Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

European Travels 10 – Prague in 2018

View of Castle & Charles Bridge, Prague in 2018Fifty years ago I was in Prague as a young student. As luck would have it, that visit coincided with the Soviet-led Invasion on the night of August 20-21, 1968. (see also: Memories of the Soviet Invasion of Czechoslovakia, August 21, 1968)

Whatever little sightseeing my travel friend and I had done on the preceding day - Charles Bridge, the Castle, (see picture) Wenceslas Square, Old Town Square - was eclipsed by the chaotic events of that night and the next day, when Warsaw Pact and Soviet tanks rolled into the city.

The dissolution of the Soviet Union in December 1991 was followed in January 1993 by the split of Czechoslovakia into two countries: the Czech Republic and Slovakia, both parliamentary republics.

Since that time, Prague has become one of the most popular tourist attractions in Europe. It was high time for me to go back and see what I had missed 50 years ago.

Getting ready for a trip is always fun and interesting. My husband Peter and I like to read up on the history of a country and its language. (For anyone who'd like to learn more about the history of Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic, I can only recommend Mary Heimann's “Czechoslovakia: The State That Failed”.)

For our Prague trip, we were also bent on learning some Czech language basics.

In fact, I was particularly motivated to learn some Czech because my grandfather was born in Bohemia in 1880, when the region was still part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

He was born in the village of Netrebice (near Cesky Krumlov). He spoke only Czech as a child before being sent to live with an uncle in the neighboring, German-speaking region of Styria, Austria. He was five at that time. And that's how my father's family came to Austria.

WHY LEARN SOME CZECH

In our past travels, we've often found that English has its limits, that learning some of the local language has huge benefits.

For Czech, we spent fifteen minutes or so a day for three months learning to say and understand basic phrases and to practice pronunciation.

In Prague, we noticed that older people - those not in the tourist industry - often did not speak any English. That was quite understandable because during the Soviet era, Russian was the compulsory foreign language taught in all schools in Czechoslovakia.

We also noticed that younger people did tend to speak English. But, if they weren't working in the tourist industry, it sometimes had its limits.

This became clear the first night when we tried to buy milk carton with Czech languagesome breakfast items at a small neighborhood market. The young man at the cash register was able to say in English how much we owed. But he did not understand the English words jam/marmalade, butter, cereal, etc. Nor could he explain to me what the word polotucne on the milk carton meant. (I wanted to make sure I wasn't buying skim milk. In fact, it means half fat or part skim.)

In all though, we got by very well with English and, occasionally with German.

Still, learning some Czech before the trip was worth every minute. People would greet us automatically in Czech and only switched when we spoke English. By using greetings and polite phrases in Czech, we were making an effort that was clearly appreciated.

I can well imagine, that locals in Prague are sometimes overwhelmed by the hordes of tourists constantly present in their city, and by the barrage of English that often confronts them.

Don't we expect visitors to the US to greet and address us in English and not in German, French, Czech, Danish, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, etc.?

Prague well deserves its popularity as a travel destination. There is lots to do and to discover.

In addition to the exhibits, museums, and public art works that we saw – the Caltrava and Kupka exhibitions, the Mucha, Kafka, and (new) National Museum, the often controversial David Cerny sculptures here are six (6) more highlights of our stay.

1. A WALKING TOUR

With tour guide Vaclav on Charles Bridge, PragueWalking is a great way to get to know a city. Peter's sister, who had joined us in Prague, speaks German and French. So we arranged for a German-speaking guide for a four-hour walking tour the first day of our stay. (see photo on Charles Bridge)

Vaclav, whose Austrian-tinged German was delightful, took us first through the Lesser Town of Prague. With him we discovered special places we may not have found on our own.

He showed us Wallenstein's Garden, the Kampa Island, the Maltese and Grand Priory Squares, etc., and entertained and educated us with many historical facts (the fate of the Templars, the Hussites, etc.) and stories, some of them quite personal.

The John Lennon wall (see photo) had very special memories for him: John Lennon Wall, Prague

Vaclav related to us how scared he (and his parents) were when they were visited one evening by a policeman. Together with some classmates Vaclav had been part of a demonstration at the Lennon Wall during the “Prague Spring” and had not realized that they were all being filmed or photographed. He was a fourteen-year-old school boy at that time. The policeman's “advice” was easy to understand: If Vaclav wanted to finish school – he should stay away from demonstrations!

Old Town Square, Prague in 2018After the tour of the Lesser Town, we went over the Charles Bridge, to the Jewish Quarter, and finally to Old Town Square (see photo).

We waited for the famous Astronomical clock to ring at 6 PM, but in vain – it was still being repaired.

Since there were just three of us taking the tour and Vaclav's approach was quite casual, it felt like we were just having a conversation with him, not getting a tour lecture.

Such a very personal introduction to Prague at the beginning of our seven-day stay was wonderful.

2. TOUR OF PRAGUE CASTLE

View of The Castle, PraguePrague's Castle complex towers high over the river Vltava. With the original building dating back to the 9th century, the Castle area was built and rebuilt over the centuries. It now holds several palaces, three churches, a monastery, defense towers, and gardens.

It was fascinating to walk around the Castle complex. Its buildings combine architectural styles from several historical periods: Romanesque, Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, Mannerism and Neo-classic. For art lovers, the Castle's Picture Gallery and the collections in the Lobkowicz Palace are a special treat.

St. Vitus Cathedral - whose spires give Main Nave of St Vitus Cathedral, Prague in 2018the Castle its distinct presence - is not to be missed. Begun in 1344, the stunning Gothic/Neo-Gothic cathedral was finally finished in 1929. The work by the early architects, Peter Parler and his sons, Wenzel and Johannes Parler, is particularly interesting. The so-called Parler vaults (or net-vaults) are said to have heavily influenced Gothic architecture in Slovenia, Austria, and Croatia. And, art historians speculate: Did St. Vitus Cathedral influence English Gothic, or was it the other way around?

The gorgeous stained glass windows of St. Vitus Cathedral were created by Czech artists of the early 20th century. A sweet discovery was the new window in the north nave, designed by the famous Art Nouveau artist Alphonse Mucha. (It was installed in 1931.)

The way out of the Castle area took us past the Golden Lane, a narrow street with small colorful houses. Built in the late 16th century in the Mannerism style, they housed the families of Castle guards. Somehow it seemed fitting to me that Kafka lived in one of them for a year (number 22).

3. A TRAM RIDE TO VYSEHRAD

View of Prague from Vysehrad castleWe made extensive use of Prague's public transportation system. With all three of us having passed the 70 year milestone, we could use it entirely for FREE! (We could first not believe it when we wanted to buy a ticket!) Vysehrad was only a short tram ride away along the scenic Vltava River.

Originally an 11th century fortress, Vysehrad has great historical significance for Prague. Legend has it that the fort was the first seat of Czech dukes. It stands on a hill surrounded by a large park. From the walls of the fortress, you have a fantastic view of Prague and the Vltava River.

The Basilica of St. Peter and St. Paul is part of the Vysehrad complex. Inside, besides more traditional art, you'll find amazing Art Nouveau frescoes covering the walls. They are by the painter Frantisek Urban and his wife Marie Urbanova-Zahradnicka (done in the early 1900s). Dvorak's monument on Vysherad cemetery

We toured the cemetery, where many Czech luminaries are buried, including the composers Smetana and Dvorak. (By the way, Dvorak's name is a good example of how the Czech accented-r is pronounced: it's r-zh, that is r + zh, as in measure. Sorry, but my font doesn't support Czech accents.)

On the way back down to the tram stop, we had lunch at a small bistro that was obviously a favorite with locals.

4. DAY TRIP TO PILSEN

Map of Czech RepublicOn one of the days, we took a train to Pilsen, home of the famous Pilsner Urquell. The town is located about 90 kilometers (56 miles) southwest of Prague. Trains go every hour and it takes about 90 minutes to get there.

At the Pilsen train station, we looked for a tram to take us to the center of town. We didn't see a ticket dispenser, so we tried to buy tickets from the driver as we got on. There was clearly a problem. It turned out that she had run out of tickets, so we rode free again.

We've been to plenty of breweries before, so we skipped the one in Pilsen. Instead, we took a 2-hour walking tour through the historical center of town. Tatjana, our guide, started us out on Republic Square. In its center stands the Gothic Cathedral of St. Bartholomew with its high spire. (The cathedral is currently undergoing extensive renovations.)St. Bartolomew Cathedral & guilded fountain on Republic Square, Pilsen

Around the square are buildings from varying periods, including an impressive Renaissance Town Hall. A curious contrast to the historical buildings are the three modern gilded fountains (built 2010) standing at three corners of the square. They symbolize three motifs from the Pilsen coat of arms (Camel, Greyhound, and Angel), and have caused plenty of controversy. (The one on the picture is the Greyhound.)

Pilsen, with 178,000 inhabitants is the Czech Republic's fourth largest city, and capital of the Pilsen region. After the hustle and bustle of several days in Prague (1.4 million), we enjoyed the more relaxed and quiet day in Pilsen. Our tour was also quite private, as it only included a young couple from Germany besides us.

5.VIDEO EXHIBITION: INVAZE 68 (Invasion 68)

Soviet Tank with students in Prague 1968An exhibition of the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact Invasion of 1968 at the Fair Trade Palace was just being held as we were in Prague. The exhibition marked the invasion's 50th anniversary.

The show included a video installation based on photographs by the Czech-French photographer Josef Koudelka, together with authentic sound recordings.

Archival footage of the 1968 invasion by the classic Soviet Tank in flames in Prague 1968filmmaker Jan Nemec was also part of the exhibit.

The powerful images of burning tanks and trucks together with the sound recordings of gunfire brought back to me how chaotic those days were.

And how lucky my travel friend and I were to be able to get out of Prague in time.

6. WALK UP TO PETRIN PARK

View of Petrin Tower in Prague 2018 On the last day of our one-week stay in Prague, we walked up to the Petrin Park to take a last look at the city from above.

There is a Funicular Railway to the top of Petrin Hill, built for the national Jubilee Exhibition of 1891. We passed up the ride, however, for a leisurely but invigorating walk.

The path led us up through woods, past several open spaces and along the “Hunger Wall”. The story behind the name of the wall (of which about 1,300 yards remain) goes back to 1360 when Charles IV began its construction during a period of famine.

At the top of the hill stands the Petrin Lookout Tower, a small version of the Eiffel Tower. The Petrin View of Prague from Petrin Tower, Prague in 2018Tower was built as part of the 1891 Exhibition, only two years after the completion of the original. At 200 feet high, this famous Prague landmark is about one-fifth of the height of the real Eiffel Tower.

We took the lift up the tower, though you can also walk up via 299 stairs.

The view from the lookout platform was magnificent. We had hit a clear day and could see far and wide beyond Prague into the verdant region of Bohemia.

OTHER THOUGHTS

I was glad to have visited Prague again. My memories of tanks, people running, long lines of shoppers in front of dark facades and buildings in disrepair have been replaced.

What I remember now is a modern city, with modern architecture, side by side with well-restored Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque buildings and the charm of times passed.

The Czech Republic was only born in January 1993 after the peaceful dissolution of Czechoslovakia. However, this year the country also celebrates the 100-year anniversary of the formation of Czechoslovakia, the initial multi-cultural state that formed in 1918 after the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

We heard that relations between Czechs and Slovaks are better now than during the 75 years when they both were part of one country.

For anyone visiting Prague, we can only recommend staying in New Town. There are fewer tourists, and you can walk and use public transport to wherever you want to go.

And, if you are a beer lover, you'll like both Czech beers and their prices.

Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of GamesforLanguage.com. She's a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, the Netherlands, and Canada. You can follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram, and leave any comments right here below! 

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

Memories of the Soviet Invasion of Czechoslovakia, August 21, 1968

I recently came across a newspaper clip from September 1968, that I had found among my late father's belongings:

He had published excerpts from my (German) letter to my parents in the “Canada Kurier”, a German newspaper in Winnipeg, Canada under the title: “Erlebnisse und Eindrücke eines Besuches in Prag”. (Experiences and Impressions of a visit to Prague)

In the letter, I wrote how I had experienced the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia on August 21, 1968, while in Prague. (I also found a few of my old photographs.)

It may be hard to imagine today why a young Canadian would be scared by such a situation.

But as an Austrian immigrant to Canada, I still remembered the Russian occupation of Vienna after the War. And the Iron Curtain was still a real and psychological barrier for many Europeans at that time.

How I Got to Prague

On Monday August 19th, 1968, an American friend and I arrived in Prague. A student from Canada, I had spent the year as an exchange teacher for English in Freiburg, Germany.

I was off for the summer and in my old Volkswagen Beetle, my friend Harris Ulrike's old VWBeetleand I drove from the Black Forest, to Bavaria and into Austria.

On our way to Vienna, we decided to take a detour to Prague, Czechoslovakia, to see what the "Prague Spring" was actually like.

We had heard that Alexander Dubcek, First secretary of the Presidium of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, had started a reform program to establish "communism with a human face". The period of political liberalization got to be known as the "Prague Spring".

Dubcek had vehemently reassured Moskow that Czechoslovakia had no intention of leaving the Warsaw Pact (a political alliance between the Soviet Union and several Eastern European countries, established in May 1955).

We arrived in Prague late afternoon on Monday, August 19th, 1968 and got accommodations at a student residence. There they rented rooms over the summer to tourists. [I don't know if that particular one still exists, but it was located about 4.5 km from the city center.]

The Published Excerpts From My Letter (Freely translated and edited)

Tuesday [August 20th], we toured the city: the Town Hall with its old astronomical clock, the Synagogue, the Castle, Kafka's house, the Charles Bridge. Street art on Charles Bridge, Ptague, August 21, 1968On the bridge, hippies drew modern religious images and Dubcek slogans with chalk onto the sidewalks. Some of the young people were singing folk songs.

In the evening, before returning to the student residence, we strolled by the Vltava river and chatted [in German] with one of the locals. He painted us a rosy picture of growing freedom in his country.

That night I dreamt of grey airplanes in my room but I didn't sleep badly.

The next morning [Wednesday, August 21st], as I was in the women's washroom for a shower, a man rushed in and looked for his wife. He was Italian and kept shouting "russi, russi".

Later, at the reception, we were told that Soviet troops had unexpectedly entered the city with tanks and armored vehicles. It was to be a full fledged occupation.

Our first thought: Let's get out of here. We checked out of the student residence and tried to find gas for the car. But that seemed like a hopeless undertaking. We were told that all gas stations had been out fuel for hours.

So we drove to the train station to call the Canadian and American embassies. But there we encountered Soviet tanks and troops.

We didn't want to leave the car on the street. For now, it seemed best to stay calm, get a place to stay and to wait and see.

Lines in font of food store, Prague August 21, 1968We drove back to the student residence and were lucky to get beds again for the night. We left the car there and walked back into the city center.

In front of the grocery stores, we saw long lines of people hoping to stock up on food.

An open truck drove down our street. On it people were waving flags. A bystander told us that they were chanting "long live Dubcek".

As we got closer to Wenceslas Square, we heard shots. But when we got there, things had calmed down.

A large crowd of people had gathered on the square in passive demonstration.

A little farther on, we saw that the National Museum was riddled with bullets. When we asked a passerby why that building, he said: "Why, yes, why? They are Russians and they don't need a reason. Today, the 21st of August is a historic day for us".

Right then, a huge cloud of smoke rose up and we could smell rubber and gasoline. At the same time we heard the noise of automatic rifles and tank guns. Our passerby told us: "Oh, that's Radio Prague being blown up".

Armored tanks thundered by. The soldiers on them shot periodically into the air. All around, people shouted and cursed, refusing to be intimidated.

Finding the Embassies

When things calmed down again, we took a side street and walked in the direction of the Canadian and American embassies. It seemed like a good idea to register with them.

But the embassies weren't that close. And to get there, we had to cross the Vltava River. The bridges were all guarded by soldiers in tanks. As pedestrians we could still move around freely, but traffic was at a standstill.

We were afraid that once across the Vltava River, we would be cut off from our student residence.

Besides, a large part of the occupying forces were located around the Prague Castle, where Svoboda and Dubcek were being "isolated". The embassies were just around the corner from there.

[Ludvic Svoboda was president of Czechoslovakia from 1968 to 1975. He achieved great popularity by resisting the Soviet Union's demands during and after its invasion of August 1968. (Brittanica)]

Still, we continued on and crossed the Vltava River over the Charles Bridge. Just like the local pedestrians, we zigzagged our way through the rows of armored vehicles that stood guard there.

A group of soldiers called something to a young woman. She swore back at them. They cursed in return. The woman lifted her fist and shouted "Heil Hitler". It wasn't the first time that such a comparison was made. Swastikas had been chalked on some of the walls and we even saw one on the inner side of a tank wheel.

Russian armored vehicle, Prague, August  21, 1968Local Czechs clustered around armored vehicles and spoke with the soldiers. Some even handed out flyers to the troops.

Later, we met an Englishman who told us the following: His girlfriend, who was Russian, had spoken with some of the soldiers. They told her that many of the occupying Soviet or Warsaw Pact soldiers were surprised to be in Prague and not in Poland. Others only knew that they were fighting a "counter revolution". Still others only shook their head and said: "We don't know anything, we only follow orders."

We finally reached both the American and the Canadian embassies and left our names there.

By now it was three in the afternoon and it seemed wise to return to the student residence.

After all, we had a long walk in front of us and who knew what problems we would still encounter. Luckily, going back over the Charles Bridge went without a hitch.

But now all bridges were being guarded even more heavily. On all larger streets stood rows of armored vehicles.

On the public squares you could see an increased number of soldiers, each with an automatic rifle.

It seemed to me, though, that their uniforms looked a little ragged and not really adequate for an occupying force.

Food and Gasoline

The lines in front of the grocery stores had not gotten shorter. We needed bread, but couldn't find any. All we could get was a package of crackers and beer.

A few people carrying flags were still walking around or driving back and forth in small cars. Some of the flags were torn and spattered with blood.

We heard shouts of "Dubcek, Svoboda". But in general, people were passive. Once we arrived at the student residence, we knew we were in for a long evening.

Upstairs while we ate, we discussed our "gas problem". We knew we had enough gas for about 40 km. But the nearest border crossing was at Gmünd into Austria, and that was about 175 km away.

Other border crossings were even farther and we feared running into a blockade or being forced to take detours.

An East German man from Leipzig explained to us how utterly hopeless the situation was. But he mentioned that the only station that still sold gas was only about a kilometer away. We hopped into the car and drove there.

A long line and a long wait, just to get 10 liters of gas. It was not enough to reach the border, but it was something.

Information and Rumors

In the hall of the student residence, the radio brought the news, always the same bad news. Everything seems so unreal.

Waking up in the morning of Thursday, August 22 we heard no airplanes, only the constant noise of Soviet trucks bringing supplies, cannons, and new troops.

In the women's washroom - the place where we got our first information of the day - one rumor had it that it was impossible to leave the country by car.

Nor were there any trains back to the east block countries or to the west.

There were also other rumors:

  • All border crossings were blocked, except the crossing at Gmünd to Austria;
  • or, the best way to leave was via Hungary;
  • or, the only crossing that was open was the one at Waidhaus in the direction of Pilsen;
  • or, the Vtlava River was blocked everywhere, no chance to cross it;
  • or, some tourists had tried to leave the country and were sent back, etc.

People like us were beginning to feel a little desperate.

It was impossible to call either of our embassies, all telephone connections were cut off.

A man who spoke both Czech and German said that the Austrian embassy advised all tourists to leave the country as soon as they could. We knew we had to act.

Being Lucky

We lined up once more at the gas station. With an extra note, we bribed the attendant to go over the usual ration and fill our tank.

An American student, who had no hope of leaving Prague by train, asked to join us.

Together with him, we discussed how to proceed: either via Budweis to Freistadt or to Gmünd, depending on the information we could get.

With some difficulty we got through the city by car. We had to avoid the heavily guarded areas. And even though locals kindly tried to help us, they were too upset to think clearly.

Outside of the cities, we saw confusing road signs. Some of them were obviously turned the wrong way and pointed north to Moskau. Others had different place names written over them.

In the villages along the road people gave us fliers. In one town they tossed flowers to us as we drove by. In many places, the names Dubcek and Svoboda were written in chalk on the road.

About an hour before the border, we came across another gas station and could fill up again.

A woman said we definitely needed to drive to the Gmünd border crossing.

On our way there we caught up twice to a convoy of tanks. It was easy to recognize the Soviet tanks. They had a thick white stripe on their frame.

At the border, there was only a normal line of cars waiting to cross. We didn't see any Soviet vehicles.

Later we heard that Gmünd really had been the only open border crossing at that time. A man we talked to had first tried crossing at three other places and but was turned back by Soviet soldiers.

We also heard that Soviet tanks were supposed to arrive at Budweis at 5 o'clock. Half of them would continue on in the direction of Gmünd to close the border there.

I guess we'd been really lucky. In Viennese, you'd say we had "a Masl".

Postscript:

I only learned later how lucky we indeed had been: There were over 100 people killed during the invasion. We never saw any of the battles, especially those around the radio station (about which we only heard rumors and sporadic gunfire).

If you're interested to learn more about the Prague Spring or Czechoslovakia, I'd suggest Mary Heimann's book "Czechoslovakia: The State That Failed". We are currently reading it in preparation for our visit to Prague later this year. It provides an excellent account of the birth of the multinational state of Czechoslovakia in 1918, its tribulations before and during the Hitler years, the period of Communist rule, and its dissolution on December 31, 1992.

Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of GamesforLanguage.com. She's a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, the Netherlands, and Canada. You can follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram, and leave any comments right here below! (And if you'd like to read the original German version, just send us a note to contact.)

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

3 Tips for Your Next Adventure Travel Trip

Travelers discussing planMaybe you're an adventure traveler who likes to explore a country on your own. But traveling to a country where you don't understand the language can be intimidating.

Yes, you can tell yourself, everyone speaks English. But actually not everyone does, and certainly not in areas that are off the beaten track. Or in areas that don't care that much about speaking English.

That last point was driven home to us during our one-month stay in Seville, Spain. One night when we tried to withdraw money from an ATM, the machine went on the blink during the withdrawal.

Our card was withheld, and "for technical reasons" the machine was unable to issue us the cash we had requested (though, as we found out the next day, the money had been withdrawn from our account after all – see for the full story: 5 Tips For Dealing With ATM Troubles Abroad - And At Home).

To our surprise, our several conversations with the bank manager (to get our card and our cash back) had to be done in Spanish. He proudly told us that he "did not speak English". The one employee of the bank who supposedly spoke English, didn't really.

Our Spanish turned out to be much better than his English. Still, using Spanish banking language proved to be quite a challenge and we had to brush up on it quickly.

That kind of experience has taught us a few things about preparing for our trips to foreign countries.

To prepare for our "slow travel" adventures - they include unhurried stays in Rome, Paris, Berlin, Barcelona, Seville, Madrid, Copenhagen, Stockholm and Amsterdam - we made sure to learn some language basics and to find out about cultural differences.

1. Practice the Phrases You Might Use

To prepare for speaking the local language on your travels, Practice where you can cartoonyou need to practice. But you need to especially practice words, phrases and sentences that you are likely to use.

Greetings, please and thank you, numbers, question words, asking for directions, language for shopping, - all these are helpful, especially if you go outside of larger cities.

Obviously, you can't prepare for all occasions and emergencies, as we found out in Seville. But it didn't take us long to learn some of the key banking terminology either.

A good part of your language practice can be done on your own. To do that, nothing beats online sites that have audio and text, and which teach you the practical vocabulary you need.

You can pace yourself, you don't have to worry about making mistakes, and you can practice until the phrases you want to learn become automatic.

Words and Phrases

As I'm acquiring a new language right now - Czech - in preparation for a week's stay in Prague, I'm experiencing the challenge of learning totally unfamiliar words and sounds.

I find that it takes persistent practice to learn new words and their spelling with the goal to get them into my long-term memory.

Not only do I repeat the words often, and practice them in a kind of "spaced repetition", I also make sure I recall them frequently.

Learning vocabulary in "chunks" (meaningful phrases) is better than just learning individual words.

Once you have a set phrase, such as asking "Where is ...? or "How much is ...?" or requesting "I'd like ..." or "Please give me ...", you can put in other words to suit different situations.

Numbers

We discovered during trips to Japan and China that the most useful vocabulary we learned were the numbers.

The need to understand and say numbers came up again and again as we visited markets, paid in restaurants, requested tickets, asked for information, etc.

Listening practice

Young women during listening practiceClearly, understanding the rapid speech of native speakers is more difficult than speaking phrases and sentences that you've practiced.

So, learning to listen without translating is also really worth practicing. Especially with the kind of vocabulary that you are learning.

At the very least you'll get the gist of the responses people give you.

Pronunciation

Practicing pronunciation goes hand in hand with learning the words, phrases and sentences you want to use. No doubt, it's your goal to be understood when you speak. It therefore helps to practice out loud.

To get your pronunciation good enough, listen carefully to the native speaker and repeat what you hear. 

Some words and phrases may be easy to pronounce. Others might take a lot of practice because they contain sounds that are not part of your native language. Foreign sounds are a challenge because you may not hear them correctly at first.

2. Learn About Cultural Differences

Interacting with others who are from a different cultural background and speak another language is so much more pleasant when you understand some of the cultural assumptions they may have.

Yes, seeing YouTube videos about the social and cultural gaffes some people commit can be quite funny. And people are often very forgiving.

Still, understanding and respecting the values and traditions of others will help you engage positively with them. It will also make you more confident as a language learner.

Formal and familiar forms of address

English has one word for "you", but many other languages have two or more.

Because of the single "you", English speakers just doesn't have the ear for some of the situational differences that dictate a specific form.

Learning when to use the formal as opposed to the familiar forms of address is a must.

Differences in age, social class, type of business, etc. impact on some of the "rules" for using the formal versus the familiar "you". Also, these rules change over time.

The Internet has added some confusion to the issue since age, profession, or social class are usually not visible for participants in group discussions. Often the familiar "you" (German "du", French "tu", Italian "tu", Spanish "tú") is automatically used by all and feels friendly.

Still, if you're in another country and walk into a shop, you'll certainly want to use the formal, polite "you".

Hand GesturesHand gestures

Becoming sensitive to non-verbal clues in another culture, such as hand gestures and facial expressions, is also important.

While a certain gesture may be respectful in one culture it may be rude in another.

Read more in LingoHut's guest blog post Are There Right or Wrong Hand Gestures? 

Personal Space

When we travel, we often become quite aware of how close people stand to us, including strangers in public spaces.

In some countries, we may feel we are being crowded. For example, people in "contact cultures" (e.g. Southern European countries, South America, Middle East) stand closer and touch more than people in "non-contact cultures" (e.g. Northern European countries, North America, Asia). (Amanda Eriksen, Washington Post) 

Just know that such differences exist and be aware of how you react to a person who handles personal space differently from you.

Sense of Time

Woman showing timeTime is another factor where cultural differences occur. Not understanding them can cause unneeded friction even between people who are well-meaning and friendly.

Countries where public transportation and trains run on a precise schedule give you a different experience, as opposed to places where schedules slide and are unpredictably flexible.

The way we perceive and handle time also affects scheduling personal get-togethers. We all have expectations and reactions regarding punctuality and lateness.

But a people's culture isn't just levels of politeness, the experience of personal space, or the perception of social time. When you visit a country or region, it's also worthwhile to learn about its history and traditions.

No doubt, you can learn about cultural differences without learning a language. But inversely, if you acquire another language, learning about the culture that has evolved with it is a must.

3. Don't Be Afraid to Use the Language You've Learned

Once you're in the country where the language is spoken, it's up to you to find ways to engage in conversations with native speakers.

Of course, such conversations are very different from practicing online or Smiling woman in conversationeven practicing with a tutor (which you obviously could also consider as part of your travel preparations.)

In a conversation so much is going on at the same time. As you listen to your conversation partner and try to understand what the flow of sounds coming at you means, your mind is also working on a possible answer.

It may sound simplistic, but it's true: You can't learn to engage in foreign language conversations unless you do it. Start with baby steps and keep building.

Insist on using the local language at the market, in restaurants and bars, at the bakery, at the supermarket, when asking for directions.

You'll certainly encounter situations when the other person would rather practice his or her English – especially when their English is better than your new language. It's easy to succumb to such an offer, but try to resist.

Such situations are especially true in countries where many speak English. But in rural areas or places off the beaten track you'll certainly have the opportunity to practice what you've learned.

I've always found that locals are very supportive of my attempts at using their language. Often it has led to further conversations about their city, about travels, about my home country, etc.

And if you are also a practitioner of "slow travel" and are staying in a city for a longer period, you may be able to engage a tutor. Or you could personally meet an online conversation partner you found via one of the many language-exchange sites.

Even knowing just the basics of the local language will enhance your travel experience. And being able to listen and participate in conversations will get you to another level.

If you're an adventure traveler who likes to explore a country on your own, learn as much of the local language as you can before you get there. You won't regret it.

Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of GamesforLanguage.com. She's a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, the Netherlands, and Canada. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and leave any comments right here!

Posted on by Peter Rettig

European Travels 9 – Fribourg: Kaeserberg, Languages, and more...

Upper and Lower City of Fribourg, SwitzerlandYou may never have heard of the chemins de fer du Kaeserberg.

And unless you live in Europe or are familiar with Switzerland, you may draw a blank when you hear the name Fribourg, or its German name, Freiburg (“im Uechtland”).

Perhaps you're more familiar with the city's German cousin Freiburg (“im Breisgau”), a picturesque university town located in Southern Germany's Black Forest.

Well, Fribourg is the capital of the Canton of Fribourg, (see picture above). It is located on the cultural border between German- and French-speaking Switzerland and the seat of the country's only bilingual university.

Every February, for over ten years now, Ulrike and I have visited my sister in Fribourg before heading to the Berner Oberland for some skiing.

While in the city, we always make some new discoveries. This year it was the Chemins de fer du Kaeserberg". And, we always take advantage of learning more about languages and enjoying Swiss food specialties.

Our Swiss experience typically begins in Zurich after an overnight flight from Boston.

Zurich Airport to Fribourg

One of the pleasures of traveling in Switzerland is the ease of train travel.Zurich Airport - Fribourg Map

We now know that there is a direct train from Zurich Airport to Fribourg that runs every hour. We often don't have to wait long after buying our train ticket.

A few years ago though, we didn't have time to buy a train ticket. So we just boarded the train.

The conductor didn't come by until after the next stop, which is Zurich Main Station. We told him that we had boarded the train without tickets at the airport. He sold us the tickets and was nice enough to waive the penalty fee.

You can no longer purchase tickets on the train, and penalties have increased if you're caught without a ticket.

However, if you don't have time to buy a ticket at the counter or ticket machine, you can now easily purchase the tickets online with your smart phone.

Just download the free SBB Mobile app for iOS or Android devices to check time tables, purchase tickets, make seat reservations, etc.

Our 2018 Fribourg Discovery: Chemins de Fer du Kaeserberg

Over the years we have visited many of Fribourg's sights, the Cathedrale St-Nicholas, the picturesque lower town you can get down to with a Funicular, the Espace Jean Tinguely-Niki de Saint Phalle in the Musee D'Art et D'Histoire Fribourg, the Musee Gutenberg, etc.

During our visit this year, we spent a whole afternoon in theChemins de fer du Kaeserberg model at night Musee des Chemins de Fer du Kaeserberg.

If you're a model railway enthusiast, the railway museum is nothing short of a feast. But anyone from 4 to 90 years old will enjoy this technical marvel.

The model railway was a childhood dream of Marc Antiglio. He had taken over the family construction business as a young man and worked on his dream throughout his adult life.

(I had met Marc over 40 years ago when I worked for a few years in Fribourg as a structural engineer.)

It took Marc 17 years to fully realize his dream: A model railway exhibit on three levels, in a custom-designed, multi-level, state-of-the-art building with solar collectors, a geothermal heating system. All of this was completed just a few years ago.

Built at a scale of 1:87, the model exhibit occupies an area of about 6,500 sf, with currently over 6,000 ft of rails (both H0, 16.5 mm, and H0m, 12.0 mm).

The rolling stock consists of 300 locomotives and 1,650 wagons and cars, many of which are stored and can be accessed on the depot/station, the first level the visitor encounters when entering.

Lake Scene @ Chemins de fer du KaeserbergThe attention to detail in building and landscape design is amazing. The model imagines a Swiss landscape around 1990, with villages, buildings, railway stations, cars, and people, plus circus tents, lakes and ships – so realistic - that you need to look twice to see that they are not real.

Even the background photos of sky and mountains blend in seamlessly.

The introductory video for the visitors we saw was in French with German subtitles. In it, Marc Antiglio recalls how he got fascinated by trains as a little boy. He explains the many challenges he and his team of dedicated professionals and volunteers had to overcome to create the model. (Marc speaks with a slight "Fribourgois" accent. If you want to learn more watch this video on French accents and and French pronunciation.)

We had a wonderful time watching the many trains going through tunnels, over bridges, stopping at and leaving the stations. In the night mode, the changing lights created magic images.

The exhibit is open to the public at certain days during each week, and private visits can be arranged on other days. Check the website for the opening days and hours.

(If you wonder about the name “Kaeserberg” - it has nothing to do with the German word “Käse/Kaese” (cheese), but is the name of Marc Antiglio's late friend, who was instrumental in supporting Marc's passion.)

More about Fribourg

View of Fribourg upper and lower cityIn the past, the language lines in the city of Fribourg were drawn rather clearly: In the lower town, since the city's founding in the 12th century, people spoke mostly a Swiss German dialect. In fact it was the official language until about 1800.

In fact, today the language spoken on the streets of la basse-ville (lower town) is a mix of Swiss German and French called le bolze. This swissinfo.ch article - Nei, dasch zvüu, tu me connais! - (No, that's too much, you know me!) not only gives some wonderful examples of typical bolze expressions, but also more details of Fribourg's linguistic history. (Sorry, it's in French and does not solve the origin mystery of  French bolze" or German bolz”.)

With the industrialization and the influx of French immigrants, the French population in the upper town became the majority in the 19th century. (see picture of upper and lower town)

By the year 2000, nearly 64% of its 38,000 inhabitants spoke French as their first language, and only 21% German. Italian was third with about 4%.

In restaurants, cafes, and shops, etc. you hear a mixture of French, Swiss German, and Swiss standard German, which curiously is called “Schriftdeutsch” (written German). Increasingly, you also hear other languages. In 2008 nearly 32% of the population were resident foreign nationals.

The term “Schriftdeutsch” - written German - is used to distinguish Swiss standard German from the spoken Swiss German dialect.

Swiss German children learn to speak Swiss German at home. They start to learn “Schriftdeutsch” in first grade and likely French a couple of years later.

That's about the same time that Swiss French-speaking children learn “Schriftdeutsch” as a second language. Also, in many schools children learn English already in fourth grade.

From discussions with family, friends and acquaintances in Fribourg, we've gained the impression that there are more German speakers who are fluent in French, than French speakers who are also fluent in German.

We don't know why that would be. Maybe it's because French speakers are now the majority in Fribourg, or learning French as a third language (after “Schriftdeutsch) is “easier” for Swiss German speakers, or maybe Swiss Germans feel a more personal or economic need to be bilingual than their French speaking compatriots.

A visit to the local market provided a non-representative sample, as most of the Swiss German-speaking farmers easily switched to French, while French-speaking bakers and butchers had more difficulty speaking German.

Language can still be a divisive issue

While the casual observer may be pleasantly surprised by the city's apparent bilingualism, language in Fribourg - as in other Swiss cities and towns that are located on a language and cultural fault line - is often still a divisive issue.

Not much has changed since swissinfo.ch covered this issue in 2004, citing both Biel (where French speakers are the minority of the population, with 28 %) and Fribourg as examples. Family connections, social status, school locations, etc. all influence parents' decisions which language path their children should pursue.

In 2017 the Swiss Bilingualism Foundation awarded Rapper Greis (alias for Grégoire Vuilleumier) that year's “prize for bi- and plurilingualism”. Listen to his “Enfant des Etoiles” song which switches between Swiss German and French.

It certainly seems that in a small country like Switzerland (about 8 million inhabitants), being bilingual or at least being fluent in two of the major languages, German and French, should have great professional and personal benefits.

A couple of years ago just as we were visiting Fribourg, Happy in Fribourg songthe local Newspaper, La Liberté, reported that local film makers had adapted Pharrell Williams' song Happy” from the movie Despicable Me 2” to Fribourg, similar to what other Swiss cities have done. You can watch the YouTube video which shows many images of Fribourg.

(You may recognize Ulrike in one of the video's scenes while she was at the weekly farmer's market.)

Now Our Swiss Tradition: Cheese Fondue or Raclette

Before heading to Gstaad and Schoenried (more about that in a future post), we typically will have a Cheese Fondue or Raclette with our family.

La Fondue (au fromage)

Probably the best-known dish of Switzerland is a cheese “fondue”. The word is French and comes from the verb “fondre” meaning “to melt”. Used as a noun, “fondue” is the feminine form of the past participle “fondu”. (larousse.fr)

Young women eating cheese fondueFondue has a lengthy history in Switzerland. The recipe “Käss mit Wein zu kochen” (cheese cooked with wine) was first mentioned in a Zurich manuscript in 1699.

La fondue” showed up in 18th century culinary literature as “oeufs brouillés au fromage fondu”, scrambled eggs with melted cheese (as noted in the dictionary, Le petit Robert). The dish was particularly popular in the western French-speaking cantons, and there mostly among city dwellers who could afford the rich cheese.

Fondue, as we know it, dates back to around the middle of the 19th century and by 1875, it was named a Swiss national dish. In the 1930s, the Swiss Cheese Union (Schweizerische Käseunion) used the idea of a national dish for its own marketing purposes. That kind of promotion was continued after WWII.

Fondue was popularized in the US in the 1960s, helped by being showcased in the Swiss Pavilion at the 1964 World's Fair in New York.

The traditional fondue is served in a fondue pot (un caquelon), which is kept warm over a chafing dish (un réchaud). To make the fondue smooth, you add cornstarch to the cheese mixture as it heats. Each one of you gets a long thin fork for spearing chunks of bread (or sometimes potatoes), which you then dip into the cheese. Eating fondue is definitely a social event that also includes plenty of white wine and/or tea.

Various traditions are observed: for example, if you drop your bread into the pot, you pay a round of wine, or a pot of hot tea.

Cheese Fondue Variations

Many of the Swiss cantons have their own version of fondue, using different combinations of cheeses. For those who want to try, this Epicurious post will give you the recipe for making a perfect traditional Swiss Fondue. Being frequent travelers to Fribourg, the two fondues we know best are the Fondue Fribourgeoise, and the Fondue Moitié-Moitié.

Fondue Fribourgeoise

Fondue Fribourgeoise is prepared with 100% local Vacherin Swiss Vacherin Cheesecheese. Vacherin from Fribourg is a medium-firm cheese made from cow's milk, as the name - vache (cow) - implies.

The cheese is melted in a few tablespoons of water over low heat. To our knowledge, this is the only cheese fondue that does not use wine. Often you dip pieces of potato instead of bread.

Fondue Moitié-Moitié

Moitié-Moitié (or half-half), as its name states, uses Gruyère and Vacherin cheese in equal parts. This fondue is made with white wine, (dry and high in acid) and for flavor a shot of kirsch is often added to the mixture. You eat it by dipping chunks of bread.

La Raclette

Traditional Raclette serving Our foray into the world of melted (Swiss) cheese would not be complete without mentioning the “Raclette”. The name is derived from the French “racler”, meaning “to grate or scrape” and that clearly describes the method in which it is served: The melted cheese is scraped off the roasted/heated end of a large piece, most commonly a half a wheel of cheese (as in this picture).

The Raclette Suisse site traces Raclette's origins to the 13th century. In the German-speaking cantons, convent writings mention Bratchäs” (roasted cheese - note the Swiss spelling of Käse”) already in 1291 as a nutritious food for mountain cow herders.

Raclette cheese is made of raw milk and many variations exist. Only the “Raclette du Valais” is a protected brand under Swiss law.

The traditional method melts the half-wheel of cheese, either right at an open fire place, or in restaurants, with an electric heater. The Raclette cook/server scrapes the melted cheese off unto each customer's plate. (see photo above, courtesy of: Grcampbell-Wikipedia Commons).

The modern, self-serve version uses small pans in which Modern Raclette to heat Raclette cheese pieces right at the table with a special gadget (as in this picture).

In either case, “Gschwellti” - Swiss German for potatoes boiled in their skin -  are served with gherkins, pickled onions, and often preceded or accompanied by dried meat, such as “Bündnerfleisch” or “viande des Grisons” or “jambon cru”.

A Raclette evening, during which the meal is served the traditional way to a large table, is a social event that can last for hours.

As with cheese fondue, locals will warn you not to drink cold water. It doesn't mix well with the hot cheese. However, hot tea, a “Kirsch” (cherry), “Poire” (pear), or “Framboise” (raspberry) Schnaps come highly recommended.

Raclette and Fondue (whether the cheese or meat variety) always make for a lively, social dining experience.

Even after the taste and smells of melted cheese have faded in your memory, you'll certainly remember the fun you had with your family and friends sharing such a meal in a warm and cozy mountain hut after a hard day of skiing, snowboarding, or hiking.

The best kind of travels are those where you can linger in a place, make discoveries, learn new things, and try out new tastes.

It's a kind of “slow travel” that lets you soak in some of the local language, history, and customs. You have time to explore different neighborhoods, go to various cafés, bars and restaurants, and visit local shops and markets.

And if you've learned a new language for your trip, you'll have the chance to try out what you've learned. That's one of the great pleasures of travel: Get that sense of accomplishment as you stretch your boundaries.

Bio: Peter Rettig is the co-founder of Gamesforlanguage.com. He is a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. You can follow him on FacebookTwitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact or below.

 

Posted on by Ulrike & Peter Rettig

European Travels 8 – Denmark: Zealand and Copenhagen

Kronborgslot in Helsingør, DenmarkThis continues our European Travel 7 post From Sylt to Zealand.

Before heading into Copenhagen, we wanted to explore the northern part of the island of Zealand. There was one castle in particular that interested us.

Kronborgslot

Kronborgslot, a 16th century castle, located at the very tip of Helsingør and overlooking the Øresund across to Sweden, may very well be Denmark's most famous castle.

It's the castle that Shakespeare called Elsinore in his play Hamlet.

Since 1816, every year in August, and only interrupted by World War II, the Hamlet festival attracts not only thousands of visitors, but also the world's greatest actors.

While we regretfully missed the festival, we were surprised how many names of actors we recognized in the Festival's “Hall of Fame”.

They include Sir Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh, Gustaf Gründgens, Kronborgslot courtyard n Helsingør, DenmarkSir John Gielgud, Michael Redgrave, Richard Burton as well as Michael Caine, Christopher Plummer, Kenneth Branagh, Jude Law, and other more recent ones.

Since the year 2000 Kronborg Castle has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has been called one of the most important Renaissance castles of northern Europe.

In 1574 King Frederick II started construction to transform the Krogen (the castle's original name) into a Renaissance castle, which was finished in 1585.

A tour of the grounds and through the building let us appreciate its strategic location, as well as its significance as a sign of the power and wealth of King Frederick II.

When a fire destroyed a large part in 1629, King Christian IV had it rebuilt. Besieged and captured by the Swedes in 1658, the castle also lost many of its art treasures. For close to 150 years it was used to house the army and only in 1923, after a thorough renovation, it was opened to the public.

The Maritime Museum of Denmark

Martime Museum of Denmark courtyardOn our way from the parking lot to the Kronborg Castle, we came by what looked like, and indeed was a former dry dock: the Maritime Museum of Denmark.

We have to admit that it wasn't on our museum list, although it should have been. As we learned from the website:

In 2014 the museum was listed as one of The New York Times’ recommended ‘52 places to go in 2014’ and voted the best cultural building worldwide by archdaily.com – the world’s most visited architecture website. In October 2014, BBC made a list of the 8 greatest new museums in the world which featured the Maritime Museum of Denmark. In January 2015, National Geographic listed 10 structures that it recommended traveling to for the design alone, and the Maritime Museum of Denmark was one of them.

inside Maritime Museum of DenmarkIndeed, the museum is not only an architectural delight, but for an avid sailor and fan of everything nautical like myself, I probably enjoyed this visit even more than walking through any castle.

I have been to many maritime museums, visited old sailing ships, destroyers, aircraft carriers, battle ships and submarines. But, never have I seen the maritime history and life on sea as comprehensively depicted and exhibited. The whole experience was stunning.

Walking down the sloped exhibition floors and taking in the various exhibits with great sound and video effects was informative and fascinating.

(There is a discount if you visit both the Kronborg Castle and the Maritime Museum the same day.)

As we continued to explore the countryside of northern Zealand with its green pastures and little villages, we could not forgo visiting another important castle and museum.

Frederiksborgslot

Frederiksborgslot isFrederiksborgslot with lake another picture-perfect Danish Renaissance castle which also houses the Danish Museum of National History.

From Kronborg Castle it's only a half hour drive (or 17 miles) to Hillerød where Frederiksborg Castle faces the town across a small lake.

King Frederick II acquired the original castle in 1560 and gave it its name.

King Christian IV, in the early decades of the 17th century, substantially expanded and made it the largest Renaissance castle in Scandinavia. (You may remember from above that Christian IV was also responsible for rebuilding Kronborg Castle after a fire had destroyed a large part it.)

The castle was used as a main royal residence for the first 100 years. It later fell into disuse until Frederick VII began to occupy it again in 1848.

After a fire in 1859 destroyed much of the interior and roofs, its fate was uncertain, until Jacob Christian Jacobsen, the founder of the Carlsberg Breweries, restored it. In 1877, he proposed to make it the home of the Danish Museum of National History.

A branch of the Carlsberg Foundation, to whom Jacobsen bequeathed his fortune, still runs the museum and castle today.

Our tour through the museum took us through Frederiksborgslot Great Hallseveral hundred years of Danish history from the Middle Ages to the 21st century.

We could fully appreciate the size of castle property by looking from the castle across the lake to the Barock garden, with its terraces, trees, hedges, and fountains. (see picture)

We also became aware of an interesting tradition for choosing the names of Danish Kings, which started in the 16th century:

After Christian II (1513 –1523) - and until Margrethe II became Queen in 1972 - Danish kings were called either Frederick or Christian. Curiously enough, no one could explain to us the tradition's origin.

And – a little more Scandinavian royal history – the son of Fredrick VIII (1906-1912), Prince Carl of Denmark, became one of the few elected monarchs in modern history. Norway recruited him and, King Haakon VII, he became the first king of Norway after the 1905 dissolution of Norway's union with Sweden.

Louisiana Museum of Modern Art

Louisiana Museum Sculpture parkFrederiksborg Castle and the Museum of National History were just the first examples of philanthropic endeavors we encountered in Denmark. We saw several more in Copenhagen. And, the Louisiana belongs in that group as well.

We had heard about the museum as a must see when in the Copenhagen area. Its name already intrigued us and we soon found out from the guide book:

The name Louisiana, pleasant and lilting in Danish, has a curious story in its own right: the original villa (a 19th century country house) was named for its first owner's marriages to no fewer than three women named Louise.”

The Louisiana was already a different type of museum when Knud W. Jensen founded it and opened its doors in 1958.

When we visited it now nearly 60 years later, the setting overlooking the Sound, was still amazing. The various galleries meander through the garden and sculpture park.

The architecture by Danish architects Vilhelm Wohlert and Jørgen Bo was clearly inspired by the German Bauhaus (a school founded by the architect Walter Gropius, in 1919 in Weimar).

Jensen, we understood, was very much the third architect and he kept expanding and building until his death in 2000.

The result is a structure that creates wonderful exhibition spaces for modern art collections of photography, paintings, sculptures, videos, etc.

The Giacometti Gallery with its many sculptures and reflectionsLouisiana sculpture from the lake below is one of the highlights.

There are Picassos and Warhols, Lichtensteins, and works by Ai Weiwei, and Danish artists we were not familiar with.

Special exhibitions of international and Danish artists change periodically.

During our visit we experienced the first major retrospective presentation of the controversial body and performance artist Marina Abramovic.

Even if modern art is not your thing – experiencing the Louisiana should be on your Copenhagen itinerary.

(It's 25 miles north of Copenhagen. If you don't have a car: On the Danish State Railway (DSB), the Sound coastal route takes about 35 minutes from Copenhagen’s Central Station and 10 minutes from Helsingør. From Humlebæk Station, it is a 10-minute walk to the museum. You can buy e-tickets in advance on the site link above.)

Copenhagen

After traveling for over 10 days by car (from the Netherlands to Lüneburg and Sylt ), we looked forward to staying in one place for a while.

We had rented an apartment in Copenhagen and easily found it upon arrival.

Returning the rental car (and mailing back the mywebspot pocket WIFI, which had served us well on the road), gave us an opportunity to explore Copenhagen's transit system and the neighborhood of Fredericksberg, where our apartment was located.

First metro car in Copenhagen driverless subwayThe subway into town (and to the airport) was only a 4-minute walk away and we discovered that the M2 metro back to our apartment was not only driver-less, but ran like clockwork, every 2-6 minutes during the day (every 15-20 minutes at night).

The first two metro lines were completed between 2003 and 2007. A city loop is expected to open in 2019 and more extensions in the following years.

The metro system supplements a very effective S-train rapid transit system, and a bus network, both of which we also used during our stay.

The wonderful apartment – with modern Danish furniture - had WIFI, maps and city guides.

We first familiarized ourselves a little more with the city's history.

A Little Copenhagen History

Getting its start as a Viking fishing village in the 10th century, Copenhagen became Denmark's capital in the 15th century. With a population of over 700,000, it's also the country's largest city today.

And, it was again Christian IV, who between 1588 and 1648, was most responsible for Copenhagen's growth and building boom.

He initiated a number of building projects, including the Copenhagen Google mapStock Exchange, the Rosenborg Slot and the district of Christianshavn (see later) with canals and ramparts.

The city's fortifications, however, proved no match for the British attack in 1807 when most of the city was destroyed.

Nevertheless, after the war, and inspite of Denmark declaring bankruptcy in 1813, Copenhagen underwent a period of rebuilding and intense cultural activity, also known as the Danish Golden Age.

Nyhavn

View of Nyhavn in Copenhagen - Gamesforlanguage.comNyhavn (new harbor) was originally constructed in 1670 by Christian V, as a gateway from the sea to Kongens Nytorv (King's Square) to handle cargo and fishermen's catch.

Today with its colorful buildings, dockside cafes and restaurants looking onto classic sailing ships and pleasure boats, Nyhavn has become one of Copenhagen's top tourist spots, great for people watching or just enjoying the scenery.

Hans Christian Andersen, the famous Danish fairy tale writer lived here for over twenty years at Nyhavn, when the harbor side was still a sailor's delight.

I was especially intrigued by the sliding pedestrian/bicycle bridge ("InderInderhavnsbroen, Copenhagen - Gamesforlanguage.comhavensbroen") which spans the harbor to Christianshavn.

Having gone under many fixed and opening bridges during our canal travels in France and the Netherlands (see European Travels 3: Dutch Language and Canal Boating) I've never encountered such a design.

The bridge design is controversial to say the least. If you're interested, this article explains both the design and issues of the “Kissing Bridge”. I personally found it quite elegant and watched it open and close several times.

Hey Captain

Copenhagen Harbor and Canal Tour with Hey CaptainRight below the “Kissing Bridge” we met the boat for our harbor cruise. (We saw on the website that the departure has now moved across to the Ofelia Plads.)

Rather than touring the harbor in one of the giant Canal Tour boats, we preferred the Hey Captain option with the yacht-club-type launch and a maximum of 12 guests (and including a complimentary drink).

Maybe because it was a mid-September Monday with rain in the forecast, but our tour included only one other guest from the US. So it was quite “private”.

Captain Mathias - who works as a ski instructor in South Tyrol during the winter – spoke excellent English and skillfully took us through the harbor. The tour went through the canal along Freetown Christiana (more about that below), the Frederiksholms Kanal by the Christiansborg Palace, etc.

He interspersed his explanations of the historic sites with little gossip tidbits of the current life in Copenhagen.

From the water we had a wonderful view of many Copenhagen Opera House - Gamesforlanguage.comof the signature buildings on both sides:

The spectacular new Opera House on the Christianshavn side, (see picture), the Royal Danish Playhouse just across on the city side, the “Black Diamond” as the modern waterfront extension of the Royal Library is called. As we sailed by we indeed saw the glass facade sparkling glass like a diamond.

We really enjoyed the very informative 60 minute tour.

Palaces and Museums

After having visited several castles and palaces during our travels already, we decided to skip the Rosenborg Slot and the Amalienborg Slot, the seat of the Royal family.

As the flags were flying, we understood that the Queen was in residence and we witnessed the changing of the guard – enjoyed by school children and adults alike.

Two Museums we liked in particular:

SMK Museum, Copenhagen  Gamesforlanguage.comThe SMK (Statens Museum for Kunst), the National Gallery of Denmark, is Denmark's largest art museum and houses collections of mainly Danish (but also international) artists of the past seven centuries.

The original museum building of the 1890s has been expanded by a new addition in 1998 which holds the modern collection.

When old and modern structures are joined (see picture) not everybody likes the result. But we did.

We also visited the David Collection, a fascinating collection of Islamic, European, and Danish Art.

Housed in a building once occupied by the museum's founder, a prominent Copenhagen attorney, the extensive collection of Islamic Art is the most important one. It “encompasses exquisite decorative art from the 7th century to the mid-19th century from an area that extends from Spain in the west to China in the east, from Uzbekistan in the north to Yemen in the south.”

Bicycling and Segway

There are several ways you can do sightseeing in Copenhagen: In addition to typical bus tours, there are boat tours, kajak tours, bicycle tours and Segway tours and obviously – our preferred way, just walking.

We rented (electric) bicycles several times to explore thePracticing for Segway Tour in Copenhagen, Gamesforlanguage.com neighborhood of Frederiksberg where our apartment was located, as well as Christianshavn, (see below) and loved the ubiquitous bike paths. However, we at first shied away from doing so in the middle of the city.

Therefore we felt quite brave when we decided to sign up for a Segway tour downtown.

We had always wanted to try out a Segway and now had an opportunity to do so.

After about 15 minutes of instruction and tryout in the company's offices and on the street, our group of 12 riders assembled to follow the guide.

Through our helmet speaker, we heard his instructions and off we went onto the next bike path.

As bikers dashed by us we made our way slowly but surely through the city.

Once at the harbor promLittle Mermaid - Copenhagen- Gamesforlanguage.comenade in front of the spectacular Skuespilhuset, the Royal Danish Playhouse (see picture above), we all felt that we had mastered the most difficult part of the Segway trip.

We circled around the Amalienborg courtyard (where we had been before) and zipped through the Kastellet, one of the best preserved star fortresses in Northern Europe. Finally, we stopped at the “Lille Havfrue”, the Little Mermaid, for more pictures:

Indeed, the Little Mermaid - as both our Boat Captain as well as our Segway Tour Guide stressed - must be the world's most overrated tourist attraction from any vantage point. But we still took a picture just like everybody else!

It was amazing how much distance we covered in 90 minutes and how much information we absorbed during that time.

Christianshavn

The boat tour had taken us through Christianshaven Canal - Gamesforlanguage.comthe canals of Christianshavn and our Captain had told us various stories about this part of Copenhagen. (Our Segway Tour did not go over bridge.)

Developed in the early 17th century by Christian IV as part of the city's fortifications, and then as a merchants' town inspired by Dutch city planners, it became a working class neighborhood in the 20th Century with military housing.

In the 70s it developed a bohemian reputation and became a favorite of students, hippies and artists.

Freetown entrance - Gamesforlanguage.comWhen the military left the Christiania area, students called out the “Fristaden Christiania”. Drugs and crime became a problem in the 80s. We were told that police now stay mostly away and self-government by the resident tries to keep the peace.

While the many types of cannabis that are openly sold are technically illegal, the law is not enforced and the situation is tolerated.

We bicycled through the Freetown on a Sunday morning. A sign at the entrance proclaimed: “You are now leaving the European Union”.

Many stands that sold cannabis, colorful jewelry and clothes old ship hull in Christianawere just being set up.

By midday the area was filled with families on a stroll, joggers, bicyclists and tourists like us.

We heard some noises coming from the partial and overturned hull of an old wooded vessel, right alongside the shore of the Freetown's “marina”, and so we stopped:

A young man was busy cleaning out the inside. He was clearly stoned and explained that this was going to be his new home. He invited us to come and visit him once it was finished.

Tivoli Gardens

Tivoli Gardens - Gamesforlanguage.comA visit to Copenhagen wouldn't be complete without a visit to Tivoli, the famous amusement park.

Opened in 1843 by its founder Georg Carstensen, on land leased from King Christian VIII, it must have been a model for the Disney Parks over 100 years later.

We did not take any of the many offered rides on roller coasters, or other contraptions like the “Vertigo”, a looping plane ride, or the “Zamperla”, a giant swing a spinner with 4G forces, or even the newest “Fatamorgana”.

Leaving these to younger folks, we enjoyed walking around the gardens. Tivoli at night - Gamesforlanguage.comWe watched a ballet performance, listened to a concert and had a delicious dinner in one of the numerous restaurants.

In the evening, the many lights with the fireworks at the end created a magical atmosphere.

There are so many places to see and experience in Copenhagen, that even a week was not enough. You'll have to consult your travel guide to decide what to see and do.

If you have even less time than we did, this April 2018 New York Times article will give you some excellent suggestions: 36 Hours in Copenhagen

We certainly enjoyed our time in Copenhagen and Denmark.

Bio: Ulrike & Peter Rettig are co-founders of Gamesforlanguage.com. They are lifelong language learners, growing up in several European countries before moving to Canada and the United States. You can follow them on FacebookTwitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact.

Posted on by Peter Rettig

European Travels 7 - From Sylt to Zealand

Map with travel route Sylt to FynshavAfter a few days on the North Frisian island of Sylt (see also European Travels 6 – From Lüneburg to Sylt), it was time to move on and head north to Denmark and its largest island, Sjælland, or Zealand.

(We were going to fly home from Copenhagen. Our travel planning would have been greatly facilitated by a new service we just learned about: Airwander. We'll be sure to use them on our next trip with multi-day layovers or multiple flight legs!)

Readers of a previous post may recall that we had begun to learn Danish a few months earlier with Duolingo and Pimsleur Language Programs. We were, however, under no illusion that we could speak Danish fluently.

A Little Recent Danish History

Travels often inspire curiosity about a country's history. Also for us. From the historic town of Westerland on Sylt, we took the car train shuttle back to Niebüll on the German mainland.

(We also continued to really appreciate our pocket WIFI, mywebspot, which allowed us to make our ferry, B&B and hotel reservations from our car.) 

And from there, we made our way north to cross the German-Danish border. As with most other inner European borders, there are no longer any check points.

Road signs with different coloring will let you know, Border sign at German-Danish Borderin case you missed the large border sign, that you are now in Denmark.

Still, we were surprised that there were no border controls, as Denmark had reinforced its borders with Germany a few years ago to stop the inflow of illegal goods and immigrants.

Denmark applied to join the “European Economic Community” (EEC), the predecessor of the EU, in 1961, shortly after the UK had done so.

But, the veto of then President Charles de Gaulle in 1963 against the UK's membership affected Denmark as well. With the UK being Denmark's main customer for its agricultural products, Denmark did not want to join without the UK.

After more negotiations and with a new French President, both the UK and Denmark (as well as Ireland) finally joined the EEC in 1973.

Danes are somewhat “reluctant” Europeans. Denmark still uses the krone (crown) as its currency and has not accepted the euro.

Denmark, Ireland and the Netherlands are probably the three countries most affected by the impending Brexit as they are still heavily dependent on trade with the UK.

However, as we learned during our trip to Denmark, there are currently no plans for Denmark to follow the UK's example.

Ferry from Fynshav to Bøjden

Fynshavn-Bøjden FerryWe slowly made our way on excellent roads through the Danish countryside toward the town of Fynshav at the Lillebaelt-Arhus Bugt.

As we didn't have any Danish kroner, we were looking for an ATM. This gave us our first opportunity to practice our Danish by asking for directions to a bank.

Ulrike was therefore quite pleased, when a woman in Augustenborg, whom she asked for directions to a bank ATM, answered in Danish.

Not surprisingly though, Ulrike also experienced the “beginner's conundrum”: When the answer came back in rapid-fire Danish, she was lost.

But she persisted. And when the woman switched to English, Ulrike just asked her to continue in Danish and to slow down.

We indeed found the bank with an ATM and now had Danish kroner.

Even though many Danes speak English, they'll love you for trying to use Danish at the start of any conversation. So before you go, learn greetings and some basic phrases. Here's a short list: (To learn how to pronounce them, try Memrise.)

  • Goddag/Hej - Good day/Hi
  • Godmorgen - Good morning
  • Vær så venlig - Please
  • Tak - Thanks
  • Ja/Nej - Yes/No
  • Undskyld mig - Excuse me (to get attention)
  • Jeg forstår ikke. - I don't understand.
  • Jeg taler ikke godt dansk. - I don't speak Danish well.
  • Taler du engelsk? - Do you speak English?
  • Farvel - Goodbye

The 45-minute ferry crossing from the town of Fynshav to Fyn (Funen), the second largest Danish island, was uneventful.

We enjoyed hearing Danish spoken all around us and tried some “Danish pastry”, which in Denmark is called "wienerbrød" (Vienna bread). Was it a Viennese pastry chef who brought pastries to Denmark?

In Bøjden (on Fyn) we found the B&B we had reserved: a Danish farmhouse which had been converted by a Dutch woman into a cozy Bed and Breakfast residence.

She recommended that we forgo a visit to Odensee, the island's largest city. Instead, she suggested that we visit the town of Faaborg, the Valdemars Slot on the island of Tåsinge in the south, and the town of Nyborg to the north.

Faaborg

Faaborg (or Fåborg), just a 15-minute drive from Bøjden, Faaborg Bell Toweris a picturesque little town of about 7,000 people.(see Bell tower)

It has an interesting history. The town celebrated its 775th anniversary in 2004 and thereby the year in which King Valdemar II gave Faaborg (and a good portion of the south of Fyn) as a wedding gift to his daughter-in-law, Eleanor of Portugal.

One of the finest buildings in town, “Plougs Gaard” was built in 1790 by Jesper Ploug, who reportedly made his fortune in shipping during the American War of Independence.

Once an important harbor for trading with Sweden and Norway and later with England and Germany, services and tourism are now the town's dominant industries.

Faarborg Marina at sun setWhile commercial and fishing traffic in the harbor have decreased, we were told that over 15,000 pleasure boats, vintage ships and yachts of all sizes visit the port each year.

There is also regular ferry service to the adjacent islands of Søby, Avernakø, Bjørnø and Lyø.

During this second week of September, there were few tourists who, like us, wandered through the narrow streets and admired the historic mansions and town houses.

We had an excellent dinner in Det Hvide Pakhus, right at the harbor and pleasure boat marina. The cheerful waitress explained that after schools start in early September tourist traffic drops off significantly.

We were surprised, however, how quickly the large restaurant filled up during the early evening hours. It's obviously popular with locals.

Valdemars Slot

Picture of Valdermars SlotThe next day, we drove to Valdemars Slot (Valdemar's castle) on the nearby island of Tåsinge.

We arrived during a rain storm. After buying our tickets in the gift shop located outside the castle, we walked up the stairs to the main doors. (see picture)

We left our raincoats and umbrella in the entrance hall and not seeing any other visitors, personnel or guards, we went ahead and followed the visit schedule outlined in the little guide book we had received.

While the outside architecture is not as impressive as some of the other Danish castles, the castle's interior provides a unique experience:

As the guide book notes:

Valdemar's Castle is a special kind of museum. The visitor will find no impeding ropes surrounding valuable objects of art and old furniture, and small things are not placed in exhibition cases. We want everything to be seen in its proper place and so – we believe – the special air and atmosphere of the house will manifest itself to the visitor. Some rooms are decorated in such a way that in spite of the years passed one might feel that the owner has just left....”

Indeed, in the various rooms recent photos of the current owners were on display. It reinforced our feeling that the owners were still living in the castle from time to time.

The guide also explains:

The castle is private property, and sole owner today is Alexander Fleming, 12th generation of the Juel dynasty, son of Caroline Fleming, born Caroline Juel-Nrockdorff, who descends in direct line from naval hero Niels Juel. Valdemar's Castle has been open to the public since 1974. It is still used as a private home by the owner and family.

If you have never heard of Niels Juel, you are not alone. Neither had we.

But the history is quite interesting:

The original castle was built in the years 1639 to 1644 by the Danish King Christian IV for his son, Count Valdemar Christian (thus the name!) However, Valdemar never lived in the castle. Seeking adventure abroad, he died on the battlefield in Poland in 1656.

During the war with Sweden (1657-60), the castle was occupied and badly damaged. When Admiral Niels Juel defeated the Swedish in the famous sea battle in the Bay of Køge, he also captured a large number of Swedish ships. This entitled him to one-tenth of the value of the ships – an amount the Danish King was unable to pay to his Admiral.

Instead, the Danish King handed over the crown lands of Tåsinge, including the castle, to Niels Juel. The Admiral not only substantially renovated the castle, but added gatehouses, the coach and stable wings and a graceful tea pavilion at the end of an artificial pond. The aerial photo shows it all.

We enjoyed a leisurely walk through the many open rooms, The King's Room with many portraits of the Danish kings, the Empress Room, named after the beautiful portrait of Empress Eugenie of France, the bedrooms, guestrooms, and others. It was also interesting to see the photos of current family members and royal visitors.

What was especially notable was the lack of any guards (though there were cameras).

While we were walking through the various rooms, over old wood floors and antique carpets, we suddenly noticed that other visitors were wearing blue protective covers over their shoes. We realized we had missed the sign and the bin with the covers in our eagerness to start the tour.

But nobody had stopped or admonished us, Aerial View of Valdemar's Castleso we quickly corrected our oversight.

We visited Valdemars Slot on a rainy weekday and saw few other visitors. But on better days, the castle also seems to attract families who can rent bikes, Segways, kayaks, or go to the nearby beach.

As we toured the castle and learned about the Danish monarchy, we also became aware of a Danish curiosity:

Beginning in the 16th century, after Christian II was deposed in 1523, all Danish kings were named either Frederick or Christian – until 1972, when for the first time a woman, Margrethe II, daughter of King Frederick IX, became Queen.

Nyborg

Nyborg castle across pondOur next stop was Nyborg, which is located on the east side of Fyn. 

Nyborg, today a town of about 16,000 inhabitants, housed the “Danehoffet”, the country's legislative and judicial assembly from 1183 to 1413.

In the 17th century, Nyborg was one of only three fortified towns in Denmark (together with Frederica and Copenhagen).

Nyborg Castle is considered one of the most important heritage monuments from Denmark's Middle Ages. It currently is being restored and more information about the project can be found HERE. Nyborg medieval weekend with archers

We toured the museum and found ourselves carried back in time.

A lively market in the middle of town with Danish folk musicians on Saturday morning started a medieval weekend with archers and jousting. (see picture)

We also visited the Nyborg's Historical Museum, which encloses the Borgmestergåarden (Mayor's Yard) with its distinctive red painted half-timbered buildings.

Walking on the uneven floors of this well-preserved merchant house, we felt we were back in the 17th century. In one of the workshops we watched a blacksmith at his trade.

The Storebaelt Bridge

Suspension bridges have always fascinated me. The Great Belt Bridge from the air

So, I was excited when a few days later, we crossed from Fyn to the island of Zealand (Sjaelland) on the Storebaelt Bridge (the Great Belt Bridge).

With a main span of 1,624 meters (5,328 feet), its the world's third-longest suspension bridge.

Only the Akashi-Kaikyo Bridge in Japan with 1,991 meters and the Xihoumen Bridge in China with 1,650 meters are longer.

The total distance between the two islands and length of the bridge is about 18 km or 11 miles, and we were driving across on a beautiful blue-sky September day.

The Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde

Map Nyborg to RoskildeOnce across the Great Belt Bridge, we were on the island of Zealand, the largest Danish Island.

It didn't take us much more than an hour to reach Roskilde.

During a Hurtigruten cruise along the Norwegian coastline a few years ago, we had learned much about the Vikings.

While one often associates Norwegians (and Swedes) with the Vikings, the Danes were certainly a key member of the Viking's Scandinavian homeland.

We visited the wonderful Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde, just when one of the Viking longboats returned from an outing. (see picture) Roskilde's Viking Museum: Longboat

The museum owns five “Skuldelev” which were built in the museum's workshop with copies of Viking age tools and corresponding materials and techniques.

The reconstructions are based on hull shapes of ships that have been found but the museum also cautions that they are not “definitive truths”. They represent “suggestions on how the ships may have looked 1,000 years ago.”

We only regret that we didn't have the opportunity to join one of those Viking ship's outings.

Now a business and educational center with a population of about 50,000 people, Roskilde then was the hub of the Viking land and sea routes 1,000 years ago. And, from the 11th to the 15th century it was the country's capital.

In late afternoon, we lingered at a café on the grand square of Roskilde and soaked up the atmosphere of this historic town.

There were more sights to explore on Zealand before heading to Copenhagen, but we'll report about them in a future post.

Bio: Peter Rettig is the co-founder of Gamesforlanguage.com. He is a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. You can follow him on FacebookTwitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact or below.

Posted on by Peter Rettig

Silvester Traditions in German Speaking Countries

Frohes Neues Jahr with fireworks (Updated 12-28-2017)

In 2015 we first started this post about Silvester Traditions in German speaking countries.

German is spoken in many parts of the world.

German is the only official language in Austria, Germany, and Lichtenstein.

It is the "majority" language, and shares official status with the other languages, in 17 cantons of Switzerland.

It is the co-official language in Luxembourg and Belgium, as well as in another four (4) Swiss cantons and the Italian Autonomous Province of South Tyrol, where it is also the majority language.

In France, the German spoken in the Alsace and Moselle regions is deemed a "regional language," and German speakers (who are often bilingual) also live in the border areas of Denmark, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Poland, and Hungary. 

There are about 95 million who speak German as their first language. With the pockets of German-speaking communities in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kazakhstan, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Ukraine, U.S., South America, and even parts of Africa, it is estimated that about 10 million people speak German as a second language.

In the U.S., communities of Amish (see Discovering Pennsylvania Dutch with “Speaking Amish”), Mennonites and Hutterites speak German dialects. The Pennsylvania Dutch celebrate New Year with a traditional meal of pork and sauerkraut.

GermanyBerlin's "Langer Lulatsch" with Fireworks"- Gamesforlanguage.com

New Year's Eve in German-speaking countries is also called "Silvester," as December 31 is St. Silvester (or Sylvester) Day. The fourth-century Catholic pope and saint became associated with New Year's Eve.

This was after the reform of the Gregorian calendar in 1582, when the last day of the year became December 31, the day of his death in AD 335.

Not only the German-speaking countries, but also Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, the Czech Republic, France, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Israel all use a variant of Silvester's name as the preferred name for New Year's Eve.

St. Silvester, Germanic Gods, and other Superstitions 

Watch out for fish bones - St. Silvester had a frightening reputation: It was said that non-believers would suffocate in his presence. As he died on December 31st, superstitious Germans are very careful when eating fish on the last day of the year.

No laundry - The superstition not to wash and hang up any laundry for drying around New Year's Eve, traces back to the German god Wotan. This custom is said to keep Wotan happy who, together with his buddies, supposedly roams through the gardens on the night of Silvester.

No work - At the end of each year, the gods let the wheel rest to which the sun is attached. Mankind should therefore follow suit and let all work rest on the last day of the year.

Northern Germany

Rummelpotlaufende KinderIn Germany's northern state Schleswig-Holstein, quite a few old traditions survive:

"Rummelpottlaufen," quite similar to Halloween in the U.S., sees costumed children with a self-made music instrument (a can covered with pigskin or thin leather, pierced by a willow-stick, which when turned and rubbed makes hollow and scary sounds), going from door to door on New Year's Eve, singing old tunes and being rewarded with candies and sweets.

Berlin is the site of Germany's biggest New Year's Eve party, which takes place around the Brandenburg Gate; "Berliner" (jam-filled doughnuts) are a particular favorite in Berlin, as in many other German-speaking countries during Silvester.

Southern Germany

In the southern parts of Germany, originating from Austria and Switzerland, a cheese Fondue or Raclette is often also a typical New Year's dinner.

At midnight a "Feuerzangenbowle," a punch made with red wine, orange peels, cinnamon, cloves, and poured over a burning sugar cone supplements or even replaces the German "Sekt" (sparkling wine).

Austria

In Austria, Vienna clearly holds the top spot for New Year's Eve celebrations. Bleigießen:Leadpouring

Before midnight, small marzipan or chocolate "fortune gifts" (figures of chimney sweeps, little fortune piggies, four-leaf clover, etc.) are exchanged.

As in many other German-speaking regions, "Bleigießen" (lead pouring) - the melting of small pieces of lead, dropped into cold water - results in a popular, fun game: the various forms of the the hardened lead pieces let the participants speculate what a person may experience in the coming year.

This YouTube video of an ARTE.TV video (see also our post on how to connect to  ARTE.TV) explains to a French audience (in German) how "Bleigießen" is done.

Impressive fireworks are part of the Viennese tradition as is a glass of champagne. After the midnight countdown, the Danube waltz plays on all radio and tv stations.

Switzerland

In Switzerland there are many different and often quite curious traditions. We can only highlight a couple here:

"Altjahresu" - Schwarzenburg (Canton Bern)

Altjahresu in Schwarzenburg, Bern, SwitzerlandIn this small town near Bern, about 40 participants dress up as various characters for the "Altjahresu" (old-year-donkey) performances: the donkey guide, the musicians, the priest, the devil, the barrel carrier, the newlyweds, the mailman, etc.

They go from bistro to bistro with their donkey, the musicians play, the newlyweds dance, the mailman distributes the old year's newspaper, the barrel carrier collects white wine in his wine barrels, etc.

At the end of the day, around  9:30 PM, the priest then reads his "sermon" at the town center to the great amusement of all spectators. Some pictures from last year above and the 2015 event HERE.

"Harder-Potschete" - Switzerland's longest Silvester in InterlakenPotschen masks at Harder-Potschete in Interlaken, Switzerland

The Silvester celebrations end in Interlaken only on January 2. Until 1956 the "Potschen," scary- looking figures with masks - representing dead people - were roaming the streets, screaming at spectators and pulling them along.

That often got out of hand. So, in the late fifties, a new custom was added to tone down the rowdiness. It combined the legend of a delinquent monk marooned on the "Harder," Interlaken's town hill, with that of the masked characters. The scary masks are still there but the celebrations are not as wild as before. See last year's masks in the picture on right above.

I'm not aware of any particular Silvester traditions in Lichtenstein and Luxembourg that differ from those in the other German-speaking countries and regions. (If you do, please let me know!)

Family Traditions

As countries and regions have developed particular traditions and celebrations, so have many families. We are now continuing a tradition with our extended family here in the U.S. that started with my father's family in Berlin, Germany:

The after-midnight snack is "Heringssalat," a Scandinavian/Northern Germany specialty that has many recipe variations. It is served with "wieners" or "frankfurters." The herring, potato, apple, and pickle combination makes a welcome change after the sweet treats of the Christmas season. 

And strangely enough, it even goes well with a glass of champagne!

Parts of this post were included in the December 2014 post Molten lead, Red Underwear, Grapes and other End-of-Year Traditions...

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

Discovering Pennsylvania Dutch with “Speaking Amish”

Amish Horse and carriage in Pennsylvania Dutch countryRecently, after attending a family wedding in Virginia, we drove back to Boston via Pennsylvania Dutch country.

We knew that the Amish and many Mennonites speak German dialects, but otherwise knew little about the history and language of these groups.

(If you read our posts about Northern Germany, or Seville, Spain, you know that we enjoy learning about dialects.)

Yes, we also saw several of the black Amish buggies (see picture), but we wanted to look especially into the language angle.

Passing through Lancaster county, we stopped off at the Mennonite Information Center to learn about the Pennsylvania Dutch language (also known as Pennsylvania German).

At the Center, we saw a film about the history and culture of the Amish, and we bought a book "Speaking Amish" - A Beginner's Introduction to Pennsylvania German, by Lillian Stoltzfus, which I'll review briefly below.

In her introduction, Stoltzfus explains: "Pennsylvania German is spoken throughout the United States and Canada. Although people from each region can understand each other, each region speaks it a little differently."

What surprised us was to learn that most Pennsylvania Dutch speakers are ethnically Swiss.

A Little History: Why Swiss?

2017 is the year that Protestants are celebrating the 500th anniversary of Luther posting his 95 Theses in Wittenberg, Germany.

It was in Switzerland that the Anabaptist movement originally began in the 1520s, as a radical offshoot of Ulrich Zwingli's Reformation in Switzerland.

The movement slowly spread through western Europe.

In Switzerland, the Anabaptists were persecuted for their beliefs. Many fled to the Palatinate, a region in the southwest of Germany. The Palatinate (historically, "die Rheinpfalz") lies west of the state of Hessen and northwest of Baden-Württemberg.

As time went on, Anabaptist followers picked up the name "Mennonite", Mennonite & Amish migration mapafter Menno Simons, a Friesian religious leader, who was active as a religious leader from 1537 to 1561.

The "Amish" were named after Jakob Ammann, a Swiss leader of the Anabaptist movement from 1680 to 1712.

From the late 1640s on, numerous Anabaptist families (who first called themselves "Swiss Bretheren") arrived in Pennsylvania as a result of William Penn's experiment in religious tolerance. Amish and Mennonite families followed in the early 1700s.

A large number of Anabaptist followers came from the Palatinate (to where the Swiss had fled), and a smaller number from Alsace and Switzerland.

The map above from the Mennonite Information Center shows the migration of the Amish and Mennonites through the centuries. (Black lines: Amish to Pennsylvania, Indiana, Ohio and Illinois, other colors: Mennonites' migrations.)

The Palatinate Dialect

The German spoken in the Palatinate (i.e. "Pfälzisch") is the linguistic ancestor of the Pennsylviania Dutch dialect. Palatine German belongs to the West Franconian group or dialects.

Pennsylvania Dutch (i.e. Pennsylvania German) is the primary language of most Amish and conservative Mennonite communities living in the United States today.

Why Pennsylvania "Dutch"?

A possible explanation for the use of "Dutch" (to mean German) is that in the English of the 18th and 19th centuries, the term "Dutch" included what we now call Dutch, Flemish and German.

At that time, you distinguished between "High Dutch" (German) and "Low Dutch" (Dutch, Flemish).

Germany did not become a country until 1871. There were only Hessians, Prussians, Bavarians, etc. , citizens of the many kingdoms and duchies that eventually became part of the German nation.

For English speakers they were all “Dutch"!

Quick Review of "Speaking Amish"

Speaking Amish Cover photoLillian Stoltzfus' book is a delightful introduction to Pennsylvania German and includes suggestions on how to best study.

The book is made up of 25 short lessons, each with five to ten new words that are shown together with a picture to help memorization.

In the lessons you get clear and practical Phonetic, Grammar and Culture Tips.

There are also short exercises, with the answers given in the back.

The audios for each lesson are between one and two minutes long and spoken naturally by two children and as well as Lillian Stoltzfus herself.

At the end of the book, there are several Verb Charts and a Phonetics Chart for reference.

The Pronunciation of Pennsylvania Dutch (PD)

Every dialect of a language has its characteristic pronunciation. The CD that comes with "Speaking Amish" is really helpful.

But for me it's hard to describe pronunciation without audio.

Still, for anyone who knows some Standard German (SG), here are 3 characteristics of Pennsylvania Dutch (PD).

1) PD has no umlauts: no "ä", "ö", "ü", and also no "äu"/"eu".

To produce the equivalent sounds in PD, you "unround" your lips (pull them apart):

For example:

SG "dünn" - PD "dinn" (rhymes with "thin")
SG "Löffel" - PD "Leffel" (vowel as in "left")
SG "Deutsch" - PD "Deitsch" (vowel as in "hi")

2) In PD "ch" usually has a "sch" sound:

For example:

SG "ich" - PD "isch"
SG "du bist" - PD "du bischt"
SG "richtig" - PD "rischtisch"

3) Sounds at the end of a syllable or the end of words are often dropped:

For example:

SG "haben" - PD "hann"
SG "Hunde" - PD "Hunn"
SG "müde" - PD "miid"

Daily Vocabulary

The vocabulary lists below are all taken from "Speaking Amish". As Lillian Stoltzfus explains in her introduction, the words she teaches in the book are all from Pennsylvania German spoken in Lancaster county, or even more specifically from those spoken in her family.

Speakers from other regions in the U.S. or Canada, may have different words and various pronunciations.

Commonly used Nouns

Pennsylvania German uses three articles for "the":

der (with masculine nouns), die (with feminine nouns, es (with neuter nouns)
die Schprooch - SG "die Sprache" (the language/dialect)
es Ess-sach - SG "das Essen" (the food)
die Kich - SG "die Küche" (the kitchen)
die Schtubb - SG "die Stube" (the room)
der Gaarde - SG "der Garten" (the garden)
die Arwet - SG "die Arbeit" (the work)
der Nochber - SG "der Nachbar" (the neighbor)
der Bu - SB "der Bub" (the boy)
es Meedel - SB "das Mädel" (the girl)
die Gmee - SG "die Gemeinde" (the church)

Commonly used Verbs

Pennsylvania German has these pronouns that combine with personal verb forms:

ich (I), du (you), er (he), sie (she), es (it), mir (we), dir (you pl.), sie (they)
hawwe - SG "haben" (to have)
gewwe - SG "geben" (to give)
schreiwe - SG "schreiben" (to write)
gleiche - SG "mögen" (to like)
schaffe - SG "arbeiten" (to work)
laafe - SG "laufen" (to walk)
duh - SG "tun" (to do)
hocke - SG "sitzen" (to sit)
butze - SG "putzen" (to clean)
wuhne - SG "wohnen" (to live)

Words similar to English

Not surprisingly, English words have become part of Pennsylvania Dutch: 

die Schtori - SG "die Geschichte" (the story)
der Boi - SG "der (Obst)kuchen" (the pie)
der Daett - SG "der Papa" (the dad)
schmaert - SG "klug" (smart)
die Dallbopp - SG "die Puppe" (the doll)
der Pickder - SG "das Bild" (the picture)
die Gwilt - SG "die Steppdecke" (the quilt)
der Schtor - SG "der Laden" (the store)

Do Native Germans Understand Pennsylvania Dutch?

In Germany itself, there are a large number of dialects, and not every German speaker understands all of the other dialects of Germany really well. It generally depends on where a person is from and what experience with German dialects he or she has had.

Under the YouTube video: Lillian an Daniel Stoltzfus Lancaster County, which shows some interviews in Pennsylvania Dutch, there are a few of comments by native German speakers.

  • "I am from the south-west of Germany and I understand the most. It is more the dialect of this part of Germany where I live. (Ich komme aud dem Süd-Westen Deutschland und ich verstehe das meiste. Es ist mehr der Dialekt von diesem Teil Deutschlands wo ich wohne.)"
  • "Sounds almost like Palatinate German mixed with American English. Many Pennsylvanian families come from the region here. So, it wouldn't surprise me. [In Palatinate dialect]: (Klingt fascht wie Pälzisch mit Amerikanisches Englisch gemischt. Viele Pennslyfaanischi Familien kumme aus der Geschend hia. So es werd mich nit überrasche.)"
  • "I speak German and Dutch fluently. I understand them perfectly as weird as it is, a funky old Swiss German accent mixed with yank English. None of it sounds Dutch."

Is Pennsylvania Dutch a "dying language"?

According to a SwissInfo article, it is estimated that there are about 300,000 to 350,000 speakers of Pennsylvania Dutch in 31 states of the U.S., mainly in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Wisconsin, and in Ontario, Canada.

There are also some Amish groups that speak Alsacian German and Swiss German (both Alemannic dialects). These number about 14,000 together.

Experts such as the German linguist Guido Seiler and Mark Loudon, a professor of German at Wisconsin-Madison, claim that the Pennsylvania Dutch and Alemannic German dialects spoken in the U.S. are anything but "dying languages".

In fact, the number of speakers is constantly increasing because of large families and because 90% of the youth stay in their traditional communities.

I have not touched on the religious differences between the Amish and various Mennonite groups. Those interested in finding out more can find ample information on the web or by contacting the Mennonite information Center.

"Shunning" is one of the differences. "The Shunning" is also the title of a book by Beverly Lewis and a 2011 movie. 

Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of GamesforLanguage.com. She is a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, the Netherlands, and Canada. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact or below. 

Posted on by Peter Rettig

Freedom Trade-offs - US & European Traffic & Gun Laws

police with gun giving speeding ticketOur recent trip through three European countries allowed us to practice three of our languages – German, Dutch and Danish. 

It also made me aware again how different these European countries deal with the US credos of “life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness” on the one hand, and with safety, as it relates to gun control and highway speeds, on the other.

(And no, that is not us in the picture receiving a speeding ticket: we never saw any traffic police traveling over 1,000 miles through Germany, Netherlands and Denmark!)

Gamesforlanguage's blog themes include language learning, travel, history and culture. My observations are personal and anecdotal, and I make no claim to having discovered any absolute truths.

Our AirBerlin flight from Boston took us directly to Dusseldorf, Germany. There, we rented a car and drove north, crossing into the Dutch province of Drenthe to attend a weekend family reunion there.

(Readers of previous posts may remember that we often attend family reunions in the Netherlands. Last year, after the reunion, we chartered a canal boat with friends. See: European Travels 3 – Dutch Language and Canal Boating . This year we continued to Denmark. See: European Travels 6 – From Lüneburg to Denmark.)

Road Travel - Speed Limits & Statistics

Germany

On the German Autobahn, it always takes me a few minutes to get used to the speed of Driving on German Autobahnthe traffic. But then I go with the flow.

Once we had cleared the congested metropolitan area around Dusseldorf and no longer faced any speed restrictions, 160 km/h (100 mph) became a comfortable cruising speed.

I actually find that driving fast on good roads in Germany is less tiring than driving with cruise control at 65 or 70 mph in the US.

In Germany, I constantly scan my rear view mirror for faster cars and estimate the distance to other, slower cars when in the passing lane.

The freedom of driving fast is one of the joys of German Autobahn driving.

You may remember that Volkswagen used the German term “Fahrvergnügen” (Pleasure of driving) as a US marketing slogan a few years ago.

While there are many stretches on the German Autobahn that have no speed limits (about 70% of the German Autobahn grid), there are also specific speed limits in metropolitan areas or on country roads.

The Netherlands and Denmark

Suspension Brisge between Fyn and Sealand, DenmarkBoth countries use the same maximum speed limit of 130 km/h (82 mph) on motorways and 50 km/h (31 mph) in built up areas.

On the busy Dutch motorways many drivers appeared to exceed the 130 km/h, while on the less traveled Danish highways few cars went faster than the speed limit.

As we discovered later in Copenhagen, Danish people generally seem to obey traffic laws: pedestrians don't jaywalk, bikes stop at red lights, cars follow speed limits. (On the new and amazing suspension bridge from Fyn to Sealand in Denmark, everybody kept to the posted speed limit.)

One method used in Denmark made a lot of sense to us. At the entrance of towns, a flashing sign showed us our speed. This was very effective because it prompted us to immediately slow down.

In all three countries there are warning signs about radar surveillance and indeed you can get “blitzed” by a radar operated camera, if you go too fast. You will receive your ticket later in the mail.

But what was remarkable: On over 1000 miles of car travel in Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark over a three-week period, we did not see ONE police car, not even one waiting behind bushes or trees as so often happen in the US.

Speed vs. Safety

There seems to be no question that higher speeds can lead to more serious accidents. However, the road fatality rates of the US and the three countries though which we traveled, do not seem to confirm the simple correlation.

Comparing accident and death rates between countries is not easy, given the mix of rural vs. interstate highways, different ways of compiling statistics, etc.

Deutsche Welle reported for 2016: Road deaths in Germany fall to all time low but accidents on the rise.

Also, the World Health organization's figures for 2013 are interesting for the three countries compared to the US (see below.)

Country

Road fatalities per 100,000 inhabitants per year

Road fatalities per 100,000 motor vehicles

Road fatalities per 1 billion vehicle km

United States

10.6

12.9

7.1

The Netherlands

3.4

6

4.5

Denmark

3.5

6.7

4

Germany

4.3

6.8

4.9

What is notable, is how close the three European countries are in their road fatality statistics compared to the United States, which are substantially higher in all three categories above.

A Business Insider Report from 2016 lists 8 reasons that German's Autobahn is so much better than US highways.

Interstate speed limits in the US were generally lowered to 55mph in the early seventies during the oil embargo. Since then, posted freeway speeds have again been raised in some states, to 65, 70, 80, and in Texas, with the highest posted speed in the US, even to 85 mph.

The lowered speed limits reduced road fatalities, but other factors apparently must be important as well, as the differences to the three countries above demonstrate.

While the three European countries – especially Germany - have higher traffic speeds than the US, the statistics indicate that driving in the US is quite a bit more dangerous.

Guns - Laws and Statistics

Germany has some of the strictest gun laws in Europe, as this Local.de article explains. Without analyzing the details of the differences to these countries, the Netherlands and Denmark are not far behind.

Over the last 10 years, the rate of gun deaths per 100,000 people have further declined in these three European countries.

You can find the facts and statistics for each country on Gunpolicy.org.

The relevant statistics on guns can be compared to the road fatalities above and also present a sobering picture for the US:

 

 

 

Country

Rate of All Gun Deaths per 100,000 people in 2004

Rate of All Gun Deaths per 100,000 people in 2014

United States

10.10

10.54

The Netherlands

0.70

0.48

Denmark (2002/2012)

1.79

0.90

Germany

1.39

1.01

Per 100,000 people, there are essentially as many gun deaths as road fatalities in the US.

Happiness

It is quite impossible to grasp the mood of a country during a short visit.

In the Netherlands, we were able to discuss with our extended family, which includes Dutch, German Austrian, Canadian, and US citizens, many of their countries' problems and issues.

Not surprisingly, Donald Trump's presidency was a frequent topic, as were Europe's immigration challenges, Brexit, educational policies, etc.

As we were leaving Europe, the formation of a Dutch government coalition was still underway; Germany was going to go to the polls shortly, and, we read about increased security measures for a Jewish synagogue in Copenhagen.

While Norway tops the global happiness rankings for 2017, Denmark is quite close as #2, and the Netherlands World Happiness Report 2017 covernot far behind as #6. On the other hand, Germany with #16, is listed behind the United States (#14).

The report notes that “all of the top four countries [Norway, Denmark, Iceland, and Switzerland] rank highly on all the main factors to support happiness: caring, freedom, generosity, honesty, health, income and good governance.”

One may argue with the criteria used for the “Happiness Rankings”, but Denmark impressed us as a country that really seemed to work well.

Many in the US obviously believe that the 2nd Amendment - “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” - is an essential ingredient for freedom and happiness.

European countries do not have such paragraphs in their constitutions, so gun ownership is not discussed much.

On the other hand, the speed limits in many US states, which especially Germans would argue against, are accepted as necessary for improving traffic safety – which, nevertheless, is substantially below the figures for the three countries where we traveled.

I do not know – but have not found any reference in the Report – whether the “happiness rankings” mentioned above, consider gun control or speed limits.

What seems clear, however, is that both involve trade-offs.

The gun death statistics comparison between the US and the three European countries seems to point to one logical conclusion: More gun ownership/less gun control – higher gun death rates.

On the other hand, speed limits alone don't seem to lower traffic fatalities substantially, as the rates for the US and the same three countries show.

It also suggests, however, that statistics alone can't always explain cause and effect relationships.

I had started this post after returning from our trip to Denmark, just before the October 1, 2017 Harvest Festival shooting in Las Vegas and then put it aside.

Reading this New York Times article after the shootings in Texas - What Explains U.S Mass Shootings? International Comparisons Suggest an Answer - I was struck by the article's last paragraph:

The Difference Is Culture

The United States is one of only three countries, along with Mexico and Guatemala, that begin with the opposite assumption: that people have an inherent right to own guns.

The main reason American regulation of gun ownership is so weak may be the fact that the trade-offs are simply given a different weight in the United States than they are anywhere else.

After Britain had a mass shooting in 1987, the country instituted strict gun control laws. So did Australia after a 1996 shooting. But the United States has repeatedly faced the same calculus and determined that relatively unregulated gun ownership is worth the cost to society.

That choice, more than any statistic or regulation, is what most sets the United States apart.

“In retrospect Sandy Hook marked the end of the US gun control debate,” Dan Hodges, a British journalist, wrote in a post on Twitter two years ago, referring to the 2012 attack that killed 20 young students at an elementary school in Connecticut. “Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over.”

Countries develop different trade-offs and their relative weights for many aspects of life. They not only affect gun laws and speed limits, control of alcohol and recreational drug sales, but also citizen's registrations and identity cards, availability of public transportation, access to/funding of higher education, healthcare, and many others.

A country's culture is not static, but is constantly evolving.

And so are freedom and safety trade-offs. 

Bio: Peter Rettig is the co-founder of Gamesforlanguage.com. He is a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. You can follow him on FacebookTwitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact or below.  

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

French Travel Memories 2 - Daniel in Aix-en-Provence

Cours Mirabeau sign surrounded by wiresVisiting the South of France? Then try to include Aix-en-Provence and make your own travel memories there - maybe in the Cours Mirabeau.

As you play our travel-story based language courses, you'll follow a young traveler through several main cities in each country.

And – if you visit these cities yourself – you'll discover that the travel-stories' street names, places, restaurants, hotels, etc. all exist. We visited many of them and took pictures.

Our French traveler Daniel flew into Paris, which was the topic of our first French Travel Memory post.

After Paris, Daniel's next stop is in Aix-en-Provence, a picturesque city located in the south of France, about 20 miles north of Marseille.

In Aix, Daniel looks up a French friend he had met earlier during his studies in Boston.

In our travel-story course, you learn daily conversational language. The vocabulary listed here is a combination of some words taught in the course as well as other useful terms.

Often referred to as a city of art and history, Aix sports beautiful gardens, picturesque fountains, historic buildings, and the remains of Roman baths.

You can find specific events for your travel dates on the Tourist Office website, and more information in these books and travel guides.

We'll just mention a few quick facts and list some basic terms in French that will help you in your travels.

A FEW QUICK FACTS ABOUT AIX-EN-PROVENCE

Aix is a city-commune (or, incorporated municipality) located in the region of Provence, in the department of Les Bouches-du-Rhone.

In 2014, it counted a population of 142,149.

The region of Provence gets its name from the Romans. By the end of the second century BC, the region of Provence was part of the first Roman "province" beyond the Alps.

Aix had its beginnings in 122 BC as a Roman town. During the breakdown of the Roman Empire and beyond, the town survived numerous battles, periods of occupation, and repeated plundering.

From 879 until 1486, Provence was a semi-independent state ruled by the Counts of Provence. During that time, Aix became its capital and an artistic and intellectual center.

In 1487, Aix passed to the crown of France, together with the rest of Provence.

le Midi - the Midi, South of France (colloquial)Fountain at La Rotonde in Aix-en-Provence

les jardins - the gardens

les fontaines - the fountains

les ruines romaines - the Roman ruins

la commune - the town, municipality

la capitale - the capital

ville d'art et d'histoire - city of art and history

RUE MAZARINE

Daniel's friend Pierre lives in the Mazarin district on rue Mazarine, a street that runs parallel to the popular and lively Cours Mirabeau (more below).

The "quartier Mazarin" was developed in the 17th century by the then ruling archbishop Michel Mazarin.

Located in the south of Aix, this elegant neighborhood is known for its numerous "hôtels particuliers" (grand townhouses), built for the nobility, army officers, politicians, and the newly wealthy merchant class.

FRENCH TRAVEL MEMORIES WITH PAUL CÉZANNE

Paul Cézanne monument in Aix-en-ProvenceThe painter Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) was born and grew up in Aix-en-Provence.

His father, co-founder of Banque Cézanne et Cabassol, was a successful banker. For several years the young Cézanne studied law and worked in his father's bank.

At the same time, however, he was also enrolled at the École des Beaux-Arts in Aix and envisioned a career in the arts.

At age 21, Cézanne left for Paris and for the life of a struggling artist.

Read more about Cézanne's struggles and artistic development.

Throughout his life, Cézanne came back to Aix frequently and finally settled there again during his later years.

Café Clément, where Cézanne often went to meet friends, was at 44 Cours Mirabeau.

The bank Cézanne's father founded, Banque Cézanne et Cabassol, was on 24, rue des Cordeliers. It is now the location of a property management company.

In Aix, you can visit Cézanne's atelier: 9 avenue Paul Cézanne. It's about a 30-minute walk to the north of the town. That's where he worked every day from 1902 until his death in 1906.

l'atelier - the atelier, artist's workshop

le peintre - the painter

le tableau - the painting, picture

la peinture – the paint, painting

la banque – the bank

le banquier - the banker

travailler - to work

LE COURS MIRABEAU

Cours Mirabeau tree-line avenue in Aix-en-ProvenceThe Cours Mirabeau is a wide boulevard built in 1649 along the southern ramparts of the city. To the south of this lively street lies the quartier Mazarin (see above).

The Cours Mirabeau is lined with restaurants, cafés, stores, bookshops, movie theaters, and beautiful fountains. (see picture)

The popular café "Les Deux Garçons" - frequented by the writer and filmmaker Jean Cocteau, the philosopher and playwright Jean-Paul Sartre, as well as Paul Cézanne - is at number 53 Cours Mirabeau. It was built in 1660 and is the oldest café in Aix.

le cours - the long avenue

l'écrivain - the writer, author

le cinéaste - the filmmaker

le philosophe - the philosopher

le dramaturge - the playwright

CATHÉDRALE SAINT SAUVEUR

Aix's cathedral was first built in the 12th century, Main entrance of Cathédrale Saint Sauveur in Aix-en-Provenceon the site of a pre-Roman pagan temple and later Roman temple of Apollo.

In the following centuries, the cathedral underwent several more phases of construction.

Now a national monument of France, the building is an interesting combination of Roman, Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque, and Neo-gothic architectural styles.

Noteworthy are the Gothic portals, the Bell Tower (started in 1323), the Romanesque Cloister, as well as the interior of the church.

OTHER PLACES TO VISIT

Besides strolling through the streets old Aix with its stunning architecture, its markets and shops, the Hotel de Caumont centre d'art is worth a visit (located in a "hôtel particulier").

Also of interest are short tours into the surrounding countryside. First on the list may be the neighboring Montagne Sainte-Victoire, a frequent subject of Cézanne's paintings.

And, if you are visiting during the summer months, don't miss a tour to Provence's lavender fields.

SOME ADVICE

As you're making your travel memories, you'll notice that Aix-en-Provence has an atmosphere that is reminiscent of Paris. 

In the summer you may enjoy "Musique dans la rue" or one of the many "Festivals" and art exhibitions; or join the fashionable Aixois sipping an expresso or an apéritif on one of the terraces of the Cours Mirabeau cafés.

The center of Aix' old town is now a pedestrian zone with large parking lots around the perimeter.

So, if you travel by car – use one of those lots and don't even try to drive into the town center!

Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of GamesforLanguage.com. She is a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, the Netherlands, and Canada. You can follow her travel memories on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact or below.

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