Cycling Statistics for this month
This month I passed two reasonable milestones – the first was 9000km for the year (target is 10,000 so I was ahead) and the second was 80,000km since I took up recumbent tricyling six years ago. And, as you can see from the information below, I’m only 261km off my yearly target by the end of November. So that ought to be easily achievable!
Here are all the rides I have done this month.
I tend to regularly ride to Süchteln and Viersen (for Choir and VHS) so have not been travelling so far afield regularly. However I have a plan to cycle to Köln for the Christmas Market in a week or so’s time and either get the train back or cycle back, which should be fun.
People I’ve seen this month
Occasionally I spot recumbent tricyclists while I am out and about in the car or with the dog, and at the beginning of November I saw a chap on an orange Scorpion whilst Poppy and I were walking to St Hubert – so I stopped him for a chat. He realised who I was (he had seen me in Penelope before) and we had a nice chat about some of the cycling routes around here. He introduced himself as Mr Schneider.
I was also invited by a couple at church for tea and cake with them one afternoon which was very pleasant. We had a good chat and they made me feel very welcome – with cake of course.
I’ve also been doing a fair bit of riding with Klaus’s family as well, taking Lara and Claudia out for longer rides (to bakeries or cafés, of course) as well as encouraging them to try riding in the dark. I tried to get some photos one day in my mirror – it partially worked. Here are all three of them in Alfie’s mirror.
Sankt Martin celebrations
The month of November has been surprisingly busy in terms of festival/celebration events.
I was surprised to discover that I rather missed having Guy Fawkes’ Night with the bonfires, fireworks and sparklers. However Niederrhein presented a very similar event a week later, part of the festival of St Martin.
Here’s a bit of info from Wiki about St Martin:
November 11 is the feast day of St. Martin of Tours, who started out as a Roman soldier. He was baptized as an adult and became a monk. It is understood that he was a kind man who led a quiet and simple life. The most famous legend of his life is that he once cut his cloak in half to share with a beggar during a snowstorm, to save the beggar from dying from the cold. That night he dreamed that Jesus was wearing the half-cloak. Martin heard Jesus say to the angels: “Here is Martin, the Roman soldier who is not baptised; he has clothed me.”
In all the local towns and villages schoolchildren take part in a St Martin’s Parade where they make lanterns and walk in a big procession through the towns singing songs. Apparently Kempen’s Parade is the best-known in the region so of course I had to go along.
The Wikipedia article says this about St Martin’s Day in Germany:
A widespread custom in Germany is bonfires on St. Martin’s eve, called “Martinsfeuer.” In recent years, the processions that accompany those fires have been spread over almost a fortnight before Martinmas. At one time, the Rhine River valley would be lined with fires on the eve of Martinmas. In the Rhineland region, Martin’s day is celebrated traditionally with a get-together during which a roasted suckling pig is shared with the neighbours.
The nights before and on the night of Nov. 11, children walk in processions carrying lanterns, which they made in school, and sing Martin songs. Usually, the walk starts at a church and goes to a public square. A man on horseback dressed like St. Martin accompanies the children. When they reach the square, Martin’s bonfire is lit and Martin’s pretzels are distributed.
In some regions of Germany (e.g. Rhineland or Bergisches Land) in a separate procession the children also go from house to house with their lanterns, sing songs and get candy in return.
The origin of the procession of lanterns is unclear. To some, it is a substitute for the St. Martin bonfire, which is still lit in a few cities and villages throughout Europe. It formerly symbolized the light that holiness brings to the darkness, just as St. Martin brought hope to the poor through his good deeds. Even though the tradition of the large, crackling fire is gradually being lost, the procession of lanterns is still practised.
In some regions of Germany, the traditional sweet of Martinmas is “Martinshörnchen”, a pastry shaped in the form of a croissant, which recalls both the hooves of St. Martin’s horse and, by being the half of a pretzel, the parting of his mantle. In parts of western Germany these pastries are shaped like gingerbread men (Stutenkerl).
What seemed to be in the local shops wasn’t the Croissant or Stutenkerl but something called a Weckmännchen – of course I had to buy one to try it. They also come with currants (which I am not too keen on).
Anyway, Carole and her daughter Coralie (who I provide English tuition for) offered for me to come to the St Martin’s Parade in Kempen with them, so I was pleased to agree. I also brought Gudula and Lara with me from home.
We went by bike of course – here we all are heading through St Hubert towards Kempen.
We parked our bikes behind the Post Office in Kempen town centre and took up our positions opposite the castle (where the fireworks are set). We arrived about 5pm so would have a fairly long wait until it all started but we had an excellent vantage point.
The Fire Brigade were just along the road from us – with a telescopic platform on the end of which was a cameraman from WDR (the German television station) who would broadcast the procession live.
The darkness came and the castle’s windows were illuminated with red light… as the procession started to come through.
These lanterns are all made at school with different themes and they were all wonderful!
This section of the procession had a large boat at the front!
And then the procession stopped, and the musicians (there were lots of brass bands) also stopped. Because… now it was time for fireworks!!
It was a fantastic sight from where we were standing and lasted about twenty minutes.
After the fireworks were over the procession continued, with banners telling you which school the students were from. It was lovely and colourful and friendly and there were huge crowds watching it. Apparently lots of Dutch people drive over to visit, for example.
Anyway, I very much enjoyed it, despite finding it a bit chilly to stand out in the open so long (I had originally thought I might sit in Penelope somewhere but there wouldn’t have been space with all the crowds).
We cycled home, moving with the mass of other visitors on foot, with just a few cars trying to pass. That’s what I like about this bit of Germany – people use feet or bikes as transport methods.
I had also seen another smaller parade in Viersen when out on a cycle ride the week before – these parades seem to span a couple of weeks. They are great fun though.
Remembrance Sunday in the UK is the Sunday before 11 November and this is a church service that I always like to attend. It felt strange to miss it this year – but I listened on the radio to the broadcast from the Cenotaph. My parents had sent me a poppy through the post as I hadn’t remembered to bring one, so that was good.
I explained to several friends here about poppies and Remembrance Sunday and the two minutes’ silence which they didn’t know about. I also showed several people photos of the amazing poppies installation at the Tower of London.
Every so often, when you think you are getting familiar with a country, something happens that makes you realise you are still able to be utterly bemused. And the Karneval Proklamation was one of these things!
Klaus and Claudia invited me along to the ‘Proklamation’ as their daughter Lara was doing a dance in it. I was pleased to say yes as it would be interesting I thought – and boy was I right!!!!
I didn’t know what to expect – I suppose I thought we would be walking along the street (like the St Martin’s Parade) or something. I made some comment about how long it would take and was told that the event was three hours. Three hours!!! And that it was indoors.
Anyway, in due course I drove to Klaus and Claudia’s house to meet them. Lara was all ready for the event – dressed in a special outfit with white skirt, red waistcoat and red cape. The red and white theme was to be regularly seen in the event, as I discovered.
We walked up the road to the big community hall in Rahser (the northern part of Viersen) and it was decorated with lots of red hangings, flags and banners. And, rather surprisingly, there were lots of grown men and children in different uniforms. Very unusual!
We sat down at long tables with various goodies on (as well as a price list for beer – no tea was available unfortunately) as people started to arrive. Lara disappeared with her friends and I took the time to look around – lots of new sights and sounds to these British eyes.
And then the event started.
Klaus explained some of what was going on. It was the investiture for the new Prince and Princess (of the Karneval) but first we had the ceremony for the outgoing Prince and Princess.
At the beginning all the kids were up on stage.
And then we had the ceremony for the outgoing Prince and Princess, Anton I and Jana I. But first they processed up the centre of the room to the stage. And Klaus said to me “watch out!” and I couldn’t work out what he was talking about – until small chocolate bars started raining down on me. The Prince and Princess (and their helpers) throw armfuls of goodies (mostly chocolates but also bags of crisps) to the audience. These land on tables with drinks and other stuff so it was quite an interesting thing in terms of health and safety.
This was my collection by the time the Prince and Princess had made it to the stage.
The prince and princess had a troupe of guards with them (young lads) who sat at tables at the back and seemed to just eat sweeties the whole time rather than keeping an eye on their charges!
The stage was full of people wearing read as the hand-over ceremony started.
The Prince had to wear these rather unusual red shoes!
The prince had to give back his mace and special hat (with feathers on). Apparently this can be a very emotional time for the prince and princesses (although these two kept reasonably stiff upper lips).
They had been Prince and Princess for a year and had been involved in lots of community occasions, apparently. They also had to get sponsorship for the cost of the year – as they are always having to throw these goodies around wherever they go, plus they have to buy the (expensive) clothing. Apparently if you want to be the Prince or Princess in Köln your budget is between half a million and a million Euros. Crazy!!
Throughout all this there was a chap being a kind of Master of Ceremonies and occasionally he would say words and the audience (except me!) would shout back. Claudia had told me something about this on the way there but I couldn’t work out what she was talking about at the time. Anyway, the chap shouts “ram” and we shout “di bam” back, three times, waving our arms in the air whilst a keyboard player played some crashing chords. Also he would shout “Viersen” and we had to reply “Helau” (three times), with fist waving too. There were some other calls and responses too. It was very peculiar.
We were also told to do something to do with a rocket (Rakete), I didn’t quite catch it, which was drumming our hands on the table three times (with a gap in the middle) as a prelude to the next set of people processing down to the stage. Apparently we are pretending to be a three-stage rocket or something – but I only found this out afterwards.
We also had some singing – the song in the video below was partly in the local dialect which Klaus said he couldn’t really understand.
And then the former Prince and Princess processed off the stage and there was a short hiatus (a chance to eat some of the goodies) before the next instruction to stand and cheer the next procession.
Which was the procession of the incoming Prince and Princess (Max I and Selina I) and they, too, threw lots of goodies.
This time my haul was some wine gums, a blue rubber duck, three roses and various more chocolates and cereal bars.
The mini chocolates (small kitkat-type things) provided a great opportunity to play Jenga – with a rubber duck on the top.
The new Prince and Princess were then officially welcomed/consecrated/investituted (no idea what the verb should be). The Prince was given his feathered hat and his mace by the local Catholic Priest.
The Princess was a really sweet-looking girl who was always smiling and twinkly-eyed.
She is the third in her family to do this, apparently (one brother was a Prince and her older sister a Princess) so the family clearly know what they have to do.
They then recited some speeches, did a glove-puppet mini-sketch and the Prince also played his drums a bit.
Then there was a long series of ceremonial bits where other Princes and Princesses (young and also grown-ups) from other areas came to give gifts to the new Prince and Princess. They were always given a Karnevalsorden, a kind of medal on a ribbon (and gave one in return), so by the end of these ceremonies (probably about 8 different areas’ Princes and Princesses) they must have been really weighed down by all the enamel medals hanging round their necks. Apparently these are no plastic but properly made. Here they are with the adult Princess of Viersen.
The Prince and Princess had to kiss the cheeks three times of all the various people that they were honouring. I felt a bit sorry for this lovely sweet Princess who had to kiss 40-or-so middle aged men dressed in weird uniforms. But she was very good at her job – I was impressed by her! The Prince looked a little more ill-at-ease but still did a creditable job.
The local Bürgermeister (Mayor) and two of the local Catholic Priests also were involved in part of the ceremony, it’s obviously something quite integrated within the local community.
The chaps around them were dressed rather like French soldiers to my mind. Anyway, they processed out and I took a little film of it.
After all these ceremonial bits the Prince and Princess got to sit on their thrones.
We had some entertainment which was a series of dance groups which were great fun. These girls were very good at high kicks!
And this is the group of dancers which Lara was part of.
There was also a little sketch done by a young child (he can’t have been much more than five years old. And he was utterly, utterly brilliant. I reckon he has a promising career on the stage.
And some more dancing girls, this time from Lobberich.
At the end all the children came back up onto the stage.
These were really sweet!
This whole Carnival group started in 1936 (not such an auspicious year really!) so it’s a long-time thing in the area. I wasn’t able to work out if the people took it seriously or saw it as a bit of lighthearted fun but they certainly got into the spirit of it.
I cannot think of anything similar that happens in the UK except for Morris Dancing… and that doesn’t last three hours!
But I really enjoyed being at this evening – it was great fun, always good-natured, noisy and colourful. And there’s another thing on the 18th of January that the children are involved in too… so the Karneval continues (until Ash Wednesday, in fact, so nearly four months).
Here’s the official report of the event: http://roahser-jonges.de/dnn/Proklamation_2014/tabid/298/Default.aspx In German of course.
Weihnachtsmarkt at Schloss Dyck
Claudia and Klaus invited me to come with them to visit the Weihnachtsmarkt at Schloss Dyck on the first Sunday in Advent, 30th November. So we duly all headed off in my car to Jüchen (my car as Klaus wanted some Glühwein and German drink-driving laws are extremely strict – and I am teetotal), discovering along the way that my Satnav was having a bad afternoon and we had to use Google’s satnav instead. But we found it – I had cycled there a month or so ago but the car route is very different.
Anyway, we arrived, paid the rather high entrance fee (12 Euros) and started to have a look around.
It’s a wonderful backdrop for the market, as you can see from these photos.
We had a good wander round, enjoying the ambience and a few edible items, as well as buying a few little Christmas bits and bobs. We also stumbled across the British Fudge Shop stand (this is a shop in Mönchengladbach) so I bought some fudge. The people selling it to me had great London-area accents so it was fun to exchange just a few words with them. Lara looked most bemused by my sudden descent into super-fast English.
This month’s music
Beethoven Messe in C
The 31st October was the Bach concert at the Auferstehungskirche in Willich, which was a dry run for the concert in Willich Sankt Katharina church, the Beethoven Messe in C. Practices for this started in January but I joined in April (when I arrived in Germany). It’s been a challenge – partly because the music is pitched very high for an alto but also because it’s a big group of people of varying skills.
Here we are during our full-day practice the Saturday before.
But finally it was time for the concert – after some very long practices!
The evening before the concert we had a practice in St Katharina.
The orchestra were there and it was completely different playing with them, particularly in the strange acoustic.
The practice didn’t go all that well. It’s hard to get used to a completely new acoustic and there were lots of mistakes. Plus we were sitting in very different positions to normal – I was in the front row! I really hoped the actual concert would be better.
Fortunately the next night for the official concert we did a better job. Here we all are in the vestry waiting to go in.
It was an enjoyable experience singing in such a beautiful church and the audience seemed to enjoy it – we did an encore of Die Himmel erzählen die Ehre Gottes from Die Schöpfung (the Creation) by Haydn. And, as you can see, we were all very relieved when it was over – the expression on the faces of two of my friends from this choir says it all!
Overall I think it was a reasonably successful event and the good acoustics in the church covered up some of our hesitancy I hope!
The only review I was able to find online was certainly very positive: http://www.wz-newsline.de/lokales/kreis-viersen/willich/viel-applaus-fuer-tolle-beethoven-messe-1.1795127
Anja and I have been playing flute and piano together for several months, practising for a number of events, the first of which was us playing together in the church service for Totensonntag, which is the Sunday before the first Sunday in Advent and is when people in the church who have died that year are remembered.
We played three pieces – two Handel pieces and also a piece by Santo Lapis. We played at the beginning of the service, at the end and after the names of the dead had been read out and people were thinking quietly. It went well which was a relief and we had several comments about how much people had enjoyed it.
Kempen Music Evening
A long time ago Anja had invited me also to play at a music evening that takes place under the auspices of the Evangelical church in Kempen, the Thomaskirche. This event was to be on 28 November and we had practiced various bits of music, deciding eventually on a piece by Santo Lapis.
When I arrived at the church I was amazed to see how many people were there. There were 24 different performances listed in the programme and there was a heavy bias towards flutes (probably half of the things included a least one flute) but it was a very enjoyable evening with a range of different ages and levels of expertise. There was a lady playing the flute who was 85 years old, apparently.
It was good to attend this and to see the skill with which some of the young people were able to play their instruments. I also saw, for the first time, a bass recorder – an amazing-looking thing that was taller than me!
This part of the world is providing the most wonderful views as I cycle off to my evening events. Each day is a different sunset with incredible colours in the sky. The iPhone does not do it justice but hopefully this gives you an idea of some of the beauty around here.
I made a special trip to the Krickenbecker See at sunset to take this photo as it is such a wonderful spot. There is a handy bench where you can sit and watch the sun go down – from where I took this photograph. Magical!
Cakes this month
Here are some of the cakes that I or my companions have enjoyed!
A lady and her husband from the St Hubert church invited me for cake one afternoon and provided me with this nice plum cake
And also some Stollen.
My banoffee pie
Most Brits have probably tried Banoffee Pie – it’s a fantastic dessert, sweet and caramely, with the added bonus that you can cause an explosion in making it that requires you to redecorate your entire kitchen. I hadn’t made it for years (partly because we had an expensive new kitchen in our previous house and I didn’t want to spend days removing exploded condensed milk from the ceiling and cupboards).
Anyway, Klaus and Claudia had invited me several times for dinner and I felt that I was well overdue to provide something to eat for them on my next visit. So I decided to make a Banoffee Pie.
Here’s an English recipe (which assumes your condensed milk is already boiled into dulce de leche) http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/banoffeepie_89031
For Germans who don’t know about this, there is a good recipe here (in German): http://www.chefkoch.de/rezepte/125001053614007/Banoffee-Pie.html
I hadn’t seen this recipe (in German) before making my pie. But that was OK as I could get all the ingredients in Germany.
Or so I thought.
Banoffee Pie is fairly simple. A biscuit base (mixed with butter), a layer of dulce de leche (condensed milk which is boiled in the tin for 2-3 hours until it becomes brown caramel – or explodes), a layer of bananas and then a layer of whipped cream. Simple.
The first issue I had is that I didn’t have the right dish for it. Never mind, my pyrex lasagne dish would do at a pinch (I had tried and failed to find disposable foil pie dishes – they don’t seem to be available in Germany. But then neither are pies!)
The second issue is that the normal base of digestive biscuits would be tricky as there don’t seem to be any digestive biscuits in Germany. Never mind, I bought some normal Butterkeks and crushed them up, mixed them with the melted butter and pressed them into the lasagne dish. It all then went into the fridge to harden.
The Dulce de leche is the big issue with Banoffee Pie. Fortunately one thing the Germans do have is condensed milk – and the tin looked about the same size as the normal tin I used in the UK. They even had smaller tins. So I bought a mixture (four altogether) so I could boil everything up in one go – it can be stored in the tin after boiling no problems.
I have a pressure cooker in my Wohnung so decided to use that. It has the advantage that if the tin explodes it is contained, and the second advantage that it apparently cooks it much quicker – in just an hour rather than 2-3. So I put the tins in the cooker and set them off to boil.
After an hour (with no explosions) I turned the heat off and let it all cool.
I was going out in a couple of hours so after everything had cooled I thought I’d check the tin. I lifted it out of the water, shook it – and heard stuff sloshing around inside. It clearly hadn’t set so couldn’t have turned into dulce de leche. Maybe the pressure cooker wasn’t working properly (it had been slightly leaking water from the lid join). So just to be sure I boiled everything again for another hour and a quarter. I turned the heat off and went out for my evening engagement, hoping that when I got home it would be OK.
So when I got home several hours later to four cooled tins, I fished them out of the water and shook them – still liquid. Argh!!!
Plan B was called for, which is the option you use if you don’t want to risk explosions by boiling the tins whole. You take the milk out and add it to butter and sugar and heat it up until it thickens. So I attempted this… and it didn’t thicken. For half an hour I was stirring this to no avail. Right, this was a disaster. I left it to cool, feeling very irritated that it wasn’t working.
I happened to go back into the kitchen half an hour later and saw that it had slightly set now it was was cooling so I decided rather than waste all the work I would pour the mix onto the biscuit base and see what it was like when chilled in the fridge.
The next morning the banoffee mix was slightly tacky so I decided it would do, and sliced the bananas on top. Then it was time to whip up the cream.
I didn’t have an electric whisk so I did this job by hand. And boy did it take a long time. The cream eventually started to stiffen but it was more liquid than I wanted and then… suddenly… it went flat and started turning into butter. Argh!!!!
So I covered the pie with foil (it had sliced bananas on it) and on my way to my dinner engagement I stopped off at Aldi, bought some more cream and used Claudia’s electric whisk to whip it up. I lost my nerve a bit soon so it was rather more runny than it should have been – as you can see from the photo above. There was very little of the banoffee caramel taste but my friends seemed happy enough to eat it. I have promised them a PROPER banoffee pie after I return from England next month and have a chance to get the correct ingredients.
A bit of research afterwards showed me that normal German condensed milk has a lot lower sugar content than English, it is more like evaporated milk. The German banoffee recipe above calls for ‘sweetened condensed milk’ rather than the normal. So I imagine that explains the not-turning-into-toffee issue. We live and learn.
Christmas is Coming
Yesterday, 30 November, was the first Sunday in Advent. Today as I finalise this blog post it is 1 December and Christmas is just around the corner.
I am having three friends visiting from England tomorrow for four days, I’ll be back in England for the third week of December and then will be returning here for Christmas with my husband and his parents, James’s brother and his wife and their three children. So it will be a really interesting and different Christmas, attending church in Germany, experiencing some of the different customs and hopefully having a relaxing and peaceful time.