Thankful – 2019

Ah, Thanksgiving. A day to celebrate family and friends, parades with massive floats and balloons, food, and various sports (read American Football- that’s the only sport on that exists on Thanksgiving). While I’m thankful all year long, one of my favorite things about Thanksgiving is celebrating all that we are thankful for and doing that with family and friends.

This year Thanksgiving looks a little bit different for us. Not only are we in Germany, who doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving like we do (or when we do), but we are actually in the car on our way to visit our ninth country since moving here. We are taking a long weekend away to Czechia, specifically Karlovy Vary and Prague. We are going to be experiencing their history as well as visiting a couple of Christmas Markets (trying to contain that excitement). While Thanksgiving looks different for us, I still wanted to take a minute and just jot down (rather type up) a couple of the things that I am thankful for.

I mean to start with the obvious I am thankful for my little family, for my husband and children, and for the joy that they bring me. I’m thankful for our continued good health and that we’ve weathered all the challenges of this past year so far.

I am thankful for our friends, old and new, who we try to keep up with at all hours. We’ve made some really good friends in our move here, friends who I know will continue to be friends long after we leave here. With an international move to a foreign country, friends become your surrogate family. They become the people that you bond with and rely on when you are in need and we’ve been very blessed in that respect.

I am thankful for the home and life we’ve created over the past 5 months in our home. We had quite the journey to get to this house, and we’ve really made a home in it and in our neighborhood. We are finally in the country and it’s been the biggest blessing.

Finally, another obvious one, I’m thankful for the opportunity to be here in Germany. Some of it is just us being blessed with the opportunity, but a lot of hard work went into this as well. My husband worked incredibly hard to get to this point in his career where he could choose the job that he has here. So, I am thankful for this opportunity that was given to us and again thankful to my husband for the incredible work that he has done to allow this opportunity.

How are you spending your Thanksgiving? What are you thankful for this year?

I Didn’t Give Germany A Chance

Untitled Design 7When we first started tossing around the idea of moving to Germany it felt surreal. The concept of actually living in Europe wasn’t something I could have wrapped my head around. I had been to England and Scotland when I was a baby, but Europe was this distant dream that I dreamed for a long time, but never really thought would be able to be a reality.

When we got orders, it still felt surreal. I couldn’t believe that this dream I had would be a reality. That we would be so blessed. The concept of being able to travel Europe, to go to all these countries was just too good to be true. Incredible. I thought of all the sights we could see, all the countries we would visit.

And I’ll be honest- I treated Germany as simply a location. A central spot that we could then travel out of. Not as a place to explore beyond a few historical landmarks. I knew about Germany, knew its history, it’s big cities, some of its culture (like Oktoberfest), and that was about it. I focused solely on EVERYWHERE else we could go, all the other things that we could see, all the dreams that would no longer be just dreams.

I now realize how much of a mistake this was.

Germany is stunning. That’s not to say it doesn’t have its own spots ,it doesn’t have troubles, but I definitely should have thought more about everything that we could do within its borders, rather than just looking outside the country. There is so much to see here, so many little holes in the wall spots that no one really thinks about that are just stunning. A lot of the little towns are old world quaint and each has its own history. Take Tubingen (HERE) or even Weltenburg Abbey (HERE), we had considered these both a nice little day trip, but both are so perfectly European and German, and I loved it. This was something I hadn’t really thought about when we got orders. The history here goes back much further than I had even anticipated (yep, I’m naïve) and there is a never-ending number of things to do and places to see.

And, since we can’t ignore the elephant in the room…Germany has such a way with its own history. They have quite the history here, quite the troubled past, but they’ve managed to settle with it. One of the things that has stuck with me in our time here so far is how they handle their own history. They don’t hide behind it; they don’t bring it up time and time again. They acknowledge what happened, they acknowledge the hurt and pain that was caused, they punish those responsible. They take steps to make reparations, they don’t destroy everything relating to their own history, choosing to make the most incredible memorials that I’ve seen out of the pieces. The Berlin Wall Documentation Center, The Berlin Wall, The Eastside Gallery, Dachau Concentration Camps, Nuremberg Rally Grounds, Nuremberg Court House…the list goes on. All of these places are landmarks, marking down what happened for everyone to see. They’ve made changes, they’ve learned, anyone who visits these places learns. They move forward.

We can all take a lesson from that.

Not to mention just the sheer amount of history here. In a city right near us they are excavating bodies from Roman times and have a set of Roman archways from… It’s incredible to think that some of the places that we see have that much history.

We won’t even start to get into the culture of this country. Festival season is such a fun, warm and welcoming time, not to mention the season we are about to go into…the most wonderful time of year. The way of life, the idea of a slower pace. We live in the countryside (something we’ve been wanting for a long time) and the number of animals and crops that we see daily is something else. It’s been an incredible bit of time and one that we are looking forward to continuing for the next couple of years.

I’ve found a true home in a place that I hate to admit that I discounted. I figured it would be a home base for everywhere, but we’ve really made a home here in such a short time. I won’t discount a place again.

 

Round the Kettle Ep, 21 – A Bit of Wanderlust

Happy Sunday…is it Sunday?…It is Sunday. The days of this past week have kind of blurred together. Combine that with my husband having an extra two days off (Monday and Friday) it’s all kind of become a mess in my head.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, Happy Sunday! How has it been? I haven’t actually sat down to write a blog post in what feels like ages (although in reality it’s only been a couple of weeks). It feels good to be using my brain again in a way that doesn’t involve my little boys. To be fair, I use my brain a fair amount in conversations with friends, but this is a little different.

Anyways, I’m really over here waffling about today about nothing, aren’t I?

I’m going to be completely honest; I think we’ve gotten a whole travel, home, travel, home routine down now. It’s funny because we will spend a fair amount of a month to a month and a half away, between day trips and long weekends, and then we will have a month to a month and a half at home. It’s become a bit of a thing over the past bit of time that I’ve noticed. It’s interesting because right when I start to want to just be home for a bit, or starting getting that travel bug, we will go into a stretch of that time.

We’ve been home for about a month and a half (at this moment), since our last Castle-ing Weekend (HERE, HERE, HERE), and I’m starting to get that travel itch. I’m starting to long to explore new places, find new adventures, and learn about different places around us. LUCKILY, our travel times line up well with this, otherwise I’d be looking for last minute options just to do it. We have two trips planned in November, A LOT of Christmas Market trips in December, and a Winter Holiday after Christmas. I would guess that by the time we will finish our Winter Holiday, I’ll be ready to be home for a while again.

 

I’m not sure of any other way to do it. It’s funny because I always figured we would approach traveling as maybe do one to two bits a month, with the longer vacations whenever they factor in. That hasn’t really worked for us though. Between Robert’s schedule for work, and just how the cookie has been crumbling we’ve found these stretches of time that we can do a lot during before everything buckles down. It’s like an on again off again schedule and it really ends up working out better for us.

 

Truth be told, I don’t know if I’d like to travel any other way than for what seems like weeks on end (it’s not really weeks on end, but more back to back day/long weekend style trips).

 

Tell me, how would you like to travel? Would you like to go, go for a chunk of time and then be home for a chunk of time OR just take a long weekend every couple weeks, with the bigger trips factoring in the same two times a year? I’m curious as I feel like everyone is different in this aspect.

 

I would also be curious to know whether you would start off your travel with close to “home” short trips OR if you would go as far as you could? We are all such different travelers that this is something fun to chat about and share experiences.

 

Beyond that, I’ve been spending the past couple of days looking forward. I’ve been looking at December’s blog posts (all travel and/or Christmas related) as well as starting to look at some of the intentions and goals that I have for 2020. It’s crazy to think that the year (and decade as everyone keeps reminding us all) is coming to an end. It’s been a wild one for us and I’m excited to look back at it, as well as look forward into the new year.

 

What else to share? There’s not really anything else. It really hasn’t been too exciting over here. But it’s coming. The excitement is coming.

 

How are you? How have things been? I’d love to hear!

Some Thoughts on Consumerism

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You know what’s a funny thing? I heard or participated in a similar version of what I’m about to write about around 3-4 times in the past week. And to be fair- it’s kind of opened my eyes a little bit to something that I had felt, but hadn’t articulated.

Here’s how it all started…

I, and a couple of friends were having a conversation about some of the differences and struggles about living in Germany as compared to living in the United States. A question was posed: “On your weekends, what did you do?”  My friend and I sat there for a couple seconds, wondering if it was rhetorical or a trick. “Uh, watched football?” “Ran errands?”  We responded. “Exactly. We watch TV and we shop on our weekends.” We hesitantly agreed and then the magic happened…”We have to realize that there is more to the world than Walmart”.

“We have to realize there is more to the world than Walmart”.

Maybe it’s not Walmart, maybe it’s Target (be honest- it’s probably Target), maybe it’s Nordstrom, or Marshall’s/TJ Max’s, maybe it’s boutique stores. You can interchange Walmart with just about any store and come up with what fits you and a true statement. And with a lot of these stories we have the ability to do this 24/7. The internet has made the possibility of shopping literally wherever, whenever  I mean, how many times have we all just “amazoned” an item?) and often times stores then try to compete with that by staying open later on weekdays and opening up all weekend. We are also consuming high levels of media. In homes, TV’s tend to be more on than off, we are almost always on our phones in some way, not to mention computers and tablets.

This boggles my mind. How is it that we manage to spend our free time doing these things? How is it that we are so inundated with this idea that we need to buy all the things, watch all the things, be a part of this lifestyle that we forget that there is so much more to life. There is more to the world.

I’ve been 100% guilty of doing this. I was someone who spent most weekends at home, in my comfiest chair, TV on, book in hand, phone never too far away. When we would leave the house 60% of the time it would be to go to a store of some sort. Oftentimes a trip to the grocery store would also involve a trip to the Target shopping center. I bought a lot of things on Amazon (some we needed; most we didn’t “need”) for the convenience. We had the option of just clicking and buying whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted. So, why not do that?

Have you ever heard…”Go into Target for one thing, come out with a dozen other things and not the thing you needed”? THIS. This is what I’m talking about. The idea that just going to Target to do a quick shopping run and buy ALL THE THINGS and this is the cool norm now? That’s wrong. Whether you can afford it or not, there is more to life than just one big long shopping trip.

When we moved to Germany things were vastly different.

For starters, there are a lot more outdoor markets in the different regions. Fresh produce from right down the road is always available for purchase. Fresh seasonal flowers (some of which you can cut yourself) are around. In town grocery stores are smaller than they are in the States and have smaller carts/are intended for smaller trips. The festivals tend to feature more local artisans than not.

Stores close EARLY (and I mean like anywhere from 5-6PM) and are all always closed on Sundays (except for Shopping Sunday which happens every couple months). Life here is focused on the in-person connection. Meals last for hours at restaurants, allowing people the time to really forge connections and conversations. There are not a lot of people that you see on the phone while out in public. It’s a vastly slower pace of life, without that massive jump to buy. There are a lot more outdoor activities, from hikes to biking to canoeing to paddle boating.

There is also a much bigger focus on travel here. Most people spend their “free money” and savings on traveling, seeing new places and learning about new things. We’ve quickly caught that travel bug and that is where a lot of our budget goes toward. We have been finding that we did not actually take enough weekend trips previously and how easy those types of trips really are.

It’s such a different way of life and one that I’ve really found loving. I’ve quickly settled into this slower pace lifestyle. My shopping has been cut down quite a bit (due in part to convenience and in part to just general shipping times for online shopping) and I’ve really found myself evaluating a couple of lifestyle choices. I’ve been wanting a bit of a change for a while and Germany has kind of given me the push to make that change. These are changes that I want to keep whenever we do go back stateside as I find them to be such positives and something that I think more people could benefit from.

We need to make a point to spend less time shopping, less time watching TV, less time lounging in our own home, and more time getting to know our world. Putting the digital world aside on the weekend and living in the real world. I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with watching TV, or having the occasional trip to the shops (beyond grocery shopping), but the way that we have started treating our lives in the States is kind of scary to think about.

Is the 24/7 convenience of being able to shop nice? Yea, but how many times are we really needing that convenience? Is this something that can wait till the next day? Better yet, is it something that we really need or something we think we need because of the mentality?

Let me know your thoughts on consumerism as I’d love to have a discussion about it. This is something that has been itching in the back of my mind, this difference in culture and mindset, and I’d love to speak about it with others!

A Close to Home Autumnal Weekend

We have had another one of those weekends recently where we’ve done a couple different things, each important, but not enough to warrant individual blog posts (although this one is probably pushing it). I figured I would once again, consolidate into one “long weekend” post. This is a bit longer than I would have liked, so grab a cuppa something good and snuggle in for a read.

The second weekend in October we got the chance to have a long weekend together. My husband had both Friday and Monday off of work (due to Columbus Day), but we didn’t really want to do a lot of traveling. Look, traveling is tiring and at some point you’ve got to take a little rest. I’ve mentioned this previously and have a full blog post coming up talking about it, but we decided that it was really in all of our best interests to stay close to home. We had actually originally planned a relaxing weekend, curling up at home, handling some things and just chilling.

Apparently the weather decided differently for us.

When Sunday morning hit and we were supposed to see 70 degree’s, sunshine, and not a cloud in site we made a last-minute decision to take a little trip to the Nuremberg Zoo. I’ve been wanting to go as the kids love the zoo and it’s an excellent learning opportunity for them. We also love seeing the wide variety of animals, as well as the workout that comes with walking an entire zoo with two toddlers who like to be carried off and on. We booked train tickets as that is a feasible option, a shorter train ride (about an hour for us) works best with the boys and no parking/navigation worries. The zoo itself is quite large (we saw everything there was to see and ended up walking about 6 miles), with a spacious layout. I do tend to worry sometimes about zoo’s, but I found the animals to be well cared for and have more than enough room/things to do. For the most part they were quite active, which pleased the boys to no end.

We did end up stopping for lunch within the zoo and found several things. I want to interject to say that this is the first time that we’ve eaten at a European Zoo (this is only the second we’ve been to; Berlin was the first) and I was incredibly impressed to say the least. Here’s the thing, you can order “normal” food. There isn’t pizza and hotdogs, we got Schnitzel Sandwiches and Chicken Cordon Blue. The food was served on proper plates and if you wanted to order a coffee or beer? Well you could and it would be served with the proper coffee cup and beer glass. Everywhere you could sit was clean and well maintained and people bussed their own tables when they were done. There wasn’t any trash overflowing, no massive gathering or anything. It was really refreshing and honestly, we would probably take a trip back to this zoo (it’s the closest to us) and spend another day here.

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Monday morning, we did the one thing that we had planned for all along, a river “cruise” down the Donau River to Weltenburg Abbey. This was something that we’ve been wanting to do for a while, but we’ve been waiting for the weather to cool and the leaves to turn before doing it. And boy, we picked the PERFECT time to do it. The leaves were at the height of the coloring, right before they all truly start to fall off and in this area there is just enough of the year-round green to make the reds/oranges/yellows to really pop.

So, a little history first. Weltenburg Abbey was founded in 600 by two monks and is the oldest monastic settlement in Bavaria. The church was originally built in the early 1700’s but went through a period of being disbanded. King Ludwig reestablished the monastery and the abbey has been in use sine 1913. One of the neat things about this Abbey is that it has a brewery as well, Weltenburger Klosterbrauerei. It is one of the oldest monastic breweries, citing 1050 as the opening/starting date. It’s Dunkel beer has won several awards for being the best in the world, and there is a restaurant right in the Abbey courtyard where you can eat and drink the local dishes.

We took the first available cruise time, 9:30 AM. This provided us not only a relatively empty boat (seriously the second boat ride we saw come through was packed), but it afforded us the chance to see the sun peak over the hills and see the river under the soft dawn light (even though it was hours after daybreak). It was absolutely gorgeous. There are several sights to see throughout the cruise, as they talk about the history of the area. This area has ties to Napoleon and his reign, including a story about his suitcase being left behind. There are also quite a few folk lore style tales about river witches turning pretty maidens to stone, and three rock brothers fighting, then falling into the river. It is so much fun to hear about all the folklore and tales of the region and we really enjoyed that aspect. Plus, the fact that the area is gorgeous and the trip down the river was a nice smooth 40-minute boat ride.

Once we arrived at the abbey we headed in to see the museum, which contains relics from the abbey as well as a little kid’s room with hands on activities. You do have to pay for both the cruise down to the abbey and entrance to the little museum. The museum is entirely in Germany, although the very nice greeter told us you can request the movie to be played in English and they will try to accommodate. From there we headed into the church, which was easily one of the most gorgeous churches we have ever been in. It was absolutely incredible, both in overall looks and the minute details. The whole region that encompasses the abbey is able to be converted into one big hike and is absolutely gorgeous. We simply chose to hike up the smaller hill and get an overarching view into the abbey.

Since the abbey is still an active church, you are able to see the church being used by the monks at their prayer times.

IMG_0983.jpgWe then settled in for a little bite to eat and a beer a piece. I went with a lighter beer and Robert chose the Dunkel. Both were delicious. It was a really pleasant atmosphere, sitting right in the courtyard, with the sun shining and the leaves gently blowing in the breeze. Shortly after lunch we took the ferry back to Kelheim. We had one more stop still to make on this beautiful Monday.

Our final stop of the weekend was to visit Liberation Hall.

Liberation Hall was commission by King Ludwig as part of a “group” of several monuments. This particular one was intended as a memorial to victory against Napoleon. It is quite the masterpiece. On the exterior are 18 statues that are supposed to represent the various tribes of Germany (the number is also significant due to the date of the victory). The statues on the inside are the goddesses of victory holding hands for a ceremonial dance. Similarly, to Walhalla, you are able to walk around the exterior free of charge, but there is a cost to get inside. Unlike Walhalla, there is much more to the interior than meets the eyes.

By going inside you are able to not only go through the floor gallery, but you are able to go to the second gallery (same level as the statues), climb to two different “look out” points (one just below the dome, and one just below that), and then see the second “level” gallery. It was incredible and the climb to the top was definitely worth it for these views.

And that was our “close to home” weekend. Each of these places were well within a quick travel day (an hour or less) and are just beautiful spots. We would definitely re visit all three of these spots and I’d like to explore Kelheim a little more. I hope you enjoyed our weekend and seeing the sites through our eyes.

Schloss Lichtenstein – A Day Trip

The final castle we went to to round out our weekend away was Schloss Lichtenstein. One of the more popular and breathtaking castles, this one did not disappoint in any way. We even had the perfect weather to set the scene- fog all through the valley, swirling amongst the rockface where the castle comes out. Talk about perfection!

The original site (premodern day castle) dates back to 1100, although the structure that exists now does not hold much in common with the house that existed back then. Originally owned by ministerial it has passed many hands, although the one thing they all have in common is that the castle was frequently under attack. In the early early 1800’s (think 1802), after being in disrepair, the castle was dismantled, and a hunting lodge was erected in its place. This then fell into disrepair as well. Eventually the Duke Wilhelm von Urach purchased the estate and decided to turn it into a medieval castle that he could live in. He was very much inspired by the book Lichtenstein (Wilhelm Hauff- I now kind of want to read it out of curiosity) and the castle was able to be lived in in 1842 (with it becoming the official residence in 1869). This particular sustained damage during World War 2, of which you can see while on a tour inside, but this damage was repaired immediately after the war concluded. It is still currently in use as a part time/temporary residence.

Lichtenstein is one of the more popular castles’ in Germany due to its incredibly dramatic location. Set on the top of a rocky embankment looking precariously balanced, it gives any visitor a breathtaking look.

You have two options when visiting Lichtenstein, just walk the castle grounds or get a full tour of the interior. Each has a cost (although a difference of about 6 Euro) and honestly, if you’re already at the grounds, you might as well head inside too. The tour is given entirely in German, although they do give a pamphlet that has the English Translation and you see a fair amount of rooms that depict both the Hunting Lodge AND the actual castle life. There is still one spot where you can see the damage that was done during WW2, a bullet hole in a shattered mirror and that was pretty cool to see as most castles have either been repaired or were not affected during the war.

I think this was the perfect castle to round out our trip as it isn’t a super long tour or visit, but is still an incredible stop. I would definitely say you should go and visit Lichtenstein Castle, but know that it isn’t as big or as grandiose as some of the other castles you will see in Germany.

Tübingen – A Day Trip

On our weekend away we had a free day in between the castle’s we had planned on seeing. We decided to spend this free Saturday in nearby (to where we were staying) Tübingen. Tübingen is a university town in Baden- Württemberg that is full of old-world charm. My favorite bits happen to be what it’s known for: cobblestone streets (full crooked, tight, bumpy cobblestone) and the traditional timber homes that line the streets.

Tübingen has a very long history (dating back to the 6thor 7thcentury), although the first time there is any official notice of the town involves the town’s castle: Hohentübingen (this is Germany after all – and everything involves castles). Tübingen formally became a city in the 1200’s and “shortly” after that (about 30 years) a monastery was established by the Pope. In the 1400’s the Collegiate church was built AND the Eberhard Karls University was founded. This particular university is one of the oldest universities in Central Europe. The university continues to make a name for itself as one of the biggest universities in Germany and the biggest source of income for the city’s residents. Tübingen has also been a spot for quite the political history being involved in The Thirty Years War, Kristallnacht during WW2, being a center of the German Student Movement, being a part of Protests of 1968, and having student ties to a terrorist group (The Rote Armee Fraktion).

A quick fun fact for you: Tübingen’s Altstadte is one of the few completely intact Altstadte’s in Germany. It was not destroyed during WW2, which allows a visitor to get a real glimpse into what the city would have looked like throughout the years.

We visited Tübingen on a grey rainy day, but that didn’t dampen our spirits. We started out our day walking through the Market Square (Marktplatz). This market square also holds the Town Hall (Rathaus). The day that we went happened to be the day they were holding their Regional Market, so we got to sample a wide variety of goods, including a home made from scratch fresh pizza and Birnensecco ( a locally made pear prosecco). Both were delicious. We also got to peak around the stalls for local handcrafted goods including floral, produce, clothes/crochet/knitted goods, and different salami and cheese products. It was a fun little start to our day (and provided us lunch). This to me was just the European/German experience.

From the market square we wandered up to Hohentübingen to peak around the castle.

By best guesses the castle was originally marked in the 11thcentury, but was completely demolished and rebuilt in the 1500’s. In current day the castle holds the Museum Alte Kulturen, which was opened in 1997 to the public. There is also a section in the castle covering the advances that were made in the realm of sciences- this castle held one of the first biochemical lab worldwide, and talks about DNA. The rooms cover both modern-day sciences, as well as artifacts and the discoveries made at this particular location.

4FF8A7E4-9755-4D36-A77A-DF1F69F12EB0.JPGFrom the castle we wandered back down the street to stop once again at the market to pick up some food/drink and take a little break. Once refreshed (see above for what we ate) we headed over the St. George’s Collegiate Church (also referred to as Stiftskirche).

Dating back to the 15thCentury, this is one hell of a church. Fun fact: this church was one of the first to convert to Martin Luther’s Protestantism, although it still has several Roman Catholic features. We wandered through the main church, then paid a slight fee to head up the church tower. In this particular church, as long as the bells aren’t actively ringing, you are able to walk up the numerous stair steps to get an “eagle eye” view from the tower.

Not only is that an incredible view, but you get to see how the bells actually work from the bells themselves, the weights at the bottom, and the gears that make them ring. Looking at the bells it is actually incredible to think that a long time ago, people actually rang the bells themselves without the benefit of the gears.

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The view from the top really can’t be beat as you get a great 360 view of Tübingen and beyond. You can see the Marktplatz, the Altstadt, the river, the Schloss and so much more. It was worth the very slight fee to pay to be able to see the red roofs, the people milling about, walking along the cobblestone. We made it down the stairs just in time to hear the bells sing in the afternoon. They played beautifully and rang through the entire city.

Finally, we headed down to the Necker River. Crossing the bridge, you can get a view of the brightly colored historic homes and businesses, along with Holderlin’s Tower.

Holderlin’s Tower was the home to poet Frederich Holderlin and is a popular museum and destination. We took a little stroll on part of the Neckar Island (Neckarinsel). On the day that we went they were having their Rubber Duck Race (which we missed by about 30 minutes), so the little Island was packed with various exciting activities.

And with that final stroll our day in Tübingen came to an end! I think this little town might top my list of favorite towns in Germany so far. It is very close with Fussen (which I loved) and may edge it out of that top spot.

I hope you enjoyed seeing Tübingen though our eyes! Honestly, I hadn’t really heard too much about this town until we were in the area, but I feel like it should be on a travel list if you are wanting that German town experience.