Wednesday, 26 June 2013


"We have beer as cold as your ex's heart": the sign at Zoe's a bar in Ravensburg that we found pretty amusing

Last weekend I went on a romantic get-a-way to Ravensburg, a picturesque town in Upper Swabia not too far from Konstanz, with my good friend Laura. The Aldstadt (the 'historic' part of town, the best and most interesting part of any town) remains the central focus of Ravensburg and luckily the hotel we stayed in was situated right in the middle, flanked by Ravensburg's 10 towers.  
The view from Blasetürm

The first evening I took Laura on a romantic date to Barbarossa's where I introduced her to the Summer wonder drink that is a Hugo (White wine and soda or Champagne long drink mixed with elderflower cordial, mint, lime and ice) and so began a very enjoyable weekend. The food at Barbarossa's, we both agreed, was the best meal either of us had had in a long time. We shared a steak and asparagus and tomato risotto and everything was just cooked perfectly. The restaurant itself attracted us because of its outdoor seating area which seemed modern yet summery and an ideal place to enjoy the sunshine into the evening. The menu offered a strange mix between Thai and Italian which we initially found quite dubious, but after the meal we realised that our South German restaurant restrictions to Jaegerschnitzel and Flammkuchen had closed our minds to new culinary adventures! (Although both are obviously delicious). 

Enjoying a meal and Hugo's in Colours for lunch
After a Brandy Alexander in Barbarossa we went for a drink in Colours a bar-restaurant recommended to us by our friend Tobi- who lives in Ravensburg, so we didn't want to pass up the insiders tip! Colours is popular for after dinner cocktails and coffees. They had a huge choice and had specialist bartenders making them, and we were not disappointed. They had an indoor/ outdoor grotto area with fairy lights, cushions and a large, imposing deer head as part of their decoration. After we followed the crowds to a parade of bars in the center of town, the outdoor seating was filled to maximum on a Friday night as it was a pleasant evening. We found a seat in a bar called Gyspies. While it had a nice holiday atmosphere Laura ordered a cocktail and it was not drinkable. Go to enjoy the atmosphere, but order a beer! 

A selection of tiny antlers at the Saturday market
Inside an antiques store
View of the market
On the Saturday, greeted with doom and gloom from the sky, we decided to brave the weather with some umbrella's and explore the town. The Saturday morning market was in full swing and we enjoyed looking at the bio Falafal, the Churros, the traditional "echt" Spaetzle stalls as well as the many fully stocked anti-pasti stalls. It really put Konstanz's rather provincial Saturday morning market to shame, although I didn't see any of that amazing cheesecake that the Konstanz market offers. 

Vogel Art Papier Laden

Vogel Art Papier Laden
We also found a Papier Laden, Vogel Art, in which we spent far too much time poring over stationary, notebooks, letter writing sets and gift wrapping that we had no means to transport home. The little shop was filled with all those amazing "one off" pieces you see one or two examples of in ordinary stationary and art shops. The shop owner was very friendly and easy to talk to and allowed me to take a few photo's to "take back to London"! Here's the website to the shop if you like the look of it

After a coffee, the day had brightened up a bit so we climbed two of Ravensburg's towers to get a panoramic view of the town. The first, Blasetürm, was the old fire clock tower and and look out tower. The second, Mehlsack, was built to defend the town against attacks from the castle situated higher up. It's called Mehlsack because the shape of the tower apparently looks like a flour bag. Very intimidating.  

Some of the puppets in the Figuren Theatre

In the evening we attended a performance of Der Kleine Prinz (better known as Le Petit Prince) in which all the characters, aside from the narrator, were little puppets (similar to the ones pictured). It was a really interesting show, really atmospheric. The puppets suitcases represented the separate worlds from the book and the show opened with a miniature aeroplane center stage. The portrayal of the characters, especially the drunkard, was unflinchingly morose and the business man was full of chaotic vigour. Although there were a few children in the audience, the play managed to convey the sensitive sadness of Der Kleine Prinz even through the medium of puppets. The narrator was an experienced story teller and he really invigorated the story with new meaning (which is a challenge seeing as he read it fully in German and I'm not all that familiar with the original story). If you are ever in Ravensburg the Figuren Theatre is a must see especaially as the student prices are only 7 euros a performance. 

A mysterious lady in the Figuren Theatre
The next day we met up with our friend's Tobi and Elias and took our final adventure in Ravensburg to Spieleland! Admittedly, not our age demographic, but it was fun to play and be silly for the day... particular favourite would be the Labyrinth race in which I got slightly competitive and raced for my life (to great victory)! To conclude the weekend, Tobi took us to a typical Swabisch restaurant hidden away behind a farm and several country lanes. We unfortunately had to sit outside and share a blanket as we hadn't booked a table but the Maultaschen tasted just as good. Maultaschen, a very typical meat ravioli type dish in Baden-Württemberg, so the legend goes was created especially by a sneaky monk during Lent when eating meat is discouraged. The pasta covering the filling means that the meat cannot be seen by God and so no religious rules are broken! The Swabian nickname for Maultaschen is Herrgottsbescheißerle which means "little cheaters of God" and vegetarian eaters of the pasta are considered morally abhorrent because it's considered very bad form to cheat God twice. "Echt" German humour. 

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Gassenfreitag and the 24 hour shopping spree

Visiting Germany: Tourist in my Own Town

The sun has finally arrived in Germany and it almost feels like it’s here to stay. When it first made an appearance, being English I instantly donned the sundress but I noticed, if anything, the Germans had put on more layers. They bundled up in scarves and jackets, huddled together at the bus stop, squinting suspiciously into the glorious sunshine or ignoring it entirely. It’s almost as if they don’t dare to trust it. Like when that annoying friend offers you a bag of sweets and then snatches it away again, smirking, before you can grab one. When he then re-offers the bag with false promises about not to repeat the trick, you have three choices with how to deal with the miscreant. Violence (too risky), self blame, ("I probably deserve this") or the most effective, and therefore the clear German choice: the guilt trip. We’ve just been hurt too many times, their sad eyes seem to say, blinking away a bead of sweat. 

Anyway, it's been steadily sunny for a week now and we've all learned to trust the weather again. Everyone is having barbecues and drinking at the Strand Bar on the Rheine. I almost doomed a sunny Saturday to nursing a 'dehydration' headache and looking balefully at my essay but I decided to take it outside instead. And to forget the essay... at least for the weekend. 


Today in Konstanz (Saturday 9th June) we have a 24 hour trans-border Flohmarkt (flea market), which is 14km long with over 1000 stalls and ends in Kruezlingen, Switzerland. I feel like I’ve been training my whole life for this moment: Summer boot sales, Charity shop raids, El Rastro on a Sunday in Madrid and the warm up Flohmarkts here in Konstanz happening more frequently now that its Summer. Konstanz has undergone a colossal transformation since the long, long Winter months. Last night was the second Gassenfreitag, a mini street 'festival' that happens in the evening on the first Friday of every month from May-October in Niederburg, the old town in Konstanz around the Cathedral. Down the cobbled-stone streets people set up stalls outside their houses or on the street selling clothes and bric-a-brac and others come to sell sausages, beer and kuchen or to give away gold paper crowns. There are different musicians playing in different parts of the street and people get up and start clapping, waltzing, Zweifach-ing. Two couples had brought their own table outside and had their wine and candlelit dinner on the street watching the hustle and bustle. Later in the evening the bars in Niederburg often host local bands or singers too, it’s always a great atmosphere and flocks of people attend. I managed to find a pretty great vintage suede jacket, complete with Pocohauntus tassels, so it’s really worth a visit even for the shopping. Though I do like the beer and sausage consumption. So, that was yesterdays festivities and then tonight a slow Summer evening stroll along the bank of the Rheine, bargain hunting.

Me and the team in the newspaper with the title "Fashion with good conscience"
In other news, I’ve had a hiatus from writing as I had Future Fashion Day, brain child of Leila Kasimova, to prepare and recover from. It was a lot of hard work and took up a lot of time, but was worth it in the end. Lots of people came (a bit nerve-wracking before the show) and amazingly the show came off without a hitch due to the hard work and organisation of a fantastic team (well done everyone, too many to list here but see articles and pages below for more details!). We all organised it totally from scratch, just a small team of students and oikos members: emailing designers, gaining sponsors, designing the label, making a website, writing press releases, organising the venue...etc. I also chose the outfits and fitted and styled the models- which was a lot of fun. I then made the models sequence and generally rushed around backstage on the day making sure  all 20 models had their make up and hair perfect and knew what outfit changes they had to do, with particular help from my amazing wardrobe assistant Cynthia who we thankfully managed to recruit only a week before the show. We ended up being in quite a few German newspapers and online magazines! But now that I have a bit more time I’d like to return to writing here and maybe start writing about the different places that I’ve been to here in Germany. I haven't only been a tourist in my own town! Hopefully that would be of interest.

The end of the Future Fashion show

Update: I was supposed to post that yesterday but didn't have the chance to go before the Flohmarket., so I'll write what I thought about the Flohmarket. For starters, it was a lot bigger than I was expecting. Was absolutely... huge! And even so, with 14 Kilometers of road, often with triple lanes of market stalls ,  every inch was rammed with people until we left at about 1am. It started petering out at about 22:00, but there was still a continuos stream of determined browsers. It was great though - think enormous car boot sale mixed with a German Christmas Market. It seems like an absolute must to attend for anyone who lives within a 100km radius- grannies, mothers and babies, young trendy kids, concerned citizens and hippies alike, everyone was there. Browsing after dark was a particularly fun novelty. The torch beam (a necessity I'm glad I was prepared for) becomes your line of sight and when your hunting through hundreds of stalls you really become aware of the rapid, predator-like speed the light flicks across venetian masks to wooden nutcrackers, focusing briefly on a promising looking glitter, and then swooping off onto the next stall. I felt a bit like the Eye of Sauron searching for the one ring. I tried to find a good clip but just imagine searching a 14km Flohmarkt with a torch and this playing: We couldn't handle any more than 4 hours of shopping, and I'm sure that we barely made it 4 K but for anyone who has determination and stamina you could make it the whole 14 K and still have time for an 8 hour sleep in the middle.
The 24hr Trans-border Flohmarkt viewed from the Rheine, Konstanz

More info about Future Fashion Day
Our facebook page: 
Links to articles about the show (In German and no particular order)

More info about Gassenfreitag: 

More info about 24 hour transborder Flohmarkt:

Sunday, 13 January 2013

The day I tried to go to the Library on a Saturday

I suddenly realised that I had better go put some time in the library if I was going to ever get anything done. After a few days of planning and playing card games it was once again the weekend. Saturday Library trip it was then! After finally making it out at 17:30 - with a spotless room and immaculate grooming - for my "full day at the lib'" I began to notice something rather odd...

Germans wearing bells and masks on the train. Is it Chinese new year? They seem to be wearing felt, hand stitched scales and the masks seem to be of the traditional Chinese dragon face - with the lolling tongue and wide staring eyes - but I try not to stare too much as there's a goggle eyed girl who already used up everyones polite stare-time. At Markelfingen a group of witches board the train. Most irregular. I might impulsively follow them when they get off the train. Or, I should maybe miss my stop to Uni when it comes and see what's happening... I begin writing excitedly about it when abruptly they all vacate the train at Allensbach. It would not be cool to leap up and follow them now, and I'd prefer to be accepted as a passer by that potentially lived in the area rather than the truth - a culturally oblivious procrastinating English student looking for a diversion.

I accept my fate, and alight the train at the University stop. I wait at the bustop for some minutes thinking about how silly I was to write off my Erasmus year after rencountering a few road bumps. Ok road blocks. While I'm happily thinking of more and more extended traffic and diversion metaphors I notice that I've been getting some pretty sceptical looks from the youths on the busstop over the road from me and it clicks that I've been waiting a comparatively long time. I wait until they board their own bus and check the time table. Of course - no busses to Uni on a Saturday, or at all from this bus stop. Elated, I cross the tracks and wait for the return journey to Allensbach, accompanied by a family of scaled, jangling Dragons.

Should I ask them what is going on? Do I know how to do that? "Warum sind sie... dragons?" One of them is a bear! And I can see pirates. Though the dragons seem the favoured costume. Actually, the new family that have also just arrived, I mistook for dragons but they appear to be, on closer inspection, a kind of Norweigan wood elf with bells on. Bells seem important. They cross characters. I decide not to ask and ruin the mystery, I may lose the impetus to follow them if I know. Plus, it will definitely blow my cover of casual commuter.

I can also tell it is a repeated tradition as the costume are pretty serious and mostly hand made. Someone has now arrived at the train station wearing a Swiss cow bell attached to his arm and is handing out wreathes of Chinese bells for people to hang around their necks. Presumably to the unfortunate bell-less. I wonder if there will be dancing. Individual groups have started to establish themselves now and within the groups they all wear the same theme of costume. Maybe they are like clans. The Norweigan Wood Elves have bundles of fur with them and bells on their legs and drawn on tree symbols. They wear hand sewn felt jerseys of overlapping leaves and identical brown and white striped hats that end in a plait strung with -of course - miniature bells. The group I mistook for pirates are actually... not. They wear large red, white and black feathers in their wide brimmed black hats, long black coats or coats bucked with a leather belt and heavy black boots. From the belt hangs a number of essential items - horns made from bone, wide bottomed vials stopped with a cork, pewter tankers - and fake blood drips down their faces.

As I board the train suddenly there are too many varieties to keep track of. My carriage is mainly dominated by rainbow scaled people with wooden donkey heads. Some carry wooden "clacking sticks" and the prospect of dancing now seems inevitable. I am seriously confused at this point, but as I disembark the train I follow the jangling crowd up a hill I finally break cover and ask two rainbow donkeys what is going on.

It's a Carnival! Of course, though I didn't think it started until February. Oh Germans, early to your own party. Apparently it's on slightly different days according to when Ash Wednesday falls. I can tell they are slightly uncomfortable with this level unpredictability "but it can't be helped" they sigh. They tell me that some say its for welcoming in the Spring, but one waves this off dismissively. When I say happily, "Ah, it's just for fun then!" I am dealt a look of offense - "No! It's a tradition". Ah. Of course. The muti-coloured overlapping strips also have a significance - they harken back to when the carnival first started and the poor peasants would sew any old scraps of fabric they had together in this particular way to make a "costume". Very important, Carnival. No really, they are absolutely MAD about it here.

I buy a beer - in my best German - which leaves the poor woman stricken and confused until the transaction is carried out as culturally agreed. "English sprachen!" she exclaims, shaking her hands to rid the bad air of bad juju as I leave. "Ja, ja", yeah, yeah. I've found myself in the pre-procession street gathering which is largely (totally) for the people involved in the procession but I wonder along, regardless. People have set up shop outside their houses and several different brass bands are all playing at once. There's even a rooftop DJ and an oversized novelty Reindeer "float" which pumps forth German Europop in it's wake. Little pilgrim witch children eye me with suspicion as I sit costume-less and alone outside a tombstone salesman's garden. The family - similarly witchily dressed - begin dealing with me much in the same way white blood cell eradicate bacteria or foreign bodies from blood. They gradually increase in number and slowly encroach upon me until I am almost swallowed by the mass. I am forced to move lengthways along the granite wall, hauling beer and bag, and immediately I hear a satisfied, "Ahhh," as a German lady plomps herself in my recently vacated seat. The ranks close around and I am happily forgotten about, though the youngest daughter gives me a weak smile, but to be honest it was kinda half arsed so I return the favour and go buy a bratwurst.

Te actual procession was as you might expect - like a village Chinese spirit procession but with Germans and a brass band playing Mambo Number 5. Strange fish faces led the procession - on a float boat - (and after I noticed a statue with the same fish face on. Maybe some sort of mascot of Allensbach? Will take photo and endeavour to find out more info.) Some of the costumes were truly terrifying - hideous demons that stormed down holding firelighters - and some were just bizarre - wrinkled masks of half crying half sneering droopy nosed old men. It all lasted about 30 minutes and was brilliant. I was standing next to mothers with two children so I really had the opportunity to come to terms with my own fragmented memories of carnival as a child. Carnival is literally an excuse to freak out children. During day to day life you have to be "sensible" around children - but during carnival - sure! Peer into strangers child's face as a devil and caress their face - it's hilarious! The parents love it! Come a-bounding and a-jangling and a-clanging from across the road, terrifying the mother in the process and lob sweets at the prams. Totally acceptable.

Though, nobody lobbed sweets at me which was pretty disappointing. Luckily, the children in the procession were so begrudging with their sweet giving that would walk over to the babies, stop about 5 feet in front of them and just kind of sprinkle sweets in their wake before running off that I managed to claim an abandoned lolly pop. I should really get some work done...