Sunday, 10 December 2017

Going Underground

A few months ago (in September, to be more precise), I was invited to come along for  O.K.'s village band's annual day out.  We did not travel far, only from the village to the nearby city of Offenburg, where we were booked for a guided tour underground.

Underground in this case meant visiting the cellars of various historical buildings in the town center, from medieval times to more recent ones. There were some surprises for us in store, and I could have taken many more pictures than I did, but you can imagine the lighting was not always favourable and also the limited space often meant I could not get a picture without some one or other from our group in it.

The first cellar we entered was a very large room, once used for storage. Nowadays, it contains a lapidarium, not unlike the one in Ludwigsburg's palace I showed you here.

In this case, the statues were not just taken from one building, but came from various sources: some from churches, others from the residential buildings of rich and important towns people, and one from a fountain. Some of them have been replaced at their original locations with replicas, while others are from buildings that do not exist any more.

These first three pictures are of a group of Gothic statues taken from a chapel. They represent the scene in the garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus retreated for prayer the night before his arrest. He asked his disciples to stay awake with him, but one by one, they fell asleep.
I wonder whether you can identify them; usually, the 12 apostles are represented in art each with their typical attributes.

I am not sure where this broken unicorn once was, but the peasant girl with the fruit was once adorning the top of a Baroque garden wall, if I remember correctly:

The impressively muscular long-haired guy is Neptune. A replica of this original statue stands on top of Neptune Fountain in Offenburg's town centre.

A dark passage leads from the lapidarium to smaller rooms, where examples of the cellar's former purpose can be seen:

Back outside, it was still daylight :-)

A private house was the next stop of our tour. The owners kindly allow guided tours into their cellar every now and then. Some years ago, while some renovation work was going on, a deep well was discovered, plus a tunnel leading out of the cellar to a place below the city wall. Both were examined by a team of archaeologists, and the well is definitely medieval. The secret tunnel is thought to be of more recent times, probably built during WWII. It can not be entered, as it is too dangerous (and parts of it are still filled with rubble from when it caved in at one time), but it is known where it ends, and you can view the first part which is lit up for us to have a look. "Fluchttunnel" (as seen on the sign) means flight tunnel.

We visited another cellar, but I did not take any pictures there. Our last stop was another place dating back several centuries. At one time, it was accessible from a square in the town centre, with no building on top. Then, after WWI, a war memorial was built in the middle of the square, right above the cellar, and gradually, its existence was forgotten. Much later, a tiny kiosk/cafĂ© was installed on the square, and when public toilets were built underground for convenience, the old cellar was discovered. It is strange to see these old steps end right at the ceiling, knowing that at one time, countless feet went up and down there, carrying goods down to store or up to use them. 
Now every time I am in Offenburg's town centre and come past the war memorial,  I think of the cellar I know is underneath.

It was an interesting afternoon; I love such glimpses behind the scenes, seeing things you normally can not see in places that are normally not accessible to the public.

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Something About Food

Food is so much more than just sustenance, isn't it? We share it with friends and family, deals are made and sealed over "business lunches", state affairs are conducted and concluded at state dinners; food can comfort us, warm us, or refresh us - in short, it can fill so many needs and not just our stomachs.

During the week, I hardly ever cook at home. I am on my own, and after coffee and muesli in the morning, I have a cooked lunch at the canteen of whichever customer I happen to work for that day. Two hot meals a day are a bit much, I find, and so at night, I often just have a bowl of salad - and plenty of chocolate afterwards.

My salads usually consist of whatever needs using up. I often put in bits of cheese, a handful of a fruit & nuts mix (or just nuts), a diced apple, fresh pepper (yellow being my favourite) and so on. Here is an example, made some time last month but very typical:

When I am at O.K.'s or he is at my place for the weekend, sometimes we cook together (such as the filled pumpkins we made a while ago), sometimes we eat out. One weekend in November, we went shopping in Stuttgart together. The shop we visited is rather expensive, and for us, the pleasure is as much in just looking at things we know we will never buy as the actual buying of things we like, need (or think we need) or want as gifts for someone.

They also run a restaurant you walk through when entering the shop. With their own bakery attached, they offer really, REALLY nice bread. So far, when we've been there, we have chosen from their bread menue. Here is what we had the other day:
Goat cheese, caramelised nuts and honey on a buttered slice of rustic bread

Grana padano, anchovies and rucola; freshly made fruit juice in the glass

Tomato soup

Other places where we eat more or less regularly are at our respective parents'. In November, my Mum made her traditional roast goose with stuffing for a family dinner. It was as delicious as it looks!

Here's to great food - and to all those who prepare it for us!

Saturday, 2 December 2017

Read in 2017 - 38: Dawn

"Dawn" by Eleanor H. Porter

This story, published in 1919 and set in the years before and during WWI, is not only well written and of just the right length to keep you interested. It was also an especially poignant read for me, as you will soon understand.

After he has lost his wife and two little boys to (a never specified) illness, Daniel Burton is left to raise his son Keith alone, with the help of one faithful servant who does all their cooking, cleaning and washing. Mr. Burton is an artist - he paints pictures, but they do not sell well, and so the small family lives in their big old house in a state of noble poverty and shabbiness. Mr. Burton loves his son very much and has high hopes that one day the boy will rise above their current precarious state, becoming a great artist and achieving all that his father and his two dead brothers could never do.

In his early teens, Keith's eyes deteriorate to the point of blindness. A long, hard struggle (involving money and pride) follows; several operations and months of training and learning for Keith mean he is away from home for years.
When he comes back, he is a young man, and his life - and that of his father - has changed forever.

The faithful maid, Susan, plays an important role - maybe the most important of all -, as do the neighbours' son who is more or less Keith's age, and Dorothy, a girl Keith has known since she was wearing pigtails.

Money is crucial, but even more so are faith (in one's own abilities as well as in God), trust, friendship, love and humour. The impending - and then ongoing - war is a backdrop without which a lot of what happens in the story would not be happening.
Characters and places are well described, although sometimes conversations run a little long when it would not be strictly necessary.

I won't tell you anymore of the book, because I would really like you to read it for yourself.

Now, what made it such a poignant read for me? You see (!), from the beginning of this year, my left eye has gone from bad to worse. My eyes have always been "bad"; I had my first specs at the age of 7 and am rather helpless without them. But the development with my left eye means I am probably going to need surgery next year; I have regular appointments with my doctor (which I dread - not the doctor, who is a very nice lady, but the examinations).

The way Keith took a long time to realise it was his eyes that were the problem, not something else (like fog that did not seem to shift for days, or a badly printed paper), reminded me very much of how I thought for months it was my specs that were smudged, or I simply had something in my eye, or was tired from being at the computer for too many hours, and so on.

Now, I do not expect to go blind anytime soon, but I think you understand why Keith's story spoke to me more than it would have done otherwise.

I did not know the author until I read "Pollyanna" a while ago. Eleanor Emily Hodgman Porter lived from 1868 to 1920. She was trained as a singer, attending the New England Conservatory for several years. In 1892 she married and relocated to Massachusetts, where she began writing and publishing short stories and novels. While researching for this review, I found that she also wrote a novel "Keith's Dark Tower". I wonder whether it is a sequel to "Dawn"; if yes, I definitely want to read it.

(Of course I found this book for free on Amazon's kindle store.)

Friday, 1 December 2017

Winter Wonderland

Well, not quite yet. The snow we've been having for the past two days is still rather wet, and yesterday by the time I left work, it was nearly all gone because it had turned into sleety rain first and then into proper rain.

But here are, as a very quick post before I head off to work, the most recent views from my kitchen window.

Earlier this week:

Yesterday morning:

About half an hour ago this morning:

Oh, and to put you into an even more wintery-cuddly mood, here are the latest pictures from two of the kittens and their mother - you remember the story (if not, you can read it here):

Off to work now; have a good day, whatever you'll be doing!

Monday, 27 November 2017

The Palace At Dark

The beautiful palace of my home town has featured many times on my blog already. For (outside and inside) pictures and information, simply click on the label "Ludwigsburg" (red arrow in the screenshot) or type "Ludwigsburg palace" (or just "palace", or "Ludwigsburg") in the search box (blue arrow).

I've known it well from early childhood, and when I was a little girl, I often fantasised about hiding somewhere during a guided tour (the state rooms are only accessible with tours, while some others have been turned into museums where one can wander more or less freely) and then come out at night to explore the palace on my own.
What never featured in my daydreams was that a) of course my parents would never allow me to lurk behind while on a guided tour, and b) the tour guides usually unlock and lock doors for their groups at regular intervals - so my radius of exploring would have been very limited anyway, if I had managed to stay behind in the first place, which is highly unlikely.

Still, the desire to be inside those wonderful rooms after regular hours remained, and last week, that is just what we did!

My parents, my sister and I joined a special "after dark" tour. The aim was to show people what it used to be like at the time when the palace was a busy place where up to 1,800 servants worked (and most of them lived), plus the duke (and later king) with his family and guests (and their servants).

Electricity arrived at the state rooms rather late, and until today, there is no proper heating except for in office or museum rooms.
Our tour guide was an elderly gentleman, a retired electrician. He told us that from Day One of his apprenticeship in April 1953, he worked at the palace, and it has not let him go even now in his retirement. You could tell there was a man who loved his subject, and was very well able to transmit this to the group.

We walked through 28 rooms, big and small ones, servants' quarters as well as the throne rooms, all by the dim light of yellowish bulbs mimicking candle light. (No real candles were lit - too dangerous!).

Our guide explained that they knew from old documents how many candles were used on average; household accounts were meticulously kept in places like this. For everyday use, tallow candles were standard. They did not burn very brightly but were comparatively cheap and easy to come by. For festive occasions, white candles were in order. Only in churches and palaces would you find white candles, and even then, only for special occasions. They were made of a substance gained from whales, and of course there are no whales anywhere near Ludwigsburg - whale hunting was dangerous, and its products had to travel far and were very expensive accordingly.

From the old documents, they knew just how many candles were lit in, say, the stately dining room for a big dinner, and how many were allowed in the servants' quarters. In closely controlled tests, they lit exactly the number of white or tallow candles, and measured the brightness of light in each instance. Now you all know that the measure for brightness is lux.

Wikipedia (and our tour guide) tells us how many lux the average living rooms have nowadays, with our electric lamps: around 70, and 80 in an average kitchen. Offices are more or less standardly lit at 500 lux, and sales rooms at 1,000 (I am not kidding you).
Now what do you think the festive lighting at the palace managed to produce, lux-wise?
20! No more than that. And in the servants' rooms and everywhere else apart from the most important rooms? 2 (in words: two!) lux.

He showed us how little light that is by turning off most of the bulbs (which, by the way, are kitchen oven bulbs - those were the only ones matching their criteria, and they found that out after extensively testing nearly 20 different light sources). Believe me, it was VERY little light. After dark in those days, anything that involved seeing properly, such as cleaning, mending, reading, writing or needlework, simply could not be done. No wonder people went to bed early, and rose early, too, to make use of as much daylight as possible!

It was a fascinating glimpse (!) into the "good old times" (which weren't all that good, as we all know), and we enjoyed the tour very much.

My sister took the photos with her mobile phone, and I have her kind permission to show them here.

Saturday, 25 November 2017

Read in 2017 - 37: Sailing Alone Around the World

Joshua Slocum: Sailing Alone Around the World
In 2012 (is it really that long ago?!) my dear blogging friend Kay posted about this book. You can read her review here.

The topic of reading and books features regularly on my and many other blogs, and like most of my long-term readers, Kay knows that I really enjoy good non-fiction reading. Earlier this year, she sent me "Sailing Alone Around the World" by Joshua Slocum - and it took me until last week to finish it. Why so long? For one thing, it has a rather small print, and my eyes are struggling with that at night, so I often to do not read at all at night, even when I would like to. Also, I had several other books on my TBR pile before I started on "Sailing Alone". And last but not least, I found it a little challenging to get into the whole sailing jargon (remember: English is not my native tongue).

But I did read it all, and appreciated the humour Kay mentions in her review. I also found it interesting to learn a thing or two about how travelling was organised back in 1895, when Captain Joshua Slocum set off on his voyage around the world - all alone on a slope named Spray
He tells the reader about the places he visits, the way each harbour works just a little differently; some taking their rules stricter than others, for instance when it comes to giving a new arrival a clean bill of health before allowing them to go ashore. 
There are many accounts of the people he meets during the three years it took him to complete the voyage, sometimes staying for days, weeks or even months in one place. Some encounters are funny, others dangerous, but of course the reader already knows that Slocum survives, as he would not have been able to write the book otherwise.
The same is true for the storms and other severe weather conditions that are part of the voyage.

In one instance, he expresses his gratitude for having all the "mod cons" (of course he does not use those words) on board his ship and would not have wanted to travel the seas a century earlier - and for us, reading his book, it is the same: I would not want to swap with him, alone on a small wooden vessel with no electricity, no hot shower, toilet, or fridge - and no internet...!

So, thank you, Kay, for having me sent this book. It took me much longer to finish than I expected, but I am glad I stubbornly stuck with it :-)

Monday, 20 November 2017

Some More Autumn Colours

November 1st is a holiday in Germany, All Saints. This year, it fell on a Wednesday, and the day was sunny and bright.
O.K. and I went for a short drive to Lahr, less than 15 km from the village. Lahr is a town with around 45,000 inhabitants. It has a picturesque historical old town centre and is well worth a visit. O.K. knows it well, but somehow we had not been there yet together.

We knew there was an event going on, the Chrysanthema. It is a festival dedicated to - you guessed it - the chrysanthemum. This beautiful flower comes in all colours and various sizes, and we enjoyed the beautiful (and sometimes funny) displays around town centre. I only took a few pictures with my phone, as there were so many people about.

In fact, it was so packed, we did not stay all that long, just had a quick stroll through the main streets in the centre before heading back home. But the colours were so beautiful that even those few pictures deserve sharing, I think:

It probably was especially packed because a) it was the 20th anniversary of the festival, b) it was a holiday so that everybody had time and c) the weather was gorgeous. You can see many more photos on the official website here if you like.

Later that afternoon, we went out for another walk near the village to catch the last rays of sun, now that sunset comes earlier and earlier every day. And we did, as you can see:

This was taken a few minutes before 5:00 pm. Three hours after that, O.K. took me to the train station and I was on my way home, reaching my flat at about 20 minutes to 11 pm. I'd been away since Saturday morning and had really enjoyed those 5 days at O.K.'s.

I know November is the least favourite month for many people, and I would have enough reason to feel the same, what with Steve's death having happened in that month. But November was off to such a beautiful start on its first day, and there have been other good and happy times in the first half, that there is no need (and it does not make sense anyway) for brooding over the past or "disliking" an entire month.