Friends, Music, and Lights, Oh My!

Hello all! Since we are now finally settled in to our rhythms here, there was not quite so much moving and traveling in the second half of October, so I am trying to catch up to the present moment at last, by shoving a couple of weeks together here.

So buckle up, and take a look at the photos here, or else read on for some context first!

On Saturday the 16th, Frank kindly picked Adam and I up at 6 to go to a party like no other we had ever heard of. It was to be their annual East-German Birthday party. Every year they celebrate not the reunification of Germany, on October 3rd, but the formation of the Deutsche Demokratische Republik (DDR) or the German Democratic Republic, somewhere around October 7th, which was the day in 1949 that what we know as East Germany was formed. This may seem odd to many Americans, since all we ever hear of East Germany in the US is about the escape attempts over the Berlin Wall, the lack of freedoms and the surveillance by the Stasi. And indeed, no one at the party denied the existence, or even downplayed the significance of these things, but for Gabi and Frank's friend group, all of whom grew up in East Germany, there is also a lot of nostalgia and positive memories associated with that time. And also, as they pointed out, these things were for the most part far from their peaceful lives in Rostock.

Adam and I certainly learned a lot, and got to eat some tasty East German foods (as you probably picked up on by now, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and therefore Rostock, were part of East Germany, forming the border with West Germany.) We snacked on some peanut-butter flavored corn puffs, and some chocolate drops with crunchy wafer bits inside. For dinner, Gabi had made a delicious sauerkraut and potato casserole and there were a variety of sausages for the meat-eaters to choose from, some potato salad (with both pickles and apples!) as well as, of course delicious bread.

After dinner the champagne and later vodka (I guess that's the Soviet influence?) flowed, as did stories about the old days in the East. We heard about the old Trabi car, that was fiberglass, and had a 2-stroke engine, which required you to mix up oil and gas before pouring the mixture under the hood rather than through the traditional gas cap. Oh and no turn signals—wild times I guess! We heard from their friend Harald about the 2 day visa you could get to go visit Russia, and about the only 2 kinds of shoes that East German young people had: the "Jesus Sandals" for summer wear (simple, 2 strap, flat soled leather sandals) and the basic leather hiking boots for the winter. We even got to see Frank's Communist Party application papers that he never filled out and turned in. He had considered joining, because it was well known that one could only advance so far on any given career path before you had to join the party, in order to get promoted further.

They talked honestly about the failings of the Communist system, about the lack of travel opportunities especially, but also what they saw as the promise of the Socialist ideal: equality for all, and the goal of working together for the common good. Which, I have to admit, having just left a home country that is so deeply divided along political lines, sounds pretty nice. It didn't always live up to it's ideals, but as they also mentioned, they were far better informed about the West than we were about the real situation in the East, so there was (and still is) a lot of misrepresentation that went on as well. I also got the sense that, along with nostalgia, there is something about being the underdog that made the assembled group want to defend the positive aspects of the history too. It was certainly a fascinating and highly educational evening. One of Gabi's former mentee teachers was kind enough to drive us home, sometime after midnight.

We rested on the Sunday, and the next week started off without much out of the ordinary. The most eventful thing to happen was that the Gehlsdorf ferry opened back up! Remember how they had shut it down way back in the beginning of September to do some construction on the dock and put in a solar electric ferry? It was finished at last so we were able to take the ferry over to Harald and Kirsten's house, where they had kindly invited us to their home in KTV (across the river) for dinner, and to pick up an old bike Harald had that Adam could use for the year. The chickpea soup was delectable, and we had a great time chatting with Harald, Kirsten, Gabi and Frank some more. It was quite late by the time we made it home on the bus, deciding not to bike home for the first time in the dark.

Solar Ferry
Our long awaited, new and improved solar ferry!

We had a chance to take the ferry and see our new friends again only a few days later, since Harald and Kirsten were DJ-ing a "World Music" evening on the following Friday at "The Bunker" which is an old WWII bomb shelter. In addition to being the perfectly sound-proofed space for music that will never bother the neighbors, it also has a climbing wall on the outside! I didn't get to experience the climbing part on that visit however, since we had enough trouble trying to get in (the bouncer was very suspicious of the pictures of our US vaccine cards.) We eventually did get in, and had a wonderful time dancing to everything from Mauri artists out of New Zealand, to Serbian funk music to the old classic "Bella Ciao."

Before we knew it we had missed the last Gehlsdorf bus that would have been the second leg of our trip home, so we said our goodbyes (after finishing the "Mexikaner" shots Frank had bought for us—it was like a mini spicier version of a bloody Mary—quite yummy!) Gabi was disappointed in us for not having biked to the event like she and Frank had, because then we would have been able to stay as late as we wanted—next time! As it was we barely made the last tram, and then had to walk the 25 minutes home from the end of the tram line, since apparently the Gehlsdorf bus, nor the ferry run after midnight. Luckily it was a brightly moonlit night, not raining, and not even too cold. Adam's amazing phone even caught some cool photos of me cavorting in the moon shadows.

Kate Saluting the bright moon
Moon Salutation

We finished tidying up the house to make it ready for our first overnight guests who arrived on Saturday evening, a bit later than expected (Adam and I aren't the only ones who miss trains it turns out!) It was great to see Laura and Gabe for the first time in a while—fun to reunite and reminisce about the old days in the goofy college house we all shared. After some curry and apple crisp I had made with the apples Gabi had given us from her tree, we headed back into town towards the Rostocker Oktoberfest. We missed the bus though, and so by the time we made it all the way around the river to the city harbor, there was only an hour left of the festival, and they wouldn't let us in! We strolled around the city for a bit anyway, before heading home.

The next day's adventures were more successful, since we avoided public transport (Laura had gotten pretty motion sick from the evening before and all the busses) because Adam's knee still wasn't 100%, we had a walking duo and a biking duo. I was team walk, and Adam team bike, and the bikers would zoom ahead and then find a bench to hangout on until the walkers caught up, and Gabe and Laura switched back and forth who rode my bike. It was a bit of an odd arrangement, but we got lucky with a rare sunny day, so we were able to follow the first part of the route I take when biking to work: the lovely path along the water, and enjoy the beautiful fall leaves and blue sky. All the strolling gave me time to catch up with both Laura and Gabe too, which was nice. We gave them a brief tour of the old town and a bit of KTV before finding some tasty Thai food for a late lunch, which was about all we could do on a Sunday, since most everything else was closed. The late lunch meant we were only hungry for a light snack dinner, which we enjoyed down by the water as we watched the sun set. A lovely way to cap off a wonderful day.

The next few days were mostly low-key, but we did get to try out our backyard fire pit for the first time, which was exciting. On Tuesday, I didn't have any class, so Gabe and I took the ferry over to KTV to explore the bouldering gym there. Bouldering, if you aren't familiar, is just rock climbing that doesn't go up very high, so you don't use rope, you just down-climb once you finish a route. The floor is covered in thick foam though, so if you fall it's no big deal either.

Kate and Gabe at the bouldering gym
It felt good to get back in the game with some climb time!

We had a nice time tackling different routes, both of us getting back into the swing of things after not having climbed for a while. It's always fun generally exhausting your forearms and pushing your grip strength to the limit. It was nice to be able to head out through the garage-style doors to the outdoor wall to cool off too. We were getting peckish as we concluded that we could climb no more, and so, inspired by Laura's story of the plum cake they had enjoyed in Munich I ordered some from the little cafe in the gym…or so I thought. Imagine my surprise, then, when the barista served us what looked like a pizza with white sauce, bacon and herbs… After closer inspection, it turned out that I had ordered "Flammenkuchen" which is translated as a "tarte flambée" which is quite different from "Pflaumenkuchen" which would have been the plum cake I was expecting, but was not in fact on the menu. I picked off the bacon on a couple pieces, but mostly Gabe had a bigger (and more savory) snack than either of us were expecting. Wieder was gelernt! (the German equivalent of "you learn something new everyday!")

Because of the oral exams that the 12th graders were taking that week, I was covering more classes alone at school than I normally would, given that the teachers were also the test administrators. Unfortunately, this meant that I didn't get to spend quite as much time with our visitors as I normally would have been able to, before Gabe had to catch his cheap midweek flight to Barcelona on Wednesday. Laura hung out with us a few extra days however.

She and I strolled over to the nearby restaurant "Zum Alten Fährhaus" on Wednesday evening to try some real German food before she left the country. Laura was not overly impressed by the Wiener Schnitzel she ordered "It's just a flat chunk of meat. With no seasoning…" but we enjoyed dipping her curly fries in the honey mustard dressing that was leftover from my goat-cheese topped salad, which was pretty tasty. It was also the only vegetarian option on the menu, so too bad the only restaurant in Gehlsdorf doesn't have much going for it, in terms of Kate-able food. I was impressed by the menu that had a wood cover and an actual cabinet hinge on the front though. Also it looks like they sell ice cream, so we may in fact be back, come summer.

Thursday afternoon was a beautiful sunny day as well, so we picked up some actual plum cake and headed for the as yet unexplored Lindenpark. It was a bit of a walk from the ferry, but it was well worth it. It was the exact fall scene I had been craving: the ground was carpeted in a thick layer of bright yellow leaves, and more fluttered down each time the breeze blew through. We spread out our blanket, got out our three forks, scooted close, and proceeded to pass the plumb cake around until we had eaten the entire delicious thing. Adam rested his knee while Laura and I explored the park, which turned out to be criss crossed with perpendicular paths lined with Linden trees, explaining both the name and the reason that the parked looks like a giant green waffle on google maps.

leaf angel
The autumn spirit overtook me and I had to make the fall version of a snow angel in the golden leaves.

Adam biked ahead of Laura and my strolling and caught an earlier ferry home. It was dusk by the time Laura and I stumbled on an adorable parade of kids with lanterns wandering through the city. It was what I have come to think of as a "German style" parade, with no spectators, only participants. So there was no one lining the streets to watch the spectacle go by, rather the families trailed behind the band with their homemade and some store bought lanterns, so that the parade got longer and longer, Pied Piper style, in this case, until it wound itself out. I love running across those kinds of random local events when traveling.

Laura was already headed for the bus that would take her onwards to her own Copenhagen adventure by the time I got back from class on Friday. Thus my extra long four day weekend (well five for me actually, since Wednesdays are off on my A week schedule) that I had forgotten about began with no more guests in the house. Though part of me felt silly for having forgotten about the long weekend, where we could have planned another bigger trip, the other part of me knew that I needed to recuperate with some introvert time after having a full house the week before. Having guests is always fun (let me know if you wanna come visit, for real!) but it does require some recharge of alone time afterwards, for me.

So we relaxed fully, only really leaving the house on Halloween for a brief evening bike ride, where we did see some adorable little skeletons and ghouls out haunting the streets. Due to apartments and the pandemic, I've still never given out any candy on Halloween, which would be fun one of these years…

On Monday Adam and I celebrated seven years of dating (which sounds like an awfully long time, doesn't it?!) with a little champagne. We had fun doing that trick where you drop a raisin in the glass and watch the bubbles get caught on the wrinkly skin and bring it up to the surface, where enough of them pop to send it falling back to the bottom, so the cycle repeats itself. After a while, we put another raising in and watched the two of them eventually build up enough bubbles to make alternating trips to the surface. Fun with carbonation!

On Tuesday we finally managed to get ourselves out of the house, and on to bikes and around the water to the old town, where we visited the Kulturhistorisches Museum Rostock, which is pretty much what it sounds like. We enjoyed the first floor exhibition that was about the history of the city from 1200 to 1850. It was quite interesting to see the change from a small collection of homes and businesses huddled around the churches grow to a powerful walled city and proud member of the extensive Hanseatic League trade network in the middle ages. Probably the wildest sight was the collection of medieval torture devices (mainly used, apparently, for slowly crushing various bones) that were a prominent feature at Neuer Markt (not such a new market after all apparently) until 1796!

ankle crushers-eek!
These definitely would have scared me away from committing any crime severe enough to warrant their use as punishment, yikes!

We learned that, due to quarrels with the locals dukes, who had left Rostock mostly independent during the Hanseatic days, the city lost some of its power in the 1500s. By the 1850s, the importance of Rostock as both a port and a center of ship-building had regained some of its prominence, however. The exhibit was engaging and well-set up, with enough English to give Adam the gist of what was going on, and some interesting graphics, especially of what the city would have looked like in various years.

After walking through the city history exhibit, we poked our head into the chapel of the monastery, around which the museum was built—it had a large organ and all the impressive gothic archways typical of so many churches. We then ventured upstairs to look through the permanent exhibits. There was one all about historic toys, and also an entire floor of mostly landscape paintings to explore.

We made it back home before the "Lichtwoche" displays lit up the city, knowing we would be back to see those the next day. We instead opted to make our own backyard "Licht" with another bonfire. One should really take advantage of the positive aspects of living on the ground floor, such as easy covered bike storage on our patio, and the space to have a fire pit in the back yard. Especially if these advantages come with a slightly damper state of affairs in the house than one might wish for…Don't worry we have 2 dehumidifiers now, so things are much improved.

On Wednesday evening (November 3rd, if you are getting lost in the weeks here) we set out around 7 for another bike ride to the old town. One perk of the sun setting around 4 is that it's equally dark at 7pm and 3am, so you stop worrying about things like biking in the daylight. Because of the latitude, luckily both Adam and my borrowed bikes came to us equipped with dynamo powered lights, and Germany is equipped with wonderful biker-friendly paths, so we were quite safe. We were not quite as speedy as we thought though, so we were late meeting fellow Fulbrighter Amber and her boyfriend Kurt at Kröperliner Tor. We eventually found them (it's harder when everyone is bundled up, and it's dark) and oohed and ahhed at the colorful patterns of light that were projected on the already impressive stone gate.

Apparently "Lightwoche" or "Light Week" is an annual event put on by the city, essentially, it seems, as a morale booster between Halloween and the start of Advent and the Christmas Market season. It was a nice pick-me-up to see all that light when the world starts really diving into darkness at this time of year. We strolled down to Universitätsplatz, where we got some Glüwein (hot mulled wine) to warm ourselves up as we chatted and took in the dazzling displays around us. We strolled over to Neuer Markt to see the Rathaus lit up, and peeked down the street to see a bedazzled Steintor as well, before setting out on our equally dark ride home.

Rathaus with projected lights
The Rathaus did indeed look quite festive

I had a very short week, consisting of just Thursday and Friday, before setting off to meet Laura in Prague, for our first foray into the Czech Republic. Rather than using the long weekend to travel, we took off the weekend after. Since I had Monday off, it was the best of both worlds, since we got to relax as well as get the traveling in. I like this pace of one international trip each month so far—I hope we can keep it up, and that the pandemic doesn't get too out of control to prevent travel as the year goes on. The good news is, I just found out that I can get a booster shot for free here, so I'll have to schedule that (and hopefully my flu shot at the same time) as soon as I can. Stay healthy everyone!