This weekend is Heilbad Heiligenstadt's city festival, otherwise known as the Festival of Carrots. I thought about going on another trip this weekend but decided to forego it in favour of experiencing some of the culture of this city, my temporary home.
As the story goes Heiligenstadt was once besieged by marauders. Seeing the marauding marauders coming towards the city, the townspeople wisely closed the gates of their then-walled city. The walls are not so much in evidence now, but when your city is something like a thousand years old, some things change. Unfortunately, the bar that usually holds such gates closed was nowhere in evidence, and, for a moment, there was dispair. Then someone came running up with… a carrot. A carrot the size of an strongman's arm. They jammed it into the gate, and it held.
And the town would have been saved, but after a few days of hanging out inside, the animals became hungry and a little goat at through the carrot. Then the marauding marauders marauded.
But, being wise marauding marauders, they were aware of the ecologic theories surrounding the concept of optimum harvest, and they did not drive Heiligenstadt to extinction.
So today there is a Festival of Carrots, a contest to grow the largest carrot (training, perhaps?) which I missed, and a Carrot King.
And also, lots of wonderful, wonderful food.
We wander around for a while having deep-fried cauliflower, Rahmbrot (a flat bread topped with sour cream, green onions, and bacon), and dropping by a beer stand which one of our co-workers is staffing. The stand is run by one of the town's Catholic churches (I know, right?) and the staff changes through the whole gamut of possible workers. The evening starts out with sixteen- and sixty-year-olds and then, as the night wears on, reverts to college- and middle-aged people. We're invited to help with the staffing on the following evening.
I also discover Piña Coladas, Alcohol #18.
Later, we join up with Igor and head over to a different part of town in search of mythical WCs which a whole litany of signs have pointed towards without ever identifying where, exactly, they are. (This may account for the large numbers of people we see off in alley-ways.) This leads us to bumper cars and amusement rides. By that time, it's getting somewhat late, so I head home leaving my housemates to do as they will.
Which means I'm up bright and early the next morning for a walk. I've headed into the hills a couple of times, so I feel like it's time to explore elsewhere.
After I've gone up and past the Tegut and out along the road past a partially-decaded industrial district, I see that a slice of hill has been cut away for some kind of construction purpose. I'm not sure how other people get to know an area, but I really can't pass up a stratigraphic record. Alas, there's very little which I recognise…
By cities/towns per square mile, I'm sure most large swaths of Germany must count as a metropolis of sorts. Just two miles from Heiligenstadt, I see another little town. The sun is playing on the hills and fields around it, but I'm not ready to return to buildings 'n' such yet, so I take a different way.
And that road leads me up around the rich, redish soil of a field (containing in the middle a copse of trees with a hunting stand) and along the far side. When a path opens into the woods, I follow it. The walk's good because it is providing me ample opportunity to consider the temporal dynamics of grain competition for my work. One can get paid to mosey.
My thoughts of grain competition are interrupted by a different ecological mystery. Niche specialization, phenotypic plasticity, succession?
The path takes me up and out of the forest and I follow the road around a curve to find another little town.
Perhaps this one has seen less conversion than Heiligenstadt, or perhaps it was always more agrarian. The whole town is filled with these monolithic buildings with imposingly-large doors leading into courtyards. The monoliths are subdivided into apartments now, but the whole town as a feeling that it isn't far removed from its original purpose. Every person I see seems to be engaged in some industrious activity: working with horses, laying bricks, chopping wood.
On the edge of town, I stop a woman and her child to ask how one might get back to Heiligenstadt. She points the way, I nod, and then ask her, “But isn't there an indirect way? Perhaps towards those hills?” And she says there is: the walk continues!
I follow a lovely little road for another mile or so, and then see a bike path (which I later learn runs at least twenty or thirty miles away from town) and follow this back in past a garden-village. On the way, I see about eight police vans drive by. The Festival of Carrots is a well-managed affair, it would seem.
The evening evolves along a similar trajectory to the previous night. Unfortunately, the manager who'd invited us to staff the beer stand isn't around, so we don't have that experience. Passing by a carnival game where you pay per-shot to shoot the base off of a flower (which you can then give to whoever is accompanying you), I'm drawn in. Who cares about flowers? This is a gun. You can buy seven shots for three euro, or one apiece at fifty cents. I buy one and hit the canister dead-on, but the top part doesn't fracture, leaving it holding together by a strip maybe two or three bullet widths wide. I buy another shot and hit destroy that strip. Afterwards, Ping and I give the bumper cars another go and I wonder if long-term use is associated with brain damage.
On Sunday I wake up without an alarm at something like seven in the morning. Outside, there is an impressive grid of contrails which fade to high-altitude clouds by eight or nine in the morning. A perfectly cloudless day soiled by modern technology. I haven't seen this process so closely before, but had heard that when all the planes were grounded for several days after 9/11 that the day-night temperature difference increased by about four degrees. This makes it much more believable. One is reminded that Sir Frank Whittle, when discussing his plans for the jet engine with a Cambridge aeronautics professor was told that it was “very interesting, my boy, but it will never work.” And now, this impossible plan is an indelible mark of modern civilization.
Regardless, it's a good day for a walk.
We climb up and through the forest and, a few miles later, come upon the Forest House, which is one of these places that seems old and picturesque and traditional from the outside, but inside turns out to be less than you had hoped for. (Tobies since their remodeling comes to mind.)
Nonetheless, inside it's nice, but when we take our seats a table out back, we discover a bouncy castle and speakers tied to trees playing country music. At least the food is tasty!
Following lunch, we decide not to follow my original plan of walking to the next town to the south and, instead to loop back. But the loop offers the opportunity to get off of the main trails and, before long, we're following a narrow path through the woods.
But, as usual, we're not the first people to have followed said path and come shortly to a hunting stand. Later, we pass by a mirror lake and follow an old rail grade back towards town. On the way, we pass over a bridge and look down to find that some guy has set up a generator, some speakers, and a turn table. As we walk past and away, he cranks up the system and the booming sound of metal follows us through the woods. Is this how DJs practise?
The line summarily deposits us near central Heiligenstadt and the walk is abruptly over.
At the Tegut grocery store the other night, I discovered HP sauce in glass bottles and the floodgates of my salivary glands were opened wide at the sight of it. Tonight, I have discovered that it makes an excellent topping for my fried-egg, avocado, tomato, lettuce toasted sandwiches.
Because it seems no week in Germany is complete without a garden party or gathering of some sort, we convene at Uwe's garden house in the earlier evening and fire up the grill. Again, it's a kind of rotating, never-ending feast coupled with conversation. As the night goes on, the rain pelts down all around and the temperature drops. But, in what seems to be typical German fashion, no one is perturbed and the tarps that have been tied up in anticipation of this flap and bang around us. I'm still wearing a T-shirt and shorts and have some awareness that the air around me is cold, though I don't feel it. But, at last, seeing that everyone else around me has either taken out their own (or borrowed other's) warm clothes, I consent to borrow something as well.
Andreas gives us a ride home and it isn't until I'm at our flat that I realize I forgot my camera at the garden house.
The garden house is on the way to work, so I head there without a definite plan about how to retrieve my camera. Arriving, I find the gate locked and, while debating whether to vault over it, cross over the stream around back the gardens, meander through a hedge, and come upon a scene right out of James Harriot.
I've ne'er thought of cows as particular beautiful, but I can see how one might come to think of them as such. Heading back away from the field, I linger in front of the gate again. Uwe appears suddenly on the second floor balcony of the garden house, “Are you looking for your camera?” He invites me in and he, his wife, and I share a breakfast of eggs, ham, and potatoes (of course).
Walking to work…
Walking home from work, I find a most exciting poster hanging in a random shop window and so, the next week I head out from work early. I find the Gymnasium without too much difficulty, but, in Germany, a Gymnasium is a kind of advanced, pre-professional/science high school, so this was less helpful than you may think. I wander through the empty hallways and, hearing the sound of a blockflute, follow it. Opening the door, I interrupt an eight-year-old and her teacher, but they're happy to point out where I need to go: outside, across the field, and across a river. As I go, I hope that they weren't so annoyed at the interruption as to send me someplace random. But, as I cross the bridge, I see a long, low building by the river and know I've arrived.|
Inside, a group of five or so kids are attached by their waists to a wall with long stretches of surgical tubing tossing ping pong balls in the air, lunging, and catching them. The couch walks over and we have a conversation in mixed German, Italian, and English which I don't entirely follow, but it ends with me wearing a bunch of fencing gear and the oldest of the kids, a high-schooler, probably, getting suited up as well. “Piano!” command the couch, thankfully. It's been a very long time since I've fenced, but it comes back soon enough. I ground, and I keep it. Unable to draw my opponent into the extended interactions and engagements of the French schools, I embrace a tempo-driven, distance-based Italian style which proves effective.
Before long, the couch swaps in. He's a more energetic and assertive version of his student. And we're drawing about even. His parries are wide, overly forceful, and come too much from the arm, so he falls prey to the double- and triple-disengages which I float into advance-lunges. Unused to counter-parries, he can't stop them except through distance. His strong-armed attacks convince me to consciously parry an inverted three. It's a strong maneuvar and presents the blade at a good angle to gain leverage for blade-takes and the like, but he's out as quick as he's in and, alas, I my hand does not remember to rotate on the ripostes, so the angulation isn't sufficient to catch. This draws me too close and he is a vicious in-fighter.
Afterwards, he suggests that I should try epee because of my height, saying that I do not move as quickly as one should for foil. “Maybe,” I reply, “but the foil is… sweet.” He nods, saying that the disengages were “supersmart”. As I leave, I feel a kind of disappointment well up. The fencing had been good, but it had been electric and we had wasted those minutes fiddling with the equipment; we'd stared at a soul-less box instead of contemplating the flow of our actions. It was obvious from the blade play that this was a school which emphasised speed of footwork and lunges over precision of bladework. And, though there are good lessons to be learned from this, I'm not sure how well me knee would do with it. And my wrist felt sore as well. No, if I am to get back into fencing, it will need to be a little more of a process.