My original plan was to spend a year in Germany – what I good thing I decided to extend that a long time ago as a year would have been nowhere near long enough!
February has been a bit of an odd month as will be explained below. But the first hint can be gathered by my cycling statistics for this month.
Cycling Statistics for February 2015
As you can see, I didn’t ride very far at all this month – and my last ride was on the 19th of February. And here’s where I went.
The reason I did so few miles is that I came down with the flu rather badly and it completely wiped me out for two weeks (and it’s now the third week and I’m still recovering and not back to full bike riding). It also did something odd to my liver so I’ve been seeing the doctor about that although things look like they are improving (more about the German healthcare system in the report for next month).
Doubly-unfortunately the flu came in the two weeks I had set aside (with few engagements) to get a good lot of work done. Needless to say I spent the time instead in bed reading, listening to podcasts and getting very bored. I was slightly saved by the chance to listen to the ‘Germany: Memories Of A Nation’ podcasts from Neil McGregor of the British Museum. These were on Radio 4 in the UK some months ago and several people had recommended that I listen so I downloaded the podcasts and waited for the right time (which came this month). I had also requested the book for Christmas so was able to read extracts of that as well (and see the pictures that he is describing as well).
I did manage some good rides earlier in the month though, including some more church-bagging (I’ve got very behind with writing those visits up, I’ve done about another twenty now). It seems that my regular cycling companion Klaus doesn’t find visiting churches quite as interesting as I do.
We also had a trike maintenance day. I needed to replace the brake cables on Alfie (spot the smart new red ones!) and also checked my brake pads, which ended up with a rather unexpected complete disassembly of a BB7 brake. It took Klaus and I about an hour and a half to put it back together again so we won’t be doing that again in a hurry.
We had to do a fair bit of brake adjustment on both trikes after a lot of winter riding. Disc brakes do seem to need a lot more attention than the drums that I have on the Trice Q but I do like how positive the discs are.
Klaus added some inner tube to the rack on his trike to make his smart new Vaude panniers fit a bit better. I also changed the tyres on the Trice Q that Claudia is borrowing to some old Marathons (they had Marathon Plus on) but had trouble getting the tyres to sit properly, which involved another attempt a couple of weeks later. Perhaps when the tyres get old they become cantankerous.
I also ordered online a few more bike tools as I was getting fed up with having to swap my one bike toolkit between the two bikes – and the risk is that I would forget the kit (which I have done twice before). A puncture then would be a disaster!
The pump that I use (for one-handed people) is rather expensive at 40 Euros so I decided instead to try a CO2 pump. That was pretty good value (assuming it works) although the cartridges are 2,50€ if you buy them individually (bulk is way cheaper but I don’t know how often I will use them).
The plan is to have the real pump in Penelope and the CO2 pump in Alfie (because if it doesn’t work for some reason I have many more options for rescue with a bike that fits easily in a car). I am also often riding in company with Alfie and that company is likely to have a pump too. But it’s nice to not have to remember to get the toolkit out of the other bike each time I swap – and it was a good chance also to rationalise the things I am carrying around with me. The toolkits seem to rather grow in content!
Karneval is the gift that keeps on giving throughout the winter – there’s always another event to visit if you have the fortitude. There are also various unusual sights available… such as this man walking in a pink bunny onesie in Escheln at midday on a Wednesday.
As I had clearly developed a reputation as a hardy Karneval-goer I was invited to a double-event by Claudia at which Lara was performing. Two “Auftritt” (performances) with a bit of a gap in the middle (I was offered the inducement of cake). So of course I thought it would be nice to go. This was all in the run up to the last Karneval weekend (the whole thing finishes the day before Ash Wednesday).
Claudia said something about the first event being in Deutsche Bank in Viersen. I assumed she meant outside but once again my powers of imagination were lacking as it was indeed inside the bank. I went and got some money out surrounded by people in uniforms with swords.
When Lara processed in for the start of her dance we followed her into the main banking are and it was full of people dressed as cowboys and indians with copious amounts of beer flowing. There were a surprising number of drunk people in a bank at 2 in the afternoon.
Lara’s dance was rudely curtailed by dust on the CD which meant it kept skipping but the cowboys and indians didn’t really seem to notice. She was rather disappointed though.
Lara went off with the other dancers after this and Claudia and I went for our cake. I had something called a ‘Windbeuteltorte’ although it didn’t taste very Windbeutely.
We ended up with about an hour and a half before the next event, which was Lara’s other performance (singing a duet dressed as a gipsy). This would be outside the Rathaus (town hall) so a walk of about 20 metres from the café. A real hardship.
There were lots of different performances (several of which I have now already seen) but this time in the open air with the Mayor of Viersen on the balcony being included in the event. There were lots of football jokes which rather passed me by.
Unfortunately the MC completely forgot about Lara’s Gipsy dance and so announced the ‘final item’ (which was a group of chaps dressed in French military uniforms from the 18th century doing some dances). Lara and her co-dancer went over to the MC and so they had their moment of glory at the very end – except they weren’t given microphones.
Fortunately the crowd realised and started shouting “they’re singing!” so the music was stopped and the MC (who only had the one microphone) turned himself into a microphone stand and they did their routine, this time singing audibly.
I was very impressed at how they coped with the several hiccups during today’s performances. Well done!
However the final Karneval event that I attended was perhaps, for my hosts, a slight disappointment in that their regular attempts to discombobulate the Brit failed. As we have this kind of thing in the UK (processions through the streets with people on various different floats). So this felt more ‘normal’ than all the rest of it, although the throwing of food to spectators isn’t something you get in the UK. This was a Karneval Umzug and all the roads were closed for several hours.
Claudia had decided where we would be and we met up with some more of their friends as we walked to our spot. I had hoped to be able to take the trike (to have somewhere to sit – the event was apparently going to be three hours long) but was told there would not be room. In the end there would have been room, but we were only there for an hour and a half anyway so my back survived standing up that long!
The Umzug is lots of floats from various Karneval organisations around (including one Dutch one), mostly pulled by tractors. In fact the variety of tractors was really rather interesting to see!
Here is a small selection of the floats.
Spot the weird local dialect on this float!
These marionettes were very cool if slightly perturbing.
And here was the float of the Roahser Jonges Prinzenpaar – the group that Lara was involved with. She was on the wagon throwing out goodies (but the other side from where I was standing).
The final float was the Viersen Prince and Princess, preceded by their Guard on horseback.
At this point all the spectators disappeared off. We had an hour to wait for Lara (as she had another thing afterwards) and so headed to Claudia’s favourite café for cake, only to discover that it was closed. Disaster!!!!
We decided in the end to go back to their house and that Claudia would come back to collect Lara later.
On our walk along the route the ever-efficient Germans were already out cleaning the streets from all the mess following the procession.
Friends and events
Once again it was great to meet up with Gabi and Rolf (other velomobile riders) in Schwalmtal.
Here is Gabi’s Quest (with new race cap) and Penelope.
As always it was lovely to sit and chat with them both – and to hear Rolf’s plans of buying himself a Quest velomobile instead of his Mango. Exciting stuff!
Gabi had once again cycled up from Bonn (and she brought a wonderful home-made lemon cheesecake, with lemon from her own lemon trees!) and although it was a very cold day (about -1 degrees) we both enjoyed our rides in the velomobiles, staying very warm. I needed a hat and buff to keep my face warm (no racecap) but Gabi was always toasty warm.
I was also pleased to see friend Babs again on Ash Wednesday when we went for the Tortenschlemmen (all you can eat cake) at my local cafe. Once again I only managed two cakes. But they were tasty!
And the next morning (which happened to be the day I came down with the flu) I felt a bit rough but struggled out on Penelope to meet with Hartmut and Jochen (of the ADFC) for a photo shoot about the new Knotenpunkte that have appeared in Kreis Viersen this year. A photographer from the Westdeutsche Zeitung was coming along to take a picture of us next to one of the special points (with a numbering system you can use to navigate easily).
I rode over there in Penelope feeling pretty rough, and when I got to the agreed point Hartmut was already there. Jochen soon arrived and had his first sit in Penelope.
After about ten minutes the photographer turned up – by bike!!! He took a picture (I stupidly forgot to put Penelope’s bling lights on) and it appeared in the paper a week later.
By this point I was really in the grip of the flu, bedridden and bored out of my mind. Poppy and I did have occasional light relief though – watching Top Gear for example.
One Sunday morning as I headed out to my car I spotted this!
It paid for a nice selection of bread and cakes to take to my friends’ house that morning for Brunch.
Pancake day (Shrove Tuesday) arrived and I was concerned that I didn’t have any eggs. I went round to visit a neighbour (who works as a translator into English and indeed her English is incredibly good) and fortunately she has hens and gave me a half dozen eggs. So I had a few pancakes myself and also made one for Poppy.
Poppy and I were out for a walk and we saw what seemed to be a rather over-engineered way of pollarding some trees. I wasn’t sure why they didn’t just do it from the other side of the ditch…
It seemed to be the month for tree removal as our next door neighbour decided to remove the large tree at the front of his house. Frank and Lara helped, and it was obviously quite an involved procedure!
There was an awful lot of tree on the ground at the end – Frank spent a couple of days chainsawing it up and it will be running the woodburner next year I suppose!
Poppy the dog loves her life here in Germany – particularly as there are lots of other people to hang out with if I am out of the house. Lara who lives upstairs has a huge beanbag that Poppy finds most comfortable.
However she is less impressed with my haircutting skills – when doing it on my own it’s quite tricky so I hit upon the idea of standing her on the wheelie bin. She was not impressed but it stopped her running away!
It’s worth noting that in my time here in Germany I’ve found several words commonly used which I didn’t learn at school and hadn’t really seen written down either (they seem to be mainly spoken rather than used in the written language). They are:
kriegen – to get (pronounced krichen)
gucken – to look
heftig – difficult
Equally, I have been asked by several different Germans what is the English for Brötchen (rolls). They also tend not to have heard of a duvet and also have little understanding of the difference between a town and city. Germans have said to me (in English) “the city of Kempen” (and it is most certainly too small to be a city).
I’ve missed two sessions of the VHS because of my flu but am looking forward to continuing my German studies. My interactions with Klaus’s family, almost entirely in German, seem to be the most helpful thing in improving my language skills though. I hope that they, too, are learning some English from me.
I took a look at some of the info on this blog about referrals (how people arrive here) and discovered I have been mentioned in a few new places. Here’s a small selection (the black page is friend Oliver the Mango velomobile rider).
And, a final bizarre bit of randomness… Before my flu hit Claudia decided we ought to do something more interesting one Saturday evening (as Lara would be away). Perhaps visit the theatre or cinema. Unfortunately the eight local cinemas were all only showing ‘Fifty Shades Of Grey’ which none of us wanted to see. There was nothing on at the theatre. So I resorted to googling… and got this option:
We decided regenerative cryotherapy wasn’t really our thing either, and in the end I was stuck in bed with the flu. But it just goes to show there is always something new to experience in Germany, even in the sleepy Niederrhein!
The wonderful Niederrhein scenery continues to take my breath away at times.