If there’s one thing I love about Germans–besides their soft pretzels– is their enthusiasm for the outdoors. Every restaurant and cafe has nice outdoor seating and the country is littered with hiking trails. My favorite restaurant so far is called Lodge and it overlooks the zoo. Kind of a funny juxtaposition because Lodge is a steak house and here we are gazing at zebras and wildebeasts while eating hunks of meat. Fortunately the zoo keeper isn’t the meat supplier. Gary and I went for the first time last weekend and the setting is what I’d imagine a safari lodge in Kenya looks like–warm wood finishes, breezes floating through, candles, and a full, orange moon hanging in the sky. We couldn’t have ordered up a more perfect evening. And then we actually ran into people we know–a sure sign a place is starting to become home.
The Germans take advantage of every ounce of good weather and even not-so-good weather. They are prepared with every type of coat, hat and boots to ensure they can still get out and enjoy the fresh air. If you take the hidden trail from our house and turn left, instead of right for the Schwimmbad, you are handed a series of decisions about which trail to follow–the back route to the castle and the Altstadt (old city) or along a stream, past a waterwheel, and near the train tracks. I go for my runs down there and I’m an oddity in my running gear and listening to my iPod. The Germans prefer to hike around with what looks like ski poles in their hands. Maybe it provides more of a workout. The first time I noticed those things was a trip with Gary to Cinque Terre in Italy two years ago. As we hiked the pathways carved along the steep Italian cliffs, we were amused by all the Germans and their hiking gear, as if they were climbing Everest. One evening during dinner with an Australian couple, we asked if they had noticed the ski poles. In his best Melbournese, the guy shrugged and said, “Yeah, what’s up with the sticks?” So, here we are again, surrounded by hiking sticks.
Our village even has Kindergarten in the Woods, which is exactly how it sounds. There is no school building. Parents drop their children in the woods every morning — rain, sun, sleet, or snow–and the teachers take over from there. My neighbor’s eldest son attends that kindergarten and one cold, rainy morning I saw him leaving for school. He was dressed head to toe in rubber, looking like he was about to trawl for lobsters in the North Atlantic. I think this sort of Kindergarten is a novel idea though and will consider it for Jack.
We’ve had several comfortable weather days lately but everyone warns us about winter. Some new American friends had us over for dinner recently at their home in the Aldstadt of our village. Their house sits right across a courtyard from the ancient cannonball forge that used to supply cannonballs to our castle. They’ve lived here for three years and have had the best time. However, they admitted the first winter was rough. No sunshine and the daylight is scarce. It got so bad that the husband decided to make a chart of actual daylight every day of the year. He got the information from the internet and created a graph. The results were clear. December had the shortest time of daylight in the year–one day around the 21st has only has 8.5 hours of daylight. But, pointing to January, he said, “This month is total s***. Get a babysitter and plan a long weekend somewhere sunny,” he recommended.