Tag Archives: Germany

Mundane Monday: Faces (of clocks)

This week’s Mundane Monday Challenge from Dr K Ottaway has the theme, Faces.  I don’t feel completely comfortable putting up human faces here. My kids have taken a huge number of selfies showing their faces, but they’re old enough to curate their own online social media histories without me getting involved. And I’m just not feeling ready to post pictures of the faces of friends, strangers or acquaintances. I could post my own face, but ugh.

So I had another idea as I was looking through trip pictures: clock faces. I happened on this one from Guernsey.


It was in an upscale souvenir shop near the Little Chapel, a sweet tourist attraction on the island. These clocks were extremely inventive. This one played Spring from the Four Seasons, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, Morning from Grieg’s Peer Gynt, the theme from Beethoven’s Symphony #6 Pastorale, and maybe Pachelbel’s Canon. (If not, there was definitely another one playing–and playing and playing–Pachelbel’s Canon). Especially cool was that the face of the clock came apart into the flower shape shown here, whirled around to the music, and finally went back together when the music stopped. We didn’t buy it but it was fun to watch.


This is another unusual clock face, this time from Bad Schussenried, Germany. The workings of an old tower clock (Turmuhr) from 1750 were made into artwork on the side of a building. This one is not going to tell time for you.


And this last “face” is on an Anniversary Clock, the name for the type of golden torsion pendulum clock under glass shown here. This one was given to my step mother-in-law by my late father-in-law when they were married. She was his second wife after he was widowed in 1989. He passed away in 2015, just before we moved to California.

Legend has it, when he died, the clock stopped. It later started again on its own. It still sits on her windowsill, facing the room, now with fresh batteries.


Thursday Doors (on Friday): Berlin Walk

BerlinerBaerHi! I’m back (if anyone is still reading this blog!)

I didn’t intend for my break from blogging to be this long. I was on a trip to Europe, then I visited my parents, then I had a really busy teaching week. I can see how one gets out of the habit, especially with a full-time demanding job. And then all of the sudden you look up and a month has gone by.

I also have a bad case of photo fatigue. I showed my parents the pictures from the trip on TV and it took two 2-hr sessions to get through everything.

A couple of years ago I started participating in a weekly photo challenge called Thursday Doors, now run by Norm 2.0. Thursday doors goes back to 2014 in Montreal. and it now includes weekly links to posts from all over the world. I find that doors provide a unique view of a place: doors show not only the architecture but the street culture and the history, the way neighborhoods cohere and don’t, and what people find important at the moment.

Although Norm tends to show closed doors, I have been surprised at how often the doors I am trying to photograph are open, leading to posts that are more about Thursday doorways. And I have wrestled (but not too hard) with the question of whether a gate is a door (answer: for blogging purposes, yes!)

So, for this Friday’s version of Thursday doors, I’m continuing what I started in Berlin at the Brandenburg Gate.

Weather in Germany is different from weather in California. I’m biased, but I like California weather better. In the past when we have gone to Germany in June and July I have felt cheated out of a real summer. It’s just not summer when your normal clothing to go about the day comprises long pants and a jacket. IMO.

But that is Berlin for you. Like many European cities, most of the buildings in Berlin are made of stone. The trappings of modern commerce, especially around and in the doorways, manage to look both dignified and out of place at the same time.

This effect is especially apparent to me under a gray sky. Gray to match the buildings.

On this day it rained a little bit, too. It wasn’t even enough water to make real Germans think twice.


We were still a bit jet-lagged and tired from the 9-hr time difference, but we were getting out there because we were in Berlin and we were supposed to. So the experience felt a little surreal, wandering through alleyways (because that’s what these stone buildings make the streets feel like) in search of food and a geocache.

What is this man doing? Laundry? No, someone hid a geocache in a sock in the middle of a street in Berlin! It’s not a door, but I thought it was still worth showing. I’ve never seen a cache like it before. I’ll also point out that he is 6’4″ tall and still had to reach up pretty high to retrieve it. I probably couldn’t have gotten it on my own.

My husband finding an actual geocache hidden in a sock
My husband finding an actual geocache hidden in a sock

We had surprisingly good luck just finding places to eat, and this was a nice restaurant, a cozy place to eat and wait for the rain to stop.


Thursday “Tors”: Brandenburg

So I am here in Berlin, and I have wifi. Woot!

“Tor,” which sounds a lot like “door,” is the German word for gate. (It’s also the German word for “goal,” which you’ll be hearing a lot of with the World Cup about to start). The most famous Tor in Berlin, and perhaps in all of Europe, is the Brandenburger Tor. According to wikipedia, “the Brandenburg Gate was often a site for major historical events and is today considered not only as a symbol of the tumultuous history of Europe and Germany, but also of European unity and peace.”

I lived in Germany for 8 months in 1983. I graduated from high school young and took a gap year between high school and college, living with my family while my professor father took a sabbatical at the Freie Universitaet in Berlin.

This is what the Brandenburger Tor looked like back then, in a picture I took with a Kodak Instamatic. You could only see the back of the chariot on top, from a distance, behind the Berlin Wall, and the whole structure was pretty dirty.

“Achtung! Sie verlassen West-Berlin”

“Attention! You are leaving West Berlin,” the sign informs you, in case you were confused about the concrete wall, the no-man’s land, and the guard towers nearby.

Brandenburg Gate from the West, May 1983

(Admittedly, the faded color printing doesn’t help, but it’s held up surprisingly well for 35 years.)

This is what it looks like today, from the other side, on the famous avenue, “Unter den Linden.” The gate itself has been cleaned up, the wall is gone, and there are tourists everywhere.


This souvenir shop now hangs the opposite sign over its door: “ACHTUNG Sie verlassen jetzt Ost-Berlin” (Attention you are now leaving East Berlin). Our kids, who weren’t yet born when the wall fell, don’t remember anything different. To them, Berlin’s Tor has always been open.


Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favorite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in on the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing it, between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American eastern time) at Norm 2.0’s blog here.


Thursday Doors: Germany

I’m getting ready to go on another trip, this time to Germany. Internet access will be spotty, and while I can technically blog from my phone, I find it cumbersome. I will be gone for a month and not sure how much blogging I will be able to do.

Memmingen City Gate

Since 1983 when I lived in Berlin, I’ve been to Germany many times, at this point more than I can accurately count. I traveled to Germany in graduate school and gave my thesis seminar at institutes in Tübingen and Frankfurt. I married a German a few years later, we went to Germany for our honeymoon, and we have been back every other year since then, for the last 21 years.


I find myself in an odd position in that although I’ve been there pretty often, Germany is not home for me. I am semi-fluent, enough to get around, but not a native speaker. We have been trying to get our kids to learn to speak German since they born, and frankly it is much harder than I was led to believe!

But, about the doors. The two photos above are different views of the gate into Memmingen, in Bavaria, where we were two years ago after dropping off our kids at German camp. Memmingen is an old town in the Swabia area of Southern Germany. Its origins date back to the Roman empire. I wasn’t doing Thursday doors back when I was there, so if I happened to catch a door in a photo, I was lucky. I’d say that gates count.

There are also some nice-looking old buildings and monuments in Memmingen that have weighty doors. But the doors are better in context:

This last door is more personal. Here my husband is standing in front of the door to the house he grew up in. This house is not in Memmingen. It is much further north, in the Bundesland of Nordrhein-Westfalen, in the town of Mülheim an der Ruhr.


My husband’s mother passed away young, before I ever met him, and by the time I visited this house for the first time it was starting to fall into disrepair. Eventually his elderly father, who had remarried and was no longer living there, could not keep up with it, and it had to be sold. By that time it was barely livable, the yard had become overgrown with weeds and trees, and it required a complete overhaul. The new owners have done a great job with it. We saw the exterior had been painted and fixed up, the trees tamed, the living areas made bright with new windows and paint. The old house, shuttered and lonely for years, has new life now and echoes with the laughter of children.

Last year my trip to Asia supplied me with Thursday Doors posts for a lot of the rest of the year. I’m hoping that now that I know to look for the doors, this trip will do the same!


Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favorite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in on the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing it, between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American eastern time) at Norm 2.0’s blog here.

10316 Days

On Monday I saw a Facebook meme that said the Berlin Wall has now been gone for as many days as it stood: 10,316, to be exact. Fact-checking, I found this article. It’s true: Berlin Wall anniversary: Landmark date in Germany as symbol of division has now been down as long as it was up, by Jon Stone in the Independent.

At the Bus Stop, West Berlin, June 1983
At the Bus Stop, West Berlin, June 1983

In 1983, I lived in West Berlin for 8 months. I graduated from high school at age 16 and took a gap year before going to college. My father, a Chemistry professor, did a sabbatical at the Freie Universitaet Berlin, and our family went with him.

Paradoxically for a city surrounded by a wall, I was afforded a lot of freedom in Berlin. I took public transportation anywhere and everywhere using a student pass. I rode my bike. Every week I would go alone to my violin lesson on both the bus and the subway. My violin teacher, an American expat married to a German, lived in an apartment near the wall. She sometimes crossed into East Berlin to buy sheet music cheaply. My copy of the Brahms violin sonata #1 is an old Edition Peters, bought on one of those trips. When my teacher gave it to me, I handled it gingerly, like it might be radioactive.

The only time I ever crossed into East Berlin myself back then was on a carefully guided tour for American tourists, which we were.  After crossing at Checkpoint Charlie, we drove down Unter den Linden, toured a museum with a bust of Nefertiti, and visited a memorial to fallen soldiers.

We were shown a lot of the wall, too. Across the wall and no-man’s land, you could see this futuristic silver ball, the Fernsehturm (TV Tower). Built from 1965-1969 and 365 meters tall (at the time), it was visible from many parts of West Berlin. Particularly as I rode my bike around the city, it was a landmark I kept in my mind’s eye. Like my Eastern copy of Brahms, it seemed extra-foreign and a little sinister.

Berlin Wall from the West, looking across no-man’s land. Fernsehturm in the distance. May 1983

Living there at that time and playing music there influenced what I’ve wanted to write about as an adult. One of my stories at the Clarion West writers’ workshop, “Sunrise on West Lake,” was fantasy about a musician who escaped from a repressive society.

In 1997 I married my husband, who was born and raised in (then West) Germany. We’ve been back many times to visit his friends and family, but only once to Berlin, in 1998.

We could visit the Brandenburg gate from the other side (and it’s a lot cleaner looking!)

Checkpoint Charlie was also no longer recognizable.

Checkpoint Charlie, 15 years later, May 1998

Construction was everywhere in Berlin back then in the first heady years after the wall came down, and it’s still going on. Pieces of the wall were dismantled and sent around the world as memorials. We have such a piece right here in Mountain View CA. It’s next to the Public Library, and someone made a virtual geocache out of it. I decided that the anniversary would be a good day to find that cache, which is called “Wir Lieben Dich” for obvious reasons.

To find this virtual cache, you had to answer a question about the area around the cache, and have your picture taken with the pieces of the wall. I ran into a fellow cacher at the library, and she happily took my picture.

A piece of the Berlin Wall outside the Mountain View Public Library

As we rightly celebrate the wall’s demise, we also remember those who died trying to cross it:

Checkpoint Charlie, 1983
Checkpoint Charlie, 1983

And the victims of the Nazis:

Plotzensee Memorial to the victims of Hitler's Dictatorship
Plotzensee Memorial to the victims of Hitler’s Dictatorship (May 1983)

No more walls.

Photo Challenge: Edge, at the Oberhausen Gasometer

I seem to have found a new way to procrastinate working on my novel: participating in photo challenges!

Gasometer Oberhausen
Exterior of Oberhausen Gasometer

But procrastination aside, I had been wanting to share these photos for a while and hadn’t found a good place to do it. (They are not mundane enough for Mundane Monday and there’s not a Thursday Door in sight). They were taken at the Gasometer in Oberhausen, Germany, near where my husband grew up. We visited the main exhibit during our visit this summer.

Continue reading Photo Challenge: Edge, at the Oberhausen Gasometer

Belated Mundane Monday: Canal Fish

My husband grew up in the Ruhrgebiet, an area around the Ruhr River in the German state of Nordrhein-Westfalia. This area in midwestern Germany, not unlike its midwestern counterpart in the USA, is known for its coal mining and heavy industry. Nowadays the mundane contraptions of 20th-century industries can be found amidst nature, slowly encroaching.

Continue reading Belated Mundane Monday: Canal Fish