Wednesday 28 August 2013

Fun parks and recreation

We have spent the last fortnight in Celle, Germany, visiting with my wife's family.

It's a town of around 80,000 people in Lower Saxony, in the north of the country.

When we're not visiting with family, we're looking for "family entertainment", which in this part of the country means zoos.

First up was the Tier Park, which is where they train animals for media performance. If you see a lion on German TV, it probably came from here.

They say this wolf is the world's best at playing dead. A totally chilled animal.

The keeper spent three years visiting the cage daily - even on weekends and sick days - in order to be accepted as a member of the pack.

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Thursday 22 August 2013

Erse Park

(VIDEO)  We just went to Erse Park in Uetze, Germany.

This is a fun place with rides, life sized model dinosaurs, and a whole lot of truly weird shit.

German fairy tales are clearly meant to frighten children into silence at night...
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Sunday 18 August 2013

German observations

Thoughts on Germany and Germans, from an Australian bloke with a German name and a German wife.

The Roads

The Germans are much smarter than us about speed limits, which are slower in town and faster on the freeways.

Australians, myself included, get frustrated and angry in suburban 50km/h zones. But here everyone is totally cool about doing 30, and I have found that it encourages me to be relaxed about it as well.

Often in the middle of town the roads are made of old fashioned flagstones, which are indestructible but a wee bit bumpy and slippery. So you go very slowly indeed.

At this low speed, people just have more patience with local conditions.  We rode around Celle in a horse and cart today, causing about forty cars to slow down and wait for 5 minutes on a particular one-way road. There was nary a beep. They all just waited until we were out of the way.

Everyone double-parks if they need to pick up a passenger or drop off a package, and no-one else cares. You just go around them.

Here's a neato idea.

When you park in a time-limit zone, you put this little cardboard thing on your dash with the current time on it - how many minutes past the hour it was when you arrived. Then the inspectors know when you got there. (And if you don't have one of these things displayed, they book you.)

There are lots of people on bikes. The kids are legally required to wear helmets but virtually nobody else bothers.

There are dedicated bike lanes everywhere, sometimes on the road and sometimes marked out on the footpath.

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Wednesday 14 August 2013

Roaming across Europe

Well, a little bit of it, anyway.

Five of us - three adults and two children - have stuffed our gear into a VW wagon and made our way from France to Germany, via Italy and Austria.

The highway system that links these countries is consistently excellent, though expensive in places.

At one of the toll stops, where we had pulled over to assemble the correct change for the booth, another car pulled up behind us and the driver got out to tap on our window.

He told our driver (who shall remain anonymous) that they had been wandering too close to the middle of the road, and perhaps we would all die in a fireball if this continued.

He politely made his point and went back to his vehicle. A far cry from the extended middle finger and cry of "get off the road ya fuckwit!" that I'd expect from Australians in similar circumstances.

Along the coast, Italy is mountainous and beautiful. There are endless villages strung out along the mountain ridges, with farms perched precariously on the slopes and huge greenhouses on every flat surface.

Then we turned inland, where it becomes rather monotonous. Flat and full of corn.

Our overnight stop was at the Garda Lake, which happens to be next to Italy's answer to Disneyland - Gardaland.

We didn't go there, but our hotel was clearly set up to cater for families that do. It had a massive buffet and some language-free entertainment for kids (magic and mime) after dinner.

The next day we continued towards Germany. The landscape became gorgeously mountainous again as we drifted through Austria.

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Thursday 1 August 2013

The old master

Today we walked up the hill, rising from our seedy city neighbourhood through several social strata to the Musee Matisse.

Between the museum building itself and the little cafe outside, there's an absolute rarity - empty space.

This part of the world has been civilised for so long that parklands just don't seem to exist any more, long ago built over with apartment blocks.

So naturally some people were in this little park playing the French national sport, pétanque.

I think it's a sport in much the same way that Thumb War is a sport.

A game, yes. A thing to keep children amused at a picnic, definitely. But not a sport.

I suspect that the drugs in cycling (the other French national sport) actually drifted over from pétanque, as it would take some serious mind alteration to make me buy a special shirt for tossing metal balls in random outdoor venues.

But the people playing were taking it very seriously indeed, putting on that grim face known amongst aficionados as the "total pétanquer".

I digress.

So the Matisse Museum is full of the old master's work, mainly donated by his family, as they were clearing wall space for plasma TVs.

(Below is the sculpture series: The Many Faces of Margaret Thatcher.)

If the museum was your only exposure to Matisse, you might think he was a bit crap, because it's full of his practice works - the stuff he created on the way to being sublime.

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