Karlsruhe with Lisa

December 9, 2015 - Karlsruhe, Germany

If you've been following my blog at least since my time in Taizé, I'm sure you'll remember how important the other N'Toumi girls were to my experience there. You might even remember Lisa from Germany, one of the closest friends I made at Taizé – she gave me the really long goodbye letter and waved with Míriam as my bus pulled away. We became so close in the four weeks we were together in N'Toumi that by the time I left I was already hoping to visit her in Germany, and it came together in the first week of December! She lives in Karlsruhe, the second largest city in the same state as Rottweil (Baden-Württemberg). Karlsruhe is very close to the French border and its distinctive street layout may have been the inspiration for Washington, D.C. Despite these points of interest, the appeal for me of course wasn't the city, it was spending time with a very good friend.

Unfortunately meeting up with Lisa was much more complicated than it should have been, since I told her the wrong time for my train in an email! :( After walking around the station a few times, I discovered the problem, but it took me nearly another hour, about seven different wifi networks, and a very helpful coffee shop employee before I found access reliable enough to send her an email. Poor Lisa had been wandering and driving around looking for me for more than an hour before giving up and going home, but she kindly drove all the way back to the train station to pick me up. At the time it was quite stressful and annoying, but we laughed about it later!

While I was in Karlsruhe I met some of Lisa's friends, many of whom are taking gap years as well. It's much more common in Germany, and a year off doesn't have to be as deliberate; some people are just hanging out at home for a year. The first afternoon I was there we met Lisa's friend Lena downtown for some hot chocolate. Lena spent three months in England this year, so she has a very good British accent, and her English is so natural I often forgot it wasn't her first language. We just sat and talked for ages, and then decided to sleep over at Lena's house. Lena and I became fast friends; we're very similar and Lisa says when she met me at Taizé she immediately thought of Lena! Lena's house was beautifully decorated for Christmas: there were candles everywhere, lovely cutouts of glowing winter scenes, evergreen branches, advent calendars, and ornaments. Two days after I got to Karlsruhe, I went to her house to sleep over (without Lisa), and over the course of the week I was there, Lena and I watched all six Hobbit and Lord of the Rings movies together! I went shopping with Lisa and another friend, Jo, and we discovered a mutual love of mozzarella cheese. I also met some of her other friends at the Karlsruhe Christmas Market, and a Christmas Bazaar at the school they graduated from. Although the conversation in those big groups was mostly in German, her friends seemed really nice and it was cool to get a taste of what people like me do for fun in Karlsruhe.

Lisa and I did do some touristy things as well. We went to see the big palace at the center of the city, which all the streets fan away from. It had lovely grounds, and Lisa showed me the tracks for a tiny sightseeing train that runs in the summer. There was an ice-skating rink set up in front of the palace, so we rented skates for a few hours. It was so much fun even though we were both hopelessly out of practice! :)

Of course there were more Christmas markets: on Sunday, I went with Lisa, her parents, and her sister to one in the monastery in Maulbronn (about an hour's drive away). It was busy (but not nearly as crowded as Nuremberg!), and it had a lovely medieval atmosphere and stalls selling a surprising variety of things. It was one of the nicer ones I've been to, and I bought a little wooden elf ornament. There was also a Christmas market in the center of Karlsruhe, which Lisa and I went back to after I'd seen it with her friends. I got a straw angel ornament, and we also got a special treat because we went at 5:00 in the evening. Every day at that time, Santa flies in his sleigh across the sky above the market, pausing in the middle to tell a story and apparently descending afterwards to hand out chocolate. Lisa and I watched his flight from within an excited crowd of kids and grandparents, and the highlight was the part after the story, when he suddenly started shooting sparks out of his sleigh to propel him along!

I got to try lots of regional and German specialties: langos, which is an originally Hungarian traditional Christmas Market food that's a lot like fried dough; gebrannte Mandeln, which are almonds coated in warm browned sugar; Christstollen, a delicious fruit bread with marzipan in the middle; more waffles with powdered sugar; and of course the nonalcoholic alternative to glühwein, kinderpunsch, which I love. I also enjoyed lovely vegetarian meals from Lisa's mom, who went above and beyond to accommodate this strange food preference! She bought fake schnitzel for me, which was delicious (especially served with new potatoes), and made vegetarian lasagne. She even got fake sandwich meat for the yummy packed lunch she gave me on my last morning: a fake meat sandwich, a cheese sandwich, two clementines, a water bottle, and two little chocolate bars!

I also got to experience so many different advent and Christmas traditions that we don't do in the U.S. On the morning of December 6th, the feast of St. Nicholas, there was a little bag in between my shoes and in Lisa's boots, with lots of chocolate, a lip balm each, and a sweet note from St. Nicholas (Lisa's mom of course). At the end of the service in church that day, St. Nicholas himself came down the aisle to give chocolate to the kids in the congregation. In general, there were more decorations in people's houses – more advent calendars, wreaths, candles, and ornaments. This is because people generally don't get their trees until just before Christmas, even as late as the 23rd (Christmas is celebrated on the 24th so this is like getting your tree on Christmas Eve!). Advent calendars and wreaths aren't as religiously linked as they are in the U.S., either; Lisa told me everyone has them and she thought it was odd when I said I'd sometimes had to explain what ours were.

I'm not ashamed to say that Lisa and I spent a lot of time just curled up in her room, doing nothing – we both needed it after spending so long traveling (she had been at Taizé from the week before I arrived all the way to November 29)! All in all, it was a lovely relaxing week and it was so wonderful to see her again. She's hoping she'll be able to come visit me in Vermont in the summer, but if that doesn't work out we have lots of memories to fall back on!


Present from St. Nicholas
Monastery Christmas Market
Kinderpunsch and Glühwein at the Christmas Market
Christmas Decorations at Lena's

1 Comment

December 20, 2015
It's like you're having so many Christmasses with so many different friends :D I have no insightful comments, just merry Christmas and congratulations on having so much fun!
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