Saturday, December 23, 2017

German Christmas Markets of 2017

I cannot believe another year has gone by and I barely got to any Christmas markets! I'm so mad at myself.  We just didn't have a lot of time this year (Advent ran right up to Christmas, unfortunately), and I was gone for a week, plus we all got sick with head colds. Such is life, I guess.

We certainly would never miss our hometown Christmas market, however.  We love the market at the Auerbach Maffei iron ore mine every year.  It was VERY cold this year, and started snowing by the end of the day. 

A little Gluhwein will keep you warm though!

Starting to get dark around 4 pm.  I love this market because there are tons of little fireplaces all around to warm yourself up. And PLENTY of gluhwein stands.  You can't drive directly there - you need to park in south Auerbach (south of the traffic light) and take the bus in.  But the buses run very frequently so you won't have to wait long.

Alcohol is served at 18.  But beer?  That's 16 here in Germany. 

I take this picture every year!

See?  Little fireplaces to warm yourself up. Natalie might vehemently deny she likes her brother, but secretly, we know she does.

The only other market we got to this year was the Nuremberg market!  It's one of the biggest and most well known of all of the German Christmas markets.  We happened to be in Nuremberg for Todd's work holiday party, so after that was over, we had a couple of hours to stroll through the market and enjoy some gluhwein.

They even have a small international section.  From Atlanta, USA, you can buy individual Twinkies and Resee's Peanut Butter cups. 'Murica!

Poor Todd was in the throes of his head cold.  Hopefully the gluhwein helped a bit.  I loved the mugs this year - featuring the 500th anniversary of when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenburg Church.

St. Sebaldus Church was the backdrop for some festively lit trees and a band playing some holiday tunes.

 They were certainly making spirits bright!

I'm really disappointed that I didn't get to more markets than these two this year.  Next year, I promise more visits! Just pray for good health and that neither of us is required to travel for work!  

Until next time, German Weinachtsmarkt!

Friday, December 8, 2017

Ahrweiler, Germany

I've been volunteering for the last two years, and I've been fortunate enough to work with some pretty great people in some pretty awesome capacities.  A couple of months ago, I got asked if I wanted to attend a training in Ahrweiler, all expenses paid.  Wait... a week where I don't have to parent?  And I get all of my meals and lodging paid for?  And I get to learn some pretty cool stuff?  Sign me up!

The drive up there should have taken us about 4 hours and 15 minutes.  But it was snowing for most of the drive. So it actually took us about 7 hours.  By the time we got there and got checked in, there was just enough time to go into the city and see the end of the weekend Christmas market and get some dinner.

We *may* have gotten some Glühwein RIGHT before the stand (which was right beneath the city Christmas tree) shut down for the weekend.

This little town was just beautiful.  The half timbers were stunning and the decorations were perfect.

I can't express it enough... if you've never been to Germany for the Weihnachtmarkts, you're really missing out!  And this little town of Ahrweiler was really something else!

The campus had activities planned for us most of the nights we were there.  Monday night was reserved for a meet and greet your fellow classmates, but Tuesday night, we got to visit the (wait for it...) Dokumentationsstätte Regierungsbunker. Phew. That translates to, the "Government Bunker." 

The Government Bunker was originally built as a series of railway tunnels by prisoners of war during World War I, but after the war, the project was largely abandoned.  There was, for a time during the 1930s a large crop of mushrooms that grew in the damp and dark tunnels.  But after World War II and during the height of the cold war, the West German government (headquartered in Bonn at the time, about 30 kilometers north) realized a need for a safe place to house the most important 3,000 government employees (including their support staff) in the event of a nuclear bomb.

Attention!  Closing lid closes without warning.  Danger to life!

The entire bunker was (at it's peak) about 19 kilometers in total length, at a depth of 110 meters. Today, however, only 200 meters remains of the 19 kilometers of tunnel.  Although the bunker was a "secret" to the outside world, the locals pretty much knew what was going on.  When people would ask locals what actually went on up there, they would say (without really lying) that people were "just riding their bicycles."  Because of the sheer size of the bunker, bicycles were used in the tunnel halls to get around more quickly.

If a nuclear bomb HAD gone off, the first steps after entering the bunker (after the sealing of the 25 ton steel and concrete doors) was to "shower off" any possible radiation residue in the decontamination showers.  The air isn't radioactive, but the particles in the air ARE radioactive, so it was important to strip down (clothes were thrown away) and wash off any possible residue.  If there was too much, you were unfortunately sent to a cordoned off room in the bunker to live out your final days (so as not to spread it).  Tom seems unconvinced!

A lot of rooms were largely left as they were, with antiquated machinery and telephones.

I thought maybe I could learn some West German secrets!  Unfortunately, all I really got out of this was, "Buy four good, comfortable furs each week."  Huh????

The main control center in the bunker hilariously looks like something out of Star Trek.

Or perhaps it reminded me a bit more like Marty McFly's suit in Back to the Future.

Creepy.  Just creepy.  But sadly, it was necessary.

I love the old school magnetic maps they used.

The bunker was designed to hold 3,000 people for 30 days with all of the provisions, including COFFEE.

There was one phone to the outside world where workers could call their loved ones (assuming there were any humans left on the planet).  Everyone was told this phone was not bugged, but of course, it was.  The bunker was a secret, so this phone was bugged in order to make sure no one was calling out and spilling the beans.

Not to worry about some of the creature comforts as there was even a hair salon in the bunker!

As I mentioned above, all but 200 meters of the original 19 kilometers of tunnels have been closed off.  Here we reached the end of the line.

You can't see it because of the dark, but the tunnel is pretty much open all the way through.

Our guide's words echoed all the way down the tunnels which was incredibly eerie.  He even did a little wooden clap demonstration to show how the sound traveled down the tunnel and back again.

The only visual reminder of why anyone would actually be in the bunker was this picture.  Interestingly, the bunker was designed to withstand a Hiroshima/Nagasaki type of atomic bomb.  Since then, larger, more powerful nuclear bombs have been developed and tested.  The bunker would not even come close to providing any protection from these stronger nuclear weapons if the bunker had been directly hit.  Even though they knew this, they continued to operate the bunker until the late 1990s, even after reunification (and the movement of the capital back to Berlin.)  Maybe they thought it could possible provide SOME protection?

The Cold War was certainly a different time, ha ha.  Everyone smoked in the 20th century! These were placed at measured intervals along the hallways.  Can you imagine being trapped in a bunker with a bunch of smokers? Give me some ventilation!

The last stop we made was to where the food and medicine were stored.  There was plenty of food to feed 3,000 people for 30 days with plenty of MRE type meals.

There was also a medical and dental facility in place.  If you had to have a tooth pulled, they could just strap you down in this chair!

There were plenty of medicines and medical equipment to survive for 30 days, including morphine, which is likely what I would need to survive for that long without my family.  Family members of the government workers and their staff were not permitted in the bunker (and were not even aware of its existence.)

No worries if you had a headache or cut yourself on something, as there were plenty of topical and over the counter type medications as well.

This seems kind of out of place but this was the very last room we saw, and it just had some pictures and things around the room, including this list of code names for the different countries who might have been involved or who neighbored Germany.  Not sure why Hungary was "Mercedes Benz" ha ha!  And what kind of knock is that to Switzerland and Poland?!?

After our tour of the bunker, some of us went into town to grab some dinner.  Seriously, this little town is so charming!

Ahrweiler itself has a well preserved wall surrounding the city with several gates that were originally built in the mid 1200s.  Now it is largely known for it's fantastic red wines and local spas.

The Christmas market isn't open during the week, but they leave all of the booths and decorations out for everyone to enjoy.

All the Christmas feels.

On Wednesday, we got to enjoy an evening at a local winery. But before we left, we grabbed some dinner at the cafeteria.  In Germany, lunch is often the largest meal of the day.  At this particular school, they would take the leftovers from lunch and serve them to you (usually cold) in other ways for dinner.  I took my little (maybe not beef) patty and made it into a cheese burger with rye bread.  The Germans thought I was insane!  I think they just don't know what they are missing!

We all took a cab to the Weinhaus Peter Kriechel, and we were first given a tour of the facility.  I kind of wish we got to sample wines in THIS cool room!  This winery has been around since 1952, and currently is the largest in the Ahrweiler area.  It has 24 hectare's of grapes.

Selfie with some barrels.

The wine tasting itself took place in the cute little cellar.

If we're drinking reds, we've been drinking for a while.

Tom took this picture of our group enjoying the wine tasting.  I don't think I've ever laughed so hard in my life as when Sr. Carvalho, our fearless Portuguese leader sniffed a little centerpiece and then handed it to me, only for me to find out there was no scent and it was just for decoration. I totally fell for it!

Not only was the wine great, but the company was excellent also. I just am so amazed that I can live in such a place where citizens of the United States, Germany and Portugal can all work together and enjoy wine together!

Yeah.  We didn't have any fun at all at the wine tasting. Nope. Not at all.

Because we had been so busy during the week, we didn't really have any time to see the city of Ahrweiler in the daylight (or do any shopping since the shops closed before we could get there each day.)  So on Friday, we took advantage of the dry weather and sunshine and strolled through the city.

Buddy, I hate to break it to you, but your house is leaning. I have a feeling this was done on purpose, although I can't really imagine why!

Cute doors and eye popping color of Ahrweiler.

The German's like to paint their homes and give a bit of history about the house (often the year it was originally built). They have such beautiful half timbers here.

The well decorated gate to someone's courtyard.

If this architecture doesn't inspire or wow you, you don't have a soul!

OK, this gargoyle near the main square was a bit terrifying.  But look at the curved wood in the half timber up there!  Incredible!

More beautiful painted half timbers of Ahrweiler.

This little area is the only section of the outer city wall that you can actually walk on.  Outside of the wall on this Friday, was a little farmer's market.  Wish I had a cooler to take some food home with me!  I was also disappointed that Glühwein wasn't for sale yet at the Christmas market, because the little Ahrweiler mugs were super cute.  I guess I'll just need to come back here next year!

Until next time, Ahrweiler!

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