Hanover for the day

Last weekend we met our friends Tiffany and Brenden in Hanover for the day. Brenden is an American in the management training program at ZF – he worked on a project at Dielingen (where Morgan works) for about 3 months at the end of last year but has since moved on to a new project in southern Germany. His girlfriend is German and lives in Goslar. Since we hadn’t seen them in a couple of months, we decided to meet up in Hanover for the day to catch up and do some sight-seeing. We took the train here and back; since it is within the same state (Niedersachsen) it is fairly cheap to get there – only €24 for two people round trip.

We started out walking by the old town hall and looking inside the Marktkirche. From here we walked through the old cobblestone roads of old town through the Marstall Gate to the flohmarkt (flea market) that is on the Leine River on Saturday mornings. We had a lot of fun looking around– their flea market is much better than the one in Osanabrück. I spotted a small painting that has a German looking house with mountains behind it that we picked up for €10 and after sorting through a huge stack of postcards that featured Osnabrück we found 3 to buy. They are all quite old (late 1800’s to early 1900’s) and were actually mailed, so I’m hoping Antje can translate them for us. We saw several other things that we would have lived (furniture, larger paintings, etc) but since we only had a book bag and had come by train we couldn’t get anything larger home. Hopefully next time we’ll take the car and spot some good deals!

On our way to Reimmans Eck for lunch we passed the Nikolaikapelle ruins and the Alter St.-Nikolai-Friedhof. The Nikolai chapel, which was built in the middle ages, is the oldest preserved building in Hanover. Today the graveyard is a park and the church ruins are a monument. Morgan had the Fifty Fifty- which is half kohlroulade and half rinderroulade and I had the Königsberger Klopse. My meal was a special Prussian meatball in a white sauce with capers and potatoes – which turned out to be really good! After lunch we took the U-Bahn to the Herrenhausen Gardens. We were a little early in the season, only a few of the flowers were blooming, but it was still impressive. The grotto, which was designed by Niki de Saint Phalle, was .. hmm, I’ll go with memorable. Her work isn’t my taste but it was still interesting to see.

We headed back into the city center to do a little shopping and then walked over to the New Town Hall to go up in the tower. You pay a few euros to ride the glass elevator up to the top of the tower. The elevator is actually pretty unique since the track it is on is curved and follows the arch of the dome. From the top there were pretty views of the old town, the park and lake behind the town hall, the Leine River, etc. By this time we were ready for dinner so we found a sushi place near the train station and then grabbed a drink at Jack the Ripper. In the bar we heard a ton of English (I think there must be a fairly large English/American population in Hanover) which was nice for a change!

Kohlgang 2014 & Sunday Brunch

For the second annual ZF Kohlgang we started in Sutthausen- one of the boroughs of Osnabrück that has a good bit of farm land- and then walked the 6km back into the Innenstadt for dinner at Marktschänke (a really old German restaurant in town that had great food). You’ll remember from last year on a kohlgang you walk through the countryside and end up in a pub to eat grünkohl along with boiled potatoes, kassler, and a couple types of wurst. And usually along the way you play cross-country games that involve drinking (since kohlgangs take place in the winter, the alcohol helps keep you warm!). Last year we played bosseln, but this year we mainly just walked and then stopped to play to games.

With the first game we all tied a small sausage to a string that was tied around our waists and you had to try to swing it up into your mouth without using your hands. Philip has a video of everyone trying to do it.. I bet it is pretty hilarious!  For the other game we were divided into 3 teams and one person was nominated to gurgle a song and the rest of the team would try to guess what it was. Morgan actually did the gurgling for his team and did a really good job! We got into town just as it was getting dark and had our hue dinner at Marktschänke.  The grünkohl dinners we’ve had both years are probably some of the best meals we’ve had over here. And, guess who was awarded Kohlkönig (cabbage king) – Mr. Schreiner! Not sure how they picked who got it – I’m guessing it was because of his awesome gurgling and bringing chips as a snack for the group. This means he (and our friend Svenja who got Kohlkönigin) gets to plan the kohlgang next year!

The day after the Kohlgang we had our friends Jan and Katrin (plus their little son Jasper) over for brunch. We had a breakfast casserole (which they had never heard) and fruit salad, plus bröchen, cheese and meat (in case they didn’t like the casserole). Luckily they did! Since it was such a nice day we walked to the playground at the elementary school down the road from us. Jasper, Jan and Morgan had fun on the playground!

Stockholm – March 1st & 2nd

Saturday we headed to the Stadshuset (city hall) first since it was a short walk from our apartment. It is also the venue of the Nobel Peace Prize banquet. We ended up just looking around the outside because there wasn’t an English tour any time soon.  Plus we wanted make it to the Palace for the changing of the guard. The guards literally walk around the entire palace perimeter before going into the courtyard- but we didn’t know that. So we ended up walking around the entire thing to (almost running) to keep up with them. For next time we’ll know to just go straight to the courtyard!

Once the guards were changed out, we toured the Royal Palace. The Royal Palace is the official residence of the Swedish Monarchs, though the King and Queen live at Drottningholm Palace and only use the Royal Palace for official events. The current palace was completed in 1754, after the palace that was here previously (the Tre Kroner) burned down in 1697. The Palace is HUGE – 1430 rooms to be exact. It was really beautiful inside and we were disappointed they don’t let you take pictures, but you can find them on the internet. We toured the State Apartments, the Treasury, and the Tre Kroner Museum. The Tre Kroner Museum is in the basement of the palace, where you can see the foundation of the old castle and some artifacts from it. If you happen to read the Wikipedia page about the Tre Kroner and you read the paragraph about the sentences that were handed down to the fire marshal on duty that night and his two assistants (who all were slacking off from their duties)- you’ll see they had to “run the gauntlet”.  I’ve heard the saying, but never knew it came from a form of punishment from back in the day!  Running the gauntlet or gantlet is a form of physical punishment where a captive is to run between two rows – a gauntlet – of soldiers who repeatedly strike them.

By the time we finished up at the Palace we were starving so we walked over to Grillska Huset – a cafeteria run by the Stockholm Stadsmission, a charitable organization for the poor. It is in a great location (right on the old square) and has really affordable prices by Stockholm standards. Plus, here we got to try semla (or fastlagsbulle) is a traditional sweet roll that is only made during Lent. The dough itself is sweet and then the top is cut off and a sweet whipped cream, a little lemon curd, and powdered sugar on top.  It was really delicious! After lunch we continued to walk around Gamla Stan (the old town) following Rick Steves’ guide (thanks to Bern and Andrew for letting us borrow it!). We had already walked around the Palace, seen the Obelisk, and Stortorget (the old town square) so we continued on to see: the Cathedral (Storkyrkan), the Nobel Museum, the Rune Stone on Prästgatan Lane, the German Church, and ended at the locks.  The Cathedral is the oldest church in Stockholm – it was built in the 13th century. A rune stone is a memorial left to a deceased man; a tradition of the Vikings.  This one says (in Nordic) “Torsten and Thorgun erected this tone in memory of their son”.  I loved this old area with its narrow streets, big gas lamps, crooked houses and curvy lanes.

After checking out the locks, we kept heading across the bridge to Södermalm, another one of the islands that makes up Stockholm. We took the Katarina Lift (the passenger elevator which connects the slussen (lock area) with Södermalm (which is at a much higher elevation). Well, we didn’t actually take the Katarina Lift (since it is now closed due to construction concerns – the current one is from the 1930’s), we took the elevator in the building now attached to the old lift. Anyway, the view from up there of Gamla Stan (and the city in general) was pretty great!

Next we walked back towards our apartment, walking along the water front of Gamla Stan. When we got back to our part of town (Normalm) we stopped at a pub just over the bridge to have a drink and rest our feet. After we had ordered, we saw a couple come in that we had talked to a bit earlier at the observation tower. We ended up getting a table with them and having a few rounds of beers and eventually dinner. Shaun and Deborah are from Ireland and we had the best time talking with them. After dinner we all headed to the Ice Bar for a drink. First you are fitted with huge tunics (that went over our coats) and gloves; then you go in and enjoy a drink in an ice glass, on an ice bar, in an ice room with ice windows!  It was an expensive but unique and memorable experience!

Sunday morning we walked around the Sergels Torg area (near our apartment) to do some window shopping and eat breakfast before catching our bus to the airport. They had lots of stores I’d never seen before so we had fun just looking around. After three days of non-stop walking around and staying out late we were glad to get back home and relax.

Stockholm – Feb 28th

We started the day off at the Vasa Museum; the Vasa is a 64 gun war ship built in the 17th century that sank on its maiden voyage. Actually, it only made it about 1,300 meters and sank just outside the harbor (kind of embarrassing!).  The king Gustavus Adolphus had pushed for the top heavy design (having two gun decks) and the ship builder, Captain, and Admiral didn’t have the guts to tell the King of the structural problems or to postpone the maiden voyage. The King was really pushing for the boat to be finished to be delivered to him  – Did I mention that the Captain did a stability test for the Admiral and they had 30 men run back and forth on the deck 3 times and then stopped them.. the boat rocked so much they were afraid it was going to capsize!  Between the structural problems and an unlucky circumstance (they had shot off the cannons to mark the beginning of the voyage and still had the gun ports open) a gust of wind was enough to sink the boat (it tipped the boat over a bit and then water rushed in the open gun ports).  It is really interesting that another boat was being built with almost the same specifications at the same time- the Äpplet (Swedish for apple) – but that one went on to sail for a long time (I want to say something like 30 years).  It was only 1.5 meters wider.

We watched the 20 minute film about the Vasa and did the 30 minute guided tour – both were really interesting and are included in the cost of the ticket. Our tour guide mentioned that there were over a hundred crewmen were on board, as well as women and children. The crew had permission to take family and guests along for the first part of the passage through the Archipelago. The superstition of women being bad luck on ships wasn’t around yet. Thirty people died when the ship sank.  Because the water where the ship sank is brackish, it was really well preserved (considering it was under water for 333 years before being pulled up).  The ship is 98% original and they have lots of artifacts (clothing, guns/cannons, cooking utensils, sails, etc) that are interesting to see. One thing I thought was interesting- on this boat there was no sleeping on hammocks below decks – the crew and soldiers slept on the deck.

When we left the Vasa museum we headed over to Skansen – the first open air museum in the world. They have a collection of historical buildings/ architecture types from all around Sweden, they showcase native crafts/skills (glass blowing, pottery, baking, etc), and they have a zoo. They have employees dressed in period clothing in the houses who you can ask questions and in the stores (ie. Glass blowing) you can observe the owners actually doing their trade. Morgan bought me a pretty bud vase that thankfully made it back to Germany in one piece!  I enjoyed the old houses and stores; I think Morgan’s favorite part was the zoo.  They had Scandinavian animals such as wolves, brown bears, lynx, wolverines, seals, etc.

We left Skansen and hurried to make it to the boat tour I had booked. Unfortunately we got off one tram stop early and then had to jog pretty far to make it before the boat left! Thankfully we did make it, but it was kinda foggy so it turned out to not have been the ideal day to do it. But, the information for the tour guide provided was interesting and they sold some yummy glögg on board (Swedish version of Glühwein). I probably shouldn’t say this, but I think I like the Swedish version better! One fact that guide told us totally shocked me- she had us guess how many islands the Stockholm archipelago is made of. Morgan and the two other ladies on the boat weren’t guessing (and I felt bad for the guide) so I guessed 300 (I had no clue but the way she said it I thought it would be a lot). Well there are a lot, but wayyy more than I guessed.. nearly 30,000!  She also told us that 60% of the people that live in Stockholm own a boat- which was pretty surprising as well. Since it was rather chilly out on the water and the fog made it damp, we sat inside for the first half of the tour, but then moved to the top deck (outside) for the way back in. They put out reindeer blankets for us -yeah, felt kinda bad using them- but they really made a difference. There were only 4 guests on board (including us) so we had the whole top deck to ourselves.  I guess Stockholm isn’t exactly a vacation destination in February/March….

When the boat tour finished up we walked back to our rental apartment to drop off our cameras (absolutely no cameras allowed at the concert – per the venue website and our tickets terms and conditions).  Which I think is silly since everyone had a smart phone and just took pictures with those (including us), but anyway we followed the rules. We did see one girl in front of us be denied entrance since she had a camera on her (and she started crying), hopefully they had a locker she could rent to store it during the concert or something. On the way to the concert we ate dinner at a doner place on the corner near where we were staying. I guess Germans aren’t the only ones who are a fan of the doner!  While we were eating a man came in wanting to order but was getting a little testy with the guy taking his order because the employee only spoke English, Swedish and Spanish and the guy ordering only spoke 3 or 4 other languages. The guy was about to walk out annoyed when Morgan stopped him and asked if he spoke German – which he did so we were able to translate between the two guys. Morgan to the rescue!

We took the subway to get to the concert (along with thousands of other people) and just followed the crowed to the stadium. We had hoped to buy a poster so we could get a collection going for concerts we’ve gone to here in Europe (we saw the Avett Brothers in Hamburg last year), but they were only selling one and it was really generic- didn’t say anything about it being in Stockholm or even a European tour- so we opted for a t-shirt that listed all the Eurpoean tour dates. The concert was so much fun! We had seats in the stands so we had a good view of everything, but the real party was on the floor. Floor tickets were four times as much as ours and it looked like the floor was sold out. I couldn’t believe so many people would pay that much for a ticket and then have to stand the entire time packed in like sardines – but they seemed to be having fun dancing, jumping up and down, etc. Considering the Swedish on average seemed to be just as tall if not taller than Germans and the Dutch, I think it’s for the best we were in the stands.. I wouldn’t have seen a thing on the floor! The music was great and the light show was really impressive – though at points it was a bit too much for me and I had to look away. After the show we jammed into the train (literally… not sure how it was able to move with so many people on it) and got off at the central station (near our apartment). We ended the day with a late night stop at McDonalds – along with the rest of Stockholm.. or at least that was how it seemed!

Stockholm – Feb. 27th

When we were back home over Christmas I happened to see that Avicii was doing a few concerts in Germany, but sadly they were all already sold out. But, when I saw that he had a few other shows around Europe, I thought it would be a good opportunity for us to visit a new city and see him in concert all in one weekend- and Stockholm ended up being the winner. We flew up on a Thursday and left Sunday afternoon, but it was enough time for us to get a feeling for Stockholm. Overall we thought it was very clean and pretty.. plus everyone spoke English very well, which makes things (ordering, getting directions, meeting up with our Airbnb host, etc) so much easier.  I’d say there were two negatives – one being that Stockholm is very expensive (entrance fees to museums and food/alcohol costs were crazy) and the other is that they had absolutely no snow!  In South Carolina we don’t get much snow and northern Germany doesn’t get too terribly much either, so I was excited to see everything covered in white. You’d think Sweden in late February would be a good bet, right? Welp, not this year. Sweden has also been having the mild winter we’ve been enjoying in Germany, so there was no snow to be found (though it did snow a few hours after we left on Sunday!).

Thursday we didn’t get to Stockholm until dinner time, so once our bus from the airport dropped us at the central train station we walked to our Airbnb apartment to drop our bags off. We stayed near Sergels Torg, which is one of the main public squares in Stockholm. For dinner we went to a pub/restaurant … Morgan had a hamburger and I went for the Swedish meatballs (which really good!).   They came with mashed potatoes and had gravy on top, plus lignonberries. I don’t think I had ever seen these until we moved to Germany. In Sweden they seemed to be very popular; they came on my meatballs and they even have lingonberry soda. The waitress talked Morgan into trying a St. Eriks Rauchbier (smoaked beer). St. Eriks is a Swedish brewery, so we thought it was worth trying, but it turned out to be kind of weird tasting and really expensive (€ 11 for one). After that we headed to the apartment since Friday was going to be a big day!