Monday, May 23, 2011

Hellooooooooo, Frankfurt!

The latest Frankfurt Starbucks mug features Justitia
and Gerechtigkeitbrunnen (Fountain of Justice).

Just got back from Frankfurt and boy are my arms tired!

Did the annual visit to Asmus' brother and this year's visit was much better than the 2010 flavor. Last year, I was so nervous that I don't think I exhaled until halfway through the visit. There were children, a foreign language and no escape. By children, I mean non-family children. We were invited to attend a community barbecue. Except for my sister's son, with whom I usually speak to as if he is an adult. Always have. It started off as funny but now it's our style. Now I am not quite sure what to say to other children, so I say nothing.

This time, there was just the one set of children -- my German nephews -- and the foreign language is not so foreign.

I have this habit of finding someone's wacky spot and picking at it and picking at it. For Asmus' oldest brother, that is asking to visit him. He doesn't want to hang around me (That's OK. No one has to like me. I don't how they can't but it's OK.), so I continually ask him if he is free for coffee. He never says no, just looks uncomfortable and walks away. The Frankfurt brother seems to have the same gene that I have. The fun started when we arrived after a seven-hour train ride that ended at midnight and he called me a heathen. At first, I was so tired and dazed that I wasn't sure if he really thought I was damned to hell or he was being funny. Then he hit me in the head with a pillow and then I knew that he was being nice. His wife is so energetic and so welcoming. After three hours walking in the hot, mountainous zoo and chasing after two young boys, she started cooking as soon as she got home. Immediately after I get home, I head to the couch and watch an episode of Will & Grace. Then I drink wine as I cook or eat or work.

I played with my two nephews. I haven't played in the streets in decades. They were patient and I appreciate it.

We went to the world's most exhausting zoo. The Opel Zoo is in the exurbs of Germany's fourth-largest city. The architects seemed to be afraid to conquer nature. Something that we Americans don't mind so much. The zoo was built on a series of 75-degree mountains. Up and down, up and down. It was a circuit, so there was no way to avoid the hills. The steepest was the first/last mountain. I honestly have a fear of goats. There eyes give me the willies. I remember a few years ago, Tracy Morgan's character, Brian Fellows, said that he hated goats because they had devil eyes and it made me feel not so alone in the world. Opel Zoo was full of goats. They are at the entrance/exit. We spent about 15 minutes feeding these horrible creatures. I worked very hard at occupying myself but I did catch some glimpses of the goats. The highlight was the hippopotamus.

I know animals have tiny brains but this one seemed to know he was on stage and worked it. He moved through a small pond for a few minutes, then he brought his entire body out of the water. He was massive. Then he climbed up against the wall of his enclosure, hung there for about 20 seconds. What was going on? Was he OK? He was fine. He dropped himself into the water and doused everyone standing at the short gate at his pond. Then he let out a frightening growl. Nature rules! People flocked to the hippopotamus cage right after the growl and belly flop.

Then we went home and ate a ridiculous amount of food cooked on a barbecue.

It was a great weekend.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Back to Life, Back to Reality

After three weeks away, I was ready to continue to stay away. But my stuff is here, so I returned to Germany and Kiel.

I was walking along the shopping street near my apartment and reality smacked me in the face.

As I turned the corner, a pocket-sized old lady was walking toward me. She saw my face and screwed her face like she just caught a whiff of dog poop and started muttering something. She continued walking and soon the talking stopped. When she passed me, she looked back with that horrible puss on her face and started cursing me again.

Ahhh, home.

Also, I noticed the demolition of the Karstadt, which is a German department store. A Teutonic version of Macy's. When I moved to Kiel, the city had two Karstadts within a half mile. I always wondered how this city could sustain it. It turns out, not that long. The older one was killed.

Older Kielers remember getting dressed up to shop for sundries at the store. Now people sit outside the wreckage and watch the store get pulverized.

The newer Karstadt is attached to a mall and sits across the street from the train station. The odds were in its favor.

I used eat lunch at the now-dead Karstadt. Me and lots of old people. The restaurant served meals -- meat, side and vegetables, no dollar menus. You could sit and relax.

When I was not hungry, I would run to Karstadt for pens, paper, sheets and glasses.

Now its gone. In its place, a mall with a huge electronics store, a supermarket and sports clothing will rise. It will be cool to have a Rewe supermarket in the neighborhood by the fourth quarter of 2012 but I worry that the Top Market convenience will die for the second time. Progress, I guess.

Krka National Park: Life

At the end of the walk through Krka National Park, there are re-creations of life of people in the 19th-century. A Italian-woman-who-had-recently-moved-from-Germany-with-her-Croatian-husband-who-had-lived-in-Germany-for-25-years-for-work demonstrated how to weave with a loom.

There was also a blacksmith station but there was a fake blacksmith whose skill would amaze us.

Best of all, there was a gift shop with some locally-inspired wares -- herbs, cherry brandy, bath salts made from lavender, handmade handbags, etc. God, I love gift shops!

We had a tour guide who was pretty cool and interesting. He took us to a damn good Croatian restaurant in the town of Skradin, which is not far from the park. He probably brings lots of his clients here. The owners gave us a tote bag full of DVDs and books about the history and culture of Croatia.

It was my favorite day in the Mediterranean country.

A window at the Skradin restaurant. I am a now a major fan of Croatian white wine.

Krka National Park: Water

Krka River flows through a tight corner of Croatia. A few decades ago, there was a working mill here. Donkeys brought the wheat down the mountain (There is ALWAYS a mountain in Croatia to overcome.) and after the local workers turned it into flour, the donkeys brought it back up.

The park has a 1 1/2-mile hike around waterfalls. It was beautiful. I love feeling the power of waterfalls. Most people ride on the Maid of the Mist. I skipped that and experienced the Cave of the Winds. Idiots wear a "souvenir" sandals and rain poncho so they stand 20 feet from Bridal Veils Falls and get the breath pounded out of their bodies by the force of the falling water. Krka River is nowhere as painful or but it is serene and beautiful.

Views of the largest
waterfall in the park

A pool in which water flows in and out

Dioceltian Palace: Underground

The palace was this huge area along the Adriatic Sea in the middle of the sea. It sat empty but hundreds of years ago people into the palace. Before civic pride was created, they shoved their trash into the basement and left the area alone.

A shot of the ceiling, through which Croatians threw down their garbage into the lower level of a historic treasure.

This laziness was a boon. It preserved the basement's structure and integrity. Eventually, people moved out but in the 1970s, the drug dealers moved in. The palace is a maze of narrow streets and courtyards. The perfect place for clandestine sales. The basement's collection of trash kept the sordid life away.

An ancient olive press

The first room you enter after the lobby.
The white square with the red circle is a video image
about local people helping the people affected by the tsunami in Japan.

An apartment.