My life and my thoughts - on faith, culture, politics, whatever comes to my mind

Wednesday, September 29, 2004


As all of you know the presidential elections are coming up in November. So far I have not had that many political discussions, at least not about the presidential candidates. We have discussed constitutional amendments against same-sex marriages (at the brunch in Lousiana), guncontrol (with Tom) and other topics.
Still the upcoming elections are (almost) ever present. I have seen lots of advertisements in people's frontyards (Bush/Cheney 04 or Kerry/Edwards) and similar bumper stickers. I have seen more pro-Bush advertisements in Texas and Wisconsin, a lot of signs directly against Bush in New Orleans. On the plane to Minneapolis a guy in front of me was reading a hunting magazin with an ad against Kerry by the National Rifle Association...
Monday though I accompanied Helene (Karen's mom) to a lecture here in Appleton held by Matthew Rothschild, the editor of "The Progressive", a very left-wing magazin. It was called something like "The new McCarthy-ism" (McCarthy was an infamous Communist-hunter back after WWII and he's from Wisconsin). It was very interesting, especially to me as someone working with human rights. Rothschild talked about the Patriot Act and other Acts diminishing the people's civil liberties (among them freedom of speech, a right the USA has always been proud of and that used to be protected to the highest amount). I do not know what was scarier: his examples or some questions from the audience afterwards...

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

New pictures!

Hello everybody,

I have updated the Louisiana pictures. I hope everyone of you is fine! Email me I love hearing from you :)

Lingerie and Liquor!

By now I have been in the north of the US for several days. I flew in on friday from New Orleans. I arrived at Minneapolis in the afternoon, got picked up by Jess and Becky and had two beers for the price of one about half an hour later! (Becky knows every happy hour in and around Minneapolis!). Then we went to the Schiller's where I had stayed on my last visit for a few days to pick up Karen and I finally met Nicholas Georg Schiller - Karen and Jay's six month old! We hit it off right from the beginning :)
And then the party started: it was the night of Jess' bachelorette party. The motto was Lingerie and Liquor. Here bachelorettes receive lingerie as a a gift from their girlfriends - I would love to start that tradition back home!! :) We all met at Annie's house and it was great seeing all the girls again I already met at Karen's wedding three years ago. We had cake (with a very fitting picture on it...), sushi, chocolate fondue and Martinis. Jess had to answer funny questions, we played dice for some little gifts, she got all the lingerie and the we headed for a girls' night out in town. All of us had t-shirts (mine read Ms Hoffmann, Jess was The future Mrs. Rowen) and we had stickers to put on guys. I had migrene so I didn't drink that much, but I had tons of fun anyway! A live band played at the bar we went to and the singer got Jess up on stage (after some guy had given her a lap dance...). We all started dancing and Annie got up on stage singing Black Velvet (she got a great voice!!). After that it was only party, party, party... We had a great night!
The next day we started in a lazy fashion. Tim and Jess took me out for breakfest/brunch at Egg and I. Later Jess and I walked around uptown, had coffee in a nice little coffeeshop (with a sign on the door that they don't allow guns on their premises) and shopped in quaint little stores.
That night they had a bridal shower at Laura's place. We had lots of fun! I got a little tired, but I was still really enjoying it! Some of tim's friends got quite drunk which made them even more funny. We talked, I was carrying Nick around who fell asleep on my shoulder, lots of food, card games, lots of presents, Laura showing yoga to the guys, ...
Sunday Jess and I walked the St. Antony falls heritage trail, visited the Mill Museum (excellent) and had food outside. It has been beautiful fall weather here so far! I realized that this weather is more my kind than the heat and humidity in the south. Now I'm in Appleton, Wisconsin and I'm staying with Karen's parents, Helene and Jerry. It is wonderful being back!

The beauty of the swamps - part 2

After the walk through their alligator breeding facilities, the "real" swamp tour started. A boat took us through a part of the swamps called Alligator Bayou. Of course we saw some more alligators and also nutrias and a wide variety of birds. Our guides explained a lot about how the swamps work, about nutrias etc. and did a lot of stupid jokes (ever kissed a nutria??). I wasn't really listening though, cause I was too busy with watching my surroundings. After cruising the bayou we entered a lake filled with mainly dead cypress trees. It was so quiet and so beautiful! The trees were covered with Spanish moss and water hyacints were growing everywhere. A flock of white birds started to fly ... I lack the words to really picture it for you.
We continued our cruise and then were allowed to walk a bit while they showed those interested a snake and two tiny alligators. Most of the other people were really focusing on that. But meanwhile the sunset had started. The sky turned all red and orange, the colours reflecting on the water and the dead cypress trees standing out against the sky. That image will surely stay with me!

Thursday, September 23, 2004

The beauty of the swamps!

When I heard the word swamp, I thought about mud, slime, Shrek and unpleasant animals. Probably a lot of you share those impressions. Well, mine underwent a huge change yesterday.

Tom, Leslie, Miss Cindy and me went on a swamp tour at Alligator Bayou yesterday. We were still sipping on our drinks and waiting when the dogs started barking like crazy. Which means there's an alligator really close! So I went and had my first good look at a wild alligator! Those are not zoo animals, but really wild ones. That thought took a little time to sink in and it didn't make me feel that comfortable... I'm used to dangerous animals behind bars, not right underneath my feet! That male alligator was 14 foot tall, they tempted him with some chicken and he shot out of the water - VERY impressive!

The tour started with a walk around their compound. They have a fake swamp bassin with lots of animals for breeding purposes. The little ones are supposed to be set out into the swamp. They had catfish, snakes, a bullfrog and several huge turtles. Then we entered their area where they try to breed alligators. It's a big place with little lakes and seven alligators inside. You're not supposed to walk too close to the water, the alligator might try to jump at you! Strange feeling, but I certainly enjoyed it.

Then the swamp tour on the boat started. The swamps are beautiful! But now I have to finish for the moment, cause Leslie and I will get our nails done :) More when we come back!

Laisse les bons temps rouler...

Tuesday Leslie showed me around New Orleans, the "Big Easy". We started our day at the Cafe du Monde with cafe au lait and beignets while somebody sang "Amazing Grace" - what a wonderful way to start a wonderful day!
Then we strolled through the French Market. People sell food there, Mardi Gras pearls and any other souvenir a tourist might want to buy. From there we walked into the French Quarter, the most famous part of New Orleans and home to the Creoles. Creoles originally meant somebody native to that area, it was a cultural not a racial term. Later it was used to distinguish them from the Americans. Creoles speak French, are Roman Catholic and have quite a different cultere. The Americans coming to New Orleans called them "dekadent". Later the meaning changed again, now meaning somebody of mixed origin. Most Creoles have French, Spanish, African and Native Indian ancestors. The houses have beautiful wrought iron galeries. New Orleans is the perfect place to take black and white pictures! Everybody has flowers on their galeries and the streets are lined with places to eat and quaint and crazy little shops.
For lunch we took a deserved break at the Acme Oyster Bar. The waiter convinced me to have half a dozen oysters and they were the best I ever had! You eat them with a kind of hot sauce, very good. I also had seafood gumbo which still was on the list of things I had to eat :). Aren't my blogs about food really often...? The waiters had a lot of fun with us. Maybe we were a welcome change to the locals who eat there and the VERY typical tourists (we saw quite some of those in the city).
We continued by walking down Bourbon Street. It's famous but not that great. It is lined with restaurants, bars (top- and bottomless) and rip offs... Then we had quite an interesting and strange time at the Historic Vodoo Museum. 15 % of the population still practice Vodoo. Vodoo in its original form was not used for evil (my original understanding), but for a successful life: marriage, children, money ... Of course it includes the dolls, snakes and bones. Bones stand for ancestors though, not for death. I just wonder how people could/can fit it together with their Christian beliefs. Most practitioners are devout Catholics. New Orleans' Vodoo Queen, Marie Lavou (different spelling maybe) definately was, she went to Mass everyday. It made Leslie and me want to read more about it to gain a better understanding.
We relaxed in Jackson Square and had a hurricane (cocktail with LOTS of rum) at Pat O'Brians, then enjoyed another drink at 360 on the 33th floor of the World Trade Center and watching the city light in the dark.
We came back Wednesday morning to participate in a city tour leading us through the patios of the French Quarter and to Cemetary No. 1. We really had a good time. The tour's red line was the story of a Creole family and a big part was lots of gossip about them to understand Creole ways better. Relly interesting. The cemetary was quite fascinating. The dead are buried above ground, cause the waterlevel is so high. Otherwise corpses would float around in times of flooding...
We finished my New Orleans experience with a Muffuletta sandwich at Napoleon's where they play opera music. It was founded in 1920 by an Italian. Uncle Joe, the founder, got 101 years old, still climbing on brick walls to get figs when he was 92! I really want to be that fit when I'm old.
To sum it up: if you ever have the chance, visit New Orleans and laisse les bons temps rouler!

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

The feel of the deep south!

I've been in Baton Rouge now for about five days and I am having a wonderful time. Leslie and Tom are really making this into a very special time for me! I'll try to let you get an idea of what has been going on ...
Friday Leslie showed me around the LSU campus which is surrounded by lakes. They look beautiful, but the idea behind them was all but beautiful. The then governor (1930s) thereby successfully prevented a Black college next to LSU. For lunch we went to Georges - a great local place - and I had crawfish (Hummerkrabbe). This was just the beginning of lots of great Louisiana cuisine: Jambalaya (spicy rice with meat and sausages), cheese grits, red beans and rice with sausage, oysters and seafood gumbo ... (to be expanded still)
In the afternoon we toured Baton Rouge: the Old Governor's Mansion (where Tom and Leslie got married), the Old State Capitol (at its time the highest in the US) and the Spanish Village - Ulrike, that's where they have the pink flamingos at Mardi Gras :). In the evening we went to a concert downtown where we met some friends and some German exchange students. we all had caipirinhas (seldom to be had here) and Leslie's friend Garland invited everybody for brunch after church on sunday.
Saturday was a lazy day. We had a barbecue here for lunch and later Leslie and I strolled through downtown, listened to a country band and later visited tom at his job.
Sunday I accompanied Leslie to church and then we all went for brunch at Garland's and Billy's place. They have a beautiful home and are wonderful people. we had such a good time! Later Leslie and I left for New Orleans with Andreas, Becky and Eric. The Lousiana Philharmonic Orchestra have a concert in the zoo and everybody sat in the grass and had a picnic. It was really beautiful! I wish Markus could have been there ...
Monday Leslie and I took the jeep and started to travel back in time :) We first visited Nottoway Plantation. It is the biggest plantation house in the south (64 rooms) and really beautiful inside and out. I really enjoyed touring it. But unfortunately they try to gloss over the past and don not talk about slavery which made all that wealth possible. It gives you a very strange feeling walking there, listening to the guide and thinking about the slaves... In Donaldsonville we went to the River Road African American Museum which tells you about slavery, the underground railway and who former slaves lived after slavery was abolished. They were really nice cause it was actually closed but they switched on the lights for us!
Then we went on to Oak Alley Plantation. The oaks there date back to the 1700s and are incredable beautiful! Today we spent the day in the French Quarter in New Orleans. So far I have received a great impression of the feel of the Deep South!

Monday, September 20, 2004

From Texas to Louisiana

Here I am in the deep south! I am currently staying with my friends Tom and Leslie in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
I really enjoyed my last days in Houston which were not that busy any more. Diana and I drove around town, did some shopping and hunted for a "Don't mess with Texas" T-shirt for a very special person. And for all of you who still have the preconception that the US is all about junk food: I've seen the best organic food market so far. I wish I could fit it into my suitcase and take it to Bonn. That night (Tuesday) I accompanied John and Diana who are members of a bowling league. It was fun watching everybody and discussing old (and mostly rather unscary) black and white horror movies with the other guy on their team (a conversation spurred by one of my new little purses...)! The next day we went to a typical American diner and afterwards I could try my (non-existing) bowling skills as well - we went back to the bowling alley to practice. You just can't watch bowling a whole night and not want to play yourself!
I'm very grateful though, that hurrican Ivan did not make its way so far to the west to reach Houston and not New Orleans either! We spent quite some time in front of the TV watching the weather channel...
On Thursday Tom and Leslie picked me up in Houston and we went on the long drive to Baton Rouge (more than five hours). I am staying with them for a week and I've finally met their dog Bentley :) which is very cute (when he doesn't decide to sleep on the couch where I sleep...). I've had a great time here already and I"ll post more tonight after visiting several plantations - "Gone with the wind" here I come!

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

With my feet in the Gulf ...

Howdy! as Texans say :) Today I stood with my feet in the Gulf of Mexico. That really makes me feel how far away from home I am! I love travelling, but I miss Markus so much. All the time I'm thinking how wonderful it would be if he could be here with me ...
This day started as a history lesson on Texas. Diana and I went to the San Jacinto battlefield where the Texans won an important battle in their fight for independence from Mexico in 1836. Their General was Sam Houston, after whom this city is named. On the battlefield is the San Jacinto Monument, a huge tower with the Lone Star on top. We saw an interesting movie about the fight for independece and an exhibition (also about the Alamo, some of you might know that battle). From the observation deck of the monument you can see Houston and the Gulf - and a lot of petrochemical industry...
Afterwards we visited the battleship Texas, which fought in both WWI and WWII. Those ships look scary when you"re close! You can actually go on bord and see the cabins, the operating room, the room of the officiers, the wash rooms etc. All on the standard of WWII. It gives a pretty good impression of how it must have been on such a battleship. The Texas was actually at Iwo Jima.
Then Diana and I drove down to Galveston which is a really nice little town at the Gulf. After more good food (New England Clam Chowder) we strolled along the Strand where you can shop yourself to death in lots of gift stores :) And before heading home we drove to the beach and I stood in the Gulf of Mexico...
Tomorrow is my last day in Houston. Wednesday my friend Leslie will pick me up and I will stay with her and Tom (her husband) in Baton Rouge (Louisiana) for another week.

Do you understand modern art?

Sunday was our "culture day". First we went to downtown Houston and just drove around. Those downtowns look so unreal until you come close to them, just like something flat or projected against the sky. But I tend to enjoy them. I would not want to live in those huge buildings, but the architecture is really fascinating.
Right in downtown Houston is the Heritage park, displaying old wooden buildings from this area. What a contrast - a tiny wood cabin or country church and behind it a huge skyscraper with a glass front... Welcome to the 21st century! But it is a beautiful park, very restful right next to busy downtown. I loved it!
Then we went on to the Montrose area, the "artsy" part of town. It's just beautiful. Wooden houses, lots of green, ... And inbetween some great art collections. We started the culture with the Rothko chapel, a very modern meditative one-story chapel for all faiths with eight abstract pictures inside. I just cannot help it - it did not feel like a chapel at all to any of us. Those pictures are just dark all lilac or black ... Later on we went to the Cy Twombly gallery - more VERY modern art. I only stood in front of the "pictures" and wondered: Why is that art? Any little kid or I myself can throw colors on paper or scratch on a blackboard, just nobody would pay any money for it. Maybe some of you really like modern art and can somehow enlighten me ... it leaves me as confused as the pictures are.
We really enjoyed the Menil Collection though, works by surrealists (Magritte a.o.), Picasso and Warhol and indigenous art. That is really a great collection - and modern art I like :)
Then we turned our attention on folk art. What do you think about a house made out of 50.000 beer cans?? I loved it. Not that I understand it - but it's great! even more strange is the Orange Show, a collection of things a postman found during his 25 years of work, put together and dedicated to - the ORANGE! Absolutely weird and great fun. We all really enjoyed that.
Unable to find some of the other folk art houses and after strengthening us with more great Mexican food we went on to "rich" Houston - the River Oaks district. Truly exclusive and beautiful. We finished the day off with a very impressive fountain at the Transco Tower (11.000 gallons/40.000 litres of water per minute!!) and the Astrodome and the Relient (sport stadions if you can use that normal word for those buildings :)).

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Lost luggage, seafood and football

This is my fourth day in the US and I had a lot of great experiences already! I arrived in Houston, Texas, after a not that boring twelf (!) hour flight with a two hour stopover in Pittsburgh. My friends, John and Diana, picked me up at the airport. It was great seeing them again after half a year! Unfortunately my luggage didn't make it that evening ... and I was wearing long pants. Which in my opinion is far too warm for the climate in Houston ... I think I've never been anywhere that warm AND humid.
But the luggage arrived on friday, so I'm very relieved and wearing more comfortable clothing :)
Friday we relaxed a lot and went for lunch with John and two of his collegues at a great Mexican place. I love food! In the evening we went to the Kemah boardwalk at Clear Lake where they have a lot of restaurants and little shops and some amusement rides. We had great seafood at The Flying Dutchman and then strolled along the boardwalk. Clear Lake is part of the bay of Galveston and Galveston is at the Gulf of Mexico - that sounds sooo far away from home!
And yesterday we went to the ballgame - college football at the Texas A&M University in College Station. Both John and his brother went to this university. We went there with John"s brother and his wife and Diana's sister and her daughter, a freshman there. And of course, everybody was wearing maroon and white, the Aggie colors - even me! It was a great experience. The stadium seats 82.000 and the attendance was 65.600 - the biggest game I've ever been to! Before the game we had the Star Spangled Banner, the anthem of Texas and God bless America as it was Patriot Day (9/11). And two fighter planes flew over our seats during the last song. It was a very moving experience, though as a German it is very different from home and I'm unused to it. But I liked it. The game was a lot of fun and the Aggies won! I really enjoyed it and the half time show with the Fighting Texas Aggies band, they're incredable good!
Today is culture day! More next time...

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Back from France!

I just came back from a wonderful time with Markus in southern France . It was great spending nine days together, just enjoying the sun and the sea and being together and doing nothing ... Well, we did do some things, of course. We went swimming in the sea almost every day, tanned (although I'm not half as tanned as Markus!), read a lot and visited some small and really "pittoresque" Frensh villages like Ramatuelle and Gassin.
And naturally we went to Saint Tropez which is about 20 minutes from where we stayed. Saint Tropez is actually quite beautiful (I have to admit I had some prejudices...). The village looks great, especially in the evening light and there are a lot of quaint little streets, "très chic" bars and good restaurants - and of course lots of places to window-shop! Although most tempting is to "harbour-shop" - there is an incredable amount of VERY expensive boats right in the harbour. But it's fun watching the boats and wondering about the people who own them (most of the time you just see the stewarts and the captain ... don't even imagine the owners steering their boats themselves). Well, I'm NOT into boats and I wouldn't want to own one - but if somebody had invited us for a day trip on one of those we saw, I would have said yes!
And of course we had great Frensh food and drinks :) I especially enjoyed a dinner with my parents (who are on holiday in southern France too) where we had "marmite du pêcheur" - that is a fish soup with lots of different kinds of fish, prawns, mussels and crabs. It tastes just great!
Now I'm back in Bonn and it's back to work... I really miss sitting on our terasse and watch the sea...
But next week it will be vacation again when I'm leaving for a four week trip for the US!