Say ‘Gimmeldingen’.

LAST WEEK the almond blossoms came out.

Might not seem like a big deal, but when the Almond blossoms blume, people come out of the woodwork. Every year the appearance of the Mandelblüten signal the arrival of Spring, and the tiny town of Gimmeldingen (a district of Neustadt) host the season’s first wine festival.

Gimmeldingen is a district of – from what I can tell –  about 15 people, with about 50 square meters of paved  space.   Nonetheless, last weekend we learned that when the Mandelblütenfest is in town, every single citizen of Rheinland Pfalz descends on the place to celebrate the Spring season and toss back a few glasses of wine.  Gimmeldingen is, for it’s part, a quaint and picturesque town in a sea of grape vines.

(As a side note, Gimmeldingen is fun to say.  So fun, in fact,  that Melissa has replaced the word ‘watchamacallit’ with’Gimmeldingen’ in her vernacular, is in ‘Hey can you reach over and grab that, uh,  Gimmeldingen for me? Yeah, spoon. That’s what I meant. ‘

Man cutting cheese with a, uh, you know, a Gimmeldingen.

We drove around looking for a parking space for 20 minutes, walked to the town for another 20, then got lost in the crowd. When we found ourselves stuck in a throng of people  crammed into the town square  bobbing up and down to the rhythm of a Foreigner cover band (I ask you how –  after 30 years –  can it still ‘feel like the first time?’) we just about bailed out, but managed to escape to an ice cream stand and found some friends to enjoy a glass of Riesling with.

As a wine fest alone, the Mandelbütenfest is maybe not so impressive….except that this particular wine fest  it is the kickoff of the wine festivals….meaning that now, and virtually for every weekend here on out, somewhere up and down the Weinstrasse one can find a wine festival in action.

And it’s about time, because its been at *least* a few weeks since we dried out from last years fests.


Walk to Wolfsburg

ON THE OTHER SIDE OF TOWN, opposite of Neustadt’s famous castle Hambacher Schloss, lie the Wolfburg ruins.  It isn’t a spectacular castle, but it makes for a good hike and is only  couple of kilometers away, so that means it is a perfect Sunday afternoon activity.

We parked our car underneath the castle near  the town pool and hiked up…and up, and up, and up.  This week Melissa took up running with her friend and yesterday I sprinted through a workout with 5x400m sprints and 75 air squats mixed in, so today with each step ours legs were reminding us we aren’t quite as in shape as we used to be, but the walk was worth it.

The castle is position atop a hill that provided a fantastic view of the  Neustadt valley.  Some of the walls were precariously positioned,  short enough one one side for kids to climb upon and tall enough on the other to make a parent nervous.  Nonetheless, no one pulled a humpty-dumpty and we hiked down the hill all in one piece.  We also  got a few snaps of the kids in action.


The Trashy Neighbors

IN DEUTSCHLAND, FOR A FAMILY OF SEVEN GARBAGE DAY IS AN EVENT. It comes only once every two weeks, and garbage must be meticulously sorted and placed on the curb in a certain fashion. It’s not like Iowa, you can’t just plop your refuse on the curb every week.   Every other Wednesday night we spend 30 minutes or so carting the trash out of the basement storage room (where it waits for garbage day) and laying the garbage on the curb in preparation for the morning collection. Unfortunately, two weeks ago they moved the garbage day ahead by one day and we missed the memo, so tonight we set out a whole months worth.  In the interest of morbid curiosity, here is what that looks like:

So from left to right, here is what we just set out.

  • 13 bags of recycleables (yellow)
  • 16 bags of paper
  • 1 120L can of waste (mostly food, ew)
  • 1 extra blue bag of waste for when the can gets full
  • 1 big white bag of smelly goo in an unauthorized bag I found in the basement (should have opened and sorted but chickened out, stuffed it into the garbage can)
  • 2 bags of diapers, to be placed only on top of the garbage can
  • 3 bags of empty wine soda bottles.

By comparison, our neighbors set out one garbage can and 2 yellow bags. Win.

Happy New Year! Now let’s go blow something up.


As a family of seven with young kids, our raucous New Years Plans annually include letting the kids stay up late (but not too late),  making some offensively unhealthy food, catching a movie, and trying – trying – to stay up to midnight,   We had the same plans in place for Silvester this year. The exception was that we heard it was tradition to set off some fireworks in Germany, so bought some at the corner grocery and after nightfall I took the kids out to light ’em up.

WE WERE SETTING OURS OFF AROUND 7PM, and it was eerily quiet outside. I had heard rumours of the riotous German fireworks celebrations and so far, aside from a few pops in the distance, we hadn’t seen anything like that. I chalked it up to our city being unusually relaxed and quiet and decided Hamburg and Berlin must be rockin’. We lit some rockets, burned some 5 minute sparklers, and set off a few Roman candles for a grand finally, and then settled in for a quiet evening.   By my standards it was an acceptable fireworks show.

It turned out later, however, that by German standards we were  totally outgunned.

AS A FOREWORD to what transpired next, you should know that Germany has a complete nationwide ban on all Class II  fireworks (similar to Iowa).  You cannot buy them, and you certainly cannot launch them.  That ban contains but one  singular notable exception, and I quote:

Gezündet werden dürfen Klasse-II-Artikel nach § 23 Abs. 1 der 1.  Verordnung zum Sprengstoffgesetz (SprengV) nur vom 31. Dezember 00:00 Uhr bis zum 1.


Class II products (fireworks) may be ignited per section 23 paragraph 1 of the 1st Regulation of the Explosives Act only from Dec 31 at 0:00 until  1 AM.

That’s right everybody, you have exactly one hour. From midnight on Silvester to 1AM, the ban is lifted. Light ’em if you got ’em.  And you should have plenty of ’em, because the stores are  allowed to sell them by the armload for three days leading up to this time – bottle rockets, roman candles, bombs, noise makers, and even legit full scale-exploding-globe-with-colored-report-and-glitter-trails fireworks worthy of a 4th of July show.   At our local grocery store there were tons of them.  But you had to be quick to get them, because they sold fast. So at around 7PM when we were lighting ours, I was wondering in my head where all that inventory had gone…

THE KIDS WERE FAST ASLEEP IN THEIR BEDS, our movie was winding down to the conclusion, and we were fighting off some yawns when the iPad finally struck midnight. We toasted some champagne, kissed, and were about to turn our attention back to our movie when…

The apocalypse broke out outside of our living room window.

Our quiet little hamlet erupted. There were people in the streets, on the sidewalks, in their yards, in the vineyards …and all of them simultaneously launching all manner of fireworks.  It was clear now where all those fireworks were: People all over the city had been amassing their own personal arsenal and at the stroke of midnight they all launched them directly over our house where they  exploded.     They came from every direction – from the street in front of our house, from the alley across the street, from the hills, from the backyard…every where we looked the sky was  aglow with hundreds (thousands?) of fireworks being lit off by every man, woman and child in the area. We looked out our living room window for a 180 degree view of the Rhine Valley and the entire horizon was ablaze with  fireworks.  This went on furiously for 10 or 15 minutes, and then steadily for the rest of the hour. And at 1:00A the fireworks came to a stop.

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YOU FOOLED ME ONCE GERMANY, but I am serving notice that I don’t plan to be caught unaware next year  It will not be a casual 7PM firework display for our family next time. I plan to be at the stores the morning of Dec 29th 2011 when the fireworks sales begin, spend an unholy amount of money,  and then I promise to bring some American culture to the area….Rhineland-Pfalz, allow me to introduce you Missouri Redneck.

I think you two will get along just fine.

The mild winters here in the Rhine Valley

“It’s warmer here in the Rhine valley,” they said.  “We get a lot of sunshine and not a lot of snow,” they said.

“Oh sure it snows,” they said. “But it really doesn’t accumulate much.” they said.

“Winter driving? Oh, hardly ever a problem here in Neustadt.” they said.

“Just a light dusting every now and again.  Nothing like  the big heavy snow you get in Iowa,” they said.

Well, they lied.