Ten Year Reunion

This is a link to the photos, though there aren't nearly as many this time: https://photos.app.goo.gl/9yK29H62YnH3Wnjp9

We boarded a train in Zell am See that would retrace our southbound steps partway back north. From Zell to Wörgel, then back to Munich, and from there we diverged from our former path and went to Stuttgart, then on to Pforzheim. There we would meet up with Louisa, my exchange sister who first introduced me to Germany ten years ago. Though in many ways it feels like just last week.

The train ride had been largely uneventful, except for some worries that Adam wouldn't be able to stagger his way to our connecting trains very easily, because of his still-sore knee. We made all the connections with no issues, but unfortunately realized Adam had forgotten his trusty rusty (colored) raincoat on out last train, which had already pulled out of the station when I ran back (on my still sore-muscled legs, I'll add) to check. A raincoat is a rough thing to loose when you live somewhere as damp as Germany!

It really did feel like almost no time had passed when I gave Louisa a giant hug at the Pforzheim Hauptbahnhof—the place we traveled through every day on our way to our tenth grade glasses, all those years ago. It was a bit odd for me, that Adam and Louisa—two people I know so well, had never met each other. Once they had we fell into conversation as always—switching from English to German as vocabulary was forgotten and remembered. We grabbed a quick dinner at McDonald's (it was on the way…) and stopped at the grocery store for some provisions before heading back to her adorable apartment in a village near Karlsruhe.

That evening we pretty much just hung out on her balcony, eating some very early Christmas treats of Lebkuchen, and catching up. Amidst life updates we also caught sight of the most gigantic and slow-moving shooting star that any of us had ever seen. It really was stunning: arcing across at least a quarter of the sky in blazing magnificence. We were a little worried for the French, since it seemed to be arcing toward France, and we figured anything making that much light must have been huge—but apparently whatever it was burned out before causing any major extinctions, since we didn't hear anything on the news about it the next day. It was quite remarkable to witness. Louisa, ever the gracious host, gave up her cozy bed to Adam and I, so she could sleep on the couch and sneak off to work early the next morning.

After so much walking the past few days in Austria, we really pendulum-swung in the other direction on Friday, and didn't leave the house the entire day. Louisa was home early so we played some Mario-Kart (I don't think I'll ever be good at a video game. Ever. I could barely stay on the track, and was last every time…) Eventually Louisa and I left Adam to improve his technique and earn her some new high scores—or unlock new…things? Levels? Like I said, I don't know things about video games since I rarely play them and hence am terrible at them. Anyway, we went to sit on her lovely balcony in the daylight this time, and chat some more, in German.

We made pizza that evening, and broke out the photo book I had made for Louisa when she left little old Westby Wisconsin to go back to her real home and family in the winter of 2012. Although it really felt like she had become part of my family, a real sister, in the 6 months she lived with us, because she did everything with me. We laughed at how much Liam still looked like my little brother back then, unlike the bearded giant he is ten years later. We cackled at the "fashion" tastes of our 15 year old selves, and our goofy Halloween costumes (she was a postereboard note-book, and I was a pencil on stilts!) We also realized that I had the sweater I was wearing in several of the pictures sitting on the back of my chair in the present moment—not sure what that says about my fashion sense as a 25 year old…But I think I get points for following the maxim "use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without!" to the letter. Such a lovely trip down memory lane!

Is that fashion?
Yikes…we thought we were so cute and clever…

After dinner, we played some more games—including a fun card game she had that was all about bean farming and trading—pretty hard to describe, but quite fun, once you learn the rules. It also had lots of cute cartoon beans on the cards, and some good legume vocabulary for me. We also played a dice game I remember fondly from my time living with her family: Mäxle. It's a simple game in theory— played with 2 dice, a cup and a coaster. The higher of the two numbers you roll becomes the tens place, the lower the ones place. So if you roll a 4 and a 5, it is 54, never 45. The highest you can roll is 65, unless you get doubles, which go up in normal ascending order, so that double 4s are higher than double 1s. The highest of all is Mäxle though, which is a 1 and a 2, and if you roll that everyone else gets a point. You are out when you reach the agreed upon point limit of the game.

The game is almost equal parts luck and bluffing, since the first person who rolls peeks under the cup and reports their roll, then the next person has to get higher than that, or else lie and say they did. If the person after them doesn't believe the report, they ask to see and if it WAS a lie, the liar gets a point and has to roll again, if it was true, the doubter gets a point and play moves to them. It's a fun game to play with a new or mixed group, but also with people you've know a long time, to see everyone's bluffing abilities. It was always very challenging for me to play in German since the way they say their numbers is "three and twenty" instead of the easier to remember left to right way! Also I am a pretty bad liar… But we had a lovely game night before heading to bed early-ish so we could get up and drive to Pforzheim for breakfast with Louisa's parents the next morning.

We stopped at Edeka again on our way to town to pick up the all-important Brötchen (rolls) for the feast, and arrived to a lovely sunny morning meal with Christine and Jean-Yves. Once again, despite all the years, and the different house and dog, and the absence of Louisa's sister Marie and the addition of Adam…in a lot of ways it was like I had never left. We fell right back into our breakfast spread of nutella, honey, various cheeses, meats, olives, fruit and vegetables just like the old days. Luckily Adam had something to do as he munched through his food while I was too busy chattering away in German to even eat the yumminess in front of me for the first 20 minutes or so.

The Pforzheim Crew
Jean-Yves, Adam, me, Christine, Louisa

After cleaning up, we got a quick tour of the in-progress kitchen renovations, and then set off into town towards an art exhibit at the Gasometer in Pforzheim. The artist Yadegar Asisi, known for his large-scale panoramas, put together a life-sized depiction of a section of the Great Barrier Reef, from below sea level. The experience is a bit hard to describe, since it really was quite overwhelming. After some introductory info on the reef ecosystem, you walk into the room that used to store the gas to power all the streetlights in Pforzheim, which is several stories tall. You see images of fish, divers, sharks, turtles, coral and way up at the ceiling, the surface of the ocean. The images cover the round walls from floor to ceiling, and the lights dim and brighten periodically showing the reef during both day and night. There is a central tower of stairs in the middle of the room so you could see the scene from different depths, as it were. We marveled at the details from multiple angles—overwhelmed at the sheer scope of the piece.

The Great Barrier Reef Panorama
This was from the ground, looking all the way up. It doesn't nearly do it justice, as you can imagine.

After exploring all the levels, we headed back out into the bright morning sunshine, where Adam and Jean-Yves faced off at a 1 v 1 sitting soccer game. America beat France, Jean-Yves told me, blaming bad knees as the weak point, even though Adam's knees were still mending as well. We also got some free wooden spoons, pasta and gummy bears from the public state-run health insurance agency who had set up camp outside the museum, and was trying to improve their public image. None of us changed our insurance provider, but we did get some free stuff! Eventually Louisa drove us back to the house where we finished the tour of the back garden—complete with fig tree, berry patch and an expanded workshop for Jean-Yves.

We settled in the dappled sunlight filtering through the grape arbor onto the outdoor table, where we set up another round of Mäxle. It was an interesting linguistic mix, as Jean-Yves's English isn't as polished, given that German is already a second language learned after his native French, so when it was his turn the game was in German, but it had to transition to English by Adam's turn. Naturally I sat between them and had to do all the linguistic gymnastics of bluffing in 2 languages! It's always fun though, and it was extra nice to see Christine's sister, Louisa's aunt Barbara who came over from across town to play as well. A bottle of wine, several hours and many pretzels later, after Adam had complemented the beer they had recently gotten from the Black Forest, we somehow left with more goodies than we had arrived with, as Jean-Yves gifted us with a champagne-style bottle of "the only good beer from France" and a six-pack of the Black Forest beer! Louisa had stuck with water and cola, so she could safely drive us to pick up her boyfriend Manuel (Manu) on our way to dinner in Pforzheim.

Ironically, the burger place actually had more vegetarian options for me than the traditional German restaurant did, so that's where Louisa had made a reservation for us. The food was indeed good, and the cocktails were tasty too. We ended up over-estimating our fry consumption abilities, and took a container of sweet potato fries and a container of regular fries to add to the beer already in the trunk.

Not quite ready to call it quits, we found ourselves at an oddly beach-themed bar, where we split some chocolatey pastries for dessert and played even more Mäxle—we were really getting into it. Sitting next to Manu was a mistake for me since every time I doubted that he had rolled yet another double, and made him prove it, he really had! So I definitely lost, but had a great time nonetheless. We headed to drop off Manu and get some sleep before it got too late, because Adam and I had an early train the next morning.

When I woke up earlier than I would have liked on Sunday morning, Louisa had already packed a giant bag of food for us. It was filled with Lebkuchen, Leibnitz sandwich cookies (which we have since fallen completely in love with) actual sandwiches we had made the night before, the leftover fries and of course all that beer from Jean-Yves. Good thing we had packed light up to that point! Louisa dropped us off at the Karlsruhe Hauptbahnhof before the sun could warm the day up at all, so we said some quick "Aufwiedersehen"s (literally "on seeing you again" which is much nicer than goodbye, isn't it? Nicely open-ended) and headed to board our train.

It turned out to have been a good thing that we reserved seats, as the train was quite full. It made for relaxing sleeping, as there was only one other woman in our private compartment. It Hogwarts Express or the Orient Express I was also fun since we could pretend we were on the the suppose, but the latter is decidedly more spooky and less cheery, so I went for the former. When I wasn't reading another book, I found myself speculating at what point the woman sitting next to us would reveal herself to actually be Professor Lupin in disguise…

We made it to Hogwarts—no wait, Hamburg with no issues (unlike when we were going in the other direction!) and then proceeded to miss our last train to Rostock in probably the dumbest way I have ever missed a train. And as many of you know, I have missed a surprising number of trains in my relatively short life. We were on the right platform with plenty of time to spare, but just too far up, so we didn't see our train coming until it was pulling out of the station without us. Luckily, we were able to get on the next one without issues, and without a new ticket. But it does seem like maybe Hamburg as a city is mad at us for not having properly explored it yet (we arrived and left in the dark the last time) and never left the station the next time. Since I left my sleeping bag at Maggie's, to avoid toting it across Europe, we will have to come back soon and rectify the situation and make our peace with the apparently spiteful Hamburg transit system.

Luckily, I had the following Monday off, so was able to re-set and do some laundry etc before starting back at school again. It was a relatively run-of-the-mill week, with the highlights being the more mundane joys of everyday life, rather than impressive works of art or stunning mountain-scapes of the week before. Namely: the gorgeously colorful salad that I carefully arranged, then realized the bowl was way to small to toss the dressing in, so I had to dump it all into a giant stew pot, out of which I ungracefully chomped the entire thing away. There is something so satisfying about a gigantic salad, isn't there? We also got to eat those free noodles from Pforzheim and use the new spoon with some tasty pesto, which was nice.

rainbow salad
So colorful, so symmetrical—it couldn't last

I guess it was a colorful week. Between lovely red leaves along my biking path on the way to work, to the salad, to the lovely sunset I glimpsed over the river. A week off had been the perfect amount for me, though some of the busier teachers at school disagreed. Since my work schedule can hardly be called overly demanding (by any stretch of the imagination) and I have really been enjoying the work, it was nice to get back to routine after a burst of adventure the week before.