Saturday, February 27, 2010

Sundays in Germany

26 February 2010

I was originally going to call this “A Tale of Two Sundays” and start it off with: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”. But then a third Sunday came and went, and now I’m approaching the sixth Sunday and still haven’t made the entry. Everything has changed, and I want to write about the changes, but first comes the entry I’ve been putting off for weeks, and tomorrow or the next day I’ll write an update about this past week.

The “best of times/worst of times” reference was intended to be a wry (albeit tongue-in-cheek) comment on an interesting aspect of life in Germany. One of the best things about Germany is that people love to walk outdoors, and so there are hiking paths all over the place. But one of the worst things about Germany is that people love to walk outdoors, so there are *people* all over the walking paths. For a hiker and backpacker who cherishes silence and solitude, this takes some getting used to. And I’ve had several opportunities to get used to it, as I spent the next three Sundays after my Jeep excursion hiking in the mountains around Heidelberg.

The first time I went out was on 24 January. It was a crisp winter day, but without much snow. I went to the north of Heidelberg, on the other side of the Neckar River. There’s a famous path called the Philosophenweg (Philosopher’s Way) that goes along the north side of the river for miles. I parked right at the beginning of this path, which is in town, and started up. Very soon, though, I took a detour up an interesting-looking path that led up a mountain (well, these “mountains” might really better be called “hills” – they’re not exactly Alpine but they are small mountains – steep and mostly wooded. This particular mountain is called the “Heiligenberg” (Holy Mountain). It turned out that there were a lot of really interesting things up there.

The first one was this tower commemorating Otto von Bismarck (“The Iron Chancellor”). He was responsible for the unification of Germany in the late 1800’s and for the creation of the beginnings of the modern German state. I thought he must have had some connection with Heidelberg, as there is also a Bismarckplatz with a statue of him in the center of town. But a little research showed that there were at least a couple hundred “Bismarcktuerme” and “Bismarcksauele” – he was a popular object of monument-building.

Bismarckturm Heiligenberg

Many of the pictures of Bismarcktuerme on the website show the top with a huge flame on it, including at least one historical picture of this one. It reminded me of the beacons of Gondor in "The Lord of the Rings". I suspect that's why it's high on a mountain, and I also suspect that the beacon feature of the monument may have some symbolism connected with his role in unifying the various smaller German states into the Deutsches Reich (German Empire, and also sometimes referred to as the "Second Reich"). I climbed up inside to look at the view, which was cool.

Then a bit further up the mountain, I came upon a huge open-air amphitheater. It turns out it was built by the Nazis as a propaganda tool. They apparently built (or planned to build) over 400 of these around the country. It has 8,000 seats and standing room for 5,000 more. It languished for many years after the fall of the Third Reich, but in the late 1980’s it was put back into use. I think it will be really cool to go to some kind of outdoor concert or program there.

Freilichtbuehne "Thingstaette" - the view from the bottom on the stage.

Freilichtbuehne "Thingstaette" - the view from the top.

Freilichtbuehne "Thingstaette" - diagram explaining the history.

A bit further up I came to some ruins, which included this sign with a synopsis of the history of the site:

It says: “The Heiligenberg has been settled since about 1000 BC. There are Celtic and Roman structures, a Franconian cemetery, an 8th Century castle, and religious buildings since the 9th century."

There was a ruined Kloster (cloister, i.e. monastery) still visible on the highest point.

This is a diagram of the Kloster floor plan, showing the various rooms. "Standort" means "You are standing here."

I climbed this tower to take the next photo.

It was cool to stand and look at this and imagine the monks up here on the mountaintop living their lives in their bare little cells.

Then I came to something really cool – a sign indicating the site of a Celtic ringwall.

The marker says: “Prehistoric Fortified Settlement, *inner ringwall*, {two connecting walls with a gate} , erected by the Celts against the obtruding Germans about 400 years before Christ”

This diagram shows how the entire mountain was surrounded by two concentric ringwalls. It explains that the Heiligenberg was the center of Celtic power in the 5th and 4th centuries B.C., maintaining a monopoly over the nearby iron deposits, a source of economic and military strength. I thought it was very interesting that the Nazis (specifically Joseph Goebbels' propaganda ministry) chose to put the amphitheater right in the middle of this prehistoric Iron Age seat of power (you can see the later amphitheater in the diagram).

The next Sunday (31 January) I went to the same place, but this time I simply continued along the Philosophenweg until I got tired, then turned around and came back. Near the beginning of my walk I was treated to what is probably the most famous view of Heidelberg, with the Schloss (castle), the Heiliggeistkirche (Church of the Holy Spirit) and the Alte Bruecke (Old Bridge):

There was a lot more snow this time, and it got deeper the higher I climbed. I really enjoyed this little brook I came across along the way.

It was very nice to hear the sound of running water in the woods after so much time in the desert. I can’t get enough of it!

This is a view down the Philosophenweg, further along the way. I was glad I had worn my hiking boots and tall gaiters, as the snow was almost up to my knees in some places. It got to be kind of tough going further up, but I was rewarded with almost complete silence and solitude, something quite rare here. I sat on a bench and had my lunch, including making a cup of hot tea in my canteen cup/stove, as I often do when I go for a hike. I also had a thermos of hot chocolate. I had brought my binoculars, and watched a woodpecker work on a tree for quite some time. It was an interesting color - no white or red like in the USA, only black or dark colors, with a sort of fluffy collar around it's neck. I meant to look it up in a bird book or website when I got back, but I guess I'm not much of a birdwatcher. At the end of the path, just before going back down to the car, I stopped and sat on another bench with a view of Heidelberg, and enjoyed a pipeful of tobacco. I had almost taken my pipe with me to the desert but did not, and now I’m happy to have it back again.

P.S. - Ok, just had to look it up:
I must have been wrong about the red coloration on the head. I guess I just didn't see it. Perhaps it was a female, which has a smaller red patch according to this. Assuming the website had a complete list of European woodpeckers, this is the only one it could have been.

The following weekend, 7 February, I decided to drive to a completely different place to hike. I just drove off to the north looking for a likely-looking place to turn east into the mountains. After awhile I did so, and after some winding and climbing on narrow roads through little towns I found a Parkplatz set up for cross-country skiers and hikers.

The Germans are very well-organized, and have signs like this for all the hiking paths I’ve seen. Notice something odd about the sign? (Hint – I had a heck of a time orienting this sign to my map until I noticed it).

Typical view down one of the paths I walked on. The terrain reminded me of the movie "Battle of the Bulge". This weekend the snow was deep and crunchy. I sunk in just enough with every step that it was like walking on a beach. I was quite exhausted after I got back to the car. I was glad to have my Jeep, as I had to help some people free their car after they got stuck trying to go too far into the unplowed parking lot.

Afterwards I drove back in the general direction of Heidelberg, kind of randomly picking interesting-looking roads through the mountains. Things started to look vaguely familiar, and then I came around a corner in a little village and was right in front of the “Goldenen Hirsch”, the restaurant I had eaten in the first day I took my Jeep out for a drive. I was very tempted to stop and eat, but I had already decided what I was doing for dinner that night and stuck to my plan. Now I can’t remember what that plan was, so it must not have been as good as the Goldenen Hirsch! Next time I’ll stop there for sure – in fact I think it will be a destination.

This was the last Sunday that I hiked in Germany. I had intended to spend every Sunday this way, but I found the piles of cardboard boxes too hard to ignore, and spent the next Sunday (14 February) unpacking, putting up pictures, and generally making my BOQ more homelike. That was very rewarding, and I am really starting to feel at home there.

The following Sunday (21 February) was spent in a *completely* different manner, but that’s a story for the next entry.

Meanwhile I have some very pleasant memories of my first month in Germany. :-)

Mood: Reminiscent
Music: Songs of the Obsersalzberg


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