Archive for the ‘Germany’ Category

The Fall of Denmark to Popcorn

Saturday, June 6th, 2009

May 22, I (Matt) self-consciously sang for the Kolles and the youth group on speakerphone and we made our exit with many heartfelt thanks, our sights set on Denmark. Our stomachs were full of delicious ice cream and dinner. Our car was roadworthy with new brake rotors, new oil, and new(er) tires. Our roofbox was securely locked to the top of the car. Our new friends were waving goodbye. As we left Bad Pyrmont, Ziegler summarized my thoughts in mentioning how refreshing it had been to enjoy the company of new friends, especially female friends. The four of us are good friends and all, but honestly, the testosterone levels are quite unbalanced.

Ziegler, the intrepid driver that he is, manned the helm into the night while we entertained ourselves until falling asleep. I woke briefly around 2 am as we pulled into a rest stop. We rose the next morning almost 30 km from the Denmark border. Eat a breakfast bar and we’re off. Denmark excited some of us more than others; for Ziegler it would be only his second country he would enter for the first time. It would be my seventh. My excitement is fairly constant here in Europe. Imagine our horror, then, when we missed the sign that signified the border. Undaunted, we chose to drive north and take bridges to Denmark’s Zealand island and Copenhagen, rather than ferry across the Baltic Sea. Still on the mainland, I was struck with the view from one bridge we crossed. While the guys in the car rolled their eyes, I blazed a trail through the woods down to the bridge. I got a few photos of the bridge, the river district and a carnival below, and some much needed exercise. Apparently walking along Danish roads is illegal because multiple cars honked at me. I gave the thumbs up back.

On the road again, we arrived in Copenhagen after crossing much more impressive bridges across the Baltic Sea. Shenk expressed disappointment in missing them, but he was subconscious in the backseat. We parked by a canal through downtown and David and I located an ATM machine. With cash we bought a pay-and-display parking ticket for an hour. We spent a little over an hour in the National Museum, a celebration of Danish history (and how far they have fallen). Whereas they once controlled Norway, Iceland, a fourth of Germany, and half of Sweden, they now kind of own Greenland. The fascinating museum traced the peoples of Denmark through prehistoric, stone, bronze, iron, and the modern (Christian) ages. Danes from the Stone Age (apparently 2.9 million years ago to 2,000-3,000 BC) were documented through the optimal conditions of the area’s bogs and burial mounds. People and animal remains have been pretty extensively preserved for thousands of years, down to clothing, hair, and the tools that define the age. With developments in tool production and trade, the Bronze Age and Iron Age lasted until around 800 AD. Then the cool guys showed up. Viking is the the Norse term for raiding, pillaging, vandalizing, plundering, and ravaging; as it became the Danish foreign policy, the amount of wealth in gems, gold, and silver skyrocketed. Going a viking meant placidly navigating the open seas, friendly bartering with the townspeople, capturing women’s hearts with passionate love ballads, and drinking large amounts of Diet Coke. Olaf the Viking was on a boat. And, as the youngster say these days, he was making bank. Then he got Jesus and both his people’s love for the ornate and their empire only grew. The museum regrettably closed at five, before I could uncover how they had lost all that land. Presumably, it was their forfeiture of the viking foreign policy. We all heartily agreed the exhibits to have been worth the money we paid (nothing) and more.

We returned to our car for an apple snack. The door had been left unlocked. Thankfully, the vikings hadn’t raided or even vandalized. Next we checked out the main walking thoroughfare, a broad pedestrian path down the center of the city, lined with shops. We were most surprised by the frequency of American stores. We would walk past a Burger King and another two blocks later and then another. Déjà vu or something. I kid you not, we passed four 7-11 convenience stores in a kilometer. How low the Vikings have fallen. Along the route, we passed a street performance of Native American music. Three men, two of seeming South American decent, were dressed in full fringed regalia, stomping and playing panflutes and drums to decidedly non-Danish music. It was just our luck to travel halfway around the world for some Native American music.

We made our exit into Sweden to camp for the night, less like Native Americans and more like backpacking bums. The Swedes have loose (read: awesome) rules on camping; it’s legal on public land as long as it’s done some ambiguous distance from private land. We stopped at a grocery store in Landskrona; David and Ziegler sought provisions. We had decided that we would need a bigger pot to cook soups for the four of us, and we hoped to find one there. They did, and it was cheap. Out of the pots, they uncovered one missing a handle on its lid and asked about discounts for inperfections. Originally 140 Swedish Krona (14 Euro), they paid 100 (10 Euro) for a gleaming new pot (sans handle). Besides a loaf of bread and vegetable oil, they also made another wonderful find: popcorn. I had joined them in the checkout line (after befuddling a clerk by entering the wrong way) and the three of us walk triumphantly from the store. On the way out we passed a bar and a dance floor. There a dozen Swedes were line-dancing to country music with 10-gallon hats and cowboy boots. America won’t stop following us. (As I type this, we’re driving through Dresden a day after Obama’s visit. Weird.) Following a long lane outside Landskrona, we found an ideal camping spot surrounded by trees and fields. To celebrate the new member of our group, we used the pot to cook pasta and our first toast per David’s suggestion. We retired after the satisfying meal, Shenk and David in a tent while Ziegler and I shared the car.

Sunday morning we returned to the town and a Catholic church. We could somewhat follow along with the same liturgical service though we couldn’t understand the Swedish sermon. As far as the Catholic services I’ve attended, it was a pretty welcoming of the four disheveled foreigners that morning. As we left, the priest thanked us in poor English for “worshiping together.” The small church also housed the largest amount of modern art we had ever seen in a Catholic church. Most was obviously symbolic if quite abstract. The art made me wonder if they were the products of a local artist or member of the congregation and reminded me of worship services at home. We drove on and spent the next ten or so hours in Gothenburg, taking turns borrowing local Internet access and maintaining personal correspondences. When not using the computer, we busied ourselves by reading, writing, exploring the city center, and cooking food. As our first major meal with the new pot, we prepared a feast. Near the car’s parking spot near a city canal, Ziegler set up the stove and cooked soup and our last bag of Ramen noodles. (Never fear, however, we restocked the other day, thanks to Shenk.) We also popped our first batch of popcorn. Delicious. Speaking of which, I think we should eat popcorn tonight . . . more on that later.


Bad Pyrmont, Germany

Sunday, May 31st, 2009

Evelyn Gossen and Simon Kolle, both from Bad Pyrmont, Germany, spent last year in central Ohio as exchange students. They lived with families from our church, went to school with my younger siblings, and became involved in my youth group. Before they returned home I (David) told them of my plans to be in Germany this spring, and told them I would try to visit them. They both seemed quite excited to have me visit their area of the world, and when I emailed Simon about the possibility of meeting up with them after our trip actually started, I quickly understood that they would do everything in their power to make our jaunt to Bad Pyrmont be as enjoyable as possible.

We had to overcome some travails in finding Simon’s house, but we arrived just in time to go to his youth group’s Bible study with him. We made him late, and as we were on our way, Simon’s sister Anna-Lena? Called to say everyone was waiting for us to arrive. We arrived at the church and introduced ourselves and tried to remember everyone’s names (without success). Before the Bible study we ate a meal of hamburgers (American-style as Simon called them). They were delicious and they kept bringing out more and more of them. They had cheese, tomatoes, lettuce, dried onions, ketchup, and “hamburger sauce” to dress up the burgers even more. I found it interesting that the hamburger sauce proclaimed itsself as being “American” and had a picture of the Statue of Liberty on it, but I have never seen any such sauce in the US.

After supper we started Bible study off with a time of worship. About half of the songs in their chorusbook were in English so we sang mainly English songs. They have a cajon, a wood box that you sit on and hit to make drum noises, and Simon insisted that I play it. (He remembered that I would always bring my djembe, an African hand drum, to Bible study back home.) After singing and a long period of sharing, Simon talked about David and Goliath. Evelyn translated the message for us to help us understand what was being said.

After Bible study the youth group decided they should take us up to the Spelunkerturm, a tower overlooking Bad Pyrmont and show us the lights of the city. It allowed us to further connect with the youth group and hear more about their lives and town in which they live. We learned that Bad Pyrmont is a popular retirement community because it has springs of natural mineral water that “is good for the blood.” We joked that their tower was much more impressive than the Eiffel Tower that we had just visited and that Bad Pyrmont is much more impressive to see than Paris. After getting down from the tower we drew manes out of a hat to determine which two of us would spend the night at Simon’s house and who would stay at Evelyn’s house. Dan Ziegler and I ended up at Simon’s while the others went to Evelyn’s. Evelyn’s father, Walter, told us that Simon’s father, Bernhard, had heard a noise from our car and suggested we check it out. We had been wanting to have a mechanic check out our car anyhow, so we agreed. Walter said he would call his mechanic in the morning and get it looked at.

We got up Friday morning and discovered that the shop that Walter planned on using was booked full. We discussed our options over a delicious breakfast prepared by Simon’s mom, Damaris. Matt and Dan Shenk showed up at 10:20 and we decided to try out some other mechanic shops. Bernhard and Damaris went with us and the third shop we tried was able to look at it right away. They informed us that our tires were illegal because they were too bald, which did not surprise us, but they were able to sell us used tires to help keep the cost down. We also got them to change the oil for us and replace the rear rotors, which were in really bad shape. They also suggested we replace the suspension because our car was “bouncing like a Citroen.” They did not like the fact that our finely-tuned piece of German engineering was preforming like a French car. We decided it wasn’t worth spending money on our car to keep it from bouncing (especially since they told us that it wasn’t compromising our safety). Bernhard was extremely helpful translator for us; without him it would have been much more difficult to understand what needed to be fixed with the car. We were relieved that nothing major was wrong with our car and thankful that our prayer in finding the right shop was answered. Our troubles were inexpensive to fix (we saved a bunch of money buying used tires, which most shops don’t sell), and having the car ready in only several hours.

We walked back to the Kolle’s house from the shop with Bernhard and he showed us some beautiful spots in Bad Pyrmont. He also took us by a natural spring of mineral water and we all got a drink. He told us that a company bottles Bad Pyrmon’s water and sells it throughout Germany for exhorbitant prices.

When we got back to the Kolle’s house, a large, delicious spaghetti meal was waiting for us. After lunch Dan Ziegler and I went with Bernhard to pick up the car. We also tried to buy some roof bars to properly attach our roof box, but they wanted €110 for them. We politely declined and moved on. We got back to the Kolle’s house and went inside. A few minutes later, Bernhard came into the house beaming and told us he found an old set of roof bars in his garage that don’t fit his new car, and we could have them. They fit our passat and we installed them right then and there. What an answer to prayer! Bernhard also gave us locks for the roof bars. He could still use them, but insisted we take them.

Then Simon, Evelyn, and Simon’s sister, Sarah-Lena took us to several castles, but we weren’t able to enter them for different reasons. Apparently someone lives in the one castle and didn’t want visitors, and the other had a special event. A classic rock cover band was playing and we heard them play several Beatles songs before they played “Hang on Sloopy.” It was odd hearing Ohio’s state rock song being played in Bad Pyrmont, Germany. Simon, Evelyn, and Sarah-Lena then treated us to some ice cream. We went to a specialty ice cream shop that makes their ice cream look like other foods, or covers them in fruit or sauces. I got a dish of vanilla, strawberry, and raspberry ice cream covered in blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries. Dan Ziegler got a dish similar to mine but had kiwis instead of mixed fruit. Dan Shenk got a cappuccino ice cream/drink mix, and matt got a dish of ice cream that looked like spaghetti. It all tasted absolutely fabulous.

We arrived back at the Kolle’s house with full stomachs, but found a small supper waiting for us. After supper we prayed together as a large group and took some pictures before finally leaving for Denmark. We got off later than planned, but we all agreed that Bad Pyrmont was one of the top highlights of the trip so far. We are finding that our most enjoyable experiences come when we are interacting with others.

We were greatly humbled by the generosity that was lavished upon us. Bernhard mentioned that we need to take care of other Christians, and he took this principal to heart. They gave us wonderful food and comfortable beds, but helped us get our car fixed, gave us roof bars and locks, payed for our ice cream and a car wash, and went out of their way to help us out in whatever way they could. It was a great reminder of how we need to act and help others whenever we have the opportunity.

david miller

The Lowlands

Saturday, May 30th, 2009

Between the two fields, we awoke Wednesday morning (19/5) had some Harvest Morn bars and packed up our stuff. David had slept outside the night before so his sleeping bag was a bit damp, but it was a bright morning and we soon had everything dried out. So, we started north toward Brussels.

The Belgian countryside is quite nice, but rather unremarkable. Rolling hills and fields, lots of agriculture, and small farming towns. Politically, the country is a bit divided, but not violently so. The conflict centers around Belgium’s relationship with their neighbors. With French and Walloon (a French dialect) spoken in the south and Flemish (a Dutch dialect) in the north, there is sometimes a pull by the French-speaking areas to tighten their relationship with France. A few years ago, a francophilic member of government accidentally sang the French national anthem instead of the Belgian national anthem in front of the press and caused an uproar.

Belgium is also the seat of government for the EU which has its quite impressive and modern headquarters in Brussels. We parked in Brussels near the center of town and visited the main market square, surrounded by beautiful, tall buildings, and visited Manneken Pis, a small, eternally urinating statue. We then sauntered through town past the national library, the palace and the surrounding park and arrived at EU headquarters. The headquarters complex is a feat of modern engineering. Not as ostentatious as, say, the Scottish Parliament building, but impressive nonetheless. In the first courtyard, the four surrounding buildings are connected by a raised, circular walkway. In that courtyard is the main entrance and also an information center. We explored the outside of the building then headed back to the center of town where we had seen a waffle shop.

Belgian waffles are an experience unlike any other. The mass-produced Eggo contrivances pale to cardboard in comparison with real, hand-made Belgian waffles drizzled with chocolate or strawberry or piled high with whipped-cream or fruit. One by one we went up to the little window and ordered our treats. Mine with chocolate; Matt’s with kiwi, strawberry, and banana slices; David’s with strawberries; and Dan had two: one powdered sugar and one chocolate. After his first, Dan exclaimed “I will never look at waffles the same” and promptly bought another.

Dan and I had recently read an “historical” article in our favorite satirical newspaper (The Onion) about how Belgians had halted World War II German advances by serving the attacking forces waffles until they could attack no more. We were certainly fully satiated by these delicious morsels, partly because our appetites have shrunk from not feeding ourselves as often or as much as we had at home, but also because Belgian waffles are rightfully famous.

Anyway, after our confection break we piled back into our mud-covered, semi-stunning Passat and headed toward Amsterdam by way of Antwerpen. We didn’t have a lot of time so we just stopped to send and receive some emails and Matt and I each ordered a half-pint of famous Belgian beer each. Matt did not enjoy the taste of his, but did appreciate the experience. I, however, had ordered one brewed by the Belgian Trappist Monks of Grimbergen since 1128 and enjoyed it quite a bit.

At that point David got an email inviting us to join the youth group at in Bad Pyrmont for hamburgers “American Style”. That event, however, was to take place on Thursday evening at 17:00 and we hadn’t planned on being in Bad Pyrmont until Wednesday so, we had to book it. We left that afternoon and got into Amsterdam early that evening.

Amsterdam is a city with the feel of a small town. We pulled in the day before a national holiday (although we didn’t know it at the time) and the streets at 22:30 were full of families on bikes, couples walking hand-in-hand along the canals, and groups of friends relaxing at outdoor cafés. There were a few street performers out, and hundreds and hundreds of bicycles. We saw the Anne Frank house, the national museum, the Hotel America, and generally took in the feel of the town. We left late that night and went north along the Noord-Holland peninsula toward Friesland. We camped that evening at a parking spot just off the road.

The next day we spent the day driving through northern and eastern Netherlands seeing the dikes, windmills (most of which were modern wind generators, but there were a few old-style mixed in). We stopped at a small town called Oldeberkoop (founded in 1105), visited the local church (built in 1125), saw a county fair, and watched some handball games at a sports camp. Then, we were on our way again. We passed into Germany an hour or so later driving straight to Münster.

Münster is the city where, during the Anabaptist reformation, several Anabaptists set up a small kingdom, took biblical names and proclaimed themselves prophets. They then proceeded to rule with impunity from biblical laws killing people who rejected their claims and, when the city was besieged, led the men in a brutal fight. This led to a shortage of men and polygamy broke out. All in all a bad situation, and really not very good for Anabaptists or Christian witness. In the end, when the besieging army finally broke through, the bodies of the three leaders were hung in cages from the tower of the town church and the cages remain to this day. A rather gruesome history, but a nice city.

From Münster we went northwest toward Bad Pyrmont and, after being thrown off our route by construction twice, we eventually made it into town and, using a stray wifi signal eventually worked out where David’s friends lived and made it there at about 17:45, just 45 minutes late.

Daniel Z

On Food

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

When we were making the budget for the trip, we decided that we would aim for €10 a day for food. We thought it might be a bit ambitious, but we figured we would try it. After all, the more we saved on food, the more we could spend on experiences like the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, the London Underground, Stonehenge, Norway, etc. It started on our first day with our ramen noodle hobo meal in the Dublin ferry terminal. Then when we were in Cannock we went to Aldi and we’ve been on a roll since then. Our first meal was rather bland. American cheese, white bread, and extremely cheap meat. Then after a day or two we realized we were way under budget so we bought some mustard and it’s been uphill ever since.

These days we’ve been living high on the hog. Scotts Porridge with raisins, apples, and sugar every few mornings; Real meat, cheese, and vegetables in our lunchtime sandwiches; and soups, stews and pasta dishes for suppers; have become commonplace, though certainly not unappreciated. Another thing we’ve been able to do has been experience more of the local flavors of the nations we’ve visited by spending a bit more to get something locally produced instead of mass produced and imported. These local delicacies have included: shepherds pie and Irish stew in Ireland; lamb roast and fish and chips in the UK; baguettes and Laughing Cow cheese in France; waffles and beer in Belgium; Apfelschorle and local ice-cream in Germany; and knäkebrödsskolan and swedish meatballs in Sweden.

I brought along a little camp stove and camp fuel so we’ve been able to buy foods that need a bit of cooking. Our facilities (and abilities) are limited, but stews, rice, couscous, porridge, and hot chocolate add a nice variety whenever we have time to set up the stove. One really amazing experience happened a few days ago. We had decided that the small camping pot we had was really a bit too small for four hungry guys, so we went into a Swedish grocery store to see what we could see and, lo and behold, there on the bottom shelf underneath a number of largeish pots for 139 krona was a largeish pot without a handle. “Well,” I said to David, “I wonder if we can get some money off for that.” So, we went and asked the manager and, after a bit of discussion in Swedish and broken English, he said we could have it for 100 krona! What a glorious day! Ok… so… not as exciting, perhaps, for normal people, but I hope you will exult with us. That pot has been wonderful and has allowed us such delicacies as fusilli with spaghetti sauce; pasta, potato, and tomato stew; and, best of all, popcorn.

At the moment, we have a variety of condiments (in a variety of languages), some snacks and fruit, some vegetables and soups, and rice, couscous, and pasta. When I first told people that we were aiming for €10 a day, some people doubted us but we’ve proven it can be done, it just takes a bit of willingness to experiment and learn how to cook, especially for 4 bachelors.

Daniel Z