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Lighting up the Christmas Spirit

Baden Wuerttemberg and Alsace - December 2011

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With a hop skip and a jump I landed in Germany...Stuttgart to be exact.

I was on my way to Offenburg.
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Passing through immigration was amusing. The officer looked at my passport, and then at the computer, before she glanced up at me with a cheeky grin and said in German, “You speak German right?!”…Man…even though I have a new passport with no German stamps in it, my life in Germany is well and truly embedded in their system...I think I looked more sheepish than ever before and the sweat poured down my forehead because now I was actually going to have to speak German..Sheeesh…ok, I’m fluent, having spoken the language for 20 years, but this Spanish experience, seems to have short-circuited my brain, and every time I open my mouth, Spanish comes out….so, very slowly and with a Latin American twang , I said in German, “Ja, I speak German but my German is terrible because I have been learning Spanish”…oh..it sounded awful!...so stunted... I've never spoken German so poorly.

She was lovely and asked how long I was staying, to which I slowly managed to say, 1 month and when she wanted the date and kept repeating it on her request despite my answer, it was only when she said “ein und zwanzigste”, that I realised I’d been saying “veintiuno de enero” (twenty first of January)…tja...just the wrong language...again....it was going to take a bit to get back into the language.

I think the most perplexing part is that I understand pretty much everything but just don't register what language it is I'm being spoken to in. A common problem with the third language, I'm told.

We chuckled and she wished me well and that was it. I felt like I’d hit the big world again, and I’m embarrassed to say I spoke a fair bit of English whilst trying to find the train to the main station and because I kept bumping into Spanish speakers on the way down to Offenburg, I was covered for the rest of the journey!

Baden Wuerttemberg is made up of both provinces with the Badisch region previously lying along the Rhein river, bordering France and Switzerland, and the Wuerttemberg region located further inland and bordering onto Bavaria.

The people of Baden Wuerttemberg are pretty proud and enjoy not speaking high (standard) German, as is expected of them.

Many Germans struggle to understand their musical lilt...but I just find it to sound beautiful.

The state itself is economically successful, holding many of the most prestigious universities and colleges of Germany. Einstein even came from the state and many of the Patents from Germany come from here too.

I've always been thrilled by the quiet success of this state and amused that so few people are aware of it or aspire to come to the region. As far as I'm concerned it's one of the most beautiful parts of Germany and I'm sure many a German would be pleasantly surprised if they came. Refreshingly it isn't overrun with tourism.

Throughout the year there are cultural festivities with the locals participating in every event...and this can't be said for all of Germany..in some other states certain times of year pass by without you having realised the event had even happened.

Further the food in the region is fabulous. The quality is excellent and they have many of the top restaurants in all of Germany.

Companies like Daimler Chrysler, Porsch, SAP, Vivil, Burda, only to name a few are based here.

So I felt like I was heading home...and it kind of is, considering the years I've lived in Germany.
That’s what this month in Germany was all about for me...a time to catch up with old friends.

Much of my business career has been based in the country or dealing with it, yet I'd never been away as long as time, so with a lot of excitement I arrived into my town...Offenburg.

It’s lies on the Rhein river and is about 20 minutes away from Strasbourg, in France.

It’s known to be the gateway to the Black Forest and it is where the train lines split with one heading down to Switzerland, and another heading into the forest itself.

As you roll ito town, you see the Black Forest licking at the heals of the grapevines that adorn the grapevine fields as far as your eye can reach. The villages are gorgeous, and filled with Fachwerk houses.
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Being Christmas, everyone was in jolly spirits. Christmas lights brightened up the city at night.

I planned 2 weeks to chill out here and I was keen to get to a few places I thoroughly enjoy.

Gengenbach being one of them.

It is one of Europes most beautifully kept medieval towns and the locals are proud to announce that they have the largest advents calender in the world now, with the windows of the townhall displaying a new window decoration each day as the count down towards Christmas is made.

I had arrived just before Christmas, so with my Guest parents, I was able to enjoy the Christmas market just before it closed.
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German Christmas markets are wonderful..you can just smell Christmas in the air. you find spiced wine that has been heated, to arm your hands. Christmas foods of all sorts are sold, and then there are the market favourites of Sausages, Flammkuchen, and more.

One of my favourite foods of the area is Flammkuchen! Yummo!

I love this stuff. It might look a bit like a pizza to some, but it isn't. The base is paper thin...it's spread with a Creme Fraiche or Sauercream type base and then sprinkled with speck and onion on top, or you can have a sweet one with apple and cinnamon...that is flamboyantly presented to you flaming on top!

Of course there are loads of other variations of toppings these days, but it's a great meal.

Bread baking is so rife in the area, and old stone ovens were traditionally used for this...and in many homes still are. The way the oven was tested to see if it was hot enough was to bake Flammkuchen made from the remaining dough. Then after a nice lunch and when the bread dough had risen, about 30 or so loaves were placed in the oven to bake for the family's monthly supply. Num num num....

The Nuns of Gengenbach still bake their Saturday breads to sell to the Public.

The food of the region is enjoyed with the delicious local wines of the region. The Spaetburgender Red Wine being my favourite. The whites and reds are typically pinot based and delicious throughout this part of Germany and Alsace.

At different times of the years you can appreciate the various traditions. In fact Germany is just coming into it's fasent time as you read this...it's also known as carnival. When all the spooky things are scared away ready for spring to arrive. Each town has a figure, mascot like and they appear in processions or even sometimes when you're minding your own business shopping...many a person has jumped in fright at a witch suddenly popping up behind them as they were windowshopping! Yep...Offenburg is famous for its witches, and they perform a dance around a massive bonfire. The masks are carved from wood and beautifully grotesque and they wear straw shoes...shoes that pretty much everyone in Offenburg wears as house shoes now.

It is most definitely something not to be missed if you're considering coming to the region in February.

My Christmas days were wonderful. My guest father and I had fun putting up the tree and decorating it together. This is traditionally done on Christmas Eve, and this was followed on by a fun night of present giving and simply taking pleasure in the spirit of the event. Of course, coffee and cake and cookies were enjoyed.
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Over the Christmas days we enjoyed so much good food in fact.

Pork sausage breakfasts with the matching wheat beer...typically a bavarian tradition but no harm eating it here.
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Then of course we had the traditonal Christmas duck for Christmas day lunch. Very delicious indeed!

New Years Eve we had a wonderful evening at one of the nicest restaurants in the region..it's called Hirsch and based in a town over the river from Gengenbach, in Berghaupten.

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And an absolute old favourite of mine is a restaurant called Zeller Brugg in Zell-Weierbach. Zell-Weierbach is such a beautiful part of Offenburg...and unfortunately it rained so much the day I went I couldn't get any photos..but it's stunning.
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After a few lazy and well fed Christmas days, a walk in the forest was welcome.

My friends picked me up and we drove a little further into the hills that reach into the forest. Many paths lead through the Black Forest and many a tower has been erected to admire it and surrounds. Brandeck tower is located at the highest point in the Offenburg region. It was fun walking there with Hans-Peter, Leon and Zoe.
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It get's really dark in some places, and this is how it won its name...

You need to be a little careful though because when storms pass through here, they literally rip the trees out by the roots before thumping them down. One such storm passed through in days before we went for this walk and the damage was all around!
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Back in 2000 when everyone was worried about Y2K, instead of this disaster, a cyclone passed across England, France and here..you might recall the New Years celebrations being somewhat dampened in these places. Well it tore the Black Forest to pieces and the scars are still evident as far as you can see.

From the tower on a clear day you can see right across the Rhine basin to Alsace and even see Strassbourg's Dom reaching out into the sky! This was one of those days.
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You get a great view of the Rhine basin, where a glacier passed through millions of years ago.

From here you can also look right up the Kinzigtal (valley) that heads deep into the Black Forest.

If you have time you can even visit loads of Roman ruins in the area...the mountains made such great lookout along the basin, and the Rhine itself was a major trading route across the continent.
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Along the paths you might come across a spring or two. Over time proper fountains have been erected where loads of locals gather pure water to drink.

If you look closely you can also see the paths that foresters have used over the generations to transport trees in winter down into town. They wait for it to snow and then slide the trunks down these paths.

Other days in Autumn, the clouds can be so low, that when you wander up the hill, you see the hill tops poking out of the clouds like islands....it's just spectacular.

Of course so much fresh air just got us hungry again!

A couple of times, whilst I was in town, I enojyed Raglette wth friends.
It's so much fun to eat with a nice group of people. Raglette originally comes from Switzerland, where the cheese was placed on a stake next to the fire, and the melted cheese sliced onto bread. These days pretty much everyone has a machine and they are used regularly.
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Then peel a potatoe and throw your topping on top! MmmMmm!

It'd been years since I'd last eaten it...note for me..organise a party of 8 when I'm back and fire up my raglette machine. Yummo!

Now right next to Ohlsbach is Ortenberg...and it's fame is the gorgeous Castle on the hill that proudly stands over looking the region.

AND it's a youth hostel...so you have every opportunity to sleep in one of the pretty towers!
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One thing I can't fail to mention is that when you stay in the area you can receive a transport ticket as part of your accomodation. It's fabulous. If you don't have a car to get around you can get pretty much anywhere in the area for only 80Euro Cents a day. And this means all the way down to Switzerland or up to the north of the state as well as inland...pretty good deal!

So I used it not only in town, but set off to a couple of cities a bit further out.

One of these was Triberg.

Is just gorgeous. It's a picturesque town deep in the Black forest.
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It was snowing so beautifully that day, so much in fact that some were only able to spend the day shovelling it aside.

Others knew it was perfect weather for Sledding! I've always wanted to get one of those gorgeous wooden ones...one day.

Throughout Germany you often find murals painted on the sides of houses.
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If you have a car you can make a fantastic day trip driving out here, and stopping at the open air Farmhouse museum on the way.... or spend the afternoon searching for a Blackforest clock

The Black Forest museum in town It's great. Not only do you get to enjoy all the traditional costumes but also the clock types that were made over the years, and their development into organs, and music boxes and more.
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I'd heard that Triberg had it's Christmas light and sound show on and that is partly why I went when I did. I was so keen to see the fire show that I'd heard was spectacular. The guys performed right over the waterfall itself.
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All the usual stall food was there, including to my delight "Schupnudeln"...it's very specific to the region and made up of a hand made noodle with sauerkraut and speck...of course by this cold temperature, I had to get Gluehwein to warm my hands!
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Another trip I headed over to Strassbourg...why not pop into France when it's so close.

Strassbourg is so easy to get to from Offenburg and only 20 minutes away. I love how you can suddenly pop over the border into another culture...although Alsacians do speak a language that sounds about 60% German! I managed to get by and the french will speak Englsh and German if you ask politely. You can also try a trick I just learned form someone esle, ask in Spanish if they speak Spanish, and wait for the uncomfortable surprise, before you offer them English (or German)....then see how they jump at the opportunity to speak English!

Strassbourg is great though. The main station has been redesigned and enclosed in a modern building.
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The streets are really pretty and intricate.
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And like for much of the region, the roads and paths are still pebbled....believe me, my heels noticed it...poor shoes!

Incredibly old buildings are maintained and functioning businesses. There's one right next to the Dom which is famous.

And yes, there's the Dom itself.
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The river is pretty and you can even ride a boat along it.
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Whilst I was there, the Christmas market was still on, which was great. Gluehwein, flammkuchen and all sorts of other goodies were available, amongst tonnes of pretty gift ideas.
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The streets were also lit up along with a bunch of Christmas windows.
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That evening I went to a bistro that had been recommend to me by a couple of people, and the food was simply devine. I enjoyed the 3 course menu and picked good old snails, pork cheeks, and creme brulee, all paired off with some delicious pinot wine.
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With a short train ride back to Offenburg, I found myself happily snug at home again.

Freiburg was the other city I made it back to and always take a lot of pleasure visiting. It's really beautiful.
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A very old shopping centre stands proudly next to the Muenster
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The market still surrounds the Muenster and you can get some fantastic produce directly from the farmers.
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The city is famous for it's waterways...and I don't just mean the venice type rivers that flow through the city.
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But pretty much everywhere you go you have to watch your step because a running fountain has been worked into the paths of the city. They might seem like gutters at first but they're not. Kids love them and spend a lot of time throughout the year, skipping from one side to the other.
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Even practicing on natural drainage points.

The other objects to watch out for are the trams. Freiburg's trams slink around the streets like catapillars. They're extra long and manage to squeeze through the old city gateways. It's quite the sight.
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The streets are beautifully pebbled too.
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And the city is filled with great antique shops and all sorts of other boutiques.

The old Townhall is right next to the new one....you try and work out which is which!
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The Muenster is really interesting, and famous for it's spouts and gargoyles.
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One almost shocking one, is of a person "mooning"....in the direction of the person's house who paid their salaries is supposed to have lived! No idea if the guy lived to tell that tale though..but his artwork definitely remains his legacy!


Take the time to walk around the Muenster and observe all the detail...it's can be quite hilarious.

But in the end Offenburg is the city for me. It might not have the same character as Freiburg but it has it's own life. It's a student city, with plenty of cafes and bars about town.

It even has a great Museum that covers everything from Roman history to natural history. Whilst I was there it had an exposition on the history of Offenburg.

I mentioned earlier that Offenburg and surrounds is quietly successful.

Most Germans don't even know where it is, often refering to a place called Offenbach, just south of Franfurt...and judging by the looks on their faces, that place must be pretty unexciting.

Offenburg on the other hand is a hidden little gem.
The beauty is that noone knowing about it...and maybe because of this a bunch entrepeneurs have been able to quietly make it their home for years..Influencing the world in ways they don't know.

For example....Burda...Who or what you might ask...well Mrs Burda started making clothing patterns after the war because woman generally couldn't afford to buy clothes and were dependent on making their own. From this she grew into a producing clothes design magazines, and if you go into a habdashery store today, pretty much anywhere in the world, you'll no doubt find the Burda templates. Further, the magazines themself are often sold in News Agencies...go have a look.

Many other well know German publications come from here too.

Then just up the road you have VIvil...they make mints and sweets of all types.

Then there is Tesa...well...Tesa is a brand name and they make sticky tape...it's so big in Germay that it's brand name is often used to replace the term sticky tape!

Of course there are many many more examples throughout town and in the region. like the world leader in industrial dough mixers. Another guy patented and bolt that's used for quick exchanging of Grand Prix Motorcar tyres.

Even the Frankenstein family make an appearance, due to one of them marrying a fair local maiden hundreds of years ago and acquiring much land in the region....and yes that the very Frankenstein family of the Frnakenstein glory....supposedly an ancestor was into grave digging and researching corpses....and from this came the story! Offenburg simply has their family winery though...and the wine is delicious.

The city itself used to be a huge rag trade centre with the river in town being used to drive the mills. At other points in history is was also the centre of advertising in the world for enamel and glass advertising.
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But it was in town on my last day that I stumbled across a beautiful German custom....when a baby is born it's name and details are posted outside the house or flat's windows to let the world know what the stork brought home!

So you see Offenburg is a fabulous little place and a great base to tour this region from. There's so much more than what I've been able to show you...but you'll have to head over yourself and dIscover it yourself!

Bis bald!

Posted by worldweave 01:07 Archived in Germany

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