Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Familiar Sights

For our final day in Germany before packing up for Austria I wanted to take my family into the heart of Hesse, the German state that’s home to Frankfurt, Marburg and Kassel, the cities I see as my tutors in German culture and touring. As you may or may not know, I have been to Kassel on two previous occasions (1 and 2), so I felt pretty comfortable acting as tour guide in the city.

Unfortunately, it took quite a while to get there and we got a late start on the day thanks to a technical difficulty with the alarm. This meant in Kassel, one of the many cities of the Brother’s Grimm, we only had time to grab a quick lunch and tour the Wilhelmshöhe Palace and the surrounding gardens, including a hurried hike to the top of the Hercules’s monument overlooking the town.

The Wilhelmshöhe Palace at the Kassel gardens. This palace was built by the king of Hesse after he rented a bunch of Hessian mercenaries to the British government to help put down that upstart insurrection in North America. The British may not have invested their cash very well, but the King of Hesse got to build this palace with British Pounds. As far as I'm concerned, everyone won out.

As I have said before, the garden is one of the most romantic and Romantic places you are likely to find in Hesse (not in Germany, that honor goes to Neuschwanstein, but you’ll hear more about that in a later post). I was a little worried it would lose something during the winter when all the trees stand naked and the fountains stand dry. I shouldn’t have worried. The magic of reconstructed ruins and the excitement of watching the valley stretch to the horizon is hardly diminished by the barren season. Plus, this time I got to sing “I Can Go the Distance” with my brother and hold Carolyn’s hand as we journeyed upward to the demi-god’s throne. It may have been a third trip, but it was a special one.
Carolyn and I reenacting a dramatic moment from Pride and Prejudice. I think Carolyn pulls off Elizabeth Bennett very well. She's intelligent, confident, and beautiful (honesty). I think I pull off Darcy pretty well. I'm tall, dark, mysterious, and rich (sarcasm). Really we didn't have to do much acting to pull off this shot (mixed bag).

Josh and I reenacting a slightly different literary moment. Josh is Frodo - dedicated, brave, and strong. I am Gollum - fond of raw fish, speaking in the third person, and my precious.

Another crew that has "Gone the Distance" in Kassel. The city stretches behind us, Hercules towers over us, and some random German dude photographs us.

The Löwenberg, the Neo-Romanesque castle built by the King of Kassel to look ruined, complete with collapsing towers and crumbled gates. Now it's actually collapsing. Thus, construction workers are working to rebuild the ruined look to restore the Romantic vibe.
One of the most entertaining scenes of the day. One of the lakes had partially frozen. The ducks found the patch of open water, but needed to hop up on the ice every now and then. They paddled up the ledge of the ice, haulled themselves up and tried to waddle across the surface. Unfortunately duck feet don't have a lot of traction. Poor Mrs. Mallard had to slip and slide over the lake, her webbed soles splaying out in every direction. I could have watched this for hours. Not sure what that says about my maturity, but know you would have felt the same way.

We met my parents at the same cafè I originally dined at with Katie, Erin and Halley during the Animè convention in Bonn. It’s weird to think I’d only been there a few months ago, but it seemed like ancient history, like a different person had ordered “Roasted Turkey” and received cold cuts on untoasted bread. I did it again this time around, having forgotten this episode, and it came back like a hazy memory.

The trip through Matt’s brief history in Germany continued as we set out for Marburg. The route between Kassel and Marburg consisted of rolling farmland and forest punctuated by tiny towns, each complete with fachwerk buildings and a quaint church. I never cease to be amazed by the open spaces in Germany. I had a vision of a national metropolis with cities and towns elbowing in on each other from Switzerland to the North Sea, Belgium to Poland. Instead, there are parks and farms across the landscape with homes clustered together, never encroaching on the green spaces a few meters from town.

We rolled into Marburg and I swung into navigation mode, usurping Brigitte because I know the streets of Marburg – all six of them – like the back of my cheap H&M knit glove. We parked by the elevators to the Altstadt and traveled to the Medieval center of town. The sun had set by this point, so we started the steep climb to the castle which affords a view of the valley carpeted with twinkling homes. I chose to take the wide vehicle access road to the castle as I thought it might be a little less strenuous – and better lit – than some of the staircases that climb to the summit.

Strolling through the Old Town of Marburg. She had taken down the Christmas market, but the festive lighting was still up to create a little atmosphere.

Carolyn, Josh and I surged a head up the hill. “Hey, Matt!” my dad called from behind. I stopped, turned around and saw my parents standing dozens of feet behind us, “Will you be coming down this way?” “Yup.” And I turned, thinking they were taking a break and wanted to make sure our paths would cross if we got separated. I continued up the hill. Carolyn, Josh and I took in the gorgeous view while we waited for mom and dad. I filled Josh and Carolyn in on the history of the sights and sounds of the town such as the crooked steeple on the Lutheran church and the pathetic squawking of the clock tower rooster. We walked around the castle, still waiting for my parents. After discussing how much we wished our universities had their own castles, we finally started back down the road, hoping to run across my parents who had never summited.

There they were, at the bottom awaiting us. I ask, “Was there a problem?” I’m told, “Well, it was slick and there wasn’t a railing. Mom wasn’t a fan. Stairs would have been ideal.” Oh. I had kind of forgotten that my mom is not a fan of treacherous slopes and cliffs when there are no railing involved. I know this, but didn’t think the road would be a problem. I plowed upward without asking more questions. And that is why I am a bad son.

I guess there’s a grain of encouragement here. My mom isn’t comfortable around ledges and slopes, but she made sure her sons don’t share this fear. Her mother was not completely comfortable around water, so she made sure my mom and her siblings received swim lessons. Fears aren’t passed on from one generation to the next. That’s pretty cool. Now I just need to make sure my own children aren’t raised with a deep fear of German telephone conversations and the tradition can live on!

The main reason I wanted to visit Marburg was not to reminisce about my first interactions with German culture or my fellow Fulbrighers. No, the main reason I wanted to visit the town was so I could share a drink with my family at The Dungeon Bar. Specifically I wanted these images recorded for posterity’s sake:

Two grumpy old men sitting in the Muppet booth at the Dungeon Bar. There's a third grumpy old man stage left.
I'm not sure what I said, but it must have been funny. I think I'm leaning back to admire the effect of my work. It's the humble thing to do.

Ensconced in the dungeon before our drinks arrived including banannaweissen for Carolyn, Altbier for me and Pilsner for Dad. I suppose when the Borths family rolls into a little hole in the ground it would be more appropriate to call it a Hobbit Hole.

Of course after drinks in a dungeon, you might get a bit hungry. In Marburg, the best way to deal with this problem is with a huge, steaming bowl of Auflauf. As you may or may not remember “Auflauf” just means “cassarole” and it’s pretty common across Germany. However, we had only been eating at traditional German places and I never found this as an option on any of our menus. Thus, we headed to Cafè Auflauf, an establishment that offers combinations of just about every vegetable and meat you can think of combined with your favorite variety of carbohydrate. As expected, everyone was a fan of their Auflauf, but honestly, as I’ve learned honing my abilities as a cook, if you dump enough cheese on it, it will always be good. Auflauf is layered with cheesy strata, making for a satisfying meal every time.

As we drove out of town towards Remagen, I waved good-bye to central Hesse. I don’t know if I’ll make it back again, but it taught me well. Now it was time to set the sights on Austria and the mysterious East…



Mama B said...

Just because I feel like it needs to be said: you are not a bad son. Forgetful? Maybe. Dithering? Maybe. But "bad?" No. Clearly, I still have work to do as a mother in building your self esteem. Although I'm pretty sure your brother would beg to differ as he used your name and the word "diva" in the same sentence over the weekend...

p.s. You're not really a temporary citizen of a place until you can order pizza by phone in the native tongue! You still have time!

Matt said...

Problem with the pizza: I'm not sure if there are any delivery places I could even call. They enjoy absorbing American culture, but hot pizza to your door doesn't seem to be a popular one.

Also, I need to know more about this sentence my brother uttered...

Carolyn said...

Ok, so no offense, but it's pretty obvious that you're not tall and dark; mysterious is highly debatable, and rich is questionable, although your graduate funding helps in that department. If my reading of your sarcasm is correct, then, are you implying that I'm not confident, intelligent or beautiful?

Mama B said...

Carolyn, I share your confusion over his description. Tactless? Misplaced sarcasm? Hmmm...

Matt said...

My sarcasm is purely self-deprecating. Please remember I was reading Twain when this was written and he loves to follow a genuine observation with a punch at himself. I just got in the groove. I've edited to make things clear.