For me Kailey, I was super excited to be going back to Germany to see family and more of the country. It also felt like returning to see an old friend as I had been there 10+ years ago on exchange. I have grown up knowing the language and speaking it a bit so I definitely felt like “I was coming home” in a way, especially after being in Brussels and France where I couldn’t communicate with anyone.
We arrived at 8:30am after taking the train from Nice back to Paris, then an overnight train from Paris to Stuttgart followed by the train from Stuttgart to Tubingen. It was a whirlwind train trip kind of like the Amazing Race show that began when we decided to go to the train station early to sort out some ticket time issues. Sam sorted them out by in a half hour of our arrival at the station to the point that he came running out of the ticket office saying “grab your bags we have to go NOW!” We ran through the station and got on a train to Paris with just minutes before it left. It turned out that it was good we got there early and that we were then put on an earlier train to Paris which meant that we would make all our connections then. So the journey began.
In Paris we got on our overnight train thinking we had chairs to spend quality time in while we traveled. We carefully locked all of our belongings up and then boarded the train to find out that we were in a Sleeping car with a family from China. (See the end of the Nice blog for more information). In the end we were grateful to have a sleeping car that allowed us to sleep a bit on this long journey. 4:30am rolled around and we arrived in Stuttgart (the train lady woke us up) and we got off all blurry-eyed and realized it was freezing and foggy at this outdoor train station. BRRRRRRRRRR!!!! We were also greeted by many drunk men and women in lehderhosen and dirndels who had just left Oktoberfest (Wassen) in Stuttgart barefoot, singing, and all other forms of entertainment that you would expect from such festivities.
A little while later we were finally on the train to Tubingen getting warm and sitting in our own four seats enjoying the space. I am pretty sure I slept most of the 1hr trek (see Sam’s sleeping pictures) and Sam just relaxed and warmed up. We were welcomed with hugs and hello’s from my Uncle Mark and Aunt Susanne upon our early Sunday morning arrival to town. I was really excited to be there. We went back to their house, got the grand tour of their place, had an amazing Breakfast, then proceeded to sleep for the next couple of hours.
We stayed with my Aunt and Uncle the entire week and had our own little apartment like place in the basement of their house. After sleeping/not sleeping in hostel beds and using hostel showers this was a rather luxurious stay for us. It was also super nice to be surrounded by family, have warm home cooked meals, and to have people to talk with. We overall had a wonderful stay at the Genther-Bailer Gasthaus and part of us both didn’t want to leave. So what did we do for 8 days?
We began our stay with a tour of their neighborhood followed by a movie night (Red) with the family. We then went to bed and slept in, in our own space… IT WAS SO NICE!
Monday was our special tour of Tubingen by our native tour guide Susanne (in german pronounced Sooos-anne-ah) and my uncle. I secretly think it was also to see how alert we were as we were left to roam the town on our own a few days later… While in Tubingen we also had to see their castle of course and walk along the Neckar River which runs through town.
Note: that throughout this entire stay we had amazing breakfast, lunch and dinner and most of it was home cooked.
Tuesday brought the arrival of my cousin Sebastian (Basti), his girlfriend Anja and their dog Missy. Sam, Uncle Mark and I went to school with Susanne (she’s a science and geography teacher at the hauptschule) for the morning which Sam enjoyed seeing the German education system and school. We even got to talk to the students in English about where we were from and our backgrounds. They were shy teenagers, but I think they enjoyed having us around for the few hours we were there. They were learning cell biology… I was a little rusty, but Sam jumped right in! After returning home, having a quick lunch Basti and Anja joined us on a trip to the town next door Hechingen to see my favorite castle Hohenzollen (still privately owned) and to have a special tour of the restored Synagogue. As for the castle see the pictures and you can see why I am such a big fan of it. It is not huge, but perfectly perched atop a high hill with spectacular views. It also has all the typical castle necessities: draw bridge, towers, prison cells, chapels, ballrooms etc. The Synagogue was a special treat to tour as my Aunt and Uncle knew the people who had the keys to it. It had been destroyed in the Night of Broken Glass, but then in the late 80s a few motivated citizens (not necessarily Jewish) in town got together and raised enough money to restore it to its exact state before the war. It was a pretty neat thing to see the pictures of what happened to the temple that night and then to look around and see the work that had been done to bring it back. The organizers even went so far as to research and find all the surviving families from the area and invite them back to see the reopening of the temple. The coolest part about visiting the synagogue was that it was a special thing that unless you knew people you would never get the chance to learn about it. It is not in any guidebooks as far as we know and there would be no chance of us ever getting this opportunity if it were not for the fact that uncle Mark and aunt Susanne happen to know people and were willing to see if they were willing to let us look around.
On Wednesday we woke up and headed out to do some high bog hiking before walking around Baden-Baden and then to back to France to see Strasbourg. On the way to the high bogs we happened to drive past a stand advertising pumpkins for sale. Well we certainly weren’t going to pass up this opportunity and quickly pulled over, picked out some pumpkins to carve for Halloween of course , then continued on to the high bogs.
Even though it was a cloudy day hiking up to the high bogs was still really cool and it was interesting to see some of the German countryside and nature up close. The walk was really nice and soon we were back on the road towards Baden-Baden, a famous town for its thermal baths. We got to stroll around Baden-Baden for a bit, mingling with the “pretty” people, since apparently that is where all the really rich and famous (and Obama stops by) go to relax and escape. We saw the famous spa that was built on the geothermal pools before deciding to head off to Strasbourg for some evening walking and meal. Strasbourg was a really interesting city with some very typical German architecture even though it was in France (you can put two and two together I bet). After a great time walking around, having a good dinner and then heading late back to Tubingen we fell asleep rather quickly that evening.
The next day we wandered on our own after breakfast through Tubingen, visiting a tea shop that we really liked and a few other places that had piqued our interest a few days before. We made sure to print out our ballots before we left and exercised our constitutional rights and mailed out our ballots. We spent the afternoon wandering through the city, poking our heads into a lot of the really cool little shops that they had, including a wine store like none other I’ve ever seen (Sam is very jealous of that store). We even made a stop at the local brewery and tasted some of Tubingen’s finest brew. After tagging along on a house hunting mission (they are considering buying a new house in town somewhere) with uncle Mark, aunt Susanne and Basti we came back home, had another awesome meal and got down to the real business of pumpkin carving. We soon learned that this would be Basti’s first pumpkin carving! Kailey embraced the German atmosphere and carved a large castle on a hill. After a few critical mistakes, Sam ended up carving a large carnivorous fish that had eaten several smaller fish, this was not the plan at the beginning but somehow through a series of unfortunate cuts he wound up with a pretty good pumpkin. Mark and Susanne went with unique faces, and Basti took the traditional scary face route. The seeds were saved and washed for roasting the next day.
Friday was spent steeped in local Tubingen traditions. First in the morning, Mark, Basti, Kailey and Sam picked every apple from the small tree out front. However though this tree was small, it held a ton of apples. We filled at least 8 large boxes with apples, so most likely they will be enjoying apple pies, and moscht (sp? German hard cider) for many months to come. Then we all packed up, took a small keg of beer and went Punting (Stockarkarting) on the Neckar river. We were joined by several of Mark and Susanne’s retired teacher friends from Hechingen. Apparently word got out when we were in Hechingen the other day and the friends (including Herr Osterman who Kailey knew from growning up with german exchanges every other Spring) really wanted to visit us. We must be cool :-)! We had a great afternoon on the river relaxing and catching up with old friends. That night Basti and Anja went out to a comedy show, so we got to hang out with Missy and relax and talk with Mark and Susanne.
Saturday was a nice relaxed day where we woke up late, had a great breakfast and then made our way over to Stuttgart so that we could see it properly in the light of day, sans all the insane revelers coming back from the Wassen. We walked around the city again getting a great tour by our team of guides (uncle Mark, Aunt Susanne and Basti). Stopped for a great little meal at a Italian bistro on a corner that apparently if you own a nice car you are required to drive around upon arrival in the city. After a good meal we continued our walk by heading over to Susanne’s favorite coffee and cake shop, conveinently located in the department store that carries the latest in Lederhosen Haute Couture. After some coffee and cake it was Lederhosen and Dirndel time and we proceeded to become fully outfit in the German culture. Sam apparently looks quite the Bavarian Noble and will have to dress up for Oktoberfest at some point in the future to see how well he can blend in. Kailey was just missing her braids. We wrapped up the day with a little more shopping, Mark needed a good coat to survive the harsh approaching German winter. We Headed home for some good rest before the day of Football and Wassen arrived!
Sunday arrived and we eagerly awoke and prepared ourselves by packing up our bags and then getting ready for the football match and Wassen (Tubingen’s own Oktoberfest, think Munich minus all the tourists). We got dressed, drove out to a nearby tram stop and boarded the tram along with lots of other Stuttgart supporters and headed into the city. Once there we made for the Wassen and wandered through the huge carnival rides, stands, foods and people. Mark stopped to show off his arm by dominating a carnival game and winning a lovely stuffed Homer Simpson. Kailey was treated to a traditional German cookie in the shape of a heart that declared Sam’s love for her (It says: I love you). After that it was time for the beer tent. We arrived, found our seats and were soon greeted with 6 masses (sp?, think beer stein but this is the actual German word for the container) of beer. Kailey even spent some time tasting other’s beers, and marveling at the mass of people singing, dancing and generally spreading cheer! The group of Italians next to us were particularly cheerful. After our beers were finished, it was time to walk over to the stadium and take our spots as faithful supporters of Stuttgart. The game was really fun to watch and the Ultras (elite fan group) were in fine form and spent the whole game showing their happiness or displeasure with the events on the field. It was a close game, thanks to some fine mistakes by Stuttgart and it finally ended in a tie. We left the field and headed back to Tubingen, where Basti and Anja packed up and started the 5 hour drive back to their house in Halle (their university city) as Basti had school at 7:30am the next day. We stayed up talking and eating a late dinner for several hours before also heading down and falling asleep. We both went to sleep not wanting the next day to come since we were having such a great time and did not really want to return to our lives as poor backpackers always on the move.
~ K. and Sam