The Netherlands created The Netherlands

We are many things as a family. Adventurous (we all love the outdoors), fairly hungry (we all love grills in said outdoors, and maybe a tasty beverage while you’re at it), fond of belting out the Frozen soundtrack in the car. We are also opportunistic. When we heard that Tim’s cousin was christening her lovely little daughter in The Netherlands, we figured it was the perfect opportunity to meet up with family, see a part of the world we’d not yet been to, and have fourteen uninterrupted hours to Let It Go.

We left Switzerland last Thursday, and stopped for a night in Cologne. I had been to the city, sort of by accident, many years previously. A friend and I were travelling around Germany by train, and had no intention whatsoever of visiting ‘Köln’, despite seeing references to it everywhere. We arrived at our intended destination, which I have long forgotten, and went to get a coffee (or let’s face it, probably a beer) and work out our action plan (it was the days before readily available internet, which dates me something shocking). As we were walking there, my friend dropped to the ground, and started hitting it furiously while shrieking ‘noooooo!’. Initially assuming the cafe was out of beer, it became apparent that he’d left one of his bags on the train: the one holding his passport, wallet, tickets and minidisk player (gah, again with the aged references). We trotted back to the station, knowing that there was no chance of getting them back but wanting to work out the next steps. After half an hour of muddled English-German explanations, a diagram of the train to show where we were sitting, and much head-clutching we were advised that the bag and all its contents were safe and en route to Köln (I recall an unemotional German rail employee saying ‘hurrah’ with either complete lack of feeling or complete mastery of sarcasm). To get them back, we promptly changed our plans and made our way there too. As we disembarked at the Cologne main station, bag and minidisk player happily returned to their owner, the sun shone through the massive cathedral in the centre of town and we were greeted by the brassy tones of the annual marching band competition. Cologne, it turned out, was awesome.

This trip was much less dramatic: a night in the centre of town, dinner (it’s asparagus season, so we all feasted on sweet, juicy white asparagus) (much to Tim’s chagrin; he was more interested in the fried potatoes) and tiny kölsch beers, which even this beer-hater liked (not that I had a choice – the waiter at the brewhouse where we had dinner refused my request for wine and insisted I drink the local ale). The following day Tim worked while the kids and I explored the town and the local chocolate museum. After letting the kids (and myself) indulge in way more samples than is wise pre-road trip, we left Cologne. As we crossed the border from Germany to The Netherlands, a few things became quickly apparent. We were driving underneath sea level, it was unbelievable flat, and for some reason their fields were multicoloured.

We were (very generously) staying with extended family of Tim’s cousin (she married a guy from Friesland, a province in the northern part of The Netherlands). We stayed in a little town called Rosterhaule, which was 600 people strong, one of many charming little towns dotted across the province. We were welcomed into the Dutch fold: our hosts welcomed us for meals, gave us lots of information about the area, and took us on a marvellous day of Friesland tourism.

The first stop was the Wouda Steam Pumping Station, which is the largest steam pumping station ever built. Intended to prevent the flooding of the reclaimed land, which makes up 60% of the Netherlands, it is a marvel of hydraulic engineering.

It is also an excellent place to play chaseys and hide-and-seek.

We were taken on a tour which explained how the station operated, as well as giving some history on the surrounding lands. We were shown the intersection of the sea (salt water) and the canals (cutely called sweet water) as well as the astounding network of dykes in place to keep the water from the land. Our host, Harry, said that when he was growing up his parents had a magnet on their refrigerator that read: ‘God created the earth, but The Netherlands created The Netherlands.’ Looking out over the expanse of land that should have been sea, one could see their point.

Friesland-017The pump house itself was a well preserved – and at times, still operational – marvel.

Our hosts were the kind of people that, following a trip to the pump house and just before a visit to the tulips, give you hot coffee and local almond cake piled high with whipped cream. They were also the kind of people who encourage your three year old to take another piece when she’s looking longingly at the cake box, and laugh when your one year old schmears cream all over everything. That is to say, the very best kind of people.

It will come as no surprise that the rainy drive through the tulip fields was a hit with this flower loving family. There’s a signposted tulip route which we drove, convoy style, stopping with a break in the weather to enjoy coloured patch after rainbow coloured patch.

Despite their perfect looks, we played spot-the-odd-tulip-out as we wandered the manicured fields.

And made jokes about tip-toeing (or in this case, joyfully stomping) through the tulips.


The following day was little Freyja’s christening, held in the stained-glass-windowed church in which her Dutch grandparents had been married. Adelaide, fascinated by the tiny baby, watched from the front row as her head was wet while little Teddy preferred using the prayer pews at the back as a makeshift playground. We all went to a nearby park, edged by the forest, for a picnic where we caught up with family, made new friends, and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. It was the sort of event that Tim and I both remember from our childhoods (although admittedly neither of our family get-togethers were flanked by so many flowers) but this time our role had changed slightly: it was our kids running around, eating too much salami, and wailing when they were told it was time to leave, only to conk out in the car in an exhausted and sticky haze.

We left later that night, stopping again in Cologne on the way home, in order to get back to Switzerland for Tim to work on Monday. Despite all the driving – and operatic Frozen singing – it was a lovely slow weekend, spent doing our favourite things with people we love (I mean, look at our girl’s grin with her Auntie Dommie. Ridiculous.)

Frickin’ lovely

I’ve written before about the joys (and I am sure I have mentioned the woes; if not here then over a drink to anyone who’ll listen and a few who’d really rather not) (also, sorry) about small town and small child living. One of my favourite aspects of both of these, and one that marks our days and weeks and seasons, is treading the same small paths, following the same insignificant routines, beating our continual rhythms. A week or so ago, as Teddles and I were doing our Tuesday afternoon stroll from town to home via Lake Lucerne, I saw that most terrifying harbinger of spring: the first swan nest. As you probably know, swans mate for life and are also very territorial; each swan couple builds their nests in the same spot each year. The following day we set out to visit the other swan nest in our neighbourhood, built in a disused boatshed on the shore of the lake near the Richard Wagner museum. It’s my favourite (if the horror of protective mama and papa swans can be considered as such) as it’s positioned perfectly: at the end of an alley of cherry blossoms, Alps in the background and lake right in front (there’s also a fenced in park right next door, so this mama can relax while her own chicks run amok). It’s totally Swiss spring in one picture postcard image.

I was surprised when, the next day, we arrived at the shed to find…nothing. No nest, no evidence of nests past, and no swans or eggs. Now I’m no bird expert – quite the opposite, I’m pathetically scared of all of them – but this did not bode well to me. Some googling advised that although swans mate for life, they can ‘divorce’, often following nesting troubles. Or of course it’s possible that one of the couple died, in which case the remaining swan will find a new partner and start a new family elsewhere. I am choosing not to believe either. Instead, I reckon that the lucky swans who’ve been nesting happily together at the boatshed have decided that a dozen clutches of kids is enough, and now it’s their time for themselves. Maybe they’ve gone to sunny Spain for a long-awaited holiday, or perhaps they’ve taken a round-the-world trip to finally meet some of their back swan cousins found down under.

Either way, it felt like a slight downer in a string of recent spring failures. Needing a pick-me-up following a week of tantalising warm weather, we decided to head to somewhere we were guaranteed spring loveliness: Insel Mainau. It is a small island in Lake Constance, just over the German border from Switzerland. The island is a private botanical garden famous for its spring bulbs and, later in the year, its dahlia collection. We loaded the unsuspecting kids into the car, drove the hour and a half to the island and walked across the bridge from the mainland.

It was a spring wonderland (not exactly the ‘magical island’ I may have promised the three year old when she started querying our destination, but pretty close).

We wandered around the island – it’s only one kilometre long and just over half a kilometre wide, so it was perfectly manageable for the small people and allowed their flower loving mama plenty of time to ooh and aah.

The island was quite popular – not only with other spring loving tourists, but also with thousands of teeny tiny flies. If you squint, you can see them in the first snap below. You wouldn’t have needed to squint to get an understanding of our Adelaide’s thoughts on the flies; her flailing of arms and screeching could be seen and heard on the mainland.

The island also has a butterfly enclosure, a petting zoo and an epic adventure playground for little people. After I had tested my family’s floral limits to the max we enjoyed the latter, the kids tuckering themselves out for the return drive to Switzerland.

As we left the island – in the early afternoon, as our little ones still need a nap (and in an ideal world their parents would get one too) – we heaved a sigh of relief that we had gone early. The queues to get onto the island were astounding; I’d forgotten about European Summer Madness. Patting ourselves on the back all the way out of the shockingly congested car park (we have also gotten used to Swiss efficiency) we decided to try our luck one last time at the cherry blossoms. This time, we decided to head to Frick, a tiny town known for its cherry blossom trail. As the children slept, I kept everything crossed as we approached the town, glancing out the window in the hopes that the blossoms would be there.

I was not disappointed. Mainau & Frick-280The Cherry Trail (Chriesiwäg) is a signposted walk that is most popular during the 6-8 day period in spring where the cherry trees flower, although it can also be walked in early summer when you are allowed to sample the fruit from the trees (Ads has demanded that we return for this. I am telling myself it is due to a love of nature, but really I know it’s due to a love of the eats). It starts in the town of Gipf-Oberfrick and follows a mostly dirt trail up a hill, looping around the town and through the cherry orchards which have close to 10,000 fruit trees. The walk is around 5km long and was the perfect spring Sunday afternoon stroll.

Because this blossom-following lark seems to be an inexact science, the trees were a mixture of green leaves (finished the bloom), half-and-half (which was most of the trees along the way) and a few brilliant white fully blooming wonders. We – and all the other people on the trail – used the latter as our best photo-posing spot.

Like everything here, the path is well maintained and well marked. There are 11 information panels along the way, giving tips about the trees, the uses of cherries, and the bees that make honey from the flowers whose hives were symbiotically mingled amidst the orchards. This did not go down so well with the little miss: flies on one outing and buzzing buzzing bees on another did not a happy three year old make.

Three year old, schmee year old: I loved the whole day, and my spring-lust has almost been sated. We’re due a trip to the Netherlands, home of the tulip, in the coming days so I am sticking with the ‘almost’, just in case. (Also, I’ll be using the holiday to look out for that old tourist swan couple, the long suffering swan husband indulging his swan Mrs in her love for all things floral.)

They don’t have kangaroos in Austria

After our Black Forest adventure, our troops headed to Konstanz where in a shared custody style arrangement I swapped one Purtell (Tim) for another (Dom), and three of the four siblings got to hang out together for about three hours before Tim hit the road again for work. We lunched by the lake, swapped tales and fuelled the kids with nice cream for the road trip ahead: to Austria.

Moody's-016Years previously I travelled briefly to Vienna, memorable primarily for schnitzel, some stealthy mini-bar theft and postcards emphatically attempting to differentiate the European nation from its similar sounding antipodean counterpart. This time, we stayed in the alpen Tirol area, not far from the German border.

It was hideous.

Once again, we tried to manage the littles with keeping them as active as possible. Close to our digs (a 427 year old farm house, traditional in style and quirky in design) was a waterfall hike, which after a day of settling in (and attending to Arlo’s adventurous nature by a trip to the hospital…after he’d already managed to acquire a stitch in his noggin from playing too hard) we bribed convinced the kids to tackle.

The walk was just shy of 3kms, which turned out to be perfect for our three little walkers (and one sleeping baby).

It was even better for me, as I convinced Fake Tim aka Auntie Dom to take both my children for a spell. Sadly I wasn’t quick enough to leg it back to the car and cross the border while I had the chance. Moody's-051I’m not sure what I expected, but I loved Austria. Dommie compared it to New Zealand or Canada (with no offence meant at all to either nation) – associated with and similar to a larger country (Australia and America) but wonderful in its own right and somehow more chilled and adventurous. (And of course, with the starchy Germanic food I know and love). And she was bang on – it was amazing.

The cousins enjoyed splashing in the creek that flowed from the waterfall for which the walk was named and apparently watered the local town (and sorry, town, that my daughter appears to be washing her hands in your drink).

The following day we went back across the border into Germany to visit Neuschwanstein Castle. Built by Ludwig II of Bavaria – the last of the Bavarian monarchs – it was an homage to Wagner (whose Swiss home is perched just over the hill from our place in Luzern) and later the inspiration behind the Disney castle. As Tim was not with us, I was on photographic duty and failed spectacularly in getting the money shot of the castle (‘why do you keep using portrait mode for landscapes?’ he moaned when he saw my pathetic attempts), but you get the picture.

The kids did remarkably well during the short tour of the castle. When wandering through the King’s bedroom, Addie was delighted to note on seeing his desk that Ludwig shared similar interests to herself: ‘Oh! The King has a craft table!’.

The castle was not finished prior to the King’s (fairly suspicious, apparently) death, and as such there were only a few Romanesque-style rooms to view. All were ornate and fairly trippy – Ludwig had hoped to live out his medieval dream far away from the pesky eyes of Munich (and close to the chef’s apprentices, allegedly, which is where he spent a lot of his nightly visiting hours). All photography was banned inside, which is possibly a good thing given how much I butchered the castle’s exterior.

A highlight for the cousins was a horse and carriage ride up and down the hill to the castle (and a highlight for Finn was the horse stopping to drop a load halfway down the hill). Moody's-141As always on holidays, we ate like kings, enjoyed a few glasses of gin / vino / whatever to wash the day away and shot the breeze like champs. Even after almost two weeks together, it felt that there were still many conversations left half finished, but surely that’s the point of family. Despite their two year old woes, Addie has been asking after Arlo (and his much less maligned brother Finn) almost hourly since we arrived home and seems quite disgruntled that they have continued on without her. I feel the same, and look forward to more family times – and finishing those chats – when we see Team Moody again.


The Moody Schwarzwald

In a much anticipated visit – not least by Addie, who despite not knowing the meaning of the word banged on about ‘my cousins’ for days prior to their arrival – Tim’s sister, her husband and their two adorable boys arrived in Luzern (after many a transit mishap, including an impromptu visit to Bern) a couple of weeks ago. The Moody family were treated to our usual ‘Willkommen in der Schweiz’ schtick: raclette, chocolate, my (mostly plagiarised and yet still disturbingly sketchy) tour of the town. We grilled cervelat on Mount Pilatus, visited Adelaide’s beloved marble rollercoaster at a nearby glass factory, swam in the lake, and celebrated our nephews’ belated birthdays in little boy heaven: the Museum of Transport. We also shamelessly attempted to force an interest in Switzerland through chocolate-rewarded games, and as a result many tourismo-tastic times were had (which basically means I ate heaps of chocolate too. Only to support the children, of course). Little Theodore has now met half of his Aunties, and was accordingly delighted.

Moody's Black Forest-004Unfortunately, since not all of us can HausFrau, Tim was travelling for work during the bulk of their Swiss visit. To make amends we booked a long weekend in the Black Forest to let the cousins run wild and the siblings catch up over brews aplenty. We stayed in an alleged farm stay which turned out to be a guest house sporting some velveteen rabbits (i.e. stuffed toys), a motley crew of guinea pigs and a lone immobile goat.

Tim was delighted to see some deers grazing through the window on our first night but was sadly disappointed come the harsh light of day.Moody's Black Forest-272We had naively assumed that travelling with four children would somehow be easier – shared adulting, perhaps some lovely cousin play time and plenty of sunny relaxation. While it was a wonderful getaway, I would not recommend holidaying with two two year olds if you have a choice in the matter. Women scorned be damned; hell hath no fury like two toddlers refused whatever it is they obscurely want. Addie and Arlo were at times adorable but primarily the three months between them was like a red flag to the crankiest of bulls. Of course, Arlo committed the most dreadful of sins. My little tattle tale would run to me routinely and say in indignant tones ‘Mummy, Arlo talked to me’.

Moody's Black Forest-245

In an effort to burn off their steam (and some of the torte for which the region is famous), we took advantage of the forest’s many little trails and embarked on a few nature walks (thanks, Peppa Pig and family for making these acceptable). Our little adventure crew tackled a path built in the wake of an earthquake fifteen years previously, showing the natural regrowth of the area as well as sweeping views of the forest.

I’m always interested in the link between the environment of a place and its narrative; the Black Forest easily lent itself to the images conjured by the Brothers Grimm with wicked witches lurking, lost children and tricks aplenty. We discussed this as we employed some of Hansel and Gretel’s wood-trecking tactics, except breadcrumbs were replaced by Gummy Bears and frankly we were bribing our brats to keep moving.

And between you and me, if there actually was a candy house on the horizon, there were times that weekend I’d have encouraged my terror to run into it.

Still, our little explorers enjoyed their cousin time, scavenging for treasures and, of course, the chocolates.

And we enjoyed the long overdue catch up with Team Moody in the spectacular Schwarzwald, where nobody can hear two year olds screaming.

Just across the border

Following the debaucheries of Fasnacht, Tim’s dad had scheduled a week in Berlin, staying with Tim’s sister and her partner. We met Dom and Roh in the German village of Rhinaeu to hand over the paternal cargo. We stayed in an Escher-esque German farmhouse, with odd lofts and wings, two lovely wood fireplaces, and a view of a creek with a population of (we hope) water voles (as opposed to the possibility of their less attractive cousin, water rats). After a night of catching up and sampling yet again delicious Alsatian wines, we made our way to the French town of Strasbourg, just across the border. Our early business of the day included glasses-shopping: our little girl has to wear goggles like her mother, and French specs are significantly cheaper than their Swiss counterparts. Fortunately, Peppa Pig wants to wear glasses so our little miss is down with the idea (I am coming around. I will admit there have been tears on several occasions – mine, not hers – but the cute red frames we picked together have gone a way to perking me back up). We also sourced some excellent coffee – much needed after a rocky-ish night with the youngest Purler – and hit the centre of town for some Gothic cathedral viewing.

And some sleeping in her uncle’s digs (the Palais Rohan, home of a group of cardinals, stood majestically across from the cathedral).

The largest town in the Alsace region (and the ninth largest in France), Strasbourg architecture was very similar to that of Colmar, although being a much bigger city it also had a broader range of styles. The cathedral above was an obvious difference, but many almost Parisian style balconied buildings also lined the squares. Being a border town, Strasbourg was also impacted early on in the second world war, its 80,000 inhabitants evacuated and several buildings destroyed by bombs.

After a decent amount of wandering we made our way to indulge in the local specialties of Crémant d’Alsace (the sparkling wine of the region) and ‘pie baked in the flames’ – tarte flambée or flammkuchen, depending on which side of the border you’re standing on.

The rest of the weekend was spent grocery shopping in an overwhelmingly and depressingly large French store (and subsequently skipping back across to Switzerland with our goods), feasting in our weird farmhouse and enjoying our final time with Mike for a while.

Reality has hit this week with Hotel starting a run of travel for work, meaning I’m the lone sailor on the ship at home (because let’s face it, my two wee deckhands are not good for much other than cake eating, giggling and wearing cute onesies). Amongst other boring household and administrative tasks, we’ve finally managed to secure the youngest Purler’s citizenship and – as of today – a passport, so happily in future it will only be groceries smuggled across the border.


The Hall of the Dead

There is a bandwidth of cities that meet the ‘equidistant from Berlin and Luzern’ criteria we’ve put into place when catching up with Tim’s sister and her partner. It’s taken us to Nuremberg, and this weekend saw us descend upon the otherwise not-particularly-noteworthy town of Regensburg. About an hour from Munich (more, if you factor in the Oktoberfest festivities, which we did not) the town also doubled as our viewing point for the Australia Football League grand final, in which Tim and Dommie’s team was playing. While our Berlin buddies made the trek into town, Tim set up our (oddly furnished; check out Mr No Pants below) AirBnB in a style only a true fan could love.

regensburg-0318-20161001The game aired first thing in the morning and despite a loss for our team was an exciting way to start the weekend (that, and the champagne breakfast concurrently consumed). We then took off into town to explore the 150,000 people strong medieval city. There was a lovely gothic cathedral, an ancient bridge over which we strolled, the ‘insert a bunch of caveats to ensure it’s the oldest’ wursthaus and the rapidly flowing Danube.

We stopped for lunch in a Bavarian beer garden and feasted on dumplings, pork knuckle and of course beer. I was obviously not on the turps, so I can confirm that the bizarre light fittings were not a figment of drunk-eyed imagination. regensburg-0377-20161001That afternoon saw Laides work on her frisbee and Scandinavian chess skills while her Tante, Oncle and Papa worked on their ‘end of season drinks in sun’ skills. (I spent some time in a hideously large mall performing that most depressing of duties: maternity wear shopping. Ugh.)

The following day somebody flicked the switch to Autumn; it was cold, wet and grey. We took a boat ride down the Danube, heading to the last place one would expect to visit in rural Bavaria: Walhalla, the Viking’s Hall of the Dead. regensburg-0361-20161001As half a scenic hour flowed by, we kept our eyes peeled across the cow-studded landscape for the Hall. There was no missing it as we approached. regensburg-0669-20161002Inspired (obviously) by ancient Grecian architecture, the Walhalla was built to honour distinguished speakers of the German tongue (you might guess that neither Tim or myself have a place there). We walked up the hill, climbed the cascading stairs and found ourselves outside the hall of greatness past.

The hall of kinda odd greatness past. A single room lined with busts and plaques commemorating over 2000 years of German speaking history, there were some familiar names (Einstein, oddly looking like a cartoon version of himself) through to some that were not-so-familiar (the dude who invented the pocket watch. I assume his normal watch broke and he popped it away for safe keeping?).

We marvelled at hairstyles and the lack of female representation (only four bust-worthy birds from the last two centuries) while Addie worked on choosing ridiculous Walhalla-inspired old school names for her little bro (Erasmus? Albrecht? Burchard? Nein, danke.).regensburg-0649-20161002regensburg-0660-20161002One of the oddest monuments (likened by Motsy to this) we’ve ever experienced ticked off, we made our way for another beer hall lunch. We were also not above bribing the lass to learn two new words: ‘Dom’ and ‘Roh’, something achieved surprisingly simply when the sweet lure of ice-cream was promised to her.

Monday was a public holiday in Germany – Reunification Day – so we made it home in time for Tim to work with relative ease. It was our last planned adventure before little Erasmus / Albrecht / Burchard arrives, and I’m looking forward to taking it easy (I’m finally watching Breaking Bad…totally appropriate maternity leave viewing, no?) and doing some serious nesting prior to his arrival as well some minor administrative tasks, such as actually committing to a hospital in which he can be born. That’s not to say itchy feet won’t strike again, but they are currently a trifle too swollen to be taken terribly seriously.

We’re all doughnuts

Sunday was – thankfully – not raining, but it was officially the coldest we’ve been since we moved over to this side of the planet. It turns out that as well as frozen we are also stubborn (surprising nobody), and since we’d decided to do a walking tour of the city we put our icicles slash hands into our freezers slash pockets and carried on. I’m not prepared to say any of us were delighted about the predicament.

Wendy's B'day @Berlin 0088 - 20160202The tour started at the Brandenburg Gate, which we suspect was designed to be a wind tunnel specifically focused on cutting through our inadequate clothing. Luckily for it, the gate was also reasonably impressive.

Wendy's B'day @Berlin 0089 - 20160202Berlin is, of course, an amazing city. Actually that’s incorrect – it’s an amazing metropolis. It’s a major world hub, complex (and potentially sensitive), diverse, super cool, proud yet humble. It’s the heaving capital of a country about which everyone knows and has an opinion of some sort; infamous is too negative a word and does no justice to this magnificent place, but I can’t come up with a better description.

It was fitting that our first stop following the gate was the Memorial of the Murdered Jews of Europe.

Wendy's B'day @Berlin 0095 - 20160202

There’s not really too much to say about it, and the sculptor didn’t. It’s a site that allows you to walk through and think your own thoughts without restriction.

The focus of the day was, probably naturally, on WW2 and the following years. The visual impact this has had on the city was significant, and there was discussion on the perceived impact on the people and culture. Many fascinating sights were seen, including Nazi buildings (still inspiring terror today as it is now the taxation office), the wall, and Checkpoint Charlie (note the dude in the sign ain’t actually called Charlie, which is a reference to the phonetic alphabet-named point). Many tales were told of successful and failed border crossing attempts, of life on either side, and of how the city has developed in the years since 1989 when the wall fell.

The infamous JFK speech was also discussed (‘I am a jelly doughnut’, for the record. Apparently it endeared him to the people of the city more than the intended message would have, so all’s well etc).

Wendy's B'day @Berlin 0104 - 20160202We saw some of pre-war Germany. Not all of it survived bombings, and some has been rebuilt in the image of its former glory. Some are kept in their bombed state as a reminder of the war. Yet others remain, miraculously untouched.

A site of particular personal impact was the Bebelplatz: the site of the Nazi book burnings held in the evening of 10 May 1933. Studying modern history at school, this particular event (even though many more horrific ones occurred later) always stuck in my mind. It wasn’t so much because of the intent – the restriction on thought and expression, the imposing of one way of thinking over others, and the stripping of both individuality and culture together, but rather that we had always been taught books are invaluable, almost sacred and should be treated as such. The idea of even slightly tearing a book, let along deliberately burning masses, was unthinkable to me. Even now, we repeat the manta ‘books are precious, be gentle’ to the girl as she pulls random tomes from our shelves (to be fair, she has taken this on board and rips are now rare)(unless you’re a pop-up book, then all bets are off). This mentality was more likely based on the expense of books, and their finality once destroyed, but I am sure also harks to a deeper concern regarding content and destruction of so much more. Either way, this beautiful place (beautiful perhaps because the sun finally decided to show up) and the seemingly incongruous actions that occurred here resonated, and are summed up in a quote from Heinrich Heine, written many years prior to the formation of the Nazi party let alone the burning: ‘That was only a prelude; where they burn books, they will in the end also burn people’.

Wendy's B'day @Berlin 0148 - 20160202-2Wendy's B'day @Berlin 0154 - 20160202-2

(Also, yes, that’s my noggin in a borrowed Roosters beanie.)

Our tour over, we reunited with our kiddo who had been moved out of the cold to hang with her aunt and uncle, and made our way to another healthy Berlin lunch – the doner (our joint was situated on the street on which David Bowie lived, and a petition is currently underway to have its name changed to Bowiestrasse in honour of the man and in recognition of his time in Berlin).

To atone for such sins we spent the (less frigid but still chilly) afternoon walking through Tempelhof Airport. It ceased operating as an airport in 2008 after being a major hub during the war years, arguably keeping Berlin a functioning city. The main building is now used as an emergency refugee camp, and the tarmac and surrounding grassed areas are a public park. It has a slightly surreal, industrial feel and seems to align perfectly with the city.

That night, we had a birthday eve celebration which included an epic chocolate caramel cheesecake, courtesy of Dommie. It was every bit as magnificent as it sounds (and as Dom and Tim appear to be gesturing below).

Despite the cold (and related commitments to pack smarter in the future), it was a brilliant weekend, once again catching just a taster of an epic city. Adelaide had a wonderful time being spoiled rotten by her aunt, both with a slinky spring and endless cuddles (and astounding patience in reading the same three books over and over and over), and given that we’re so far away from home it’s amazing to have family a short plane trip away. A short plane trip that was pretty much hell the following day on our return home, but I’m working pretty solidly on repressing that memory in preparation for our next adventure.

Berlin birthday eve eve

It was my (gulp) thirty-eighth birthday on Monday. To celebrate, I awoke at 4.30am and took a small, cranky, newly tantrumming and top-teeth-teething child home from Berlin. I was easily the most popular person on the flight, and am trying to use wine to forget it ever happened (both the flight and turning 38). So let’s flash back and discuss the weekend in Berlin instead.

Prior to leaving, we were once again treated to a stunning Swiss sunrise. I am well aware that snaps of the sky from our window are becoming gratuitous, but we can’t not. I mean, ridiculous.

We’ve travelled a fair bit with the bambino, but the Zurich to Berlin trip was the first flight she and I had done solo. Happily she’s currently into books and goldfish crackers, so between the two a relatively uneventful trip was had (although I can recite ‘What the Jackdaw Saw‘, ‘A Day at the Beach‘ and ‘Hop on Pop‘ cover to cover)(and have developed a taste for aquatic shaped snacks). Tim’s lovely sister met us at the airport, and we stocked up on snacks and wine for the evening ahead and subsequently consumed them.

Winter in Berlin is grim, and Saturday was no exception with grey skies, rain, and wind aplenty. We decided to take an indoor excursion and opted for the Bauhaus archive.

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A hub of German modernism, the Bauhaus was an art school that combined craftmanship (such as woodworking, furniture making, weaving) and fine arts (painting, music, architecture, sculpture) to obtain universal design which was practical yet beautiful. Students and teachers focused on purity of materials and artistry to make common items – buildings, chairs, lights – transcend their previously humble origins. There was an emphasis on creating for everyman: practical, useful design that merged art with everyday life.

The first thing that struck us was how ubiquitous much of the design has become. Familiar pendant lamps, gorgeous 1930s armchairs, tea and coffee and cutlery settings that would not be out of place in the homewares section of a high end department store. However at the time of their creation, such items were novel, risqué, revolutionary. The second impression was an element of 1984 (the novel as opposed to the bad hair era) – generic design for all the people, almost soulless office-like desks and kitchens and buildings. There was a sense of anonymity, an impression that good design and art would compensate for individual taste and expression. This felt incongruous with our identity of self and home now (although Dommie correctly raised Ikea as a comparison and won the conversation).

Musings aside, we embraced two of our era’s design contributions: the selfie and the photobomb.

There was a brief break in the rain, so we wandered the streets (preparing in advance a justification for our nutritious lunch).

Nutritious and delicious currywurst (and hot wine, always).

Wendy's B'day @Berlin 0057 - 20160202We were staying in the apartment of a friend who’d spent Christmas with us (and was currently out of town – which worked out well for digs, but poorly for catching up). We made our way back to her gaff to give the baby some freedom from her aunt’s headwear. (We didn’t stay in the water tower below, but apparently it is now apartments. Funky German apartments.)Wendy's B'day @Berlin 0062 - 20160202Wendy's B'day @Berlin 0066 - 20160202That night the weather deteriorated, and although beautiful it didn’t accommodate my small, overtired (and unbeknownst to us, about to have new teeth) baby. Tim took snaps after which we all adjourned, shivering and damp, to the restaurant on the corner for birthday champagne and flammkuchen.

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A lot like Christmas

Tim’s new job requires him to travel – not as much as we’d first thought (yet, at least) – but every few weeks he scoots across the border to Germany. Waiblingen, to be specific. Just outside Stuttgart, it’s about three and a bit hours from here and so when he had an extended stay last weekend, Adelaide and I hitched a ride.

I confess we had an ulterior motive: Christmas Markets. Found throughout this area, they are renowned in Germany as being epic. I love Christmas and I love markets; it was a no-brainer. We rolled into town on Sunday afternoon and made our way to the Ludwigsberg markets. In the centre of town, they were easy to find, not least because many helpers indicated the way.

Samichlaus 0310 - 20151207They were jammers (and slightly blurry). Samichlaus 0325 - 20151207Samichlaus 0322 - 20151207Possibly blurry due to the Gluhwein (mit rhum) we knocked back. Because Christmas Markets. Samichlaus 0318 - 20151207The Ludwigsberg Markets are renowned for the angels that line the town and light up the night. Samichlaus 0333 - 20151207Samichlaus 0347 - 20151207Angels and, um, other lights. Samichlaus 0329 - 20151207This snap was meant to capture the general vibe of the markets, but turned out to be a tribute to Mr Man in the middle. Clearly we love you the most, whoever you are. Samichlaus 0349 - 20151207Samichlaus 0334 - 20151207Following dinner with one of Tim’s colleagues (an Aussie guy who’d gifted us with not only a Vegemite supply but also a tip off to a German meat wholesaler just around the corner from work), we called it a night. Motsy had two days of work ahead and Laidybird and I had two more days of gluhwein markets.

We hit Stuttgart the following day and stocked up (shamelessly) on Christmas decorations for the tree and (essentially) snow boots. As a city, Stuttgart was fairly nondescript. Perhaps the markets (which of course I loved) gave an unfair focus, but other than a large open town square there was little in the traditional sense of attractions. However, it was a cool, crisp winter day and there was nothing that hot wine and wurst couldn’t take care of. We had a ball.

The following day we canvassed the hotel breakfast room – primarily populated with Tim’s colleagues – for the best way to spend our day. The recommendation was to head to Schönberg, a wee town about half an hour away, as it was a typical village of the area with many traditional buildings. And, of course, more markets.

It was everything that was promised, and the girl and I spent the morning moseying the streets listening to jazz Christmas carols played by a three piece street band while snacking on clementines (her) and stollen (me).

A few days after returning home, we had our best early Christmas present: my sister, her husband, their lovely lovely boy and equally lovely baby bump arrived to play, for a whole month. As they managed their jet lag we dressed the tree in the spoils from our mega market spree, getting increasingly excited for the upcoming festivities.

On history

I studied modern history for my higher school certificate, and was taught for several years by Miss Stroud. Her name somehow suited her: she was short, sturdy, brusque. She had harshly bobbed dark hair and was rumoured only to have one ear as nobody had ever seen both of them. She was also one of the best teachers I ever had, and made history – a subject I didn’t really wish to take, but I was even less attracted to geography and it was a case of one or the other – a thing of intrigue and fascination. Through her enthusiastic and critical tutelage I learned about China’s Cultural Revolution, the throb of USA and Soviet relations, a serial killer course popular with students (which I suspect she loathed to teach), and both World Wars. Miss Stroud was the first person I’d ever come across that took holidays to see places she had a historical interest in – the idea of taking a vacation to learn was incomprehensible to me at that time. She also, despite her brusqueness, telephoned every one of her class on the day that our HSC results were announced and congratulated us individually on our efforts.

The World War classes included, of course, the role of Germany both through the Weimar and the Nazi years. While not initially as fascinating as – say – Jack the Ripper, the rich detail espoused by Miss Stroud converted a room full of teenagers. I remember many heated discussions throughout the semester, not only about the actual occurrences but causation, society and legacy. Impassioned as teenage debate can be, it remained theoretical and abstract, hard to align with mid 90s rural Australia.

I’ve been to Germany a few times, a solid decade ago now, and these trips were memorable (or not, as the case may be) only for their intake of beer. Thus, when given the chance to head there this weekend to meet up with Tim’s sister and her partner who are currently living in Berlin, we jumped at the opportunity. We decided to meet in Nuremberg, about halfway between our two surrogate homes. A prominent city in the middle ages and Roman times, Nuremberg also has significant history for Nazi Germany, being the site of Nazi party annual rallies, then a battlefield, and later where the post war trials were held. Word on the street was that there were three main things to experience: the rally grounds, the medieval castle and Nürnburger Bratwurst. We rolled into town on Friday (some later than others, due to an erroneous train connection) and bright and early the next morning, thanks as always to our daughter, we made our way to the rally grounds.

Located slightly out of town, the incomplete Kongresshalle reminded us (on its exterior) of the Colosseum. Intended to host 500,000 people, the structure was never completed but is now a museum capturing the history of the site and explaining the rallies that were held for over a decade nearby. As I have previously mentioned, our girl does not care for The Cultures, and as such she commenced wailing right about the same time I started viewing the introductory video. She and I legged it through the vast building and wandered outside while Tim, Dom and Ro took it all in.

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Apart from the impressive venue, and intricate explanation of history, Tim found that the exhibition made comprehensible the transition from a somewhat-out-there right wing state to extreme facism. Tucked away in our high school classrooms, the horrific outcomes of the Nazi state are incomprehensible, almost a caricature. It’s so hard to understand how not only a country but a considerable part of a continent can transform in this way; yet this exhibition explained the social and cultural changes that both led and allowed this to occur. It did not undermine or deny the wretched outcomes but it allowed an insight into how they occurred, making it no longer an abstract notion but something of which, under the right circumstances, any society could perhaps find itself. The other intriguing aspect of the rallies was their purpose. They were not used for education as such, but rather for the experience, a propaganda fuelled hedonistic mob, implying other parallels with the Colosseum.

Following the reasonably heavy morning’s excursion, there was nothing for it but a beverage. Happily, we had lunch planned – a belated birthday celebration for Dom – which we backed up with Delicious Gin (and Nürnbergers, which when covered with mustard and curry ketchup were delicious).
Nuremberg 0149 - 20151108This morning we arose – happily not as painfully bright and early – and decided to tick off number three: the castle. Our wee tour guide rallied us together. Nuremberg 0168 - 20151108

It had rained overnight, but the morning was clean and clear, and the sun shimmered off the streets as we made our way into the old walled city.

Nuremberg 0180 - 20151108 Nuremberg 0181 - 20151108 Nuremberg 0184 - 20151108 Nuremberg 0186 - 20151108 The castle, although unclear as to exact time, dates circa 1105. Guarded by a wide moat and solid walls, it sits atop the city and boasts a beautiful view.
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The castle is apparently considered to be one of Europe’s most formidable medieval fortifications. Frankly, anything boasting a double-headed bird would keep me at bay.
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We spent the morning strolling around its grounds, and wandered home through the Old Town.

Nuremberg 0204 - 20151108 Nuremberg 0206 - 20151108 A starkly different experience from the rally ground the day previously, it emphasised the richness of German – and indeed all – history, the same richness and complexity enthusiastically shown to me in a classroom some twenty years ago. Not for the first time, I wished that when Miss Stroud called me to wish me well for my future I had thanked her. Not simply for teaching me about Jack the Ripper (because I was totally the student that loved it the most) but showing me a love for history, for places and people and events and motives, that continues to influence me – and, it turns out, my holiday destinations.

Our three Nuremberg must-dos complete, and a hearty German breakfast consumed, we went our separate ways. Hotel, Laidey and I returned to Rotkreuz – where we only have two more sleeps until we move to our new home – via Rheinfalls in northern Switzerland, where we watched the water flow.
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