Sunday, December 11, 2011

Esslingen am Neckar II

The banks of the Neckar river near Stuttgart are devoted heavily to wine production, a custom supposedly dating to Roman times when the legions stationed in Germania were reluctant to go without their daily ration of booze, necessitating some local production.

They missed some
To tie in to the previous post, wine is a major industry especially in Esslingen, both historically and in the modern day. A company claiming to be Germany's oldest manufacturer of Sekt (sparkling wine) is even based there.
Cherub sitting on wine casket with glass of wine in one hand and hitting himself on the head with a hammer held in the other: 19th century representation of a hangover? 
The vines are cultivated on steep slopes, which have been terraced to mitigate erosion

Weinberg. The reddish tinge is from dead leaves, and also the weathering of the underlying Triassic redbeds that make up the soil
The terraces have been modified to make a series of footpaths, which run for enormous distances parallel to the river. There are beautiful views, and it's also good exercise because you have to climb up there first. There are little signs saying what type of grapes are being grown, and which label owns the holdings so it's even somewhat educational.

Nothing to do with what I was talking about but the sky actually looks blue in this one
 I can only imagine how nice it would be in the spring time, but I would just like to point out that it's not really winter here yet. And that there are at least two kinds of shrub that think December is a good time to flower . . . . because there are so many pollinators? That's okay, I don't mind if winter doesn't ever arrive.

Take that, Berlin

Esslingen am Neckar I

I realized that for months now I haven't done anything but enjoy my routine at home on weekends, so I decided to do a day trip. I chose the city of Esslingen, in the Stuttgart metropolitan region.
 There were two reasons Esslingen was the choice even though I went there last year: firstly, it has a famous Medieval market/Christmas market, and secondly the city museum was having a special exhibition on Celtic gold. Coincidentally, there was also an ichthyosaur there . . . . at least I find my obsession enjoyable.

The Christmas market was mostly just horribly crowded, which I should have guessed from past experience
Ye Aulde Weihnachtsmarkt, and Esslingen city hall
the city museum was pretty ordinary, with the exception of this gorgeous piece - guess what it is?

Possibly the most unique item in the Esslingen city museum
At first I thought it was a medieval style of toilet, but then, after having read the caption, it became clear that in the medieval period, it was a popular way to give birth (I didn't notice the stirrups at first).  And now it's immortalized for all time.

The big draw of Esslingen is is both really really pretty and close to Stuttgart.

Half-timbered madness
It is also a wine city having a nice series of southwest facing slopes along the Neckar river; more on this in the next post.

I love the pedway connecting the steeples

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Schloss Sanssouci

Potsdam is a city in the province of Brandenburg, a short S-Bahn ride from my house. Realistically, it's all one big city, except that since Potsdam is technically in a different province the city centre ticket just won't cut it. Potsdam has more than its fair share of palaces, being the former seat of the Prussian emperors, and is supposed to be a big tourist attraction. Also, I have become somewhat of a connoisseur of German palaces, and have had excellent luck with the guided visits, so when an out of town guest showed up, a palace in Potsdam was high on my list of sights to see. According to the guidebook and internet references, Schloss Sanssouci was the best bet.

View of Sanssouci from the gardens
Sanssouci was the summer palace of Frederick the Great, King of Prussia, and is open to the public with "guided" tour. The tour was extremely pricey by palace tour standards, but given the hype, I didn't mind. However I minded a lot after going on the tour - it was not in fact guided (rather, world's most uninformative audio tour), covered only 10 rooms and lasted a mere 30 minutes. Gah. I fell into a tourist trap. Very embarrassing; my guest was shocked I could make such an amateurish mistake.

After the massive failure of the main attraction, we were a bit leery of the subsidiary palaces and outbuildings, so didn't pay for the tours. We walked around the gardens though - they were free, but not worth the trip to Potsdam.

One of the few parts of the Neues Palais not under construction
View of fake classical ruins and modern scaffolding from Sanssouci

Maybe Schloss Charlottenburg is better? Now at least I know I have to go by myself first before dragging friends along . . .

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


Another weekend, another day trip to the former East Germany - this time to the Spreewald.  The Spreewald should be easy to get to, but isn't because trains don't run there from Berlin at the moment so there is a transfer to a "replacement service" (i.e. bus). It becomes almost a 2-hr trip. The Spreewald is essentially a network of canals and tributaries to the Spree river (the river that runs through Berlin) that has been turned into a Biosphere Reserve. As with the national park, it is dotted with villages and is quite developed.

Memorial to the Soviet soldier . . . in the forest

A rare beam of sunlight

The activity of the day was canoeing (canoe = Kanadier in German. The same word also means someone from Canada). We rented boats near tourist information, and set out. There was a route through the canal system that we could have done, but we headed up the Spree instead (which, in retrospect, was probably a slightly more challenging paddling experience, but the Spree is a very sluggish river).

So peaceful
 Then we went to the pub for a late lunch. Traditional foods were sampled, and were found to be acquired tastes (look up Grützwurst on Wikipedia, and it will become obvious why). A pleasant way to spend a chilly Saturday.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Müritz National Park

Northern Germany is a soggy land, peppered with small lakes and ponds. To maintain all this standing water, it rains a lot. On the plus side, the soil is incredibly sandy and there are a lot of lake beaches. I have been loathe to commit to any major trips, and so have been going to beaches in the Berlin area, which are conveniently accessible by S-Bahn, on the rare warm sunny weekends this summer. However, the lakes immediately around Berlin tend to be crowded and are also unpleasantly swamp-like, with opaque greenish water.

I was looking for something a little more pristine, so last weekend, I packed a lunch (for the first time in almost a year) and day-tripped up to Müritz National Park, in Mecklenburg. It lies in the former East Germany, northwest of Berlin and took almost two hours by train to reach. We rented bicycles in the neighbouring town of Waren (another rarity for me) and went on a cycle trip around the park. Let it be said that Müritz National Park is not very similar to Canadian parks. It reminded me a lot of the area where I grew up – low hills, very green, lots of fields and forests and rural communities.

Church of Speck - one of the small villages in the park
It didn't feel like the city, but also didn't feel like remote wilderness.

A beer garden never more than a stone's throw away – this is Germany, after all.
I did get to go swimming in the end, and the lake was beautiful, and crystal clear. Worth all the bike riding I had to do.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Berlin Monuments

I love Berlin. I don't love the architecture or the neighbourhoods so much, or even that the city's history is so close to the surface. I don't even particularly like the urban parks. The weather is iffy, the public transportation is expensive and frequently out of service, and the cyclists are hazardous. In spite of all this, though, there's just something about the city that adds up to complete awesomeness and I'm having a great time. Berlin is cosmopolitan, affordable, fun to live in, and easy to escape from. Most days I have to work though, so this post is about all the tourism I can do during the short distance from my apartment to my office.

First stop, of course, is Potsdamer Platz.
Potsdamer Platz Berlin wall panels. These are extraordinarily popular with the tourists, for reasons unknown. There are much more impressive wall panels nearby. Also note that everyone is dressed for late fall in July
Holocaust memorial. It's artsy.

Then on to Unter den Linden and the Brandenburg gate. Also extremely popular with the tourists. The hotel where the Michael Jackson baby dangling incident occurred is also right here.

Brandenburg gate from Pariser Platz. An iconic view.
The Spree river runs through Berlin, and has also been diverted into a series of canals that crisscross the city. Boat tours are popular. I went on one, but unfortunately did not get to listen to the guide or go up on deck for the first part because the tour was doubling as a reception. My funding organization feeds me very well.

The glass dome is the Reichstag, the German parliament building

After this point the walk goes down hill into some less photogenic neighbourhoods and construction sites. Post on the museum to come sometime in the future.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


I must be getting old or something, because I was never interested in the history of science and now I actually find it fairly compelling.  Possibly because at first the characters were presented as distinguished intellectuals, and it's only recently that I have discovered that they were all quite insane.

So, with that, I present Linnaeus. An 18th century botanist who lived and worked in Uppsala (Sweden), where I found myself on yet another collections visit.

Wax statue of Linnaeus, Riksmuseet Stockholm.
 I know the picture's blurry, but he's holding a torso-sized pipe

 In undergrad, I learned that Linnaeus was the man behind the Latin binomial system for naming living things. Uppsala is all about Linnaeus. He even gets credited for the work of Celsius (also working in Uppsala)- silly Celsius! He had water boiling at 0 degrees and freezing at 100! Linnaeus had to correct his work, of course.

Although like any good nobleman in the 1700s Linnaeus owned several homes and estates, it was his townhouse in Uppsala that I went to visit.

Linnaeus held the 18th C equivalent of labs in his garden. The house is in the far left.
The structures on poles that look like birdhouses were actually to house his monkeys.
Linnaeus had 'disciples' (grad students) whom he sent on expeditions all over the world to disseminate his naming system, and more importantly, to collect specimens to ship back to Uppsala for him to name and describe. In addition to not getting credit for their work, the mortality rate among the disciples was fairly elevated. After his death, Linnaeus' collections and illustrations were sold at auction to an English buyer . . . which is how the Linnaean Society came to be located in London and not in Sweden.
'Lake Garden', Linnaeus house. Now with newts.
In spite of loving monkeys, Linnaeus hated salamanders and was of the opinion that they were vermin. To exterminate them, he prescribed dumping salt in lakes, ponds and streams. In poetic justice, his garden is now home to a thriving population of crested newts.