Travelogue XLIV: Farmers’ Market in Mainz

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May 29, 2015 Now that I live in the Altstadt, the Mainzer farmers’ market is only a two minute walk away. And I love it. It’s another connection to my childhood in Vermont–some of my earliest memories are of Saturdays spent at the Randolph market, where my mother sold handmade baskets and my sister and I ate apple cider doughnuts and played with the kittens that some farmer or another was always trying to hand off. Later, after we moved to Grand View Farm, my mother sold yarn and wood-fired pizza on Friday afternoons on the Chelsea commons, and my sister and I read Tolkien and Thomas Mann and babysat our border collies. “I hate farmers’ markets in Vermont,” my brother always said, 16 and way too cool for small-town New England, “There are too many hippie children.” A reference, of course, to the ever-present horde of skin-kneed, androgynous, ice-cream eating, Waldorf-schooled, and thoroughly wild, wonderful offspring of Vermont’s 1960s generation. “Come on!” my sister and I always said, “It wasn’t that long ago that we were all right out there with them.”

The children in Mainz are different–more city-savvy and multi-lingual, and better dressed–and the backdrop is completely different–cobblestones and a 1,000-year-old cathedral instead of a green-grass common and white clapboard church–but the market is, in essence, the same. Farmers are farmers, no matter where in the world one happens to be.

There are lots of nuns in Mainz.

There are lots of nuns in Mainz.

This time of year in Mainz, asparagus and strawberries are in season. It’s rather like rhubarb season in May in Vermont–you rejoice when it comes, gorge yourself for a month, and by the end of it are so sick of the stuff that you don’t have a problem waiting a year until spring rolls around again. Here, there’s an Spargel-und-Erdbeeren (asparagus and strawberries) stand on almost every street corner, it seems, and half the market is devoted to them in some form or another. Try the asparagus chutney and the strawberry jam! Here’s the best wine to pair with asparagus and strawberries! Buy a kilo of each and save five euros!

Needless to say, I have eaten an inordinate amount of asparagus and strawberries in the last month.

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And apples. There are always apples.

And apples. There are always apples.

Below: Moritz, the biggest, fattest, fluffiest rooster I have ever had the pleasure of getting to know. His owner, who has a cool hat and the broadest of Meenzer dialects, is pretty cool, too.

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Meat--a very important part of the farmers' market in Germany!

Meat and bread–a very important part of the farmers’ market in Germany! Below, wurst-selfies FTW.

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Meeenzer Pesto!

Sauerkraut and pickles.

Sauerkraut and pickles!

Also wine.

Also wine.

Mainzer Winzer--the wine stands take up the entire end of the market. Also note that this picture was taken before 10am. Only in Germany....

Die Mainzer Winzer–the wine stands take up the entire end of the market. Also note that these pictures were taken before 10am. Only in Germany….!

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My purchases today–kale, sauerkraut, green olives, strawberries, asparagus.

In the end, whether in Vermont or Germany, the purpose of a local market is to forge connections between consumers and the land, the food, and the people who grow it. As a popular Vermont bumper sticker says, “Who’s your farmer?” That question is a little harder to answer in urban Germany than it is in backwoods, hippie New England, of course, but I think the market is a good place to start.

'Til next week!

‘Til next week!

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Travelogue XLIII: Rheinromantik

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMay 24, 2015 This afternoon, a trip down the Rhine to Bacharach, a tiny town in the midst of the Loreley region. There was still and warm air, birdsong, and solitude in the midst of the Sunday tourists. The chance to get out into the green and move and breathe a bit.

The town itself was lovely, of course, full of timber-frame homes and grape vines climbing up stone walls, built up around a 1,000-year-old church. Wine and religion–the two great shaping forces behind the appearance of so many small towns in this region of Germany.

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I first hiked up to the castle, high above the town–Burg Stahleck, originally dating back to the 11th century, and now a youth hostel.

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The only way one can get up to the castle was by climbing steps.

Lots of steps.

Lots of steps.

So. many. effing. steps.

So. many. effing. steps.

The top step. My poor calves.

The top step. My poor calves.

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But the castle was lovely–very rustic, partially carved out of the mountain side.  It serves as a youth hostel today, so you can actually come and spend the night.

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There was also an abandoned Gothic cathedral on the way up.

….And then back down into the gorge and up the other side, into the vineyards. The air smelled like freshly-cut hay–the smell of a Vermont meadow in high summer, here in May and thousands of miles from home.

Along the Rhine, the vineyards plunge right down to the water’s edge. There are zigzagging paths along the tops of the stone terraces, and one can walk for miles, high above the river and the slate rooftops below.

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The views down into the town were lovely.

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Vineyards--plunging down to the Rhine, almost impossible steep. Here, Riesling and Scheurebe....

Vineyards–all the way down to the Rhine, almost impossibly steep. Here, Riesling and Scheurebe….

Teeny tiny grapes!

Teeny tiny grapes!

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I stopped at one of the Weinstuben in the town on my way back to the train station to eat a bowl of excellent potato soup and drink a glass of wine grown from the grapes on the slopes behind me. I sat across the table from an older gentleman who was on his yearly bicycle tour, from Stuttgart to the Rhine, and then down river all the way to Koblenz.

Zum Wohl,” I said, when my wine arrived. “Cheers.”

He spoke about the Rhine as if he was talking about a person. “There is such power there,” he said, “and such violence. You have to accept it, have to give yourself to it heart and soul. It is impossible to do otherwise, especially if you are out on the water itself. Even those great powerful barges you see can’t escape it. Vater Rhein–Father Rhine–there is something to that, I think.” We talked about the Rhine as a creator of art, of Mythos, of music, from the Middle Ages to Wagner and back again. I told him I most likely wouldn’t be in Germany at all without the opening chords of Wagner’s Das Rheingold–E-major swelling into the sun, the Rhine as creator, as Father and Mother and God all at once. “That river is the original Genie,” he said. Yes, exactly.

Lorch on the left, Bacharach on the right. Father Rhine, indeed.

Lorch on the left, Bacharach on the right. Father Rhine, indeed.

Travelogue XLI: PEGIDA and Beauty in Dresden

March 30, 2015 Dresden is a stunning city. People call it the Elbflorenz–Florence on the Elb River, the Jewel Box, Germany’s version of Italian Baroque.

I arrived at the train station in Dresden after the DAAD Conference in Jena, dropped my suitcase at the youth hostel, and headed for the city center. When I stepped off the tram at the Theaterplatz, the force of beauty hit me like a brick wall. So much pure loveliness needs no justification, no reason for being. It just is, and you stand there and blink back tears in the pouring rain, and are fully outside of yourself.

Perhaps even more staggering, however, is the fact that it is almost entirely all new–the entire old city was gutted by the American and British bombs that fell in February, 1945. Twenty-five thousand deaths, most of them of civilians, were recorded after the bombings, with thousands more left uncounted. The city as it exists today is a monument both to the horror of war and to the human capacity for hope and industry, I think. Restoration began soon after the war ended, and continues to this day–renovations of the Frauenkirche cathedral, for instance, were only completed in 2005.

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It was a weekend of beauty, of unabashed reveling in Western culture at its most stunning. I photographed statues and frescoes and saw the Old Masters and the German Romantics in the art museums. I stood in line at the box office and scored a student ticket (13 Euros!) for a Bach oratorio at the Semperoper. “It’s the most beautiful opera house in the world,” said the woman who sold me the ticket. Afterwards, I was almost ready to believe her.

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The Semperoper.

But of course, things aren’t so simple. This is Germany, after all.

Besides the museums and the opera and the Rococo architecture, Dresden is also the seat of PEGIDAPatriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West–the far-right political organization that has been hosting demonstrations in Dresden and throughout Germany since October. The group has disturbing overtones of xenophobia, hate speech, and nationalism, which is particularly problematic given Germany’s history.  The founder of PEGIDA, Lutz Bachmann, resigned in January after a photograph of him dressed as Adolf Hitler went viral. I mean, really?? That’s Western culture at its most pitiful, right there.

Although the number of protesters has fallen drastically from the roughly 25,000/week at the beginning of PEGIDA’s existence, Dresden is still something of a pilgrim site. The weekly “evening strolls,” as the group describes the demonstrations, still attract thousands of participants from across Germany. And unlike in other cities, there isn’t a counter-demonstration, or at least not one that I could see. In Frankfurt, the counter-protesters often outnumber the PEGIDA supporters twenty to one. There was none of that here.

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Incredibly surreal, to be drinking tea in some gorgeous cafe with riot police outside the window.

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An hour before the demonstration was to start, the police were already in place.

At the same time, the official position of Dresden as a city was made very clear. There were public banners and signs throughout the city calling for understanding and openness, demanding that Dresden wake up and consider the dignity of all human beings.

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Across from the Semperoper: “Doors open, hearts open, eyes open.”

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A three-story-tall banner across the street from the demonstration itself. “The worth of human kind is given into your hands. Protect it! It falls with you, and it will rise with you.”

At the actual demonstration, there were speeches broadcast by  loud-speaker, and hundreds of banners and hand-painted signs. The sheer ugliness of some of it contrasted starkly and ironically with the beauty of the surroundings.

A small selection of the signs:

“Deutschland wehrt sich”–“Germany is defending herself.”

“Klagt nicht, kämpft!”–“Don’t complain, fight!”

“Wir sind das Volk”–“We are the People.” At the counter-demonstrations in Frankfurt, this is turned around into “Wirr ist das Volk”–“The People are just confused.”

“Erst wird’s bunt, dann…”–“First diversity, then [a picture of a bloody hand grenade].”

“Wir lassen uns nicht mehr von Minderheiten terrorisieren!”–“We aren’t going to let ourselves be terrorized by minorities any more!”

The minorities mentioned above, apparently, include the LGBTQ crowd as well. As one speaker said, “We don’t want the homo-trans-whatever-sexual minority to slime their way into our schools and traumatize our children with their shit-talk!!” I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry after that one.

And the flags–I saw more of them in an hour than I had seen in the past 8 months, the soccer championships included. In Germany, unlike in America, you just don’t display the flag like that unless you have just won the World Cup, or unless you are trying to come across as problematically nationalistic at best and as a Nazi at worst.

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Riot gear.

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I saw more German flags in an hour than I had seen during the past 8 months in Germany, soccer world championships included.

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Departing for the march through the old city.

In the end, it was all a strange mixture of laughable and horrifying. The protestors, at least on the day I was there, weren’t much of hooligans–but rather neatly-dressed middle-aged middle-class, perhaps disappointed and discontent, but not really the stuff of revolution.

So I never felt like I was in danger–but it was an unnerving experience none the less, to find myself in the middle of thousands of people who share a worldview that fundamentally clashes with my own.

In the end, though, as I have written elsewhere, this is one of the main issues Germany is talking about today. Watching the demonstration in Dresden felt a bit like being a part of history.

6 Tips for World Travelers

A second post for Hillsdale College!

Hillsdale Launch

Travel light. Wheeling an oversized suitcase over cobblestone streets gets old fast. If you can’t lift it over your head or sprint across a train station with it, you probably don’t need it. Yes, fellow Hillsdalians, that includes the complete leather-bound edition of Augustine you carry everywhere. In all seriousness, though, it is incredibly freeing, both physically and psychologically, to leave your stuff behind and focus on other things while abroad. Unless you are moving to a foreign country for an extended period of time, a carry-on will most likely do.

Become more than a tourist. Pursue opportunities that will allow you to see your city or country from the inside instead of from the outside. For instance: If you are going to be in an area for more than a few months, consider getting a part-time job. Being a part of the workforce offers an entirely different perspective on…

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Travelogue XL: Hinter den Kulissen

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May 9, 2015 Mainz is not cobblestone streets and old churches and beautiful Europeans drinking wine by candlelight. Or not just those things, anyway.

I am learning that cities are like people–a thousand contradictions and transfigurations inhabiting a single space. Apollo and Dionysus, dark and light, straight-forward and complex. The human being has a million souls instead of Faust’s two, Hermann Hesse writes. So does the city, I think.

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Prostitution is legal in Germany.

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Bikes at the train station.

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The night club after hours, Kaisterstraße.

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Jägermeister, Kaiserstraße. I could do an entire photo series on alcohol bottles left in public.

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Cigarettes and vodka, Rheinufer.

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More vodka, Old City.

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Kaisertor.

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Housing on Kaiserstraße.

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Döner, Bahnhofstraße.

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Cigarette vending machine, Weintorstraße.

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Graffiti, everywhere in Germany, often blurs the line between vandalism and art.

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Münsterplatz.