Monday, July 13, 2009

Schwäbisch Gmünd - Steph and Felix's new locale

Poor Felix had to be up early to go to work today. The rest of us continued to slumber as he crept around downstairs. I had awoken with him and as he left, got out of bed and connected with both Allyson and Gen on International Scrabble Club, and had a few games with them. I also managed to copy all the July blog information into Corel – ready for formatting for ‘the blog book’! I can’t remember who it was who asked if I had copied the blog anywhere when I was talking about double copying our photos (on to the external hard drive and on to DVD). When I replied with no, they commented that they hoped nothing ever happened to the blog site. Got me to thinking – OK, maybe I should just copy the text daily. I mean if worst came to worst, I know that Donna prints out every day for Mum – but do I really want to have to re-type everything – nah!!

Onto the net and I book accommodation for the next few nights as we will go as far north as Koblenz and spend a night before travelling back down the Rhine and staying at Bacharach for a night as we had planned when we came through there just before Christmas on our way to Steph’s for the first time, and when everything was shut up tighter than a drum! This will also give Steph and Felix a break from visitor company!

Steph was up not much later, Michael considerably later! We had breakfast – oh how I just love proper German bretzels (german spelling) – and discussed what we will do today. We decide to head into Schwäbisch Gmünd to have a look at the Marktplatz and the local Munster. Later in the day we will visit Mutti in the rehabilitation unit she is in.

The centre of town is only a ten minute walk away and so rather than take the car, we walk in. The day is shaping up to be nice and warm and by the time we get to the Munster I have well and truly heated up! The Schwäbisch Gmünd Munster is one of the largest in all Germany, but as it does not have a bell tower or steeple, it is not very well known. It dates back to the 16th century and the internal architecture is beautiful. The columns are tall and thick and straight and finished with beautifully carved and some painted capitals. And the stonework is perfectly balanced and symmetrical. The stained glass windows that date back all those hundreds of years look as vibrant today as they would have when they were done. Not all of them are leadlight – in fact some of the larger ones around the back are actually painted glass.

And right around the back of the altar wrapping around the back curve of the cathedral, there are four modern leadlight windows depicting the Stations of the Cross. And yet, on the walls inside these windows there are still found the original wall murals, ornate chapel altars and gravestones set into the floor where notable figures from the community’s past lie in repose. We marvel at the carved timber, the massive and original doors with all their intricate lock systems and the beauty of the light cast onto furniture and floor through that stained glass. The Munster is an unexpected delight in an area that we did not know before Steph and Felix moved here. And an added delight for Michael is the diverse and sometimes macabre or strange lot of gargoyles and grotesques around the outside of the church.

So back out into the summer sun we go, although by now there are some clouds drifting occasionally across the sky and into the Marktplatz with its outdoor café seating, its old buildings remodelled on the ground floor at least for retail space and the Rat Haus. This is a source of constant amusement as back home the bureaucrats are from time to time referred to as rats. But our joviality has always to be explained to the straight Germans for whom the term ‘rat’ translates directly as the local government. Gosh, where is their sense of humour. The building while completely modernised retains pieces of character from its former life – like the faux marbled (timber) balustrading and part of the original wall that has deliberately been left exposed.

In the Marktplatz the local gardener is on his rounds checking all the large planter pots – with a difference. He is on a cart being drawn by the most gorgeous white Clydesdale horse, who gets lots of looks by young and old and the photographic attentions of more than a couple of tourists! And then there is the nun, zipping through the shopping area on a mobility scooter oblivious to the stares of everyone else.

We find a table in the shade and order a cold drink each and a coffee at the same time as the service is very slow. For a while we are happy to sit chatting and watching the world walk passed us. Steph is a little surprised at the number of people who are meeting and socialising mid-week – little does she know that outside the cloistered world of full time work, there lurks another, more appealing existence! There are parents and babies, youths in small groups (school is only held in the morning in Germany – usually 7:40 am to 12:50 pm – so it is really the same sort of hours as in Australia), young women on lunch breaks and businessmen taking a break.

Schwäbisch Gmünd is a very Catholic area in a region that is largely Protestant. So there are lots of religious artefacts and artwork around the town - including murals, fountains and even an icon behind a metal grille with the beads for a decade of the Rosary! And a local school housed in a former convent building is still known as the Convent School, even though it is a state school with no religious connection or influence.

I am looking for some cooler clothing. The clothing and in particular the trousers I have are too heavy for the summer weather (remember I am not in an air conditioned office!) and I would like some shorts and lighter T-shirts. And while Steph is still tiny, her aunt knows some larger people and where they shop. So we head for the local Ulla Popler outlet in Schwäbisch Gmünd where the perplexed shop assistant tries to understand me talking with Steph who quickly translates for her. But you know, after a few minutes she gets the hang of our accent and the English starts to flow much better. Don’t know how many I try on – but the trouble is that they already have their autumn stock in, and there is not so much summer stock left. I eventually leave with a pair of shorter trousers (still not really shorts) and three lighter tops. We actually walk out empty handed from the next store, even though they had better shorts, there is none left in my size. And if you want to know what an Australian size 22 is in German sizing – then Google it – I really don’t like that big a number!!

We also stop for a new pair of sunglasses for me (remember Michael lost my Cancer Council ones to the winds atop Ben Nevis in Scotland). One of the local Optik shops has a sale on and I find a polarised pair that don’t look too bad for the princely sum of €24.95 with what I think is a 10% sale discount. At the point of sale, the discount is calculated at 50% - a nice little surprise. Michael tips the salesman who has dredged up his (very good) school English of 20 years plus and suggests he has a beer on us – much to his delight!

The local war memorial tells the horrific price paid by German communities in WWI and WWII. In the First World War there were 670 local men lost while there were 1,000 in WWII. What a tragedy.

We head back for Steph’s place to offload the gear and get the car to go and visit Mutti. She is convalescing following her recent surgery and has moved to a rehabilitation hospital where she is getting physiotherapy and building her strength. She will be here for the next three weeks and while she has lost quite a bit of weight since we saw her last in January, she is looking remarkably good for someone of her age (88) who has just had major abdominal surgery. She still won’t use a walker though (because people will think she is old) and instead relies on her cane and my arm to come with us to the cafeteria for a cappuccino. We spend a couple of hours with her, filling her in on what we have seen and done. She dotes on Steph and it is lovely to see the love between grandmother and granddaughter.

On the way to see her, we drove past the
Kloster (Convent) at Lorch that dates back to 1102. But with only half an hour till closing time, we will come back so we can have a good look. Right next door though, is the site of the Roman settlement of Limes. While there is barely anything remaining of the original site now, the reconstructed timber sentry tower is quite impressive and Michael takes a look. This was the northernmost border of the Roman occupation in the area and there are small remnants of the wall to be seen along a walking trail. Maybe we can have a further look when we come back to look at the Kloster. A quick stop at the supermarket for Risotto ingredients for tonight finishes our day.

And Steph’s Risotto with chicken and vegetables is superb. Accompanied by a dressed salad, it finishes the day perfectly. And following dinner, we share the South African bottle of Café Culture wine I have nursed thus far. Eaten with 70% cocoa dark chocolate it is amazing. We all agree that it will never be our favourite wine, but rather something for a playful mood.

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