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.

Speyer Technik Museum

Sunday brought unusually warm weather, more snow melt and a nice sunny day to visit the nearby Speyer Technical Museum. There, we had the chance to inspect up close all manner of aircraft, a russian space shuttle, old and new bikes, boats and submarines, cars, motorcycles and trains.

Best of all was the rocket-speed tube slide that came protruding out of a a 747 exhibit. The museam featured an elevated 747 that you could tour, through cabins and luggage compartments, even crawling out onto the wing for a view of the entire city of Speyer.  On this aircraft there were only two exits:  The civil way - down the stairs like you came, or  by holding on to your 2 year old daughter for dear life after you have situated yourself on a cloth sack and launched yourself barreling down a vertical tube slide like greased lightening.

We opted for  the latter.

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.


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.

Christus mansionem benedicat


While the celebration of Epiphany is largely forgotten in our protestant circle, there remains the tradition of 'Sternsinger' in Germany.  This afternoon at around 4PM our house was visited by the three kings of the Magi carrying a star on a pole -  school kids dressed up to play the part of Kings Casper, Melchior and Balthasar - who sang to us a short song  in exchange for a donation.  The tradition is now mainly used to raise funds for charity projects by local kids.

In return, the Three Kings inscribed a blessing on our doorway.  The inscription - which curiously shows up on doorways all over Germany -  is made up of the year - 2011 - separated by the initials of the Kings to make "20 * C + M + B * 11". By some, CMB rather stands for  "Christus mansionem benedicat (Christ bless this house)."