When my friend Liz lived in Germany, she and I would go exploring. One lovely spring day she suggested a trip to the nearby town of Weinstadt. It lies in the Rems Valley, a region known for vinyards and orchards. Weinstadt has charming villages, wooded hills, wine and sculptures… all mixed together.Weinstadt is actually five towns that joined together in 1975: Beutelsbach, Endersbach, Großheppach, Schnait and Strümpfelbach. We walked through the streets and the Sculpture Trails in the latter two (Strümpfelbach and Schnait).Weinstadt’s slogan is „Kultur trifft Natur“ or “Art Meets Nature”. A family with three (3!) generations of artists reside in Weinstadt. It is their art that decorates this already gorgeous area.Bronze and stone sculptures are tucked into bushes and vinyards, yards and walls.Professor Karl Ulrich Nuss first started the Scupture Route initiative. Karl is in the middle of the art dynasty that includes his father Professor Fritz Nuss (1907-1999), and two grandchildren of Fritz: Christoph Traub (born in 1964) and Felix Engelhardt (born in 1970).
Liz and I wandered through the vinyard’s sloped hills with our cameras.
Spring was running riot with blooming trees and flowers everywhere. The flowering Nature made the perfect backdrop to the artwork …
or was it the other way around?
Amongst other places, Fritz Nuss’s work is displayed in the British Museum and the Liederhalle in Stuttgart.
When we talk about salt, we talk most often of sodium chloride. This is NaCl, consisting of the elements sodium and chlorine.
There is a charming tradition in Germany of bringing a loaf of bread and salt to friends when they move into a new home. The saying is that if you have those two items in your house you’ll always survive. Bread and salt are still ceremoniously served to guests in parts of northern and eastern Europe.
Mark Kurlansky writes, “Loyalty and friendship are sealed with salt because its essence does not change. In both Islam and Judaism, salt seals a bargain because it is immutable… In Christianity, salt is associated not only with longevity and permanence but, by extension, wth truth and wisdom. The Catholic Church dispenses not only holy water but holy salt, Sal Sapientia, the salt of wisdom.” 
Seeing the hard way salt is won from pits changed forever the way I think about this simple condiment.
We were staying for only a few days in Vientiane, the capitol of Laos, and spent a day with a guide and a driver to see a bit of the area. One of the spots we toured was a traditional salt harvesting town. A little settlement lives at and from the pits (and has burned down numerous times). Each time, they rebuild right next to the pits.
Salty waters are brought up from deep underground
and then boiled in open metal pans. Their burning fires glowed and sent off intense heat. The briny steam that rose felt like being in some strange circle of Dante’s Purgatory.
Once the water has boiled away the salt is gathered in baskets, weighed, and stored in a barn.
Workers then bag and tag the salt, preparing it for market.
Salt is a serious business. The salt from this mine is sent to the north where people still suffer endemic goiters.
I thought of the pits of hell, of work so demanding and hot that it left scars. Just being tied to a spot like this must bake you and make you hard. Or so I thought. Instead, I met workers doing their jobs in neatly ironed clothing. The women all had on jewelry. A group of little children trailed us everywhere, laughing and mugging as children do.
Since that day salt has tasted both sweeter and bitterer, or herber as the Germans say. And in that small word I hear the echo of the coming season, Herbst, Autumn. The summer is burning away and fall is coming. May your harvest tables everywhere include bread and salt.
NOTES:  Mark Kurlansky, Salt: A World History (Vintage Books, 2002), p. 7.
(All photographs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the image.)
On July 4th, Germany made soccer history. They are the first country to ever make it to four World Cup Semi-Finals in a row. I’m back in the US for a visit, and watched that game early in the morning on my friend’s couch with the German flag in face paint on my cheeks and a German lei draped around my neck.
I came to soccer late. It wasn’t until after I moved to Europe in 1992 that I realized how exciting the World Cup is. The globe takes its soccer pretty seriously (understatement of the century!); I first became a fan out of a need to share in the experience or miss out on life for weeks at a time. When Germany hosted the World Cup in 2006, I became a fan for real. What great matches! What a party!
So here I am in 2014, cheering on everyone. I’ve cajoled my friends into going to pubs and restaurants with wide screen televisions, or watching at home. I was happy to see the USA make it through the elimination round in Group G (the Group of Death), ironically up against Ghana, Portugal, – and Germany. I rooted for both even as I knew Germany would take it.
During the next round I watched the Argentina-Belgium match on a Spanish speaking station. I had the volume turned low, but I love hearing the cheering and chanting of fans in the stands.
The sounds suddenly reminded me of Pink Floyd, of all things. I was 16 when Dark Side of the Moon was released, and if you know me that fact explains everything. But Floyd’s earlier album (and that’s a word that really dates me) Meddle contains the song “Fearless” with a background of singing Liverpool F.C. fans. At the time I didn’t know from soccer. I was sure the sound had to be religious chanting, like the noise of saffron robed Indians on a hillside in Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Remember the scene in Dharmsala where they sing out notes and point at the sky? I somehow made a connection between religion, and Pink Floyd, and joyous tones.
It was decades later that I moved to Europe. When I heard the chants of fans in the stadiums I realized with a start that it’s really about soccer.
So it’s all come full circle. I’m back for a visit in the wonderful country of my birth; I’m watching the land I currently call home kick butt and take names as they make sports history; and it’s all accompanied by a soundtrack that returns to me to one of the happiest times of my life.
GO TEAM !!!
A shout out to Mark O’Brien and American Dream Pizza for opening up the bar early so we could watch Germany make more history as they beat Brazil. 7-1, baby! http://www.adpizza.com/
Soccer ball image courtesy http://www.dreamstime.com. Cover art work for Pink Floyd’s Meddle, image courtesy of Wikipedia. Music video courtesy of YouTube.
Many people feel Berlin is now the cultural heart of Europe. Creative impulses come from Germany’s capitol and spread from there. One of the quirkiest is the Buddy Bears.
The Buddy Bears creators were inspired by the cow parades in New York and Zurich. Eva and Klaus Herlitz of Berlin wanted to initiate a similar street art project. The bear is the icon of Berlin, and thus in 2001, the Herlitzes created the first bear with a sculptor named Roman Strobl.
Their projected expanded, and in 2002 it went international. They had a bear created for every country the UN acknowledges, all designed by artists native to each country. To date 148 2-meter high fiberglass United Buddy Bears have been painted. The bears have their arms raised as if they’re holding hands. (This can also be described as the laughing Buddha pose.)
The first display took place in a circle around Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate. One and a half million people saw the exhibit, always free of charge. The circle symbolizes the Art of Tolerance. Since then, they’ve toured 5 continents and stood in an alphabetical circle in the centers of 17 host cities.*
In 2008 the Buddy Bears came to the Schlossplatz in downtown Stuttgart. (Read my post The Year the World Came to Party about how the 2006 Soccer World Cup transformed Germany. The Schlossplatz is where Uwe and I went each night with friends to watch the games on big screens.)
The United Buddy Bears send a message about peace, understanding, love and tolerance among the world’s nations, cultures and religions. Each bear is painted with images of the culture, history, landscape, economy, art and music of its country.
When new bears are commissioned, the older ones are auctioned off. All monies go to UNICEF and other childrens’ charities. To date (December 2013), over 2 million Euros have been raised for charities such as Eva Herlitz’s Buddy Bear Help!
Over 240 artists have been involved in the project, and more than 30 million visitors have seen the United Buddy Bears. A smaller circle of United Buddy Bears-The Minis (1 meter high) also tours.
The United Buddy Bears exhibitions are always opened by national and foreign dignitaries. They even have a Special Ambassador: the actress Dennenesch Zoudé. After he saw the bears in Berlin, actor Jackie Chan made sure the bears came to Hong Kong. UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Sir Peter Ustinov saw them and he insisted that Iraq be represented.
There is one very special grey and white bear, a polar bear. He has the image of Albert Einstein and the following quote: ‘Peace cannot be kept by force. It can only be achieved by understanding’.
NOTE: * It’s fascinating to consider that United Buddy Bears change their order as they travel. The circle is always organized in the language of the host country. Buddy Bears may suddenly hold hands with distant or hostile neighbors…
Travel karma is the bad luck, bad weather, bad room, bad case of Montezuna’s revenge… all the moments that you hope you’ll look back on and laugh about someday. That Jamaica honeymoon your brother booked, and the hotel had a fire? Blame it on travel karma. Our week on Malta in the autumn month that the travel agent swore got only 2-3 days of rain, and we were there for all 5 of them? Oh, yeah. It was travel karma.
There’s nothing you can do except shrug your shoulders, find a comfy café to hang out, and pull out the book you brought along.
Travel karma is other moments, too. It’s serendipity, the magic of being in the right place at the exactly right time. It’s the town festival you stumble into while out exploring. Travel karma is the restaurant with the fixed price menu that turns out to include champagne throughout the meal. It’s when you jump on a train 10 seconds before the doors close to leave.
Every so often travel karma gives you a heady dose of both moments…
We booked a charter flight to India.
I don’t always sleep well on the eve of a trip, and slept especially poorly this night. The next morning we were on a very early ICE train to Frankfurt to get our flight to India. The ICE is a sleek, fast train that makes few stops and great time.
I hauled my train pass out of my travel purse out of my day back for the train attendant to check. Tired, I reminded myself that I would need to put the pass back in the purse and the purse back in the day pack.
We got off the train and headed up into the airport. A few horrified minutes later I realized my purse was right where I’d left it, on the seat of a train now heading to Amsterdam… containing my passport. And my credit cards. And my train pass. And $$s. And €€s, all the ready money I was carrying as we weren’t sure how easy it would be to find cash machines.
We could get more cash in the airport and use Uwe’s credit cards, but I wasn’t going anyplace unless I got my passport back. The helpful folks at DB (Deutsches Bahn) contacted the train and they checked: my purse still lay on the seat where I’d left it! The problem was that the next scheduled stop for the ICE wouldn’t be until Köln, several hours up the tracks. DB would hold my purse for me there. There was no way I’d have my passport back in time for us to make our plane.
It was too late to do anything but rebook the flight to India. If I said “Uwe, I’m soooo sorry!” once, I said it 100 times. Man, did I feel awful. But – it was travel karma.
Uwe climbed on the next train heading back to Stuttgart (looking a whole lot less happy than he had early that morning) and I caught a train to Köln. The DB personnel hadn’t been able to report if my purse still contained my valuables. My passport was stamped with the resident alien visa that allowed me to remain in Germany. And without my passport I couldn’t head back to America to see my country, or my family, or go anywhere, for that matter. I felt oddly vulnerable. This situation was bad, and the more I worried about it, the worse it became.
As I sat on the train I bargained with the travel gods: “Just leave me the passport.”
When we reached Köln I realized I hadn’t eaten anything since supper the night before. I wasn’t ready yet for good/bad news about my purse. I bought myself a sandwich and a coffee and stalled for five minutes. Then it was time… I headed to Lost & Found and told someone my story. Of course, I no longer had any ID to prove who I was. He asked me to describe the purse and what was in it. I flinched inside as I told him.
The nice man vanished into the back and returned with my purse. “Go ahead and check that everything’s there,” he suggested. I know my hands shook as I unzipped it and looked.
Not a pfennig had gone missing. I shrieked Ya-hoo! and he laughed. Then I said thank you and left the little office.
I went directly to the flower vendor kitty-corner to Lost & Found and bought the largest bouquet of white blooms they offered. I marched with the bouquet back into the Lost & Found office. The employees all looked up astonished when they saw me again.
My voice quavered. “These are for all of you. It’s not enough just to say, ‘Thank you for doing your jobs’. It’s so great to know that there are still honest, helpful people in the world!” Nonplussed, they accepted the flowers, but everyone was smiling.
The train trip back to Stuttgart from Köln took 3 hours. The next charter flight to India left 3 days later. When we got finally got there I had one of the most amazing trips of my life. I probably used up a lot of good travel karma on that day I had to journey to Köln, but I hope I’ve added to my karma account since then. And I will never, ever forget my belongings on a train going anywhere. That’s one lesson I’ve learned!
(All photographs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the image.)
More pictures from India and of Uwe’s photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.
“But Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley.” –Robert Burns To a Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest with the Plough
Feste the Fool: [Singing]
“He that has and a little tiny wit– With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,– Must make content with his fortunes fit, For the rain it raineth every day.” —Shakespeare King Lear, Act III, Scene 2
“Man plans; God laughs.” —Anonymous
We’re renovating our apartment, and line up all the dates for workmen and repairs months in advance. We decide that once it starts will be the perfect time for me to fly back to America and visit my family. It’s finally about to begin, when suddenly…
We receive a phone call that my mother-in-law is in the hospital. She lives about 1 1/2 hours south of us, so Uwe and I take turns heading down there. He spends a night in a hotel. I arrive by train the next day and take over so that Uwe can drive home to work.
We need to move Mama into assisted living; I volunteer to go meet with the nursing home staff. For anyone contemplating life in a foreign language, the year I spent in submersion classes learning to speak fluent German pays off now. It would be scary not to understand what is happening, and awful not to be able to help my husband.
Her doctors think she needs an operation and schedule a day for it. Then the next time I go down, they inform us they’ve decided not to operate. She is moved out of the ICU. And then back into the ICU. And then back out of the ICU. Uwe deals with banks and Mama’s newspaper deliveries and the phone company. We need to keep updating the nursing home. Each day is a roller coaster experience.
Should I cancel or push back my flight to the US? I keep asking, but Uwe continues to assure me I can head out as planned.
Germany has record flooding. It rains every day and the train runs alongside the banks of the Neckar River. I have the surreal experience of watching the waters keep rising, along with our concerns about Mama.
In the meantime I try to write. I see massage patients. But I’m shocked when my sister announces my nephew’s birthday has arrived. I know it’s still a few days away, and then l look at a calendar. I have the date and what day of the week it is both wrong. I lost 48 hours somewhere.
Friday the tile layer begins work in the hallway. Saturday I go to my monthly writers’ group and come home to find an email about an award. Sunday I take my last train ride. Monday the tile layer returns and Mama can finally leave the hospital. Uwe drives down to get his mother settled in and buy furniture, etc. for her new digs. I remain home to hold down the fort. Tuesday the next Handwerker arrives and for two days walls are fixed in the next room (as I type these words. Literally.)
I am grateful for the completely unexpected VERY INSPIRING BLOGGER Award. It’s a glad moment in what have been harried days and nights. The wonderful, creative Jen Payne at http://randomactsofwriting.wordpress.com has honored me with the nomination. It’s a lovely recognition. It doesn’t involve answering or posing questions. Best of all, it arrived at the height/depth of 2 weeks of insanity. This award provided me with light for the end of the tunnel, letting me know that maybe I’m not just viewing the headlights of an oncoming train ….
The word inspire means to “fill with the urge or ability to do or feel something, especially to do something creative.” I feel my creativity slowly returning as the flood waters in some spots finally begin to recede.
Heartfelt thanks again to Jen at Random Acts of Writing [+ art] for the nomination. I’m delighted to pass on the compliment by following the award rules and nominating 15 other bloggers.
VERY INSPIRING BLOGGER RULES
• Display the award logo on your blog.
• Link back to the person who nominated you.
• Nominate 15 other bloggers for this award and link to them.
• Notify those bloggers of the nomination and the award’s requirements.
May my nominations bring you amusement, relief, or whatever you may be needing at the moment. It’s great to be part of this community! (Written June 12th, 2013)