blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Ancient worlds revisited, in Copenhagen and Stuttgart

It was beginning to feel so cold and damp in Copenhagen that Chris and I ducked into a museum to warm up. The extra attraction of the Glyptoteket was that they were advertising exhibits about ancient civilisations in the eastern Mediterranean lands, which is one of Chris' interests.

This museum has a huge collection of Antiquities, rivalling the British Museum. When you think about it, it's a wonder that any relics at all are left in their places of origin. We began our explorations in a gallery showing "archaic" sculpture from Greece, created in mimicry of the Ancient Egyptians, it seems. There were Greek Sphynxes, lions, bulls and a naked kouros, with "heroic, muscular" legs, beside his well dressed female equivalent, a kore. The God of healing, Asklepios, seemed to turn up everywhere in those days too, either disguised as a snake or carrying one on his staff.

In the ancient times, people wouldn't have seen the statuary as we do because it would have been painted in bright colours made from cinnabar, ochre, red lead, azurite, etc. This page describes how those ancient painting techniques have left traces that can be studied, and how the research is being done.

Further on was a beautiful headless Goddess of the wind, and Apollo with a "holy snake." Zeus was seen as a redhead, it seems. The Romans copied the Greeks' sculptural habits, of course, and filled their world with busts of their leading "celebrities" (as we'd call them nowadays)––a sort of Hello magazine in stone. We came to a series of rooms that were full of heads, quite modern and alive-looking, heads of Pompey, Livia, Claudius, Caligula, Nero and company. The "Beauty of Palmyra" modelled around 200 AD may have been an Indian woman.

There was also an area of the museum dedicated to relics of Ancient Egypt (around 15 centuries earlier) with a plethora of gods: Amun, Isis and Osiris and "the Sacred Baboon of Thoth."

Sitting in the Winter Garden for a rest after all this, we stared at The Water Mother, by Kai Nielsen, an early 20th century piece. It was a sculpture of a naked woman with 14 identical babies clambering over her, as she sat in the fish pond. We sent our daughter an instant message including a photo of this and she wrote straight back to say it probably didn't represent 14 babies, but only one, in multiple positions, preventing its mother from taking a rest.

Then in Stuttgart a few days later, I happened upon an exhibition about the Ancient Celts (Die Welt der Kelten), an Iron Age people of the 8th century BC and later, who originated around the source of the Danube. They were a surprisingly sophisticated lot, trading in wine from the Mediterranean, amber from the Baltic and salt from the Alps. They lived in hilltop settlements––shown in clever reconstructions in this exhibition––and smelted their iron ore in stone ovens. Archeological finds from their burial sites suggest that their society had many class divisions and include artefacts from Greece and Persia; it's believed that they travelled to Asia Minor and the Balkans. (The later Celts were not so particular with their burials, leaving their dead in the open air for birds to pick at.) Climate change around 400 BC induced them to migrate across Europe from Britanny to the Black Sea. In the Swabian Alps, near Stuttgart, they lived in caves, conducting sacrificial ceremonies with highly ornamental daggers. They also made impressive metal helmets, glass bowls, ceramics and leather goods. They had decorated wheels on their wagons, used coins for currency and they drank Greek wine or mead from hollow horns during their feasts, like Astérix and company.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Moving on: back to Germany

God rejse, said the signs in Kastrup airport (CPH, Copenhagen), when I dropped my case there well before daybreak on Tuesday, December 4th. I'd been up since the alarm rang at 5:30 and had had my feet cooled in the slush on Femøren station platform. I was glad that I'd had time to serve myself from the hotel breakfast bar because my last cooked meal had been the grillet laks mid afternoon in the city the previous day and I don't function well when I'm hungry. When I boarded my 'plane to Stuttgart (pictured here on the right) I had to wade through more slush and up the metal steps, getting my gloves wet on the handrail.

After all these years of it, I still love flying; I especially love piercing the pink cloud tops to get a serving of early morning sun with my on board cup of tea. It wasn't a long flight; the other passengers all seemed to be businessmen / businesswomen. On the descent through many layers of stratus I kept catching glimpses of the Black Forest that had turned white from the recent snow. Stuttgart lies in a basin surrounded by hills; the lower land was still green.

STR was an easy airport to cross and I was soon on the S-Bahn, S2, change at Rohr, where I had no more than three minutes wait for my connecting train on the S1 line, arriving on the other side of the platform, but when I reached Böblingen it was discouraging to realise that the S60 to Sindelfingen (the line under construction when we came here last year) was still under construction, at least on that day; my connecting train had been replaced by a bus. I'd noticed a taxi rank as we drew in so I went for a taxi instead. The driver wanted to tell me about Hallowe'en and its Irish origins at great length, in Schwäbisch, switching to a stilted Hochdeutsch when he realised I couldn't follow.
Our sitting room in Sindelfingen

The Sindelfingen Hotel am Klostersee, familiar from last year's visit, let me have the key to our room, but the cleaner was still working on it so I dumped the luggage and went out again. With breakfasts included, we got two rooms this time––a suite!––for a very reasonable price. That was novel, but the hotel is aging, the wi-fi link inaccessible from our end of the building, and our heating didn't work. I mentioned this to the receptionist and she came round with a plumber later in the day, standing over him while he repaired the radiator.

That morning I went straight to my old haunts around the Sindelfingen Radhausplatz, finding the coffee place I liked last time, the post office where I've now bought stamps for my postcards and Christmas cards two years in a row and the shopping mall with the Woolworth's, selling inexpensive objects. I bought a €2 woolly hat for Chris because he'd left one behind in Ottawa and would doubtless be suffering from cold ears after his night in Norway. Then it was time for lunch. I chose a gemütliches Wirtshaus in a 16th century corner of the town, Zum Erdinger, which had no free table left, so I had to share one with two elderly gentlemen who proceeded to chat me up over my soup and Schnitzel "...grosse Portionen und freundliche Bedienung...", one of them knocking back several glasses of red wine while waiting for his (much) younger wife: 44, she was, apparently. He told me he was 73. She did show up eventually, a good looking woman, and after I'd been introduced I averted my eyes for a while but overheard their kisses. She was being very solicitous towards him, making sure he'd taken his pills.

Goldberg water tower, in the distance,
 seen from our hotel room
That was the day when, after dark, I got lost trying to find the Goldberg S-Bahnstation. I made the mistake of not making for the summit of the Goldberg, where the water tower is, before turning downhill, and ended up in an industrial estate, on a grass verge leading to a motorway, in a state of alarm. If I'm ever there again, here's a note to remind me that I must keep walking along Lange Anwanden, continue up the footpath with the steps, then turn left onto the Dresdenerstraße beyond the water tower and right onto the Leipzigerstraße, if I want to get it right. I retraced my route, peered at the maps by the bus stops, tried again, and after an hour's walking finally made it to the station, getting quite warm and damp in the rain, only to find I still had to wait another 25 minutes for the next train. Still, it brought me back to the airport (changing at Rohr again) so that I was able to greet Chris, tired and late from his Oslo-Copenhagen-Stuttgart journey but in good spirits, because he'd enjoyed talking to some kindred spirits who create software for deep sea oil rigs.

We hailed a taxi back to the hotel and slept soundly.

Some Danish words

While in Copenhagen I noticed some Danish vocabulary, of course, and found it easy to read but not so easy to comprehend when listening. The pronunciation would need closer scrutiny.

Hej!–– Hello
nej–– no
Tüsen tak!––Many thanks! (i.e. a thousand thanks)
naeste station–– next station
naermeste station–– nearest station
[hoved]banegård––[central] railway station
rådhus––city hall

The menus were instructive. Among the Varme drikke, I didn't fancy the choice of varm kakao med flødeskum which sounds disgusting, even if it is hot chocolate with whipped cream.

Here are some more Danish words for food and drink:

øl––ale / beer (not oil, as I assumed)

and here are some general purpose words I picked up:

bager––baker, bakery
fra ... til–– from ... till
God Jul!––Happy Christmas!

And the Danish numbers 1-10, are:

en, to, tre, fire, fem, seks, syv, otte, ni, ti

I never needed to say Undskyld mij! for "Excuse me. Sorry!" but I learned it just in case.

Monday, December 17, 2012

In Copenhagen, left to my own devices

I really don't mind being on my own in a strange place, quite relish it in fact, though I'm sure it would be a different matter if the solitude lasted; it probably wouldn't be long before I was muttering to myself all the time and looking peculiar.

Anyway, I'd thoroughly enjoyed my boat ride (described in the previous blogpost) and now intended to wander around the city streets for a couple of hours.

By about 3 o'clock in the afternoon darkness was falling and I was beginning to feel hungry. I hadn't had any lunch to speak of, so I hunted around for a place that would serve me something warm. Roast almonds from a streetside grill wouldn't suffice. After a happy stroll down a quiet back street and back up the busy Strøget (Europe's longest pedestrianised shopping street, decorated with strands of illuminated red hearts and packed with Christmas shoppers and, later, people making their way home from work), I came across a basement restaurant on the corner of two streets, Café Stella, where I ate a beautifully presented grillet laks with roast potatoes. Through the window above me I could see a heap of bikes, none of them locked. A good 55% of the people who work in Copenhagen commute by bike. It's like the Netherlands!

Once fortified by that stella(r) meal, more strolling along; I spent a while browsing in the Lego shops and then among the fragrant Christmas trees (Jule traeer) for sale in the market square, where the little stalls were bright with illuminations. I bought some decorations, handcut from stiff white paper, then was tempted indoors again at the Kafe Kys, a cosy bistro bar where I ordered my dessert, a milky coffee and slice of cake, paying for it with those funny coins with the hole in the middle. I sat there surreptitiously sketching the other customers; it was full of local couples, the women tall and comfortably, but stylishly attired, the men very Scandinavian. Meanwhile Chris, in Asker near Oslo, was getting lost on his way to the hotel (Scandic Asker) where he was supposed to be staying and had to ask for help from three local youths who managed to speak perfect English. He too was struck by the northern European look of the people he encountered, especially at his meetings the following day, introducing themselves with names like Kjell, Trond, Harald, etc.

I did my last bit of shopping in a historic porcelain store, the Kongelige Danske Hof, Denmark's answer to the Chinese willow pattern. Apart from the dinnerware, they had some pretty Christmas tree ornaments (some of them were made in China, actually) ready to be gift wrapped in royal blue tissue by the cashier. Then I took the metro train back to Femøren for a night by myself at the Park Inn and spent most of the evening sorting out the chaotic contents of my luggage. It was just as well that I'd thought to pack two alarm clocks when we left home, even if mine ticked intrusively when I inserted its battery. I had to be awake at 5:30 the following day to get up, have a decent breakfast, check out, reach the airport and catch the early morning SAS flight to Stuttgart.

Copenhagen, on the water

A glimpse of the Oeresund Bridge to Sweden
On the morning of December 3rd we woke to a view from the hotel windows of more snow. Chris had to fly to Oslo that day (and when he got there it was -14ºC), but first we had time for a walk past Femøren station through a snowy park to the beach, called Amagerstrand. In the summer it must look very different; even so, it was lovely to find the Baltic shore, and gaze across the stretch of smooth, grey sea to Sweden. There on the horizon was the 8km bridge to Malmö that opened in 2000. You can cross it by train as well as by car; it has made the ferries obsolete. In the middle distance was a marina full of yachts (harbours obviously don't freeze solid in Denmark as they do in Canada) with the Kastrup airport buildings just behind it. Looking in the other direction we could see a line of wind turbines in the mist, their feet in the water. Container ships floated by.

Then I accompanied Chris to the airport on the Metro train. I'd be there myself the following morning so wanted to get my bearings. I was able to check in for my flight, too. We said goodbye and then I took the Metro back to the city (Kongens Nytorv). The plaza outside the station is under construction, behind a fence, but I realised that by walking round it I would come to Nyhavn, Copenhagen's colourful canal port, lined with winter stalls and attractive boats. This canal had been dug by Swedish prisoners-of-war in the 17th century and the houses had been built during the course of the next few decades. Hans Christian Andersen had lived in one of them, hoping to get work at the nearby theatre. When he failed in that endeavour he started to write his famous stories for a living.

Nyhavn, Copenhagen
I got onto one of the boats as it was about to pull away for a 70 minute tour of the canals and harbour. Gliding under very low bridges we entered the main waterway, past the Skuespilhuset (opened 2008, part of the Royal Danish Playhouse) on one bank and the Operahuset (2005) on the other. The first play performed at the new theatre had been Hamlet, so the young tour guide told us. It seems that Copenhagen has had a recent influx of money. 16 to 21 new bridges are to be constructed next year.

Christianshavn, across the main stretch of water from the city centre, is a series of artificial islands made in the 17th century and used for a variety of purposes since. It was originally settled by Dutch traders and part of it (since the 1970s) is famous as an established hippy settlement with "alternative" housing and about 1000 residents. The "torpedo" hangar on the waterfront has turned into a pricey block of flats (not for hippies). The blackened sheds used in the Napoleonic wars by the British navy have now become the place for little offices and studios. Further on, we passed the headquarters of the biggest shipping company in the world, Maersk, the 7-point star of its logo representing the Seven Seas.  The Amalienborg Statsplads (Danish equivalent of Buckingham Palace) was pointed out too, with its great dome, where the kongelige Familie lives. And yes, I did see "The Little Mermaid" (replica) statue, but only from the back, after we had stopped to take a flag down and store it in the boat.

We returned to our starting point via the canal where the Old Stock Exchange (Børsen) stands, an extraordinary piece of architecture with a spire of entwined dragons' tails.

Old Stock Exchange

A post for my mother and my sister

This is the video recording I made on Friday, December 7th, 2012, of the NPL Singers at their concert in the museum room in Bushy House, at the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington, London, performing the Christmas carol my father Walter Robert Tullett composed in 1961. My daughter Emma is singing the alto part. Thanks to the choir director Jonathan Williams for allowing this to happen. What especially pleased me was that Emma's friend Janine, singing the soprano part, said that for a long time afterwards the music kept going round her head.

Thanks also to Chuck Clark for the camera that I used!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Copenhagen in the snow

We woke up to a chilly draught through the window and snow falling all over Copenhagen. We shivered on the metro platform above ground at our hotel stop, Fermøren, struggling to make sense of the ticket machine, and when we came up from the underground station at Kongen Nytor there was ice on the steps and heaps of white on people's bikes, parked everywhere along the edges of the streets (nobody locks them). The canals looked cold and grey and one of the boats in them had sunk beyond redemption, but the inner city streets enticed us, decorated with many Christmas lights, and most of them pedestrian zones.

Our first and most important mission was to buy Chris something warmer to wear than the thin pullover he'd found inadequate for the past few days, so we spent a while in a department store, the Magasin du Nord, and found him a wine red padded jacket without sleeves to go under his outer jacket, a sort of padded quilt for the torso, which made all the difference. A girl speaking perfect English served us. He cheered up after that and went and stood beside the Father Christmas  made entirely out of Lego pieces in the Lego shop. They were about the same size.

We had lunch at the Café Katz, then followed the nearest canal down to the main waterway, passing a palace (Christiansborg, home of the Danish parliament), some colourful houses and a light ship. The next bridge led to the wide Hans Christian Andersen Boulevard down which we walked to reach the Glyptoteket by the Tivoli Gardens, site of a fun fair. We decided to visit the Glyptoteket; it was warm in there, with an indoor tropical garden and many sculptures from ancient Egypt, ancient Greece and ancient Rome. The visit merits a blogpost to itself, which I'll publish later. To our surprise, entry to the museum was free on Sundays, a stroke of luck. From there we walked back to the other side of the city centre where we found another wonderful place, the Runde Tårn. We paid to enter this, but it was well worthwhile, a unique building with an inner ramp in place of the expected spiral stairs. This way to the top of the tower turns on itself seven times and offers a magnificent view of the city from the top as well as exhibition rooms on the way up or down. One of the rooms held a fascinating display of wickerwork art.

The night was falling and the streets looked magical, both from above, across the roofs, and at ground level.

Journey to Denmark

We're in Copenhagen and I've just woken up to a snowy view out of the hotel window. According to this computer the time is 02.32, but that's in Canada.

After breakfast yesterday we took the Number 6 tram ("unser Tram" said the man at the Bremen hotel) to Bremen's Hauptbahnhof carrying our luggage, and it took us several stops before we'd worked out how to buy 2.40 euro tickets for the ride, the machines at the back of the vehicle only accepting Bremen transport cards. Schwarzfahren, we thought, we'll be in trouble if we get caught, but then managed to reach the machine at the front to feed it a note.

At the Bremen Hauptbahnhof we had a long wait for our train, and a second breakfast, followed by a visit to a magazine shop, after which we noticed an announcement on the display for Platform 9 telling us that our train to Hamburg was going to be 40 minutes late. This was bad, because, even if it had been on time, we'd have only 12 minutes to catch the connecting train to Copenhagen. Frantic debate. We decided to take the risk of jumping onto the slow, double decker commuter train, that was due to arrive at 13:25, allowing us a 3 minute connection time at Hamburg. It was a peaceful ride, stopping at all the little country stations on the way! Towards the end of the journey we got to know a bi-lingual family who lived in one of the Hamburg suburbs, British, but bringing up their two children to speak German. The mother worked for Hapag-Lloyd.

We knew we had to be on Platform 5 for the Copenhagen train so when we arrived we rushed up the stairs with the suitcases, the escalator being too slow and crowded and along the bridge, pushing past the more leisurely travellers. Rushed down the stairs for Platform 5 but found the train to Copenhagen on platform 6. Leapt on by the first available door. The electronic display inside the carriage said that this train was going to Berlin. We asked the other passengers. No, Copenhagen, they assured us, but they were a bit anxious too. In the end the train set off 15 minutes late, luckily for us, and the driver announced over the loudspeakers that we really were going to Copenhagen, to cheers and applause from everyone in our carriage.

A Ferry Going the Other Way
The countryside was flat, with occasional deer, cows, sheep in the fields, beech woods, canals. Near Lübeck a few hills materialised and the fields had a covering of snow. I saw the twin spires of the Lübeck churches; I have been there before. Then, our first glimpse of the Baltic coast. If it hadn't been so grey, under such low cloud, I'd have seen more. Every few kilometres we passed a wind farm, the blades gently turning.

View from the front of the train
The "Sun" Deck
Eventually we pulled in to Puttgarden harbour and to my amazement (Chris seems to have expected it) the train rolled onto a ferry. It can't have been a very long train; we were sitting at the very front of the front carriage, so couldn't tell. We had just missed one boat so had a 20 minute wait for the next; they are very frequent. Nobody was allowed to stay aboard the train; it remained on its rails in the hold, with the doors locked, while the passengers mounted the five flights of steps to the upper decks. It was a nice ferry with a Sonnendeck outside, although the sun was nowhere to be seen and was setting in any case. The daylight is of short duration here. The sea was grey and smooth; we crossed it for 45 minutes. All the other passengers seemed to be Danish and used to this journey, northern, seafaring types. We passed other ships in the mist, with their lights on, and saw the lighthouses ahead.

We landed at Rødby, then rolled onwards to Nykøbing, Vordingborg, Naestved, etc. over more wide canals with industrial scenery in the dark and commuter trains going by.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Spending a day in Bremen

On the last day of November we made the acquaintance of Bremen, one of the Hanseatic League ports of the middle ages. Lübeck was another such place, as was Bremen's Partnerstadt of Riga (Latvia), so I learned in the cathedral where they were collecting donations for a new organ in their sister church there.

Chris set off straight after our hotel breakfast for a three hour meeting with a Bremen company I'm not allowed to name, accompanied by Karsten, QNX's sales manager for North Germany and Malte the FAE for the area. Karsten too was suffering from a cold, so Chris and he manfully croaked at their potential customers together, hoping they'd be able to make a quick getaway afterwards. Not before lunch in the staff canteen where on Fridays it's always Currywurst.

Meanwhile I had a leisurely stroll down to the River Weser in the morning sunshine to see the tethered boats, several restored old ones among them, such as the Admiral Nelson, Pannekoekschip (that's Dutch for pancake ship ... we're close to the Dutch border here). A harbour boat tour wasn't on offer, regrettably. On the upper promenade by the river (the Schlachte), stall owners were getting their stalls (Buden) ready for the Schlachte-Zauber: a famous annual winter market with a maritim flavour, that had just opened the previous evening. Hundreds of thousands of shoppers are expected here and the merchants will make the most of it, dressed up in olde worlde garb, pirate costumes a favourite, especially if you have long hair and a beard to start with, selling not only Christmas decorations and cookies, but also felt hats, woolly socks, candles, ropes, salted herrings, poffertjes (another Dutch concept), wooden swords and scimitars, nose flutes, tubular bells and bronze bells. I bought a little bell for bringing my Konversationsgruppe in Ottawa to order, next time we meet. There were improvised outdoor bars with wood chips underfoot to soak up the spills and small wooden fires in braziers, to encourage long term standing in one spot. There was a rope ladder to climb for a dare, bound to throw you off onto a padded mat at the third rung, though if you made it to the top you were promised a 20 Thaler reward. After sunset, I brought Chris back here; the fiery torches were lit then, crowds were gathering and we heard a choir of elderly gents in captain's caps and navy jackets singing old time songs in Plattdeutsch to the accompaniment of harmonicas, their listeners swaying to the music, some singing along. When we returned this way after a warm up in an indoor restaurant, four lively throat singers from Uzbekistan (I guess), accompanying themselves on erhus and drums, had taken the stage in place of the ancient mariners.

My lunch had been a beautifully grilled fish with lemon juice, sauce, rice and steamed vegetables in a cosy corner house on the market square, a Unesco heritage area also full of Christmas stalls at present. I'd got there up the narrow Böttcherstrasse, which I'd remembered from a BBC German lesson I used to make use of when teaching the language, and where I bought a children's book about the Musicians of Bremen, the Stadtmusikanten of Grimms' fairy tale fame. Their likenesses are absolutely everywhere in Bremen, the bronze sculpture of them the best. I ate early, because I wanted to visit the St. Petri Dom for the free lunchtime organ recital there, J.S. Bach's Fantasien in C-mol and C-dur and his Choral-Vorspiele (Preludes) played on the Hochchororgel.

By the time that was over, Chris was free to come and meet me by the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Brücke, and then we explored the Schnoorviertel together, i.e. the oldest part of town, the streets there very narrow, winding and picturesque. The Schoor-Konditorei, in an old vault apparently, served me a delicious slice of Stachelbeertorte.

We carried on by walking through the parks am Wall, by the curved city moat, and so back via a couple of bookshops to the coloured lights and noisy merriment by the river. The Schlachte-Zauber smelled of woodsmoke and Glühwein.