On Saturday, we took the train over to Augsburg, about a 45 minute trip.
First of all, I love the public transportation system here. We bought a weekend ticket that allowed us to travel for half price. The trains are smooth, on time, and pretty.
Second of all, Augsburg is not another version of Munich. It is older and, this is odd to say but I’ll say it anyway, it feels more complex. Its like Munich is singing the Hakuna Mitata song while Augsburg is brooding over the consequences of leadership. Augsburg traces its beginning to the year 15 BC when a couple of the Caesar’s step-sons are sent to set up a Roman fort on some key North/South East/West trade routes (thus the name – Augustus). Munich doesn’t hit the map for several more centuries and even then its main claim to fame is as a bridge over the Isar River on the Salzburg to Augsburg route. As I understand it (and am also summarizing the situation grossly), Munich was a small town for most of its existence until post-WWII Soviet occupation of Eastern Germany encouraged a number of German capitalists to relocate immediately.
Beloved and I should probably plan these get-out-of-town events a little more carefully but so far we like the jump-the-train-and-figure-it-out method. We arrived at the station, got our bearings and walked toward the Rathouse. Yes, the City Government buildings are called Rathaus. I don’t really know why and I’m enjoying not knowing why. I just file it alongside Ausfarht which has been entertaining still-in-junior-high-mentally Americans since the invention of the Fahrzeug (aka car).
At the train station we noticed a small group of folks shouting and holding up signs while being watched by nearly the same number of Polizei. Welcome to Augsburg, we’re more serious here. Later, we’d see them again marching through the middle of the Christmas market and interrupting the Alpine Horn players. Turns out they were protesting fur as a wardrobe option.
The next thing we noticed was how freaking cold it was! Our portable thermometers (aka iPhones) reported the temperatures as being -2 C. Which is cold to this Californiated Oregonian. It started snowing last week and it hasn’t warmed up since then. When I get out the average temperature charts for Munich, I’m looking at another three months of average highs of 2 degrees. Or less. In Oregon – below freezing weather is a 48 hour to week long event. In California – its the five minutes a passing thunderstorm drops a few thousand small hailstones. A quick stop for a hat and glove replenishment (we were trying to hold out till the hat and gloves that got mistakenly packed for the boat trip arrived) and we entered the medieval part of the town.
“Medieval part of town” translates in tourist speak as the part of town with narrow streets. And in this case, lots of Christmas Market booths scattered here and there and completely occupying the Rathaus Square. German Christmas markets are a long standing tradition. Little booths are set up in various squares all selling hats and gloves, Christmas Star things, a kazillion nativity sets that are so spendy you just buy one figure per year, candles, adorable baby clothes, amazing felt slippers and food and wine. Specifically Glühwein, aka Mulled Wine but better. Also, Dampfnudels. A bread like dumpling object that is served with a vanilla cream sauce. (How to use the word Dampfnudel in a sentence (use your Homer Simpson voice): “mmmmm Damphnudels…”)
We kind of tripped over St. Anna, the cathedral where Martin Luther holed up for a year or so while discussing with the Pope a few suggested reforms he had in mind for the Catholic Church. The church is old. Old in that way that tends to keep us Anglo Americans quiet.* The first version of the church was built in 1320 but its been expanded a few times since then by people with lots of money. In the 1500’s, the richest man in the world (and by world, at that time, we mean Euro-centric) lived in town and threw a few thousand gold bars or something at the building to expand it enough to incorporate his family tomb.
The building itself tended to pass back and forth between Catholic and Protestant (aka Lutheran, there are no other Protestants in Germany. At least not officially enough to get a piece of the church taxes) over the next few centuries including serving as a refugee house for Protestants being thrown out of Vienna. It is now very Lutheran and has some great displays set aside to help hapless tourists get orientated to one of the moments when the world changed. I was baptized and raised in the Lutheran Church. I lit a candle in honor of my mother who has trouble remembering the Nativity Story these days.
On Sunday afternoon, we went down to the Oktoberfest grounds which is currently hosting a winter festival called Tollwood in one corner of this vast park. It was cold and windy walking there but when we came out onto the open grounds ….. oh my goodness!! Can mucus freeze in your sinus? More Glüwein, more food-on-a-stick and then a ride home on the Ubahn.
This week is busy with German lessons (heiße, heißt, heißen…), a church council meeting, dinner with new friends. We’re now ten days away from getting the keys to the new apartment and I’m ready. Here in the hotel, anyone with a key to the door knocks, pauses briefly, then just lets themselves in. “Hello, why yes, please come in,” I say to them as they walk past me. Seriously? I need my stuff. I need an oven. I need to know that someone isn’t going to walk in my door without waiting to be granted passage. Soon. We can see the boat heading for Hamburg now.
*As a West Coast Anglo American – I tend to think of farmhouses built in 1890 as being “old”. I think we’re cut off from older history due to a certain complete devastation of original inhabitants and our overall tendency to consider ourselves the center of the world. Just noting the distortions.