Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Willkommen in Deutschland!

More flashbacks!  In the summer of 1998, I was fortunate enough to stay with the Pöselt family in Germany.  Elmar Pöselt was an exchange student in my high school.  We had 8th hour history class and he caught my attention because he slept through every single class and no one cared.  I saw him in the lunchroom (awake) and invited him to sit with us and learned he was from Germany.  We also learned that the family he was staying with thought he was an indentured servant and that every Friday was "Hamburger Night," which he discovered no other American knew what the hell that meant.  So, I kidnapped him from his host family most nights until he pretty much lived at my house.  Going to Germany was an eye opening experience to the world that I will forever be grateful to Elmar, his family, and for my parents for allowing me to go.

Some village outside of Hamburg, Germany (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hamburgright after my plane landed.  Behind the little red car is Herr Horst Pöselt, Elmar's dad.  His family must of thought I was very unimpressed with Germany when they gave me the grand tour.  I didn't sleep at all on the plane because an elderly eastern European woman kept falling asleep on my shoulder and drooling.  But, the airline did upgrade my seat and gave me free wine and cookies once we were over international waters.  So...


Anyway, in this little village was a butcher that sold us the best ham ever.  It was cured for five years (or something crazy like that) and I ate it almost every day for breakfast.  We also went to a cafe that was in a building constructed in 1262 (again, or something crazy like that).  It was my first physical piece of evidence that something existed before the Europeans came to the Americas. 

The Pöselt household in Volksdorf (northern Hamburg) (http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hamburg-Volksdorf) where I stayed for most of the duration of my trip.  

The side patio.  On the first night at their house, the family wanted me to feel welcome and we were going to have hamburgers for dinner.  Frau Pöselt drove several hours to some American air force base grocery store to purchase the worst hamburger buns in the world (how our service men and women do it, I'll never understand) for just this occasion.  She bought all the ketchup, mustard, and toppings no matter how difficult it was to procure.  Unfortunately, none of us made burgers before.  Either my mom made them or I went to Burger King.  So, I cooked terrible burgers on the littlest Weber grill ever .  I knew I had to learn a new skill before I went to college...

The view of the little gardening shed from the patio.  To the left is the neighbor's that had a Jack Russell Terrier named Caesar.  A very smart and trouble-making dog.  Our neighbors currently have one and it reminds me of Germany every time he bothers Scout or bounces around my yard. 

There was also some kind of a private club nearby where the public could swim, but only the members could swim naked (or play bocce ball).  Anyway, we could hear them playing music and one night there was some Oom- pah music and I said "I know this one.  It's the Chicken Dance song."  No one knew what I was talking about.  So, I performed the dance for them and ruined German culture forever.  

Another shot of the Pöselt household.  That's all my photos of Hamburg.  I can't tell you how heartbreaking that is to me.  Unknown to me, my camera broke.  It acted like it was functioning properly, but the crank on the film snapped.  So, I'd take a picture, roll the film (which never rolled), and took another picture on top of the old one.  So, there are three rolls of photos that have layered images like a Rauschenberg silkscreen (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Rauschenberg) (yeah, I have to use my art degree somehow).  So, all the photos of downtown, the fish market where I caught two eels (http://www.hamburg-travel.com/attractions/best-of-hamburg/fish-market/), the fair, canoeing in the Elbe (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elbe), the Reeperbahn (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reeperbahn), parties, Florian's drinking tent in the woods, and so much else vaporized.  But, I still haven't forgotten a moment and Herr Pöselt was kind enough to buy a wonderful Hamburg photo book as a memento.

Took my first bullet train from Hamburg to Frankfurt, which was awesome (made me never want to fly again).  Frankfurt to Mannheim.  Mannheim to Heidelberg.  Didn't realize it at the time, but Frankfurt was only 64 miles (103km) away from the Kraus Family Farm in Köthen, Motten, Germany.  

Anyway, this is the house we stayed at in Heidelberg (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heidelberg) on Markscheide.  I don't recall how Elmar knew the family, but the parents were gone the entire time and their daughter had parties there every night.  

The view from the bedroom/roof.  I'd sit on the roof whenever there was some down time or waiting for Elmar.  The neighbor at the closest house was a friend of the daughter who lived at the house I stayed at.  We'd talk whenever we'd see each other.  It wasn't much since they didn't know English and I butchered the German language.

Another view from the house.  Elmar and I stole a couple of bikes in the garage (could of been worse since we could have taken the fine German luxury cars) and rode into the mountains.  There were all sorts of trails and forgotten fortresses.  After a while, there was an old farmhouse that was also a restaurant.  I've never had desserts like that before or since (http://www.bierhelderhof.de/).

Heading into town.  At the end of the street is a convenience store and the streetcar.  They were having record breaking heat that year and we'd buy mixed drinks in a can every morning (not very hydrating).  It was years before you could get that in the United States and the selection is still minimal.  Anyway, if you are ever in Heidelberg, you have to eat at the Taj Mahal (http://www.tajmahal-heidelberg.de/).  You've never had Indian food that is so good, so cheap, or in such large portions.  I'd suggest the curry chicken.  I made Elmar laugh since my only previous experience with Indian food was what I saw in Indiana Jones.

Heidelberg!  The Jesuit Church is to the left and the Church of the Holy Spirit (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church_of_the_Holy_Spirit,_Heidelbergis to the right.  The Neckar River (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neckar), which is part of the Rhine, cuts through town.  Somewhere down there is a great candy store with the strangest products and displays.  I remember a crazy dentist scene and piles of candy everywhere.  It doesn't happen to me often, but I was overwhelmed.  Very impressive (http://www.heidelberger-zuckerladen.de/).  

This is the main square outside of the Church of the Holy Spirit.  They had a farmer's market there pretty much all the time and that's usually where we got lunch.  This is where I learned that I loved to walk.  This whole area is car-free and pedestrian friendly.  That played a large part why I decided to live in Chicago later and what I miss most living in Rochester.  

Heidelberg again.  But, the girl we stayed with took a day trip to Mannheim and we were invited to join them at some lake.  Waiting to enter, I was stung by a very angular hornet (it looked like a mini stealth fighter).  Anyway, I was swimming when the venom started to take hold.  I thought I was going to drown and crawled onto the beach.  The lifeguard's solution was to get me a huge pile of french fries.  Best medicine ever.  

Madonna Fountain in Kornmarkt.  Up the hill is Heidelberg Castle (Heidelberger Schloss) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heidelberg_Castle), which you'll see quite a bit of.

Ahh, a view of Heidelberg from the castle.

Ahh, another slightly further view from the castle.  This one features a cannon and the place where I took the previous photo...  Now you know why I'm so upset about losing all the really fun shots to a broken camera.

The Otto-Heinrich building in Heidelberg Castle (what would I do if I didn't have the internet to tell me that).  Not sure if this is where the huge wine barrel was located.  Known at the Heidelberg Tun, it contained nearly 222,000 liters of wine, about three stories tall (on its side), and had a dance floor constructed on top of it (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heidelberg_Tun)   

One of the few survivors.  Most of the photos from the reels of film either look fine or look like a mess.  Imagine all the photos you've seen so far compressed into one shot.  This was an early victim with some exposure issues.  Still pretty even with the lava from hell at the bottom.

Another shot of the castle.  I don't remember if we were coming or going, but we walked up to the castle from Karlsplatz.  They had trams and all sorts of ways to get up there, but walking was great and pretty interesting.  A lot less tourists too.

I once heard that "photographs change your memories."  Instead of remembering what really happened, your brain starts to replace that memory with the memories of photographs you took of that moment.  I believe that because this guy at the bottom always comes to mind when I think of my time in Germany.  

Finally, Elmar in front of Heidelberg Castle.  I'm so fortunate to have met Elmar.  Not only because of this trip, but all the great times we had in Michigan too.  There were lots of nights where we'd just drive around Muskegon in my old Volkswagen with no destination.  Other times, we'd end up at a party in the woods or a bonfire at the beach.  The weekend trip we took to Mackinac Island and discovered that it was infested with bats (and that fudge isn't much more than just a block of chocolate).  Thanks again Elmar, the Pöselt family, and to my parents for letting this adventure happen.  I hope to see you all again soon!

P.S. - At my going away dinner at the Chinese restaurant, thank you for not letting me order two egg rolls.  I didn't know that they were the size of an American football.

P.P.S.-Elmar, thank you for the 3-liter of rum and coke on the flight home.  It should be standard issue for international flights.

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