cute towns, Germany, hotels

Seeing “stars” in Baiersbronn… Part one

Our Black Forest adventure begins…

A few weeks ago, Bill finally decided it was time for us to get our teeth cleaned. Actually, it was long past time. We hadn’t seen our Stuttgart area dentist in over two years. I’m usually really regular about my dental visits. In May 2019, when we went to Stuttgart to see Elton John, I had every intention of coming back in November for a six month visit. But Bill ended up being very busy in November 2019, so we never did get back down there. Then, COVID-19 shut everything down. Going to the dentist seemed like it could even be unsafe.

We finally got vaccinated a few months ago. In July, Bill tried to get us appointments to see the dentist. He was booked solid through July, and then would be on vacation. The earliest Bill could get us in was August 26th. I tried to get us a room at our favorite Stuttgart area hotel, but it was fully booked. Then I remembered how much we had enjoyed visiting the Black Forest (Schwarzwald) when we lived in the Stuttgart area. I remembered a day trip we took to Baiersbronn, which was located just 40 minutes or so from where we lived. I recalled how I ate quiche there after having read about the many gourmet restaurants in the sleepy, but pretty town in the forest. I remembered a wonderful article I read in the New York Times Magazine about Baiersbronn. Then I started searching to see what kinds of accommodations were available there.

It turned out that a lot of the hotels in the Baiersbronn area were booked, but I did find us a room at the Hotel Engel Obertal, a five star property in a tiny hamlet called Obertal. The property had just about everything I was looking for in a hotel, as well as a few special extras, like the salt pool. I decided to book us a superior room with a balcony facing the countryside. I paid in full ahead of time and waited eagerly for the big day.

On Wednesday, August 25th, we made our way from Wiesbaden to Obertal, having dropped off our dogs at their usual accommodation. The drive down was mostly on the Autobahn and took about 3 hours. I sighed with contentment as we turned onto a two lane state road that took us into the countryside. I had forgotten how much I love the Schwarzwald. When we lived in Jettingen, we could easily visit on the weekends, spending a few hours enjoying the scenery and relaxed mood. Now that we’re in Wiesbaden, it takes a bit longer to get to the forest, but it’s still not a super long drive. We did get stuck behind a truck, which was pretty annoying. It’s not easy to pass on the tight roads into the idyllic German countryside. But we weren’t in a hurry. We were hoping to relax.

We arrived at the hotel at about 1:30 or so. The receptionist who checked us in easily found our reservation and checked our COVID status. Obertal is located in Baden-Württemberg, which recently passed an ordinance that requires everyone to show that they have been fully vaccinated, have a recent negative COVID test, or have successfully recovered from the illness. Not all German states are doing this yet. I suspect it’s just a matter of time. But Baden-Württemberg was the first to implement this new rule, which perhaps will make new lockdowns less likely to happen.

We were assigned room 109, but it wasn’t ready for us. Check in wasn’t until 3:00pm anyway, so we went to the restaurant for lunch. The hotel offers free breakfast, buffet lunches, and fancy multi-coursed meals that are preferably booked ahead of time. On Wednesday, the hotel was offering penne pasta with ratatouille, chicken breast, potatoes au gratin, salad, breads, and dessert. They also had several lovely cakes available. We also had some beer vom fass as we enjoyed the sunshine and mild temperatures. This was the only day we had lunch at the hotel. It was worth it just for the cake!

After lunch, our room was ready, so we completed the check in, and the receptionist led us to our accommodations. I wasn’t expecting a super modern room, and my expectations were met. But the room was very large, with a comfortable bed, huge balcony, and sitting area. Bill ordered a split of champagne and pralines. I’m not sure why he did that; he doesn’t usually spring for extras. But it was all set up for us when we walked into our room, along with a bowl of apples and a bottle of complimentary sparkling water. The room also had a mini bar, which offered, beer, wine, soda, and extra water at customary minibar prices. The room had a TV, CD player (how retro), free WiFi, and a phone.

I enjoyed the shower. It got great pressure and was generously equipped with Molton Brown toiletries, as well as plenty of large towels, slippers, and robes.

The room wasn’t air conditioned, but the weather was cool and pleasant, so we didn’t miss climate control at all. And it was so quiet and peaceful that the first thing I did was take a nap while Bill booked dinner at the hotel. The hotel offers regular rooms, but it also has chalets and apartments for rent. There’s a free parking lot and limited street parking, as well as a garage that costs ten euros a night. We only used the parking garage last night, because the parking lot was completely full when we came back to the hotel.

Obertal is a tiny little village, but there are a few other restaurants that are within walking distance of the hotel. There’s also a small convenience store and a few shops that appear to cater to the wealthy spa crowd. Across the street is a large Asian spa hotel, complete with a sign in Chinese and a mural of a beautiful Asian woman.

After our one lunch, we ate all of the rest of our meals at the same table. That was also true for dinner on Wednesday night. We weren’t very hungry after the big pieces of cake, but I am glad we stopped in for a dinner, just to see what they had on offer.

The restaurant offers vegetarian selections and heartier fare, like Schnitzels, as well. We found the food quality at the hotel to be fine, especially washed down with a locally produced Spatburgunder, but it would pale in comparison to the two gourmet meals we planned for Friday. Still, we were too full for dessert, so we decided to head off to bed after dinner. We had a big day planned for Thursday. More on that in the next post.

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churches, cute towns, day trips, Germany, Mainz, restaurant reviews, Rhein, Sundays

Heavenly windows by Marc Chagall and heavenly eating at Heiliggeist…

Last month, when Bill and I went to Zürich, we visited the Fraumünster church. That church is famous for having beautiful stained glass windows created by the Jewish French-Russian artist, Marc Chagall. I wasn’t familiar with Marc Chagall before we saw his windows in Switzerland last month. After I posted some photos on social media, a German friend told me that I could also see Chagall’s work in Mainz, at The Collegiate Church of St. Stephan. We live close to Mainz, but before yesterday, we hadn’t been there in a long time. Not only did COVID-19 keep us away, but there was also some construction being done on the bridge over the Rhein River which made crossing over there problematic. The bridge connects our home state of Hesse with Rheinland-Pfalz. I had actually forgotten that going to Mainz means leaving the state!

I think the last time Bill and I went to Mainz, it was to see my old friend, C.W., who is an American learning about German wines. I worked with C.W. in Colonial Williamsburg, back in the late 1990s. C.W. moved to Washington, DC and worked in a succession of fancy restaurants. He later decided he wanted to work in the wine industry, so he’s been getting educated. In the fall of 2019, he came to Germany to work at a winery as part of his education. He came back in the spring of 2020, just before COVID shut everything down. We weren’t able to see him on that visit, and we didn’t visit Mainz again last year or this year. That means that yesterday’s visit occurred almost two years after our last one! We had a good time yesterday. We’ll have to visit Mainz more often, now that we’re vaccinated. It really is a neat town with much to discover.

After looking at the location of St. Stephan’s Church, Bill decided he’d like to go out to eat. He found Heiliggeist Restaurant (Holy Spirit) on Open Table and decided that its status as the oldest citizen hospital in Germany fit nicely with our church theme. He made reservations for 3:30pm because, apparently, there were any earlier ones available. I’m not sure why that is, since there were plenty of tables available when we were there yesterday. But anyway, the church was open for visitation from 12pm until 4pm, so the late lunch/early dinner time slot worked out fine. We took my neglected Mini Cooper, since the weather was fine and I could put the top down. I had forgotten how different the atmosphere is in Mainz, compared to Wiesbaden. It’s a refreshing change of pace.

After parking at the theater garage, we trudged uphill to the church. It was about a ten minute walk from where we parked. I hadn’t realized the church wasn’t in the old part of the city and was kind of unimpressed with the neighborhood that surrounded it. From the outside, St. Stephan looks like so many of the other churches in Germany. That’s not to say it isn’t a beautiful or impressive structure. It is a very lovely church, especially compared to many American churches. I’m just saying that compared to a lot of churches in Europe, from the outside, it didn’t look any more or less spectacular.

But then we went inside, and my mind immediately changed about the beauty of St. Stephan… I was overcome by the cool, soothing, incredibly beautiful, and peaceful mood cast by the extraordinary blue windows… The entire inside of the church is bathed in a blue glow made by Chagall’s windows, the first of which was installed in 1978. Chagall was 91 years old in 1978, and he lived until 1985, which only goes to show you that when it comes to great accomplishments, age really is just a number.

As I took in the azure splendor of the great artist’s work, I realized that I much preferred Chagall’s windows in Mainz to Chagall’s windows in Switzerland. A bonus is, it costs nothing to visit this church. In Zürich, we had to pay five Swiss Francs each admission to see a few of Chagall’s windows.

Of course, I might have loved these windows more because my favorite color is blue. I also just loved the way they all worked in concert to give the church an overall mood. I donated some change to the church while Bill lit a candle for his father, then he purchased a CD of the organ and some postcards at the gift shop. He says he’s going to try his hand at picture framing. Since my dad made his post Air Force living framing pictures, it’s a shame he’s no longer around to show Bill the ropes. The CD is, of course, for me. I am more moved by music than visual artistic endeavors. My mom was a church organist for over 50 years, so I probably have more of an appreciation for organ music than a lot of people do. However, as I listen to the music now as I compose this post, it occurs to me that if I could have been listening to it while touring the church, I probably would have been overwhelmed. I definitely am glad we took the time to visit St. Stephan and see these gorgeous windows! The church itself has an incredibly long history, having been established in 990. It is the only church in Germany that has windows by Marc Chagall, and I must say, the windows dazzled me! What an inspiration!

It took about ten or fifteen minutes to walk from the church to the old town. I needed a restroom, but we had about an hour before our reservation at Heiliggeist, so Bill and I decided to stop at a cafe. I took some more photos on the way down. Mainz really is a nice town, and there’s still a lot we haven’t seen or done there.

At last, it was time to head to the restaurant. Thanks to COVID, everybody was sitting outside. I was a little disappointed, because I wanted to see the interior. I did get a few shots of the inside of the restaurant, but I would have preferred to eat indoors. Actually, I prefer eating indoors most of the time, as the seating is usually more comfortable; there’s no smoking; and we don’t have to contend with insects or other creatures. But the weather was good yesterday and it wasn’t too hot outside, so aside from uncomfortable chairs, I can’t complain too much.

Heiliggeist serves “fusion” food– Asian inspired and “new German”. They have a full bar, and a summer “carte”, as well as menu staples. Bill had the “Lachs Bowl”, which was very “Asian inspired.” I had the cold roast beef, which was more of a European thing. We both really enjoyed the food and the service. Prices are reasonable. Both my dish and Bill’s were priced below twenty euros each.

After about two hours at Heiliggeist, we headed back to the parking garage, which was about fifteen minutes away by foot. I took a few more images. All told, we walked about 2.5 miles. At least, that’s what my iPhone tells me.

We got back to the house at about 6:00pm. Arran and Noyzi were very happy to see us and gave us joyful greetings. We went to bed feeling pleasantly tired by the day’s activities. I think we need to spend more time in Mainz. It really is a nice town, and it’s so different than Wiesbaden is on so many levels. I feel fortunate that we have this chance to live in another part of Germany besides Stuttgart, and experience how different the regions are. I continue to be grateful that we can live here and see so much.

And here’s what St. Stephan’s organ sounds like… Heavenly! Wish I could have heard this majestic organ as we were gazing at the beautiful windows.
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cute towns, Germany, restaurant reviews

Lunch in lovely Hofheim!

We have pretty weather today, so Bill asked me if I wanted to go out. I did want to go out, as I have a bad habit of being reclusive when I should be out enjoying Germany. Unfortunately, Aunt Flow showed up this morning… about a week delayed. I was hoping for a reprieve but– NOPE– no such luck. It always happens on a Saturday, too.

Anyway, I mention Aunt Flow only because we were on our way to Hofheim in my Mini Cooper convertible (which really needs to be driven more), when I realized I had forgotten to arm myself with the necessary feminine hygiene supplies. Fortunately, Hofheim has a very nice Edeka located in a shopping mall that has a nice parking garage with low rates. We parked there, stopped by the store, visited the restrooms (50 cents), then took a stroll through Hofheim, which is one of the nicest towns near where we live.

A few months ago, when we tried and failed to adopt a dog from a German pet rescue, I joined the Wir in Hofheim Facebook group. It was one of many groups I joined in an attempt to try to locate the dog we hoped to adopt who escaped from his pet taxi as he was being unloaded. Unfortunately, the dog met an untimely end on the Autobahn, but I stayed in the groups, anyway. The Wir in Hofheim group is one of my favorites. I regularly follow it, because there’s a lot of helpful information in it and the people are very nice. It was from that group that I got the idea to go to Hofheim.

It’s not that we hadn’t been there before. Bill and I visited the outskirts when we first moved up to the Wiesbaden area and ate in a now defunct Italian place. Bill also visited the town to get take out for us when the COVID-19 restrictions were very strict. Unfortunately, one of the places we discovered in the spring, Blanca Bistro, is now closed. We passed by there today on our way into the old town. I was sad to see it sort of abandoned… there’s still liquor and glassware in there, and signage is still up, but the restaurant stopped serving food a couple of months ago. Several places have had to close due to COVID-19, including the excellent German place near our house. We only ate there one time because it was always packed! But it couldn’t keep going during the pandemic.

We did manage to find lunch, though. We ate at Ristorante L’Opera, an attractive establishment in a little alcove on the main drag. No one else was there when we arrived at about 12:30pm, but we were soon joined by a German couple who enjoyed smoking.

Bill filled out the contact tracing paperwork and the waiter handed us the laminated menus, obviously much abbreviated compared to normal. There were still a few dishes that were attractive, as well as some specials that were advertised on a sandwich board by the passage. Unfortunately, the uncomfortably narrow chairs, which are the kind often found at gelaterias, reminded me that I probably ought to cut back on my groceries.

I don’t usually get pizza in Germany, mainly because it’s always more than I can finish and I don’t always like the kinds of pizzas that are available. I will say that today’s pizza was excellent. I especially enjoyed the crust, which was absolutely perfect! I’m sure they have a pizza oven to get such perfection. Light, yet chewy with a slightly crisp crust, delicious mozzarella cheese, and a light layer of tomato sauce made that very simple pizza creation a delight! And I even skipped the meat.

Bill enjoyed the pulled pork sandwich, which had a housemade bun. He especially liked the slaw, though. Bill likes cabbage very much. I noticed he cleaned his plate, while I had leftovers, which our attentive server was happy to wrap up for later.

The bill for lunch came to about 41 euros. Bill gave the guy 45, and we took a walk around the town. Hofheim is maybe nine kilometers from where we live, but it’s very charming. We probably ought to visit more often, if only because we like the Edeka better than Rewe.

Anyway… it wasn’t long before we needed to head home and rescue Arran from his loneliness. Although Hofheim isn’t a substitute for some of our favorite little towns in Baden-Württemberg, like Nagold, Esslingen, Ludwigsburg, and Tübingen, it’s not a bad place to spend a couple of hours. There are several nice restaurants there, charming ambiance, places to shop, and enjoy the last days of summer. I’m glad we took the time to go there today… and for any readers who are looking to move to Wiesbaden, this is one town I would recommend seeking a home nearby. It’s a very pleasant little hamlet.

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cute towns, day trips, Germany

Ten cute towns in the Stuttgart area…

Today’s post is more or less meant for people who are new to the Stuttgart area, looking for cute towns to visit.  It’s inspired by the many people I see posting in the local Facebook groups, looking to venture out on day trips that aren’t too far away.  The towns in this post are places I have personally been to, so I will probably miss a few places that really should get a mention.  Hopefully, in the future, I’ll be able to update this post with a sequel for those who have already seen the best known towns near Stuttgart.

Once again, these ten towns aren’t necessarily ranked in any order.  Here goes…

Tübingen

 

The lovely Rathaus in Tübingen.  They finally finished renovating it!

The obvious first town to mention, at least in my opinion, is Tübingen.  This awesome college town is located about 19 miles south of Stuttgart and offers plenty of restaurants, shopping, and when the weather is warm, a pretty great biergarten.  You can climb the church tower at St. George’s Collegiate Church (Stiftskirche) for a great view of the area or go punting in the Neckar River.  You can also visit the city museum and the Schloss Hohentübingen, or walk around the market square and look at the newly renovated Rathaus.  Tübingen is one of my favorite towns because we lived very close to it the first time we lived in Germany and we used to visit often.  There’s always something going on there and it’s a great place to people watch.  I think it’s a must see stop on any visit to the area, although be prepared for hilly terrain, especially when it’s icy outside.  You can take a train from Herrenberg that goes directly into the city.

Esslingen
 

Das Alte Rathaus– One of Esslingen’s most recognizable landmarks!

Esslingen is a pretty town situated about 9 miles southeast of the Stuttgart center.  Because it’s located pretty far from where I live, I’ve only been there three times myself.  However, it’s easily accessed on the S-Bahn, even though it takes us a good hour to get there that way.  Esslingen is especially enchanting during the Christmas season.  Its medieval Christmas market is legendary!  This town also boasts other festivals throughout the year, good restaurants, shopping, and the Kessler Sekt Cellar, where you can shop for locally made bubbly.  You can also take English tours of the city, which has a very interesting history!  Join Ellen Stillman Thomas’s group for information on how to do that!

Nagold
 

A shot at Hohennagold, castle ruins that reward your long, steep walk with ice cold beer!

Nagold is probably one of the less discussed cute towns in the area, but I’m partial to it because I live very close.  It’s a very charming little town that borders the northern Black Forest with a beautiful city center and small town appeal.  I think it’s probably become my favorite local hangout.  It has almost everything I love about Tübingen without the crowds!  Nagold also features a river where I’ve seen a lot of dog owners let their dogs swim during the summer.  If you’re feeling up to it, you can climb Hohennagold and see castle ruins, shop at the Saturday market, or visit the city museum in the Steinhaus which has different exhibits.  The last time I went to the museum, they had a very interesting exhibit about how Nagold was a model city for the Nazis during World War II.  It was free of charge to visit.  Every two years, Nagold also hosts a Celtic festival in the summer called Kelten-fest, and there is also a fantastic public pool there, complete with water slides (for warmer weather, of course).

Weil der Stadt
 

A beautiful shrimp salad I had at Samowar, a Russian restaurant in Weil der Stadt.  

I will admit that I haven’t spent a lot of time in Weil der Stadt, except to drink wine at a wine tasting, go to an international food truck festival, and eat Russian food.  I still couldn’t help but notice how charming this town is, located 19 miles west of Stuttgart.  Weil der Stadt offers an attractive cityscape, with its beautiful Church of St. Peter and Paul.  It’s also the birthplace of astronomer Johannes Kepler.  I like Weil der Stadt for its great fests, but I also love it because there’s good shopping there.  The town boasts a gorgeous Edeka grocery store– one of the nicest I’ve seen!

Ludwigsburg
 

In Ludwigsburg’s square…

Jewish memorial… outlined destroyed synagogue and suitcases symbolizing the lives that were lost.

Bill and I first discovered Ludwigsburg, a city about 7.5 miles north of Stuttgart, when we lived here the first time.  We had gotten on the mailing list for a small French vintner we discovered at the weekend market in Tübingen and they let us know that they would be at Ludwigsburg’s market.  Wine is the reason we discovered Ludwigsburg, but we tend to go back there to buy beer.  Ludwigsburg is not far from Kornwestheim, which is where Heinrich’s drink market is.  We haven’t been to Heinrich’s recently and we have a lot of empty beer bottles to unload!  Usually, we visit Ludwigsburg when we’re on a beer run, but we’ve also been there for fests, their Christmas market, and to pick up wine.  The city also boasts a great African restaurant.  I like to have lunch at one of the restaurants in the main square and watch people who have just been married.  If you’re there on a Saturday, there’s a good bet you’ll see at least one reception going on.  It’s a good place to catch buskers, most of whom are pretty good musicians.  Ludwigsburg also has a Schloss and is the site of where a synagogue was destroyed on Kristallnacht in 1938.  There is a very poignant memorial there.

Herrenberg
 

A shot of the Stiftskirche and the Saturday market.

Herrenberg is a pleasant city situated off of A81 between Stuttgart and Tübingen.  We’ve spent a lot of time in Herrenberg because during both of our Germany stints, we’ve lived close to this city.  As charming towns go, I’d say there are a few others I like better than Herrenberg.  However, I still think it’s worth a visit because it has a very nice market square (and weekend market), several good restaurants, a church with a tower you can climb and a bell museum, and castle ruins.  It’s close to the Schönbuch forest, where you can enjoy a lovely spring hike.  There’s also good shopping in Herrenberg, especially if you’re looking for whisky, cheese, or unusual gifts.

Freudenstadt

At the old school Experimenta Science Museum in Freudenstadt.  Cheap and fun for kids and big adult kids!

Freudenstadt is probably a little out of the way for a lot of Americans in the Stuttgart area.  We drive through it whenever we go to France or want to visit certain parts of the Black Forest.  It’s an attractive town that offers a kids’ science museum, as well as fests, shopping, restaurants, and proximity to the Barefoot Park, located in nearby Dornstetten.  Every time we pass through Freudenstadt, I want to stop and wander around.  It really has a pretty downtown area, well worth a visit if you’re looking for somewhere new or simply a place to stop for lunch on the way to France or the Black Forest.  It’s also a very popular vacation spot for Germans.  Many famous people have visited Freudenstadt for its health resort, including Americans John D. Rockefeller and Mark Twain, and George V of the United Kingdom!

Reutlingen 
 

In downtown Reutlingen…

Reutlingen is another southern town, 22 miles south of Stuttgart, which boasts a pleasant downtown area.  We pass through it whenever we head to Bad Urach, Lichtenstein Castle, Blautopf, or any of the caves in the Stuttgart area.  I will admit we haven’t spent nearly enough time in this lovely town, mainly because we encounter it as we pass through to get to another place.  It’s on my list for a Saturday visit, perhaps when the weather isn’t so cold!

Calw
 

Lovely downtown Calw!

Calw is a town that probably gets missed by a lot of Americans in the Stuttgart area.  We missed it the last time we lived here.  It would be a shame not to visit Calw, because it’s a charming and historic town that happens to be the birthplace of Nobel Prize winner Hermann Hesse.  Located west of Stuttgart, Calw makes a nice stop on your way to the “Treewalk” (Baumwipfelpfad) or to Bad Wildbad itself, the beautiful spa town where the Treewalk is located.  It even boasts a location of the Schönbuch Brauhaus, which I know is a popular place for local Americans to eat in Böblingen.  This isn’t to say there aren’t other nice restaurants in Calw, only that if you’re wanting something familiar, you can find it there.  Calw also participates in the very progressive and much appreciated “Nette Toilette” program, which is an initiative in certain German cities where businesses allow people to use their restrooms even if they aren’t patrons.

Waldenbuch
 

If you love good food and visit Waldenbuch, be sure to stop by Gasthof Krone!

And finally, I want to mention Waldenbuch, which I know is well-known to a lot of local Americans due to the Ritter Sport Factory’s presence there.  It’s also a cute little town with a great restaurant called Gasthof Krone.  I will admit that Waldenbuch is another town I haven’t yet explored enough, but I do know a lot of Americans happily live there and love it.  I’m putting it on my list of towns I need to explore more… or at least a place where I need to have another great dinner!

I hope this list will be helpful to newcomers!  I’m sure that before too long, I’ll be making a new list full of new discoveries as Bill and I explore more of what there is here.  I share these posts because we made the error of not getting out enough the first time we were here.  It’s a mistake to only focus on visiting other countries and big cities.  The truth is, Baden-Württemberg has so much to offer.  I would encourage anyone lucky enough to spend an extended amount of time here to get out and see what there is to see before the next move!

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cute towns, Germany, Sundays

Glassblowing at Dorotheenhütte and the best Black Forest cake, ever!

Some time ago, someone in one of the local Facebook groups alerted me to Dorotheenhütte, a glass museum and store in Wolfach, Germany.  Prior to today, I had been wanting to visit there for months. We finally decided to go this weekend, when we realized we were finally going to have sunny skies!

Wolfach is a resort town in the Black Forest.  It takes a little over an hour for us to get there from Unterjettingen via B28, which is definitely the slower, scenic route.  If you’re coming from points north, you may want to use A81, as it’s faster and less icy after a good snow.  Apparently, our area got a lot of snow last weekend and a lot of it still hasn’t melted.  There’s still a lot of white stuff in the Jettingen area, but there was even more snow west of us in Freudenstadt.  We decided to take the scenic route anyway, and were treated to some stunning views of snow capped mountains and pine trees laden with white stuff.  I got a few pictures of the scenery, which kept me occupied until we reached Wolfach.

As we were driving on either side just outside of Freudenstadt, I noticed a lot of people had parked on the side of the road.  I could see many folks cross country skiing.  That area still has a lot of snow after last weekend.  We also saw kids sledding.  If you’re ever looking for residual snow in the winter, the area west of Nagold is a good bet.  It’s a higher elevation and snow sticks around longer than it does closer to Stuttgart.  


Wolfach is a pleasant town, just made for tourists.

We reached Wolfach at just before noon and decided to tour the museum before we had lunch.  The tour is self-guided and there are translations in German, French, and English.  It turned out we got there at a good time.  There weren’t too many people there when we arrived at noon, but within an hour, more people began to show up.  It cost 15 euros for two adult tickets to the museum.

There were a lot more people here within an hour of our arrival.  I would imagine this place gets really packed in the summer.  I think now is a good time to visit Wolfach.  

When we pulled into the glass factory’s large parking lot, I noticed there was a lot of parking for buses.  There were no buses today, but they still had a good stream of folks coming in to tour the museum and get themselves a custom made vase.  I opted not to wear my jacket in the factory, since it wasn’t that cold outside.  That was a mistake, because the area where the museum is and the glassblowing is done was pretty chilly!  But as I stood there watching the group ahead of us getting vases made, it occurred to me that the factory must get pretty busy in the summer.  I’ll bet the museum gets hot, too.  The furnaces where the vases are made get to be up 1200 degrees centigrade.

 

Children’s play area.

 
 

A few shots of items available in the very expansive shop.  There are lots of nice items to be had and I thought the prices were pretty reasonable.

Christmas tree stands.

Items on display as you enter the museum area.

It turns out there’s a lot of “glass history” in this part of Germany.  The curators did a good job explaining how the glass industry came to be in Wolfach.  It’s obviously a significant source of employment.  In the small theater at the museum, there was a film about the factory.  I think it employs 34 people.

Above are schnapps bottles that were mouth blown.  Each farm was entitled to two liters of schnapps per cow.  

Different minerals found in the area.  There is also a place nearby where one can pan for minerals.

These are glass eyes– prosthetics for people who have lost an eye.

Explanation about the eyes here.

This was what I was waiting for… Glassblowing.  For 18 euros per vase, you can have one custom made and have a small part in its creation.

 

There are a couple of tables with examples of vases.  You choose two colors and which pattern you want.

Bill watches the group ahead of us.  They had several kids with them and I think they made three vases.  

Finally, it was my turn.  The guy who helped me spoke German at first, then switched to pretty good English, which I really appreciated.  I choose pink and blue for my vase.  In retrospect, I wish I had chosen blue and white… or maybe blue and green.  Oh well.  It turned out okay anyway.

The guy gave me a plastic mouthpiece that fit over the hollow rod.  When he pulled my vase out of the furnace, I blew into the rod, which helped shape the glass.  

Here’s a 30 second video  I made of the process.

More shaping and making a flat surface on the bottom…

Another trip into the furnace.

Then 20 minutes to cool off.  The glass gets up to about 500 degrees centigrade, so it needs to cool down and harden.  The guy made me a certificate and we paid for the vase and gave him a two euro tip.  Tips are appreciated and solicited.  You must pay for the vase on the spot.

 

We entertained ourselves by walking around the museum some more.  Not long after my session ended, a very large group showed up.  There were quite a few kids among them.  I must admit, I was impressed by how the guys running the glass works interacted with the kids.  They were great with them.  I could tell the kids were enjoying the activity, too.

Some more creations made in the factory.

Bill was eager for me to see the glass above.  It was colored by uranium before it became common knowledge that uranium is poisonous.

 

A view of the glassblowing.

A model of the furnace, sans heat.

Old glass making tools.

Tips please!

You can spend your twenty minutes watching a movie about the factory if you want…

This was as close as Bill got to making a vase of his own.

A wooden cuckoo clock.  I have been told Germans don’t care about them.  I left mine in the States.

 

When it became clear the large group was going to preclude us from being able to pick up our vase, Bill went to find the guy who helped me make it.  He got the vase and trimmed the top of it for me, then washed it out.

 

Finishing touches.  Then he wrapped it for me and put it in a bag.

 

When we were finished making my vase, we decided to have lunch.  The factory has a good restaurant serving traditional German food and some delicious desserts.  The lady who took care of us was a cute older lady who looked and acted very much like Oma.  She gave us the specials in German.  Realizing that we were English speakers, she asked if we understood.  I mostly did, though I settled on something from the regular menu anyway.

Bill looks at the menu, which was translated in French and English.

I had bratwurst with fries.  It came with mustard and ketchup.  The sausages were good.  The fries were ordinary.  I’m glad I didn’t fill up on them, because dessert is a must have experience at the factory.  

Bill had Zigeunerschnitzel “gypsy schnitzel”, which was basically a breaded pork cutlet with a paprika and tomato flavored sauce.  It was kind of like Hungarian salsa.  I noticed that a lot of the food coming out looked and smelled delicious.  I would say this restaurant offers above average food for what it is.  

 

Lunch was very satisfying and I think we were going to stop with what we’d had until I saw the ladies at the next table with pieces of Black Forest cake.  That is a particular weakness of mine.  But then, so is chocolate rum cake, which they were also offering… and cheesecake, too.

Wow…  an array of presents for my ass.  These cakes were beautiful!

We shared a piece of Black Forest cake and had coffee.  That cake was so good.  It was probably the best Black Forest cake I’ve ever had anywhere!

Lunch came to about 38 euros.  The lady who looked after us was doing a good job serving everyone.  She got very busy as we were finishing.  I bet that place is crazy with tourists when the weather warms up.

We decided to take a quick look at the Christmas town.  You can get your ornaments year round!

After I made a couple more impulse purchases, we headed back to Unterjettingen.  I got a few more pictures of Wolfach and the surrounding area.  This is pretty much stereotypical Grimm’s Fairy Tales Germany, right here.  I think I’m going to look for a house to rent for our next long weekend.  I think we’d love to get away in the Black Forest, especially since it’s not far from where we live, yet it’s kind of different.

We passed a wolf and bear park on the way to and from Wolfach.  This is another possibility for something to do in this area.  I’m definitely adding this to my list of places to see on a Sunday.  It looked well attended today.

More beautiful landscape shots from our drive.

 

My loot.  The taller vase and paper weight came from the shop (as if you couldn’t tell).  The pink and blue vase is what I helped make.  Next time Bill brings me flowers, I won’t have to use the wine decanter!

Right after we got home from our adventure, my dog Arran got loose.  Our door sometimes doesn’t close all the way, especially if it’s windy.  Bill neglected to shut the door securely and that’s how Arran got away from us.  I had just stepped out of the shower when it happened.

It’s unusual for Arran to run off.  Usually, Zane is the one who scares us with his daring escapes.  Fortunately, most of the people in our neighborhood have seen me or Bill with Zane and Arran.  When Bill got to where we usually walk the dogs, there were people there who had seen Arran run by, including a fellow hound owner.  Their dog, Oskar, is a friend of Zane’s and Arran’s.  In fact, Oskar’s mom often gives our dogs treats.  Anyway, they pointed Bill in the right direction.  One guy even kindly drove Bill in his van.  They saw a lady standing on the side of the road as if she knew someone was looking for Arran.  She’d grabbed him and put him in her house.  Once again, I’m heartened by how great our neighbors are and greatly relieved that Arran is okay.

We had a great day.  I would definitely recommend the glass factory and Wolfach in general, especially on such a pretty day.  The area is absolutely gorgeous and there’s a lot to do there, even if you aren’t wanting to make a vase.  I’d like to go back and check out the mineral pit… try my luck at finding rare rocks.

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Eight of my favorite German destinations so far…

President’s Day weekend is coming up, which means a lot of Americans living in Germany will be looking for cool places to visit.  This year, Bill and I will be going to the Czech Republic for the long weekend.  Last year, we went to France and had an absolute ball!  We do love going out of the country when we have the chance.

But what if you don’t want to leave Germany?  What if you face a situation like Bill did a couple of years ago?  He had to renew his passport, so leaving Germany wasn’t a good idea, since he had to send his documents to Berlin.  What do you do when you can’t leave the country, but still need to get out of the Stuttgart area?  Well… that is what today’s blog post is all about.  Here are a few of my favorite German destinations, at least so far.

Before I get started with my list, bear in mind that I am by no means claiming to be an expert on Germany.  There are still some areas I haven’t yet visited.  Moreover, even if I were an expert, I don’t think anyone wants to read an exhaustive list.  I need to save subjects for future posts, too.  So… this is just a short list and hopefully some folks will find it useful for planning purposes.  I’m not ranking them in any particular order.  These are just places we liked and would love to visit again (and have in a couple of instances).

Bacharach, Rhineland-Palatinate

Believe it or not, that castle is now a youth hostel.

Like cute towns?  Interested in medieval history?  Enjoy the Rhine?  Want to get out of Stuttgart, but not spend days on the road?  Consider a trip to Bacharach.  Bacharach has the distinction of being the very first German town I ever visited in my lifetime.  It was my first stop on a monthlong train trip I took in August and September 1997, when I was on my way back to the States from Armenia, where I lived for two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer.  I remember landing in Frankfurt, figuring out the train, and landing in this beautifully preserved town.  The first thing I did after checking into lodging was go out and buy a new pair of shoes.

Bill and I had a chance to visit Bacharach again in 2014.  It was the last place we visited on our last space A “hop”.  I’d been talking it up for years.  It lived up to the hype, too.  We ended up having a very special experience with Germans there… and that was also when I told Bill that I had a very strong feeling we’d be moving back to Deutschland.  I just had this strong premonition that he’d wind up getting a job in Germany.  Sure enough, six weeks later, we were packing our bags to move back to Stuttgart.  Needless to say, Bacharach remains one of my favorite German towns.  You can enjoy the Rhine by boat and visit all the cute towns in the vicinity.  I’m kind of Jonesing for another trip there myself.

Regensburg, Bavaria

Regensburg is the second German city I ever visited in my lifetime, again on that 1997 trip.  I happened to get off the train there simply because I felt like it.  I knew nothing about the town and how beautiful it is.  I only spent one night in Regensburg in 1997, but Bill and I visited again for President’s Day weekend in 2015 and I got to see even more of this lovely town in Bavaria.

It’s only a short trip away by train before you can visit Dom St. Peter in Regensburg.

 

Regensburg is also a well-preserved medieval city.  In fact, I remember when I first saw it over twenty years ago, I thought of it as “stereotypical Germany”.  I half expected to see dirndl clad ladies and lederhosen clad men dancing around in the main square.  Indeed, I did see people in Trachten there.  It is Bavaria, after all.  If you visit and you like sausages, be sure to visit the historic Wurstkuchl, which is perhaps the oldest continuously running public restaurant in the world.  An added benefit is the beautiful view you’ll have of the Danube River.

Trier, Rhineland-Palatinate
 

Bill and I visited Trier in May 2012, when we took our very first space A “hop”.  Bill had told me about Trier, a city that has several well-preserved Roman structures, like the Porta Nigra gate.  Trier is very close to the Luxembourg border, so if you visit there, you can easily take a quick trip to Luxembourg, or perhaps to France or Belgium, which are also close.  Trier on its own is also a very nice city to visit, especially if you love churches.  I still have wonderful memories of touring Trier’s own Liebfrauenkirche.

Porta Nigra in Trier.

Rothenburg Ob Der Tauber, Bavaria 
 

Bill and I only just visited Rothenburg Ob Der Tauber last month.  We’d been wanting to go there for years.  Now that we’ve been, I can see us going back.  It’s a comparatively short drive from Stuttgart to get to this fabulously preserved medieval city in the Franken part of Bavaria.  You can truly lose yourself in the charm of this cool little town, surrounded by walls and buildings that date back hundreds of years.  Yes, it’s a bit touristy, but if you go in the winter, it’s likely you’ll get more of a hometown feel for the place.  Prices will probably be lower, too.

Just one part of the wall that surrounds beautiful Rothenburg.  Yes, I’d say this town is a must see for any Americans posted in Germany.  Be sure to stop by the Criminal Museum, too.  You’ll learn a lot.

 

Passau, Bavaria
 

I promise I have seen areas other than Bavaria and the Rhine.  I just really like Passau, which I think gets overlooked a lot.  I visited Passau in 1997 and then again in 2008, for my 36th birthday.  Passau is a beautiful city in and of itself.  It’s also very conveniently located near the Austrian and Czech borders.  Passau is also a great place to visit if you love music, since St. Stephan’s Cathedral has the distinction of having the second largest pipe organ in the world.  You can take in a concert and enjoy a cruise on the confluence of three rivers: the Inn, the Ilz, and the Danube.  Then, you can take day trips to nearby Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic or Linz, Austria.  When we visited, it happened to be just in time for Cesky Krumlov’s excellent Five Petalled Rose Festival.  Everyone was dressed in medieval garb.  I thought I had stumbled into a theme park!

Pipe organ in gorgeous St. Stephan’s Cathedral.  It sounds as amazing as it looks.

Dresden, Saxony
 

Bill and I visited beautiful Dresden in November 2008.  We were there in honor of our sixth wedding anniversary, which included stops in Bolaslaweic, Poland, and Prague.  Our first few nights were spent in this gorgeous city that used to be part of East Germany and remains absolutely stunning.  You can take a cruise on the Elbe, walk to the top of the Frauenkirche and get a view of the city, or enjoy some really wonderful cuisine.  Dresden is especially nice at Christmas time, when it’s time for the Christmas markets.

A night shot of the lovingly restored Frauenkirche, which was reassembled after it was bombed by U.S. forces.  We also visited nearby Zwinger Palace.

Hamburg
 

You’d prefer a big city?  I highly recommend a visit to Hamburg.  Bill and I went there in January 2015 and enjoyed a leisurely long weekend in this northern German city that boasts more bridges and canals than Amsterdam.  Hamburg is rich in culture with plenty of theaters and museums, as well as lots of street art to see.  And if you are in the mood for debauchery, you can head to the Reeperbahn district of St. Pauli, where things get plenty gritty.  If you’re up for an early morning, you can visit the fish market and maybe even catch live music (which was what we did).  Or you can go shopping; Hamburg boasts some great places to drop some euros.  It’s definitely a different vibe from down here in the south and you can get there in about an hour if you fly.

Some cool looking graffiti in Hamburg…

No women or men under age 18 in the Red Light district…

I think I like Hamburg even more than Munich, which is also a fun but expensive and very touristy place to visit.  I also like it more than Berlin.

Heidelberg, Baden-Württemberg

And finally, there’s lovely Heidelberg, which is just up the autobahn from us here in the Stuttgart area.  Bill and I went there in October 2008, when it was still home to many U.S. servicemembers.  We had several friends who were there with the Army, so we went up to visit them.  Sadly, Heidelberg’s U.S. installations closed in 2013 and were handed back over to the German government in 2015.  It was great to visit there to see what used to be a major Army hub when the Army was still there.  However, Heidelberg itself is a gracious city and boasts nearby Schwetzingen, which has a peaceful palace and park.  I remember how absolutely gorgeous the area was in the fall and I want to go back… maybe now because it’s no longer crowded with as many Americans.

Heidelberg is a quick and easy drive from Stuttgart, as long as there aren’t any staus.  And there’s plenty to see and do there.  Heidelberg Castle alone is well worth the visit.  Afterwards, visit Vetter’s for some hometown brews.

Schwetzingen Palace in Schwetzingen, just next door to Heidelberg.

Beautiful Heidelberg.

I’m sure I’ll be making a sequel for this post because I can think of plenty of other German towns I’ve been to and loved… and some I’ve just noticed and want to visit and write about.  For now, I hope readers have enjoyed this list…  and it gives some folks some food for thought for trips.  Each of these destinations are great for a long weekend and in combination with visiting other cities.

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Rothenburg ob der Tauber: Part six– Ten things I learned!

Whenever I visit a new place, I like to make a list of ten things I learned to sum everything up.  We only got a few short days in Rothenburg, but I feel like I know more now than I did on Friday.  So here’s a list of ten things I know now that I didn’t know a week ago.

Damn right.

10.  Rothenburg ob der Tauber is a must see if you are posted/based in Germany!

Seriously… it’s tragic that we never got to this town when we were here the first time.  It’s also tragic that it’s taken over three years this time to make it there.  It’s absolutely a gorgeous town… probably one of the coolest places I’ve found in Germany yet.  And I am developing quite a list of “cool German towns”, too.  Yes, it’s a tourist destination, but if you go during the low season, you can enjoy low prices and smaller crowds.  It’s also at the top of the Romantic Road, which makes it a prime spot to start a German themed road trip.  Summer vacation anyone?

9.  You didn’t want to break the law during medieval times!

The folks who lived in Rothenburg were God fearing, churchgoing people and if you were immoral, they would take it out of your ass… possibly literally!  A visit to the Criminal Museum is a must if you want to know more.  It’s very extensive and well done and all of the explanations include English translations.  Afterwards, you can visit the cafeteria for coffee and a Schneeball.

8.  Huge Asian tour groups like to visit Rothenburg ob der Tauber.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course… it just might help to be prepared because even in January, there were a lot of them visiting and they tend to travel in large groups.

7.  Being inside of Rothenburg’s walls can make you feel like you’re in a different time and place.

As we were leaving Rothenburg this morning, I remarked to Bill that once we drove out of the walled area, it was back to normal life in Germany.  There’s nothing wrong with that, either, but it is a bit strange after you’ve been surrounded by medieval charm for a few days.  Rothenburg is a super cute town and it will make you forget what century you’re in.

6.  Rothenburg is great for families and besties, as well as romantic couples.

If I had girlfriends to go on trips with, I would put Rothenburg on the list of places to see.  It’s really got a lot of appeal, especially if you like shopping and eating in restaurants.  A girl could have a field day finding cute stuff to feather the ‘ol nest with.  Fortunately, Bill is a good sport.  If you want to, you can take an English tour of the city.  It starts at eight o’clock every night and costs eight euros.  We didn’t do it this time, but if we have a chance to go back, we will definitely take the tour and learn more about the city and its fascinating history.

5.  Rothenburg is not far away from Stuttgart.

If you really wanted to, you could simply spend a day there.  It takes about 2 to 2.5 hours to get there from the Stuttgart area, depending on traffic and what part you’re coming from.  The ride is almost all on the Autobahn.  It would make a great day trip for those so inclined, although frankly I would rather spend the night, or really, the whole weekend.

4.  Anno 1499 is a great place to stay, especially if you have dogs.  

I may end up kicking myself for telling everyone about it.  I have a feeling it’s going to be booked a lot in the coming weeks.  I am adding it to my list of places I can go when I have to get out of Stuttgart.

3.  You can buy Scottish goods in Rothenburg.  You can also buy “Schneeballen”.

I know the Germans love Scotland and so do I.  It’s nice to know I don’t have to go there if I need a retail fix, although I always love having a reason to go to one of my ancestral homelands.  After shopping for Scottish duds, it’s fun to eat one of the locally made “Schneeballen”, a ball shaped pastry known and produced in the area.

2.  There is a fantastic sushi restaurant in Rothenburg.

And if you want to eat at Louvre Japanese Restaurant, particularly during the busy months or on Friday or Saturday nights, you should make a reservation.  It’s a popular place with limited seating and absolutely delicious, fresh food.  There are apparently other great restaurants we missed this time.  I will have to rectify that next time we have a chance to visit.

1.  It costs 1.200 euros to get your name on the wall of the city…  

Or so my German friend, Susanne, says…  I trust her, because she’s proven time and again that she’s a quick, diligent, and accurate researcher.

 
I wish we’d had a chance to visit “Hell”…  Yesterday was their Ruhetag, though.  Despite the devilish theme, they get great ratings.  Next time we visit Rothenburg ob der Tauber, we will make a point to stop in.  It’s very close to the Criminal Museum, which you can’t miss.
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Rothenburg ob der Tauber: Part five– Sadistic punishments and one last dinner!

We were finished with lunch at the Louvre Japanese Restaurant just around the time the Criminal Museum opened for the afternoon.  During the low season, it’s only open for a few hours in the afternoon.  However, if you have any interest in crime and punishment, especially during the medieval era, I would highly recommend visiting the Criminal Museum.  It’s very large and extensive.  We spent over an hour in there and we didn’t read everything.  If you take your time and read all there is, you can easily spend a couple of hours looking at exhibits and learning about the ways people of a bygone era dealt with those who committed offenses.

Below are some pictures I took of some of the more interesting exhibits.  Suffice to say, you had to stay on a straight and narrow path to avoid being publicly humiliated, tortured, or executed.

The outside of the museum.  It’s connected to a church and we heard the organ playing as we passed it before the museum opened.

Pillories, where many people were forced to endure public shaming.
“Paddy wagons” with bars on them.
This is a spiked chair– obviously a torture device for people who needed correction.