Die Katze hat hitzefrei.

I took this picture of my cat, Leela, in the middle of our heatwave. If she could speak, she’d be saying, “Don’t expect any dead mice on the patio today. I have hitzefrei.”

When my girls were going to German school, they would call me up in the middle of the morning and gleefully announce in beautiful Denglish, “We have hitzefrei!” Because most German schools have no air conditioning, they occasionally have to cancel classes because of excessive temperatures just as we Americans occasionally cancel class because of snow. The word hitzefrei comes from die Hitze, “the heat,” and frei, “unoccupied” or “at liberty.” So hitzefrei is a free day because of high temperatures–a heat day, you might say.

The adjective, hitzefrei, and the noun, das Hitzefrei, mean exactly the same thing, so in most common expressions, the only question is whether to capitalize the H or not. Hitzefrei haben, “to have a heat day,” and hitzefrei bekommen, “to get a heat day” can be either one, so there’s no wrong answer here. But Hitzefrei geben, “to give [students or workers] a heat day,” is always the noun and always capitalized. Kein Hitzefrei bekommen, “not to get a heat day,” should also be capitalized.

Posted on by Clare Dunkle | Leave a comment

Beating the Heat in Germany

Hot duck in Lindau am Bodensee

It’s sunny and 85 degrees outside (30 degrees C), and even the ducks are listless and miserable. My Texan friends might laugh, but stop to think about this first: Germany has almost no air conditioning! Everywhere you go right now, from stores to restaurants, you’re unlikely to find that chilly blast of refreshing A/C we Texans take for granted.

The first time Joe and I moved to Germany, it was already September, and summertime heat was the last thing on our minds. When we picked our first house, we didn’t think to ask about the prevailing breezes, and we weren’t sorry the house didn’t have a basement. Passive solar? Sure, we’d heard the phrase–but we hadn’t ever had to live it.

We spent some desperately uncomfortable days and nights in that house.

The truth is that the average house in our part of Germany doesn’t need air conditioning. It has features that, if properly used, can help keep its residents cool. The walls are cinderblock, with stucco on top of that. They’re at least a foot thick. Windows in most well-made houses are equipped with Rollladens (yes, all three of those Ls belong there). Rollladens are special shutters that roll down outside the window glass. They can be rolled down in such a way that they let in some light, like these Rollladens in my dining room:

Rollladens (rolling shutters) set to let in some light

Rollladens (rolling shutters) set to let in some light

Or they can be closed entirely, like the Rollladen over this window in my library:

Fully closed Rollladen (rolling shutter)

Fully closed Rollladen (rolling shutter)

Rollladens help immensely to keep a German house cool. By keeping sunlight off the window glass, they stop that “hot car” greenhouse effect. They also trap dead air and insulate the window area from heat. In effect, they turn my windows into more of that lovely, thick German wall.

Every window downstairs is shut tight against the higher temperature outside. But heat rises, so upstairs, I’m letting the breezes blow through to keep any warm air from getting trapped. This house’s second story has large patio-door-style windows at each gable end, and they stand open day and night. The house also has four large windows in the roof, and they’re open as far as possible to let the rising hot air escape.

My house would seem to be doomed to be an oven because an entire south-facing room is glass without proper Rollladens:

Glass garden room off my living room

Glass garden room off my living room

And a large part of the roof is glass, too. (Thank God, it has polarized window film on it.)

Glass roof panels over our living room

Glass roof panels over our living room

Because I take advantage of the other features of the house, however, even the room right next to all this glass is cooler than the outside air. The thermometer on the desk in the library tells me it’s 78 degrees (26 Celsius) right now, seven degrees cooler than the temperature in my sunny garden outside.

But, on an ordinary day, I wouldn’t be in this room at all. I would be taking advantage of the best passive solar feature this house has to offer: a full basement apartment.

The first time we house-hunted, we didn’t give basements a second thought. By the time we got to this, our third house, we walked into the basement and said, “Great! This is where the guest beds go and where the writing workstation goes. This is where we’ll escape in the summer.” Right now, all the Rollladens are closed on the half-height basement windows downstairs, and Joe is lounging on one of those guest beds in the twilight, surfing the web on his tablet. The room feels almost too cold. That’s because the temperature down there is 73 degrees.

That’s right: it’s five o’clock in the afternoon on a clear summer day, and a whole section of this un-air-conditioned house is twelve degrees colder than the outside air!

In the winter, that basement apartment is also the warmest place in the house. Its living room is a big, clean, plain room without pictures or distractions, and that’s where I do my writing:

My writing workstation

My writing workstation

The big cinderblock walls of my German house are heating up right now, but tonight the temperature is scheduled to drop down to 59 degrees (15 Celsius), and I’ll keep the second story windows open all night to let today’s heat radiate out of here. If the heat wave continues for several days, even the basement will slowly lose its cool, but that’s unusual in Germany. Tomorrow is forecast to reach a high of only 71 degrees (22 Celsius). I’ll open all the windows in the house to let as much of that chilly air as possible reach both sides of my German walls, getting them ready to battle the next heat wave… whenever it comes along.

To read my latest blog posts, please click on the “Green and Pleasant Land” logo at the top of this page. All photos taken in 2013 and 2014 in Rodenbach, Germany, except for the duck, which was photographed in June, 2014, in Lindau am Bodensee, Germany. Photos and text copyright 2014 by Clare B. Dunkle.

Posted in Daily life, Germany, Seasons, Weather | 1 Comment

The word, “Bavarian,” appears to date back to the AD 400s, to the days of the decaying Roman empire, when it was used to describe the people who lived east of the Swabians but west of historic Bohemia (now the western part of the Czech Republic). The Romans are long gone, but the Bavarians are still there. The name for their land was Baiern until King Ludwig I decreed, in 1825, that it be spelled with a y instead: Bayern. He had just been crowned at the time, and one imagines that he got a real thrill out of this use of his new royal powers. Now the kings are gone, and the German state of Bavaria is der Freistaat Bayern.

Germany resembles Queen Victoria in profile, and Bayern (Bavaria) occupies the entire back of her neck. Oh, you don’t believe me about Germany and the Queen? Just take a look.

Germany looks like Queen Victoria

The Queen’s portrait

Posted on by Clare Dunkle | Leave a comment

Museumsdorf Bayerischer Wald: History in the Open Air

Flowers in a window at Museumsdorf Bayerischer Wald, Tittling, Germany

Flowers in a window at Museumsdorf Bayerischer Wald

This wonderful open-air museum lies in the village of Tittling, twenty minutes north of Passau, in southeastern Germany. The large, grassy park contains a hundred and fifty buildings that, according to the website, date from 1580 to 1850–a nice bit of symmetry, that. Many of the buildings, however, were still in use up to the 1970s before being moved to this sunny time capsule of a museum.

Historical outbuildings at Museumsdorf Bayerischer Wald, Tittling, Germany

Historical outbuildings at Museumsdorf Bayerischer Wald

As large as the museum park is and as small as the village of Tittling is, Google Maps still manages to lose the place: it tried to direct us to Herrenstrasse 1, on the right (east) side of B85, whereas the museum actually lies a little further north and to the left (west). Fortunately, we ignored Google Maps at this point, stayed on B85, and followed the brown “cultural” signs to the museum. They led us there without mishap.

Farm complex at Museumsdorf Bayerischer Wald, Tittling, Germany

Farm complex at Museumsdorf Bayerischer Wald

We learned about this interesting place on Tripadvisor, one of my favorite sources for travel activities because the reviews are written by regular travelers like me and contain lots of helpful advice. The website for the museum itself isn’t quite so helpful for English speakers. So far as I can tell, it’s written only in German. That’s exactly what the Google Translate browser plugin is for, though. I use Chrome and have this Translate plugin installed so that I can translate webpages with a click of a button. It works quite well with this museum’s website and easily unearths basic information such as opening hours, location, and ticket prices. However, if you try it, you may wonder what the mysterious link, “Model Covenant Blame,” is for. But that’s just the sort of thing that makes translation programs fun. Click the link, and the “translated” webpage will invite you to view a “model of a bunch of censure in the 19th century.” Who could possibly resist?

I thoroughly enjoyed the museum. Many of its buildings were elaborately furnished with decorations and tools of from a bygone era. Enough Bavarian farmhouses were represented that a pattern of life could quickly be detected. On one side of the big main room, there was a corner table with good light, suitable not just for meals but for fiddly wintertime projects involving lots of small parts and patience:

Interior of a Bavarian farmhouse at the Museumsdorf Bayerischer Wald, Tittling, Germany

Interior of a Bavarian farmhouse at the Museumsdorf Bayerischer Wald

And on the other side, there was a large, cozy stove and yet another well-lit area suitable for sewing, weaving, or preparing meals, as well as easy access to the bedroom, where a small child or two could be put down to nap without getting cold:

Interior of a Bavarian farmhouse, Museumsdorf Bayerischer Wald, Tittling, Germany

Interior of a Bavarian farmhouse, Museumsdorf Bayerischer Wald

In other words, the main room of the historical Bavarian farmhouse was a multipurpose space that allowed both husband and wife to keep busy side by side yet maintain their independent spheres and consequent sanity during the long, snowy winters.

Mill-driven machine rooms at the Museumsdorf Bayerischer Wald, Tittling, Germany

Mill-driven machine rooms at the Museumsdorf Bayerischer Wald

I loved the museum. It fed my passion for old, shabby spaces undergoing genteel decay. Readers of my books know how much I love that.

Outdoor stairs at the Museumsdorf Bayerischer Wald, Tittling, Germany

Outdoor stairs at the Museumsdorf Bayerischer Wald

More tomorrow…

To read my latest blog posts, please click on the “Green and Pleasant Land” logo at the top of this page. All photos taken in May, 2014, in at the Museumsdorf Bayerischer Wald, Tittling, Germany. Photos and text copyright 2014 by Clare B. Dunkle.

Posted in Farm life, Folk traditions, German art, German history, German house decoration, Germany, Tourist destinations, Village life | Leave a comment

If you’ve read the children’s classic, Heidi (and if you haven’t, then you should immediately do so), then you’ve already learned about die Alm. It’s such a unique term that it isn’t usually translated. Die Alm is any high mountain meadowland where Alpine shepherds in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland pasture their flocks and herds in summertime. In the winter, die Alm is subject to bitter cold, wind, and thick snowfall, so the livestock can’t stay there; they have to be driven up to die Alm in spring and back down into the valleys in autumn. This results in parades all over the region in September and October as the shepherds and farmers decorate their animals with flowers, headdresses, and special bells to move them back home. This parade is known in German as der Almabtrieb, from treiben, “to drive,” ab, “off” or “down from,” and die Alm, that high Alpine summer pastureland.

Posted on by Clare Dunkle | Leave a comment

The Spirit of Bavaria

Dairy herd on the Alm by the Königssee

Dairy herd on the Alm by the Königssee

If you take the walk suggested in yesterday’s post from the Königssee to the Obersee in Berchtesgaden National Park, you will soon come across a rugged wooden sign. For those who don’t read German, here is a translation. “At the little Alpine cabin, there is fresh Alpine milk and buttermilk every day. A butter, bread, and cheese snack is six minutes’ walk away.”

Signpost pointing the way to fresh Alm milk by the Königssee

Signpost pointing the way to fresh milk by the Königssee

From this signpost, we couldn’t see the cabin in question, but we could see the source of that fresh milk and butter: a herd of contented dairy cattle lying around on the hills nearby, accompanied by a couple of goats that looked as if they were straight out of Heidi. I don’t know when dairy cattle eat. Every time I see them, they’re lying down.

Cows dozing to the chime of their own cowbells

Cows dozing to the chime of their own cowbells

Even when we couldn’t see the cattle and goats, we could hear them. Each has its own bell, and the whole area rings with their gentle chimes. Those bells aren’t for tourists, either. Cowbells have been used by shepherds for over 5,000 years. In hilly terrain, shepherds need their help to find missing livestock. So cows really do need the cowbells–because because their horns don’t work!

Unable to resist the offer of fresh milk, we took the six-minute walk to the cabin. (More like three, I’d say.) It had a cheerful appearance, a few picnic tables out in the sun, and two self-serve windows.

Snack time on the Alm by the Königssee

Snack time on the Alm by the Königssee

There, the simple menu included milk from the day’s milking in massive mugs, as well as beer and a few other kinds of drinks. The milk was amazing, even according to my friends who didn’t ordinarily drink milk. It had the mildest, sweetest taste of any milk I’ve ever drunk. The chewy rye bread and butter (Butterbrot) had a sprinkling of spices on it that my friends pronounced very good, but I ordered it without spices (ohne Gewürz). But then we saw a platter of the Speckbrot go by, and we had to have some. Speck is bacon, more or less, and each little square of rye bread had its own complete piece of of it:

Speckbrot ("bacon bread") on the Alm by the Königssee

Speckbrot (“bacon bread”) on the Alm by the Königssee

Meanwhile, here was the view from our picnic table. Emperors and sultans haven’t had a better meal in a better hall than this.

View of the Königssee from the Alm

View of the Königssee from the Alm

To read my latest blog posts, please click on the “Green and Pleasant Land” logo at the top of this page. All photos taken in May, 2014, in Nationalpark Berchtesgaden, Germany. Photos and text copyright 2014 by Clare B. Dunkle.

Posted in Farm life, Folk traditions, Food and drink, German language, Germany, Recreation, Rural scenery, Tourist destinations | 2 Comments

If you travel to Bavaria or Austria, you’re likely to notice that every other town name ends in “-au”: Ramsau, Schönau am Königssee, Lindau, Oberammergau, Grainau, and the list could go on and on. That’s because, in this stony, mountainous region, an “au” represented one of the only locations level enough to use for grazing cattle or growing crops. Die Au is what we Texans call “bottomland,” a fertile low-lying meadow or patch of forest next to a body of water.

Posted on by Clare Dunkle | Leave a comment

The Most Beautiful Place on Earth

The Konigssee in Bavaria (Bayern)

An electric boat on the Königssee

In my fifty years, I’ve been to twenty-one countries, and I’ve done my best to see the best they had to offer. Two weeks ago, I saw the best of the best: the Königssee and Obersee in Berchtesgaden National Park.

Formed by glaciers and fed by glaciers, the Königssee and adjacent Obersee lakes have the most unearthly blue-green color. Tiny mineral particles in the glacier meltwater are responsible for this. Too small to fall to the bottom of the lake, they stay suspended in the water and scatter the sunlight. I haven’t enhanced or altered the color of this photograph so you can see that strange green water for yourself.

Blue-green water in the Königssee

Blue-green water in the Königssee

I’m not the only one who considers the fjordlike Königssee lake to be special. In 1909, Prince Regent Luitpold ordered that no gas-fed or diesel-fed motors be allowed on the lake and designated the area around it to be protected land, along the lines of American national parks. Boating since then has been extremely limited, and electric-powered boats have plied its waters ever since. While the prince made this decision in order to limit noise, we now recognize how important it has been in limiting pollution: no oil-slick smooth trails cross the waters of this lake long after their boats have passed, as they have done in other bodies of water I’ve seen. In fact, the clean, quiet electric boats hardly raise a ripple.

Even the Nazis looked after this lake and confirmed its status as a protected wilderness. No waste products have been allowed to run off into the lake; they are scrupulously piped away from its pristine depths. The result is that the Königssee is the cleanest lake in Germany, reported to meet the standards of drinking water.

Duck in Berchtesgaden National Park

Duck in Berchtesgaden National Park

Of course, this little fellow doesn’t know anything about that, and neither do the numerous trout. So I declined to take a drink of the Königssee.

If you want to visit the Königssee, my advice is to stay nearby and arrive early. We stayed in nearby Ramsau at Alpenpension Auengrund, a 13-minute drive from the lake. It was a bargain, the breakfast was wonderful, the owners were delightful, and I hope to stay there again the next time I visit the area.

Boats start sailing the Königssee at eight in the morning this summer, according to the posted schedule. Compared to the lakeside wilderness, the most unattractive part of your day is likely to be the large parking lot in Schönau am Königssee, a five-minute walk from the boat dock. The earlier you get there, the emptier it will be and the less likely you’ll have to wait for a boat. You have to take a boat to see this beautiful place because the sheer cliffs surrounding much of the lake make it impossible simply to hike around it.

The Obersee

The Obersee

I also recommend not stopping at the first major stop, St. Bartholomä, but buying a ticket to go all the way to Salet at the opposite end. From there, you can walk to the Obersee, pictured above, and walk around to its far end. Not that many tourists were coming this way when we were there, so it was a very pleasant and quiet walk. It’s easy as hikes go, level for the most part except for an area where there are big stone steps along a cliff, but a strong cable acts as a handrail there. We weren’t sorry we had our hiking poles, but they weren’t necessary.

Forest by the Obersee

Forest by the Obersee

Thick green forest borders the Obersee, full of mossy rocks, and a cuckoo was calling steadily in the trees nearby. You can’t help counting upward as you listen to a cuckoo; from what I could tell, it ended up being about two hundred o’clock.

The Obersee

The Obersee

This is what I hope heaven looks like.

To read my latest blog posts, please click on the “Green and Pleasant Land” logo at the top of this page. All photos taken in May, 2014, in Nationalpark Berchtesgaden, Germany. Photos and text copyright 2014 by Clare B. Dunkle. Due to an incorrect setting, comments have been inadvertently turned off for this post, but will return on later posts.

Posted in German wildlife, Germany, Recreation, Rural scenery, Tourist destinations | Comments Off

If you travel to the Königssee, you’re likely to see Forelle on the menu everywhere you go, perhaps as part of another word, such as Forellenfilet. Die Forelle means “trout.” This cold-water fish is stocked in the clear Alpine water of the Königssee, and it may only be taken in limited quantities to serve in the restaurants nearby. Räuchern is a verb meaning “to smoke (in cooking),” so die geräucherter Forelle is “smoked trout,” a Königssee delicacy.

Posted on by Clare Dunkle | Comments Off

Still Green and Pleasant

Flowering tree at the Keukenhof Garden, Lisse, Netherlands

Flowering tree at the Keukenhof Garden, Lisse, Netherlands

In 2011, when Joe and I were in Germany on a temporary assignment, I was posting on this blog three times a week. Then we received wonderful news: we were being sent back to Germany to live. I left to pack up the house, expecting to be able to pick up the blog in a couple of months.

That was two years ago.

By the time I came back to Germany, I had a new writing assignment: preparing my daughter Elena’s memoir for publication and writing a second memoir–my memoir–to match it. These memoirs focus on our lives with Elena’s adolescent anorexia nervosa. Going back into all those painful memories left me exhausted and overwhelmed. I had no more time or energy for the blog.

Halfway through hellish rewrites, I discovered that my poor blog wasn’t even displaying on Android browsers at all, and my website was looking shabby and outdated. I’ll have to do a major project when I finish these books, I thought. I’ll have to rework every single page on the site. And while I’m at it, I’ll need to move to a new web server… export the blog to a new location… make everything HTML5-compatible… optimize the whole thing for phones and tabs…

Thoughts like this didn’t help my stress level!

But now it’s all finished. Vanishing Girl, Elena’s memoir, has just gone through copyedit. Hope and Other Luxuries, my memoir, is right behind it. We should have the line edit and copyedit finished by the end of June. The website is finished, too. Every single little bitty code on every one of my site’s 138 webpages has gotten tweaked. The whole shebang is on a shiny new Linux server somewhere in the cloud (a.k.a. Dallas, Texas). The blog is up and running again in its new home. And I have time again to look out the window and see the green.

It is still green. VERY green. And other colors too. I can’t wait to tell you more about it.

Tulips at Keukenhof Garden, Lisse, Netherlands

Tulips at Keukenhof Garden, Lisse, Netherlands

To read my latest blog posts, please click on the “Green and Pleasant Land” logo at the top of this page. Photos taken in April, 2014, in Lisse, Netherlands. Text and photos copyright 2013 by Clare B. Dunkle. No copying in whole or in part without the express written consent of the author.

Posted in Gardening, Netherlands | 2 Comments