Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Ingelfingen - part II

The reason I went to Ingelfingen in the first place was to see the Muschelkalk Museum which is housed there. I expected it to be quite small, given the nature of Ingelfingen itself, however I was pleasantly surprised to find out that it was three floors and very thorough. Unfortunately the displays were all in German, so I couldn't really expand on my knowledge of the European Triassic, but some of the fossils were really quite spectacular.

The Muschelkalk is a Triassic limestone (more or less 230 million years old) and was, so the theory goes, deposited in a shallow sea. This led to the deposition of various evaporites (aka. salts), which were then mined commercially in the Middle ages. This was the major industry in Schwäbisch Hall, and explains its existence as a town. The Muschelkalk is also the #1 building stone in Schwäbisch Hall - everything from the town walls to the Goethe-Institut to the modern art gallery to the retaining walls and decorative boulders in the parks are built using this stone.

Gratuitous photo of bridge . . . made out of Muschelkalk
The Muschelkalk is truly delightful from my perspective because it is so highly fossiliferous. Different layers have different fossils, and in Schwäbisch Hall, crinoid ossicles and massive deposits of shells feature prominently. Muschelkalk actually translates as "Mussel limestone" so the number of shells isn't really surprising.

An example from the park, of shelly Muschelkalk
However, because finding fossils just doesn't get old for me, I was extremely excited to find this reptile bone along my running route, and now I have a compulsive urge to look at all the retaining walls and building stones where ever I go. Success has clearly gone to my head.

Okay, so it's not much to look at but I'm easily pleased.
So, this is why I went to Ingelfingen, to see what the really good Muschelkalk fossils looked like - those that haven't been dressed into building stones or stepped on by 100 years of pedestrian traffic. I'm going to see if I can go for a tour of the quarry in Schwäbisch Hall next month. What would I do without obsession? I'd have to learn to knit or something.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Ingelfingen - part I

So much to write about, and no time - it's a bit stressful in my life right now. Wait, you say, you thought I was just hanging out in Schwäbisch Hall, taking classes in the morning and sleeping in the park all afternoon? How can that be stressful? Turns out there has been a few unexpected twists recently and it's dragging me down, especially combined with the lack of reliable internet access evenings / weekends.

Therefore a post about my recent expedition to Ingelfingen (30km from Schwäbisch Hall, clocking it at an hour and a half trip - I still haven't adjusted to the distance thing). Why did I go? I'm a geek, and have become obsessed with the local geology (more later). I timed my visit to coincide with the wine and fall festival, assuming that other than the museum there wasn't loads to do in Ingelfingen, which it turns out is correct. The festival was a bit of a bust, but there were some highlights in the world of weirdness.

I should preface this by saying that there is no Sunday shopping in small-town Germany, for groceries or for anything else, so I think it's possible that a lot of the local retailers took advantage of the festival to boost the bottom line. How else could you explain that, amongst the candy, cake, würst, beer, wine and craft stands, pony ride and brass bands [there were three - no occasion in Germany appears to be complete without at least one] there was also a booth selling washer and dryer sets, a separate one selling doors, and one selling cars? However, in spite of the retail miscellany there was no café open, bar one. We [I had dragged someone else in to this bit of insanity] had to go to one in the seniors' home.

Oh Ingelfingen, the bar for small-town crazy has been effectively raised.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Inverts - addendum

Previously mentioned poster of tick diversity - still not sure if all varieties are in Southern Germany (some of them certainly are). The reddish one at the bottom looks most like the one I found, although the Latin name [and Wikipedia] imply it's North American.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


Schwäbisch Hall has a surprising number of creepy crawlies - for some reason [can't fathom why] I though that Europe would have a little bit less insect life. Turns out I was wrong.
Some is harmless (large spider + web in bathroom), some is pretty (orange bugs that always cluster together in the same place at night but have a creepy affinity for dead mouse carcasses),

Some is a bit icky to step on (gigantic orange slug) - I couldn't get a picture of one with his eye-stalks and head out; they pull it back in like a snail which is kind of silly considering there's no shell involved.

The five cent coin is for scale. I didn't realize normal people do not include coins for scale until friends made fun of me, so if you happen to be in a situation where you're trying to blend in with non-biologists, it is a good idea to omit this from the photo.

Lastly, it turns out the German countryside is crawling with ticks. So horrible. Don't know why I thought Europe was exempt from this plague, but I was so wrong. Anywhere involving grass involves tick checks. There was an educational poster outside an insurance provider with about 10 tick species on it plus the diseases they carry, and I thought it was for educational purposes for people traveling internationally, but now I'm pretty sure they are all local. Charming.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

More churches

Schwäbisch Hall is in the Hohenlohe region, which is extremely rural. However, there seem to be more than a normal concentration of Baroque churches, which is great because it's my favourite style - so excessive, you can see why the farmers rebelled against the monasteries and destroyed many of them. We did a bus tour of the Hohenlohe, and one of the stops was a Cistercian monastery, in a small town called Schöntal. Perpetual poverty was clearly not one of the goals of the order - I had assumed that monks all lived in fairly subdued surroundings to focus on spiritual matters. Apparently I was wrong.

Chapter Hall, note amount of gilding

Monastery Church
 The church itself is committed to the Baroque style - you could see Barbie living there.

Gold + pink marble: a winning combination
Creepy little faces carved into the gilded [of course!] grate

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Oktoberfest report

Oktoberfest actually starts in mid-September, as the weather is nicer. I went to the opening in Munich, and discovered that this is not the event for me. In the morning was the opening parade, when all the marching bands escorted the horse drawn wagons of beer casks into the festival grounds. It was fun to see everyone dressed up in their traditional gear, both in the parade and especially the spectators (I had no idea that so many people would dress up), and the parade was great, but later the crowds were really overwhelming even outside the main tents and the smells and garbage and drunk people and carnival rides/ flashing lights all combined to be an almost of nauseating sensory overload.
Neues Rathaus, Marienplatz


I am far happier with the beer halls, which were much more civilized (mostly just allowed for more personal space).

Friday, September 17, 2010

Banking success!

I have successfully opened a German bank account - Commerzbank is awesome. They will even give me 50 Euros if I stay with them for 3 months. I didn't mention that the other banks didn't want me as a customer at all, let alone pay me for supporting them, when I went for my appointment.

The black arrow is pointing at my residence house in Schwäbisch Hall. It's not in a cute old building.

Have an awesome weekend everyone!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Postbank rejected my application for a new account this morning! Only took them two weeks to say they could not possibly deal with me as a client before the foreign office had finished processing the documents saying I'm foreign and temporarily staying in Schw. Hall. Next up: Commerzbank. This time I'm getting an administrator from the Goethe-Institut to go with me, so maybe I won't get jerked around.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The hedgehog vs. the kestrel

I have more than a passing interest in natural history, and so some of my posts will be on this topic instead of the more alien aspects of German culture, language and administrative headaches. Today, I wanted to show some pictures of my best wildlife sighting so far, a wild hedgehog . . . eating a falcon

I can honestly say that I never thought I'd see these two species interacting in this way, kind of thought it might be the other way around. European hedgehogs are supposed to be principally insectivorous, but also eat pet food so maybe this is scavenging? Or the hedgehogs are training for world domination?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Fedoras - not just for palaeontologists anymore!

Stereotypes were adopted for a reason, and this afternoon I was delighted to come across this group of people playing Alphörner while dressed as Bavarians (e.g. wearing Lederhosen and fedoras). For the record, though, Schwäbisch Hall is not actually in Bavaria or in the Alps, but this is of minor importance.

I really feel that my German cultural experience is now complete. This was almost as great as when I moved to Alberta and realized that some people really do dress like cowboys.

Alpine horn ensemble
Close-up of the stylish uniforms
Zoomed-out view of St. Michael's, the city center church in Schwäbisch Hall

Friday, September 10, 2010

Scenic Schwäbisch Hall

So, enough whining about my immigation issues. Because class starts at literally the crack of dawn, we have the afternoons free. Sometimes there is a break in the drizzle, so I've had a chance to do a bit of sightseeing.

As previously mentioned, Schwäbisch Hall has a lot of well-preserved buildings from the Medieval period, and is also very scenic. I've taken some photos as a sampler.

Riverfront; note the ubiquitous half-timbered buildings

The Comburg, a Benedictine monastery / fortress
Some of the Comburg church decor
The interior of the Comburg church is done in the Baroque style, which can be summarized as "if it is physically possible to coat this in gold, then we should do it".  It's a bit (okay, a lot) over the top, but impressively shiny nonetheless.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Schwäbisch Hall

I have made it to Schwäbisch Hall, where I am attending language courses at the Goethe Institute. Schwäbisch Hall is very pretty, very old and in a deep, scenic valley. I will include pictures eventually, but not right away because it turns out there is no internet in my dorm, and the weather in Schwäbisch Hall is very bad, so the town isn't photographing at its best.

The Goethe Institute believes in total immersion, and so all of the social events and tours are done only in German which is not very entertaining or informative (the classes, as expected, are also in German). Between this, the lack of internet and the fact that my 'fun' book is by Dawkins (!?!), I feel conversationally deprived.

The other issue in my life is the compound problem of the bank account I still don't have, which is needed for health insurance, which is needed for a visa (aside from the obvious observation that emergency medical coverage in a foreign country is never a bad thing). The Goethe Institute administrator says it's normal for it to take several weeks to open an account - silly me, thinking things were more efficient here - and that I should just buy health insurance with them, which I don't really want to because I have signed on with another company and so will then be billed twice for September. I can't even call to see if things are moving along at the bank or if they lost my application, because banks are one of the places where no one speaks English. I can't believe I've only been here a week.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Odd public fixtures

"There are a lot of crazy people in Germany", says my German colleague. I haven't noticed this, but possibly it's just a more subtle degree of crazy than the in-your-face variety I experienced in Montreal (no combing of groundhogs here). Either way, there is certainly some odd/fun public installations to be seen around Stuttgart, and I've included a selection of it here for your enjoyment.
Lion and lion cubs in the park

Awesomest. Jungle-gym. Ever.
 So, there's this square called Troll place (by the bridge - coincidence? I think not.)
In troll place, there is this statue of a man (troll?). . . .

Doing something very bad to a duck?

I'm off to Schwäbisch Hall tomorrow for the language course, it'll be nice to not be in a hotel anymore.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Who's on first? or the story of excess baggage.

So, yesterday I went to get my by unaccompanied air luggage. They hadn't notified me that it arrived - it turned out they were planning on doing this by letter mail, so good thing I didn't wait around. Silly me, I went to the airport (I should have known better, but probably would still have done the same thing because I could get there by public transport). Once there, I asked at Tourist Information and was told that the correct location to pick up the suitcases was an office two doors down the hall on the right. I clarified that it wasn't lost luggage, but was assured that it was to be picked up in the same place.

So, I wandered down the hall and asked at the indicated office. The agent told me that the cargo shipping place was quite a drive from the airport, but that I could probably get there by bus and that I should ask at the information kiosk upstairs in the main terminal how to do this.

So, I went upstairs. The woman there tells me I can't get there by bus, I need to take a taxi.
I went out to the taxi stand, and none of the drivers have a clue where the cargo shipping terminal is.
I went back to tourist information office, where a new person told me that there was a cargo shipping place at each end of the airport and I needed to know in advance which one my luggage was going to be arriving at.

Next, I went back up to the woman at the information kiosk to see if tourist info man was right - no, he wasn't. She also couldn't understand why the taxi drivers didn't know where the cargo terminal was, because it was less than 10km away. I finally convinced her to write down the address anyways.

Then, armed with the address, I went back to the taxi stand. I got grumpy cabbie, who kicked me out of the cab at a traffic light in an industrial park in the general vicinity of the cargo terminal. He was probably just bitter there was no way he was going to pick up another fare out there.

So, I wander into the industrial park. It is about a kilometer long. None of the loading bays closer to the entrance looked to be associated with airlines, so I checked at the customs office for directions. The agent told me that KLM cargo (the one I needed) was associated with Swissport, and was about 300m further down the strip. I finally make it to the Swissport office, only to find out that KLM is affiliated with Air France, 200m the other way. I finally make it to the right place, and am given forms and told to take them to the customs office. This also takes several tries, because there are multiple customs offices for different things - import, export, computers, etc.

The happy ending is that the taxi driver on the way home was very nice about loading the boxes, and even gave me a gummy bear. Then I went to buy a cell phone, I had one picked out and everything, and the salesman couldn't open the inventory drawer so I had to go elsewhere.

Because this entry is so long, I've included some pictures of plane trees and a half-timbered wine bar like a good North American tourist.

Plane trees
Half-timbered wine bar, built in the 1460s

Both photos taken in Stuttgart

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Ah, frustration part I of probably lots

So, I made it to Stuttgart safe and sound with all the usual weirdness that accompanies travel (I now have a standing invitation to visit an elderly lady from Casablanca, with whom I had a long conversation in French, which neither of us actually spoke all that well).

My unaccompanied luggage seems to be lost in transit, or else they just decided not to call me to let me know when it's in, which I think is more likely. The bigger issue is banking: apparently, two years is too short a timeframe for Volksbank to bother taking me as a client, BW does not have any branches outside this state, Sparkasse has no branches in this state, and Postbank does not consider the language school dorm to be a valid address. I am just having too much fun. Sorry there are no pictures; banks do not photograph well.

Tomorrow - cell phone providers!