I can tell his instinct is to be very friendly. He’s still overcoming traumas from his youth, though, and that takes time and experience. I was proud of him last night, even if he was a little spooked by everything. Overall, he behaved very well. Arran, of course, couldn’t care less. He’s getting pretty old and is now unimpressed by a lot of things that used to set him off. Next weekend, Breckenheim will host its first wine fest. That should be fun, especially since it will be easy to haul home purchases from the Dorfplatz. Last night also heralded the opening of Breckenheim’s public toilet! I know that was exciting, too. The men of the village have been all over setting it up for weeks now.

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churches, customs

A visit to St. Elizabeth’s Church, the Russian Orthodox Church in Wiesbaden…

Although we will have lived in Wiesbaden for four years at the end of November, there are still a lot of places in Hesse we haven’t yet seen. A big reason for that is COVID-19. Things have really only been somewhat normal since April of this year. There are a few other reasons, too… one of them being sheer laziness and feeling slack because not that many people read my travel blog anymore. Nevertheless, I still enjoy writing it and taking photos, and I know there will come a day when I’ll look back on these memories with fondness. So, with that in mind, I let Bill talk me into another excursion today.

St. Elizabeth’s Church is also known as the Greek Chapel. It was built between 1847 and 1855 by Duke Adolf of Nassau, to pay respects to the death of his 19 year old wife, Grand Duchess Elizabeth Mikhailovna of Russia. The couple had only been married a year when the duchess died in childbirth, as did their baby daughter. The duke was so bereaved that he decided to build the church around the duchess’s grave in her honor, using money from the duchess’s dowry. It is now the site of the largest Russian Orthodox cemetery in Europe, outside of Russia itself.

I had long been wanting to visit St. Elizabeth’s Church, a beautiful golden domed Russian Orthodox church on Neroberg, a hill overlooking one of Wiesbaden’s most tony neighborhoods with very grand homes owned by wealthy people. This church is the only Russian Orthodox church in our fair city, and besides being lovely, it offers some beautiful views of the city. There are also other things on Neroberg, to include a vineyard, a couple of restaurants, a pool, a climbing forest, and lots of walking paths. To get up to the church, one can either drive and hope to find a parking spot, or hope to find a spot at the bottom of the hill and take the Nerobergbahn, which is a funicular that goes up and down the hill. It’s also possible to walk or bike up there, but that’s definitely not for people like me. 😉 Especially in August!

Bill had warned me that today there would also be a large climate change protest in Wiesbaden, with many people riding bikes to rally for Earth friendly policies. Remembering last week’s Stau on A3, I was hoping we wouldn’t be hindered by the crowd. Fortunately, as you will see in the photos at the end of this post, we were leaving Wiesbaden, as they were coming in. Based on what we saw in Wiesbaden itself, there’s going to be quite a party going on. I know there was a food truck festival going on, too, but after last week’s shenanigans at the wine fest, we decided the church was a better bet today.

It took us a few passes to score a parking spot near the Nerobergbahn, and when we did find one, Bill had to parallel park. That shouldn’t have been hard in a 2020 Volvo with parking assist, but I don’t think Bill trusts it. Fortunately, he was able to park the SUV, and we made our way to the funicular, where we purchased tickets going up and down the hill. It’s important to note that the current 9 euro train passes don’t work on this funicular. You have to buy tickets, which at this writing, cost 5 euros per adult. If you just want a one way ticket, it’s 4 euros. They also have special rates for groups, families, and kindergarten groups with children. The ticket can also be combined with tickets for the climbing forest, which appears to be an adventure/tree climbing/zip line park for people more fit than I am. 😉

The funicular runs until 7:00pm at this writing, and there are two wagons that continually go up and down. The car is enclosed, so face masks have to be worn. As much as I hate masks, it makes sense, since it gets kind of chummy in there. If you score a standing place on the caboose, you don’t have to wear a mask. The ride is about three minutes or so, and you don’t see much as you go up and come down. Still, it beats walking.

When we got to the top of the hill, we went to a nearby Biergarten and had a snack, since I was a bit hangry and needed a bathroom. There were lots of people there, and I heard several different languages. I felt a lot less grouchy after Bill and I shared a Flammkuechen (Alsatian pizza) and washed it down with beer. I don’t even like Flammkuechen much, but I didn’t want a Schnitzel or a piece of cake. It was just enough, and after we ate, we walked around and got photos. I really just wanted some pictures of the view of downtown Wiesbaden, and the beautiful Russian church.

I already had Russia kind of on my mind, thanks to an advice column I read yesterday in the Washington Post. A woman wrote about how she’d married someone from Eastern Europe, and his family shows love by pushing food on guests. She explained that she has a lot of food issues, and isn’t comfortable eating a lot. I noticed a lot of the comments from Americans, most of whom either have no experience with Eastern European cultures, or no appreciation for other cultures. I commented that I empathize with the letter writer, since I had been a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Republic of Armenia, which is a formerly Soviet country. Food is a big part of their culture, which is all about hospitality. One of the first phrases we learned as Peace Corps Trainees was how to say “I’m full.” in Armenian. We were also taught how to signify that we were appeased, so the host(s) didn’t feel the need to keep bringing out food. Leave a little food on the plate.

Someone else commented that they had also been an Peace Corps Armenia Volunteer, years after I was there, and was going to write the very same thing! And I had also mentioned that Armenians would always comment when I lost or gained weight, too. That was another aspect of that culture I remember with somewhat less fondness. Sigh…

Anyway, I thought of that exchange as we decided to visit the inside of the Russian Orthodox Church. It’s two euros per adult to go inside. One thing I had forgotten was that Orthodox churches don’t allow people to go inside with bare legs. Bill and I were both wearing shorts, so the lady behind the counter apologized and asked us both to put on wrap around skirts. It was a little embarrassing, but then I remembered the Armenians (and Greeks, now that I think about it) were the same. We had to cover our legs to enter the churches and not wear revealing clothes. I also told Bill to be careful not to cross his legs. That was another caveat we got in Armenia, lest some little old lady chastise us for being disrespectful. I smiled at Bill and said, “It’s taboo.” And now that I have looked it up, I see that my memory serves me correctly. Of course, it didn’t come up anyway, since the church doesn’t really have anywhere to sit. I mean, there aren’t any pews or anything. Maybe a couple of chairs.

Photography isn’t really allowed inside, but I snuck a few photos anyway, since I had to wear a skirt. No one noticed. I did appreciate the smell of incense and the beautiful Russian choral music. St. Elizabeth’s Church really is a very lovely church and well worth a visit. I’m glad we finally made the trip to see it.

After our visit to the church, we walked back up the hill to the overlook, where we saw a World War I memorial and gazes at Wiesbaden from the vantage point of the hill, in view of the vineyards. It was very beautiful. I might have liked a few fewer clouds, but given how dry it’s been here this summer, I’d say the clouds were probably Heaven sent.

Here are today’s photos…