Today I was visiting Emmerich am Rhein – a town on the border between Germany and the Netherlands.
Suspension bridge over the Rhine at Emmerich
While I was walking through the town centre, I came across a group of brass Stolpersteine – small plaques in the pavement reminding passers-by that holocaust victims had once lived in the house they are passing. Stolpern means to stumble – so these are literally stones that you stumble across.
This set remembers a family of three from Emmerich who fled the national socialist regime and escaped to America.
The Gompertz family fled to America in 1939 and survived the Holocaust.
This was the first time I’ve seen Stolpersteine remembering people who actually survived the war – most of them record death in one of the concentration camps. I hope the Gompertz family settled in America and had a long and happy life after the war.
Going clothes shopping in Germany has become a disturbing experience of late.
Many normally respectable stores have completely changed their clothing range. For example, when I was in Mönchengladbach yesterday, I passed an otherwise normal department store and the shop window looked like this.
Not what Germans normally wear.
I should point out that this type of clothing – the Dirndl for women and the Lederhosen for men – is not what Germans wear in normal life. You may come across people dressed like this in Bavaria, but not up here. A Rhinelander wearing a Dirndl or Lederhosen would be like a Londoner wearing a kilt and sporran. If you see someone in this garb, they are either a very lost Bavarian… or more likely an American tourist. But most definitely not a local.
So why are these weird foreign clothes everywhere all of a sudden?
The reason is the upcoming Oktoberfest. The Oktoberfest is Germany’s biggest beer-party, and the most famous of all is the one on the Wiesn in Munich. In an un-Germanic fit of anti-logic, the Bavarians hold the Oktoberfest in September. Possibly to confuse non-Bavarians and thus prevent them turning up until all the beer has been drunk.
I was in Kleve today – a small town on the border between Germany and the Netherlands. Best known in the English world for its most famous daughter, Anne of Cleves. Anne, of course, was the unfortunate lady who was matched with Henry VIII of England. Henry sent Hans Holbein over to paint portraits of Anne and her sister Amalia, both of whom he was considering as candidates for his fourth wife. (This was the Tudor equivalent of online dating… but without the internet it was rather unwieldy). It would appear that Holbein’s portrait of Anne was the Tudor equivalent of a nicely photo-shopped image. Henry chose her, based on the portrait… but when she turned up, he was less than enamoured with “that Flemish mare” – and allegedly the marriage was never consummated.
Nowadays in Kleve, Anne’s over-flattering portrait is still very much in evidence – which suggests it is well worth getting a decent photo done for your social media profile picture if you have an eye to posterity!
A tourist attraction… though in real life she may not have been so attractive
There were a few cool things in Kleve. The first was the fantastic (though rather dried out) wildflower planting all around the city car-parks.
Aha…. so there’s the parking ticket machine…
The other was a beautiful if slightly disturbing statue in the centre of town… anyone have any idea what this is supposed to signify?
Whoa…. what’s this all about?
Nope… it’s just as weird from this side too….
When I was visiting Kempen I also spotted these cool street-sculptures which double as entertainment for kids.
Hoppe hoppe Reiter…
For future Bastian Schweinsteigers?
Everywhere you go in Germany, there seem to be reminders of former markets. Not that Germany doesn’t have markets nowadays too, of course. But in past times, they seemed to have one market per type of produce, at least judging by the old street names. I was in Kempen this week which has a marketplace which claims to sell only butter (there was a market on at the time, though it seemed to be all fruit and veg).
A whole market just selling butter?
There was a bit of confusion about the Viehmarkt (cattle market) – which apparently used to be a horse market. These days it’s a car park. How appropriate!
A cattle market… formally a horse market…
I also visited Rheinberg which arranges its markets very neatly, next to each other. So you can pick up your fish and also the wood to cook it on. How marvellously well organised!
Wood sellers to the left, fishmongers to the right….
Whatever market is on, it’s so much more fun than buying produce in a supermarket.
German market scene in Kempen with street sculpture…
When I was in Wuppertal this week, I noticed that the Germans are economizing on street signs. Looks like it’s going to turn out to be a false economy…
Stick-on peel-off street signs in Wuppertal
Either that, or they’re planning to change the names of the streets on a regular basis….