Tag Archives: nature

A Week in the Thüringer Wald

A couple of weeks ago, I joined a group of students for a week in the Thüringer Wald, or Thuringian Forest. Our trip was their first group outing since Covid, and it was a delight to be in a reasonably rustic environment with young people who were both comfortable in that context and genuinely glad to be there.

This campground relies significantly on volunteer labour for renovation work and there was a great deal to do. This wasn’t the type of trip where we were doing that, but I think it would have been good fun.

It was dark at night and we were able to see the Milky Way and the Big Dipper, though my photography skills and equipment cannot attest to that. We also made a fire every night, making for a much warmer evening than we would have had otherwise. There’s poetry in sitting under the stars in the cold, but there’s comfort in sitting under the stars with a fire.

While the afternoons were largely free, we had activities planned each morning. A real highlight was the hike led by the campground director, Dagmar. She taught us about the bark beetles that are killing the young trees here in the beautiful Thüringer Wald. The devastation is occurring rapidly in part because of the monoculture that was once common here for logging. It was really sad to see so much empty hillside and to think about the consequences, such as landslides and flooding, that occur under these conditions, also making it really difficult to grow new trees. And trying to do so when they’re being attacked by bark beetles is, as we learned, no easy task.

It’s also interesting to contrast the immediate environment of the valley where our camp was situated with the forest conditions around a village just 15 minutes away by car. (And, for that matter, the stunning environs in yet another part of the Thüringer Wald where I’ve been twice to climb.)

One thing I am really enjoying about Germany is how much it looks just like you might expect from a travel brochure. A walk on our penultimate day from one town to a bus stop in another town was a lot of work on hills but they were really pretty hills.

On the last day, only about an hour from school, we spent the afternoon by a lake. There’s so much here that is a fairy tale – berries and mushrooms in forests that people just happily pick, for example – and it has been so lovely experiencing it all.

This part of the state of Thüringen (Thuringia) is right on the border with Bayern (Bavaria). You know that place. Home of Oktoberfest. Indeed.

After so much time on the Little Red Dot that is fully part of my heart, it’s a real gift to be somewhere else. I’m looking at the world with different eyes and for that, I am grateful.

Rain Showers and Pretty Flowers

We’ve had a lot of rain lately, which I have not really enjoyed. After six years in Southeast Asia, I’m used to rain that’s warm in a world so humid that it almost feels like a shower. I’m romanticizing a bit because there really ain’t no rain like tropical rain; I’ve never been wetter in my life than the many times I was caught in the rain, even for mere minutes, in Malaysia or Singapore. And there was a time I put on a bathing suit and went outside to be in the storm just because I could. So I am very used to rain.

What I am not used to, however, is cold rain. I’ve been caught in the cold rain here on my bike several times over the last couple weeks and it’s quite a different experience, one that requires a hot shower to warm up. My Canadian blood has certainly thinned and I’m slowly adjusting – very slowly.

Watching the rain this afternoon (and riding my bike in the drizzle because cycling remains the easier, fastest way to get to the climbing gym) led me to go through some photos that I took on two beautiful, warm sunny days. A rainy day seemed like a good time to share them.

Several weeks ago, for something to do, I attended BUGA in Erfurt, a biennial horticulture show that changes location each time it’s presented. Erfurt is the closest real city to Weimar, so I got rather lucky. And I didn’t even know it until I had a look on Wikipedia for this post.

A riot of colour, and I think the images speak far louder than my words ever could.

More recently, I rode/walked/pushed my bike up a very large hill just up the road past my school to visit Schloss Belvedere, a former summer royal residence dating from the early 18th century.

The castle was interesting enough, though I gave up on the audioguide included in the entry price rather early on. The grounds were absolutely the highlight, and I was really tickled when I happened upon a tropical paradise garden where people were sitting and chatting in sun chairs. It felt like a secret resort but it’s not – it was free and open to the public, as are all of the castle grounds.

There was also a beautiful “Secret Garden” sort of garden . . .

. . . and after seeing a few other people pick an apple off this tree, I did, too! It was a little early for apples, and coming from Upstate New York I knew this before I bit into it, but I haven’t done that in so many years. I hadn’t thought that there might be apple picking around here even though I’ve been buying apples and other produce from the local farmer’s market as I often as I can.

We’ve had a lot of rain lately, but I can see the sun struggling to come out. It’s not warm here, but I’m trying to adjust. Just another part of this adventure.

BUGA, Erfurt – July 2021

Change of Scenery

I fell asleep on a plane in the skies above southeast Asia, landed in Frankfurt, took three trains and a taxi, and ended up in the city I now live in. Or, I will officially live here once I have my registration documents. (To that end, look out for the upcoming post that I’ve preliminarily titled “What I Learned When I Moved to Germany During a Pandemic”.)

Everything is different here.

Park an der Ilm

The weeds are the wildflowers of my childhood, names that I didn’t know then and don’t know now. The trees remind me of home.

The air feels crisp and smells like flowers and the sky. There are no tall buildings and the only ambient noise is that of chirping birds. I’ve actually had to lower the volume on my phone to stop it from being so jarring. It’s like my senses have woken up all over again.

To some degree, I’m romanticizing difference, and this is normal when I travel. But to another degree, I’m paying attention and from what I see, the buildings look like a fairytale.

But let us not forget that real people live here, and people leave signs of who they are. This is also something to respect about the places that we come to know.

I took a walk through a cemetery and smiled at the irony. We learn about the lives of places through their dead.

Weimar is an old, historic town and it has some illustrious names associated with it. I’ve particularly enjoyed the markers on buildings that begin with the words, “Hier wohnte . . .” and include names, dates, and brief descriptions. There are statues and house museums, as well, which I have not yet explored. It seems like there will be time for that, but the lessons of the pandemic loom large.

Coming from densely populated, glittery-modern-meets-old-trading-town Singapore on the tip of mainland Southeast Asia, this is a big change. It’s one that I worked hard for and hopefully it will be what I hope it will be. Stay tuned!