Archive for the ‘Germany’ Category

My weekend in Vienna was nice, if short, and it was nice to explore the city with Gulzar and Karl. We spent most of our time exploring the old part of town, wandering streets, popping into churches and eating ice-cream. At one stage we were sitting in a park near a church, in free beach chairs, when I realised that it was the church that the one in Helena, Montana, was based. Yesterday I drove past the copy, built from 1908 to 1924, from materials which were apparently brought all the way from Europe. Not as speedily as I made the trip of course, they came by ship then steamboat then horse cart. The original stained glass windows were made in Munich.

Back in Vienna the sun was shining so I avoided museums and we spent our time wandering instead. Sunday morning was spent exploring Schönbrunn Palace, which was owned by the Hapsburg royal family from 1569 until 1918. The grounds were originally only used to breed game and fowl for hunting but later the impressive buildings were constructed, and in 1752 the world’s oldest existent zoo was founded. In 1683 the Turkish Ottoman Empire clashed with the House of Hapsburg and got as far as Vienna before being defeated. The Hapsburgs controlled a pretty incredible amount of land all over the world, mainly through selective marriages and inbreeding that eventually led to various genetic disorders. Looking at Charles II of Spain’s family tree there are all sorts of linkages that just shouldn’t be there, including far too many examples of men marrying their nieces.

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Weeks 72 & 73: Munich

   Posted by: Rhona

By lumping the two weeks together I may actually have something interesting to write about. Things happen a whole lot slower when you’re settled, but I’ve been keeping myself busy. The language classes are going well. There were a few days there that I nearly strangled someone out of sheer boredom, but now we’re back to things I still find a little challenging, so that’s nice. I’m getting a bit more practice writing letters and sentences using various conjugations of irregular verbs and all that sort of fun stuff. I can’t imagine having to learn this all from scratch – I’m really lucky to have a basis to build from.

Both the last weekends I’ve headed out of town. The first weekend to visit Kathi’s family just outside Munich, and the second I went to vote in Frankfurt and then headed down to visit the family for a few days. Both times it was really nice to get out of the city a bit and smell a bit of fresh air. It’s nice that only an hour out of the centre of Munich is greenery and villages. We stayed with Kathi’s mother, sister, brother-in-law and nephew; it was really nice to hang out and meet them all. On our second night there we went to a party that someone in the village had organised, which was a lot of fun despite the intermittent rainstorms. There were a variety of bands, plenty of food and a fire for BBQing – we had marshmallows! Between the rainstorms and before it got dark, Kathi and I went for a wander through the fields and got a really nice view down on the surrounding countryside. I also played Scrabble in German for the first time (challenging)and ate some really tasty home-made pesto (garlicky).

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Week 71: A Routine

   Posted by: Rhona

I feel pretty well established in Munich now, my larder is growing, I’ve befriended the flatmates, laid my hands on a bike and broken a household appliance (then had it fixed). I also started my language classes on Monday and am starting to enjoy them. They’re a little slow, but then so is my brain when it comes to grasping the intricacies of German grammar. For example, the inflection of adjectives in three different cases (nominative, dativ or accusative), depending on which of the four genders the subject is (male, female, neuter, plural). Like I said, I’m having issues. The whole “just go with what sounds right” plan isn’t working so well and it seems this may actually be something I have to work at.

Meanwhile I’ve been “furthering my studies” by hanging out with friends who happen to speak German and reading a little, though I seem to keep falling asleep when I read which makes progress difficult. It still takes quite a bit of concentration to read German but (while I stay awake) at least I tend to know what’s going on even if I don’t understand every single word. With swimming a few times a week and continued good eating my progression to a routine is pretty much complete. In other slightly more exciting news Erica has booked her flight to Montana and Brett is in the process of doing the same for once he finishes work. That’s it for this week…


Week 70: Back in Germany

   Posted by: Rhona

And I’m in Germany again. Brett, on the other hand, is bobbing around like a cork in the Barents Sea, eating Russian food and dealing with things like the affect of the curvature of the earth on 2D maps and lack of satellite coverage near the North Pole. Me, I’ve moved into a place in central Munich for a month and am settling in to the closest thing I’ve had to a home since Beijing about this time last year. A whole month in one place! I’ve enrolled in a German course which starts next week, bought groceries and checked out the nearest pool to swim some laps. To be honest I’m looking forward to a bit of a routine. It’s strange having to feed myself again though, and it’s amazing how much mental effort is going into my daily meals. “What do I have left over?” “What needs to be eaten ASAP?” “What else do I need to buy so that I can combine categories a and b into a nutritious meal”. The things normal people do all the time but I just haven’t had to think about lately.

Just in case you thought I was actually growing roots and erecting a white picket fence: I’ve booked my flight to The States for the end of August, and am reading about Central America. My itchy feet haven’t disappeared that quickly. And although it feels like I’ve been here forever it’s only been three nights. Wait, really? Wow. Here I am worrying I haven’t finished my to-do list! I’ve been studying at home for three days and I’m still not fluent in German?? I might as well just give up now. I’m really looking forward to the classes and am curious to see how my level compares to other students. I assume in the listening section I’ll be pretty advanced but speaking I have an accent and reading/writing I’ll be behind.

But before I came back to Munich, Brett and I spent a few days in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. It was a cool city with a nice old town, though I have to say I prefer Riga’s old town. Even though Vilnius had some really nice churches and buildings, somehow it didn’t have the same atmosphere. Maybe we just didn’t give it enough of a chance – we were only there two days. I didn’t know this but back in the 15th century the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was actually quite big. Its territory stretched to the Black sea, including areas that now belong to The Ukraine, Belarus, Poland, Russia and Transnistria (Moldova). In the 18th century things declined, and for the next little while Lithuania seemed to swing between occupations by Russia, Poland, Germany and brief windows of independence. Unfortunately for the large Jewish population in Vilnius, one of Germany’s occupations was during the Second World War. About 95% of them were massacred.

Things weren’t great under Soviet occupation either, as we learned at the Museum of Genocide Victims. It focused on Lithuanian resistance to Soviet rule and the repression of that resistance and the local population. The building itself has an interesting history: it was first built as a court in 1890 but was used by the Germans in their WW1 occupation, then a Soviet prison, then the headquarters of the Gestapo in WW2, then KGB offices, prison and interrogation centre. Downstairs in the basement, away from most of the cells, is the execution chamber. On the explanation it noted that the people about to be executed stood in front of a wooden panelled wall so that the bullets wouldn’t ricochet and accidentally kill someone else. That would be an appalling loss of life I guess.  All of the people held, interrogated and killed there were there for political reasons. There was also a poignant exhibition dedicated to those who were deported to remote areas of Russia, whole families at a time, and a section dedicated to their struggles to readjust if they were allowed back “home”.

On a lighter note, we spent a few hours wandering around the Republic of Uzupis, a bohemian area of town that has cheekily declared independence from Vilnius/Lithuania. It has its own president, prime minister, constitution, anthem, army (12 people) and holidays. April Fools Day is it’s national day, the day on which it declared independence back in 1997. Articles on the constitution include: “Everyone has the right to be unique” (article 5), “A dog has the right to be a dog” (article 12) and “Everyone shall remember their name” (article 27). It was a nice little area and we enjoyed a lazy few hours sitting in the sun, looking back over the rest of Vilnius as we had a drawn out dinner.

Of course we also saw plenty of churches in Vilnius, and a few other sights like the Gate of Dawn. It is the only surviving gate from Vilnius’ 16th century city walls and houses an icon of the Virgin Mary. The icon is highly revered by Roman Catholic and Orthodox believers, so when the Russians ordered the demolition of the city walls in the late 18th century the gate and its icon were allowed to stay.

Back in Riga we had time to squeeze in another Tex-Mex fix (though sadly they were out of brownies that night) before we headed our separate ways. We’ll meet up again in Montana at the end of August to spend some time with Brett’s family and show my sister Erica around a little. Then Erica and I will explore Central America for a few months, hopefully joined by Brett once he’s taken care of some admin back home. Then it’s back to Australia in November and December. At the moment we’re hoping to head to Iran before we move to Germany early next year.


Weeks 63 & 64: Bumbling

   Posted by: Rhona

Well I’ve obviously been relaxing a little too much to update my blog. And for someone not really in travel mode I’ve still covered a fair bit of ground. Prague was great, I caught my family again briefly then flew to London to hang out with friends and sort out the Uzbek visa. While I was there I popped up to Edinburgh to catch up with someone else. And now I’m in Riga with Brett and we fly to Uzbekistan tomorrow morning.
But let’s start at the start: Prague. A beautiful city full of historic buildings but I wasn’t the only one to think so – it was swarming with other tourists. I wandered the old town during the day and hung out with my friend in the evenings when she was taking a break from school and paid work. We checked out some performances of the Prague Fringe festival and watched a couchsurfer play a gig at a little bar around the corner.

On a day trip out of the city I went to Kutna Hora, a small town an hour outside Prague. The first settlement was a monastery in 1142 and by 1260 people began to mine silver in the area. The city grew quickly in the ensuing centuries and even rivalled Prague as the most important city in Bohemia. These days it’s a pretty sleepy little town but people come to see the Sedlec Ossuary, which contains the artistically arranged bones of around 40,000 people. Back in 1278 the abbot of Sedlec monastery went to Jerusalem, brought back some holy earth and sprinkled it over the cemetery. News of this meant that Sedlec was THE place to be buried, and people from all over Central Europe were interred. Plague in the 14th century and wars in the early 15th century meant the cemetery had to be enlarged several times and in 1400 a new church was built with an area to house remains that had been dug up to make space for new burials. In 1870 a private family took ownership of the church grounds and employed someone to tidy up the bones. The results speak for themselves – chains of skulls, a family crest fashioned from bones and a chandelier that contains every single in the human body. It was interesting, but a little creepy.

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