28 June 2005

Neckarvergnügen, part 3.


Sunday was the third day of the Neckarvergnügen, and the biggest day for us. Not only was Jeannette in the Sunday dragon boat races, but we were hosting our first party in Germany. The rationale was that our balcony sat at the mid-point of the races, and it would be a perfect place to enjoy a beer and cheer her team on. Funny thing is that on Friday, when we got home from work, there was a fence between our balcony and the river. The view was pretty limited. To make matters worse, on Saturday during the professional races, they would not even let people without special wrist bands down by the river to watch the race. I was all set for disappointment, but as luck would have it, on Sunday the security wasn't so tight (presumably since the races that day were non-professional), and even so, Jeannette managed to scrape up a wrist band for me. So, I was a terrible host and ran off every couple hours to photograph the races. This first picture is near the finish line of the 3rd race - Jeannette's team is in blue. They came in a very close 2nd on that race, putting them in 5th place overall, out of 9 teams.

If you ever wondered why they call them dragon boats, here is your clue. This photo is after the first race. Jeannette is signalling what everyone thought - that her team came in first. Unfortunately, the offical race masters declared that they came in 2nd.

I think this is where they learned that it was only 2nd place on the 1st race. I say this from the several looks of disappointment in this picture. Except my always ethusiastic co-worker Heinrich, who is looking right at me in this picture.

Finally, another one with Jeannette looking very cheerful.

To wrap it up, the party was quite a success, I think. Jeannette's excellent cooking was appreciated by all, and it was a perfect day for sitting on the balcony, drinking radlers and chatting with friends in between the dragon boat races.

25 June 2005

The Neckarvergnügen, part 2.

You may be asking, "part 2? Where was part 1?". Well, as Jeannette pointed out, what I have been calling the Necakrfest is really the Neckarvergnügen. The real Neckarfest happens only once every four years. Like the world cup. Or the olympics. Or the US presidential election. I suppose that confusing the Neckarfest with the Neckarvergnügen would be like confusing the olympics with the world cup. Or the US presidential election.

Anyway... Last night we checked out the first night of the Vergnügen. There were several cheesy bands on the various stages, we sampled a beer or two and dipped our hot feet into the cold water.

One thing I saw that was interesting was these two kids beating on each other with inflatible baseball-bat shaped thingies that bear a striking resemblance to the flag of the U.S.A. Why would they be selling these in Germany? Why not sell them with the yellow, black & red colors of the German flag? Then I thought a bit more about it, and realized that there is only one purpose for these things. They look like baseball bats (roughly), but they would be so ineffective for baseball that using one for that would be like trying to empty the ocean with a tea cup. So that's not it. But wait, maybe for a really small kid, they could be used as a flotation device. But what parent will trust their toddler to that? I postulate that the only purpose they serve is for kids to whack each other without the chance of injury. That probably explains why it is covered with the "Stars & Stripes" rather than the ... er... whatever the Germans call their flag. Let's use the U.S. flag on our aggression stick! Why not, the US is now a nation known for attacking other nations without provocation or direct cause. It makes sense. But hey, I want to spin this in a good light, so I have come up with a good name for this toy. I call it the "anti-terrorism truncheon of freedom and democracy".

24 June 2005



It seems like alomst every month in Heilbronn there is some sort of festival happening in town. This month it is the Neckarfest, which takes place on the Neckar river just outside our apartment. In the last couple of days, the various kiosks have been set up, and docks have been constructed along the river, which people have been using for picnics and dips ino the water.

The picture shows one of the many mobile beer stands. I liked the saying on the side, which says "Don't bother passing us. The party won't start until we get there!". It's funny becasue it is true.

The weather this week has been extremely hot and humid. The festival starts tonight, and the weather forcast includes thunderstorms, hail and gale force winds. The perfect weather for a fest!

OK. The beer truck picture is lame. Here are a couple better ones.

This is a shipyard in the middle of Heilbronn that has always intrigued me. I really like the tracks are used to move the boat up and down the hill. And I was especially happy to see that I got the Wartberg tower and vineyard in the background (purely accidental). Of course, you can also see 'Media Markt', Germany's equivalent to Best Buy. I also laugh about the boat's name, Lauffen. It is probably named after the town just up river from here. But laufen (with one f) is the German verb for getting around by foot - it can be walking or running. (Which made it hard for me to talk to people about which parts of the marathon I ran and which parts I walked). Why does that make me laugh? Well, boats don't have feet, so they cannot laufen. It should be named fahren! Or, in keeping with the misspelling theme, fahhren.

This is a brand-spankin' new bridge over the Neckar at sunset. It opened to traffic about 2 months ago.

This is the tower acorss the river from our apartment. I think this is the first time the sky was nice and blue when I had my camera with me. I really like the sculpture on top of it. At first I thought the tower was somehow French territory, but the red, white & blue flag is Heilbronn's colors as well.

For some reason Jeannette really wanted to sit on this.

That's all folks. Keep your fingers crossed that we don't get blown away at the fest tonight.

21 June 2005


Allan's sunburn

This is what happens when I forget to put sunscreen on the tops of my hands. Ouch.

I have been a fair-skinned readhead all my life (at least as long as I can remember) and have had my fair share of sunburns. Some of them have been pretty nasty. But somehow every year I forget to put sunscreen on some fairly obvious place and I get burned. And I am always surprised at how often that new sunburn experience place comes in painful contact with something.

For the next couple of days, I think I will let Jeannette get the keys out, since it hurts to put my hands in my pockets.

Speaking of sun screen, can someone out there make a sun screen that doesn't feel like I am smearing snot all over my body when I put the stuff on?

20 June 2005

Stupid Error Messages

Altitude Error?

This error message comes from the software that I use to edit the raw data files from my digital camera. It is pretty clunky software, but if I have patience it generally gives me better results than I can achieve with other software (with a few exceptions).

Yesterday, while I was editing photos from the bike trip I talked about in yesterday's blog entry, a practice dragon boat race started outside my window. I grabbed my camera and shot some photos of it, in preparation for the real deal at next week's Neckarfest. After the excitement had died down, I plugged in my camera and copied the photos over to my computer like I always do. Thing is, one of the photos was completely garbled. It was strange - I have never seen this before on this software or with this camera. Other software could read the file correctly, but I can't save the file as a RAW file, which is what I want and need for my archival purposes.

So I did some exploring and found that just a few days ago a new version of the software was released. So I downloaded it, and today I got around to upgrading and trying to open the picture again. When I open the picture with the upgraded software, I get the above error message.

What the heck is an altitude error? I can make some guesses if we are talking about planes or GPS or something. But in reference to a digital photo? Why can't software manufacturers give us error messages that actually give us a clue as to how to solve the problem. If the message was "Sorry, but this image is corrupted and there is no way to read it properly.", I would live with it. But 'Altitude Error'? I'm an engineer, so I think my natural tendnecy is to try to fix errors when I know they exist - and it really irks me that there is no clue in this error message as to where to start. Of course, the program's help, the manufacturer's web site and google have no relevant topics.

19 June 2005

Aua, mein Po!


Today AOK (a large health insuance provider in Germany) sponsored "Natürlich Mobil 2005" (Natural Mobility 2005). I'm not sure if it was Germany-wide, but around Heilbronn they blocked off a 34 km stretch of Bundesstraße 27 (roughly equivalent to a U.S. highway in the states) between Heilbronn and Mosbach, so that bikers, joggers and skaters could take a naturally-powered trip along this beautiful stretch of highway that runs parallel to the Neckar river. This stretch of road is also part of the Burgenstraße, which links a huge number of castles together.

Needless to say, it was a beautiful trip, though we didn't make it all the way to Mosbach. We decided to turn around about 12 km away. The reason why was expressed beautifully by a German girl about the same time when she said "Aua, mein Po!" (Ouch! My ass!) I guess we haven't ridden our bikes enough to get good butt calluses.

In the photo above, I am looking at the map, trying to determine what we would be missing by turning around. We elected to drive the 22 km back instead of go all the way and have to take a train back, thus ruining the "all natural transportation" theme.

Despite the sunburn I recieved, it was a good time. (Note to self, don't forget sunscreen on the backs of your hands next time.) I have included a bunch of (what I think are) great pictures, as well.

This picture doesn't do the event justice - there were tons of people out on the B27 today, riding & skating along. I like this photo, because it shows Schloß Horneck in Gundelsheim, which is now being used as an Altenheim. Please note, people of the future. When I am old, should I need to be put into a nursing home, one like this one (in other words, it used to be something cool like a castle) is where I want to be.

Here, Jeannette has just ridden up a very steep hill and entered the grounds of Schloß Horneck.

This is the entrance to Schloß Horneck itself. I am amazed at how insanely blue the sky was.

Here I was getting all "artsy fartsy", taking pictures of towers and flowers at Schloß Horneck at the same time! Notice the bikers in the photo.

Another shot of Schloß Horneck and one of its smaller, auxiliary towers. Across the river, you can barely make out Burg Guttenberg. There are castles everywhere on this Burgenstraße!

Finally, here is a vineyard behind Schloß Horneck. Notice the extremely steep stairs. Jeannette wanted to point out to Lita and others living in Colorado Springs: "We have an 'incline' here to, but one doesn't use it for 'going for a workout' but for 'going to work'."

But wait, there is more! Yesterday, we wandered out of the house at about 11:00 to go shopping (one must do that on Saturdays, since stores are closed on Sundays here). Strangely enough, as we turned off the bike trail and on to the main road, there were 5 or so police vans and a bunch of cops in riot gear stading around. Hmm... Wonder what's up? There were also a lot more punks around than usual. We went along our way, and made occasional comments about the police presence that was higher than usual, and I decided it was because there were all these teenage music students playing in trios, quartets and larger groups in various places around the pedestrian area. Those music nerds (hey - I was one, so I can say it) need protection. Imagine the rowdy crowd that three flautists playing The Ants Go Marching could bring.

I did make a couple observations about German riot police.
1) There is equal opportunity. There were several women riot cops, and they looked equally capable of cracking heads as the men. At least one, more so.
2) German riot cops are not as scary looking as American riot cops. They wore green suits, not shiny black. Their batons were a nice wood tone, not shiny black. Their helmets were white with clear visors, not black. They didn't look like Darth Vader's elite guard, no they looked like people. I guess it helped that there weren't so many of them and they were casually hanging out by the biergarten, not advancing in a line with weapons drawn.

After our bike ride today, we pulled the free paper out of our mailbox, and found out what the deal was. Turns out there was a Neo-Nazi demonstration in Heilbronn on Saturday. The few riot cops near us were actually there in case the anti-fascist demonstration (the counter-demonstration) that started nearby a couple hours later got out of hand.

The paper mentioned that there were about 100 Neo-Nazi marchers protected by 400 police. On the other hand, there were 300 counter-protesters.

The interesting thing... apparently there were some beer bottles and eggs thrown at the Neo-Nazis. Two suspects were arrested. It seems like if that would have happened in the states, at the first sign of something that might remotely be perceived as violence, the cops would have cracked heads, tear-gassed everyone and dragged as many people to jail as they had room in their trucks.

17 June 2005

Exploding Toads and Poisonous Caterpillars

I got an email from my friend Carrie today, informing me that

Between [the poisonous caterpillars] and the exploding toads,
that Deutchland is a kooky place!

Luckily I haven't run into any of these nasties yet, but I will keep my eyes open for them and other kooky things.

16 June 2005

I'm one step closer....

...to being a V.I.P. thanks to the V.I.P. reflection effect. Let me explain...

A few months ago, I mentioned my friend Greg who is a published author, which is pretty cool thing to say. "Sorry, I can't help you move, I am going to hang out with my friend, the published author."

Now it gets even better. Now I can say "Sorry, I can't help you sand your mother's floor, I am going to hang out with my friend, the radio personality".

So today I got an email from his wife:

Date: Thu, 16 Jun 2005 09:38:19 -0500
From: Martha Stolze
Subject: Greg on NPR

Greg was interviewed yesterday by Bob Garfield, one of the hosts for NPR's show On The Media.
The story they are doing should be aired this weekend. For those of you who know what a big
NPR geek I am, you know that I think this is a REALLY big deal!

For those of you who live in the Chicago area, you can catch On The Media on Saturday at 3:00
on WBEZ 91.5 FM - or if you miss it, from the OTM web site


If not in the Chicago area, check your local NPR station's web site or the OTM site for schedule.

Cool! Since Greg is my friend from high school, and he is now a radio celebrity, which I would consider being a V.I.P., (wouldn't you?) according to Iggy Pop, I have become a V.I.P. in my own right.

OK, what I am really saying is that Congratulations are in order for Greg, and this is really cool. I'm happy for him, and if I were in Chicago, after listening to the show, I'd buy him a beer. Or 4.

14 June 2005

Linsen mit Spätzle

Linsen mit Spätzle

When they first served "Linsen mit Spätzle" in the cafeteria at work, I didn't think it would be very good. Lentils and noodles just doesn't sound all that appealing. Even after you toss a couple sausages on top. But the line in the cafeteria was longer than usual, and co-workers that normally ate lunch at their desks were coming just for this dish. So I had to try it.

It's really, really good. I was quite surprised, and I am now hooked. And, with the cafeteria at work has been closed for remodelling for the last couple months, we have been making it at home quite a bit. It is very simple and tasty. Probably not that bad for you either. Or so I hope.

10 June 2005

The Wonders of Nature

St. Pauli Ruine

What you are seeing here is a church in Dresden that has sat in ruins since WW2. Yet somehow the seed of a tree made it into some nook or cranny in the still-standing tower, and this tree has flourished in this ruin, dozens of feet from the ground, the ground (full of tree-friendly nutrients) that trees typically live on.

It just amazes me... the tenacity of nature. Every time I see plants or animals in strange places or thriving in harsh conditions, I am amazed. In a similar vein, I have a great picture of a beautful green plant in the middle of a sea of sand at the Great Sand Dunes National Monument in Colorado that goes along with this same theme - plants living somewhere that the mind says that they just can't. Remind me to share that one sometime.

For the record, the shell of this ruined church is now used for open-air theater & concerts. That's also pretty darn cool. I like how the Germans (and I am not implying that they are unique in this way) will actually use what Americans would consider an "eyesore" that would either be ignored and neglected or obliterated and replaced with a new generic strip mall.

09 June 2005

Requesting a Vowel Drop, ASAP


The sign on Straßenbahn #11 in Dresden, heading towards Zschertnitz. In case you are keeping score, it is Vowels: 2, Consonants 9.

You Could Also be My Son!

Darth Vader: You could also be my son!

OK, Star Wars Episode III has been out for a while now, so this is a bit late, but I'm gonna do it anyway. Saw this in Dresden Neustadt a couple weeks ago. It says "You could also be my son." Which is kinda cool in that "For an evil person, Darth Vader is really cool" way. Who, as a kid, after they got over the initial fear, wouldn't want Vader as a father. Some other kid messing with you at school? Dad can give him the force choke thing. The little leagee umpire makes a bad call? Dad can cut his "you're out" thumb off with his light saber. Late for school? Dad could get you there in no time in his T.I.E. fighter. Teacher gives a bad grade on your excellent (naturally) book report? Have dad command the Death Star to annihilate his house. The possibilities are endless. The downside would be getting help with math homework. It would be hard to concentrate on fractions with all that heavy breathing.

Speaking of Darth Vader, I read an interesting review of Episode III lately, and I really like (part of) what he says about Vader (note - the review has some strong language):

Darth Vader, a man so [expletive deleted] evil that three year olds [pee] their pants when they hear his name. As we all know from the other star Wars movies, Vader is like an intergalactic Mussolini, with the ridiculous Italian fashion sense, but a bigger asshole.
And as corny as Darth Vader is, he's a great villain. As long as someone's going to be pure evil, Vader's as good as it gets. Someday, all those losers who say they worship Satan just to get back at their parents are going to make up a Church of Darth Vader and kill feral cats in his name. At the same time, though, Vader has charisma, and you know he gets laid. A lot. So you gotta admire him.

08 June 2005

The International Beer Mile

Reflections & Jeannette

When we were in Dresden a couple weeks ago, there was a festival in town called the "International Beer Mile", which consisted of live music, kiosks selling festival food and, of course, beer! There was a wide range of beer from Poland, Germany, Beligium, the Czech republic and the 2nd music stage seemed to be sponsored by Guinness, which means Ireland was there too. So, it is more international than Waterloo International Airport, which only gets that title because there is an infrequent jaunt to Canada that originates there.

We had some great beer, including a Belgian cherry beer that tasted kind of like thick cherry kool-aid with a shot of vodka in it. We heard some fun music, and enjoyed watching the drunks dance along.

You can experience a few yards of the "Beer Mile" here, reflected in Jeannette's sunglasses.




After spending the 4.5 years before moving to Germany in dry* Colorado Springs, and the 5.75 years before that in sweltering* Austin, it is amazing to see how brilliantly green it can be in a place that gets lots of rain (the opposite of Colorado Springs*) and not too much scorching sunlight (unlike anyplace in Texas, including Austin*). I am just amazed at the amount of green I see around Heilbronn, and it reminds me of being back in Iowa. What I don't remember from Iowa is the flowers everywhere. Some are natural, but others are only there by human intervention (like the flower ball, above). I don't care how they got there, they are all quite beautiful and brighten my day.

* Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed Colorado Springs and I loved Austin. But the former is dry the latter is sweltering, especially in the summer.

05 June 2005

An Overview of Heilbronn


In my first major physical exertion after the half-marathon last week, today we biked up to the top of Wartberg, a fairly large hill just north of Heilbronn covered with vineyards. At the top of this hill is a tower, which was a lot of fun to climb up after biking the steep hill. The exertion was worth it, because at the top is a splendid view of the Heilbronn region, and despite the hazy weather, I decided to share a photo of it.

Let me orient you a little bit. Just slightly to the center of the picture you can see a bridge crossing the river. This river is the Neckar (well, a small part of it, the rest is off to the right somewhere). Anyway, a little to the right and a little down is our apartment. It is pretty much blocked by big trees. Also to the right of the bridge, and up is a big white building with a vertical blue stripe. That building with the blue stripe belongs to the company I work for, though the building I work in is not visible due to the building with fine red vertical stripes in front of it. That building houses the grocery store we typically shop at. To the left of the bridge, just past the trees and down a little bit is the Götzentürm, a nice tower with a great sculpture on top of it. If you keep going left, you will seee a big tower with blue scaffold around it. That is the Killianskirche, which has an incredible carved wood altar inside, parts of which date back several hundred years.

OK, so there you have it. Some important places in Heilbronn for you all to see. (If you have trouble finding them, click the picture it will take you to Flickr, where I have marked the places I refer to). Now before you show up at our door, please call first!

04 June 2005

Sister City

Back in the USA, it seemed like having a sister city meant that there was an annual student exchange in high school, and that's about it. The places seemed so far away, so far that chances are that 99% of my classmates would never see the place, and the foreign exchange student was the only contact we would get, and being in high school at the time, I barely got past the "wow! that French/Spanish/German/Italian/whatever girl is so exotic!", which at the time for me meant "pretty" and "wonder if she would go to homecoming with a total nerd like me?". (For those that are wondering, none of them did, but at least I got signatures in my yearbook).

Anyway, here in Heilbronn, we have several sister cities, one of which is Beziers, France. In the overall scheme of things, Beziers is not very far away, and it is actually feasible to go for a visit. And that's why for the last couple of days, the downtown area has been full of french music, french food & french cars. They even brought along the buiding in the photo.

Oh ok, not really, I just stole that image from google images, but the guy at the tourism booth made made some pretty convincing arguments to go for a visit. So who knows, maybe someday soon I will finally visit a sister city. I guess it doesn't seem so "exotic" anymore, but that doesn't mean it won't be fun. I think this is what a sister city should be. Far enough away that they won't stop in unexpected, but close enough to visit every once in a while.