Karlsruhe Day 1:
Many moons ago, I had the privilege of working with Mr. G. We taught at the same school. To this day, he is one of the most interesting and intelligent people I’ve ever met. He’s travelled the world twice over; he has a deep-rooted passion for music that was instilled in him at a very young age; he has a clearly defined moral compass and holds strongly to his values; he has an opinion about just about everything under the sun. He’s my kind of guy. Despite the generational gap between us and the fact that our views and opinions sometimes differed, we could always engage in fascinating conversations with complete mutual respect and time would just melt away.
It is for these reasons that I was excited to visit Mr. G in Karlsruhe.
The added bonus, of course, was that I’d get to meet the captivating and delightful Britta. We’d met once briefly in Toronto, but I didn’t really know much about her. By the end of our four nights in Karlsruhe, though, I’d be sad to have to say goodbye. I loved her thoughtfulness, her silly sense of humour, and the way her face scrunches up ever so adorably whenever she laughed. Sadly, Britta was a bit under the weather during our time in Karlsruhe, so she wasn’t able to accompany us on too many outings.
Mr. G met us at the train station when we first arrived in Karlsruhe. We passed the afternoon catching up over tea/coffee. This would prove to be a common occurrence over the next few days, as coffee is Mr. G’s drug of choice, and it always provided us with ample time to chat about this or that. In fact, at one point, while at their apartment, Britta came across a photograph of Mr. G that she said perfectly encapsulated everything about him. He was sitting happily in a cafe, his coffee by his side.
We took a leisurely stroll around Karlsruhe Palace, during which time Mr. G made three seemingly preposterous claims: 1) The decision to establish the border between America and Canada along the 49th parallel played out in Karlsruhe. 2) The bicycle was invented in Karlsruhe. 3) The layout for the city of Washington, D.C. is inspired by the layout of Karlsruhe. While I can’t find anything online to verify the former statement, the latter two are 100% true. Baron Karl Von Drais of Karlsruhe holds the distinguished honour of having invented what we know as the bicycle. And during his time as American envoy to France, Thomas Jefferson visited Karlsruhe. Later on, he passed on 13 maps of European cities to the city planners in Washington, and one of them was Karlsruhe.
Mr. G took us back to his place, where the lovely Britta was waiting for us. We put our bags away and headed back into the city for some awesome Indian buffet. And so ended our first evening in Karlsruhe.
Karlsruhe Day 2:
Mr. G took us to Heidelburg to explore the city and check out the castle. We had about 40 minutes to kill while we waited for our connecting train in Mannheim, and so we visited the water tower and beautiful city centre.
It’s sad to see just how badly Mannheim–like so many other German cities–was bombed during the war. Buildings new and old stand side by side, but it’s the pre-war buildings that give these cities their charm. Walking through Germany is a terrible and tragic history lesson.
We eventually made our way to Heidelburg. It’s a quaint little town with your typical touristy shops, restaurants, and cafes lining the pedestrian-only brick roads of old downtown; but what makes Heidelberg special is the impressive Renaissance castle ruins that stand towering 80 metres above old downtown on the Konigstuhl hillside. If it weren’t for all the tourist shops, you could almost feel like you were in Beauty and the Beast or something.
The ruins were great and all, and the view from the castle certainly was beautiful, but my personal highlight was the world’s largest wine barrel. The photo doesn’t do it justice. It was at least two stories tal. Just look at that massive beauty. I imagined an alcoholic Scrooge McDuck jumping into that thing to go for a swim.
Before heading back, Mr. G and I stopped for dinner. I had this massive beast of a schnitzel. By the time we got back home, it was time for bed. After downing that schnitzel, that was more than fine by me.
Karlsruhe Day #3:
The day started out with a tour of Schwetzingen Palace. While exploring the home of some rich old white guy in a cross between MTV Cribs and the History channel isn’t something I’d usually do, whenever I do find myself in these kinds of places, it’s always fun to make fun of said rich old white guys for all the stupid things they did–like sleeping sitting up, or rubbing iron on their faces. Oh, and the inbreeding. So much inbreeding. Just looking at those portraits sent a shiver down my spine. Is there an 18th century European equivalent to the redneck banjo twang?
We weren’t allowed to take pictures, so I’m afraid I only have photos of the outside of the palace. However I didn’t think to take a photo of the palace itself. Oops.
After a quick stroll through the gardens, we stopped for coffee/tea (of course), and had some awesome cake. While sitting in this fancy-looking hoity toity cafe, I was surprised to see a dog on a leash sitting beside its owner. Apparently pets are allowed inside all establishments, be it a mall, restaurant, cafe, etc. Way to go, Germany!
When we got home, Britta was waiting for us with some delicious flammkuchen. It’s basically German pizza. It translates to “flame cake.” If you’re a fan of thin crust pizza, I highly suggest giving this a whirl. Instead of cheese, it uses creme fraiche, which is less sour than North American sour cream. In terms of toppings, I think pretty much anything goes. (Of course, Britta being the exceptional and thoughtful hostess that she is, my flammkuchen had meat. This was despite the fact that I kept insisting that I was capable of eating meatless food.) For dessert, we had a sweet variation of flammkuchen. You can put things like apples and cinnamon on these.
As if I didn’t love Britta enough already…she had to go and make me pizza.
Karlsruhe Day 4: When you think of German cuisine, you probably think bratwurst or some other sort of sausage, right? Forget that. Best thing I had in Germany: Spaghetti ice. (Don’t worry, Britta: Your flammkuchen was a close second.) Remember when you used to play with Playdough and you’d put it through that little contraption to make it ooze out the other end in spaghetti-like noodles? Same thing. Load it on top of a healthy serving of whipped cream, cover it in some mouth-watering strawberry sauce, and you have yourself the best spaghetti you will ever eat.
After that heavenly treat, we went to see what was going on at the Waldschwarzschon gallery, and stumbled into the Black Forest Remixed exhibit. Apparently Karlsruhe is kind of at the mouth of the Black Forest region where the cherry cake and the ham originate.
This stool is meant to look like a traditional hat worn by women in the region. It’s called a Bollenhut. Single women wear red ones, and married women wear black ones. (A bit morbid, no?)
Now this is a kind of religion I can get behind! (It’s supposed to be a Nativity scene.)
We were told that we’d be able to go up to the top of the Karlsruhe Palace tower until 5:00 with our gallery tickets; and so imagine our surprise when the women at the top told us at 4:30 that the tower was now closed. This was particularly confusing since neither the woman at the front desk or the woman at coat check bothered to mention this. The women at the door didn’t seem to be closing up; they were just standing around talking. A few minutes later, though, we saw them making their way downstairs. They were clearly just trying to leave work early. Arg.
Before heading for home, we took a peek at the Karlsruhe Palace Garden. T’was prrty.
Karlsruhe Day 5: My initial plan was to arrive in Karlsruhe the afternoon of October 2nd and leave for Munich the morning of October 4th. Somehow, it was already October 5th, and I just couldn’t get myself to leave. The day before, Britta had found out that there was a jazz concert on the 5th, and so I happily agreed to stay another day to check out the Jon Irabagon Quartet. And it was well worth it! These guys put on a hell of a show!
The giant on the piano (just out of view on the left) moved his colossal fingers with incredible speed, precision, and grace over the keys. Dude on the cello played with the tenacity and intensity of a trash metal guitarist. The drummer was a monster, pounding away so mercilessly that you almost felt pity for the drum kit. Mr. Irabagon himself was hypnotic.
Although at one point, Britta and I turned to each other completely bewildered. I actually thought for a moment that the man was having a stroke onstage. He kept blowing into the sax until the only sounds emanating from it were his desperate blowing, which actually somehow almost sounded like a sucking sound, and the clacking of the keys. I became concerned, though, when Irabagon’s hands started shaking. Then…silence. It was one of those deafening and heavy moments of silence that seemed to last forever. It was soooo weird.
Mr. G explained to us afterwards that Irabagon was merely “pushing the limits of the instrument”–or something to that effect–but it still sounded weird to me.
Oh, and goats–because everybody loves goats.
And so ended our stay with Mr. G and Britta.