Monday, May 19, 2008

May 19, 2008

I’m way behind on the blogging – since Paris we’ve done a number of day trips while my Mom was here, a great visit especially for Maeve who got lots of Granma time. Trips include Volklinger Huette, an industrial site near Saarbruecken, which is way cooler than that brief description sounds, Trier, an American WW2 cemetery in France, and Chris Kribs who was visiting his extended family on a farm in France just across the border. So hopefully more about those soon. We just got back from Leipzig, where Mike was attending ICSE, so I’m going to write about that while it’s still fresh.

I was in Leipzig 15 years ago, not too long after the Wende, and it was my favorite former East German city. It was half-broken, with empty lots, boarded up buildings etc like all former East Germany, but it was also very dynamic, people everywhere, lots of construction, and I took an excellent tour with the tourist information people that took us behind many of the building facades to look at old arcades and hofs (patios) previously used for commerce. Leipzig has been a trade-focused city for a long time. So I was interested to see how it’s changed.

It’s quite different. New, modern high-rises are everywhere, huge amounts of construction going on. Some buildings like the university building, which was built post-war on the remains of a school/church and that the people hated, had been torn down and is being rebuilt. Other street and building construction was just renovation. And other construction was just new. In Berlin, there was tons of construction right around the path of the wall, as that was all the empty space, and the city of Berlin has overreached itself financially with all the construction. I don’t know about Leipzig finances, but it felt like it was booming, with construction and repairs throughout the old city. There are also plenty of empty lots around, not right in the main drag of the center city, but only a few blocks off, which have probably been empty since the city got bombed out in WWII. There’s a lively street scene, lots of cafes, etc. Of course, the weather was also beautiful, upper 60’s to 70’s so everyone was out. All around an enjoyable city to bum around in.

The ride to Leipzig was 6 hours on the train, quite a ride for a 2 year old, but overall train is not a bad way to go. There is plenty of freedom of movement and tons of interesting people to see, a dining car to explore, and almost always other babies to look at. When we got to Leipzig on Monday, it was a holiday here called Pfingsten (Pentacost) so things were relatively quiet, except for the thousands of Goths. We caught the tail end of Europe’s largest Goth convention. My favorite Goth accessory was a black parasol made of lacy material that had black boa fringe to keep the sun off. Very Goth chic.

Our first evening we were pretty much all beat and did an easy supper – Auerbachs Keller. It’s in the middle of the main drag and was a 15 minute walk from our hotel, which was right outside the ring road. And it had vegetarian options. Mike was suspicious because it’s totally on the tourist map as it was featured in Goethe’s Foust and Goethe is a big deal. But the food was good. I was on the lookout for Leipziger Allerlei, one of the culinary specialties of Leipzig which is pretty much a Spring veggie stew and is only available during the Asparagus season (asparagus is a big deal here in Spring which suits me just fine). Auerbachs Keller had their version, but it had crab meat so we didn’t get it. But I was going to try again and again to find a veggie version of this one German veggie specialty. Anyway, Auerbachs Keller is in the basement of the Maedler Passage, which is an indoor mall very near the Old Rathaus (townhall). These passages are a typical Leipzig construction that were used starting hundreds of years ago (Leipzig got the royal okay to be a trade city in the 1400’s) as showrooms for goods. The Maedler used to have lots of little stalls for silk merchants, but is now an upscale mall. The glass ceiling is neat. Over the next couple days, Maeve and I walked through several other passages, all of which are now malls.

On Tuesday we went to Dresden, as that was the one full day we had when Mike wasn’t at the conference. Our first stop was VW’s Glaserne Manufaktur, where they make their high-end car the Phaeton. It’s a VW limo, made almost completely by hand (there are only a couple of robots) in a factory line that you can tour. The line wasn’t running when we were there – it’s only 1 shift a day, so we were able to see most of the factory. They assemble 30 cars a day there, and they are all made to order. If you order one, you get a private tour and can be present for the baptism (when the car gets its VIN) and the wedding (when the engine is put in). The electronic wiring weighs 90 kilos. The tour was interesting but all in German so Mike didn’t get everything out of it. We needed advance reservations for English. At the end, there was a demo Phaeton so we got to try out all the fancy features, including seat massages and a trunk that opened with the press of a button. The car is too heavy for a spare tire, so the spare is full sized. Pretty fancy.

Afterwards, we wandered around town. We basically walked the tour in our Lonely Planet, past the old and new markets, Rathaus, Frauenkirche, river bank, and Zwinger palace. Much of downtown is post WWII construction, as the downtown was leveled with firebombing. When I was last there, the Frauenkirche, the main protestant church that was built as a foil for the Catholic Hofkirche (the rulers were Catholic even though Saxony was overwhelmingly protestant), was deliberately left a ruin as a war memorial. It’s since been rebuilt and has a beautiful interior. They put most of the stones back in their original positions, an amazing accomplishment. We wanted to climb to the top, but children under 6 aren’t allowed. We could have gone up the Rathaus tower or a tower at the Palace, but ran out of time.

One of my favorite spots was the raised promenade by the river. It is just behind the Frauenkirche and Residenz, right at the city center, and on top of what’s left of Dresden’s original bastion. The river there is full of tour/cruise boats.

By 11:30 we were dragging hard and Maeve was fussy, so we went to lunch at the main veggie restaurant in Dresden called BrennNessel, which was a 10 minute walk outside the city center past the back side of the palace garden. It was in a quarter that was outside the original city gates and had been used for pasturage, and later for institutional buildings such as hospitals and orphanages. The food was excellent. We got a stinging nettle soup, which was a little weird, and a gnocchi with pears and blueberries (yummy) and potatoes with lentils and tofu (yummy). After lunch we all felt better and went back to wander a bit more through town. We just walked through the courtyard of the Zwinger, which was a pleasure palace for the rulers of Saxony and now houses several museums. Some of the museums would have been nice, but since we only had one day we’d decided to just get the overview and look around without doing any museums. Maeve liked the palace entrance as it went over a moat that had big koi, which she correctly labeled over and over as “peces.” The entrance was called the crown tower, as it was topped by a gilded crown. Next stop was a huge ceramic mural of all the Saxon kings on horseback. It was originally pained, but had been redone in Meissen ceramic tiles, and covered the back of a building for a whole city block. It was neat.

By that time, I was getting a little worried about making our train back and we started back to the train station. Then we realized that we had plenty of time to walk to the train station in Neustadt, on the other side of the river. We could pick our train up there as well, and then we’d see a new part of the city. So we turned around and walked over the Augustusbruke and down the main drag of Neustadt. It was pretty much all post-war buildings and a major shopping area, but there was a nice gilded statue of Augustus the Strong once you got over the river. There were also several fountains with water that Maeve liked playing in since her shoes are waterproof and the day was warm. We made our train with plenty of time – we could have wandered a bit more but I didn’t want to miss it.

Maeve as usual didn’t sleep on the train and it was going to be late by the time we got to Leipzig, so we decided to be crazy and instead of going back to the hotel for a nap, touring around in Leipzig. It was Mike’s only day-time hours chance as his conference started the next day. So we got to Leipzig and walked to the hotel where Mike could register for his conference because we wanted the tourist information. We could have also gone to the Tourist Info, but this way we killed two birds with one stone. Then we walked over to the Stassi museum in the Runde Ecke ( building with round corners) on the ring around the city center. This building was the Stassi headquarters for Leipzig, and the Stassi was the East German secret police, a government-sponsored terror organization. The building was occupied as part of the Wende and a group of concerned citizens took control of the Stassi records so that they wouldn’t be made public. This group later formed a non-profit which runs the museum and deals with people who want to look at their records. The museum had a model of an office and a prison cell, but most rooms dealt with different Stassi branches, like the one that censored the mail, provided surveillance, took scent samples of dissidents so dogs could later be used to find them, shredded dissident materials, provided border control etc. Some of the displays were really interesting but impossible to make sense of without reading the labels. For example, in one room there was a big machine with big 1-foot grey rocks with dust in a corner. It turns out that this machine was a shredder that was used to shred dissident materials and then mixed it with water to make a paste. The “rocks” in the corner were paste balls of materials that were destroyed during the Wende. The museum was put up soon after the Wende and needs some serious design help – there is too much info, all in German. The titles of each of the displays are done in magic marker – seriously low-budget but also hard to make sense of all the disconnected info. I was also trying to get Maeve to take a nap in the sling, and she wasn’t cooperating, so I wasn’t able to read as much and explain.

From the Runde Ecke we walked into town, thinking we’d just head south to dinner. About 1 minute from the museum, Maeve fell asleep in the sling, so we changed plans and decided to see the Thomaskirche, where Bach was rector for 25 years. The interior of the Thomaskirche is also beautiful, mostly start white with red-stained wood-looking rafters that soar from gothic-style arches. There is one wall of stained glass windows, which include a WWI memorial with guys in trenches, and window for Bach and Mendelssohn-Bartholdy. The most interesting anecdote we learned about the church was about the Bach organ, which was in the middle of the apse on the balcony. They actually changed that organ out a few years ago for a smaller organ that is more like the organs from Bach’s time. Outside the church is a statue of Bach with one of his pockets turned out. He had over 10 kids and was apparently always broke. In front of the church is a fountain with sprays of water that alternate and little metal bridges that cross over the water. Maeve was asleep this day, but this fountain later became her favorite. She’d look at the water under the bridge and step gingerly from the cement to the metal and then run across.

Maeve slept through the Thomaskirche, but we decided not to push our luck and headed to dinner at the one vegetarian restaurant in Leipzig, called Zest, which is a bit south of the city center. We took the tram, which goes straight there, although we got off a stop too early. The service was slow and food was okay but not as good as lunch, and we were all happy to get home and go to bed after a serious day of tourism.

Wednesday Mike had to conference, but decided to skip the first section so we had a little time together in the city. We first went to the GDR museum, which is on the main pedestrian street cattycorner across from the town hall. It’s very slick, modern, and well done, following the history of East Germany from post WWII aftermath, through the tensions with West German and reunification, with a fair amount of information about daily life. We only had 45 minutes and didn’t get to see nearly everything, but the museum is free so we went back for another 45 minutes the next day. Actually, Maeve and I went back for another 45 minutes later that day, and Maeve pulled on a hand cart that refugees had used to move their belongings after the war and pulled it off its display. After that I was kind of embarrassed to stay at the museum any longer and I didn’t want to let Maeve run around, so we left. But we went again the next day with Mike and the display was fixed but we left a decent donation.

We popped by the other main Leipzig church, the Nicholaikirche, before Mike had to head to the convention center. It was also beautiful inside, done in peach and light green and all of the columns looked like trees. Maeve and I passed by this church a couple of days later on our way to meet Mike for supper and there was organ music coming out, so we popped in and listed to the practice for a couple of minutes. We’d have listened longer, but the practice session ended. I forget how powerful big organ music can be.

Maeve and I spent the rest of the morning wandering around downtown, revisiting the museum, checking out the passages etc. We also looked at a lot of menus to see which restaurants had more than 1 veggie entrée for later. We finally ate lunch at a Chinese restaurant off behind the new art museum just north of the Market square. Good, cheap, and had tofu. Then it was home for a nap, more afternoon wandering, and meeting Mike for supper.

The next day we spent a little time in the GDR museum again and then Mike needed to head to the conference. Maeve and I walked around the south part of downtown to what’s left of the old city bastion, which is now a multi-level café and venue and over to the new townhall. We got back to the hotel early enough to take a swim before lunch. There was a little lap pool in the hotel and I’d brought suits to go swimming with Maeve. Last summer she never got into swimming and I wanted to spend some time in the pool with her. She didn’t want to go in and protested hard. She doesn’t like it when the floor is cold and says “coco” for cold, which she said repeatedly and emphatically about the pool. I took her in holding her next to me and started walking in the pool and she got into it. We “walked” back and forth in the pool for a while with me holding onto her and her with the deathgrip around Mommy’s neck for a while, and then she loosened up. We talked about the fish and ducks that swim, and Maeve likes fish so we tried to be like fish. First I let go of her with one arm, and then with two so I could use my arms. Then she was willing to let go and use her arms, although the legs still had Mommy-chest-grip-of-death. Later we practiced kicking our feet and she didn’t want to get out of the water. Altogether a successful swimming experience and we really need to do more of it this summer.

Lunch was a Chinese food truck outside the hotel (cheap, convenient and tofu), then nap, then wandering around a bit before meeting Mike for dinner. After dinner, Mike had an optional reception and music evening in the Gewandhaus, the symphony hall. Mike had given up his ticket for a grad student as he wasn’t going to the concert, but we went by the Gewandhaus to crash the reception, which was still going on. They wouldn’t let us in without a ticket, even though we weren’t staying for the concert. So as we were walking back to the hotel we passed a couple people Mike knew who were also going to try to crash the reception, also as it turns out unsuccessfully. No one told the conference attendees they needed the tickets for the reception. Oh well.

Our last day Maeve and I went to the Zoo. First we bought a stroller at the baby superstore next to the hotel. We haven’t had a stroller in Germany, usually use the bike, the sling, our shoulders, or Maeve walks. But she’s getting heavier, and we need another sleeping option which for many kids seems to be the stroller. So we got a small umbrella stroller and Maeve and I headed to the zoo. There were flamingos as we entered the zoo and they were squawking so Maeve spent the next 10 minutes squawking and getting me to describe the flamingos. We wandered a bit past a prairie dog family with a baby that they carried around by the scruff of the neck. Maeve likes babies and kept saying “baby.” We also saw bears, lions, zebras, and gazelles. Then we wandered past a buffalo, think Maeve saying “buffalo” over and over, and to the simian area. There is a huge island with a warm indoor dome that has gorillas, orangutans, and other monkeys, and we watched these guys for a long while. We had lunch there on the only vegetarian option (except for French fries) which were kartoffelpuffer (fried potato pancakes) with applesauce. Maeve also had yogurt and fruit we’d brought with us. We’d past a lot of water but no fish and Maeve by that point was tired and asking for “peces.” So we headed back to the entrance where the aquarium was and checked out the fish. Often the aquariums make me a little ill as too many fish are in too small a space, but this one, like the rest of the zoo, was small but not overcrowded. We spent a long time looking at the fish and even longer sitting by the koi tank while Maeve watched other kids touch the koi, asked Mommy to touch the koi, and resolutely refused to touch them herself. The whole zoo was great – not too big even though we saw less than half, the animals had some freedom of movement and for the most part weren’t pacing badly, and Maeve really enjoyed it. We just missed the tram on the way out and there wasn’t another for 30 minutes, so we just walked back to the hotel. Maeve was down for nap late, but had done well in the stroller.

That evening we wandered a bit more around town and did some shopping (cheese for the train and other provisions) and met Mike and some friends for dinner next to der Coffe Baum. The Coffe Baum is the oldest coffee shop in Leipzig, and the regular restaurant next door just happened to have multiple vegetarian entrees. Dinner was good and I finally got to meet Bill Griswald, who had so kindly sent us the Philadelphia Chickens CD, full of truly evil children’s music as many of the songs stick in your head. Needless to say, I never found Leipzier Allerlei that was actually vegetarian. I found it with crab or shrimp, or made with beef stock, or in some other way not-vegetarian form. So I missed eating the one “vegetarian” German specialty.

Home was another 5.5 hour train ride, but we shared the children’s compartment (kinderabteilung) with a 4 year old and she and Maeve had a good time. Most of the German high-speed trains have a children’s compartment, that you can reserve or just use if no one reserved it. It sometimes has a climb-on horse/motorcycle or other toys, but generally provides more space and privacy. In the second train from Frankfurt to Saarbruecken we shared with a nursing mother who could leave her kid sleeping the bassinet/stroller and stretch her legs.

1 comment:

R said...

Funny. I currently have "We're not snoozy, Mama" running through my head...