Festung Königstein

After our day in Dresden we took a train about 40 minutes out to Königstein. The ride took us along the River Elbe past beautiful rolling hills and tiny, picturesque villages. P1070244Once you get off the train at the Königstein station your journey to the fortress has truly begun. From there you walk to the center of town to get on a double decker bus. P1070193That bus can only drive about halfway up the mountain, so you have another stop where you get on a “train” that is really a tractor pulling some cars.This drops you off where you buy tickets to the fortress. Then you get to walk up the path leading to the entrance. It is quite steep, but gives you a pretty good idea of why the fortress was never taken. Just to get from the river to the gate is quite the feat, not to mention getting past the castle’s formidable fortifications. Originally built in the 13th century, this fortress was constantly being renovated to be stronger and more shell proof, right up until WWII. I took the self-guided audio tour with a friend, but the structure was so huge that we only managed to hit the highlights. The best part of the fortress was the amazing view from atop the walls. PANO_20140525_125513

Other than the beautiful landscape, there were plenty of interesting parts of the fortress itself as well. In addition to the 500 foot deep well and 13th century chapel, there was also a wine cellar where Augustus the Strong had the world’s largest wine barrel built. It held over 50,000 gallons of wine!

The wine cellar

The wine cellar

A lithograph of what the barrel used to look like, courtesy of Wikipedia.

A lithograph of what the barrel used to look like, courtesy of Wikipedia.

 One of the main uses of the fortress was to store gold, silver, and precious artworks during times of unrest. For this purpose a treasury house was built with walls over six feet thick and a cellar with mechanical carts that could transport the barrels of coins around.

My favorite building on the property was Fredericksburg (Frederick’s castle). An original part of the fortress, Augustus the Strong had it renovated in 1731 to reflect the modern Baroque style and used it to house small court meetings. One special feature that he added was a mechanical table that functioned basically like a food elevator from the kitchen below. His guests were very impressed. A visiting royal even asked for the plans to build his own.

Frederick's castle

Frederick’s castle

My attempt at taking a picture of the table.

My attempt at taking a picture of the table.

Fredericksburg was also the setting of the funniest story at the fortress:

The Pages Bed

One night at dinner a page indulged in a few too many glasses of wine. He was so sleepy afterwards that he set off in search of the nearest bed. Soon he found a nice flat surface near the ground. Since it was dark and he was more than a little intoxicated, he did not realize that this flat surface was actually an open window facing a 130-foot drop. The next morning, the king’s guards found him still fast asleep on the windowsill. When the king was told what was happening, he ordered his page to be tied, carefully to the sill and a parade of drums and trumpets to march by. That is what I call a rude awakening.

Visiting the fortress was a lovely way to spend the day. I highly recommend it if you are in the area. It was very dog friendly, if you happen to be traveling with pets. It was not, however built on easy terrain. If someone in your group has difficulty getting around, it might not be the best option. Perhaps you could check out a day cruise along the river. For beautiful summer scenery the fortress and surrounding area were a great day trip.

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King Ranch Chicken: a Cultural Experience

When I left for Germany I brought a gift with me for my host family: real Texas salsa. They were a bit confused by the jar and asked me what they were supposed to put it on. I decided then that before I left I would make them a real Texan dinner, so they could experience Texan food. My mother always makes King Ranch Chicken casserole when she wants to impress guests with Texan food, so I emailed her for the recipe. For my last night in Wittenberg my host mother and I planned a small family party. This was to be the night that I debuted my Texan dinner. Two days before I carefully converted all of the measurements to metrics, translated the ingredients, and set off for the Super Market. That was when I discovered that I was going to have to substitute a lot more than corn tortillas and Ro-Tel. It turns out that canned soups are not very popular in Germany, and cream of anything is hard to find. My recipe called for both cream of mushroom and cream of chicken soups. I picked up two bags of Champignons Sause instead. The biggest shock, however, was the complete lack of cheddar cheese. I searched in three stores to no avail. In the end I had to fall back on “pizza cheese” a mozzarella blend that I hoped would at least melt well. While I worked in the kitchen to assemble the casserole the day before (as it is supposed to sit in the fridge overnight), my German family and their guests watched me, baffled. “Are you putting the tomatoes in with the mushroom sauce?” they asked. Apparently Auflauf (casserole) is not very popular in this area of Germany, and it was seen as “very American of me” to put all of my ingredients together in one pan. But that was just the beginning of the adventure.

The next day it came time to bake my casserole. It mostly just needed warmed, as I had cooked the chicken ahead of time. The original recipe, however, called for it to be in the oven for 90 minutes. In a stroke of luck, I checked it after about 30 to find the top about to transition from brown and crispy to burnt. After a frantic Skype call to my mother, who assured me that the general less creaminess of the mushroom sauce in comparison to cream soup lead it to cook faster, I went ahead and took it out. Her other tip had been to smear the top with butter. Fortunately, it turned out fine. My host family ate all of it, and claimed to like it. They like the salsa too. It was quite the lesson in cooking in other cultures. And I used to think it was hard to find Mexican food in South Carolina! Now I know that, even though the world is becoming more globalized, not everything that is normal to me is normal to everyone. Who would have guessed that making dinner would be such a cultural awakening?

The finished product

The finished product

If you are interested, here is the recipe from Mary Alsmiller:

King Ranch Chicken

4 chicken breasts, cooked and cubed (or a few cups of cooked chicken)
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 can cream of chicken soup (or substitute both with mushroom sauce)
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
3/4 cup chicken broth
1 can Ro-tel tomatoes (or just canned tomatoes)
1 onion chopped
3/4 to 1 lb grated cheese (anything that will melt is fine)
12 corn tortillas (or some flour tortillas)

In large mixing bowl, combine soups, broth, tomatoes, salt and pepper.  Stir well.  Tear tortillas into 1 x 3 inch strips.  Spray a large flat 13 x 9 inch pan with vegetable cooking spray.  Spread a little of the soup mixture on the bottom on the pan.  Add a layer of tortilla strips, then a layer of chicken and a layer of the soup mixture.  Sprinkle with chopped onion and grated cheese.  Repeat layers until all ingredients are used, ending with cheese on top. (so if you run out of something, just keep going until you have only cheese left)  Cover with foil and refrigerate overnight.  This helps to blend flavors so plan ahead and don’t skip this step for best flavor.  At this point, the casserole can be frozen for later baking.  Remove foil and bake in a 300 degree oven for 1 1/2 hours.

 Serves 6-10

A Few Last Days in Wittenberg

Two weeks ago the weather was wonderful. Our class took an excursion to Bergwitz on Wednesday to swim in the lake there. Of course, that was the day it rained, but we had fun anyway, and I got some pretty cool storm cloud pictures over the lake.

P1070665 By Thursday the rain was gone, so, in a somewhat uncharacteristic move, I went biking along the River Elbe with my professor and my friend Shannon. The views along the river were lovely and the weather couldn’t have been better.

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But by far the most exciting event that week was Lutherfest.

In 1524 former monk, Martin Luther, married former nun Katharina von Bora in what was the scandal of the decade. So naturally, the event is celebrated in Wittenberg every year with a medieval festival and plenty of beer. Over 100,000 people were in Wittenberg for the annual festival, and many of them dressed in medieval costumes.P1070827 P1070843 In addition to the costumes, the streets were lined with booths selling food and crafts. Some of them were even set up as medieval tents or blacksmith shops.collage-2014-06-25 Saturday afternoon was the big parade. The entire surrounding area showed up to celebrate the happy couple. There were jugglers, musicians, dancers, even a group of lively witches. Like any good parade there were people handing out candy, but some people had baskets full of bread to hand out instead. There were also flag throwers from Sachsen-Anhalt and the neighboring province.collage-2014-06-25 copy

Other than the parade and shopping, there were plenty of musicians playing in courtyards and on the street, plus various other events, like a fire show. I learned my new favorite German word at the festival: Dudelsack (bagpipes).P1070732P1070840 It is hard to pick what my favorite part of the festival was, because it was all so amazing, but one strong contender is the food. One stand sold Quarkkrapfen, which were basically just globs of fried dough with powdered sugar. Eating that fresh out of the fryer while listening to a medieval choir with a glass of strawberry wine is legitimately my idea of a fantastic Saturday night.

Quarkkrapfen

Quarkkrapfen

Other gastronomical highlights included Knoblibrot (garlic bread) and Champignons (mushrooms that were roasted in a delicious herb sauce).

Knoblibrot

Knoblibrot

Champignons

Champignons

The three days of the festival were an amazing trip: shopping, eating, and walking through another time. The only American equivalent I can think of are Renaissance fairs, but this was so much better than any Ren Faire I have ever been to.

For our last week in Wittenberg we had lots of going away activities. They included a cook out by the River Elbe and an Abschiedsabend (summer party)with everyone’s guest parents.

I left Wittenberg happy to be returning home to Dallas, but sad to leave behind my lovely host family and the charming town of which I had become so fond. It almost feels like leaving a dream. A place where summers are mild and I, self-proclaimed city girl and indoor enthusiast, rose early in the morning to ride a bike through the countryside. Walking up from picturesque, German, cobblestone streets to the sleek pavement of suburbia. This was a fantastic trip, and I have learned and experienced so much. After a safe and uneventful trip home I am left to sort through all of the memories I have made.

Goodbye countryside and Wittenberg!

Goodbye countryside and Wittenberg!

Dresden in a Day

I thought that it was high time that I finally got around to posting about my trip to Dresden two weeks ago.

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Actual street corner in Dresden. #nofilter

We arrived at the train station in Wittenberg very early on Saturday morning for our three-hour train ride to Dresden. When we arrived in Dresden we immediately set off for a city tour. Our tour guide, Susie, was full of interesting factoids about the many historic places in Dresden. Most of the city was destroyed in the air raids of 1945 and not reconstructed until reunification in 1989. This fact is much more impressive when you break through the long walkway of modern shops and hotels into the old town. It is nothing but beautiful buildings from every angle. We walked though the Residenzschloss, the royal palace for the Prince Elector of Saxony, and the Zwinger. I was fascinated by the Zwinger, which was built by Dresden’s most famous ruler, Augustus the Strong, for his son’s new wife Maria Josepha, the daughter of the Habsburg emperor. Much like the World Cup, the royal family in Dresden received four years notice that the princess from Austria was coming to live there. And, just like the World Cup, this marriage needed a stadium. This stadium was the Zwinger. Literally build as a massive, beautiful façade around a parade ground, it was never meant to serve any purpose other than to be visually stunning. I loved that about it. Over the years it was slated for destruction, but the funds to do so dried up. Later it was reconstructed in the 1930’s. Unfortunately, it was one of the buildings destroyed in 1945. Rebuilt again, it now stands in all of its former glory between the Residenzschloss and the Semperoper.

The Residenzschloss

The Residenzschloss

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The Zwinger

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The Semperoper House

I could go on and on about the cool historical buildings, but that might bore some of y’all. There are so many places to see, including the Catholic Church built just for August the Strong, the Parade of Princes, and the Turkish palace. My other favorite building was the Frauenkirche, where we ended our tour. An absolutely stunning Lutheran Church originally built under the reign of Augustus the Strong in the 1700s, the church was built on the land of the earlier Lutheran church, which was much smaller. To accommodate most of the townspeople who would attend services in the small place of the church, the building is almost completely round and several stories tall with a 96 meter high dome. After its destruction in 1945, it was rebuilt in 1989, funded mostly through donations from around the world. The inside is breathtaking, all blue and gold with a massive organ. When I came back later in the afternoon they were having an organ concert, so I got to hear some of the music.

The inside of the Frauenkirche. This picture does not do the beauty justice.

The inside of the Frauenkirche. This picture does not do the beauty justice.

The Frauenkirche

The Frauenkirche

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After our tour we ate lunch at Schnitzelgarten, which lived up to its name in delicious schnitzel. IMG_20140524_141548

Later we got free time, so I went back to the Residenzschloss to see the museum housed there. While I couldn’t get a ticket for the famous Historic Green Vault, anyone with a regular admission ticket can go to the Neues Günes Gewölbe (New Green Vault). The New Green Vault holds almost exclusively expensive trinkets. Cups made from mother of pearl shells, coral, gold, and porcelain that you could never drink out of, giant sculptures made of ivory, tiny cherry pits with 158 faces carved in them, a huge diagram of a Turkish coronation, the world’s largest green diamond, and much more. It was another fantastic example of things that were beautiful for beauty’s sake. I spent over an hour wandering around in awe, trying to take in all of the things. Photographs were not allowed, but you can get a glimpse here. The museum also housed a portrait collection with a very friendly guard, a collection of Turkish armor and weapons, and a huge exhibit on jousting apparel. I spent a great few hours there.

Following a nice dinner outside a café, we wandered around to see the city at night. The views from the River Elbe were pretty spectacular, and we were pleasantly surprised by a fireworks show.

The River Elbe at night.

The River Elbe at night.

The next day we went on an excursion to Königstein, which is the literal cliff that I am going to leave you hanging on. I promise to post all about the fortress soon, so stay tuned!

A sneak peek at Königstein.

A sneak peek at Königstein!

Week Two- Winter is Coming

On Monday we took a tour of the Lutherhaus. Before the Reformation, Martin Luther lived there as a monk, but later the Prince Elector, Frederick the Wise, gave Luther the building to live in. He lived there with his wife, Katharina von Bora, their five children, and up to thirty students, because part of the house was converted to a boarding house. Most of the original building is gone, except for his living room where he and his friends would have their famous “Table Talks”. They also had Martin Luther’s Bible that he had translated into German. No matter how uncool it might be, I actually love going to museums to see and learn about history up close.

Luther's study

Luther’s study

Luther's Bible

Luther’s Bible

Our guide was very informative. Her English was quite good, except that she mixed up feast and fast, so she told us that Luther was much thinner in his younger days as a monk because he used to feast a lot. None of us had the heart to tell her about the mix up.

This week it rained a lot, meaning that it also got very cold, like 45-50 degrees cold. So, basically, winter. I was only somewhat prepared. That did not stop our excursion to Halle, however. We went to visit the students at the Martin Luther Univerität Halle-Wittenberg. They made us a delicious potluck lunch and showed us the city. Halle (pronounced like ain’t no halle back girl) has a really pretty Markplatz (market place, or town square) with a beautiful church and a statue of the most famous resident, the composer Handel. It was a shame that Wednesday was cold and rainy, so we couldn’t really enjoy it. Around the Markplatz were lots of shops and cafés. We went into a department store that had a café/ cafeteria on the top floor and got some hot chocolate and looked out over the city. That was a nice end to our tour.

The organ at the church

The organ at the church

Handel and I

Handel and I

Most of the rest of the week was just classes before our weekend in Berlin, where the weather was much nicer. That was jam-packed enough for a whole post, so I will tell you all about it later. We have a long weekend this weekend, and I am super excited to be meeting my very good friend Emma in Amsterdam. Unfortunately, that means my post for next week will probably be a little late. Sorry about that! Hopefully, you will also be having an awesome weekend! Until then, tschüss (bye)!