Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Other Halloween

"Walpurgis Night which is celebrated on 30th of April is originally a heathen spring festival. The heathen deities Wodan and Freya are said to have conceived Spring that night. It was a feast of sacrifice in which the focus was formed by the drink of love and a green coloured May punch. Traditionally the festival was held on the Brocken the highest mountain in Northern Germany.

In the Middle Ages, during which witch hunting reached its pinnacle, the inquisition declared the 30th of April as the Witches' Sabbath. It was believed that the witches rubbed a special ointment onto their skin that enabled them to fly. Having done so they mounted their brooms and flew to the Brocken where they met other witches. The farmers tried to protect themselves by hiding their brooms, billy-goats and goats which were also used as a means of transport by the witches. Three crosses over the house- and stable door were believed to keep the witches away. In order to protect sleeping children, stockings were crossed over their beds. In urban areas as much noise as possible was made in order to keep the witches away. On their flight to the Brocken the witches were believed to bite pieces out of every churchbell they passed. The Brocken itself is steeped in legend. Countless tales are recounted about what happened to people who found themselves on the mountain while the witches were meeting.

Walpurgis Night probably received its name during the time of the inquisition. Walburga, born on the 30th April, was an abbess of a very kind and gentle nature. She died in Eichstätt in 788. Even after Christianisation some people did not want to give up their belief in pagan gods. In order to frighten Chrisians they dressed up as devils and witches. The Church on their behalf introduced the gentle Walburga as the counterpart who would protect its followers. Thus Walburga has become the protector from witchcraft and magic.

The night from 30th April to the 1st May is also called "Freinacht" ("free night"). During that night it is very common in Germany to wrap cars in toilet-paper and play others little tricks on people. And not only is it celebrated to drive out the winter, or to protect oneself against witches but also conscripts celebrate it as their last chance to have some fun before their medical inspection for the military service the next day." (From the Goethe Institute Ireland Website.)

Strangely, Halloween has caught on in Germany the past fifteen years, but Walpurgis Night just does not seem to have that big a following, at least not in Frankfurt. There are dance parties called "dance into May" (tanz in den Mai) that sometimes play on the witchcraft theme, but often they revolve around the raising of the maypole, especially in rural areas, which does not clearly seem to be linked to Walpurgis Night but certainly reeks of pagan tradition. Wikipedia reports that "in Berlin traditional leftist Mayday riots usually start at Walpurgis Night in the Mauerpark in Prenzlauer Berg. There is a similar tradition in the Schanzenviertel district of Hamburg." In any event, tomorrow is a holiday, the German Labor Day, so whatever I do tonight, I can sleep in if I want to. I'm not really up for rioting, so maybe I'll crank up the stereo to scare off the neighbors witches.


Well, it looks as if I missed a lot of fun last night. Fortunately, Der Spiegel took pictures so that we can enjoy the celebrations in the safety of our own homes. So much for my image of maidens dancing around the maypole.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

First Bike Ride

Niddapark near Ginnheim

Nidda - Main Confluence in Höchst

Westhafen Frankfurt
Even though last April felt warmer, April 2009 already is the warmest month on record in Germany (at least since they started keeping track in 1890). That explains the hellacious spring we've had. Normally, I would have been out on my bike much earlier, but I'm behind schedule on a lot of things this year.

On Sunday morning I finally went down to the cellar, degreased our bike chains, re-greased them, and pumped up the tires so that Mrs. Bloggerboy and I could go for our first ride of the season. We took my standard route to the Niddapark and then along the Nidda to Höchst to the confluence with the Main River. We stopped for lunch in the historic old city of Höchst, which is just above the river through the Zolltor (customs gate). There are three restaurants at the Schlossplatz, and we ate at Zum Bären this time. The food is simple but good, the service friendly, and the prices reasonable. After lunch we rode a bit through the old part of Höchst and then over the Main bridge and back along the Main to Frankfurt on the Main Radweg, a bike trail that runs over 500 kilometers from the two Main sources deep in Bavaria to the Rhein River in Mainz nearby. The last part of the ride back to Frankfurt is on a bike path that runs parallel to a fairly busy street in Niederrad. You are never directly on the street, but it detracts a bit from the scenery to your left. On a sunny weekend afternoon there also is a lot of bike and pedestrian traffic on the Main Radweg. The reward at the end of the route is the skyline view when you coast down to the river across from the Westhafen, one of the newer city renewal projects that includes luxury apartments right on the river. I always stop here for a few minutes before heading home. On sunny days there are always sunbathers along the south bank of the river. What a great way to end a wonderfully sunny week. The weather turns tonight and should be rainy and cool most of the week.

Friday, April 24, 2009


Don't these trees look as if they were getting ready to storm across the bridge?

I learned a new word while researching for my blog: Pollarding.

Pollarded trees are widespread in France and Germany and, presumably, large parts of Europe. I associate them with European cities and parks.

Here is a bit of history from an article by the founder of Plant Amnesty that I found on the web:

"Pollarding began in Europe as a practical way to harvest a tree without killing it. Sustainable forestry is not a new idea, you see. A young deciduous tree would be headed back at a point above the reach of foraging deer and livestock, and then regrown. The resulting water sprouts (also called suckers by some) would be cut off every year or two for use as animal fodder, made into baskets and brooms, or bundled together for firewood. Soon the tree would form a callused knob from which the water sprouts would regrow. The water sprouts regrow annually from dormant buds on the pollard head and are cut off again and again at their points of origin.

The swollen pollard heads are also considered ornamental features in and of themselves. They represent a sort of grotesque beauty, reminiscent of stark, black and white photos of very old people. These things are not beautiful in the classic pastoral or pretty sense (like a landscape painting or a statue of David) but they have an emotional appeal. Whether you like it or not is strictly a matter of personal taste. Pollarding, unlike topping, is horticulturally defensible. It does exactly what it is supposed to do."

Here is a link to the complete article.

Without leaves, the pollarded trees do spark a similar reaction in me to the one I have seeing the limb stump of an amputee. I can understand why some folks object to pollarding. Nevertheless, I can understand why, in congested Northern European cities where sunlight is at a premium, people moved towards pollarding trees along promenades and in smaller city parks. There is something wonderfully eerie about wandering through rows of bare, pollarded trees at night. My pictures of pollarded plane trees were shot early on a spring morning along the Museum Mile of the Main River (Sachsenhausen). I filtered them to black and white to emphasize their eerie effect. I guess these trees really could use a hug.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Lime or Linden / Linde (Tilia)

The Linden Tree is a literature lover's tree if ever there was one. During my extended period of botanical illiteracy, I walked and sat under countless linden trees without realizing it. What finally got my attention were the gorgeous rows of linden trees in the Niddapark in full blossom in high summer (see earlier post). The scent is fantastic.

One of the most famous addresses in Germany is Unter den Linden (Under the Lime Trees), which runs from the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.

The rest of this post is copied from Wikipedia:

Romantic symbol

A mediaeval love poem by Walther von der Vogelweide (c. 1170–c. 1230) starts with a reference to the lime-tree:

Under der linden
an der heide,
dâ unser zweier bette was,
dâ mugt ir vinden
schône beide
gebrochen bluomen unde gras.
vor dem wald in einem tal,
schône sanc diu nahtegal.

[English: Under the lime tree
on the open field,
where we two had our bed,
you still can see
lovely both
broken flowers and grass.
On the edge of the woods in a vale,
sweetly sang the nightingale.]

Germanic mythology

The tilia was also a highly symbolic and hallowed tree to the Germanic peoples in their native pre-Christian Germanic mythology.

Originally, local communities not only assembled to celebrate and dance under the lime-tree, but to hold their judicial thing meetings there in order to restore justice and peace. It was believed that the tree would help unearth the truth. Thus the tree became associated with jurisprudence even after Christianization, such as in the case of the Gerichtslinde, and verdicts in rural Germany were frequently returned sub tilia (under the lime-tree) until the Age of Enlightenment.

In the Nibelungenlied, a medieval German work ultimately based on oral tradition recounting events amongst the Germanic tribes in the 5th and 6th centuries, Siegfried gains his invulnerability by bathing in the blood of a dragon. While he did so, a single linden tree leaf sticks to him, leaving a spot on his body untouched by the blood and he thus has a single point of vulnerability.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Lilac / Flieder (Syringa)

Two Colors
We came across Lilac just getting ready to bloom during our Easter Walk. Now it is in full bloom. In Greece, Lebanon, and Cyprus, the lilac is strongly associated with Eastertime, because it flowers around that time; it consequently is called paschalia.

Lunchtime Walk in the Palmengarten


Pollarded Linden Trees


Apple Blossom

Apple Trees

Good Grief

This is ridiculous. I feel like a tourist who has been run through a seven-day, ten-city tour. I'm recording things on film but cannot keep up with my reporting duties. The blossoms on the apple trees in the Palmengarten are past their prime, and even some of the rhododendron are blooming. Lilac is in full bloom. Most of the trees have sprouted green.

I have not even had time to focus on seasonal foods. The asparagus season is going into full swing.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Visit to the Architecture Museum

The weather on Saturday was rainy and cool. I decided to check out the exhibits at the German Architecture Museum. The name makes the museum sound like a national museum. One assumes that the Federal Government sponsors it. Actually, it is a struggling museum that exists primarily from funding from the City of Frankfurt and donations from exhibit sponsors. It is located on Frankfurt's Museum Mile along the south bank of the Main River. Here are the three Exhibits that I viewed in the order in which I viewed them:

Bauhaus Twenty-21 – An Ongoing Legacy
Hawaiian Modern: The Architecture of Vladimir Ossipoff
Las Vegas Studio: Images from the Archives of Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown

The common theme of these seemingly unrelated exhibits is modernism, I guess -- not that they are expressly linked to one another at the museum. Here is a blurb about the Bauhaus exhibit from the website of the German Foreign Ministry:

"To mark the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Bauhaus, an international traveling exhibition opens on 6 March at the German Architecture Museum in Frankfurt am Main. The “Bauhaus twenty-21” project under the patronage of UNESCO was conceived by New York photographer Gordon Watkinson with the curatorial advice of Michael Siebenbrodt, Director of the Bauhaus Museum in Weimar, and Falk Jaeger, architectural critic and journalist in Berlin. It showcases 12 of the most important works of Bauhaus architecture in dialogue with 12 contemporary building projects by renowned contemporary architects – all illustrated by a series of images created by photographer Gordon Watkinson. The exhibition, bridging the fields of architecture, design and photography, places the heritage of Bauhaus architecture in the context of current architectural trends and visualizes its ongoing influence on 21st-century architecture."

I am a total neophyte when it comes to architecture, so forgive me if I parade my ignorance here. What I missed in the Bauhaus exhibit were clearly-marked interior plans that showed the intended functions of the different rooms. I couldn't even tell if some of the houses had kitchens or bathrooms. There was hardly any sign of nature in the pictures, either, leaving a rather cold impression. One day, I would like to visit Tel Aviv to get a better feel for how Bauhaus can function in real life. From what I have seen in pictures, the White City must have some really nice examples. Here is a slide show on Bauhaus-style buildings in Tel Aviv. In those slides I see places that seem livable enough, assuaging some of my concerns about possible coldness and sterility.

I then moved to the Hawaii exhibit. In a relatively small space, the Honolulu Academy Exhibit managed to create a wonderful atmosphere of calm perfectly conducive to contemplating Ossipoff's work. What a timely exhibit, with Obama as our first Hawaiian president. (Ossipoff even designed the private school that Obama attended.) I'm beginning to get a feel for how Hawaii influences Obama's style.

Ossipoff is an incredible blend of Russian, Japanese, West Coast American and Hawaiian cultures. His work exudes a wonderful sense of harmony with nature. Ossipoff's biggest claim to fame is for the luxury houses he designed to be built in exclusive locations with breathtaking views. His own home and the Pauling House were my favorites. The central role of the lanai in the homes he designed also was incorporated into several of his major public buildings. The Honolulu airport terminal is one example. The schools that he designed also caught my attention. I enjoyed the short video clips with headphones next to many of the exhibits. You could hear the wind and waves. I left the Ossipoff exhibit with a sense of well-being. This website also has a slide show of some of Ossipoff's work.

The final exhibit showed another extreme of American modernisim: Las Vegas in the late Sixties. Here is a brief introduction from an article in The Architects Journal:

"In 1968, while the rest of the student world was in revolt against the military-industrial complex, Scott Brown and Venturi took their class of Yale students to Las Vegas. Away from, as The Doors put it, the ‘blood on the streets in the town of New Haven’, they headed into the unbridled terrain of dirty capitalism. Among the casinos, parking lots and neon-lit cheap thrills, they set to work applying the academic rigour and precision usually reserved for high cultural sites. Through a close study of Vegas’ amplification of contemporary urban phenomena, they hoped to glimpse the reality of the modern city.

They drew, photographed, and filmed Vegas, analysing the iconography of casino signs, the experience of driving, and the ways in which traditional ideas of urbanism had been warped by the commerciality of the strip. These studies were first presented as a student research project, which was then distilled into a publication, Learning from Las Vegas (MIT Press, 1972). It was a serious, stunning, beautiful, esoteric, yet immensely readable project that drove a pop sensibility deep into the heart of architecture. It was a polemic derived from the everyday landscape, and it transformed how we might think about architecture and planning.

What it radically proposed was that architects and planners might learn from the bottom-up, vulgar phenomenon of Vegas. And that looking at this extreme example might help them figure out the ways that contemporary architecture and urbanism actually worked – rather than the ways they would like it to work."

The photographs at the exhibit were a tribute to the incredible signs in Las Vegas (and in America at a certain period). I can remember reacting viscerally as a child to some of the great signs. I remember being fascinated with the classic Gulf Oil sign. Here is a short web article on the book Learning from Las Vegas that describes some of the philosophical issues, allowing one to sense the inherent dialectic between the Bauhaus exhibit and the Las Vegas exhibit.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Lombardy Poplar / Pyramidenpappeln (Populus nigra Italica)

For me, there are two quintessentially European trees: the Lombardy Poplar and the Plane Tree. There is something refined and soothing about the Lombardy Poplar. When I see a row of them in the countryside on a sunny, breezy day, I want to stop and snooze or picnic nearby. Here in the "cold north" they are a pleasant reminder of times spent in Mediterranean countries. Lombardy Poplars are planted generously in rural areas as wind breaks. They are constant companions on my frequent rides on the river bike paths that I love.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Easter Walk (Osterspaziergang)

Row of Lime / Linden trees in the Niddapark

Between Frankfurt and the Niddapark (with the Taunus Hills in the distance)

The TV Tower, aka Ginnheimer Spargel (Asparagus)

Grüneburg Park

I did not realize that, as so often the case here, the term Easter Walk (Osterspaziergang) has a deeper significance. I should have known; the word just rolls off your tongue (well, with a bit of practice) as if someone put a lot of thought into it. There is an Easter Walk in Part I of Goethe's Faust (German Version English Version). Well, we were not thinking of Goethe much on our walk, just enjoying the weather. Osterspaziergang also is the German title for Easter Parade, a 1948 musical with Fred Astaire and Judy Garland.

Our walk took us through the Westend, past the Palmengarten, to the Grüneburg Park. Both the Palmengarten and the Grüneburg Park are about 70 acres in size. From the Grüneburg Park, we walked along a narrow greenway that zigzags along and across several traffic arteries past the TV tower in Ginnheim to the Niddapark, a 400 acre park that, second only in size to the city forest on the southern edge of the town, forms an essential part of Frankfurt's "green lung". [From the Niddapark you can follow the Nidda river -- a stream really -- out into the country northeast of Frankfurt or back towards Höchst and the confluence with the Main River. I often ride my bike to the Niddapark, then to Höchst, and then back to Frankfurt along the Main.] Once in the Niddapark, we made a beeline to the Ginnheimer Wirtshaus microbrewery restaurant and beergarden and had an Easter Beer (Osterbier) . Actually, it was a normal beer, but there really is such a thing as Easter Beer. The service was slow but the beer good. We then walked home the same way we came, and then it was time for Kaffeetrinken. We skipped lunch somehow. This is how decadent my life in Frankfurt has become. I'll have more on Kaffeetrinken later.

The next day the Bild Zeitung had a headline about Frankfurt's soccer team, Eintracht, "taking an Easter Walk in the Munich Stadium". Needless to say, Frankfurt lost.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Gemixte Pickles

In reviewing my posts, I've had to chuckle at how quickly I've slipped into using German in English sentences. Germans call the mixing of German and English, a widespread [choose one: problem/phenomenon], "Denglisch" (i.e., Deutsch & Englisch). German-Americans with a recent immigrant background may be familiar with the term "gemixte Pickles". An American immediately understands the term to mean "mixed pickles", which a modern German would translate into "gemischte Gürken". A "Pickel" in German is a pimple or a pick, as in an ice pick. A "Pickle" is not listed in my Wahrig German dictionary. There is a book with the title Gemixte Pickles from 1927 by Kurt M. Stein, who also wrote Die Schönste Lengevitch, or somesuch, and appears to have published regularly in The Chicago Tribune. I found an article about the "Germerican" language here. My immigrant grandparents spoke gemixte pickles; my parents did, too; and then, just as the tradition was about to die out in our family, I married a German woman, and we and our bilingual children speak gemixte pickles every day.

Monday, April 13, 2009


Springtime also is a time of abundant fruits and vegetables. Rhubarb, for example, is in season right now. We eat it as a compote (try it with a few spoonfuls of heavy cream) and as a cake. All spring and summer long, Germans love to eat simple cakes (Kuchen) loaded with fresh fruit. What we Americans know as cake – the classic layer cake with icing -- covers only a fraction of what fits under the rubric of cake in Germany and other parts of Europe. The German Wikipedia entry for Kuchen contains 82 entries, albeit not all traditionally German. The most common, simple cake with which I am familiar is called the Blechkuchen. A Blech is any relatively flat baking tray. (Note to German marketing team: I thought "Blech" is what cartoon characters say when something tastes bad. Blechkuchen may not travel well.) This means that the cake has no particular form; the tray's function is to serve as a bed for a batter and, most importantly, for fresh fruit. There are other kinds of Blechkuchen that do not contain fruit, but my focus is on the seasonal ones with fruit.

The next big question to be resolved if you want to make a Blechkuchen is what kind of batter or dough (Teig) to use. The two main types for Blechkuchen are yeast dough (Hefeteig) and shortcrust dough (Mürbeteig). The third major type of batter with which I am familiar is called the Rührteig (literally "stirred batter"), which is used for making traditional layer cakes but also can be used as a bed for fruit cakes. I've not, however, eaten it as a Blechkuchen, probably because the batter is runny and needs more of a form. The wife said to me yesterday "I don't like Mürbeteig", so, for our family it is Hefeteig for our Blechkuchen. Sometimes in restaurants and cafes one will be served a slice of Blechkuchen made with yeast dough that is so fluffy that the fruit risks getting lost in the cake. The picture above is of a yeast dough that did not rise much at all so that the crust was very thin. As you can see, it was made in a simple oven drip pan. Nothing fancy at all, but add some freshly-whipped cream (no vanilla or sugar in the cream, please) and it is quite a treat for Kaffeetrinken. Have you figured out yet that I'd eat cake with shortcrust dough, too? In fact, to paraphrase Woody Allen, even when cake is bad, it's still pretty good.

Slow Down!

Spring is rolling along at a breathtaking pace. I cannot keep up with all the news that needs to be reported. A week ago, most of the trees barely showed a trace of green. Now, the horse chestnut trees that line many of the streets in Frankfurt are getting ready to bloom. The magnolias are losing their petals, leaving a carpet of white or pink wherever they grow. April truly is the cruelest month, dazzling you with its speed and fecundity, reminding you of the fleeting nature of existence. (...) Oh friends, not these tones, rather more joyful ones! It is time for the "Easter Walk" (Osterspaziergang) [More later]. Many devout Catholics have waited until Easter to consume their first alcohol since Mardi Gras (aka carne vale or Karneval). So, I raise my glass to you, devout Catholics, non-devout Catholics, and Protestants of all colors: Happy Easter. I'm off for my walk. Destination: a Gartenwirtschaft (beer garden). The picture above is of the Ginnheimer Wirtshaus in the Niddapark, formerly the location of Wäldches. Many Frankfurter still refer to the place by its former name, as Wäldches was a real institution. The place was and is a microbrewery restaurant with a garden.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


According to the sign at the Palmengarten, you can eat the Magnolia blossoms. Anyone have a good recipe?

Cherry Blossom



Saturday, April 11, 2009

Narcissus pseudonarcissus (Daffodil)

After I awoke from my winter sleep, one of the first things that I did was to walk down to the Palmengarten, Frankfurt's botanical garden, and buy an annual pass. It is a great place for a lunch-hour walk on a sunny day, a picnic, or sunbathing.

I bought a digital SLR camera last year, but this is the first time that I've had a chance to try out some of its features. If you click on a picture, you'll get a larger view.

Spring has Sprung -- A Mission Statement?

I had my head buried in work as the first signs of spring sneaked by. The Forsythia in front of our house was already in full bloom. The winter of 2008-9 was long, dark and relatively cold. I've gotten used to it after 20 years as an expatriate. I actually learned to enjoy the dark time of year in the city even though I grew up in a much sunnier place. My resolution for 2009 is to keep my eyes open. This blog is intended to help me achieve that goal.

As for the title of my blog, it refers to a joke my German-American father used to tell about how to catch a German spy: make him say "welcome visitor". When a German tries to say it, it usually comes out as "velcome fisitor" or "velcome wisitor". The blog title also refers to the expatriate experience of not really being sure if one is going to stay put or pull up roots and head back "home". After a while, one realizes that home is where one is, or nowhere. I don't have a complete idea of what I want to do with my blog. Themes that may recur include: expat life, Germany, Frankfurt am Main, food, fauna & flora, and maybe film and literature. I hope to get below the surface of a few topics, to which I will return occasionally.

I have regretted never taking a botany course when I had the chance. Please be patient with me if I devote space to naming things. Being able to identify the plants while taking a walk enriches the experience. It is difficult being botanically illiterate. Just because I have opted to live in the city does not mean that I have lost interest in nature. The wildlife here, aside from the two-legged variety, may be limited, but Frankfurt has a lot of green areas, and the Taunus hills, the Rheingau, and the Bergstrasse are nearby, not to mention an incredible system of bike paths along the rivers.