Normally we arrive in a country with a bit of local knowledge, we have an idea of what we want to see and do and we have practiced a few pleasantries in the local language. For some reason we arrived in Germany having done none of this, we were more interested in catching up with our friends Michael and Christine who we haven’t seen in 24 years! We really enjoyed our stay, even writing about it makes me smile.
We took the train from Verona to Munich then to Stuttgart and finally to Schwäbisch Gmünd. The train journey through to Munich takes you through the Italian Alps and it is very beautiful, the hills and mountains are dramatic and rugged. It was also interesting watching the housing styles change as we travelled along. A trip well worth taking.
The difficult part of the journey was that the Austrian and German police forces were strictly checking the borders due to the current refugee crisis. Three times we saw police enter the train and check passports and papers. At no stage did we see or hear them being rude or violent but there mere prescence was somewhat intimidating, they were always in groups of 3-4 and at least 12 of them were on the train at anyone time. Each time they came on they took people off. The sad part was that all these people were African, at no stage were we (white and middle aged) asked for our passports or papers. We were sitting with a woman from Nigeria who had refugee status. She was travelling with her 3 young children, the youngest (18 months) had been born in Germany. These children were lovely, they were well behaved and happy to chat and play with us. They could speak 3 languages (more than we can do!) Her fear when the police came on was papable. Sadly, on the 3rd stop she and the children were taken away so her papers could be checked further. We will not forget her nor her fear. It highlighted again the different lives some of us live and it bought the refugee and migrant crisis right to us, again. We have also seen this in Thailand, in Malaysia and in Malta. When travelling around southern Germany we could also see evidence of the Syrian refugees that Germany has so generously taken in. In one town they have a camp that can hold 800 and it currently holds about 1500. Many resources are clearly stretched to their limit.
Experiences such as this make you grateful for what you have, so with this attitude we set off to find our friends. We recieved such a warm welcome and very quickly we were catching up on years of news and experiences.
Everything here is different, the houses, the landscape, the roads, the food and it was all good! We had a day with Christine wandering around Schwäbisch Gmünd, such a cute little town which has been very carefully and cleverfully renovated. The cars now by-pass the town center and it is easy to walk and enjoy the sights. The Cathedral has the most amazing altar we have seen anywhere!
After lunch we went up into the hills and saw sculptures left from a recent garden festival. We also saw another chapel at a retreat centre, this is a very Catholic area.
On the Saturday I went to the school where (German) Michael works as a social worker and did some craft work with some of the girls in residential care…..we decided that I was an international guest teacher! Anyway, it was a great afternoon and I really enjoyed being with teenage girls again, almost made me miss being at school.
The next day we visited churches where Sieger Koder had been the parish priest. If you haven’t heard of him he was a prolific artist who died earlier this year. His work is both moving and thought provoking. Some of it is provocative in the challenge it throws at us. I have used his art in my work and it was very special to see it in its original setting. I had no idea he was from here so seeing it was an unexpected surprise. Can you tell these are my photos and not Mike’s?
On our last day we went to Ludwigsburg to visit the castle known as Bluhendes Barock. What a magnificent castle, the grounds alone are worth a visit and currently there is a autumn pumpkin festival on with art displays and all kinds of pumpkin foods to try. We had a 2 hour guided tour of the castle, our guide was so good that the time flew by. Such a lovely place.
On the way home we went to Besigheim to see the town Christine had lived in as a teenager. This is a medieveal walled town built on a hill, lovely half timber houses and the surrounding terraced hills are covered in grapevines.
Our stay in Schwäbisch Gmünd was short but sweet. The landscape was beautiful, rolling hills, green trees, apple trees every where you looked, open fields with almost no fences to be seen. The area seems safe and friendly, people were open and welcoming. As per usual there was lots of cooking and eating, my notebook is becoming very full with recipes. I will have to start sharing them soon!
We hope it doesn’t take 24 years for us to see Michael and Christine again.
Next stop? Malaga in Spain for another workaway.