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 Holidays and a Diet of Worms

November and December 2002

(Written December 31 &endash; edited Feb 2. This is a LONG process!)

Dear Friends and Families.

Well I did it again. I'm here trying to write a diary when the events are well in the past. All along, I wanted to record things as they happen because fresh memories are more valuable than stale ones. Besides, as we slide into time lags more appropriate for histories rather than diaries, I must admit we do little or nothing worthy of "history". But we do still like having a diary for reviewing in our rapidly approaching old age. So, you see, these really are for our own use after all. But you are welcome to hang in there at your discretion.

Winter's here and we are still enjoying Frankfurt. We still find the combination of a striking skyline over a not-so-big city a good match for us. So what else have we been doing?

Bamburg and Beyond

A bit before Thanksgiving, we enjoyed a slow weekend coming back from a Friday business trip to Erlangen in southern Germany. On Saturday morning, we started with a visit to Bamburg, about 40 minutes north of Erlangen. It is a very charming old town and is reportedly one of the few German cities to escape wholesale aerial destruction in WWII. We wandered the streets on the cold, gray day and felt the chill of winter. We visited inside a castle and a church and enjoyed the fanciful decorations but couldn't help thinking about the difficulty the original occupants must have had simply staying warm in these grand spaces.

We've been warned that this is how it will be for the next several months. For us, it may not be California but it's not Ukraine either. The glass is at least half full. After a couple of hours of old buildings, churches and squares, we gave Bamburg a #7 on our scale of 1 to 10 &endash; quaint, worthy of a stop and, in better weather, possibly worthy of an entire weekend. But today, a warm car ride seemed a good next step.

We abandoned the autobahns and stayed with the two-lane highways that headed in the general direction toward home. Frankly, our car fits these roads better and, despite the gray day, it was fun to zip along past harvested fields and centuries-old barns and farmhouses. It's not so hard to imagine horse carriages going along these same routes for most of the last several hundred years.

We had not made hotel reservations for the evening since we really had no idea where we might end up. As we wandered through the small villages that popped up every few miles on our back road, we kept our eyes peeled for the perfect overnight home. Our first choice was next to a huge old building that had no signs, but which we felt must be of some historic value. Just next door was a small building and a hotel sign. In the hotel we learned two important facts: first, the large building was indeed old but, since it served as a jail for young offenders, it was not open to casual road travelers; second, the hotel was above our price range. Just as well, I suppose.

As we continued along, we started to worry. After all, it was Saturday, the busiest night of the week for perfect, quaint hotels. But, in the town of Dettelbach, our luck held. We asked at the Gasthaus Alte Schmiede for a room and were given the best room in the house &endash; and well within our budget. I'm not sure how old it takes to qualify as "alte" but our room met the requirements. The floor slanted at such an angle that walking was tricky. The ceiling was so low that even Marianne could have hit her head on some of the beams. I didn't duck, I bowed. But it was indeed perfect.

In the morning, we enjoyed our breakfast and set off under the continuing gray skies. We were headed to Wirtzburg, another German city with a wonderful old central district. However, I think the chill had sapped our traveling spirit. Despite the highly touted castle and famous churches, we did little more than stroll for 15 or 20 minutes and then settle in at a down-home restaurant for beer and generous servings of German comfort food. We'll keep Wirtzburg on our list of not-yet-visited towns.



Working outside of the US, Thanksgiving becomes just another workday. No football games. No relatives. No overeating. Well, almost. We had originally invited friends over for an almost-traditional meal but they fell victim to the first of the winter's flu episodes. Instead, we made last-minute reservations at the downtown Marriot hotel where we'd heard they were offering an American Thanksgiving dinner buffet.

Reservations made, we then found ourselves debating the wisdom of going to a place where Americans congregate. It's one thing to say we should not let the threat of anti-American terrorism dictate our lives but, after all, Frankfurt is a financial center of Western Europe and has a non-German population of 25 to 30%. The Marriot is in the center of those dramatic high-rises in the financial district. The prospect of joining a gathering of a thousand or so Americans, on a very American Holiday, made us think. Thinking made us resent the new world order.

In the end, we wanted to be around Americans on this holiday, so we went. We loaded our plates with traditional-looking Thanksgiving food and then discovered the real risk of the evening &endash; over-priced, mediocre food. There must be a lesson here.



Just after Thanksgiving, Marianne was scheduled for a Monday doctor exam in Heidelberg, about an hour or two south of Frankfurt. We decided to make it a bit of an excursion, so we set out on Sunday, stopping first at the town of Worms. As all you church history buffs know, Worms is famous for a 1521 Diet during which Martin Luther either held his moral ground or defied church and state &endash; depending of your religious framework.

(All you non-church people will just have to believe me. The town is called "Worms" and church convocations at the time were called "Diets". All graduates of Catholic grade schools had to be able to repeat this factoid with a straight face. Marianne still had trouble with this even as she stood by the plaque memorializing Luther's stand.

The cathedral at Worms was very nice and warmly decorated for the Christmas season. (Pict xx PC010007). Even better, in my view, was a gem of a museum next door. The museum had a good &endash; but not large - selection of paintings from the 16th through the 20th centuries, but I was particularly taken with the local glass and ceramics on display. There were colorful 16th century painted glass windows and equally colorful beer mugs from the 17th or 18th centuries. I particularly liked a ceramic figurine from the end of this period showing a wife discussing some sort of failing of her hapless husband. At least, that's what I think was going on.



We left Worms and headed for Heidelberg, yet another quaint German town with churches, castles and squares. And history. Lots of history. The highlight of a visit has to be Mad Ludwig's castle ruins overlooking the old city center. (King Ludwig is perhaps more famous for his Disney-inspiring castle at Neuenschwangstein but he was a prolifigate builder.)

In fact, these ruins are famous for being ruins. It seems that they were favorites of 18th and 19th century romantics, even as derelicts. Today, the ruins are partially restored but still romantic. On our castle-scale, Ludwig's Heidelberg ruins rate at least a nine


This being the first week of Advent, we also enjoyed the Heidelberg Christmas Market (Wienachtsmarkt). There was fine dining, wine (Pict xx PC010047) and an evening musical. There were also dozens of booths offering all sorts of seasonal decorations, gifts, and crafts.

It seems that every German town or city has its own Christmas Market. Back home in Frankfurt, we repeated our Heidelberg dining and wining. For crafts and decorations, we were particularly attracted to the wooden scenes traditionally carved in the eastern part of Germany. Unfortunately, like so much else, we managed to spend so much time looking and talking that we had no time for buying. We decided to save a special purchase for next year.

Mixed in with all the sausage eating, wine slurping, and present shopping, I enjoyed seeing families wandering through the crowds. Kids were being fed cookies and cakes, just as they should be during the Christmas season. In Frankfurt's main square, a double-deck Carrousel was spinning its magic. After we leave, it will be hard to celebrate Christmas without Weinachtsmarkts.

But the other part of Christmas, is seeing all of our own families. Shortly after this German introduction to the season, Marianne and I would fly to the US to see and enjoy our own kids, but that's another story.

Enjoy the New Year and remember the good from 2002.

John and Marianne

New Added Bonus: Links about the places mentioned.

Bamberg (German but pretty pictures)

Erlangen (German only)

Nurnberg (German but pretty pictures)

























































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