Bonn and Cologne

25 September 1999

Now we are back in Bonn, staying with our friend Sonja. She lives in this really wonderful house -- really more than a house, or an apartment, more than a place to live, it is a community. It's called the Oscar Ramero Haus... to get in you have to propose a way to improve the house! (So there are lots of cool improvements!) It's a large house right at the edge of the AltStadt (Old Town, which isn't really the old town, it's only a couple of hundred years old, the Zentrum which is next to the Altstadt is about 1200 years old -- and the City was here when the Romans got here, they could never get east of here!). There are a dozen or so people in two apartments who all share in the maintenance of and improvements to the building. There is also a food co-op, offices and a church in the building. And of course lots of political activism. As in most of Germany they recycle about 80% of all garbage but here they also have solar heated water, rain water for non-drinking purposes and lots of built in lofts and pulleys and bells and whistles. It is very cool. And when you ring the doorbell, the key is lowered down to you from a third floor window!! The people have been very welcoming.

It's a neat place, and it is a nice place to feel like home for a week. We have both had short bouts of homesickness... mostly missing Seattle, familiarity, friends and stability. But it passes quickly. Tonight we made Bonn steamed milk hot chocolate, with organic whole milk and organic chocolate. It was wonderful and it reminded me of home... that is certainly one of the things I look forward to returning to. We have met and talked with, even travelled with, many people, but we have only encountered two Americans, one in Portree and one in Amsterdam. That's kind of nice.

The language issue is a big one. I am tremendously fascinated by people who can speak more than one language fluently, and switch back and forth rapidly. And of course most people over here can -- that leaves us feeling a little inferior. We are slowly working on our German... it is not fair to say that we speak ANY at this point. Spending a couple of weeks with German speakers has helped. Sometimes I think there is no hope for me, that I am eternally mono-lingual. It is nice that almost everyone speaks almost fluent English, but it doesn't help us learn! The hump that I have to get past is that I am used to having a fairly good grasp of my language and expression and I simply will not when I jump in start trying to communicate in another language. It makes me think of friends like Barbara Naess and Dan Kai who can pick up a new language between dinner and bedtime with immense awe. Many English words have been adopted by other languages, the two that I find most amusing are expressions that you hear Germans use quite often: ZUPER! (super) and KEW-EL (cool).

The different money is fun and I'm a little disappointed that it is going away. Some people are excited about the Euro, since it is going to simplify so much, but many people have told me they think it is just like NAFTA. Some money seems fake, The money in Germany and England is very serious. It LOOKS like money. The money in the Netherlands is BEAUTIFUL... it always has been very nicely designed and colorful, but the new bills are very intricate and detailed. Well designed and very colorful (some are almost psychedelic!) they are ART, without question. I have also had fun with the coins. There are so many interesting and weird coins. There is a 2.5 guilder coin in the Netherlands... WEIRD!. Vieland actually has some coins that are only good on this one tiny island, and nowhere else in the country! The Deutchmark is still a very nice coin, and the English one pound coin is still one of my favorite coins in the world. There are many different backs to the one pound coin, and they all represent one of the four countries in the Kingdom. I had fun trying to find each of the 20 or so backs while I was there (and I will eventually put a list of them up on my website!) There is also a new 2 pound coin, which is made of 2 different colors of metal (like the Toonie in Canada) and is quite pretty -- it has a scientific theme, astronomy and Isaac Newton; and it must be one of the most valuable coins in the world at about $3.25!

There are some travel stories that are so wonderful that the reader is almost jealous when reading them... like sailing through the Waddensee for a week with a bunch of Germans for less then it would've cost to stay in a hostel for a week! And then there are stories that the reader simply will not believe, (like the proverbial being driven by the locals through the streets of town in celebration that you hear about from time to time)... when these things happen to us, there is almost a two part experience, because I KNOW it is happening, and I revel in it. But I also am a step distant thinking, WOW... this is unbelievable!!!

Anyway, back to our travelogue... I have lots of observations that will have to wait until a later time, for time reasons, but I will catch you up on the last few weeks. After the ECLIPSE, LONDON, SCOTLAND and the WADDENSEE...

We spent a week in Bonn. I got a sore throat the last day on the boat, so I was moving pretty slowly, and it was nice to have some downtime... We got out and about everyday, worked on email and shopped... but we really didn't do much. It was wonderful staying in Sonja's house with her many interesting and very generous roommates. They made us feel at home (as did the very cute mouse that we shared the attic with at night!) I didn't start to feel healthy again until the weekend and then we got all these ideas of places to go and things to do. But there wasn't time.

We did go to Koln (Cologne) for a day, which is only 20 minutes from Bonn. We wandered around the famous Dom (cathedral) for a few minutes and actually saw a rainbow over the church!!! Then a drum band assembled in a very un-German fashion -- disorganized, people trickling in even after it started, different uniforms. It was an interesting group of perhaps 40 people, kids, senior citizens, punk rockers, business people... and they had 4 or five different kinds of drums and were pounding it out! It was very loud and echoing off the church. They were GOOD! It was fun and while they were playing the rain started, first a little and then a complete downpour! It was as if they had called the rain! They did finish the number they were on before they too ran for cover. It was GREAT!!! We wandered the central city and went out to the fabulous marketplace before heading back to Bonn.

On the day before that we had seen a band too, the LOCAL HEROS played in the central marktplatz in the 1000 year old altstat. This was a IRISH FOLK/HARD ROCK band made of 6 Germans and one Croatian! Their Irish brogues were almost convincing! It was a fun show, and the accordion player was Sonja's friend Manfred.

Monday evening we met Manfred on a train to Koblenz and on to the small town of Eltville along the knee of the Rhein, in the Rheingau wine region. Manfred is a wine fanatic... he worked every year at the winery that we were going to. We had an amazing travel experience just getting on the train, meeting this person, and having him tell us all about the geography, the history and the wine. He was a cool guy and it was a great train ride.

© Copyright Mark Canizaro 1999



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