Germany Knows Parks

Deutschland, you’ve outdone yourself.

WHEN I WAS A KID, I used to play at McManus Park in Bettendorf. Better known on the street as the “Rocket Park” because it featured a giant upright metal rocket that you could climb to the top, level by level. Each level an awkward series of rusty metal bars, ladders, stairs and hatches.    Everything was hard, sharp,  and the risk of falling, bumping, scraping was high – it was hard to get to the top unscathed.  20 or so feet below was a sand play area, the only problem being that the sand had either all been relocated to the rocket (where it got kicked in your eyes as you climbed) or had been blown away years ago,  and all that remained was the bedrock below.  Other play things like slides and merry-go-rounds were old, metal, rusty, and wicked fast.   Those were the good ol’ days.

A few years ago we took our kids back to that park of my childhood to play and found it had been replaced with this.  The three story rocket was gone, everything was made of some sort of soft composite.  Even the sand had been replaced with some recycled tire material.  It was clean, organized and super safe.

In otherwords, it sucked.

Enter the city parks in Germany, in this case the Luisenpark in Mannheim.  First, there’s the play equipment.  There are zip lines for kids, a tire swing contraption where the object is to actually collide with your partner, trampolines, and all manner of whip-lashing contraptions for kids:

 

 

Then there’s the wildlife, including a reptile zoo, aquarium, birds in cages as well as a few roaming free:

Jazz, if you can catch that bird I'll give you a Euro. "Ohtay, Daddy!"

There’s a Chinese garden replete with Koi pond:

A little adventure course with rope bridges and a chance to get your feet wet:

 

And this.  A playset made of real stone and metal, with a slide that will rip the skin off your back.  Ladders and fireman’s poles, big brick blocks and a million kids running wild. The kind of place that gives you a cold sweat watching your kids play.

The way kids were meant to play.

 

And not a single broken bone.

This time.

 

 

 

 

 

Anatomy of a Winefest

THIS WEEK the world famous Iowa State Fair rages back home.  I admit, I would not mind the chance  to walk up and down the fair grounds in Des Moines munching on a turkey leg and snickering at the mulletts. I sort of miss the (what’s the right word?)…corny-ness?…but what we lack in Butter Cows and friend Twinkies here in Rhineland-Pfalz we make up for in Winefests.

The perennial, omnipresent Winefest.  From spring to summer to fall, all up and down the Deutsch Weinstraßse, communities lay claim to a weekend to celebrate.  If wine is part of the culture here, then the winefests in the Pflaz area are the traditions that keep that culture vibrant.   There are literally hundreds of Winefests in communities big and small in the area.  Just this weekend, for example, there are no less than eleven communities with separate Winefests in about a 50km radius.   They range from grand, world renowned events, like the Durkheimer Würstmarkt, to alleyway festivals of neighbors, like the Hambach Jakobskerwe last weekend.

While not the Iowa State fair, they all ring familiar to us by now.  Each winefest is unique, but they also follow a cadence.   Take the Jakobskerwe last weekend as a case study:

There’s the music, often times a live band:

The candied nuts, always a stand of candied nuts:

Usually located in the quaint city center:

Grilled würst or schnitzel,  right off the schwencker…

 

Games and rides for the kids….

Elbow to elbow, a mass of people…

And of course, the wine, served in a unique glass that’s yours as a souvenir, if you are willing to forgo the 2€ deposit..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Travels of Jazz

We travel a lot, and with five kids we garner attention.  We are the ones clogging the public restrooms, talking too loud, running around everywhere,  taking far too long to order fast food, and getting in other people’s way. We get plenty of attention from others.

For all of the attention we get though, it’s The Little One in Curls who always seems to be the star of the show. Wherever we go, she is the one who seems to be able to melt away the ubiquitous German scowl. She makes friends wherever we go. She’s the one they’re talking about when we hear someone murmur “suß kind” (“sweet child”). When they look at us and smile or laugh, it’s usually because she smiled or laughed first.   We don’t know what casts her spell, whether it’s the curls or the always-on smile or petite stature – maybe somehow a recipe that she mixes together to create some sort of charm.

Last week Jazlynn went on a walk with Melissa to run some errands.  They passed a local vegetable market they visit regularly. As they walked by the owner’s son recognized Jazlynn and stepped out to give her a free Apricot.  They walked on and then back some time later to the vegetable market, where the same man – seeing her again – gave her a free cherry. After picking out some vegetables, Melissa stepped in to pay where an elderly woman – the man’s mother – occupied the register.  Jazlynn gave her a smile,  and in return the woman gave her a shiny red apple.  Evidently the smile grew, because the woman then reached behind the register and presented Jazz with a nice new stuffed rhinoceros as a gift.  Jazz beamed with the prize, and as they left she must have still been beaming, because the young man outside slipped her a free banana.

Those are the travels of Jazz.

 

Jazz atop Burgruine Wolfsburg in a light snow.

Studying a curious memorial at Buchenwald Concentration Camp, Weimar. Attracting the attention of strangers on a wooden unicorn – Salzburg, Austria. Sometimes a barrel just needs a hug. I love this picture.  While all of the other children are passing the time –  Anna looking away, Chase looking down, the other kids and adults preoccupied –  in the middle of all of the indifference, Jazlynn is having the time of her life.  Wine Harvest Festival in Neustadt

 

 

 

Cool day on Utah Beach. Posing below the Alps in Austria.
Not to be consoled on Omaha Beach. Once again, having the time of her life on the hold-on-for-dear-life slide at the Speyer Technik Museum. Signalling that she is a little tired of the Louvre, Paris.   Concentrating on the art of the swing in Höhe Loog. Looking smug at Germany’s Highest Waterfall in the Black Forrest. Here’s hoping she always looks up to Dad.

That smile. 

Destination Salzburg

THERE IS A GREAT IRONY REGARDING THE GERMAN AUTOBAHN.

Königssee

The legendary autobahn, with it’s glass like surface,  portions with no speed restrictions, and populated with sleek powerful BMW, Mercedes and Audi’s….frustratingly often stands at a complete bumper to bumper stop.   Occasionally it’s due to road construction, sometimes due to accidents, and sometimes – maddeningly – it screeches to a standstill for no particular reason at all.  We made it worse on ourselves by deciding to travel on a holiday weekend to Salzburg, driving through München during commuting hours.     On this trip we found ourselves the ultimate butt of the joke, at one point  staring at an unlimited speed sign posted on the shoulder to the left while sitting on the road at  a complete stop, watching other drivers around you get out of their car to stretch their legs. That is not an exaggeration.

Nonetheless, we lived through that part.  Our destination for this trip wasn’t so much Salzburg.  Rather, we went to the Alps to see the mountains.  Our kids have never see real, honest-to-goodness mountains with snow capped peaks. Unfortunately, what we saw instead on our first day were clouds.   Funny thing about staying in a picturesque valley in the Alps, on a cloudy day it pretty much looks like a cloudy day in Iowa.    We passed that day with a trip underground tour of a Salt Mine (which was actually pretty interesting), and an worthwhile (yet still unsatisfying) visit to Bertchesgaden  and Königssee.

View of Salzburg from the fortress above the city

The draw at Königssee is to take an electric boat tour across the clear, high altitude lake, hear a bugler demonstrate the echoes from the mountain cliffs, and visit the remote church of St. Bartholoma on the opposite shore.  In Bertchesgaden, the thing to do is to hitch a ride to the top of the Alps to visit Hitler’s Eagles Nest, and Alps retreat built for him for his 50th Birthday.  We skipped all of that due to the inclement weather and uncooperative 3 year old and opted instead for a short hike.

Cable Car above Zell am See

Day two was a visit to the actual city of Salzburg, a popular tourist destination made so by the von Trapp family of Sound of Music Fame  and a less famous musician by the name of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Day three, the clouds parted, and the high alps came to full view.  That day was for us was full of Austrian Alpine cliches…green meadows, snow capped peaks, emerald rivers, rides on cable cars up the mountains, and sunny afternoon by a crystal clear Alpine lake.   It might be  cliche, it might be stereotype, but it was nonetheless amazing….too hard to describe really, so instead we’ll post a couple of photoblogs in the next few days of our tours around the area.