Archive for the ‘Russ’ Category

Epic Road Trip – Swiss Alps


For this half of the Two Tramps, cars have played a big part of the entire experience while living in Germany.  Before arriving, I went through a dream list of cars I would love to drive while we were here.  The criteria were relatively simple:

  • German (I have a penchant for German cars, having been raised surrounded by Volkswagens and BMW’s)
  • Something not available in the US (let’s face it: Europeans have many, many more choices than we do in the States, and often many better cars from which to choose)
  • Diesel.  Diesel is cheap(er), efficient, and the engines have torque.

Top on my list, then, was the BMW 1-series hatchback.  And lo and behold, with the help of a colleague and fellow 1-series diesel driver, I ended up with a 2007 120d.

BMW 120d.

Now, I surely did not get this car for the color.  Nor did I choose it because I like paying a premium for a car I used only a few times per month.  No, this was the right choice because BMW’s are driver’s cars.

And what better way to experience and enjoy the drive than through the Swiss Alps?

For my side of the family, the Road Trip is a way of life.  1400 miles (2200 km) in a weekend is no big deal.

My better half, though, has not quite come around to this way of thinking.  So, rather than subject her to strenuous speeds and curves, my Dad came for a visit just as Lauren left – and we headed for the alps.

Auf wiedersehen, Lauren!

You must have clearly defined roles on a Road Trip.  Otherwise confusion can set in.  Luckily, with only two participants, the roles are simple:

The Driver:

Russ and the 120d.

The Photographer:

Behind the scenes of the best pictures.

Of course since we’re both Drivers and Photographers, these roles are not set in stone.

The Driver photographing the Photographer. Driving.

And with that, we set out on a semi-soggy day in southern Germany, through cloudy Austria, along Liechtenstein, into Switzerland, and scraping Italy.  All in one day (even after more than a year here, this still impresses me).

Our base of operations was Chur, Switzerland, the country’s oldest city, and the seat of the Romansh-speaking region, though German dominates.  From Chur, we headed for the San Bernardino Pass, and other points.  Time to let the pictures do the talking.

The Pass looks like an intestine, which is directly related to the effect driving this road has on the stomach.

Complete with bells, which could be heard from quite a distance away.

Sittin' on top of the Pass (it was cold!).

Entering the Italian-culture region of Switzerland. Besides road signs, the GPS started calling number-named roads 'tredici' and 'due.'

We did not actually see this happen.

Beautiful, sunny, and warm: Locarno, on Lago Maggiore, where I pushed the German out of my head and tried my best to remember Italian.

Heading for the next pass.


Temperature dropped to 3 degrees C on top of Oberalppass (back to German-speaking).

I realized, suddenly, that I could no longer read the road signs. I know scuola in Italian, and schule in German. And now I know scola in Romansh.

And so our day ended back in Chur, as Dad kept track, 7.5 hours, 338 km, and 4.87 GB worth of pictures and videos later.

And I promise, Lauren, to take you back, and to stick to the straighter roads. 🙂


Winter oder Frühjahr?

Well it isn’t quite spring yet here in Southern Germany, but for a while it felt like it.

Before we went to the US for Christmas, Heidenheim looked like this:


It felt like winter, which felt right.  When we came back from the US, it looked about the same, but it warmed slightly, which led to rain, then an overnight freeze turned the sidewalks into a giant ice rink! 

Lauren attempts to walk downtown without falling.

Still plenty of snow and ice on the ground.

Luckily this was over a holiday, so while it stifled our travel plans, at least Russ didn’t have to try walking or driving to work.  It took us an hour to walk downtown, turn around, and come back.  But we made it without falling!

Then, a week later, temperatures were near 10°C (50°F) and we barely needed a sweatshirt outside.  Nice day to walk up to the castle!


Supposed to start cooling down again soon, so it’s back to winter.  But it was a nice preview of spring while it lasted!

Stuttgart 21

Because we were taking a Stuttgart-to-Barcelona morning flight, Russ, Kate, and I arrived one day early in Baden-Württemburg’s state capital (Baden-Württemburg is also the state in which we live).   One of the first places we went was to the train station to meet Joe who was coming in from Cologne.


Stuttgart Train Station


Going to meet Joe at the train station, we ran into quite a scene.  Outside the train station were thousands of banners, flyers, and protest demonstrations regarding the plans to improve the train station.  This demonstration is the namesake of this post: Stuttgart 21.


Stuttgart 21


Stuttgart 21 (21st century) is really a plan to make travel into/from/around Stuttgart easier for commuters and tourists.  Approved in 2007, the plan involves almost completely removing Stuttgart’s current (old) train station in order to create a more modern station which functions mainly underground.  For advocates of  Stuttgart 21, the new station is needed because the current station is not a “through-station.”  Trains must enter and exit in the same direction, reducing efficiency.  The new plan involves a cross system that would allow trains to enter the station and depart in a continuous direction.

Sounds good, right?  Well, many people are in an uproar over the plans.  Financially, the citizens of Stuttgart and Baden-Württemburg must cover most of the cost of the seriously expensive renovation.  Residents of Stuttgart, however, don’t really feel that it will benefit their city as much as the transportation system in general.  It will allow trains more easily to pass through Stuttgart, not necessarily attract more patrons to the area.

Secondly, the new station is a huge environmental concern.  Lots of Stuttgart’s “green space” will be destroyed and literally uprooted for construction.  The week we visited, one park in jeopardy was filled with people.  Posters, poems, and memorabilia hung on and around trees.  Some people even staged “sit-ins” with tree houses.


Tree house in the park (and a Polizei officer)



Bear Hug?



Joe Posing By a Protest Tree


A week after we visited, several trees in this beautiful park that we had walked through were taken down.  In that very spot, protesters blocking the site were maced and blasted with water cannons.  Over 100 people were injured.

After this event, a mediator was brought in to try to negotiate between sides.  Demolition has been halted until the next election season is over (March 2011).

ANYWAY!  Despite the clearly politically charged atmosphere, we had a nice visit to Stuttgart with a few unwanted raindrops.  We had fun looking at the older buildings and palace and enjoyed walking through the Schlossgarten (Castle Garden).


Lauren and Kate in Stuttgart



Where's Waldo? (aka Joe!)



Russ and Joe in front of The Palace






I love this tree!


We had a nice lunch at Platzhirsch (Literally translated, Deer Place) where we all sampled some typical German fare.




Joe had the traditional Käsespätzle (mentioned before in previous posts), and I tried Maultasche (giant ravioli stuffed with spinach, potatoes, and smoked ham) for the first time.


Joe and Lauren's meals


Russ dined on Schnitzel with Spätzle and Kate was served an enormous plate of lentils, Spätzle, and weiners.  The plate of lentils was big enough to serve an army, but the waitress was very concerned when Kate didn’t eat them all.  “Das schmeckt nicht?”  It doesn’t taste good?  “Ja, aber sie ist satt!  Alles schmeckt sehr gut!”  Yes, but she is full.  Everything tasted very good!


Kate and Russ's meals


We retreated to the hotel when it started to rain (and because we had to drive from the city a small distance to get near the airport and our hotel).  We ventured out at night to eat at the one restaurant near the place.  Strangely, though, we got to watch a fire company practice working the jaws of life on a car from our hotel windows.  It was pretty neat!  Walking in the cold and the rain to and from dinner, I’m pretty sure we all had one thing on our minds–Spain!

For more Stuttgart pics from Joe and Russ:

Special thanks to Joe LaBarca for unknowingly allowing me access to his pictures for the blog. 🙂

Quick update!

Never fear, we are still here!  Russ recovered from his brief illness and Lauren continues to discover the countryside on two wheels. 

Last week we set out to do some geocaching on Saturday.  The route was put together by the HDH town hall, so not only were we seeking out coordinate clues, but everything was in a rough Google-translated English.  Our combined German knowledge and intuition on interpreting the ‘literal’ translation helped some, but we were finally stymied by an error in the clues themselves, such that we could not figure out the coordinate for clue #4!  We will still give it another shot and see if we can do better… 


Sunday we took a road trip with no specific destination – just to hit some of the back roads near by (guess whose idea this was…).  It was a beautiful day, and a nice way to see more of the countryside (on four wheels, though we saw some more nice two-wheeled trails!).  Since it was such a nice day, the engine powered two-wheelers were out in force too, especially on the curviest roads.  We also experienced some true back-woods trail roads, where we still got passed by cars wanting to go ridiculously fast!  

Happy driver, dirty car.

Lauren took advantage of another nice weather day mid-week to do some more bicycle exploration.  Russ jealously worked indoors. 


Then Thursday we enjoyed a sensational sunset view from our front porch. 


Some more travel coming up soon, so stay tuned!

Besuch von Bundeskanzlerin Merkel bei Voith Hydro

Last Friday at work we had an exciting event in the afternoon – a visit by German Chancellor Angela Merkel.  She has been on an energy tour throughout the country for most of the month, and her last stop was to Voith Hydro’s R&D facility – where I work!  The tour was to promote the country’s renewable and alternative energy sectors: generation, research, development, and manufacturing.  

In addition to being given a tour of Voith Hydro’s laboratory test facility, Frau Dr. Merkel requested the opportunity to meet and chat with some engineers from our facility.  Knowing this, several of us were asked to participate, and I was honored to be included and be able to show off some of Voith’s international reach.  

The event was well orchestrated, and we had about seven minutes of group time, where Frau Dr. Merkel (that’s a physics degree, mind you) asked about the tools we use in our engineering work, and what types of degrees we had and where from.   

While I didn’t get to talk to her directly (either via her fluent English or my broken German), the whole event was still neat and fun, and I got to be in the group picture!   The visit was good for the company, good for hydro, and good for alternative energy production in general – and good for the leader of a country to show her ability to openly embrace reliable and clean energy sources.  

Image copyright Voith AG.


 For more information visit the Voith AG media page (English or German):


There’s a phrase in German used among common work friends around lunch time.  I’m told it’s valid from about 11 AM to 1 PM, and it relates to the mid-day meal.  Literally, “mahlzeit” means meal, but it’s used as a greeting, a statement, sometimes a question (or so it seems to me), and as a farewell. 

So a typical exchange might go something like this:

{Walking out of the building at 12:00, you see some colleagues}


“Mahlzeit!”  “Mahlzeit.”  “Mahlzeit!”

On your way to the cafeteria (kantine), you pass colleagues coming from lunch.


“Mahlzeit.”  “Mahlzeit.”  “Mahlzeit!”

Then you eat lunch, and the cash register attendant tells you “Malzheit,” when you pay.  Then you walk back to the office, and you pass others coming to lunch…you get the idea.  You end up just mahlzeitin’ everybody, which is OK.  It’s an older term though, so the youngest employees may not mahlzeit you back, but working in an office long enough they will give in and mahlzeit with the best of them.

Voith has a company cafeteria in HDH, something that I will certainly miss when I am back in York (cafeteria-less).  It’s called the kantine :

(Voith's image)

They offer a variety (sort of, mostly pork) of meals each day, and the menu changes daily.  It’s pretty inexpensive, and you put money on your employee badge, so it’s easy and quick to get your food and swipe your badge at the register. 

The food is good, and is typical German fare, unless it’s a theme week/day (during the World Cup, they had food from different nations playing on different days, and at the end they had squid several times…).

Today was burger day, which happens, I’m told, only twice a year.  So the guys at work were very excited to take me along and see what I thought of this very American meal.

It was good!  Had all the fixings, and had fries as well.  Given it was a cold day, they should have had a cup of coffee available (hot days = milkshake) but alas I had to make do with the orangensaft.  

I noticed several others eating it with a knife and fork, but I tried to show them culturally how we do it with our hands.

Can’t wait until the next burger day!

First anniversary!

Neither of us thought a year ago that we would be celebrating our first anniversary while living in Heidenheim, but life is full of adventures. Here’s to a great year past and many more to come!