Tuesday, July 31, 2007

8 June: A Lovely Day in Ludwigsburg

A trip to Ludwigsburg’s Residenzschloss and gardens was on today’s agenda, and it was a perfect day for it – cotton-puff clouds floated across a periwinkle-blue sky – although a little on the warm side. We arrived with just minutes to spare to get into the only English tour of the day, so we agreed to take the tour first and then wander around the gardens later. This was my third visit to the Residenzschloss (fifth if you count my garden visits) but I really enjoy the palace and I learn something new from each tour. Sometimes you see something new, too – this time we got to see both of the palace chapels, whereas on my previous visits we had only seen the Catholic chapel. (The theater and chapels are still used for performances and weddings, so they are not always open.) I’ve described the palace before, but for anyone who wants a refresher, here is a recap (excerpted from our October 2005 visit):

The Residenzschloss is an enormous, ornate pale yellow building with white wedding cake trim, laid out in a hollow rectangle with a large central courtyard. It was constructed in sections by the dukes and kings of Württemberg, beginning as a hunting lodge in the early 1700s and eventually becoming the seat of the Württemberg royalty. It is the largest Baroque palace in the country, also known as the “Versailles of Germany.”

The entrance to the Schloss is located rather unceremoniously along a busy street, where passing motorists seem oblivious to the history and grandeur located just feet away. We passed through an enormous wrought iron gate into a large stone courtyard, with a pleasant-looking outdoor café on the left side. A cobbled pathway lined with huge potted plants leads you to an arched opening in the palace wall, where the visitor office is located.

Our tour began upstairs, in the newest section of the palace. To get there we climbed an impressive staircase adorned with Greek gods and goddesses, then entered an empty oval room where a large plan of the palace is mounted on an easel. Our guide informed us that we would be seeing about seventy-five of the more than four hundred and fifty rooms of the palace, and we would be walking the equivalent of about a mile. The first half of the tour was spent in the newest portion of the castle, which was completed in the late 18th century by Duke Charles Eugene. The first room we entered was the extravagant oval dining room, outfitted with enormous multi-tiered crystal chandeliers hanging from a high domed ceiling. Eagles are used as a royal symbol extensively throughout the palace, and here they are painted on the ceiling as if clutching the cables of the chandeliers. Our guide demonstrated how a sharp clap of the hands made in the center of the room creates an echo that sounds like the flapping of great eagle wings.

Our tour took us through the king’s suite along one wing of the new palace and the queen’s rooms on the other (the last full-time residents of the Schloss were King Frederick of Württemburg, appointed by Napoleon himself, and Frederick’s second wife, Charlotte Mathilde of Great Britain). A rare woven portrait of Napoleon adorns a corner of one of the king’s anterooms – a gift from one of his visits. We saw the king’s throne room, lavishly decorated in red velvet and gold, his sea-green satin bedroom, and various audience rooms and libraries. The queen’s rooms mirror the king’s wing, in similar Empire style, except her throne is set on only two steps instead of three, and her bedchamber is done in brilliant red tones (above). Every so often, our guide would point out a particular painting or tapestry of an interesting historical figure or event. During the second World War, much of the artwork and furniture from the Neues Schloss in Stuttgart was brought to the Residenz Schloss, which was then covered with camouflage netting to hide it from Allied bombers. The trick worked, and while much of the Neues Schloss was destroyed, many of its precious contents were preserved in Ludwigsburg.

Before heading towards the Hall of Ancestors and the theater, we got to glimpse something you rarely see on palace tours, at least in my experience: the servants’ quarters. We viewed a room lined with numbered wardrobes where the royal family’s clothing were kept out of sight, and a dark, low-ceilinged chamber with no windows that served as kitchen, bedroom and general living quarters for about a dozen servants. Our guide noted that these conditions were actually quite reasonable for the time and it was seen as a privilege and a luxury to be a servant in the palace – not only did you get to spend most of your time in the warmth and comfort of the greatest wealth in the land, but you got to hear all of the royal gossip, which made you quite popular amongst your friends.

Our next stop was the Hall of Ancestors (right), which connects the newest section of the palace to the wing containing the theater and chapel. This long wood-floored hall is lined with portraits depicting five hundred years of Württemberg history, including all of the lords and ladies that had inhabited the Residenzschloss over its century or so of occupation. Next to each portrait sits a gigantic oriental vase, each of which, our guide informed us, is worth 80,000 Euro, so watch your step. We got our first chance to sit down when we wandered into the theater, an impressive construction decorated in pink, blue, and yellow, which in its heyday was one of the premier spots in Europe for opera and ballet. (Our guidebook says the first opera in Europe was performed here.) Next stop was a glimpse of the unbelievably large and ornate Catholic chapel through the bleary windows of the duke’s seat, high up at the rear of the structure.

Finally, we stepped back in time once more to tour the original hunting lodge, which has been extensively restored to its original Baroque condition. The Mars room contained a particularly beautiful Baroque ceiling fresco (in other parts of the palace the amazing frescos and gilt had been covered up with white paint when Baroque extravagance had passed out of fashion), and the excessively mirrored duke’s bedroom was spectacular (enhanced by the story that a particularly despised Catholic duke was murdered in it). Another room has a painstakingly preserved original wood floor, laid out in an ornate circular pattern, which is more than three hundred years old. The last room we viewed was the great hall with more enormous crystal chandeliers, which once witnessed royal balls and is still used for state functions.

After our tour we headed out into the gardens, which, this being a beautiful summer day, were livelier than I have ever seen them. All of the antique carnival rides in the Easter garden (right) were in operation, including the tiny four-car ferris wheel. We stopped at the café by the pond for a light lunch – we shared a wurst und brot and a mixed salad, washed down with a couple of refreshing Schweppes Bitter Lemons.

Next I took Mom through the tiny Japanese garden, the Mediterranean and rose gardens and then the formal landscaped gardens on the older side of the palace. We visited all of the exotic birds in their aviaries and then finished our walk on the new side of the palace. Unfortunately they were in the middle of setting up a summer festival so the place was a bit of a mess, with tents being erected and delivery trucks everywhere. Needless to say, we were pretty hot and tired by the end of the afternoon – a nice breezy trip home in the SLK with the top down was just what we needed!

For dinner we scratched the idea of making zweibelrostbraten (steak with onion sauce) because it was so hot, and decided instead to give another shot at the balsamic-glazed steak salad that John had enjoyed in Ravensburg last spring. Mom tried making a balsamic reduction and it turned out really well, but the steak was still tough – it seems to be next to impossible to get a tender piece of beef here. We served the beef with mixed greens, tomatoes, and shaved parmesan and ate outside on the balcony – a perfect end to a lovely day!

6 June: A German Barbeque

I took Mom downtown today – the usual tour of the Königstraße, Schlossplatz, and Schillerplatz, with a detour to Calwerstraße, where Mom found a miniature porcelain teapot in a very cool little tea shop to bring back as a gift for her neighbor, who collects such things. Naturally we also took a stroll ‘round the Markthalle and picked up fresh ingredients for our potato salad. We tried to find Mom a knitting shop too – I even went into a sewing shop on Calwerstraße and asked if there was one in the neighborhood; they gave me the name and address of a store but it was too far to walk and we really needed to get home to make the potato salad.

Mom and I walked over to Evelyne’s house around 6 p.m.; John was still at work so I just told him to come over as soon as he got home. It was a pleasant, warm evening so we sat outside drinking wine on the covered patio. After a while I went with Evelyne to take Eiko for a short walk in the woods while Oda entertained my mom. Finally John arrived a little after 7 and then I presented a few items that I had brought from the States, namely a bottle of Liquid Smoke (Evelyne asked for this by name!), a bottle of maple syrup along with a recipe for blueberry buttermilk pancakes, and a Michigan volleyball T-shirt for Oda. She was so surprised when I handed to her – she held it up for everyone to see and said, “Cool!” with a big grin on her face.

We sat down to a feast of pork chops, chicken wings, sausages, and hamburgers. Evelyne had pulled out every kind of condiment known to man; she was very worried that her hamburgers wouldn’t meet our expectations. Apparently Americans have quite a reputation for having enormous appetites; Evelyne kept insisting that we have another serving of meat! I think she had enough food to feed about twenty people. John doesn’t really know how to say “no,” so I think he consumed about three times his normal portion.

About half-way through dinner we were treated to a brief summer thundershower, but since we were well-protected on the patio we just sat back and enjoyed it. After dinner 14-year-old Birk showed us his book of graffiti art (which of course he only practices in legal circumstances, like on his aunt’s garage) and Oda gave me a CD by Schandmaul, her favorite German medieval folk-rock band (their name translates literally as “malicious tongue” and was inspired by the jester on a deck of playing cards).

It was getting pretty late at this point and Cody was waiting for us (he was invited but we decided the evening would be more relaxed if he stayed home), so we said our farewells and headed home.

Monday, July 30, 2007

5 June: A Summer Afternoon with Friends & A Raclette Feast

I walked with Evelyne and Oda this morning while Mom slept in. Evelyne invited us over to their house for a barbeque tomorrow night and I offered to bring “American style” potato salad. Stefanie came over for my German lesson at 11:00 and brought chocolate croissants; Mom was a real trooper and sat through my whole lesson! (Mom spoke English, Stefanie spoke German, and I did the translating between them.) I still can’t figure out how much English Stefanie really knows. She’s a clever one – I don’t think she wants me to know how much English she understands. Our conversation ran from John’s job to having kids to our upcoming trip to Rome, and we looked at some of my Serengeti photos.

In the afternoon I went downtown to the Alte Kanzlei to have coffee with Kris, who is visiting from Michigan and is now about 5 months pregnant, Jane (with new baby Vera), and Beth. (I took a picture of the Smart parking sign at right in the parking garage under the Schlossgarten. I'd really love to know how much money Mercedes gave the city of Stuttgart to put these signs up!) I ordered iced tea mit vielen Eis and actually got a ton of ice for once (Germans are very weird about ice in their drinks; they think it’s unhealthy), along with a delicious slice of kirsch-mohn kuchen (cherry-poppyseed cake). Jane and Kris needed to run some baby-related errands so Beth and I tagged along. We visited an enormous baby store that had the largest selection of strollers I have ever seen. Beth and I examined the diaper bags since Beth is doing “research” for her new handbag company. Afterwards I stopped at the supermarket in the basement of Karstadt, thinking I would surely be able to pick up some Best Foods mayonnaise in the “Taste America” section, but they were all out. I ended up buying some German mayo that actually turned out to be a pretty good substitute (you have to be very careful because most of the mayo here tastes like Miracle Whip, or worse). I drove Kris home in the SLK with the top down, which gave her a thrill, and stopped to say hi to Kris’ husband Thomas and daughter Kalista, then headed home.

Mom came along for our afternoon walk and we made raclette for dinner – this is the first time we’ve used the raclette machine that we bought from the previous tenants of our apartment, and it turned out great…yesterday we bought a raclette cheese platter at Kaufland with three kinds of cheese, along with potatoes, mushrooms, tomatoes, cauliflower, and a couple kinds of ham. We cooked the veggies on the upper grill surface and melted the cheese over the potatoes, veggies, and meat under the heating element. Delicious!

4 June: Confusion at the Flughafen

I had to drive to Frankfurt this morning to pick up my mom at the airport; her flight was supposed to get in around midday and I gave myself two hours to get there. There was a bit of traffic on the Autobahn as usual, but I’ve now made this drive four times and it seems to take exactly two hours every time, regardless of the traffic. At least some things in life are consistent. Being an old pro by now with regards to the Frankfurt airport, I made my way with comparative ease to the same garage that I had used last fall when I picked up my parents and walked into Terminal C, only to find that Mom’s flight was now listed as coming in to Terminal B. Fortunately this only required a quick walk across the street to the other terminal. I found the sliding doors where it looked like she was most likely to come out, and sat down to wait. After just a few minutes, people started coming out the doors, and a lot of them looked to be American, so I was pretty sure her flight had arrived. I waited…and waited…and waited…but no Mom.

When the stream of people had slowed to an occasional drip and Mom’s flight had moved down the arrival board several slots, I figured that something was wrong. Mom was traveling with carry-on luggage only, and everyone who had come out of these doors in front of me was lugging their checked bags. I began to wonder if perhaps Mom might have come out a different exit, so I walked about 100 feet down the hall to an information desk and asked if there were any other exits that passengers without checked luggage might use. The woman (who spoke English, of course) directed me to go upstairs, find the information desk with a large football hanging over it, and then look for a long passageway to the right. I took the escalator upstairs and found myself in the swarming ticketing area. It took me a few minutes of wandering around but I finally found the giant hanging soccer ball and made my way towards it.

Right about this point, I could swear that I heard my name broadcast over the intercom. At least, I was pretty sure I heard my first name but the rest of it was gobbledegook and it was most definitely in German. Now why the heck would they be calling my name in German? I walked up to the information desk and addressed a smiling black man who, it turns out, was either American or spoke English with a perfect American accent. (As an aside, I always speak English in these situations. I figure, it’s their job to speak English and I’d rather avoid any silly misunderstandings.) I told him I was looking for my mom and thought I had just heard my name called. He chuckled and said, “Oh, so you’re hearing things?” and I said, “Yes, it’s quite possible!” He looked up my name and sure enough, my mom had been paging me. The nice man told me to go back downstairs to the very same information desk that I had departed from less than five minutes previously.

I went down there and, lo and behold, there was my mom. She had been waiting for me in front of that desk for an hour, while I was waiting 100 feet away! They had been paging me the whole time, in English and in German, but I hadn’t heard a thing until I went upstairs. How I missed her when I came by the desk the first time, we’ll never know. We were also pretty frustrated that the people at the information desk didn’t think to consider that I just might be waiting at the door where the vast majority of passengers come out! Such is life.

The drive home was uneventful. We went grocery shopping and Mom spent the rest of the day trying not to fall asleep, but failing miserably!