Bikes and a Weinachtsmarkt

Hello all, it's been busy! Here at last are the photos. Once again, see my comments on the google photo album for context and further musings on the pictures.

The two weeks after getting back from Prague were mostly uneventful, besides the relief at getting negative covid test results for Adam and I after our exposure in Prague. I began giving presentations about Thanksgiving at school too, which was fun. I made sure to be honest about the more brutal history of the holiday, since the students are old enough to not get the sugar-coated "rainbows and unicorns and everyone lived happily ever after" version of the story.

I see my role as a Fulbrighter here as part ambassador, wanting to present a positive face of the country I come from, but the other part of my job is to be honest in this communication so that the connections I can build here can be stronger. I also really believe that facing the uglier parts of our history head-on is the only way to move forward without repeating that ugliness, and frankly the way that most Germans seem to seriously consider and reckon with the history of Naziism is inspiring for that reason. Therefore, I thought it was important to explain that Thanksgiving is tied up with genocide, forced assimilation and repeated land theft…but it was also nice to share the more positive aspects we celebrate today, like gratefulness, togetherness with friends and family and of course delicious food. Thanksgiving is one of the few uniquely American holidays, since most of the things we celebrate originated in other continents, so I gave a similar presentation about my family's traditions to several classes.

Adam's birthday came at the end of the third week in November, but after me pestering him repeatedly about what he wanted to eat and do to celebrate, he responded that all he wanted for his birthday was for me to stop asking questions about it, so it ended up being a pretty normal day. Maggie arrived for her first visit to Rostock the next day however, so that was a nice change to routine.

We met her at the Hauptbahnhof later in the morning than we would have liked (being the sleepyheads we are) so we could go straight to Warnemünde, to see the Baltic. We had a nice time walking out to the lighthouse and along the beach walkway. Once we determined that the old lighthouse was closed for the season, so we couldn't go up and look out, we eventually grabbed some fish sandwiches (for the fish eaters) and fries for me, to munch on while we strolled.

We watched the seagulls looping through the gusts overhead, noting how many fewer people there were compared to the warm September day when we had last visited—it made sense considering how little the biting November wind encouraged swimming, even for Maggie and I who liked to brave the cold. She was about halfway done eating her sandwich when the swarm of sea gulls decided they wanted to share, and swooped down and snatched it from Maggie's hand! They even took a little slice of her finger skin with them—those beaks and claws are as sharp as they look I guess! I mean I have heard of gulls snatching things out of people's hands, but had never seen it, and it was quite startling up close I must say. Luckily, Maggie is perpetually over prepared (or in this case, appropriately prepared, I suppose) so she had Neosporin and a band-aid in her backpack, and was able to bandage herself up.

Kate, Maggie and Adam with the Warnemünde Lighthouse
These are the pre-seagull attack smiles!

We headed home after a bit more strolling, sculpture-gazing and coffee for Adam. We enjoyed a brief backyard fire and then went to bed fairly early, since there were big biking plans afoot for the next day, which looked like it would be somewhat less than totally rainy. You learn to look upon this kind of weather forecast as pretty good after living in Germany for a while. Adam wanted to take it easy, and since Maggie hadn't been able to take her bike on the train, we lowered the seat on Adam's borrowed bike for her to borrow, so the two of us could set out on our adventure early the next morning.

After running back into the already locked house before the sun was all the way up, thinking I had just forgotten a mask, it turned out I had also forgotten my phone, so it's good I went back! Our adventure was off to a better start after that—Maggie and I followed my normal bike route along the river to school, except we continued across the water to the Hauptbahnhof. There, we got on a train bound for Graal-Müritz, a little town on the coast to the northeast, where we would continue biking along the water. We were happy to have stayed dry thus far, and to have made our train, so we set off in good spirits.

It was just after 9 when we found our first gorgeous beach of the day, and about half an hour later, in another little town farther up the coast called Dierhagen, I slowed down to examine what I thought were some oddly shaped gray…sheep? wandering along the tree-line at the edge of a field. We went to investigate. It quickly became clear that they were not sheep…or goats, and were the wrong color (but about the right size it seemed like) to be deer. As we watched the curious creatures for a moment longer, and struggled through the brambles to get a better look, we heard an odd warbling cry coming from the…herd? or was it flock? They did seem to be walking in a rather jerky bird-like fashion, but they were huge and seemed to be wandering freely, not belonging to any of the nearby farms. We weren't sure if ostriches or emus were native to northern Europe…upon consultation with Maggie's ornithologist friend we THINK they may be greater Rhea birds, even though the calls we were hearing didn't exactly match. So it remains somewhat of a mystery, and was certainly an interesting investigation along the way.

Mystery bird wobbles and warbles

After passing through Dierhagen, we headed for Wustrow, which was an interesting ride along a strip of land between the Baltic on our left and a little bay on our right. Upon arrival in Wustrow, we enjoyed the boardwalk from the beach that extended out into the water and provided a nice view of the waves from behind as they crashed onto shore. From there we turned back, noting the astonishing amount of thatched roofs on the houses we passed. We eventually found a sunny and dry bus stop and ate our first of two brie and homemade raspberry jam (thanks Gabi!) sandwiches before turning and heading east along the bay toward Ribnitz-Damgarten.

Kate and Maggie on the Wustrow boardwalk
Being such a midwesterner, I am still thrilled every time I'm by saltwater

Once in Ribnitz-Damgarten, we locked up our bikes and set off for a stroll into town. We noted the lovely church, a small Christmas market, and the "Rostocker Tor" which we had to take a look at. It was a regular stone towner pretty much, but funny that it was named after a city we were no longer in. We found a nice park behind the old cloister to enjoy our second sandwiches and some apples and chocolate—much deserved after the 20 miles we had already biked that day.

I had been looking for some fresh sage in order to make the delicious sweet potato gnocchi recipe I was craving, but my searching in the nearby grocery stores for about a week had been fruitless. I was thinking about this as we strolled down the street in this little town, so you can imagine my surprise when we suddenly came across a patch of sage growing right there on the street! What are the odds? I took the opportunity to fill up my then empty sandwich container, so we could have some for dinner that night.

After determining that taking the train back to Rostock from there directly, rather than cycling back to Graal-Müritz, like we had planned wouldn't work, we hopped on the bikes again and headed back by pedal power. A rainbow saw us on our way—peeking at us from between the clouds on the other side of the bay.

The way back didn't include any mystery birds or sandwich or boardwalk stops, so it went more quickly, and we made it back to the station where we had started biking with plenty of time to get tickets and board the train before it really started raining. We congratulated ourselves on our excellent weather timing and exchanged pictures on the way back. The rain didn't let up by the time we arrived back at the Rostock Hauptbahnhof, so it was a soggy and windy ride back around the river to Gehlsdorf, but it was ok, because we could stumble inside and peel off our wet clothes and get warm showers before too long.

The gnocchi recipe is quite labor-intensive, so it was a good thing Adam had pre-baked the sweet potatoes before we got back. Maggie and I proved to be good cooking as well as adventure buddies though, so we had a nice time chatting and chopping, till the buttery sage-y goodness was ready to eat. They didn't quite live up to the delicious memories I had of the last time I had made the recipe, but they were still pretty tasty. It was another early-ish night, since our ride had totaled 40 miles so we were pretty worn out. Adam did get Maggie to try his new favorite digestive: Underburg before bedtime though. She was not as opposed to the vaguely licorice flavor as I had become, but wasn't nearly as much a fan as Adam either.

the next day, after Maggie's virtual German class, and my in-person class at school, we were able to explore the Rostock Weinachtsmarkt on the very first day it was open, before Maggie had to hop on her train back to Hamburg. For the uninitiated: A Weinachtsmarkt is a German traditional Christmas market. Most German towns will open a little market similar to the farmers markets usually held in the same place, but these are only open from late November to about the 22 of December, and they are explicitly Christmas themed. You can get Glühwein (hot mulled wine) sugar-roasted nuts, and many other delicious snack and meal options in various stands. There are also stalls selling traditional wooden ornaments and decorations, in addition to advent wreaths.

If felt a bit odd to be starting the Christmas season so early, but when you don't have Thanksgiving to look forward to, and each day is getting a bit darker, you have to introduce some cheer into the equation somehow! Rostock claimed to have the biggest Christmas market in the north, which might actually be true, since Hamburg had many smaller ones throughout the city, whereas Rostock went with the strategy of just turning the entire downtown into a market, essentially.

It was interesting this year, being the first year that the markets had been open since the pandemic. Since Rostock's market was so extensive, they couldn't possibly fence or enclose the entire thing, so they just required you to either show a vaccine card (most people here have them turned into QR codes on their phones) or else a recent negative rapid test, and then you would get a wristband that you needed in order to buy anything from the stands. And masks were required. They were doing their best, but it doesn't really work to sell people hot food and drink and then tell them to wear masks…Not to mention the fact that the market had just taken over the normal shopping street meant that there were certainly people (not necessarily vaccinated or tested) walking through as well. It was rather crowded, but at least it was also outside, which does help.

Glühwein and a ferris wheel
Starting off the Christmas season right!

We were able to slurp some Glühwein, crunch on some nuts and stroll around taking in the ferris wheel, lights and music for a while before Maggie had to head for her train. Adam and I headed home before too long, since we would be back the next morning for the residence permit appointment we would have at the migration office.