Thursday, August 18, 2005

These are a few of my favorite Thingstättes

I woke up the next morning around 9 AM after having slept so wonderfully well in a real bed at Susan´s appartment. Konstanza was already awake, being perfectly quiet so that no one would be awakened by her activity. As soon as I walked out of the bedroom, she greeted me and offered to make me a coffee. While she made the coffee, I showered and dressed for the day.

A little while later, we were joined by Susan and we sat and chatted for a while over breakfast of chocolate muesli...good stuff! We planned a leisurely morning of checking emails before heading out to see the town.

When Susan and I decided to leave for the Castle, we set out walking and soon stopped for Mexican food on one of the pedestrian streets in Heidelberg. The food was good, but we had more fun admiring one of the waiters, till we think we made him self-conscious! It was time to leave anyway, so we headed toward the funicular and the castle that dominates the skyline above Heidelberg. The city is truly beautiful with old buildings, monuments and perfect summer weather. It was a welcome relief to me to find cool weather after having been in the big southern European heatwave of earlier in the month.

(Left: Overlooking Heidelberg.)

We found our way to the funicular and discovered to Susan´s dismay that the old car had been replaced by a new and modern design that had as much character as any train in the world. Nonetheless, we bought tickets for the one minute ride to the Castle level and climbed aboard. Soon, the cables pulled us along the mountain side until we stopped where we could overlook the city below and visit the castle.

Susan showed me the gardens, the apothecary museum and the largest keg in either the world or at least in Europe...with a capacity of something like 217 kiloliters! It was quite possibly as large as one of Columbus´ships. As we walked around the grounds and took photos, we talked about our cultures and the things that we have in common, as well as the questions we have about the other´s culture that we didn´t know. After stopping to speak with a Spanish lady about her schnauzer (they are schnauzers no matter who owns them and no matter what language is spoken to them)
and after petting the sweet little girl for a while, we moved on and started back to the apartment for a brief rest before planning the rest of our day.

When we got back to our base of operations, we decided to eat locally in a typical German restaurant and then to visit the Thingstätte. Susan suggested that we wait for Konstanza to return so that she could join us, but after waiting for about half an hour, we decided to go without her. When we reached the ground floor of the building, Konstanza came rolling up on her in-line skates and agreed to meet us for dinner after a quick shower. Susan and I went ahead and placed our orders while waiting for her.

During a dinner of spätsel, salad, nudleomelet with ham and cheese and potato patties, we began to talk about Annette and her many battles with authority or barriers due to the disabilities that have been part of her life since birth. I mentioned how these problems tie directly into the kinds of concepts that I was hoping to draw out in my questions about freedom in the film project that brought me to Europe. We decided to call Annette on returning to the apartment to see if she could do an interview with us that evening since my train was leaving early the next day for Berlin.

It excited us all to imagine Annette on film with her vibrant personality and her inspiring legacy of activism for disabled women. When we returned home, we rang her up and found initially that she would be more than happy to participate in our project, but then when she learned that it would have to be that night or not at all, she was sorry to tell us that she could not do it on such short notice. We were sad to hear this news, but it was certainly understandable. So, instead, we decided to go to visit the Thingstätte instead.

Susan drove us across the river and up the mountain side. First we stopped at a tower that was located beside the road and which overlooked the river below and the skyline of Heidelberg in the distance. There was a lone man sitting on a park bench, either meditating or waiting for someone else to come along and engage him in something, but we basically ruined his scene and continued our conversation with each other while climbing the tower in the growing darkness. By the time we reached the top and emerged onto the floor of the turret, Heidelberg lay before us with the castle illuminated in firelike light and the city further below us. It was a stunning view.

(Left: Skywriting with a waxing moon and a digital camera by Susan.)

Unfortunately, having climbed up the spiral stairs to reach the top, we had to climb them back down and the daylight by this time was nearly all gone. It was like climbing stairs while feeling your way blindly ahead. This, however, was only a taste of what was to come.

We drove further up the mountain to the site of the Thingstätte and parked the car. By this time, there was near total darkness and we had no flashlights with us. I asked Susan why we hadn't brought any with us and she said it was more fun this way. I think it was about the time that I almost tripped over the first few rocks and roots in the path that I questioned our purpose for going there, but soon we approached the entrance to an open-air amphitheater. It was eerily lit, in the way that you could make out the shapes ahead, but not really see what they were. We could hear the sound of people inside and as we approached heard them clapping loudly to create an echo of sound inside the place.

(Left: The Thingstätte by flash in total darkness. Click to enlarge any photograph.)

For the next two hours or so, we climbed around on the paths, the steps and the platforms of the amphitheater and in the ruins of the adjacent cloister, taking photographs of the site by moonlight or by flash to see what effect we might get.

(Left: The grave of Friedrich Von Hipsau, d. A.D. 1070...imagine taking a flash picture to realize you are standing on a grave!)

At one point, we were climbing another turret in the pitch blackness of the inside of the building when there was a sudden screeching sound from what seemed the next few steps above. It repeated and sounded like a huge bird of prey. Later, we decided it was a hawk, an owl or an eagle of some kind in a nearby tree, but at that moment, we were both trying to be really brave and not let on to the other that we were both scared shitless.

Susan was being really cute that evening. For some reason, when we arrived at the site, her voice turned into a whisper and took on an eerie kind of tone that was surely meant to draw me into the mystery of the place. It reminded me of being inducted into a scientific fraternity years before and the alchemist's show that had been put on to create the proper mood. Either way, we had a fantastic night there and then returned to the apartment to finish up the evening with an internet chat with a friend in the US, with music by the Foo Fighters and with my laundry spinning away in the dryer.

We took a photo and posted it on the internet of one of my new favorite things, named Grunhilda by consensus, and interestingly enough, perhaps an appropriate symbol of the visit to Heidelberg given a report that crocodile blood might prove to be a source of a cure for AIDS. Now when I am down, I just have to go to this Grunhilda link to feel better, even if I have the original in my suitcase with me.



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