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

WE DID NOT SEE THAT COMING.

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.

Translated:

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.

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Deideshiemer Weihnachtmarkt

THE SIGN OF THE COMING OF THE CHRISTMAS SEASON in Germany is the opening of the Christmas markets.

Thousands of cities and towns across Germany host outdoor Weihnachtmarkts,  where you can stop in and shop in open air-gift boutiques, and shake off the cold with a glass of traditional Gluhwein.

WITH COMPANY this week (my parents), this was a great time for visiting the Weihnachtsmarkts nearby. Last weekend we stopped into Neustadt’s for some Gluhwein and conversation with some friends, then later that weekend went to the Christkindlmarkt in our Hambach neighborhood.

LAST NIGHT we walked to the train station and took a Regional Bahn (our first experiment in using the train system here) to Deidesheim, where the train dropped us off right outside one of the area’s better Weihnachtmarkts in the area.  We completely underestimated the crowd –  the train was packed and the streets even more filled – But a bratwurst and glass of Gluhwein later we were no worse for the wear.

Weihnachtsmarkts are a a great way to get into the Christmas spirit.  I’m a noob at night photos, but even so a few pictures captured the great atmosphere in Deidesheim.

We Lewis & Clark’ed it to Hohe Loog

IN THE HILLS above the castle Hambacher Schloss sits a little wilderness retreat called Hohe Loog. In the summer months during the weekends there is a restaurant featuring brats and sauerkraut and similar German fare, and there is a large play area for the kids in the area outside.   Unfortunately, it is only accessible by foot so we hadn’t made the trek there yet to check it out.   But today, with probably one of the last warm and sunny weekend days for a while we decided to take a little hike. Emphasis on little.

We had tried once before to hike there, but the trail goes up a steep hill and the kids tired out in about 2 km, so that day we ended up  turning back.  We hadn’t ever consulted a map  but sort of figured it couldn’t possibly be that much farther (this is what literary smarties call foreshadowing),, so today we parked the van in the Hambacher Schloss parking lot and headed up hill.

We walked. And we walked. We walked past the point we stopped last time.  Then we walked some more. We stopped and ate lunch, then we got up and kept walking….on and on and on….   The kids buzzing excitement gradually turned into silence, and then moaning, and then outright complaining.    By my count we had hilked 3 or 4 kilometers uphill when Melissa noticed a little yellow sign up ahead with “Hohe Loog” printed on it, causing her to make the ill-advised announcement, “Look, we must be here!”. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until we reached the sign that we could read the whole thing: “Hohe Loog: 1.9km”. You must be joking.

By that time, though,  Dad was fully invested. There was no way we were going to walk 5 km and then give up before reaching the summit.  We might as well have been climbing Everest,  we we’re going to make it to the top if we had to spend the night on that hill.  The route got steeper, the trail narrower, and kept winding through the woods.  The kids were so tired there were actually some tears.  But then….we made it….

Hohe Loog was a popular spot! Despite the fact we had only seen a few people on the trails, still there were probably a couple hundred people enjoying the day there. It had a play area that featured a slide whose size and speed would never be allowed in the US, as well as swings, play structures, sandboxes, etc.  Kids climbed all over the toys while parents sat on picnic benches munching on something from the kitchen. It wasn’t long before our kids forgot how tired there were, and were running up and down the slide and climbing all over rocks.

But…they quickly remembered again when we announced it was time to go home. Suddenly all the complaining about tired legs returned.  We hiked on down the hill, this time choosing an alternate route that we thought might be a little shorter (which is was, apart from the 20 minutes we spent completely lost wandering back and forth before getting some directions from a stranger).  By the time we made it back to the van it had been a 5 hour trip, about 10km of hiking and some vigorous play on the hill.  It was a day well spent in the great outdoors.

And like a lot of things now, it was all about little victories. Example: For one of the first times here in Neustadt, we went somewhere and  recognized people.   Chase saw some kids from his soccer club. Camden and Anna saw kids from there school class, and Melissa bumped into a women she occasionally meets for coffee. Secondly, I actually managed a to get some directions from a stranger in German, using complete sentences that didn’t include pointing and  ridiculous looking hand motions.

That’s some progress!

The fall colors were really on display at Burg Hardenburg

There are plenty of dreary fall days in Germany, but today was fortunately not one of them.  So when we took the family to check out another nearby castle – Burg Hardenburg in  Bad Dürkheim – the fall colors were on full display. It was a fantastic castle in an even better setting.  The pictures hardly do it justice.

Der Winzerfestumzug: Yet another reason to drink some wine.

Three weeks of Neustadt’s Deutsches Weinlesefest ended today with the highlight event, the Weinlesefest Parade. We had heard it was a massive parade,  and so the kids – having in mind Ankeny’s Summerfest parade and all that candy – each went and found a big plastic bag able to hold as much candy as they could possible carry.  Unfortunately, they all pretty much went home empty handed, because although it was in fact a huge parade with 131 entries, it didn’t feature candy.  What it did feature, however, was plenty of wine.    Adults brought (or bought) their own wine glasses and held them up to passing floats, who generously filled and re-filled them with a few ounces of wine.  After 131 floats, that’s a lot of wine…so by the time the last float presenting the new Wine Queen for 2010/2011,  the parade was a-hoppin!

 

 

Deutsches Weinlesefest

Once again, the wine, food and fun came to us for Neustadt’s l Deutsches Weinlesefest. We walked out our front door and to the entrance of the annual Wine Harvest Festival, celebrating the grape harvest and providing all of the local wineries an opportunity to move some inventory.  It was also another chance to take the crew on the Ferris wheel, grab some pretzels and wurst and hit a few carney games.  And as always, we captured a few photos. The view from atop a Ferris Wheel provides a few  good landscapes of the town from above.

Dürkheimer Wurstmarkt in Bad Dürkheim

  

   

This afternoon the family spent the afternoon at the Dürkheimer Wurstmarkt in Bad Dürkheim, about 20 minutes away.  Bad Dürkeim (besides having a name you can’t help repeat) is another picturesque town on the Weinstraße.   The Wurstmarkt is a festival comes every year for the last 570 years seems like its one of the more well attended events in the area.  It was a carnival like atmosphere reminiscent of the Iowa State Fair (less Twinkies, more Wurst, same amount of beer).    

First order of business was to get some carnival food, so we stopped off and order up 3 plates of Wurst and fries.   Bad Chäse took a couple of bites of the fries and said, “These fries taste funny.  They taste like potatoes.” Yeah, that says something about food in the US.    

Next stop was the Ferris wheel where Bad Cämden screamed bloody murder on the platform, so  Bad Melissä had to pick him up and force him into the Gondola…but predictably exactly ten seconds into the ride he realized he liked it.   Later Bad Änna tried her hand at the Hammer Swing carnival game (Life lesson learned: Carnival games are deceptively hard).  Bad Kiersten and Bad Jäzzlyn did well and seemed occupied just taking everything in.   

Bad Dürkheim also has a really cool castle and some other sights to take in, but we saved those for another day.  Also, Melissa found these pictures of Bad Dürkheim after the war. A few photos of the rest of the day are here.