Weimar Tales–Feb. 7-8

Goethe and Schiller chilling in front of the Weimar Concert Hall, which is decked out for the 100th Anniversary of the Constitution of the Weimar Republic.

Weimar is a lovely city about 80 kilometers outside of Leipzig in the Staat of Thuringia. Thuringia is known for their bratwurst, so I was pretty excited to go there. Weimar is known as the family home of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and the place where Friedrich Schiller eventually settled, and their presence made Weimar an intellectual hub for Germany during the German Enlightenment. Today, most American art enthusiasts know it primarily for its role early in the Bauhaus movement (if that’s the right wording for Bauhaus), and it is more generally known as the site of the writing of the Post WWI constitution that reframed Germany briefly as the Weimar Republic. I think I will most remember it for the city park that the river Ilm meanders through.

When we arrived, we headed for our lodging. When ACU made our booking, the normal hostel it used was full, as were most others, and the students were not disappointed to find we were in a boutique hotel for this one-night trip. The Carrolls were not disappointed to learn that their room was the spacious loft in the main building in the complex. While there, we uncovered the obvious–Weimar was celebrating the 100th Anniversary of the constitution of the Republic as well as of the Bauhaus. After checking in, I made a spectacular discovery at lunch. The café we settled on had a lunch special of soljanka, a Russian soup that had become popular in East Germany in the DDR years, and Lindsay Snyder, ACU’s Leipzig Program Director encouraged me to try it. It is beyond amazing, and should be on your list to try the next time you visit eastern Europe (note, I had chicken soljanka–and fish or mushroom versions are also common).

Wikipedia let me know this is chicken, pickled cucumber, cabbage, mushroom, potatoes, sour cream, dill, tomatoes, onions, olives, capers, allspice, and parsley. I’m letting you know it is to die for.

After soljanka, I had a granatsplitter, which translates unlovely-ly to schrapnel. It is the remnants of cookies and pies all congealed together with butter cream, cocoa, and sometimes rum, on a waffle base coated with chocolate to hold it together. Both of these dishes feel like they were invented by a cook looking to get rid of everything leftover in the kitchen, and both are amazing. For some reason, Laura and Molly were more interested in the decor.

Swings–in a restaurant! Inconceivable!

By the end of the day, the weather had taken a favorable turn. ACU fed the students in a traditional Thuringian restaurant (I had the meat sampler–shocking, I know), and yet somehow we made their day by stopping at the local Rewe and letting them get snacks for their early evening at the hotel. Many Haribo creatures, particularly bears, met their doom that evening.

Friday was a free day for everyone, and the Carrolls spent most of it wandering. We started in the town’s main cemetery, which contains both an active Russian Orthodox church and the remains of Goethe and Schiller. Here are images of the WW1 Memorial, the Church, and the Goethe memorial from the cemetery:

Afterwards we headed to the largest city park (with a stop at an art supply store on the way). It is known for the Goethe gartenhaus, which we missed, but the park was still spectacular. Here are some of our highlights:

The city itself is lovely and friendly as well, though our time in it was limited. Here are a few of our highlights (we didn’t spend much time around the Bauhaus University):

It may be worth noting that at the aforementioned art supply store I acquired some marbles. I note this because I may have been so enthusiastic about them our students now associate Weimar with “That’s where Bill’s marbles are from”. However, I was not the only enthusiastic Carroll in Weimar. Laura found a creperie in town, and for once, I wasn’t the food enthusiast of the family. Here are some pictures I was asked to take of our meal, and I will let you guess to which Carroll each belonged ( 1) egg, cheese and ham gallete, 2) nutella crepe, 3) onion soup, 4) pizza):

As for the title of the post, I am teaching a course on Grimm’s Fairy Tales and the Weimar Fairy Tales (or Weimar Tales) to our ACU students. You are probably familiar with Grimm’s Fairy Tales, compiled (and composed to some degree) by the Grimm Brothers in the 1800s. The Weimar Tales were written during the Weimar Republic. The three main political parties–the Social Democrats, the Communists, and the National Socialists–all felt leaning into fairy tales, a traditional and popular German genre, was an excellent way to introduce/indoctrinate youth into their values and prepare them to be active and partisan party members. The National Socialists didn’t write many, but leaned into Grimm’s and the few, like the Poison Mushroom (it’s vilely anti-semitic), that they composed. A group of artists, educators, and intellectuals, who saw what the Nazis were doing composed new fairy tales–the Weimar Tales–to offer a different set of values to lean into. My students find the emphasis on fairy tales as a political tool surprising, are horrified by the Nazis tales, but are also bothered by the clear attempts at indoctrination of children by all three parties since children don’t have a clear boundary between reality and imagination until a certain developmental point. The Carroll’s time in the city of Weimar was lovely, but it was hard to situate that experience with the concentration camp we knew was on a hilltop a few kilometers away.

Buchenwald–Feb. 7

The Carrolls left the ACU Villa the morning of February 7 with the students and headed to the train station to catch a train to Weimar. While it has been cold, it hasn’t been as bitterly cold as the weekend in Berlin. Once in Weimar, we dropped off our things at our hotel, picked up lunch, and gathered again to board the city bus to Buchenwald.

If you want to learn about the Holocaust, much has been written. I am not equipped to tell that story with the immensity of its tragedy. I will speak to what I learned at Buchenwald.

Buchenwald was a concentration camp. Concentration camps “concentrated” populations of undesirables. The first inmates at Buchenwald were political figures from the Social Democrats and Communists–the two parties that formed the greatest threat to the National Socialists (Nazis). Criminals and anti-socials (people on welfare) soon followed. Roma and Sinti also did. Jews eventually arrived as well. As the different groups arrived, they were given patches/icons to wear on their uniform to designate the group that caused them to be at Buchenwald, and the ranking system of those groups was made clear. People at concentration camps were assigned work details (the first group to arrive built the camp) at the munitions factory at the camp, in Weimar, and in other local cities. Buchenwald was not an extermination camp. 56,000 of the 250,000 interned at Buchenwald did die, but they most often did so from hunger, exposure or disease. Some were simply directly murdered. In particular, Russian POWs were the group most often targeted for extermination upon arrival at the camp. The crematorium eventually had to be altered to accommodate the number of dead–each of the multiple units redesigned to accommodate six bodies at once instead of one. As it became apparent the war was coming to an end, the Nazis did try to ship prisoners to extermination camps to eliminate evidence of what happened there, but they did not start soon enough, and many lived to see the liberation of the camp. I found it interesting that prisoners who had hidden stolen weapons actually liberated the camp hours before the Allies arrived and handed the camp over to the American forces who were first to enter.

The system designed to deploy prisoners as workers, as well as the smaller system designed to murder some of the prisoners, demonstrated significant forethought. The desire to create hierarchies within the system was fairly transparent–in the beginning criminals were given authority among the prisoners to assign work crews in order to humiliate Social Democrats and Communists (who were previously influential and often well-educated) but the work crews were less effective and their plans for distributing food led to too many starvation deaths among a group desired for labor. Still, Sinti, Roma, and Jews were put in worse barracks and treated far worse than the other groups. Buchenwald was a male concentration camp–all of the interned workers were male. Some females were interned there. A few were held there to apply pressure on known German resistance figures and released if their relative/s turned themselves in or joined the Nazi party. Some worked as nurses in one area of the camp. And some–almost always Sinti, Roma, or Jewish–were placed in a brothel. The Nazis were concerned that an all-male camp would result in increased homosexuality, and the prisoners highest on the hierarchy were allowed access to the brothel. Any pregnancies among the women in the brothel were aborted.

From the height of Buchenwald, which was much colder than Weimar, you can see several small towns around the camp as well as Weimar in the distance. They could also see Buchenwald; particularly, since spotlights were placed at regular intervals around the perimeter. Additionally, Buchenwald received deliveries from Weimar daily, the soldiers stationed there (who were young–I think most were first stationed there at 16 or 17) were encouraged to have their families visit them, and work crews left daily for Weimar and surrounding towns. This is important to remember because everyone the Americans interviewed in Weimar said they didn’t know about the camp, but the logistics would have made that nearly impossible.

The sign on Buchenwald’s gate says “To each his own”, which means “everyone has their place”. It reminded the prisoners Buchenwald was the place they deserved, and the Nazis were in their rightful place. I could go on much longer, but I won’t. With brief commentary, here are most of the images I took from Buchenwald. It felt wrong to document the place through images–perhaps a picture is worth a thousand words, but images can’t capture the scope of the wrong of this place.

The prison gate, from the inside. In contrast, Auschwitz’s notorious “Work Will Set You Free” faced prisoners as they entered the camp.
The memorial to all of those who lived through or died at Buchenwald, listing their nationalities or ethnicities. This outdoor plaque is always warmed to 98.6 degrees to remind observers that all human life is sacred.
All of the original barracks housing prisoners have been destroyed. In their footprints, any group can place a plaque memorializing those housed in the various blocs. Here are two stones side by side–one commemorates Allied (including USAAF) prisoners of war housed there while the other commemorates those imprisoned for homosexuality (their uniforms bore pink triangles–status was designated by icons).
On the perimeter of the camp, Ethan Lewis found a small bunker. Based on the orientation of the entrance and exit, I am guessing this provided foot access under a fence.
The interior of the small bunker. There was a small (guard?) room that would have been situated on the camp side of the fence with a chimney.

I don’t know how to end this post. In our discussions with the students, they were surprised survivors came back to the camp each year to mark the day of liberation and surviving the camp. My feelings while at the camp were overwhelming. As I think about the student’s surprise, I conjecture that coming back is an act of defiance, saying “I am still here”. At this moment, I have to content myself with knowing that I remember this happened and with the fact that Buchenwald as memorial means that no one can still say “I didn’t know what was happening there”.

Görlitz–A Dreamy, Medieval Town

We arrived in Görlitz in the evening, so our first venture into the city was at night, and to this American’s eyes, the lamps gave the city a magical glow.

In the week after Berlin, we got back to classes, but our first three-day weekend for travel was at the end of the this week. In the middle, I had lunch with one of our students, who is the son of one of my best friends. We left Wednesday’s German class, took the tram to the stop closest to city center on our line, and walked to La Grotta Pizzeria. It was fantastic.

Onions, pepperoni (hot peppers), red peppers, and salami-pikant (hot salami, not pepperoni, but as close as it gets here). Oh yeah, and this is Kyle.

So, this is where I paid my first “I don’t know German well” tax. Kyle and I loved the pizza, and were pretty happy about it even at 11,90 euro. Until we paid attention to the little sign on the table.

Mid-day special: basic margherita pizza with two toppings of your choice for 5,90 euro.

So, Kyle and I could have shared a pizza–we both took home half of ours that day–and both of us eaten for 5,90 total. Live and learn. In fact, we did. We came back with everybody the next week, and a lot of students still hit La Grotta regularly. The oven is wood fired, and every ingredient is fresh.

Laura had been planning on Görlitz for our first trip away for awhile. We had both agreed after visiting Germany in 2014 that our long weekend trips should be spent in Germany. Germany is only half the size of Texas, but even so, each region is quite distinct and the cultures (and cuisine!) vary a lot between them. Like Leipzig, Görlitz, is in the Sachsen state, but it is considered Lusatian. It is in the eastern-most area of Germany, and you can just walk across the bridge over the river Neisse to Zgorzelec in Poland (which we certainly did!).

There are around 60,000 people in Görlitz, but it has been a prosperous town for a long time. The first written record of it’s status dates back to 1002, when it was part of the Polish empire. As boundaries shifted, it’s been part of a lot of empires and countries. Since Germany’s founding in 1871, it has been part of a German state, and was in East Germany during the years when Germany was split after WWII. A lot of the buildings the town is now famous for were built between 1200-1680. The town suffered less damage in the World War than many others, but the ornate houses were unsurprisingly ignored during the Soviet years (as they clearly denoted the wealth of merchants in a capitalist economy). After Die Wende (1989) when the wall fell, an anonymous donor started giving the city in 1995 500,000 Euro a year to renovate the house fronts and restore the city’s vibrant colors. If you have seen The Book Thief, Inglorious Basterds, or The Grand Budapest Hotel, you have seen scenes shot in Görlitz. It’s hard to do the scope of the city justice, but here are some of the buildings that I was struck by while we were there.

Görlitz involved a lot of walking, so we needed as much refreshment as possible. Breakfast looked like this:

Laura with coffee. Jane Anne with cake. My hot chocolate barely made the picture.

While snacks around lunch occasionally looked like this:

Sometimes, Jesus saves in ways you don’t expect. This Pfandkuchen and meringue are from the Jesus bakerei. I didn’t have the heart to tell them Jesus was a carpenter. Particularly since this may have been the best bakery we have eaten at, yet.

Our first dinner was at The Three-Legged Dog. The schnitzel there was amazing, as were the other traditional German dishes we had. The girls were a little concerned about certain elements of the decor.

Maybe the weasel looking over her shoulder is why Molly didn’t like the local variant on Cordon Bleu.

The next day, we ate lunch in Poland. We had no idea what the US equivalent of Polish currency was, but like the meal the previous night, we had decided just to try things and eat well since the restaurant was nice. Since the restaurant was in a cellar, there also was no cell service to save us. Both girls started with a pot of tea, and as a family we enjoyed olives and breads as appetizers. Laura got pierogi, I had a variation on schnitzel, Jane Anne had a potato and egg variation on rosti, and Molly went with a cheese and olive plate. After dessert, we had spent nearly around a hundred Plotzy, but the meal was good enough that we were ok with a splurge. Once we were out of the restaurant with cell service, we discovered we spent $24. I felt like I had made up for my pizza mistake earlier in the week.

Sturdily constructed, and entirely cell signal-proof restaurant in Poland.
See–I was in Poland, too!

One of our favorite afternoons was spent wandering to and through the old city cemetery. The image of the house on a bridge in the gallery above is from our trip there (the house is the executioner’s house, and he was required to live out of the city due to the violent nature of his job–somehow on the city wall counted as out of the city). The next gallery is from the cemetery and the exterior of the old church (we didn’t get to go in–as with several sites in Görlitz, they close for the winter season and open around April 6).

I think one of the reasons we liked Görlitz so much were that there were so many little flourishes of artistry in common, grand, and surprising places. Here is a catch-all gallery with several of the ones that stood out.

Görlitz was the last weekend of January/first weekend of February. On February 7, we went to Weimar with the students. Weimar is lovely and the hometown of the famous philosopher/poet Goethe, but we were taking the students to visit Buchenwald, which is just outside Weimar. I will post about that soon. Tschüss!

Berlin with our Students (1/25-1/27)

The students who are studying abroad with us this semester left Abilene on Wednesday, January 16 around 2 p.m. After a bus ride to DFW Airport, a flight to London Heathrow, a five-hour layover, a flight to Berlin, and a chartered bus to ACU’s Villa in Leipzig, they joined us at 10:30 on January 17th. We promptly fed them and sent them to bed (and despite the excitement of being in Germany, most immediately gave in to sleep after a long day of travel). The first few days involved orientation meetings to the semester and orientation walks around the city. In my last blog post (which I am aware was some time ago), I mentioned that a couple joined Jane Anne and me for a foray to a Leipzig Red Bull soccer match on their first Saturday night here. The next morning we all went to the Leipzig English church, which is one of the few services conducted in English in the city (all of the students are starting to take German, so no one is quite ready to participate in a service in German). Sunday evenings at nine, we have a devotional service that only includes the ACU group here–the Carrolls, the students, and Lindsay Snyder, the program director for ACU’s Leipzig site. The normal class schedule started on Monday.

Our first group excursion was to Berlin. Berlin is an obvious choice–it is the capital of Germany, it is close to Leipzig (around two hours by train), and in its recent history (the fall of Nazi Germany, East Berlin, West Berlin, the Wall, the airlift, the Cold War, Die Wende, re-unification) you have a microcosm of the change the entire nation has experienced within just the past three generations. On our four hour walking tour (in brutally cold weather), our tour guide pointed out that the number of construction cranes and the amount of scaffolding that you see through the city is a visual reminder of the perpetual change the city has faced in the past few decades.

This is the Berlin Cathedral (Berliner Dom). Located on Museum Island, it is in the heart of Berlin. Though severely damaged by bombing in World War II, this scaffolding is for cleaning purposes–notice the small dome on the right is black–the “white” stone on most of the face represents cleaning efforts.

I was deliberately avoiding cranes in my photos; here are a few that snuck through.

Traveling as a group has been a lot of fun, even on very cold days. The Carrolls might be a little spoiled–our only experience with hostels is when we travel with our group. Here Lindsay preps our students for our walking tour of Berlin in the hostel lobby. It was 24 F and windy, so yes, they are very bundled.

What is now Germany has only been a nation since 1871, though the history of the people in this place runs back over 2,000 years. In the world history classes I took in an American high school, the time on Germany focused on its role in World War I and World War II. We visited lots of sites on our walking tour, but I am going to focus on a couple that deal with Germany wrestling with the history of the wars. The first is the Neue Wache. In England and in the US, there are many memorials across the countries commemorating those who fought and served in the World Wars. I have seen many in Germany from World War I, but as a country that was administered primarily by Russia and the US after World War II, there wasn’t a lot of thought given to honoring those who fought for Nazi Germany. Since 1931, the Neue Wache, a former guardhouse, has served as a war memorial. It has been re-dedicated multiple times, but after re-unification, it was re-dedicated as “the Central Memorial of the Federal Republic of Germany for the victims of war and dictatorship”. Its central art installation is a statue of a mother holding her dead son. As such, it is as much an anti-war piece as it is a war memorial. But it negotiates the difficult space of honoring the sacrifice of fallen German soldiers while acknowledging the deaths caused by those soldiers should also be acknowledged. Plus, it acknowledges the deaths caused by fascist and soviet dictators that weren’t war deaths. The sculptor of the statue is
Käthe Kollwitz, and, tangentially, the ACU Villa is on Käthe-Kollwitz-Straße in Leipzig.

I don’t have a picture of the parking lot above where Hitler’s bunker was located, but all that is there is a small sign acknowledging its location; there were fears that any type of memorial building or plaque there could serve as a sort of rallying spot for neo-nazis. I mention this deliberately because paired with the Neue Mache, it shows how complicated wrestling with the past can be in Germany, as does the last site I want to focus on.

The Holocaust memorial in Berlin is also controversial. Not because most Germans think it shouldn’t be memorialized, but because the memorial is so abstract people sometimes wonder if it is appropriate. The memorial is several thousand stella, or rectangular stones of various height, laid out in a grid. In the cold weather we visited it in, it was very somber. In summer, however, tourists often hop from stella to stella (which is actually forbidden), and children play, hiding amidst the stones some of which are more than eight or ten feet tall (the ground is like a bowl beneath the grid so you don’t notice the increasing height from the perimeter). The artist claims the design is deliberately controversial to invite conversation about a history that isn’t talked about. Others claim it is simply inappropriate for the memorial to the Holocaust to be able to be interpreted as playful. For me, it just emphasizes the difficulty of negotiating an imperfect history. The arguments over Confederate monuments certainly came to mind for me. I do appreciate the nuance of the Neue Mache, a nuance that I believe recognizes not only the lingering guilt over Nazi Germany, but that even the best of men in war create victims by doing their duty.

Saturday was a free day for everyone. The Carrolls started their day with frühstück, breakfast, at Chipps, in the embassy district. Being the healthy person I am, I had salad with mine.

See how healthy I am?

We spent the day wandering the city (you may notice in the pictures, I really like ornate doors). Laura’s itinerary included visiting the DDR Museum, Nikolai church and the surrounding area, and then the English section of the Dussman bookstore. We ate our evening meal at Nanoosh (where I had my first translation fail–somehow I missed that some version of cold fish would be in my wrap!). The girls loved the DDR Museum and its exhibits on life in East Germany. Nikolai church was amazing–it was rebuilt after being destroyed in World War II, and it no longer functions as a church. It preserves, restores and houses pieces from other destroyed churches that have not been rebuilt. It is lovely. And it had a cupcake shop next door. I found the perfect card for Laura at the bookstore (and each of us picked up a book), and we finished the evening at a Chocolate shop that had recreated the Brandenburg Gate in chocolate. I will let you judge how accurate they were.

On Sunday, we visited the German Historical Museum, went to the Holocaust Museum (which is located underground, below the Holocaust memorial, and is as emotional as you can imagine), passed by the Reichstag, and then headed back to Leipzig for another week of classes. For the Carrolls, the next weekend would be in Görlitz.

Wow, that Week Went Quickly!

Well, the students have arrived, classes have started, and my blogging disappeared. Hopefully, with the start of classes my schedule will stabilize, and I won’t be fighting to find a few moments to get blogging in. I promised to finished the house tour, and that’s where I will start.

The back of our flat consists of a large storage closet, a small hallway study, the girls’ bedroom and our bedroom.

The closet is large enough to house our suitcases, the drying rack, ironing board, extra bedding, and lots of other household storage. It’s a good thing it can house the drying rack because Molly made it clear that it was inappropriate to let clothes dry out in the open as I had done the first few days.
The hallway study is where we thought we would get a lot of work done, so we put all of our work and school materials there. Jane Anne and Molly do use it, but most of our work actually happens in the front room with all of its natural light.
Molly and Jane Anne love the light from windows in the ceiling in their bedroom, except when I slide the panel in the mornings to signal it’s time to get up!
From their bedroom, they step right out into the hallway study, which means their trip to school is often pretty short. However, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, they both have a class with Laura, and on Tuesdays, Jane Anne also has a three-hour one with me.
The whole apartment is full of light. Our room also has skylights–you can see the long pole used to open them hanging from the ceiling.
We have considerably more wardrobe space than we have clothes, just one of the many ways we are pampered by the space here.

These images wrap up our part of the house. I will try to get some good pictures of our classrooms, common rooms and exterior in future posts.

Meanwhile, we have actually been doing things while we are here. On the morning after the students arrived, we took them from our villa to city center (the Zentrum). On the way, we stopped at the memorial to the Jewish community, which was destroyed in the Nazi era.

In Leipzig, this memorial is situated on the site where the synagogue once stood. It was destroyed during Kristalnacht. In 1930, the Jewish community in Leipzig numbered 11,000. After the war, it was essentially gone. These empty chairs serve as a reminder of the absence of this community.

Though the effect of jet lag was still strong, two of the students wanted to go to the RB Leipzig soccer match with Borussia Dortmund two nights after they arrived. I got to experience joining a football club to get the tickets, and discovered even then that a prime match adds a considerable number of rules to getting tickets. Leipzig was fourth of nineteen teams in the Bundesliga, the top German soccer league, and Dortmund topped the standings. Dortmund had won 4-1 in their last match-up earlier this season.

Fortunately, I took this early–everyone was still warm! It was about 29 degrees through most of the match.
Late in the match, American soccer hero Christian Pulisic came on for Dortmund.
Leipzig ended up losing 1-0, but hey, the experience was hard to beat!

Since I last posted, we have gone to a local church twice, gotten to know the arriving 13 students much better, gotten lost a few times, had another half dozen wursts (well, maybe that’s been mainly me), tested out several varieties of cheese, cookies, and eis, taught classes, and I have gone to a German class (I’m probably not the best ACU student–my second question in class was about profanity). We head to Berlin this weekend. My hope is to get in a blog post before then, and then blog about Berlin upon our return.
Auf Wiedersehen!

Basic Spaces

Our flat in the villa is anything but a basic space. It really is quite lovely, and it is set up to make you feel like you are NOT in a hotel, living from a suitcase. I think when our students arrive, they will find features that remind them of their dorms (bunkbeds), and quite a few things that don’t (increased elbow room!). Back to our space, in addition to the living/dining space, the front part of our flat includes the entry, kitchen, and bath. I will hit those today (at least the kitchen and bath), and save the rest of the flat for the next post.

The kitchen is probably one of the spaces at home Laura enjoys the most. Cooking is a skill she enjoys practicing, an art she likes to play with in terms of trying new recipes and interesting ingredients, and one of the ways that she feels engaged with family making things we like. Plus, it’s the site of her coffee-making, without which mornings would be rough in the Carroll household. Thank heaven–and Susan Lewis–there is a milk frother and Nespresso in the Leipzig kitchen. Though the oven sets for Celsius and we haven’t determine all of the presets on the microwave, yet, the kitchen is open with natural light and has nearly everything one would need to keep it a pleasant space, even for someone who values that space like Laura does.

There are plenty of windows and skylights throughout the flat, which means lots of natural light. The tall pole hiding out behind the hutch is one used to open the skylight windows–something that may be pleasant in a couple of months.
From left to right, you have the pantry, the oven, the facade of the dishwasher, and the washer/dryer combo below the microwave.

One part I glossed over (really so that I could come back and give it a section of its own) are the recycling bins in the house. It’s silly, but I get all warm and fuzzy about recycling, and the Germans are hard-core recyclers.

Our colorfully cheery recycling bins!

So, for things like coke bottles and other frequently used plastics, the Germans have a pfand (deposit) system. You pay extra on the front end for the beverage, and you return the empty bottles to pfand machines to get your money back. Thus, if you don’t return the bottles, they already have the money in place to deal with the processing of what hasn’t been recycled. Last time we were in Germany, I noticed many public space trash containers had pfand bottles sitting right next to them. Talking to people on that visit, I discovered that oftentimes people will choose not to recycle them, but also won’t throw them away so that poorer people can collect them, and thus the deposit, without having to root through garbage. I haven’t seen that this time around, but it’s also winter, so it may be more common when weather is better.

As for our containers, the green one contains compostable waste–egg shells, food that remains on plates after a meal, paper napkins that have food ick on them, and the like. The yellow one contains plastics (strangely enough foil packaging for foods–like those that seal plastic yogurt containers–count as a plastic as do things like boxed milk or juice containers. If it is plastic, it can pretty much be recycled. Blue is for paper and cardboard. And orange is for things that can’t be recycled (actually, black is, but we don’t have a black bin lid!). Glass is a different category, and you have to take it to a recycling location–they don’t pick it up at the house. Once a bin fills, we use the bag it is in to take it to the coordinating large bin outside the house–and those bins are collected every other week. The one exception is paper/cardboard, it is dumped into the blue bin rather than kept in the bag it is in when it heads out. This may not be surprising to many of you, but I already had a similar system at home, but far fewer things can be recycled in Abilene than can be in Germany, and I have to do all of the transporting.

The next room on the tour is the bathroom. I won’t pretend it’s terribly exciting, but it has a couple of features that we would love to import home.

Here’s the tub, complete with the large picture window over it. So far no one has had any inclination to raise the shade.

Feature 1 that every American home ought to have that is pretty common in Europe–the steam heaters in the bathroom also double as towel racks, so your towel is always dry and always warm. In cold weather, that’s spectacular, but I think it would be pretty welcome even in Texas.

Toilet and shower. My ad revenue for this post just went dow . . . nevermind.

Feature 2 every American home ought to have. I know it’s not everybody’s cup of tea, but these types of toilets seem to be standard in Europe. I don’t know how they work, but despite being low flow, and not a goose neck to be found, I don’t think they ever clog. That gets rid of the frequent use of the plunger necessitated by the standard design in the US combined with low-flow legislation. I don’t know why the shower stall has both a rainfall showerhead and the smaller adjustable one, but, hey, both work well and have hot water, so all the Carrolls are happy and clean.

The villa is amazing, and we’ve only been here since Monday, but we are abroad and everybody wants to get out and explore to some degree.

Oh, the places you’ll go . . .

I think Laura was the most ready to get out of the house, but Molly was clearly showing signs of getting stir-crazy as well. If you have not been to Germany, there are castles everywhere. Based on a recommendation from Susan Lewis, we decided to explore Konigstein (here is where I discover I don’t know how to use umlauts on my PC) and its castle built on and into a hill. You can get a regional train ticket in Germany that pretty cheaply gives you and up to four of your friends twenty-four hour train access (except for ICEs, or the fastest trains) to an entire region. So, we got a Sachsen pass, hopped on the Regional train to Dresden (90 minutes), and then switched to another Regional train to Konigstein (30 minutes). Laura had read that the bus from the city up to the fortress was not running, so when we arrived in Konigstein, we headed up the mountain on the Maierweg, a short 1.6 km, but uphill, hike.

A happy hiker!

The city of Konigstein is along the Elbe river, and most buildings are clustered rights at the river, so within a few blocks we were already on the trail. As you first leave the city, the trail is pretty narrow between stone wall and hedge row.

The Carrolls! And the yellow, small palace of Christian I on the grounds of Konigstein in the distance.

Once past the city, the trail opens up, and being winter that meant snow. Even once we entered woods, the snow kept getting thicker (although it was never deeper than four or five inches). The going was slow, but I think that allowed us to be taken in by the sheer size of the fortress (which dates back to the 1200s–though it was not nearly as large then).

The walls of Konigstein are a blend of the rock of the hill and brick masonry that is impressively massive. At their highest, the vertical walls are 150 feet. Without an aerial view, it’s hard to offer a true sense of scope, but it is daunting. The fortress commanded passage of the Elbe below and had strategic value in controlling the area and passage on the river. As impressive as it was, it was never part of a major military conflict in part because there really was no point in attacking it. Despite this, it housed soldiers for centuries. Once long artillery was developed in the 19th century, it became irrelevant militarily, but, even so, in their museum collection they have the bomber jacket of a WWII US Army Airman who was downed and imprisoned as a POW in the castle, and they also found a Nazi officer military uniform in the old church on the grounds in 1994.

This is the entry to Konigstein, once you have made it through the wall gate. The large building is the main “castle” on the grounds.

Today, the fortress is mainly a tourist destination. The museum on property is housed in the main building in the fortress, and it documents the history of construction, the change in military equipment of those stationed there through the centuries, the prison of the fortress, and the lifestyle of the nobility who spent time at the property. The museum has multiple interactive exhibits–Molly particularly enjoyed the one that explained the physics of a trebuchet as it had you try to damage a computer rendering of the fortress with one. It also hosts meals similar to what you might find at a medieval times restaurant (which seems really kitschy until you realize the effectiveness of the location), seasonal fairs, and a popular Christmas market. We also met a Lutheran missionary while we were there who is a Hoosier whose most recent home in the States was in Virginia, but now feels like Dresden is home. Laura and I tried to get our minds around American Lutheran missionaries in Germany, but he was particularly friendly, and I had a pleasant chat with him. Here are some of the displays from the museum and the fortress at large:

Arms and armor from the old armory or found on the site.
More recent arms, kept in immaculate condition.
The dining hall in Christian I’s Palace (which was the yellow building in an earlier picture).

We decided to leave before dark (dusk is around 4:30) as we didn’t want to try to negotiate the snowy/icy path in the dark. Just after we made it to the parking lot, we saw the shuttle to the town leaving (so much for the internet schedule accuracy saying it was closed!) and decided to walk down rather than wait for the next one. We made it to Dresden earlier than we planned, as we had thought of eating there, so headed directly back to Leipzig (warm pretzels may have been involved at this point). Without food plans, we were pretty hungry at the hauptbonhof (train station) when we arrived. Leipzig’s hauptbonhof is also a huge mall, with two groceries stores, likely twenty-five restaurants, and plenty of stores. We were fascinated by Frittz–a restaurant focused on fries blended with entries. Molly, not our most adventurous eater, ate garlic fries with ketchup. Laura and I shared Chef Frittz–fries with grilled onions, bacon, scallions, and cheddar cheese. Jane Anne decided on Vegi Frittz–fries with tomatos, sour cream and “avocado cream” (not to be mistaken for guacamole–or you’ll be sorely disappointed). I was kind of shocked at how much we all enjoyed it. We could have had Chili-Cheese Frittz–a blend of fries, nachos, ground beef, jalapenos, and cheesesauce–or Vanilla Frittz–sweet-potato fries with vanilla sauce. There are so many ways this concept can go wrong, but, as I said, we all enjoyed it. Plus, we all made it to bed in time to get plenty of rest for our first church service in Germany (spoiler alert– we planned to head to an English-speaking church).



Nearly every day, we pass by Lutherkirche-Zentrum West (construction started 1883) as we pass through Johannapark on the way to city center. Today, some local children were constructing a family of snowmen, there.

On January 7th of this year, the Carrolls arrived in Leipzig. We have showered, found and consumed food, and slept. These were all good things, even if we negotiated some better than others. We have also walked about town some and been to the Thomaskirche’s vespers service on a night that featured their renowned boys’ choir. Thomaskirche is where Bach spent the last years of his life (1723-50) as music director, and he is buried at the church.

Laura documents life through other media these days, so the infrequent updates that you find here will be coming from me (Bill), and some family has been gently nudging that they would like updates. I will point out that Jane Anne is documenting our time via Instagram @letsgocarrolling while we are here.

For those who don’t know, we will be spending a semester here with a group of our students from ACU. They will be learning German at a local institution (and I will be taking German with them!), online Bible classes from ACU, a Global Studies course focused on German history and culture from Laura, a sophomore literature course focused on Grimm’s fairy tales (as well as their origins and adaptations) from me, an upper-division English course with the same topic from me, and some will join me for an Honors course on German gaming and sports culture.

Our girls will be learning from online courses, a blend of homeschooling and college courses from us, and some of their teachers who are using google classroom and other technology to teach them. The girls have not been happy to start their classes before the ACU students even arrive! It doesn’t seem to matter to them that their peers have also gone back to class.

Having never blogged, I intend to start slowly. I have been asked for more pictures of our residence, and I will try to work through it before the students arrive. It really is a glorious space. It is one of the older villas that managed to survive WWII and the changes that came with being part of East Germany. Before ACU acquired it, it had been a music school for some time, and was cared for lovingly. ACU has since updated it to fit its needs as a base for long semester and summer student experiences. We will be in the faculty flat.

Based on a quick Facebook post, people noticed the abundant windows of the living room. Here are there views:

The view to the Southwest shows our neighbors, The English School, where private tutoring offers all levels of learning of English (but as the Queen speaks it).

The view to the northwest looks over the canal running behind the house. The villa has two kayaks students can take out on the canal and the river it hits to the left–the river runs by Red Bull arena where the local Bundesliga soccer team plays.
The view to the northeast is of our neighboring property that seems to have run out of renovation funding. Raccoons of unusual size have taken over the place, and we have been warned to avoid taking out garbage at night unless you are bold enough to go against a Sicilian when death is on the line.

These images remind me that the average temperature since we have arrived has been about 34. While our girls don’t love it, they do love the snow we have had.

The inside of our flat is nice and cozy, though. Here is the open living/dining space:

Laura has made a house rule that any evening we are at home, we spend time together in this space. It’s quite inviting, so I have no complaints with that rule!
Here’s the other angle, which serves two purposes. One, I wanted to get an actual living breathing Carroll in one of the photos to prove we are here. Two, I wanted to point out the large picture window in the upper-left corner. It fascinates me because it opens on the bathroom; there is a lot I need to learn about German culture, apparently.

So, that’s one room of the villa. We head to Konigstein tomorrow, so I will try to review that and offer a new room on Sunday. Hopefully, as I write more blog posts, I get better at entertaining folks, but this will have to do for my first. Tschuss!

Oh, and here’s proof that I’m here. I love street food. I love wurst. It’s going to be a good semester!

Well that was quite a year…

2016 certainly didn’t happen like we’d planned — our worlds were upended on March 21 with a breast cancer diagnosis — but as Bill and I reflected back on the year recently, we realized that though it was definitely a HARD year, 2016 was not a BAD year.

When I called my friend Mandy — someone who knows too much about cancer — to tell her my news, she told me that there would be joy in times that I couldn’t imagine there being joy. She’s been right: over and over again, joy pops up, just in time. Maybe at some point, I’ll be ready to write about the experiences of this year, but right now, they’re still too raw. I have a bit of a pit in my stomach, even as I type right now.

For now, though, a few highlights of 2016:


Me, Mandy and the Patti Pie — one of those joy-filled moments

  1. I felt so supported and loved by countless people. I can’t even begin to list all the cards, gifts, food, prayers, and ways that people reminded our family that we were not alone. Friendships were deepened and new friendships created in ways that only happens in the midst of struggle.


My girls celebrating my birthday in Lubbock.

2. My awesome kids kept being awesome. Both girls were all sorts of brave in 2016: JA competed in high jump, performed with her choir at the Texas Music Educators Association convention, attended Maker Academy at ACU, participated in a church mission trip, moved up to pointe in ballet, and was appointed to leadership team at her school.

Molly read 9 million words, went to overnight camp at ACU, ran for mayor of her elementary school, joined the handbell choir, and learned to sew.



3. We had an amazing vacation in Western Colorado. Our original summer plans had included a month-long vacation to Canada, but chemo postponed that trip until 2017. We were able, however, to take a two-week vacation to Colorado, spending a few days in Mesa Verde National Park and 11-days in Ouray. We hiked, and hiked, and hiked (one of our family’s favorite pastimes), explored new places, worked puzzles, played games, and enjoyed being together.


We’d been in the car a while at this point…


Hiking to the cliff dwellings


IN the cliff dwellings


Skipping rocks at Blue Lake

4. I’m still me. That may sound weird, but one of my fears this year would be that cancer — and all the accompanying treatments — would change me, and, of course, there are ways it has. At my core, though, I’m still the same. I’ve worked, exercised, taught my classes, been a mom, traveled, laughed, gotten angry and thrown fits (one on the top of a mountain in Colorado), and been my goofy self day in and day out. (Even as my hair grows back, my same cowlicks are still there — something I was surprisingly relieved to discover.)


During a weekend with Susie in October, doing what we do best — talk, walk, and drink chai.


Thanksgiving shenanigans

5. We’re ready for a new year. Cancer is SO 2016. I finished radiation in December, and now we learn to live in a post-cancer world. We figure out how to keep the anxiety and fears at bay, live in the present, and continue to seek joy.

The girls are back at school this week, and Bill and I are prepping for a new semester. Before we settle too far into the rhythms of a new year, we do have a little celebrating to do. Stay tuned…


On our last day with the Paunans before we headed further north, we spend the day in Milwaukee reminiscing about the two years we spent there.


Bill and I both did graduate degrees at Marquette University, moving up there when we’d only been married a few months. I don’t think either of us were prepared for the cold, or the loneliness, or how hard it would be.  We also weren’t prepared for how incredibly beautiful it was, what amazing friends we would make, or how it would strengthen our marriage.

After two years in Milwaukee, we were very ready to move to the warmer climes of College Station. I wouldn’t miss the bitterly cold 8-block walk from our apartment to campus or the awful grey snow that lingers into April, but we would miss our long hikes at one of the many Wisconsin state parks, our strolls along the lakefront on long summer nights, our sweet little church that nurtured and fed us, and the new adventure that we had braved.

I hadn’t been back to Milwaukee since Bill defended his dissertation in 2005, and we were excited to show parts of the city and campus to the girls.

We started outside our apartment on Wisconsin Avenue; it had cleaned up a bit — no bars on the windows!


We walked down to campus after that, noticing how many things were the same and how much had changed.  The flower shop that reminded me I was almost home was just a grassy lot, but when we cut through the Engineering Building (for a bathroom break this time. I used to cut through to have a few moments out of the cold) it looked very much as it did when I taught my very first college classes there.

Campus was stunning as always. We visited St. Joan of Arc Chapel (the pic at the top of this post), which had always been our favorite place on campus, the new library, and the student union, where JA scored a new sweatshirt.


After lunch we headed to the lakefront, and the girls played in the (cold!) water and collected rocks.  It was fun to start our Great Lakes part of our trip at a place that holds so many fond memories for us. I loved getting to share this day with the Paunans, too, because this is where our dear, dear friendship began.

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After a few other really fun new places (The Urban Ecology Center to see Susie’s sister and The Waxwing for some local artist shopping), we headed to get some frozen custard and — the worst part — to say goodbye. I hate this part. So thankful for good memories and good friends. (And that Susie and I have our next adventure planned…)


Our July Adventure Part 1


After we wrapped up our June responsibilities, it was time to hit the road for a few weeks.  I love a long road trip because it affords a chance to slow down, see new things, and have all my people trapped in the car with me.  We packed snacks and books and movies and headed north bright and early on July 3rd.

Our first stop was lunch with my long-time best friend, Alyssa, and her family.  It’s hard to believe we’ve known each other for 25 years!  We ate pizza, chatted, and watched the kids play before hitting the road again towards Chicago.


Day two of our trip we arrived at the Paunans’ house, ready to spend the week with John, Susie, Sydney and Addy.  We visit Chicago every other summer, and during the other summers they’re lucky enough to come to Abilene! The fours girls played — lots of imagining Harry Potter world — and read and shared secrets, and the adults stayed up way too late each night playing our log-running game of canasta.  (It was a banner year for Susie and me! I think the tide is turning!)

Susie had planned several fun outings for us, the first of which was the Morton Arboretum.  We hiked, picnicked and climbed all over this lovely spot.

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On a particularly hot day, we drove downtown to the Museum of Science and Industry. It’s a fun, hands-on place and the girls all had a great time learning about avalanches, planes, tornadoes, and many other cool scientific phenomenon.  I think we could have stayed all day if the hanger hadn’t set in.  We found a sandwich shop for lunch and watched it pour out the window as the cool front moved in.

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The one Chicago activity that the girls requested was to volunteer at Feed My Starving Children again. The loved this service project in 2013 and were excited to fill food packs again.


I think my favorite outing was the Northshore Sculpture Park. Susie printed activity guides for the girls and we strolled along learning about the art, discussing what it meant, and taking silly pictures. The day was cool and sunny and we followed up our walk with some yummy burgers. Perfect.

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It’s so fun to have friends who live in such fun places — we love getting to hang out in Chicago every other year — but we’d really like it better if the Paunans lived a lot closer.