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Rappenwört in Autumn: Going for a Walk by the Pools

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Rappenwört on the Rhine is Karlsruhe's finest open air swimming pool, founded in the 1920s. The original pool was a branch of the river. Nowadays this isn't in use any more, there are 3 or 4 modern pools instead, among them one with artificial waves. The area is huge so that one always finds a quiet spot on the vast lawns underneath old trees, no matter how crowded the pool is. For children, there is a separate pool and play area on the opposite side.

The bath is situated right on the bank of the Rhine, so between swims you can promenade along the river. The pools are open from May to the end of the summer holidays.

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The modern pool area, off-season and closed
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This branch of the river used to be the original pool.

Outside the season the bath area is open for walkers. The gate is open during the day, entry to the grounds is free. Shops, eateries, facilities etc. are closed, though.

No dogs please! No one wants to find droppings, not even old ones, on the lawns when the pool reopens for the summer. Bikes cannot be taken inside either (although there are people who ignore this rule, as the photos prove).

It is a popular destination for a walk on the Rhine bank, ship-watching and enjoying sun and fresh air among Karlsruhers, in particular elderly people without car who would otherwise have difficulties to reach the river. The Rhine is quite far from the city centre – which saves the city from the Rhine’s frequent floodings, so this was clever planning in former times. But there is no real river promenade to enjoy for nowadays’ citizens. Rappenwört is the best option for a little riverside walk since it is easy to reach by tram, and the distances are short: The tram stop is literally outside the entrance gate.

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The original 1920s entrance gate
How to get there? Tram #6 to “Rappenwört” stops in front of the entrance.
Attention, not all #6 trams go as far as Rappenwört, the ones to “Daxlanden” won't take you there - it's quite a walk from the final station in Daxlanden.

Even better: go by bike. Rappenwört is on the bike trail through the floodplain forest that offers endless opportunities for bike tours.

From my home in the western quarters of Karlsruhe I need, depending which route I take, 25 to 35 minutes to reach Rappenwört. From the centre it will take 10 minutes longer. In other words, perfect for an afternoon on the bike with a little walk in between to stretch legs and back.

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Ships passing on the Rhine

In autumn, when the forests of the floodlands turn golden and the grounds are covered in the rustling leaves of the poplar trees, this tour is particularly pleasant.

Often there is a haze or even drifting mist in the air, caused by the open water surfaces of the river and in the wetlands. When the sun breaks through, atmosphere and colours are at their best.

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Russell the Wombat tries ship-surfing;-)

Posted by Kathrin_E 00:47 Archived in Germany Tagged karlsruhe Comments (1)

World's Biggest Advent Calendar in Gengenbach

... or so they say.

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Visiting Gengenbach’s Christmas market has long been on my wish list. The market has become known far beyond the Kinzig valley already for a while. It occupies the market square in front of the town hall and expends into the three streets in its corners.

The market is of moderate size, bigger than could be expected in a small town like this. Surrounded by the half-timbered houses and the three historical towers, it is really atmospheric. It begins on the first Advent weekend and stays open until Dec 23.

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Gengenbach’s “USP” in pre-Christmas season, however, is their Advent Calendar. They claim that it is the largest in the world (I’m not sure whether that’s still true, though, as other cities have followed their example.)

Advent calendars in normal size are popular with children, and also with big children, in this country in order to count the days until Christmas.

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The window for Dec 10 in the spotlight

The calendar has 24 windows. Each day from Dec 1 to 24, a new window, the one with the matching number, is opened. Behind it there could be a picture, a piece of chocolate, or a little gift depending on the type of calendar. This as explanation about the background.

Gengenbach’s neoclassical town hall has exactly 24 windows facing the main square. The whole façade is being turned into a giant Advent calendar.

Each day at 6 p.m. they are holding a ceremony during which the next day’s window is unveiled and illuminated. The ceremony was lead by a herald who told a short story in verses, which was at the same time performed in dance and pantomime by a group of children.

They try to give it a modern touch – the herald even had to rap parts of it…

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They change to a different set of pictures every couple of years. Currently they use paintings by Andy Warhol. Colourful and funny pictures they are.

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Niggelturm at night

The Christmas market is open during the entire Advent season. The jester museum in Niggelturm is also open every afternoon during the Christmas market season. I finally got the chance to see it. So far it had always been closed when I was there. But this will go into my blog on the Alemannic Fastnacht.

A visit to the museum includes the climb to the gallery round the top of the tower. The view of the town is beautiful. That’s where I took those photos from. I was up at dusk, illuminations were already turned on but there was still enough daylight to distinguish landscape and buildings. The sounds and lights from the Christmas market came up from afar. It appeared like an illuminated anthill from this distance.

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Gengenbach is no longer an off-the-beaten-path secret. It has come into the focus of international tourism as a top place to visit in the Black Forest. I see the danger that Gengenbach will become the next Rothenburg, proving the old saying true that mass tourism ruins what it is looking for.

Trouble is, Gengenbach’s old town is perhaps one tenth the size of Rothenburg’s. There were two, just two, Italian tour buses in town and those Italians seemed to be everywhere. I also noticed Asian and American tourists. French visitors come over in numbers anyway, as the border is so close. A small town like this can bear only so and so many visitors, or it will lose its local flair and become a tourist trap. So far it has not yet been showered with souvenir shops or fastfood stalls – let’s hope it stays like this. Perhaps we should keep the secret?

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The Glühwein mugs depict the Advent calendar

Posted by Kathrin_E 05:27 Archived in Germany Tagged black_forest gengenbach christmas_market Comments (2)

Freudenstadt

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Freudenstadt was founded in 1599 by Duke Friedrich I. of Württemberg who planned to build his new residence here on top of the Black Forest heights. His architect Heinrich Schickhardt designed a geometrical ground plan which is still visible in today's town map.

The square central marketplace is surrounded by parallel streets with rows of uniform houses. In the middle of the square the duke's palace was intended to be built - which was not carried out due to political changes a and the failure of Friedrich's attempt to extend his territory further West.

Freudenstadt was heavily affected by World War II air raids. The reconstruction after the war followed the original plan but changed some details in the appearance of the houses.

Market Square

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1950s town hall

The huge central market square has the size of 220 x 220 m. The public buildings of the town - church, town hall, hospital and store - were positioned in the four corners. Two of these are preserved in post-war reconstructions, the church and the so-called Schickhardbau, the former town hall. The houses along the sides of the square have uniform facades with arcades, here you'll find shops and cafes. The original gables facing the square have been abandoned in the post-war reconstruction.

The wide square contains three historical fountains, parks, playgrounds, monuments and some newer buildings and is unfortunately cut in halves by the modern street that passes through.

The new town hall in a corner of the market square is a post-war addition, it was planned by the municipal architect Ludwig Schweizer and erected after 1948 during the post-war reconstruction of the city.

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On hot summer days, kids love playing in the new fountain.

Stadtkirche: The L-Shaped Church

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The parish church of Freudenstadt is a unique example of protestant church architecture. Built around one corner of the market square, the building consists of two identical wings that meet at a right angle. Altar and pulpit are located in the outward corner so that they are visible from both wings. Since there is no eye contact from one wing to the other, one wing was used by the men, the other by the women.

This L-shape is very rare in church architecture - I know of one more example in Saxony (Ruhla) and one in Switzerland.

The church was erected in 1601-1608 by Heinrich Schickhardt as part of the general plan for the new residential town. It was heavily damaged in World War II and rebuilt with a simplified and slightly modified interior. The facades and the two steeples conform to the original shape.

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The church contains a remarkable work of art that is much older than the church itself: the Romanesque Freudenstadt Lectern. The wooden lectern is dated around 1150 and originates from the abbey church in either Alpirsbach or Hirsau. Duke Friedrich had it brought to Freudenstadt to equip the court and parish church of his new residence.

Figures of the four evangelists carry the actual lectern, which bears depictions of their four symbolic creatures on the sides: the lion for Mark, the bull for Luke, the eagle for John, the winged man or angel for Matthew.

This old woodcarving is extremely sensitive to changes in temperature and, even more, humidity. To protect it, it got a specially made, air conditioned glass cabinet. The cabinet, however, has been shaped like a lectern with an inclined top so that the piece is still in use for the lectures during church service.

Posted by Kathrin_E 16:47 Archived in Germany Tagged black_forest Comments (1)

Schweigen: Southernmost Point of Deutsche Weinstraße

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Schweigen is the southernmost of Palatinate’s wine villages, very close to the French border. The valley of the small river Lauter separates the Palatinate Forest from the first hills of the Vosges. The next town on the French side is picturesque Wissembourg (which will also receive an entry in this blog soon). Nowadays it is an easy walk or drive of about two kilometres between the two settlements.

We came over on foot from Wissembourg after a tour of the town. There are several paths through the vineyards, we took the shortest route along Rue Robert Schumann, which takes half an hour from centre to centre, because we were a) late b) hungry c) lazy. Other paths are a bit longer and lead higher up into the hills. Further up the view of the Rhine plain would have been wider. It was a sunny summer day and we were reminded that vines love sun and warmth more than some humans do. There is no shade along the way. Sensitive people should wear a sun hat or headscarf. I lent my little umbrella to one of my friends who was particularly suffering, to be used as parasol.

The EEC/EU has opened the borders. With the Schengen agreement in 1995, all border controls were abandoned. You simply walk along a country path and except for the two signs you won't even notice that you are crossing a border between two states. Aren't we blessed to be able to do this?

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The border in 2010

In former timest hat was different. History changes and borders change. This region has seen many many wars and changed owner several times. The French occupations of the late 17th century and the Napoleonic era are unforgotten.

The Napoleon Fountain tells of those times. It was originally located right on the border line between Alsace and Palatine. The village community of Schweigen erected it, as the inscription tells, in 1811 to celebrate the birth of Napoleon's son. The fountain has been transferred to the centre of the village later on and can be admired next to the protestant church. Similar fountains can also be found in Alsatian villages.

In Schweigen we had booked a table at a winery and restaurant for a hearty meal and of course the consumption of some local produce. There are several wineries with restaurants and taverns in the village where they serve their own wines with local food. I do not remember which one we visited.

The village is quite nice but not exceptionally beautiful. Schweigen's most famous monument is the huge Weintor („Wine Gate“) which marks the southern end, or beginning, of Deutsche Weinstraße („German Wine Road“).

Weintor: A Monument from the Third Reich

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The Wine Road originally led right through this monstrous gate. In the meantime a new road has been built around it and the gate passage has been closed to traffic, so visitors can walk around unharmed.

This oversized gate in its rough shapes looks like a Nazi architecture and it is Nazi architecture. The eagle on the facade is carrying a wreath which contained a swastika. The swastika has been erased after the war but some bits are still recognizable.

The wooden platform in the middle can be climbed and offers a view of the village and the Rhine plain. Access is free and open any time.

The side wings contain a restaurant with a beautiful outdoor terrace under chestnut trees, the tourist information office, and a vinotheque.

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View of Schweigen from Weintor

Deutsche Weinstraße - German Wine Road

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There are lots of tourist routes in Germany nowadays but this is one of the oldest: The German Wine Road that runs through the wine region of Palatine at the foot of the Palatinate Forest. It leads from Bockenheim in the North to Schweigen in the South.

The route was established in 1935. Calling it the „German“ wine road does of course have a political background. This region on the left Rhine bank had been occupied by the French three times in history, the latest occupation had just finished in 1930. The economy was down, the new route was meant as amarketing campaign. It was also meant as a political symbol, claiming the region as German territory. One year later, in 1936, the Deutsches Weintor (German Wine Gate) was erected at the Southern end of the route in Schweigen, only a stonethrow from the French border. The building is a typical Nazi architecture.

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Nowadays there is no politics behind it any more. The border to France, with Wissembourg as the neighbouring town, is open and almost invisible. The route is a marketing gimmick like the many other tourist routes all over the country. It connects many pretty wine villages and small towns, hard to tell which of them is the prettiest. They are all in good shape, houses well restored, vines planted in the streets and flowers everywhere. During the warmer seasons there is hardly a weekend without a wine festival happening somewhere.

Palatine, the Pfalz, is my favourite wine region in Germany. Ah the white burgundy/pinot varieties... It produces a wide choice of both whites and reds. Many excellent wineries are located here, but there are also the average and below average producers. The quality of each wine depends on the skills of the individual winemaker. Doing a bit of reading in advance is worthwhile if you are ambitious. The mild climate of the Upper Rhine Plain is also great for fruit, nuts and vegetables. Foodies, try the local cuisine.

Posted by Kathrin_E 17:19 Comments (1)

Some Thoughts on Wine Tasting

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Tasting the local produce is an obvious wish if someone visits a wine region. My hometown is surrounded by wine-growing areas - Baden on the right Rhine bank, Pfalz on the left. The state of Rheinland-Pfalz assembles six wine regions - I don't think there is any other federal state that has more wine regions than Rheinland-Pfalz - which produce some of Germany's finest drops: Mosel, Ahr, Mittelrhein, Nahe, Rheinhessen, Pfalz.

On travel forums I often read posts by people from ‚beyond the pond‘ who complain that they do not like German wines because they hate "sweet Reislings“... it’s Riesling, my dears, and a good Riesling is dry or maximum semi-dry. Well, we know what to export.. We keep the dry, fresh, crisp, fruity whites and drink them ourselves. (Just joking!)

There is subjective taste and there is objective quality. If both come together, sampling a wine becomes a great experience.

Wine tasting is a science that requires good senses and long years of experience. I know a little, and I think I am not completely hopeless at identifying tastes, but I by far do not consider myself an expert. My Dad is the expert in the family. I rely on his expertise and he is the one who regularly fills up the wine shelf in my basement. From him I picked up some pearls of wisdom. I am able to find a decent or at least acceptable wine among the trash on a supermarket shelf, and I am able to boast with my knowledge if I am surrounded by total ignorants. But in the company of connoisseurs I am keeping quiet!!!

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The quality and the resulting richness in taste (or lack thereof) depends on the variety of grapes, the location, the „terroir“ (i. e. the soil and its geological components in the vineyard in question), the microclimate in the vineyard, the weather conditions of the current year, the timing and method of the harvest, as well as the winemaker’s individual, personal skills both during the growth of the grapes and the treatment in the cellar. All wineries are different and all wines are different.

That’s why I totally and absolutely refuse to give recommendations like, „you have to visit winery x and taste wine y“, or come up with stereotypes like, „all wines from the Mosel are like this and that“. Stereotypes are always too general and often wrong, and wine y may have been great in one year but next year there was a lot of rain or too much sun, or the vintner messed up something, and the same grape variety from the same winery and the same vineyard tastes notably different.

Things become even more complicated and sophisticated when the combination of wine and food is concerned. It does matter a lot which wine you combine with which food. The tastes influence each other. The perfect match will enhance all tastes while the wrong combination can ruin them altogether. A good restaurant will provide recommendations. Ususally it‘s worth following these.

Restaurants in wine places serve local wines and know the stuff they serve. A great way to taste wines with a fine dinner. Ask for wine tasting arrangements - some do things like „taste 5 wines for xx €“. Others have a fixed menu combined with matching wines – usually not cheap but certainly a great experience. Some winery owners run a restaurant or hotel where they serve their own wines.

Reading tip: Deutsches Weininstitut, the German Institute of Wine, has excellent summaries (in English) with all the basic knowledge one needs to understand German wines on their website.

Grape varieties, red and white: http://www.germanwines.de/knowledge/grape-varieties/
Quality standards and categories: http://www.germanwines.de/knowledge/quality-standards/
Viticulture and winemaking, climate, soil: http://www.germanwines.de/knowledge/quality-standards/
Taste and quality, and how to understand the label on the bottle: http://www.germanwines.de/knowledge/quality-standards/
What does „Classic“ and „Selection“ mean? http://www.germanwines.de/knowledge/selection/
Sparkling wine: http://www.germanwines.de/knowledge/wine-more/sparkling-wine/
Germany’s 13 wine growing regions: http://www.germanwines.de/tourism/wine-growing-regions/
Winery database with search funcion by name, location etc.: http://www.germanwines.de/service/wineries/ The database has 2,117 entries and it is by far not complete. But it’s a start.

The ways of handling wine tastings differ widely from winery to winery, and sometimes it is not easy to find a suitable place. Here are some general hints:

Some wineries have shops, type „open cellar door“, where you can taste and buy wine. The tasting is usually free but they will want/wish/expect you to buy something. If they offer a tasting for a small fee it's okay to leave without buying.

Wine shops that offer wine tastings can be found in all the wine towns and (larger) villages, usually along the main street.

The size and prettyness of the wine tasting room or cellar does not necessarily indicate good quality, though. The large places that also take bus groups usually aren't the best, to put it carefully. Most wineries are small, family-run businesses. The best ones are often small, if not tiny, and produce limited quantities. Their products are not found in supermarkets.

If in doubt, contact the local tourist office and ask for recommendations and addresses.

The upscale, high class wineries are often like locked fortresses. Here an appointment is essential, if you get one at all.

Experts: If you plan to visit a particular winery, contact them in advance - not on the same day - and make an appointment with the winemaker.

Posted by Kathrin_E 17:25 Archived in Germany Tagged wine baden-württemberg pfalz Comments (1)

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