Monday, January 3, 2011

Hot swing and steam trains - does entertainment get any better?

(With thanks to the Mild Colonial Boy for the tip-off!)

Ultima Thule in the morning

The view out of a window at about 10 am this morning. Winter in Germany is very dark, the sky can be grey for weeks on end, sunlight is very seldom seen. Even this small break in the clouds gives us a very welcome reprieve. 

My late night snack

I ate this last night. It tasted much better than it looks. The sausage was made by a farmer from meat he'd slaughtered himself. The bread was hearty, the butter creamy. It was delicious!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

NYE dinner

Our new year's eve party was a success! As mentioned earlier, we invited a few of our friends around and I cooked lamb with rosemary potatoes and red cabbage. Fortunately the rosemary was easily found, and Uncle Monty wasn't invited. A situation like this was avoided! Yoicks and V brought a delicious cake for dessert, and Elberry and M (a new colleague from the States) brought an assortment of salads, bread, and nibbles for entree. Not a belly left the table without being filled to capacity.

We ate, chatted, drank, and made merry for several hours. At a quarter to 12 we decided to start a game of Cluedo, which carried us over the threshold of 2011 and well into the early hours of the morning. Beyond a certain point in the game we lost the thread of who had what card (or at least I did, but I don't think I was alone on this score - it was caused by genuine befuddlement; I was drinking alcohol-free Hefeweizen the whole night), but we enjoyed ourselves, made plenty of jokes, and eased into the new year the best way I could have imagined or hoped for.

And so the year starts...

... with illness all around. I'm still down with the lurgy, no quantity of various potions or unguents seem to bring any lasting relief (and the Chemists are all closed until Monday - except for highly irritable "Emergency Chemists" who will throw things at you through doors opened a crack for the same purpose - on the proviso of course that you slip sufficient quantities of money back at them). C woke me in the middle of the night last night and said that she had to go to the doctor. "Now?!" I asked with groggy incredulity. "Yes", was her unambiguous answer.

So we went to the emergency doctor. It was an interesting experience. I drove through a light snowfall towards The Better Part of Town where the emergency doctors (naturally enough) have their lair. We rang on the doorbell of a nondescript office building (one of many in Ultima Thule, I'll admit) and we were told that the main door was broken, and we were to use the side entrance - which we eventually found and used.

We were buzzed in to a garishly-lit stairwell, tiled entirely in brown with quickly painted concrete walls. The emergency doctors' rooms were on the first floor, and they looked exactly the same as the stairwell - functional and seldom-cleaned. There were footprints in salt all over the stairs and the waiting room floor. We were the only patients there when we arrived, but as soon as C was called into the consulting room, the door buzzed again and a man and a very wretched-looking woman shuffled in. I eavesdropped with every shred of power I could summon to find out what was wrong. It turns out the poor woman had eaten the fish at a restaurant the name of which I didn't hear, and as a result had a severely upset stomach. The nurse told her and her partner (boyfriend? husband?) to "please take a seat" and the woman shuffled in holding her stomach and moaning lightly. "Oho!" I thought to myself, "Now things get interesting." The nurse came back with a cardboard vomit-receptacle and asked the woman if she'd prefer to lie down (!). The ailing woman said that she couldn't really lie down, that it hurt too much, and that she'd be fine as she was. A minute or two later, she asked her boyfriend where the toilet was, and shuffled off at full speed.

C was finished, and we left, before the woman came back from the lavs, and one can only speculate about what happened behind (fortunately) closed doors.

On doctor's orders we stopped at the emergency chemist on the way home to pick up some emergency medication to ease our emergency situation and then returned to the warmth and comfort of C's apartment. Even after taking the first round of the cocktail of tablets the doctor prescribed, C still felt wretched and decided to take a bath to find comfort. I did the only thing possible to show my support under difficult circumstances; I retired to bed and fell back into a fitful sleep - punctuated with odd, and muscle-cramping, dreams which unfortunately I can't remember.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

NYE + 1

Am writing - in haste - from the school's computer room. I just finished my last class of the year and was asked on the spur of the moment to help with the placement of a prospective student. A very interesting conversation ensued, which encompassed topics ranging from why Germans don't like Google Street View (they hate it, but some people seem to really love Google), to the role of new media in manipulating the public, to why the Danes tend not to lower their curtains in the evening. A most interesting conversation; this job certainly has its moments.

Less interestingly, I am labouring under a heavy cold which I've had for about a week. I just want to crawl under the blankets with a hot tea and a good book (the impracticality of this I don't need you to point out, dear reader!) and sleep for a month. That, of course, isn't an option. There's going to be a small gathering at the Frau Doktor's tomorrow night at which my presence is expected. And I'm looking forward to it. So, time for another hot lemon tea mixture and here's hoping I recover enough to enjoy things.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Seasons Greetings &c

Merry Christmas, and all that, chaps. It's been a while since these pages were updated, for which I apologise. A lot and not much has been happening. Work continues apace, but I find myself just going through the motions. My heart isn't really in it at the moment. I'm sure there'll be an Aufschwung in the new year (think about it - this one's more or less onomatopoeic!) so for the time being I keep putting one foot in front of the other, take the lessons one page at a time, and hope for the best.

The Frau Doktor and I spent Christmas with our friends Yoicks and V. We four repaired to the Lutheran church in the evening to watch the pageant - performed by the bright stars of the Sunday School - and then retired to Y and V's place for an enormous dinner (which the Italian V said wasn't anywhere near as large as she'd have had back in the Old Country. Unbelievable! I was full to bursting after this relatively light meal!). After dinner we played a thrilling round of Cluedo - which the Frau Doktor and I gave to our hosts for Christmas. I was dismayed to find that the characters have been slightly renamed. Gone are all titles and ranks, to wit: Col. Mustard has become simply Mustard (and he's a party planner, or nonsensical job like that) and the Rev Green is just Green. Pshaw! But that didn't thwart our post-prandial fun.

There's been a lot of snow lately. It snowed a lot the weekend before Christmas, and then "warmed up" a bit (to between 1 or 2 degrees above 0), but began snowing again on the morning of the 24th. That evening in church, the Rev J├╝rgen Schmidt said in his farewell that "... we wanted a white Christmas, and it seems that we got one!" When we stepped out of the church we found ourselves in a real snowstorm which didn't let up the whole night. It was incredibly beautiful and really felt like Christmas.

I hope that wherever you are, dear reader, you had a wonderful Christmas and that the coming year is a splendid one for you!

 In the park near my house

Winter sunset in the park

Monday, October 18, 2010


This high technology security arrangement was spotted in the nearby village of Bad H----d on Saturday evening.
Fritz was going to make damn sure that nobody stole his wheels while he paid a social call to the poor widow Schmidt at the end of the street.


I went to see a travelling model railway exhibition last week. A chap and his wife have a very large trailer (about 12 m or so, by my very inaccurate reckoning) which they tow around Germany and charge people €3 to get into. Inside is one of the largest model railways I've seen for a long time, and the walls are glass cabinets with extra trains on display.

The layout has everything imaginable - there's a wharf (with anglers lounging nearby); there's a cable car to the mountaintop; there's a small mine which uses another special cable car arrangement to carry the loaded buckets down and the full ones back up; there are tunnels aplenty, lots of stations; a village with a tram; a village with a bus; a small mountain railway - in short everything that a model railway enthusiast could ever possibly want to see!

I spent about an hour in there (fortunately, despite the fact it was a cold day, it was relatively early in the morning and not many people were about - save a brace of grandfathers with their grandchildren in tow). There was a recording commentary running the whole time, which drew viewers' attention to various features, or made comment about various places "the balcony of the -- restaurant is especially crowded today -- and his jazz orchestra are in town!" - and sure enough, if you looked closely at first for, and then at, the restaurant, there on the balcony were a crush of couples dancing a quickstep as the band played. 

The best piece of advice that the narrator gave was for adults to crouch down next to their children (I was loath to do this next to someone else's grandchild!) and to see the world "through a child's eyes". I tried this, and it totally changed my perspective, and heightened my enjoyment of the layout.

I'm not entirely sure what the attraction is of model railways. It's almost definitely a chap's pursuit (I'm yet to meet a lady who genuinely likes model railways, although I will say that I've known several who have been polite enough to indulge their husband's or partner's enthusiasm for same) and I would say that the appeal comes from several sides. Firstly, a delight in the models themselves - all of which are works of art (this applies especially to model steam engines, model diesel, or electric, engines are just - as they are in real life - big metal boxes on wheels with very few externally visible moving parts, and definitely nothing as impressive as the pistons, connecting rods, and driving wheels of even the smallest branchline steam engine!); secondly, the thrill of being able to drive the engines yourself (with a dash of imagination, a model railway engineer can imagine himself thundering across Europe by moonlight pulling the Orient Express, or, on the other hand, pootling down an overgrown branch line taking the Sunday School Special to the seaside for a treat) - whatever kind of real life railway piques your interest, a model railway lets you live out your dream!  

Below are a couple of pictures I took during a break in the narrative - when visitors were told that they were allowed to take pictures. 

 It apparently took over 8,000 hours to complete the layout


It's a foggy day today - which of itself isn't uncommon for this time of year, but what makes it special is that the fog has hung around even after the sun has (nominally) risen. The day started early, I went to teach a merry group of engineers at the locomotive factory, but now find myself at a loose end for a couple of hours until I go back to HQ to teach a couple of mild-mannered (but extremely lively) children in the afternoon.

I walked home (in order to go past the post office to pick up a book I'd ordered) and I walked deliberately slowly, watching the fog curl down along the narrow side-streets between the old buildings (of which, fortunately, there are still a couple left in Kassel. They must have been very sturdily constructed!).

On my way back I will walk through the park and take a couple of decent photographs of the fog to try and capture the mood.


Of course the fog had lifted by the time I left the house (and hadn't had the courtesy to descend again by the time I left the school) but, not to be deterred, I took these couple of pictures below in the park.

Looking across the park from a vantage point

A tree by the main road