Where's Sam the Man

48 countries, 12 months, one man, half a brain

Name: Samuel Hathaway
Location: Roaming..., Germany

Saturday, March 1, 2008

The Last Four Months, in Brief

Thankfully, the last four months did not consist solely of tiling, painting, lifting, and shoving. As one of the great culture capitals of the world, Germany offered more than enough to keep me entertained. A complete listing would be time-consuming and tedious (for you, my readers), so I have highlighted some events and listed them below:

1. Christmas Markets -- During the Christmas season, most Germanic towns (from villages to cities, from Berlin to Zürich) will put up a Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas Market) in the town square. Local vendors set up wooden booths sheltered with pine boughs to create rambling shopping alleys along the cobblestone. They sell local cuisine (whole smoked fish in Stuttgart, Germany, toasted cheese in Zürich, Switzerland, and always, always hot wine), local crafts, Christmas ornaments, and other random gifts. The atmosphere is always charming, but as the cities get larger so does the scale of the markets. In Stuttgart there was a contest amongst the vendors, where each would try to make the most fantastic rooftop decorations -- you would find whole nativity sets blossoming out of pine branches, glittering angels fluttering above the passersby, etc. In Zürich the main attraction was a three-story Christmas tree dripping with Swarovski crystals. It's a great way to spend winter evenings.

2. My family -- Rather than allow me to spend Christmas on my own, much less the next six months, my family was able to fly over and meet me in Frankfurt for the week from Christmas to New Years. The first six months of travel had rushed by so quickly, but when I saw them again I realized how much I missed them. We spent a day in Frankfurt (where we saw the home of the great German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe), but quickly moved to the more quiet and charming hideaway of Heidelberg. The historical village is located in the lovely Neckar River valley in the southwestern corner of Germany. We spent the week wandering the ancient streets, exploring the romantic ruins of a castle perched on the hillside (a favorite place of writer Mark Twain), and just catching up on family time that we hadn't had in months. The week went by far too quickly, but it was a blessing for all of us!

3. Berliner Philharmoniker concert -- Most of you should know, by this point, that I am a self-confessed classical music nerd. One of my goals for my travels this year was to see, in person, the great European artists, directors, and orchestras that fill my iPod. In Tallinn, Estonia, my father and I had the chance to see the Fabio Biondi's ensemble Europa Galante -- the greatest Baroque orchestra in the world. Really fantastic (seriously: you'll never hear such such purity of tone from period instruments or life-filled Baroque interpretations anywhere else -- get yourself a CD). Now, being in Germany, there was only one thing on my mind: the Berliner Philharmoniker (Berlin Philharmonic). It's usually held to be the greatest modern orchestra in the world -- every player is a virtuoso! I made a weekend trip to Berlin (a whole other story...) to see the revered Dutch conductor Bernard Haitink conduct Schubert's Ninth Symphony, an Anton Webern arrangement of a part of J. S. Bach's Musikalsches Opfer, and Alban Berg's violin concerto (with Frank Peter Zimmerman on the violin). It was the greatest orchestra in the world, conducted by one of the greatest conductors in the world, playing music by some of the greatest composers in the world, at one of the greatest concert halls in the world (the Berliner Philharmonie). It's an amazing experience to be part of art at that level!


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