Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Honeymoon in Heidelberg

After a month of Instagramming these photos and taking so many that I put our day at the castle and on the mountain in a separate post, I was pretty tired of them, but here we go with the main post, even though the accompanying text has taken me way too long to finish.

Ah yes, being in the dark little Immigration Office corridor waiting with an ever-growing number of equally disillusioned folks at 5:20 A.M. the morning after our wedding.. 
Good times.

In case you missed it or don't use the site, in February I typed a whole lengthy - and yet fairly concise considering how complicated the whole thing was - Facebook status update about what the extremely stressful 4 1/2-month process of getting married, which culminated in this last Immi visit and in me picking up my resident alien ID card a month later, was like. 
This doesn't even include finding out the hard way that I had to pass a basic German language exam without ever having taken any courses or anything, that I had to go all the way to Berlin for my marriage affidavit, or that I had to send my birth certificate back to my mom so that she could get it apostilled at our Secretary of State's office, for example. And that all of these things had to be scheduled a month or more in advance, and were not cheap. x_x

I'll go ahead and immortalise the post about the marriage and immigration offices themselves here, but it's probably TL;DR even if you haven't read it before, and even though it says that again at the end. The documents I'm referring to below include the important ones I just mentioned above:
Okay, story time! This is faster than keeping people up to speed individually. Such hoops, many jumping, wow.
We got all of our documents in plenty of time and turned them in to our district's marriage office on the 8th. We were expecting, on that day, to do this thing where we would swear that they were true and accurate and that we were all good to get legally married; then we would get the official document that says we submitted all the other official documents and swore the oath. A crucial piece of paper in exchange for all the others to show Immi, for a temporary stay permit until we find out the soonest available marriage date and finally get fucking married.
This oath is in German, so if you can't understand 100% of it, a third party has to interpret word for word. The marriage office opens at 8 on the days that it is even open, so we walked there and were waiting at 7, along with Solvig, who kindly agreed to interpret.
The marriage office lady was a selfish cow. She whined about their being understaffed and busy, which is of course true, but like, these people only work 20-hour weeks. She whined about being about to go on vacation and insisted that checking over my documents that same day was impossible, even though her desk was empty and her phone was not ringing.
There was no arguing with her.
We were like, okay, it's cool that you're going on vacation for two weeks and don't feel like checking these before you leave in a few days, but this tourist visa is only good for three more weeks. When we told her February 27th was the day it expired, she was like, "Wouldn't it be March 1st?" This bitch was counting calendar months, not actual days.
We were like, no.
So she said, okay, come back first thing in the morning the day your visa expires.
We were like, "Are you serious?" And yeah, she was.
She thought we could meet with her at 8, get the stupid document (which was of course already ready that same day, it's just sitting on her desk right now as I type and apparently there's not a single other soul who can simply give it to me and listen to me agree to the sworn statements), and then book it over to Immi to show it to them and get me a temporary stay permit.
*That same day*.
*The last possible day*.
Let me now describe the abject misery that is the Hamburg Mitte Immigration Office.
Mondays and Thursdays, they're open from 8 - 4. Tuesdays and Fridays, 8 - 12. That's it. Today being a Friday and D-Day, Feb. 27th, being a Tuesday, we quickly understood how deeply and utterly without a chance we would have been had Hannes not spent a week constantly e-mailing and calling and finally talking to an immigration officer and asking if we could come in without that one accursed paper.
The days the office is only open until 12, like today and the last day of my visa, people start lining up at 5 A.M. There's a sheet on which you write your name that crawls out from under something at 5:30. On these days, the immigration officers *can only take about 30 cases*.
This first waiting period outside the door in the icy cold stairwell is simply to have the opportunity to go to the information desk, staffed by two women.
If for example you get there at 6:30 in the damn morning, in the dark and in the snow, and end up being, say, #34, then congratulations, you will simply not be helped today. All you can do is ask the information ladies questions.
Hannes wrote our names at around 6:10 this morning. We were #29.
If we had done what Selfish Marriage Office Cow - who clearly knows nothing whatsoever about Immi - told us to do, we would have had no chance whatsoever. My visa would be expired and I'd be pretty fucked.
We sat on the stairs being cold and reading until the numbers started being called at 7:30. A lot of people really didn't get the concept. One guy thought he was first because he was closest to the door. In all that time he stood there waiting, watching people write their names, it somehow never occurred to him that proximity to the door was not a factor. Others came up and simply lied about their names being #17. No, no, wait, #15. Like, what. You don't get to just pick one and say that's you.
Nearly everyone waiting was African or Middle Eastern, and one guy who was outside when his number was called and then came back had a full-on, full-volume shouting match with the security guy (because that door needs two security guys to maintain order) right in the middle of all of us, in this densely-packed crowd of around 50 people in this tiny space.
Security Guy told him that he was re-calling the people whose names were there but who didn't answer, and that if he just waited a few minutes, he would be called again. The dude wasn't even listening, flipped the fuck out, and started accusing the guy of being racist (another patiently waiting black man next to me was subtly but clearly mouthing something like "Oh no, no man, don't do that..") before storming off, even though he and his wife and baby had been waiting since 5 A.M.
Some people only realised once they were almost to the information desk that they had long-missed their chance to be seen/helped that day. Two other people lost it, one of whom also shouted a lot and one of whom just stormed out.
At around 9:45, 3 1/2 hours into this process, all we had done was fill out a simple two-sided form with our basic information on it, and then we were unceremoniously handed a temporary stay permit for me, good until May 15th.
Wait what.
We didn't even have to see or talk to anyone. Our (second) number was never called. They never looked at any of the hefty stack of documents we brought that might "help our case", just checked my passport.
We still need the marriage office to finish the process on the 27th, and the soonest available date might not even be for another 2 or 3 months, but hey!
TL;DR - I'm not getting deported!

So yeah, um, we were extremely relieved when that whole thing was over, even though I still had to go pick up my ID a month later, like I said, and it turned out to cost a surprise 100 euro. -_- Not only that, but I only had a temporary German stay permit in the meantime, so I couldn't travel outside the country, even though I was now married and had legal residency status and work permission. Fun!

Brief and half-hearted discussions of Lisbon, Prague, and Amsterdam for two- or three-day mini honeymoons were dropped pretty quickly, and after narrowing our "I mean, sure, whatever, we're exhaused and numb"-spirited choice down to scenic southwest-central Germany, we settled on Heidelberg. 
Hannes' parents sent us there for the weekend with their credit card, after booking a hotel for us (though Hannes did end up paying for the overpriced train tickets there, straight after Immi, himself). We just wanted the whole exasperating series of processes to be over, but it ended up being an absolutely magical, ideal weekend, and getting out of the cold, grey, monotonous funk I'd been stuck in was exactly what I'd needed.

Vegan fruit and soy yogurt power parfait thingy, definitely recommend

Part of the reason I mentioned that the train down to Heidelberg was overpriced was that it was a 35- or 40 year-old, banana-coloured relic. Their seating reservation system wasn't working at all, so they had no way to indicate where the people who paid extra to definitely have seats should go, and we had to move two or three times. It was hot and stuffy, and not terrible by any stretch, but definitely not worth over 100 euro per person, even for a 5 1/2-hour ride. 
But that's what happens when you buy tickets spontaneously, which we had to do, having no earthly idea of how long Immi would or could take: there are really amazing deals to be had even if you get tickets just a week or so in advance.

Into and back out of Frankfurt am Main, a city I hadn't seen before even in passing. When Japanese or Korean businessmen tell me they've "been to Germany", they mostly mean that they saw its one mundane skyscraper city, the centre of banking and finance.

But finally, we got to Heidelberg!

This great stainless steel sculpture is across the street from Heidelberg Hauptbahnhof, in front of the Print Media Academy. Its pieces represent those of printing presses and different steps in the process; its hooves are giant stamps, printing designs into the pavement as it 'walks'.

This street art wall in an interesting vacant lot was just on the way to our hotel; I'd like to know who does the minimalistic black blobby animals around these parts.

Le lobby, with complimentary glass of wine upon arrival

Le view, which, hilariously to me, included absolutely le-none of the city's historic buildings of note even though it was beautiful and those towers are clearly attached to lovely historical somethings..

Le nuptial double bed

Le complimentary fruit platter, sekt (sparkling white wine), and mini chocolates placed in our room when Hannes' mom called ahead and let them know that it was a honeymoon trip :3

Also a single red rose. 

Travel Tip / Life Hack: this mid-range, very affordable chain of hotels takes your word for that, at least in Germany, and doesn't ask for any kind of proof to provide these extras ;D 

We got to Heidelberg earlier than we thought we would, and were happy to still have some daylight left; we thought that, after an indeterminate span of abject misery at the Immigration Office and the 5 1/2-hour train ride, we'd end up arriving at night and just crashing at our hotel, but not so!

We basically ended up with a half day more than we thought we'd get, because Immi went quickly and the lady was actually really nice and efficient that time (even if she did forget to mention the 100-euro ID card that came later). So, we set out to take the quaintest and scenic-est of strolls in the old city centre, and to have something to eat and drink.

As it turns out, April is also cherry blossom season in Germany (although only for this variety as far as I've seen, which is kanzan yaezakura in Japanese). Who knew?

This statue in front of a University of Heidelberg building called Friedrichsbau is of Robert Bunsen, who invented not only his namesake Bunsen burner but also did pioneering work in photochemistry and discovered cesium and rubidium. /r/mildlyinteresting

Heidelberg is famous not only for being quaint and beautiful, but also because it has the oldest university in Europe and to this day a lot of groundbreaking research is done there, especially in medicine and psychology. There were loads of Chinese, Japanese, and Korean students and families walking around, with an unusually high number of respective restaurants to match, because to be able to send your child to such a prestigious place to study earns you and them mega status symbol points.

On either side of Bunsen here, under the blooming cherry trees, are two more really cool sculptures not pictures that represent the unawakened and the still untamed forces of nature, in dramatic anthropomorphic fashion.

Most or nearly all of the historic old city is thankfully free of graffiti and even of stencils and paste-ups, but there are a few, and they look pretty cool next to more classical elements like this. 

We grabbed a window seat and drinks at a burger joint, because Hannes decided he really wanted one, and they had vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options! Which is actually pretty common if not very common in Germany! Eeee!

I didn't go vegan, though, as soon as I saw the varieties of cheese on offer..
This might look like cheap nacho cheese, but it's actually cheddar and full of jalapeño flavour!

As for my build-your-own veggie burger on a gluten-free bun, I went with: the falafel patty, romaine, avocado, manchego, caramelised onions and mushrooms, and aioli. God I enjoyed just typing that combo. It was ace. 10/10 would recommend Die Kuh die lacht.

This whole town is filled with gorgeous pub signs! 
Almost every business has one; we decided someone started it a few hundred years ago and it became not only expected, but probably a competition. I mean, if the little hotel and bar down the road has an awesome one with a unicorn and knight or whatever and yours is a chunk of driftwood..

Also, a bridge monkey.
I didn't look up what the deal was with this weird yet very attractive and modern bronze sculpture until afterward, but there is an Atlas Obscura article about it. At the time I just thought its empty face was spooky; it didn't occur to me to get under it and use it as a mask!

"See? This is what I'm talking about. Look. My accidental picture of those girls taking their selfie is like a thousand times nicer than our selfie. Just look normal and smile! It's our honeymoon!"

Okay, there we go. :)

This castle though, right? Look at it up there. Look at it!

The sun setting, we wandered back into the centre of town from the bridge, 
with nothing to do except eventually find another drink at a place that looked nice.

..And this little hotel's restaurant is where we ended up. It's called Hackteufel.

Nice French horns and booty butt logo, approved

This is Linie Norwegian aquavit. Hannes' dad once told him that it's called "Linie" because it crosses the equator. Like, it leaves Norway in barrels on ships that I guess are already headed in that direction anyway? goes to the other side of the planet, and crosses the equator again to come back. At first I was like, "Wow, that's interesting," but after a few minutes thought "Damn, this drink's carbon footprint is off the charts tho,"

We also ordered this little baby poppy seed soufflé with vanilla sauce, 
(real) whipped cream, and fresh fruit.

Urgh, so quaint! All of the little cafés lining the cobblestone streets are so quaint!

Look at this castle at night, though! Damn! Lurkin', loomin', probably not even bring real.

Along our stroll back through those quaint little streets and in the general direction of the hotel, we stumbled upon an Absintherie. Oh boy. 

I had never actually been to one or had Absinthe since the time I sought out the only full-time goth club and Absintherie in Transylvania seven years ago, only to find that it had closed down forever two weeks before I got there.
I've never finished telling that story here, but this is the first part.

Not only sylish accessories and service sets, but also lovely posters and taxidermies

As someone who's still pretty trad-goth deep down, and who lives in the Old World now, I feel like I need to make this part of my life. Yes, I have a mighty need for these totally unneccessary yet beautiful things.

Uhnf, the labels

Uhnf, the squirrels

Served properly, first straight and then with varying amounts of ice water. 
This is very simple, it's just that these special dispensers have become part of the ritual.

The predictably odd type running the shop has made this his life: he's been selling and making his own Absinthe for over 20 years. He also doesn't have a license to actually serve the liquor, so it's just a pay-for-a-few-samples-at-the-register-counter kind of system. He and his too-cool-for-school guests clearly thought that Hannes was also American, which people who don't really speak any English or have an ear for it tend to do, we've realised. 

Anyway, he also despises the cheap kitschy bright green shit that most people think is Absinthe, but is really just an additive-laden liquid headache. That it be as green as possible isn't the point, and is a sign to stay away, like you might from an intriguing but highly-toxic frog.

Obviously I loved ever corner of the place. Sleeping directly under these was a scruffy old dog.

Sufficiently drunk after a few sipped shots of the Absinthe (and Aquavit and other drinks), we finally called it a night and walked through the absurdly scenic cobblestone streets back to the hotel.

We had decided to continue being as extravagant as we could and pay for the hotel breakfast. The restaurant / breakfast room had a charming 19th-century Southeast Asian colonial feel.

It was fine but unremarkable. Waffles in Germany, though, I learned, are often very very thin, small, and limp. The giant fluffy Belgian waffles with square-inch built-in syrup cups that Americans know are really not a thing. And I think most people still regard maple syrup as a bit foreign and way too sweet, even as they shovel on the Nutella.

We had Googled any number of options in case it rained, and indeed it did for most of that first day. We'd wanted to go straight up the mountain to the castle, but it could wait. If you like noticing details, going to small and obscure museums, and learning a bit about history - all of which I do as much as possible - there's really enough right in the little city center to keep you occupied for days.

Does anyone else remember Body World
When I was in high school - so, circa 2006 - we went on a "field trip" to the exhibition, but for an advanced, university-level biology class, so we spent the entire time furiously writing lengthy answers to the huge packet we were given to finish as we powered through the exhibition as efficiently as possible. We all dove for flat walls and available surfaces when we found the next answer, it was hectic and annoying. We hardly had time to look at or consider much of anything, much less enjoy it. Our hands were sore, as usual, and this was something like the 7th or 8th school field trip to the Arizona Science Center I'd been on, because there is nothing else to do where I'm from and my schools were always too poor to do anything else; once we'd even had to walk to our field trip location like a caravan of refugees, and one kid with chronic asthma couldn't deal and had to be taken back to the school.
So at least this time I wasn't bored out of my mind. Angelique was in that class, she remembers all of this better than I do. I'm glad she was there; even situations far less than ideal like this are always way more tolerable with a friend. We thought the whole concept was cool, and were glad we got to see something so dark and gross and profound and unique even if we couldn't just stop for a damn minute to appreciate it more.

But so, surprise! There's a permanent Body World installation in Heidelberg, because of the university and medically relevant nature of the city, and it was right down the road from the hotel. We decided to make it the first stop on our circuit of curiosities.

Braaaaaains. Actually, the theme is happiness. They ask what it is, what it means, and how to express, observe, and explain the aspects of it we kind of or mostly understand physiologically.

Sufficiently gothic. Actually, I was tired and sick to my stomach that morning, and thinking about all of the delicate blood vessels in this man's face being scalpelled out like cut-paper art didn't really help. But I got over it. Just too much rich food and too many rich drinks.

All in all it was unique and educational; I'd recommend it if this sort of thing appeals to you or if you're in medicine, but otherwise, eh, it's not at the top of my list.

Hmm, where to next?

Oh, a Lush! Hannes had never been in one before and thought he would hate it, but ended up with a really nice-smelling moisturising stick for his beard and face. I had gone in to find a facial moisturiser that wouldn't be shitty like the cheap drugstore ones I'd been using, and left with that, a few samples, and a bath bomb to use over the weekend. 

Anyway, the next interesting and slightly obscure stop was the Studentenkarzer, or Student Jail. Up until the early 1900's the university had its own system, cops, and rules, kind of like a lot of schools in the U.S. still do.

Every surface is covered in antique graffiti, it's really cool-looking.

A few people even carved their names into the stair railing, 
worn smooth and rounded by so many hands.

Hannes helped me with the story of these guys here, who are dressed in the manner of a traditional German fraternity, though these days that just means you're more or less the European equivalent of a privileged, falsely-persecuted, upper-middle class neo-Nazi rape bro, except that you dress up moronically like someone the American equivalents would mock for being in the school band and beat the living snot out of. And instead of being casually racist and classist you're more of an actual, literal Nazi. It sounds really gross.

Back in the 1800's and at least through the first World War, though, these dudes weren't so universally awful, because of course fascism hadn't really become a thing yet. Like many others, these ones were in Student Jail for things like bring punk in drublic, disturbing the peace, vandalism, property damage, and the occasional fisticuffs. This lot have sarcastically proclaimed their innocence on the wall here, explaining that they're the victims. All they did was return some bricks they found laying hazardously around a construction site to the police for safekeeping. Through the front window of the police station. While shouting "Found object!"

Perfectly normal, like, I don't know, Kaiser Wilhelm octopi?

Outside, a simple but pleasant Frida Kahlo stencil

We went into this cozy little bar because Hannes really wanted to. 
I liked their ceiling accordion a lot.

The rain kept coming down, but it's nothing like the monsoon or typhoon seasons I've experienced before. Just like there are virtually no dangerous animals or spiders in Germany, and no earthquakes, the climate too is traditionally mild. Sometimes it snows a lot like it had on Easter, and sometimes there's major flooding, especially in mountainous regions, but mostly there are harmless, gentle rain showers, mists, and drizzles.

Lego Martin Luther was an unexpected, anachronistic, and kitschy sight in the entrance of the centrally-located, medieval Church of the Holy Spirit.

There's been a church on this site since at least 1239, 
but this bulky gothic structure is the third actual building that's stood here.

Adolescent and teenage me, still listening to industrial and glam metal, could only dream of this aesthetic. Whose decision was it to place this sick acrylic cross here? Do they have concerts and raves here, like that blood bath one at the beginning of Blade? Hrrnggg.

After a brief look around inside the hefty old church, we went down the road a bit to one of the brick-and-mortar locations of Käthe Wohlfahrt, a huge, classic, well-known purveyor of Christmas ornaments and other cute shit. 

Mushroom houses!

Cuckoo clocks!

Naturally, Hannes was not thrilled and mostly lurked around the front door, but I wanted to find something for my mom. We'd gone into the insanely charming (and crowded) Wolhfahrt shop at the Rostock Christmas Market when she was here for the holidays in 2016, but we couldn't afford any of their overpriced crap. The off-season, non-special-event overpriced crap is slightly better, and the selection is bigger.

Extremely charming, even when the low draggy clouds and drizzle persist.

We weren't hungry but were running out of ways to kill time. We'd decided that we wanted to take a scenic little cruise up and down the river, since we were down to just heavy, lazy fog and a bit of drizzle, but we had to kill time before the next one of those, too.

Tired of walking around shops, we randomly went in to sit down at one of the places with an extremely attractive pub sign (and front door): Zum Güldenen Schaf, est. 1749. 

Uhnf. So gothic. Dim, wooden, cozy, candles, branches, antlers.. 
Like a slightly darker and more sinister Hobbit hole.

People think of white sausage, approximately one million and five types of mustard, and soft warm pretzels when they think of German food, but actually, this is only typical of the south. Sure you can find pretzels at the many bakeries peppered throughout every city and town, but they're just one of the approximately one million and five types of bread, cookie, cake, and doughnut to be had (with or without mustard, but usually without).

Hannes could only sit with his sausages and I with my aesthetic for so long. With yet more time to kill, I insisted we also take a look at the German Packaging Museum, since I love packaging design. And history and obscure little museums. Right? Right.

Oh no, so cute! General store with storage drawers!

Persistent casual racism!

Commemorative tin, limited Allied edition featuring Stalin!

Oh, perfect! Easter in the 50's isn't complete without cigarettes in your basket. I can almost imagine a depressive mother with an eating disorder holding one while sipping a martini nearby.

These tins were especially beautiful, insensitive though their depictions were in terms of of over-sexualised native women in faraway, exotic, semi-tropical colonial lands.

Working hard in the sun all day to make Europe even fatter.. Sounds about white
For real though they are pretty and chocolate is nice

Okay, finally, down to the water with the.. dinosaur geese?! Their eyes are super freaky.

That's what I called them until we finally googled them, anyway: turns out they're Egyptian, but are one of those species that can more or less chill anywhere and has spread throughout Europe. 
Further south they're commonly raised as food. 

Oh finally, here are a few of me. I'm always the one behind the camera.

These houses, man. It takes a special level of rich bitch to have one of these.

With the mist and everything.. Majestic as fuck.

Just in case you haven't had quite enough, here's the video.
You might be able to catch some of the educational snippets from the audio on the boat.

Oooh, vegan options from a real Italian gelato place!
Dairy wasn't bothering me at this point, though, so.. I didn't have one.
Sorry not sorry.

We each got two flavours and two big cappuccinos: one full of Bailey's, and the other full of Amaretto. I think the gelato flavours we got were walnut, Rafaello, egg nog, and rum raisin. This was dinner. We were pretty worn out, but very satisfied with our day of going all around the beautiful medieval city with no plan and no concern whatever about money. 

We also popped into a really cool second-hand bookstore that I'd seen a couple of times walking back and forth through town. We each got a couple of books just as they were closing.

This one specialised in rare antique editions and German history; many of the covers 
(and spines) of not only antique but just vintage books here are very beautiful.

Aw yiss, mothafuckin Sekt and fancy soothing lavender bubble bath time

God I miss having a bathtub.

Well anyway, last day: breakfast at the hotel again because fuck it.

Dick Tracy..? Johnny Depp in Public Enemies..?

These are just some more quaint views (because this post is not long enough, Jesus) 
leading to the way up the mountain to the castle.

And now we're back down to the center of town

This charred figure of the Virgin Mary with a whimsical but very sharp starry halo was put here by Jesuits in 1718, because they wanted more people to convert to Catholicism. I guess fire and brimstone sold back then? -shrug-

Fresh crêpes at one of the many little stalls all around the chruch :D

"Hmm.. Do we need cake? No. No."

"Okay, just one slice. Screw it."
(I had the [inside of the] cheesecake, which was the better of the two)

When I went inside to look at the glass case of the day's cakes, I realised that the little courtyard we were sitting in was basically, like, the asscrack of the restaurant. It's called Perkeo - once again, like the character from the castle - and you should really go. Through the front door, that is.

All of the stuff on the walls is super generic, but the overall effect is pretty stunning, and this place, too, has a very 19th-century colonial feel, like you and your moustached friends with fine gold pocketwatches would gather here and discuss things like railway investments and safaris over brandy and cigars.

That night we went out to have some drinks with Tobias, who we met along with his wife Desiree in Tokyo last summer. After we chose Heidelberg Hannes asked, don't they live nearby? I couldn't remember and asked. Hannes was right: they're both from and still live in what sounds like a totally idyllic village outside the city. She was off in the Canary Islands with a friend who had broken her leg and been off work and quite depressed for some time, so he came alone, with a bottle of local wine.

They're both lovely, but we met first at Nakano Moonstep, and somewhat remarkably, Tobias has almost the same taste in music we do. We also expect them to come up to the north for a visit at some point. Hilariously, Hannes has an extremely hard time understanding these people over the phone because the regional variation of German they speak is apparently, actually that different. It takes him a while to get into the swing of it. Lohl.

As you can see, the deep darkness was punctuated only by a few obnoxiously bright and badly-placed lights, so I didn't really get any more pictures. (-sighs of relief from all directions-)

Just Italian confectionery for sale in the station

And our first-class seats for the way home, which cost only about 30 euros, were very comfy, even if we did have to catch this ride heckin' early. We weren't disturbed. We had a table to ourselves almost the entire way. The train was new. And this was only booked a few days ahead of time!

The route was different, too, and far superior. If you cross this section of Germany, try your best to book ahead of time in the hopes of being this comfortable, and to take a train that goes through Bonn and Koblenz either way.

For a good long while the tracks ran right along the side of the winding Rhine, susprisingly busy with traffic and small barges transporting coal, just as in Heidelberg, both shores laden with fertile farmland and vineyards. There were more charming old churches and castles than we could keep track of, some of them very ancient-looking like this one here. At one particular point each of us was looking at a different one and pointing it out to the other, but then we both weren't even sure which castle the other meant. Before long, new ones came into view.

We also passed through Cologne, or Köln, which we visited before moving to Tokyo, 
and which is something like 2,000 years old.

Its cathedral is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the most-visited place in Germany.
It's also the single most gothic thing I've ever seen. They just never stopped adding spikes. To the spiked spikes that were already spiked. So brutal.

It's clear why this river is referred to as "Father Rhine": if it's this important for commerce, travel, and agriculture even today, then surely its historical importance in the region's development couldn't be overstated.

And finally, a zeppelin. Just, randomly.

Here are the other clips of various aspects of the whole long weekend excursion.

And our swag haul, mostly paper goods and ephemera.

I keep emphasising that we were in no place mentally, emotionally, or financially to think about something so seemingly inconsequential, distant, and irrelevant as a weekend trip, but thanks to Hannes' parents we had a magnificent time. This was important to me, too, and that's why I took so many damn pictures: this was a turning point when things started to come together and I started being able to get used to and enjoy the idea of living in Germany.

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