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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!


2011–Home Sweet 2nd Home

After a fantastic 9 days home over Christmas and the New Year, we arrived back in Germany on January 3rd. I’ve been remiss in posting anything partly because we haven’t been up to much, (I’ve been working on my evil thesis), and it’s just sort of taken us this long to readjust to being back here and away once again from our family, friends, and comfy couches. We also needed some decompression time; we had a great time at home, but it was jam-packed with activities. Below are some of the highlights of our wonderful time at home over the holidays. Enjoy!

After 2 hours to Munich and an 8 hour plane ride, it would have been nice to just parachute down to York as we flew over. Alas the plane took us to D.C. and we still had a 3 hr. travel home

Christmas gift to us--from us!

A relaxing Christmas morning with Lauren's family, the dogs, and the beautiful Christmas tree

Making Kaiserschmarrn for both the Wibles and the LaBarcas! Yum!

Major and Maggie slept with us every night! We sacrificed our own comfort to have the puppy heat. 🙂

And when the bed was folded up, Major found his way close to me however he could. He is NOT a lap dog!

Russ got to see Major and Maggie romping outside in the fenced-in-yard for the first time.

The AWESOME framed print of Germany (with a heart on Heidenheim) that we received from cousin Cali. 🙂

We finally get to meet, cuddle, hold, and spend some private time with our nephew. (And we get to see his parents, too!)

I'm cute!

Uncle Russ

Christmas with the LaBarcas!!

We also loved getting to see all of our cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. It was a fantastic, whirlwind trip home! The next couple of months will probably be pretty laid back for us here as I continue work on my thesis. We’re really looking forward to planning a big trip to Italy and to welcoming guests again come early spring. For now, we’ll keep you updated with our weekend trips and daily happenings. Welcome to 2011!

Bienvenidos a Espana!

On Saturday, we left this…

Rainy Stuttgart

…and walked into this!!

Beautiful, sunny Barcelona!

Welcome to Barcelona, city of famous architectural-artist Gaudí, and much more!  The city is so unique; part of it was built/designed by Cerdá in the 19th century with the city blocks shaped orthogonally.

Orthogonal Blocks

Along with being a city of architectural genius, Barcelona held the 1992 Summer Olympic Games, holds a great history of Roman culture, and borders The Mediterranean Sea.  Where to start?! (Can you tell that I love this city??)

Before leaving for Barcelona, I was eager to brush up on my Spanish and see how far it got me on our trip.  However, I soon learned that the people of Barcelona do not speak Spanish as I know it.  The official language of Barcelona is Catalan, an offshoot of Latin.  Though the language was completely different, Spanish can be understood in Barcelona pretty well, and of course, most people at tourist destinations speak a little English.

After taking a cab from the airport, we arrived at our beautiful hotel, Havana.  We had 2 separate rooms, but they were connected in the same little private corridor.  It was like we had our own private suite.  🙂

Hotel Havana

Lauren in front of Hotel Havana

Hotel Havana at Night

For the rest of the post, I’m not going to write a detailed hour-by-hour account, but post by topic instead.  There is SO much to see that you’ll have to look at the rest of the pictures on Russ’s site.

Gaudí’s Architecture

Barcelona is not titled “The City of Gaudí” without purpose.  The city reveals at least 10 Gaudí works, the main attractions of Barcelona.  After reading more about Gaudí, I’d like to go back just to see more of his work and to go inside all of the buildings.  His muse was nature, and he mimicked it in his buildings with a little imagination, of course.  His pieces stand out as colorful, Modernist, and illuminating.

Casa Batllo--the colors on this place were amazing

The facade produces a duality between organic and artificial. The appearance of bones and plants vs. masks and mythical forms.

La Pedrera--the masterpiece of this is on the roof, which unfortunately we didn't get to see this time around.

The last and biggest piece we were able to see is the most famous in Barcelona, and is yet to be finished! In fact, it wisn’t scheduled to be completed until 2025. This is Gaudí’s most massive undertaking, La Sagrada Familia. This church is cathedral-like in many ways, and yet is unquestionably in its own category. It is so large, it occupies an entire block of the city. This massive undertaking began in the 19th century with Gaudí himself devoting 40 years to the cathedral.

La Sagrada Familia

La Sagrada Familia

Directly below La Sagrada

Perspective--Joe and Kate walk up the ramp

Note the difference between the new and old parts.

The outside of La Sagrada is amazing; intricate details and scenes of religious stories adorn the walls.  The inside, however, is like nothing I’ve seen before.   It’s a huge space, but Gaudí has filled it with such light!  His detailed plans allow colors to fall throughout the entire cathedral, accenting the white space.  It’s amazing!  and still unfinished.  There’s no way the pictures can communicate what this was like, but they get pretty close with our 2 photographers!

Inside of La Sagrada Familia

The Ceiling

La Sagrada

Vivid Stained Glass

We waited in line to get to go to the top of the cathedral and look down over the city.  It was a long wait, but totally worth it (even though there wasn’t much room at top).  It was neat to see the spires still in construction and then to walk down the spiral staircase and stand out on some small balconies.  Joe even found us waiting for him at the bottom!

Looking Out Into Barcelona


At the Top!

Looking up The Spire from the Staircase

Aaaand looking down!

Where's Waldo Again?

Overall, La Sagrada was fascinating.  We even got to eat dinner the first night at a nice little Mediterranean restaurant near Sagrada, so it loomed over us as we ate.

Joe, Kate, and Lauren dining in front of La Sagrada Familia

Whew!  There’s so much more to say about Barcelona.  Look for more soon.  I’m tired!

A Few Days in Heidenheim with Kate

After we left Joe to his Photokina conference in Cologne on Sunday, we (Russ, Lauren, and Kate) drove back to spend a few days in Heidenheim.  Russ took the afternoon off on Monday so that we could show Kate around town and up to the castle.  We met for lunch at our favorite biergarten, Stattgarten, and enjoyed the delicious regional Käsespätzle (egg noodle/dumplings with cheese).  It was nice enough(the whole week!) to sit outside.

Kate at Stattgarten

The rest of the week Russ was working, so Lauren and Kate spent time shopping, exploring, and taking walks.

View from a Walk

The Castle Peeks Through the Trees


On Wednesday, Kate and Lauren took a train ride to Ulm.  Kate had been to Ulm before when she was visiting Rick and Sally in Germany, but the day was so cold and rainy that no one really felt like exploring the town.  Luckily we had a beautiful day–high 60’s and sunshine with a breeze.  It’s very easy to get around in Ulm, as well.  Everywhere you go, you can see the massive spires of the Ulm Cathedral, so you always know how to get back even without a map.  We were also lucky enough to visit Ulm on market day.

Ulmer Markt

The Ulm Cathedral

When we went inside the church, there was a small service going on, so we got to hear the beautiful sound of the organ fill the cathedral.  It was quite impressive!

Beautiful Stained Glass Windows

Same Window--Close Up

The Organ at the Back of the Cathedral

The Ulmer Cathedral

After seeing the cathedral, we found a great restaurant off the beaten path.   Big salads were the order of the day!

Lunch Time

We spent the afternoon walking along the river and through the Fisherman’s Quarters. 

Down to the River Through the Crooked Tower

The Crooked House

In the Spirit of All Things Crooked?

On Friday we drove to Stuttgart to meet up with Joe.  He was arriving by train, and the next day we were on our way to Barcelona!  More to come on those cities in future posts.
To see more photos of our trip to Ulm or our time around Heidenheim:

Volkswagen Automobil Forum Berlin

As Lauren alluded in the Berlin post, one of the sites we thoroughly enjoyed (and this is true because there was art that Lauren liked beyond just the cars!) was the Volkswagen Group Automobil Forum.  

A brief education: the VW Gruppe consists of many divisions, including other companies which VW has purchased throughout the years: Seat (Spanish), Skoda (Czech), Bentley (British), Bugatti (French); there is also a truck division, and others.  Of course Porsche, Audi, and Lamborghini are closely related, but this Forum covered just cars directly under the VW umbrella. 

Seat Ibiza Cupra

Bugatti Veyron - 1,001 HP, $1.7M, formerly world's fastest production car (now held by the SS version)

The showroom was on the main floor.  Downstairs, there were a variety of science/art exhibits. 

Nemo Observatorium: calm and safe inside the eye of the storm.

Absolut Quartet: the computer creates a musical piece based on a few notes of user input.

Tool's Life: the objects' shadows spring to life when touched.

I couldn’t leave without trying out the seat on the new Golf R (the newest version of my car).  Superb inside; doubtful they will sell it in the US (because of price, exclusivity, and changes to meet US DOT regulations.  Also why I probably won’t be bringing one back with me next year :-)). 

Amazing seat and steering wheel, seriously.

Russ und der Golf VI R. Möchten.

Not quite as extravagant as the BMW Welt, but definitely a fun stop – and I’m very glad to have sat in the rare Golf R! 

Of course there are many more pictures to be found (of the cars and the art exhibits) here: 

Berlin Automobil Forum pictures

Pam and Will Come to Heidenheim!

On Tuesday, August 3rd we happily welcomed Lauren’s parents to Heidenheim.  They actually came in on a train from Zurich, Switzerland.  It was planned for them to stay with us for 1 week before heading on to other European adventures.

First we welcomed them with some coffee and a variety of pastries from the local bakery.  Coffee and sweets are an important part of the afternoon in Germany!

Welcome to Heidenheim!

A delicious afternoon snack

Over the course of the next few days, Pam and Will sampled some of the best Germany has to offer.   German foods they tasted:

1. Späztle–Famously popular in southern Germany, späztle are egg noodles, similar to little dumplings that are typically served as a side dish unless it is…

2. Käsespäztle–Southern Germany’s version of Mac n’ Cheese.  Egg noodles/dumplings mixed with cheese.  Yum.

3. Weinerschnitzel (with pork)-Pork pounded thin and fried.

4. Weinerschnitzel (with veal)-Veal pounded thin and fried.

5. Bratwurst (red, white, and currywurst!)-different sausages.  The currywurst is just white sausage cut up with ketchup and curry sprinkled on top, most famous in Berlin. 

Currywurst---Berlin specialty

6. German salads–One of Lauren’s favorites, salads in Germany are often served with any combination of potatoes, kraut, beans, carrots, slaw, etc. underneath the lettuce. 

Will and White Sausage, Sauerkraut, and Boiled Potatoes

7. Quark pastry–Quark is a yogurty, cream cheese-like filling that often goes inside of pastries.  There were other pastries, too, probably too many to name.  🙂

8. Schweinesteak–Basically a pork chop but prepared with a delicious herb butter on top. 

Pam and Lauren at the Geschellschaftsgarten--Schweinesteak on right

9. Sauerbroten–Beef marinated in red-wine vinegar and various seasonings. 

10. Sauerkraut–We know this.  Basically pickled and fermented cabbage.

11. Flammkuchen–Tasted at the WineFest in Heidenheim, Flammkuchen is a delicious pizza that is served on very very thin bread dough, topped with sour cream, onions, and sometimes sprinkles of bacon and chives.  Delicious!

12. Schweinenacken–Lauren was surprised when she got home from the grocery store and realized she had picked up “Schweinenacken,” aka pork neck chops.  While they weren’t the first on everyone’s list, we ate them with roasted parsley potatoes and freshly sauteed broccoli.  Not bad. 

13. Turkish Döner–Ok, so this isn’t German cuisine, but there is a large Turkish population in Germany and one of their famous creations is a Döner.  A Döner is a pita pocket stuffed with either lamb, turkey, beef, or chicken.  On top goes a yogurt sauce, lettuce, tomatoes, and cabbage.  Yum Yum. We also sampled a Yufka Döner–Turkey and all the fixings in a long, flat wrap. 

Pam and Will with Doeners

Okay, enough about food!

The first day Pam and Will were here Lauren took them downtown to have a look around.  On Wednesdays, Heidenheim has an open-air market with fresh produce, meats, cheeses, breads, etc.   Mom and Dad loved looking around at the streets of the shopping centers, and Mom kept asking things like, “So this is what a typical German town is like? ” because she couldn’t get over how quaint and “Epcot-center”-like it is. haha

Mom and Dad at the Market


The Streets of Heidenheim

Pam and Will in Heidenheim

View to Castle from the Doener Shop. (Dad's mouth is full!)

Mom and Dad really enjoyed all of Heidenheim and we were very glad to have them.  🙂  It was fun to impress them with our German (because as our German teacher says, “A little is a lot”)  and to show off our new home.  All four of us traveled to Berlin for a 3 day weekend, but that post will come later. 

Pam and Will are now in Salzburg, Austria and will end their European travels with a stint in the Swiss Alps.  Thanks for coming, Mom and Dad!  Love you!

Baby-Making in Germany

In honor of our soon-to-be-born nephew (yay Irene and Devon!), we wanted to do a post about having children/childcare in Germany, especially since it is so vastly different from the US.  Well, okay, making the baby’s no different ;), but almost everything else is. 

Child-bearing leave:

This perk was almost enough to make us consider moving here!  In Germany, after having a baby, an employer is required to hold a woman’s job for 3 years!  In the first year, the woman receives something like 60% of her salary.  The next two years, if she chooses to take them, are pay-free, but she can be confident that her job will be there for her when she returns.  It is feasible, then, that families plan so that they have a child every 3 years–holding a woman’s job for 3 years x as many kids as she has!  This is okay in Germany because the government is really encouraging German-couples especially to have children.  The population of the “Germans” in Germany is declining with an increased immigrant population. 

More surprising: New mothers who have given birth are not allowed to return to work until 8 weeks have passed!

Dads, too, are permitted by law to stay home with the child for a month or two.  They don’t receive pay, but they get a nice opportunity that not many dads in the states do!

Kinderwelt (Children’s money):

Any taxpaper in Germany who has children receives “kinderwelt” (kid money).  It is a fund from the government that helps families deal with the expenses of having children.  Families receive 180-215 Euros per child per month.  The stipend changes depending on how many kids you have (For the first 2, you get 180; by the 4th, you’re up to 215).  The Kinderwelt is paid til age 18, or possibly 25 if the child is still in school.

Mutterschaftsgeld / Maternity Allowance:

6 weeks prior to and 8 weeks after delivery, pregnant women also get a maternity allowance.  This is to help pay the cost of hospital and doctor care during pregnancy.  The allowance varies by existing employment pay, but typically around 13 Euros a day, or a one time payment of over 200 Euros. 

Elterngeld / Parental Allowance:

Like I said before, the Germans want you to have babies!  The birth rate here is only 1.3 births/woman, so in 2007 they created another social incentive to make whoopie!

Elterngeld is an allowance for parents.  It is limited to the first year of the child’s birth, but it can be significant.  The Elterngeld will be equivalent to 67% of the applying parent’s after-tax earnings with the maximum amount being 1,800 Euros/month.  Wow!

Anyway, you can all rest assured that we won’t be having a baby while we are here.  We can’t help but think about this, though, because the birth of our first nephew is on the forefront of our minds.  We can’t wait til the little guy arrives.  Congrats Devon and Irene!