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Day out in Ulm

Day out in Ulm

I spotted photos of the library at the Wiblingen Monastery on Pinterest, often included in Libraries to See Before You Die lists. When I looked it up on a map, it was only a two-hour drive away, so we checked the off-season schedule and drove over at the weekend.


IMG_5518 IMG_5560The Wiblingen Monastery was founded in 1093, and was the home of Benedictine monks from the Black Forest and surrounding area. In 1714, they undertook a massive renovation, which is where we get all the spectacular and over the top Baroque details. The library itself was incredible. Unheated, in the winter it is a bit freezing. While we were there, a couple was having photos done and the woman in the strapless dress must have been losing feeling in her arms. There is a museum in the Abbey as well, with audio guides in English. There are plenty of beautiful illustrated maps of the area, huge wax seals, and other ephemera. We found this fascinating, but we also live nearby, so it may not be as exciting if you’re visiting from afar – though if you’re in Ulm, it’s well worth a visit. If you’re visiting in the off-season, check their site to see what’s open and when.

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The Ulm Minster is impressive, to say the least. A classic extended building project, the foundation stone for the church was laid in 1377, but the final building wasn’t finished until 1890. As with many building projects in southern Germany, the Thirty Years War derailed everything. Incredibly, the Minster was not damaged in WWII, though most of the medieval town was destroyed.

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A totally unplanned stop on our day trip was the Museum dur Brotkultur, which translates literally to the Museum of Bread. This sounds hilarious initially, but the role of bread through history is quite central. There are three floors of bread-related history displays, and they provide English-language audio guides as well as a children’s audio guide, which was a big hit. It’s a short walk from the Ulm Minster, and I really recommend it.

Unfortunately it was freezing out, and we didn’t get a chance to find anywhere to eat in town, so I have no suggestions on restaurants I’m afraid! There are the usual little backerei around where you can get soft brezel and sandwiches of course.

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Castles in the mist

Castles in the mist

One of the things we love about this area of southern Germany are the castle ruins scattered over the countryside. For the most part, the original ones were built somewhere in the 11th and 12th centuries, and were destroyed in the Thirty Years War, which trampled over this region like a rampaging herd of dinosaurs repeatedly in the 17th century. We’ve been driving around, checking them out in the incredibly cold mist we’ve been having every day lately. Of course, this means our seven year old is completely over castles now it seems. *sigh*

St Michael’s Monastery

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The above is not actually a castle but someone’s house, directly below Heidelberg Castle.

Heidelberg Schloss (Castle)

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Dilsberg Altstadt (old city) and Castle

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I particularly like the sneaky storage box and wheely bin in this picture.

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Where we figure out the local autumn holidays

Where we figure out the local autumn holidays

Moving to a new country as a family, as opposed to a free-wheeling young adult, dumps you deep into the everyday minutiae in ways that’s hard to predict ahead of time.

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Our son attends a German/English bilingual school that runs on the local curriculum, rather than an international school (which are in English, and generally stick to North American IB programmes). Most of his classmates are German, as are the parents, and it gives us a window into local holidays. We didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving this year, as we were still getting settled in our flat and our son had a cold. I’m just getting to the put where I can figure out the names of the spices and the cuts of meat I need in German – I didn’t really want to start running around trying to find North American groceries in a small town. Next year I’d like to have a nice get together with our German friends and introduce them to our celebratory autumn meal. Remind me next September and I might get it together in time!

Halloween is not really a thing here, while the kids had a dress-up party at school, there was no trick or treating as far as we could tell. No pumpkins in windows or front steps. Stores had some decorations, but it was pretty low key. Halloween itself also happened to fall during Herbstferien, the autumn term week-long break. I warned our son about the lack of Halloween excitement ahead of time, and promised that Christmas is a Big Deal. Judging by the displays already up in the windows,

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On November 11th, Germans celebrate St Martin’s Day, or Martinstag. We trundled down to our local main street, and followed an actor dressed up as Saint Martin in his Roman gladiatorial gear and riding a horse. The children carry homemade lanterns, and there were several marching bands playing Martin songs, which we didn’t know, but many others sang along around us. We reached one of the squares in the Altstadt to watch a very short play about Saint Martin tearing his cloak in half to give to a beggar, the tasting of the first glass of wine from this year’s harvest, and the handing out of Martinsmännchen, person-shaped sweet bread figures.

There’s something amazing about walking down these streets, knowing children have been running around waving lanterns every November for 400 years. It’s one of reasons I was so keen to move back to Europe.

The Weihnachtsmarkts start at the end of the month, and we’re lucky enough to have a particularly lovely one in our little town. Now I just have to figure out how to do Nikolaustag on December 5th.

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Three months in Germany

Three months in Germany

It’s coming up on three months since we moved to Germany. We’re in our proper flat now, and are slowly unpacking, and possibly the more annoying part of the equation, recycling the boxes and paper.

I’m very glad we had moved to the UK first, because seven years there was like a crash course in dealing with bureaucracy. Now that we’re dealing with it here, in a different language, I am not surprised by any delays, or the random hours a given office or bank is open. Thankfully I’m not working at a traditional office job, so I can trundle around to the drivers license place at 10am on a Tuesday, to hear we need an eye test that no one told us about the first time. But at least I didn’t have to wait two hours in a queue to hear that.

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Things are both easier and harder, being in a medium-sized town rather than a big centre like Berlin or Munich. About 150,000 people live in our city, but it’s part of a long stretch of towns and cities around the rivers Rhine and Neckar, along with wineries and farms dotted all over. A smaller city means people are friendlier, but also means there isn’t a big English-speaking community. We’re not really into cloistering ourselves in an ‘expat’ community, though when there is a language barrier, it can be a bit harder to make friends. Our German is improving slowly, even before we’ve started lessons – Christopher and I managed to buy three carpets, and even get a couple cut to size and edged, all in German. Don’t ask me to say my phone number in German if you’re in a hurry though, it takes me nearly 2 minutes to get it all out.

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Oh yes, we actually moved here

Oh yes, we actually moved here

We’ve turned the corner now from everything feeling like a long holiday to more like a new home. Though we’ll be in our temporary flat for another month, and I know I’m royally sick of everything I packed. We ordered a pile of new books for Elliot, as I didn’t really pack all that many for some reason.

We’ve met some American families in our local playground, though Elliot was doing well figuring out how to play without much of a shared language too. Once he starts school and picks up some German, it won’t be an issue. Other families we’ve met are all on fixed-term contracts, so I’m aware we’ll all be saying goodbye in a year or two. We’re here on a permanent transfer, and that changes our outlook somewhat. It’s funny how our years in England have helped us feel less at sea. Even if it’s just knowing what a TV license is, and what paperwork will probably be required for various things.

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The weather has been hot and sticky, and air conditioning is not really a given anywhere. Living in London and Vancouver, though, where it also gets periodically hot and AC isn’t standard, it’s nothing out of the ordinary for us at least. Having a washing machine in our flat is lovely though, considering how much of our small stock of clothing we work through when it’s this hot.

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Nothing is open on Sundays when it comes to shops. It’s incredible how much I depend on grocery stores being open whenever when I suddenly realize I need something. We’ve quickly learned to do a checklist on Saturday morning – do we have enough food? Is there anything we were planning to buy this weekend? Because it better happen on Saturday or it’s not happening at all! IKEA is closed, the hardware store is closed, everything is closed except places like pools. It’s meant to encourage family time, and in a way it does, because there is literally nothing else you can do. We are learning to save up activities to do on Sundays. This weekend, we’re heading out to a medieval fair to watch jousting and sword fighting.

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