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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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).