december 2004, neidlingen

for christmas 2004, we arranged to be with anna's family in neidlingen (population 2000), where she grew up. we flew down on the 22nd, and returned on anna's birthday, the 29th.

one of the first things we did after arriving was drive to kirchheim (population 38000), the nearest small city. anna wanted to show me a couple of places, including a café where she used to hang out when she lived there, wunderbar. after that we went looking for a bag for anna's new 15" laptop, since the old bag was really too tight for the new, larger laptop.

we walked a bit around the old city walls, past the city hall and around the church a bit, and then we shopped and left.

the next day we also drove around a bit, trying to get to the porsche museum in stuttgart, but this ended up being closed :( on the way to stuttgart, we drove past mercedes, which is also in the stuttgart area. mercedes is huge, with factory after office building after storage building after other stuff, for many kilometres. porsche is much smaller, but at 1 porsche platz there is a very large showroom, showcasing the latest fast cars from the zuffenhausen (part of stuttgart) manufacturer. the museum lies at the end of porschestraße.

this part of germany has an unempolyment level of 4%, which is incredible in general, but more so when compared to, for example, the 17% around berlin. the former east germany still has very high unemployment in many areas, due to the, for the west, unacceptably low quality of the products produced in east german factories. the tolerances and the manufacturing equipment was not only very old, but also older technology with higher tolerances, and much of it was much worse than anticipated, thus leading to many factories simply being shut down, being unable to compete with the high quality standards of western europe. the former west germany generally has much lower levels of employment, but even here it has risen, partly due to some factories moving eastwards, where the labour costs are slightly lower, partly due to the general depression, partly due to germany having less cash on hand (again due to unification, recession, etc.).

on the way back we took the autobahn, which in this reagion of germany often has no speedlimit. we drove around 140 km/h, totally legally, in a vw polo. when anna's father took us to the airport at the end of the trip, we hit 180 km/h at one point, again, totally legally and safely. the roads in this part of germany are so much better than in berlin or the east, but even the worst roads in germany are many times better than the roads in montréal, where i worked previously. there i would occasionally have to swerve on my motorcycle, to avoid huge potholes with the potential to cause me to crash. the largest i recall was probable 0,5m across, and at least 20cm deep. huge.

we spent christmas with anna's mother, her boyfriend, and anna's two brothers. unfortunately i didn't get many good pictures here, but i did get the anna's mother with boyfriend, and the tree.
the 26th is jana's birthday, and by that time we had moved to anna's father's place, two doors over, where he lives with his girlfriend sonya, lena, sonya's daughter from a previous marriage, and leonie and jule, their two kids. birthday celebrations are different in germany (and are almost certainly different in different regions) than in denmark, canada or anywhere else i am familiar with. a chair has to be decorated with special sheets and ribbons, for the birthday child, and has to be lifted three times with child on it, in salutation.

the last two pictures are out of order, as they came after the bobsledding exhibition in the next section. we went to jana's father's parents, to celebrate jana's birthday again. the first picture is bernhard, anna's father, and sonya. in the second picture, jana gets lifted in her chair, although there was no sheet or ribbons on it this time. in the back, on the right, is omi, jana's great grandmother, a very nice lady.

then the three kids (jana, leonie and jule), anna and i went bobsledding. i didn't have gloves with me, so i went just a couple of times. in any case, anna quickly got cold, so we didn't stay long. this is all in the local foothills to the alps (die alpen), called "die alb". confusing nomenclature.
the next day, jana and jule were playing at jana's paternal grandparents' place, so meanwhile leonie, anna and i went up towards teck, a castle near kirchheim, where the grandparents live. the walk from the parking lot to teck takes about an hour, which we couldn't make, partly because anna got cold (i swear anna's soul was born in a hot country), partly because it was near dusk, so we just walked around a little bit and i took some pictures.
on the 28th, i walked up erkenberg, one of the small mountains which surround neidlingen. i simply wanted to go somewhere alone (a house full of kids and stressed adults means that at various points, various people disappear for a while to de-stress alone), left the house, saw the mountain, and started walking.

the mountains here are not so large, perhaps 350m above the valley floor, according to bernhard's guess, but they are quite beautiful. the first panorama is from perhaps one third of the way up to the top, where it was still open with few trees. further towards the top it is actually harder to look around, given the density of the trees higher up. the last picture of this block is of the mountain on the other side of neidlingen.

on the way up, it is hard to take pictures which give a proper impression of how steep the pictures are. in the vertical panorama here, my shadow lies on a horizontal plane, but the tree tips are vertically up. there was a track from the front of the mountain around to the other side, where a footpath went on and up, the last third of the mountain. from time to time, the snow would come crashing down from the tips of the trees, as parts of it melted and became heavier. the second-last picture here is the only picture i managed to take of this. later on, as i went higher and the trees came closer, i almost got nailed a couple of times.
this is the top. the little bump is the very top, and was quite hard to get up. it is only about 3m high, from the surrounding area, but it is quite steep almost everywhere. i had to dig into the snow, and find a tree root, and then wedge my foot under this, to get the last little bit up. from the top i made a 360 degree panorama, but truth be told, you can't really see much. all you can see is that it is the top, because in no direction is it higher than where i took it from. i wanted to make a quicktime VR movie for this, but even with low resolution and high compression it was several megabytes, so i gave up, for the purposes of this website.

in the last two pictures you can see, if you look closely, that the wind up here blew quite hard as it froze some rain, and on all the small little twigs, the ice sticks out to the side quite dramatically.

and then i went down again, stopping for another panorama and various other pics.
and that was that. this part of germany is very picturesque, but also somewhat conservative. in other words, it is a perfect place for small children to grow up, but less ideal for easily bored teenagers. anna started getting frustrated early, and moved to kirchheim and eventually berlin. her brothers seem to like it more, but that may change as time goes on. anyway, it was a very nice christmas. the next couple of years we will probably be either in denmark or canada with my parents.