Snowy Transformations

I arrived in a freezing Germany on 9 December 2017. My goal: to visit the Christmas market at Marienplatz, Germany. Bundled up in five layers of my paltry southern hemisphere winter wear, my eyes watering in the cold, I braved the outdoor experience alongside my husband.

A gluhwein stand

The atmosphere was marvellous. Stands of hot chocolate and gluhwein steamed invitingly in the biting air, while visitors and tourists waddled past in their padded coats. Just taking off my gloves to examine little goodies at the stands froze my bony fingers. Shopkeepers helpfully spoke English when I looked blank at the German tongue, and people seemed generally cheerful despite the minus one degree Celcius temperature. It took three trips to the market before I had decided on what to buy. South African Rands don’t make much of a dent in Euros. And, to my practical mind, many of the ornaments and trinkets, nice as they were, wouldn’t have been very useful.

I settled on buying traditional food. The stand that got my Euros was the one

A strange kissing companion

that offered tasting samples and I enthusiastically bought packs of stollen (a fruit bread) and lebkuchen (a ginger-type biscuit) for friends and family back home after nibbling the delicious little blocks.

We had just got back to our hotel room when it began to snow in earnest. I was delighted. In two hours every horizontal surface I could see was covered in soft whiteness. But of course, with icy weather comes travel problems. My departing aeroplane that night had to undergo special de-icing procedures before it could safely take off. I have to say that this was the best part of my trip. Because I have a cockpit pass I was permitted to sit in the cockpit for taxi and takeoff and what a view I got. Before taking off the Airbus A340 was surrounded by three giant de-icing vehicles. Like weird-looking Transformers (I think the creators of the film based their models on these machines), the trio scooted back and forth around the wings and tail spraying 60 degree Celcius liquid across its surface. Using a checklist designed for such conditions the pilots did all the requisite checks and procedures before lifting off the icy runway. Beneath us the whitened landscape twinkled in gentle yellow lights until it disappeared beneath a layer of cloud.

Winter lights

What a treat. Sitting in the cockpit was much more exciting than any movie I could have watched on the aeroplane’s entertainment system.

My funny husband

Labyrinth of Lies is more than a story of history

A few years ago I visited Dachau Concentration Camp in Germany. My husband and I travelled just 32-odd kilometres to get there from Munich. I remember walking back into the small town after the English tour. Only a few hundred metres down the road we turned a corner and bright, summery shrubbery obscured the site of many deaths from view. I think this is what it was like for many Germans during WWII. An extermination camp operated, mere kilometres from where ordinary Germans lived. And residents either chose to ignore its existence or were unaware of it.

2015-09-23-1443011442-842506-labyrinthoflies

Alexander Fehling in the subtly and brilliantly acted Labyrinth of Lies. Image source: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/marshall-fine/the-week-in-movies-labyri_b_8182496.html

Decades later of course the world has enough information about what went on in these camps to be appalled. Perpetrators have been prosecuted. Camps like Dachau have been made into museums so that we can’t escape history. But it wasn’t always like this. The film Labyrinth of Lies makes that clear. Set in Frankfurt less than two decades after the war viewers of this movie are confronted with a Germany of silence. Victims hesitant to speak up. Nazis living and working as bakers, mechanics, teachers in towns alongside their victims, not revealing what they did. Officials unwilling to share what they knew. Finding the criminals was a mission, exacerbated by laws for their prosecution that didn’t yet exist, and reams and reams of paperwork and red tape.

One young prosecutor, instilled with a sense of justice, “stumbles” across a victim, and a journalist passionate to tell the truth. And so together they begin what would lead to the first large trial in Germany of SS officers who were responsible for the deaths of thousands in Auschwitz. Alexander Fehling as the prosecutor Johann Radmann is outstanding in his role. Subtleties of facial expression and body language reveal more than words as the actor moves his character from ignorance, through duty then horror, to passion, despair and determination.

Labyrinth of Lies is more than a film about history. It reveals the human heart and poses the question that, had we been in the position of those Nazi officers, would we have behaved any differently?

Labyrinth of Lies is in German with English subtitles. It opened at Ster Kinekor Cinema Nouveau in South Africa on Friday 30 September 2016.

Olympic Delights

Garmisch-Partenkirchen is a beautiful mountainous region one-and-a-half-hours by train from Munich. It’s a well-known (think Olympics) ski resort in winter and a simply lovely walking/hiking area in summer. My husband and I dashed around Munich recently from one train station to another trying to figure out the German-encrypted directions on our maps before making it (correctly) to Munchen Hauptbahnhof in a sweltering heap. The overground train return trip was very pricy (65 Euro each) but took us through soft-green countryside, dotted with curious wooden huts and giant versions of my cuckoo clock at home. When we reached Garmisch we travelled 10 minutes on another train to the foot of the Alpspitz where we bought a cable car return journey up the mountain.

IMG_4803

Looking across the Garmisch valley from Alpspitz. Photo: Brenda Daniels.

IMG_4788

An unfriendly cow on Alpspitz. Photo: Brenda Daniels.

Some handsome German men joined our cable car ride bearing staggeringly huge backpacks, which, it turned out, were paragliders. At the top we got to see the pair lift off with ease and glide with their colourful chutes down the curving valley. We followed some way on foot enjoying the striated rocks, meandering hikers, and bell-clunking cows. Well, not the mildly aggressive beast that charged us at any rate. After a delicious apfelstrudel mit vanillesauce (apple strudel and custard) we decided to skip the train back to Garmisch and walk instead. The 10-minute train ride was an hour by foot and by the end I was quite jealous of the cyclists that sailed past us at frequent intervals. We arrived back in Munich tired but happily marked with a German sunglasses tan.

My brief encounter with Garmisch-Partenkirchen was fortunately not at an end. On the aeroplane back to South Africa next evening I chose to watch the film Eddie the Eagle before going to sleep. Eddie the Eagle is the true story about the very likeable Eddie Edwards (imagine calling your child that?) who, through sheer determination, became the first Briton to do ski-jumping at the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics. And where did he first practice this thrilling sport? In Garmisch-Partenkirschen! Against the wintry landscape in the film the ski jump looked normal. Against the velvet-green hills we had just seen the ski jump looked like a giant bleached waterworld slide. Eddie the Eagle stars Taron Egerton as Eddie and Hugh Jackman as his grudging coach, Bronson Peary. It is a delightful movie. Watch it while the 2016 Rio Olympics are on. You’ll love it.

Walking cities: a travel post

Travel post by Brenda Daniels

Earlier this year A Feast of Tales featured a review of the documentary The Human Scale. We mentioned that the film discussed the growth of cities, their emphasis on urbanisation and the motor car, and the resultant erosion of people contact and public life. The film also listed a number of cities around the world that had tried to reverse this trend by introducing kilometres of cycle lanes and by changing roads into pedestrian areas.

I have visited four international cities this year: Washington DC (USA), Munich (Germany), Beijing (China) and London (England). What follows is my own brief experience of these cities as a pedestrian (and in one instance as a cyclist), and how the conditions of that experience affected my enjoyment of the city.

Walking in Washington DC

I visited Washington DC in January – perhaps not the best time of year to judge this city’s pedestrian-friendly places. My husband and I stayed in a hotel very near Ford’s Theatre, the place where Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. Our trips to this museum and the natural history museum passed no vegetation or pedestrian areas. Whilst the roads were quiet and I never felt unsafe when crossing them, I felt the real chill of the winter weather on the concrete surroundings and didn’t enjoy the lack of atmosphere. I rate this third place on my “walking” scale out of four.

Brenda Daniels wrapped up in Washington DC. Photo: Bruce Daniels

 

Brenda Daniels wrapped up in Washington DC. Photo: Bruce Daniels

Walking (and cycling) in Munich

After much persuasion my husband eventually consented to us hiring bicycles on our March trip to Munich. Well, he loved the cycling so much he left me in his dust (metaphorically speaking), as he raced along the miles and miles of VERY SAFE and well-laid-out cycle tracks in the city. Munich is a beautiful, historic, character-filled place and is full of properly regulated walking and cycle tracks, as well as large pedestrian areas in the city centre. I thoroughly enjoyed it and hope to visit many times in the future. I give it second place (only very close behind first place) on my “walking” scale. 

Brenda Daniels lagging behind in Munich. Photo: Bruce Daniels.

Brenda Daniels lagging behind in Munich. Photo: Bruce Daniels.

Walking in Beijing

May was a lovely time of year to visit this VERY busy city. We went to some lovely monuments and palaces that were set in vast gardens with waterways and beautifully interesting trees. These public places were full of locals enjoying the outdoors. However, getting to these tourist attractions meant catching the underground train and walking many kilometres (I think we did 12 in one day) along VERY busy roads. At one stage of our walk, while trying to decipher a Chinese SMS on my mobile phone, I fell headlong INTO the road, leaving a fair portion of my elbow skin on the tar before making it back to the hotel.

My overall impression of Beijing: very busy roads with LOTS of traffic. It gets fourth place on my “walking” scale.

Taking a break in a small not so busy area of Beijing

Taking a break in a small not so busy area of Beijing

Walking in London

London is the ultimate when it comes to my “walking tourist” experience. Even catching a bus (that uses biofuels) to Hyde Park on a busy August day was a pleasure; from the top deck of the bus we got to see flower-bedecked pubs, bougainvillea-clad restaurants, and topiary-decorated hotels. Hyde Park was beautiful. Wide, flat pathways, lined with huge oak trees, miles of flat, soft grass, the odd monument (Albert to be precise), and a tea stop at Lake Serpentine, all made walking in this city of cities a real delight. My favourite, London gets first out of four on my “walking” scale.

Bruce Daniels heading out in Hyde Park. Photo: Brenda Daniels.

Bruce Daniels heading out in Hyde Park. Photo: Brenda Daniels.

Environment-friendly bus. Photo: Brenda Daniels.

Environment-friendly bus. Photo: Brenda Daniels.

Continue reading