Monday, January 26, 2015

Weinprobe in der Pfalz und Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Continuing my week of adventures... on Friday evening I attended a wine-tasting in Ellerstadt, a little town 30 minutes from Mannheim. The winery was a little local business that has been maintained by the same family for generations. We walked down the steep, narrow stairs into the basement where the enormous barrels of red wine are kept and were told a bit of the winery's history and the general process of wine-making by the current owner. We also met Emily, the winery owner's gorgeous cat, while we were looking at the barrels - honestly my favourite part of the whole trip. We then went back upstairs and into a little side room for the tasting. We tried seven different wines -- 3 reds, 1 rosé, and 3 whites. I know almost nothing about wine so I won't embarrass myself by trying to describe them all, but I liked almost all of them (and they got better as the evening progressed). The rosé was my personal favourite, and for only 3.80€ ($4.05) I couldn't resist taking a bottle home with me.

On Saturday I took a trip to Rothenburg ob der Tauber, my favourite place I've been in Germany so far. It's located in the neighbouring state of Bavaria and took about two hours by bus to get there. Most people slept on the ride there, but I was entertained by the beautiful view along the way. When I roadtrip in the US I see cotton fields and small, rundown towns. The scenery to Rothenburg was full of gorgeous fields covered with snow and small little German villages with red roofs and old chapels. It was so different from what I'm used to and so beautiful.

The city of Rothenburg dates back to the 12th/13th century, and thus is three times older than anywhere else I've visited. It felt so surreal walking around a place full of that much history. Rothenburg looks like a colourful Hogsmeade and I instantly fell in love. We took a tour of the old sections of the city, which included a short walk on the wall that continues to surround the city. We also walked through the Kriminalmuseum - the torture museum - which houses famous devices like a stretching rack, a spiked chair, and an iron maiden, along with a number of smaller punishment tools like shame masks. People in the Middle Ages took their disciplinary actions very seriously. There were a few masks that would be put on people who told smutty jokes or gossiped in public, a wooden collar for seamstresses who made clothes too fashionable for people below a certain social status, and an iron cage for bakers who made their bread either too light or too small.

What I did not expect from the museum was the artifacts that sparked conversations with my fellow Winter Academy friends. After walking together through a room with execution equipment, one of my Korean friends and I had an in-depth conversation about the American legal system and the controversy surrounding the use of the death penalty. In another room featuring implements of minor punishments, a Canadian friend and I discussed how, even though we don't use things like a chopping block for beheadings or stretch racks for torture anymore, humanity at its core hasn't really gotten any better in the last 800 years. 

We also had some time to walk around and explore the city, which several of us used to explore Käthe Wohlfahrt, a crazy Christmas store in the Marktplatz (main city square). We weren't allowed to take photos inside but we enjoyed looking through all the beautiful ornaments in the ornately decorated store. We also stopped several times for food -- once for Schneeballs, a popular pastry that can really only be described as a sweetened ball of pie crust; once to get coffee and apple pastries; and once for lunch at the famous Gasthof Greifen, which has incredible soup, coffee, and Glühwein (hot wine). I have a greater appreciation for German history after visiting Rothenburg ob der Tauber. In the States, though each state's personal history may vary a bit, the same big story is told through the country, whereas Germany was not a unified country until 1871 and therefore each area has its own unique past. 

I also have been impressed by the people participating in the Winter Academy with me. At the beginning of the program everyone seemed to naturally gravitate toward people like themselves -- North Americans, Asians, South Americans, etc -- typically with those who spoke their same native language. I wondered if it would remain this way throughout the entirety of the program as after the first few days the new friend groups seemed pretty set. But this past week has shown me not to judge people too quickly. As I met more people in the program these past two weeks I could see language and cultural barriers easily crossed as everyone became more comfortable with their new circumstances and were able to reach out better. I have also met and become friends with people from a number of countries that I never would have gotten the chance to meet otherwise, and some of my favourite conversations from this trip have been getting to know other people's unique stories and differences. It's been difficult adjusting to a new country, but I couldn't have asked for a better group of people to do it with. 

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