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Big Apple

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I love apples. People give me funny looks when I say I buy 14 apples at the Farmer’s Market for each week. But if you eat one for lunch and one for dessert after dinner, that’s 14 a week. I remember my grandpa cutting up apples into slices for me when I was sitting on his couch watching TV with him. It’s one of my fondest memories and if I only could eat one fruit for the rest of my life, I suppose it would be apples. Or oranges.

How convienent for me that I now live an hour away from Northern Europe’s largest fruit-producing region, eh? I’ve only waited for fall to roll around so that I could set off to the Altes Land (“Old Land” – apparently a mistranslation from Low Saxon. The land is not old, but was originally colonised by Dutch settlers, and thus called the (H)Olland). In the Altes Land, you can go apple picking yourself and what I hear this is a popular activity for Hamburgers. We went on October 3, German National Day, but next year I think I’d go a little earlier. Most of my favorite apple, Elstar, had been picked already. But that was fine, there were plently of others left and the idyllic atmosphere was amazing. After four days of constant rain, we even had sunshine! I got to pick Finkenwerder Herbstprinz, a local apple I heard about but that isn’t sold in the supermarkets (at least not in mine). As I was roaming under the apple trees, I wondered when self-picking became popular. I mean, 100 years ago people would have thought you were crazy to pay to do the work of a farmers’ hand. But today, with us urban people feeling so disconnected from the origins of our food…yeah, you get it. (Half of the people might come for the pretty instagram pictures this adventure yields, though.)

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Of course I choose the apple that looked like a butt.

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Small, non-edible apples that can be used for decoration

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I was very charmed by the Altes Land region with its timbered houses, open skies and large fields. The Prunkpforte, the gate pictured above, was also a highlight. Wealthy people apparently build these kind of portals to, well I don’t know why, but I suppose to flaunt their wealth and impress others? Or to please God – the inscription was very Christian.

If you are ever around in August – October, I suggest you take half a day and explore what’s outside the gates of Hamburg!

The Pride of Papenburg

Last weekend was a long weekend for us because it was Germany Day. Well, the correct name is National Day or German Reunification Day – but whatever, it was a Thursday, meaning you could take one day off and create a mini-vacation. (In German, we call this a bridge day. In Swedish, it’s a squeeze day.) Of course I seized the opportunity to continue my mission #showhimthenorth. A is moving to Northern Germany soon (yay!) and thus showing him the great region he is headed for makes even more sense. For his birthday, I gave him tickets for a guided tour in the Meyer Werft.

The Meyer Werft is a shipyard – no, the shipyard – located in the tiny town of Papenburg. For me, and many other Germans, the words Meyer Werft and Papenburg always go together. There is nothing else I know of Papenburg, but Meyer has really put it on the map. Speaking of the map, Papenburg is really far west and basically far away from anything. (We combined driving there with a stop at my parents’ to also meet my beyond words adorable nephew and niece who were visiting.)

We learned that the town was founded in 1631 and only some 160 years later, Meyer was founded in 1795. Papenburg was a shipbuilders’ town but of the shipyards only this giant one has survived and today they build several luxury cruise ships per year. When you do the tour, they take your through a museum that looks onto the factory work floor, the dry dock. It is huge. Actually, it is the world’s largest dry dock. In Papenburg. I often tell foreign entrepreneurs and corporate representatives about the concept of “hidden champions” in the German countryside and this is a perfect example of it: Meyer is the world’s market leader in its field (together with one Italian shipyard) and to this day a family business.

Unfortunately we had missed the departure of their latest cruise ship by a few days. The ships have to go through the Ems river which is not really made to transport these ridiculously big ships, so the Ems river barrier was built in 2002 to make the journey possible even at low tide. The ships then go 36 kilometres very slowly to the Dollart bay. It’s quite a sight! We said we’d want to come back to look at the spectacle one day.

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When the ship is ready to leave the dock, they flood the place and take it out. So cool!

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The tour gave us a lot of discussion topics: lobbyism, job security, location factors, environment, luxury and decadence (really, why do you need a rollercoaster on a cruise ship?). I don’t think I am the cruise ship type, but I think I’ll now go research the one-night-cruise on the Queen Mary II from Hamburg to Southampton that A mentioned…

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Inside this boat, we got our tickets.

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Another good thing about the North: drinking traditional East Frisian Black Tea. It’s almost like a ceremony and I really love it.

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Snapshots from the short visit to my parents’ house

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My niece was much less intimidated by these hungry sheep than me

Staycation

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It is a bit paradoxical: I have been whining about not going on vacation to a place that’s still warm and sunny (like last year, Croatia) and at the same time, I’m – in line with the trend – uncomfortable with my carbon footprint. I also live in a place that other people travel to from the whole world! So it’s a good thing I am currently enjoying a staycation. (At least for two days. Tomorrow I am going to my old home, Dizzel, to attend a wedding, maybe the wedding, details to follow.)

Some people are really good at staycations and I read that environmentalists and frugalists don’t really believe in going away. I assume these people are better than me at not using their staycation time to clean, declutter, sell stuff on ebay, finish home improvment projects you never get around to, cook huge batches for the freezer, you name it. I was planning to go to the Baltic Sea for a day to feel that vacation spirit. But when I really thought about being on a train for close to three hours a day before I’d be on the train for eight to ten hours (you never know with Deutsche Bahn!), I decided I’d keep closer to home. I’m proud to say I got myself to go on two little trips (had to really make myself leave the house even though not at above mentioned home improvment projects were finished).

On Monday, I roamed Winterhude and Eppendorf. Ah, the luxury! Hamburg is home to around 40,000 millionaires and it sure shows in these two districs. I biked by the grand villas and wondered who on earth could afford to live in those? They are gorgeous, real sights, and of course they look out on the Alster Lake. The affluence is also reflected in the splendid shops and boutiques: I treated myself to some gourmet food (so not zero waste though) and checked out the clothes in the small shops (why do I even do online shopping when those are so close by?). In Eppendorf, even the doctors’ offices are called “Palais”, everyone dresses elegantly and there are still real non-chain bookstores (with only boring books and a grumpy shop owner, though). I bought a tea strainer which felt glamorous enough for me.

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Not a villa

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By Tuesday, I had discovered a website listing “Hamburg insider tips” – the ideal source for my staycation. After studying it, I decided I should go to the Boberg Nature Reserve, “only 13 minutes from the central station”. The website recommended bringing bikes and I tried doing that. I got as far as the central station – not for the first time, all elevators were malfunctioning (or non-existent) and carrying my bike down several flights of stairs into the light rail was a bit too much. I can walk, I thought, locked the bike and went to the clostest station to the Nature Reserve. I quickly understood that the “recommendation” to bring bikes was more of a prerequisite. Maybe other people are more of the hiking kind, but I walked for two hours and felt that was plenty. That’s why I only saw the forest and the lake and missed out on what might be the real sight: the dunes. (The dunes would have been a great substitute for not going to the sea, too!) I enjoyed the birds chirping, the sunshine and the forest, I observed the swans on the lake and relished the wide open skies. It really is so close to the city and yet feels so ‘out there’. I’ll definitely be back for the dunes!

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Two weeks ago, I passed by a cafe around the corner and today I decided it was time to treat myself to breakfast. Real vacation feeling! Might have found a new favorite spot in the hood, too.

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Read about the climate. Of course.

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How green is this!

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The graveyard in the little district next to the Nature Reserve was impressive

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