September 11

It feels wrong to post something cheerful on a day like today. So I won’t.

I remember ten years ago I had no TV. It was broken and I didn’t get a replacement for quite some time. I didn’t hear or see any news for the better part of 9/11, I just felt it became eerily quiet in the afternoon. Eventually a friend called me and told me what had happened. I had a hard time assigning meaning to her words.

After the call I walked over to the mall, into the shop where they sold TVs, because I simply couldn’t imagine what she was talking about. I had once flown home from Newark Airport at sunset and we flew over NYC, could see a lot of it through the windows. I remember the pilot pointing out the World Trade Center. I mainly remember how big New York City is, how long it took to fly across.

Then, I stood in the TV shop where all the TVs were tuned to various news channels, some CNN, some German channels. I and everyone else stood there in silence, disbelief and horror. I heard newscasters, the US president and some other people speaking, but what they said was lost on me. I couldn’t even think about the victims, the terrified New Yorkers in the streets then and there.

I could only realize in pure terror that there is no limit to the imaginative, ever changing ways of pain and destruction humans subject each other to. Even after several millenia of slavery, torture, murder, war and genocide there is no end in sight.

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Homemade Pesto Genovese

I’m a little sad about this week’s Fresh Breeze, because my favourite plan didn’t work out at all. It is still there and I’ll do it some other week, but I had to come up with a replacement.

My diet has been rather boring lately and so I decided to try something new as far as food is concerned. I went shopping and came home with a large selection of delicious supplies – and ended up with too little time to prepare everything I had in mind for this week’s post.

BUT I proudly declare I have made my very first Pesto Genovese. I have always loved to eat it and why – until this week – I never made some myself is a mystery to me. It was a lot easier than I had anticipated and a lot faster too.

This was my first try, so the proportions of the ingredients aren’t quite right yet, the taste however is excellent. I mixed extra virgin olive oil, fresh basil, pine nuts, freshly grated parmesan, garlic and a little butter. I didn’t add salt, there was enough in the cheese already. I was a little worried about the results I might get with a blender instead of a mortar, but as you can see above, it worked out just fine.

I have a feeling I’ll not buy mass produced pesto again.

Saying Goodbye to Hogwarts in 3D

As an avid reader I don’t go to the movies all that often. I’m simply not interested in a lot of movies and feel the ones I am interested in usually don’t live up to the book that inspired them. So I stay at home or sit on a park bench or dig up a book from my bag where I coincidentally happen to be and read.

When the first Harry Potter book came out, I didn’t care, later, I went to see the first movie, because everyone was talking about the series and to get some idea what all that was about, I simply had to see the movie. I liked it, but wasn’t enthusiastic.

Only a few months before the final Harry Potter book came out, I finally caught up on the series. I had to, almost everyone I was talking to on a regular basis knew the books, the movies, loved them all and was totally excited about the last book. I wanted to keep my friends, so I read.

The day the last book finally made it to the bookstore I participated in a workshop and felt a cold coming on. The audio book copy of The Half Blood Prince was already waiting for me at home, borrowed from the library, but for some reason I couldn’t get my hands on The Order of the Phoenix. I foolhardily entered a bookstore that day and came home with a copy of the Phoenix and the Deathly Hollows, of course.

I spent the following week reading, listening and reading through my feverish cold. When my mind was done with the books, my body was done with the virus. Just a little later The Order of the Phoenix movie was released and I absolutely had to see it, of course.

I prefer to watch movies with their original soundtrack, if I get the chance. Commonly all movies are shown with a German soundtrack in our movie theatres and on TV. Qualities vary. Many are excellent, some are, well, let’s say the speakers don’t quite live up to the original actors, sometimes the German soundtrack is better than the original, especially when the original has loud background noise, so the voices are barely comprehensible.

Watching The Order of the Phoenix, I became an admirer of Alan Rickman’s acting skills, especially the way he uses his voice. (No, I am not a fan of Prof Snape.) And so, when the latest and last Harry Potter movie came out I just had to get see it in English again. Usually there is just one show of each movie in English at one of the theatres in my city – and when it is a blockbuster, the tickets are gone fast. With a bit of patience and luck I got a ticket for a good seat this time though. A 3D version, which I thought was cool, because “watching a movie in 3D” was on my fun project list for this year anyway.

I arrived at the theatre early, because I knew it would be busy and I had been warned my ticket would be sold, if I didn’t pick it up soon enough. I arrived with a backpack full of stuff, mind you. Food, drink – and a book, of course, because I knew I’d spend some time waiting.

The 3D effects were interesting, but not impressive. My favourite 3D section was an ad that had wine gums flying at me… I was annoyed by the volume in the theatre, so were a few others. The lady beside me also occasionally covered her ears. The action scenes were great, but the story was abbreviated quite a bit. I still believe the author was talked out of the original end by the publisher, because it doesn’t match the rest of the series in coherence and credibility. But I mustn’t give anything important away, the movie is worth seeing and I sure don’t want to spoil anything for you.

If you want to know, what it is like to watch a movie in the “wrong” language, check out this trailer.

Keeping cool – in style!

I hate to wear something on my head. I grudgingly wear a fleece cap in winter, because I know I’ll get sick, if I don’t. But the other day my eccentric head demanded more protection. After a hike in the sun, I came home with a major headache and when I read up on it, I realized I probably had a minor sunstroke and could consider myself lucky, things weren’t worse. I had been out alone in the countryside and serious sunstrokes go with confusion. I can loose my way with a map and my wits about me just fine, I don’t need any confusion on top of it.

That’s why I grudgingly decided it was time to get a summer hat. Few people here wear summer hats and my brief visit to the mall revealed the selection was small. Just owning a sun hat wouldn’t help, if I didn’t wear it, therefore I had to make sure I got myself a hat I didn’t hate. But how?

I vaguely remembered something about a famous hat shop in town. They make and sell hand crafted hats, predominately traditional hats that go with traditional Bavarian clothes though, something I’d not even consider wearing. I looked the shop up online and found out they sell hats, any shape and design you can think of. So a visit to the shop was in order.

It ended up being a very brief visit. I climbed the stairs to the first floor, looked around, scratched my head in confusion at the sight of hundreds of hats, was noticed by a young sales lady and told her what I was looking for. I originally thought of a fabric hat, because it can be folded and stored in a backpack easily, but they looked silly on me. Then I looked at the straw hats. They didn’t look silly, but wouldn’t have worked. After a brief discussion I ended up with a viscose hat which looks like a straw hat, but is a fabric hat. It can be folded bagged if necessary, but shouldn’t be crumpled too badly. Most importantly: I don’t hate it. I couldn’t quite see myself loving it, but I knew wearing it would be better than risking headaches.

I have worn the hat one afternoon already and was ok with it. Unfortunately ever since I bought it, it has been raining. The weather forecast says it will keep raining. Sigh. So this ends up being a slightly sad Fresh Breeze. It makes some other Fresh Breeze plans impossible for the time being – but not next week’s.

Music and Crowds

If you have visited my blog before, you might think that photography is my creative passion. Well, it is a recently re-discovered passion, my other creative activity is singing. Jazz mostly. And I love listening to good singers as much as I love looking at beautiful photos. The young lady on the stage is one of my inspirations, great voice and great sense of humour.

Last weekend I spontaneously decided to pay a short visit to the annual jazz festival in town. Visits to the festival can’t be planned in advance, it justly has a reputation for horrible weather. There were weekends when people ended up grilled and dehydrated, but there were also weekends, when the tarps were blown off stages, the scene illuminated by lightnings (no, I didn’t watch the scene myself, I watched the thunderstorm through a window and saw photos later). Getting soaked is a common experience. I have taken to checking the weather forecast regularly before the festival and deciding last minute, if I will attend or not.

On Sunday, the forecast predicted rain in the evening and the sky looked like it, but my favourite local musicians (see above) were schedule to perform in the late afternoon. So I grabbed my robust little camera and blended in the crowd.

It wasn’t the musicians’ luckiest day. A guitar string tore just when they got on the stage, the sound tech needed patient and careful instructions, the crowd was noisy and restless. This isn’t the nicest festival stage. People have to walk directly past the stage on their way around the festival which has about a dozen stages in the area. The music was good, the atmosphere was not.

It started dripping a bit during the concert. I would have loved to listen to one other musician after this concert, but a quick look at the sky told me, that would become a very wet experience. So I hurriedly left when they got off the stage. It started raining for real when I was almost home.

After the experience this year, I have made decisions on future visits. I feel the festival is the perfect opportunity to check out bands I don’t know yet. So, weather permitting, I’ll be back next year. It is not always an opportunity to fully enjoy good music. There have been magic moments during previous years, but a lot of things have to happen at the same time to create one: good musicians, friendly, attentive audience, decent weather.

As one other lady in the audience put it: it pays to pay for a concert ticket. So that’s what I’ll do more often from now on.

In the Countryside

This week’s Fresh Breeze was a truly fresh breeze. I went hiking and photographing.

This is where I started out. I took the bus to the countryside and had mapped my route carefully so I would end up at some other bus stop to get home.

By the time I arrived here, I had already realized I had forgotten a close-up lens at home, so taking pictures wouldn’t turn out quite as well as I had hoped, but I quickly decided it was a valid excuse to go back to this beautiful place.

At this point I had learned that hiking 5 miles and crouching at every other plant is major thigh workout.

My fitness level isn’t quite up to par, if I can’t climb that hill without wheezing and give the photo so little thought I don’t find a shady place to get the colours straight. I also wonder if a polarizing filter would have been helpful here, but that too was still on my desk.

Next I entered the forest. I am a little scared of forests. I got lost there too many times, no, not on my own, always in the company of someone who was sure were on the right path even though he had no map and was unfamiliar with the territory. Things have drastically improved since I plan my own routes. I still get lost, but I have a map and no male pride, so I don’t circle the ground until I’m exhausted. (Disclaimer: I know men who don’t get lost all the time, I just haven’t been hiking with representatives of that group a lot.) I haven’t hiked alone too often yet and have only taken very few photos in a forest. That’s probably why they are pretty bad.

I originally walked up that hill to take a look at a fortress ruin, but I didn’t find the ruin. I even saw a big sign explaining the history of the ruin. I searched the forest carefully around the sign. Just trees, birds, butterflies and a big black beetle. No ruin.

I felt like a fool. How can you miss a fortress ruin? Well, easy. Walk the wrong path, look for the wrong kind of ruin, because you confuse the photo that went the explanation, and mistakenly believe people put up signs where they might make sense. The ruin is in fact completely invisible from the location of the sign. And no, the sign does not feature an arrow to point you into the right direction.

Maybe the locals feel, if you don’t do your research carefully enough, you are not worth finding the overgrown site. Merely curious, but not sincerely interested, careful people mustn’t trample all over the place. They better stay on paths where they won’t do any harm. If that were true, I’d not even blame them. Some of the tourists are annoyingly disrespectful. The other day I found signs in a church requesting visitors to behave themselves, reminding them this was a place for prayer. I like visiting churches to look at all the artwork, I also take pictures in churches. But if I’m not alone in a church, I pay careful attention to others present and will put away my camera and sit down somewhere quietly or leave, if there is a chance, I disturb prayer. These churches weren’t built to entertain or impress me, after all.

Anyone else thinking of Hogwarts here?

Finally I ended up here. The river is just to the left, I wonder what this place looks like on a foggy November morning. Probably even more like Hogwarts.

I learned a lot during that trip, had a lot of fun – and will be back soon.

Tainted Beauty / Verdorbene Schönheit

The major event of last week was the arrival of my new camera, of course. I was looking forward to taking lots of pictures with it and trying new things. So this week I challenged myself to take at least one picture that’s significantly different from anything I have shared so far. Since I am still very unfamiliar with the camera itself, any significant difference was fine with me.

Things I had in mind were:

  • an automatic HDR photo of a motif that needs it
  • something that shows movement
  • an interesting photo of something that is actually ugly
  • contemporary architecture in any shape or form
  • an automatic panorama photo (my camera has a program for this)

A portrait was not an option, because all my local friends scurry off when they spot me holding a camera. At least I know that they don’t discriminate among photographers. They’ll run from any camera in anyone’s hands.

I took an automatic HDR photo and you have already seen it, it is the nave of St. Jakob’s church. It doesn’t have that slightly distorted HDR look and I think it is pretty and not really different from anything you’ve seen here already.

When I sorted the photos, I discovered pictures that showed deliberately ruined beauty. So they are the ones you’ll get to see now, if you don’t close your eyes fast enough.

This photo was intentionally taken to show tainted beauty. The section of the riverbank is a party zone at night. During the day the footpath is cluttered with broken glass. This facade attracts more clumsy decoration than any other. I won’t call it “graffiti”, because I quite like genuine street art. But here, people obviously just mess up the facade. The inscriptions aren’t very insightful either. One states “time is a human invention” another “I hate you”. Well, we sort of guessed that.

Before you tell me running a program on an ugly photo that transforms it into “old sepia” is tacky, let me apologize and admit I agree. But when I looked at the original photo at home, I couldn’t help wondering why I had taken it in the first place. Then I remembered I wore shades and turned the colours of the photo to black and white. All of a sudden the house really looked interesting. It would have looked even better without the monstrous antenna, that isn’t probably not even used anymore. This is the coloured version and I really wonder who’s responsible for this. I mean orange, red and purple on an old facade is pretty bad taste. And why the ornaments in the center are coloured like Christmas trees is a mystery too. The house faces northeast, so no one is getting a lot of light behind all those flower boxes. Well, I guess the owner likes it and is happy with the arrangement. Everyone else can look away or try to imagine the house without flower boxes and painted in pastels. In my mind, then it would be really pretty.

Unfortunately I have to wait for the rain to stop and the sky to become at least a lighter shade of grey before I can take more pictures. With a little luck, that should happen tomorrow.

Semi-orthodox Bavarian Brotzeit

Grocery shopping inspired this Fresh Breeze. I had some space left in my bag and scanned the aisles for supplies I might need when I discovered an odd bottle of Grapefruit Wheat Beer. I frowned. I like beer. Real, simple, straightforward beer. I’m even ok with a beer and lemon soda mix, a standard low alcohol drink you can get anywhere in Germany. But now the food industry is messing with wheat beer too? Isn’t anything sacred anymore? Is this drinkable? At a closer look I discovered that beer was made in northern Germany. What do northern Germans know about wheat beer? They make fine Pilsener, but wheat beer is something totally Bavarian. Curiosity got the better of me and I took a bottle home.

I have lived in Bavaria for many years now, but I am from northern Germany. It is very audible to the people I meet when I talk and noticeable in small cultural differences. I actually never wanted to move to Bavaria, I ended up here accidentally and the culture took quite a bit of getting used to. I don’t really plan to get used to everything, but some Bavarian traditions are just great. “Brotzeit” is one of them. It is a cold meal eaten at any time of day accompanied by beer (or soda) and the savoury alternative to Germany’s ever-present favourite “Coffee and Cake” (a meal, not dessert).

Usually a Brotzeit plate comes with a selection of breads, meats, maybe cheese, pickles, mustard and maybe vegetables. I decided on radish sandwich to go with my semi-genuine beer. The bread is pure whole grain rye, my favourite. The radishes are salted, so they will start to “cry”.

But back to the beer. If you have never poured a wheat beer, you may not know that this is an art form all of its own. You cannot just pour it like a soda or barley beer, because after a moment the glass will fill up with foam that’s not going anywhere for quite some time.

You need to pour a little warm water into the glass, then you make sure the inside of the glass gets all wet. And yes, it helps to use a proper wheat beer glass, like the one above. Next, you pour the beer down the side of the tilted glass, start out holding the glass nearly horizontally and then gently turn it upwards as you pour. When the bottle is almost empty, stop, swivel the remaining liquid in the bottle to stir up and dissolve the leftover yeast at the bottom of the bottle and pour the last swig into the glass. Ideally, you should end up with about an inch of foam. As you can see, it didn’t quite work out here today. Partly because I am out of practise, partly because the mix is less foamy than pure beer.

Once I had successfully transferred the beer to the glass, I though: “Oh, looks almost normal, except for the slight orange tinge.” Then I tried. Um. Not normal. Sweet. I only drink soda when I have an upset stomach or, sometimes, in the movie theatre. My memory might not be reliable and the drink may be a lot less sweet than regular soda, but it’s too sweet for me. The bitter grapefruit flavour helps. Overall the drink is refreshing. Or was, since it is gone by now. It was worth trying, but next time I go to the market, I’ll get a pure wheat beer, because I haven’t had one since last summer.

Pechstein Retrospective in my Neighbourhood

Well, I am probably off to a rather lame start for this series. I visited my little neighbourhood art museum a few bus stops away. Before you start realizing it isn’t the Louvre or the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art and begin to yawn, I’d like to add I went there for a special exhibit. I had meant to see the exhibit for three months since it’ll be leaving town in two weeks, I was about to miss it.

I only knew Max Pechstein, whom the exhibit was about, was a member of the “Brücke” group, a small, well-known circle of German expressionist painters. During the Third Reich their art classified as “entartete Kunst”, “degenerate art“, the connotation to the German expression suggests something bad had happened to their art. Before the exhibit I only knew that many of those works were burned, I didn’t know the artwork was actually sorted carefully, some was sold abroad and the things, they felt they couldn’t cash in, were burned. How abominable! Of course, it also means some of the pieces still exist scattered all over the world.

I walked into the museum on a sunny weekday at lunchtime, so it was very quiet. My first stop was a large, somewhat strangely illuminated hall with oil paintings. My first thought was “odd”. They didn’t resemble anything I had seen before and I didn’t like them too much, but they were interesting. I ambled around a bit more and found myself in a dim room with little sketches. Those were just awesome. I was amazed anyone could bring a scene to life with nothing but a few lines. Pechstein obviously liked to sketch and paint naked women – and he was impressively good at it.

My favourite exhibit was probably the smallest of all, about half the size of a postcard. Pechstein drew his wife breastfeeding his newborn son with what seemed like two or three lines. It looks very simple and full of kindness. He wrote a note underneath saying his sun was cute and they were well. Maybe not the most common thing for a young father to do in 1912.

When I watched a video presentation I learned how many skills the painter had: oil, sketches, water colours, woodcuts, lithographs, sculpting, even a little jewellery and stained glass windows. Apart from the sketches I liked the print series about the Lord’s Prayer, several oil portraits and some of the last, very colourful pictures that reminded me of Van Gogh.

As you have probably guessed, many works of art were gathered from all over the place for this exhibit. I eventually left the museum feeling “picture overload”, my brain had given up processing. It’s very unlikely I’ll have the opportunity to see a collection like this again any time soon, so I am very glad I didn’t miss this one.

I would have loved to show you a few more and different examples of Pechstein’s works, but can’t do that without copyright infringements. These two stamps however are in the public domain. The top one is a portrait of his wife. The bottom one shows Italian workers.

Image found on Wikimedia

If you would like to see more pictures or read more about the artist Artcyclopedia is a good source.