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 Saumya Tiwari

The Best Ways to Experience the Northern Lights

northern-lights-aurora-borealisSeveral years ago we experienced the Northern Lights when we visited Norway in September. We took a Hurtigruten Ferry from Bergen to Kirkenes.

Our ship, Kong Harald, stopped at various towns along the way, including Ålesund, Trondheim, Tromsø, to finally reach Kirkenes, a town right on the Russian border.

When we crossed the Arctic Circle, we all got a handful of ice down our backs as a gesture of respect to Neptune.

That night, the sky lit up with a beautiful play of northern lights.

It was Galileo Galilei who coined the term "Aurora Borealis" in 1619 after Aurora, the Roman goddess of morning.

While he was wrong that sunlight reflected from the atmosphere would cause the streaks of light, the term, or a slight variation of the Latin original, is still used in Romance languages:

Italian: aurora boreale
Spanish: aurora boreal 
French: aurore boréale
Portuguese: aurora boreal

"Northern lights", the more descriptive term, is used in Germanic languages (which includes English).

The Finnish word "revontulet" means "fox's fires" and goes back to the Finnish legend that the northern lights are a reflection of the fox's fur.

What causes the Northern Lights?

Northern lights (there are also "Southern lights") develop when electrically charged particles from the sun - a "solar wind" collide with the gases contained in the earth's atmosphere, especially nitrogen and oxygen.

A good and more detailed description of Auroras can be found in this article of Space.com: Aurora Borealis: What Causes the Northern Lights & Where to See Them.

Some of you would also like to experience these spectacular displays of nature, perhaps.

We are therefore happy that Saumya Tiwari describes seven options for you below:

Where to Find Northern Lights?

The Northern Lights are one of the biggest attractions in Northern Europe.

It is natural to regard them as a significant nature’s wonder.

People from around the globe flock to see their glory and beauty from August to March every year depending on the place you’re visiting to witness them.

Also known as Aurora Borealis or the polar lights, this scientific miracle is, if not one of the seven wonders of the world, definitely the eighth.

There are several ways to experience the Northern Lights and bask in the surreal beauty of that region. Let’s dive right in and check out some of the best ways to witness the Northern Lights this year to get a complete experience!

1. Swedish Ice Hotel

The Swedish Ice Hotel is an attractionSwedish Ice Hotel Entrance in itself and a mark of great man-made excellence.

It is constructed every year from scratch and is open for guests from mid-December till March end.

The itinerary of the several tours and trips offered by the hotel also includes a trip to the Aurora Zone to witness this unbelievable spectacle. (picture Source)

In Swedish, "northern lights" is "norrsken".

2. Canadian Snowmobiling

Snow mobiles in Canadian forestAnother way to experience the Northern Lights is by traveling to the Northwest Territories and finding some warmth in the frozen landscapes there.

Between the months of December and April, you can go on a snowmobiling voyage across the Great Slave Lake that is totally frozen during these months. You can rent a remote cabin to see the polar lights from there.

You can also arrive at the Blatchford Lake Lodge by a quick 30-minute seaplane ride to enjoy several activities like ice-fishing and snowshoeing in addition to watching the Northern Lights. (Picture Source)

3. City Tour in Iceland

Iceland has a bustling and busy city life that Reykjavik at nightpresents a lot of exploration opportunities for the tourists.

You can take a package trip to Reykjavik that accommodates you in a four-star hotel. This package includes the Northern Lights.

The hotel takes the guests out on an excursion to witness the Aurora in a super jeep. This natural display can be witnessed by this way between October 1 and April 8. (picture Source)   

In Icelandic, "northern lights" is "nor∂urljós".

4. Norwegian Voyage

Northern light above Hurtigruten shipHow would you feel about not just witnessing the Northern Lights but also learning all there is to know about it?

Hurtigruten, who is a Scandinavian cruise specialist takes you on an Astronomical Voyage of 12 days along with a writer and physicist.

This cruise offers a total of six departures in the months of winter and includes at least four ports of call.

This Scandinavian cruise specialist promises a week-long complimentary voyage if, for some reason, the guests are unable to witness the Northern Lights. (Picture Source)   

In Norwegian, "northern lights" is "nordlys".

5. Greenland Husky Safari

Everyone has heard of the fantastic Siberian Huskies.Husky Safari

Regent Holidays offer a Dog Sledding Expedition from Reykjavik to Greenland for a trip of 11 days.

The entire trip takes place on dog sleds from South-Eastern Greenland, particularly Tasiilaq. Dog handlers or native mushers accompany you to ensure an uneventful and safe journey through the snowy landscapes.

Your 5-day stay there promises you plenty of opportunities to experience the Northern Lights. You can stay in remote and beautiful mountain huts in the middle of nature.

However, this particular voyage would require you to possess a certain level of stamina and physical fitness.(Picture Source)

6. Igloo

Finnland Iglo villageHow romantic would it be to witness the Northern Lights through a glass-roofed igloo?

This would literally entail sleeping under the starry lights to witness one of the biggest scientific marvels on earth.

You get to stay in Finnish Lapland which is a beauty in itself at Kakslauttanen. It’s a 3-day trip so again; there are several chances to see the Northern Lights. You can choose your preferred style of igloos above the Arctic Circle.

All igloos have a thermal and clear glass domed ceiling. They are also thermally insulated for a cozy and serene stay.

They sleep up to six and also offer a very private sauna and open log fires. You will be equipped with all the warmth you will need in there. You can choose to avail this tour from early November to early April. (Picture Source)

In Finnish, "northern lights" is "revontulet".

7. Up in The Sky

How would you like to watch the Northern Lights Northern Lights from airplane windowup in the sky at 40,000 ft.? Aurora Flights UK offers a 3-hour flight from London and other regional airports to view the Northern Lights.

This trip can be pre-booked from early November until late March. This is an excellent way to view the Northern Lights as it also offers the maximum visibility.

You can even enjoy snacks and astronomers onboard to guide you along the way. (Picture Source)

Parting thoughts

Regardless of the way, it is an indisputable fact that Northern Lights are nothing short of a marvel that must be witnessed at least once in a lifetime. Choosing any one of these ways will give you an ultimate Northern Lights experience.

Author’s Bio: Saumya works at The Villa Escape - Norway Northern Lights Tour From India as editor. She is a 20-something fun loving and ambitious female who loves traveling and loves to share her traveling experiences. She loves solo travel trips. If not traveling you can find her behind her laptop playing games.

Disclosure: Gamesforlanguage.com has no business relationship with thevillaescape.com or Saumya Tiwari other than publishing Saumya's article.

Posted on by Ulrike & Peter Rettig

Why Travel is a Great Language Motivator

travel books - Gamesforlanguage.comTraveling can be a great motivator for learning a new language.

As you're making your travel plans, don't forget the language(s) you may encounter.

Obviously this does not work so well for trips such as “Europe: 6 Countries in 7 Days” or similar offerings.

But if your plans include a stay of a couple of weeks or so in one city, or even in one country, learning at least the basics of the local language should be part of your preparations.

(As readers of previous posts will know,  after our [first] retirement we enjoyed longer stays in several European cities and countries, see also Learning Spanish..)

Our three-week trip to Denmark in 2017 motivated us to learn Danish with Duolingo and Pimsleur. (We'll report about our experiences with Danish in a future post.)

Did You Learn a Language in School?

Learning a language in school is a very different experience from learning one outside of the classroom.

What is a "school subject" on the one hand, becomes a "hobby" when you're no longer in school. It becomes a way of trying new things and discovering new places.

A school subject includes daily homework exercises, classroom lectures and drills, tests, exams, and grades. And who likes to be called on in class? All that can be a chore and may well put a damper on your enthusiasm.

On the other hand, learning a language as a "hobby" puts you in charge of your own learning. It's an adventure. Not only do you learn new skills, you explore other cultures and make new friends. Language learning can be a perfect tool for self-discovery and self-development.

And, who knows what new doors a second language will open in your work life, or even in your planning for retirement?!

A Motivator: Your Imagination!

If you drop the "school-subject mindset", learning a View of Nyhavn in Copenhagen - Gamesforlanguage.comlanguage can be a fresh and fun experience. One way to do this is to tie language learning to planning a trip.

Often, as we plan and organize a trip, we anticipate being there. 

We imagine touring the Reichstag Dome in Berlin; enjoying a caffè macchiato in Trastevere, Rome; strolling through the Marché Mouffetard in Paris; taking a night tour of the Alhambra, in Granada.

Or as we did before our trip through Denmark: picturing ourselves strolling through the streets of Copenhagen, ordering an "øl" in one of the harbor-side bistros on Nyhavn (picture), exploring the Hamlet castle in Helsingør.

We made your imagination the motivator for learning Danish!

In Visitors' Shoes in the US

Language Motivator:bLiberty Statue by Charles DeluvioWhat does knowing the local language matter?

Imagine yourself coming to the US without knowing any English.

You would certainly experience the country and its people as a tourist, from the outside.

Imagine having to ask everyone, every time: Sprechen Sie Deutsch? Parlez-vous français? Parla italiano? Or, Habla español?

If you stayed a little longer, you would of course pick up a few words.

But if you had learned some basic English phrases ahead of your trip, your interactions with us locals would be more meaningful. I bet you'd enjoy your stay so much more.

It's the same for us when we travel abroad.

The better we speak the local language, the more deeply we experience the place and its people.

Being able to communicate allows us to go off the beaten track and feel confident about doing so.

We try to go with the idea that not everyone speaks English. It's something we actually have found to be true in many cases, especially if you venture off the beaten track.

The Beginner's Conundrum

However, in countries like Denmark where nearly everybody speaks English, it is often hard to practice your new language: Danish people switch immediately to English when your Danish does not seem to be authentic.

I (Ulrike) was therefore quite pleased, when a woman in a small town, whom I asked (in Danish) for directions to a bank ATM, answered in Danish.

However, I also experienced the “Beginner's Conundrum”: When her answer came back in rapid fire Danish, I was lost.

She switched to English, but I just asked her to continue in Danish and to slow down.

We indeed found the Bank with an ATM and could replenish our travel funds.

And if you wonder why we don't like to use an ATM at night or not connected to a bank, read about our experience in Seville, Spain: 5 Tips for Dealing with ATM Troubles Abroad (and at Home).

That early success encouraged us to use our Danish as much as we could: when ordering food, buying tickets, asking for information, etc.

Why Learn Danish at all?

Why did we persist, even though English is so widely spoken and Danes themselves tell us not to learn Danish because it's too difficult. Yes, why?

When you're in another country, you're in a totally new environment. Everything's different, the way people interact, the look of the countryside, the bustle of the towns, the taste of the food, and obviously, the sound of the language.

By using the local language, you're no longer experiencing the country just from the outside.

So, if you have a travel destination on your bucket list, add learning the language to your preparations. Give yourself, let's say three months, like we did with Danish. And then see how much of the language you can acquire in that time.

Use whatever resources you enjoy (flashcards, songs, films with subtitles, etc.) and just keep going, a little bit every day. As an added benefit, you'll sharpen your memory and train your ear.

And when you arrive in the country you're visiting, challenge yourself to speak up whenever you can! Try to experience your visit as a mini-immersion.

Peter's Confession

I have to confess that I have developed a love-hate relationship with Danish.

Even though Danish is a Germanic language and there are many words I can decipher when I READ them, I'm still a long way from SPEAKING Danish, or rather – pronouncing it correctly.

Why is that?

It's because Danish spelling is not phonetic in many cases: Not only are many endings not pronounced at all, but certain vowel and consonant combinations produce very unfamiliar sounds, at least to my German ear.

Examples of pronunciation as I hear them:

  • jeg (I) - <yigh>
  • mad (food) - <melth> and spelled differently but sounding very similar to
  • meget (much) - <melth>
  • det er ikke nogen (there isn't anything) - <de ehr igge noarn>

Nevertheless, I am continuing with Danish using Pimsleur, Duolingo and Memrise lessons at the moment, and hope to be able to listen soon to some LingQ mini-stories. (as Ulrike is already doing).

The Pimsleur audio course for Danish lets me focus more on listening and pronunciation, without getting confused by the non-phonetic spelling.

Why am I continuing with Danish when our travels are behind us?

Because I want to figure out at least the most common Danish pronunciation rules and I won't stop until I do.

What started out simply as preparation for a trip to Denmark now has become a personal challenge as well as a way to keep my brain sharp.

And what keeps motivating me to continue are my memories of our wonderful trip - and my determination to figure out the Danish pronunciation rules.

I'll keep you updated about my success (or failure)!

So, pick a travel destination and, yes, jump into your new language. This too is an exciting adventure.

Do it with enthusiasm and with imagination, and find your motivation to stick with it. Then go there and speak up!

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 Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact.

 

Posted on by Ulrike & Peter Rettig

European Travels 6 – From Lüneburg to Sylt

Sylt Beach in SeptemberGermany's north has its own charm: off the beaten track medieval towns and sunny islands with long, white beaches.

Readers of previous European Travels posts may remember our Canal Boating trip on Dutch canals last year.

(As last year, we again used the mywebspot pocket WIFI, which had proven so useful during our canal trip and travels to southern Germany and Austria.)

This year we again attended a family reunion in the Netherlands, with over 130 family members coming from Europe, Canada, and the United States.

Following the reunion, we went on to explore the north of Germany and Denmark, which borders Germany's most northern State, Schleswig-Holstein.

 

Lüneburg

From Exloo in the Dutch province of Drenthe, which lies just south of Groningen, it wasLüneburg Marktplatz only about three hours by car to the town of Lüneburg (or Lunenburg), a medieval German town in the state of Lower Saxony.

Located just about 30 miles southeast of Hamburg, Lüneburg is part of Hamburg's Metropolitan Region.

Since 2007, Lüneburg has been allowed to use the title “Hansestadt” (Hanseatic Town) in its name, as a reminder that it used to belong to the “Hanse” (Hanseatic League), a commercial and defensive confederation of towns and merchant guilds.

(We had learned much about the Hanse while visiting Lübeck, when traveling from Hamburg to Wismar a few years ago.)

Lüneburg's "Alter Kran"We arrived in Lüneburg on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Taking advantage of the warm September weather, we took a long, leisurely stroll through the old part of town.

Lüneburg suffered little damage during the Second World War. We could thus admire many of the structures of the historical core: flower-filled alleys and courtyards, traditional gabled Brick Gothic buildings, the impressive City Hall, the huge water tower (built 1905).

Lüneburg gained a great deal of wealth in the Middle Ages, when its salt springs were transformed into “White Gold”. Salt also made Lüneburg one of the wealthiest town of the Hanseatic League for many years.

You can learn about salt's importance and its history in the German Salt Museum.

The “Alte Kran” (Old Crane, see picture above) which dominates the quarter along the Ilmenau Canal was used to load the salt onto the barges.

Lüneburg at the water Today, Lüneburg reportedly has one of Europe's highest concentration of pubs. We certainly had no problem finding one of them with a terrace right by the canal.

For German learners, the language spoken in Northern Germany is much easier to understand than the German spoken by many in the South (Black Forest, Swabia, Bavaria).

So, if you want to explore a small typical Hanseatic League town, which is a little bit off the beaten track, Lüneburg is a great choice.

If you're learning German, here are some words and phrases to add to your vocabulary:

  • das Mittelalter - the Middle Ages
  • die Hanse - the Hanseatic League
  • die Altstadt - the medieval center, old part of town
  • der zweite Weltkrieg - the Second World War
  • die Backsteingotik - the Brick Gothik (architecture)
  • das Rathaus - the city hall
  • der Wasserturm - the water tower
  • das Salz - the salt
  • das weiße Gold - the white gold
  • der Reichtum - the wealth
  • die Kneipe - the pub
  • abgelegen - off the beaten track

Husum

Husum Harbor with harbor side bistrosAs we had visited Hamburg in 2015 (see also From Utrecht to Hamburg), we decided to pass by this major German port city and head to Husum, a maritime town on the North Sea.

While having a delicious lunch in one of the many waterside bistros, we enjoyed watching the comings and goings in the little harbor.

We knew that Husum was the birthplace of the novelist Theodor Storm. The Theodor Storm House gave us much information about the life of this lawyer-novelist, who is most known for the last of his 50 novellas, “Der Schimmelreiter” (The Rider on the White Horse).

The novel's setting along the North German coast creates an eerie atmosphere along the dyke, with descriptions of superstitions, class differences, and men's struggles against the sea.

Storm's House also gave us a glimpse of the political events in the 19th Husum Harbor at low tide with boats in mudcentury, as this part of Germany was also under Danish control for a while.

(Today the Danish minority in Husum is represented by its own party [Südschleswigscher Wählerverband, SSW] In the 2017 state elections that party only achieved 3.3%, but is excepted from the 5% minimum and sends three representatives to the Schleswig Holstein Legislature.)

When we came back from out visit to the Storm House, we could see first hand how the considerable tides can maroon boats and ships in the harbor's mud. To get in and out of their slip, these sailor certainly have to consult their tide tables!  (see picture above.)

Words and Phrases to add to your vocabulary:

  • der Hafen – the harbor
  • die Gezeiten – the tides
  • die Ebbe – the ebb tide
  • die Flut – the flood tide
  • der Schlamm – the mud
  • der Deich – the dike, levee
  • der Schriftsteller - the writer
  • der Roman - the novel
  • der Schimmel – the white horse
  • die Schleuse – the lock

The Island of Sylt

Husum to Sylt Map via Hindenburg DammMaybe you've heard of Sylt – the northernmost German and largest North Frisian island in the North Sea.

Thomas Mann, Marlene Dietrich, and other well-known writers and artists had “discovered” the island already in the 1920s; in the 1970s, playboy Gunther Sachs put it back on the map with his wild parties. The island began to attract the German industrial elite, and famous athletes and movie stars began to rent or build homes there for the summer season.

Today, Sylt has become one of Germany's most popular holiday destinations, the wild times of the 70s just a memory of the past.

We wanted to see for ourselves what brings so many visitors to the island.

There are two ways to get to Sylt.: (1) by boat or ferry from the Danish port of Havneby on the island of Romo, or (2) by train across the Hindenburgdam (a causeway named after German President Hindenburg). We chose the latter, drove our rental car unto the train shuttle in Niebull, and 45 minutes later we drove off the train in Westerland, the main town on Sylt.

The island has a 25 mile long beach on the western side, with mudflats Typical reed-roofed house on Sylttowards the main land on the east.

We had booked ourselves for 2 days into a B&B in Rantum, just 5 miles south of Westerland (see picture right).

The first evening, we attended an entertaining and informative lecture about Sylt's history of storms. The speaker talked about the many attempts of the islanders to prevent beach erosions and about their continuing struggle against the sea.

Great efforts are taken to prevent the loss of cliffs and dunes during storms. The beaches are replenished with sand dredged up offshore, but storms and tides often counteract all human efforts.

While Westerland is a busy city with many hotels and a very active nightlife, we preferred the calmer and more scenic areas north and south.

Sylt Beach during off seasonAnd, if you were wondering – just in case you had heard about Sylt's nude beaches – yes, there are many “FKK” (Freikörperkultur) - “clothing optional” beaches on Sylt. “Buhne 16“, is the oldest and, arguably, the most well-known one. It achieved notoriety during the wild 70s and became a paparazzi hunting ground. (There's also a bistro called Buhne 16.)

We explored both the northern and southern tips of the island, walked the long beaches and admired the many wonderful reed-roof houses on the island's high dunes and cliffs.

During our week-day visit in early September, the beaches were mostly empty (see picture above). The large parking lots behind the dunes, however, left no doubt that high-season traffic on the north-south road must be intense.

Words and Phrases to add to your vocabulary:

  • die Insel - the island
  • die Nordseeküste - the coast of the North Sea
  • der Landverlust - the loss of land, land erosion
  • der Playboy, Lebemann - the playboy
  • berühmte Sportler - famous athletes
  • der Filmstar - the movie star
  • das Ferienziel - the holiday destination
  • der Strand - the beach
  • das Watt - the mudflat
  • der Vortrag - the lecture
  • das Schilfdach - the reed roof

The local language spoken on Sylt is Söl'ring, one of the dialects of Tadjem Deel: "Küsse Tal" restaurant in the Sylt dunesNorth Frisian (a Germanic language). Söl'ring, which has been heavily influenced by Danish, is taught in a few elementary schools on Sylt. However only a few hundred people speak it and we saw Söl'ring only on a couple of signs.

For example, we were puzzled by the name of this restaurant that we found nestled in the dunes (see picture right): Tadjem Deel. The owner told us that it means Küsse Tal or valley of kisses

After getting a glimpse of one of Germany's most popular vacation spots, Sylt, we set our sights on Denmark. We were eager to try out our Danish, which we had practiced daily for nearly four months on Duolingo.

More about that in one of our next posts.

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

Gamesforlanguage: Understanding “gammeln” und “vergammeln”...

Det gamle Hus on Danish houseTraveling has the added benefit of opening your eyes to both new and old things.

Sometimes you even learn to understand words and expressions in your native language that you heard and used - but never thought much about.

That occurred to me recently during our travels through Denmark when I saw “Det gamle Hus” on a house in Gilleleje, Denmark. (see above picture)

In German, you have the words “gammeln” and “vergammeln”. The etymological roots of these words suddenly became clear! And with that, I have an excellent memory crutch for the Danish word. 

Das vergammelte Haus?

A quick look at a dictionary clarified that the Danish sign “Det gamle Hus” just means “The old house. (Das alte Haus.”)

The German cognate “vergammelt” also means that something is old. In addition “vergammelt” suggests that it's in bad condition, decrepit, run down, etc.

Obviously, if I had ever bothered to look up the etymology of “gammel”, I would have found an entry such as this:

Via German Low German from Middle Low German gamelen, from Old Saxon (attested in the past participle gigamal?). Cognate to Old English gamolian. The verb pertains to an adjective meaning “old” attested in Middle Dutch gamel, Old English gamol, Old Norse gamall (whence forms in all modern Scandinavian languages). (Wiki)

Gammeln

The same Wiki entry also had a good example for the verb “gammeln”:

(of food or figurative) to become old; to rot

Das Brot von letzter Woche gammelt im Schrank. (Last week’s bread is rotting in the cupboard.)

It also provided a second etymological explanation:

Originally a southern German dialect word. Derived from Middle High German gamel, variant of gamen (“amusement”), from Old High German gaman. Related to English game.

Gammeln (third-person singular simple present gammelt, past tense gammelte, past participle gegammelt, auxiliary haben)

(informal) to bum around; to do nothing productive; to be idle; to live the life of a hobo

Nach der Schule hab ich zwei Jahre nur gegammelt. (After finishing school I didn't do anything productive for two years.)

“Gammeln” and “vergammeln” may not be words you learn in a German course. But if you ever come across them in Germany (or their cousins in any of the nordic countries), you now you know their meaning. 

And, as an added benefit for me: I will probably never forget that "old" in Danish is "gamle" (and, as pointed out above, in all modern Scandinavian languages).

So, cognates - such as the Danish “gamle” and the German “gammeln” - are an easy way for learning and remembering vocabulary: You just have to pay attention as you are walking around and try to decipher signs, posters and advertisements.

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.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

German Travel Memories 2 - Michael in Heidelberg

Heidelberg mit Neckar und SchlossVisiting Heidelberg? Exploring this romantic and historic university town will leave you with lots of wonderful travel memories.

Our first German Travel Memories post covered Frankfurt a.M., where Michael, the young traveler in our German 1 course, is visiting family. He then takes the train to Heidelberg for his second stop in Germany.

We'll follow Michael's explorations of Heidelberg. For those of you who are doing or have done our German 1 course: Michael in Deutschland, the additional details will complement those of the course.

The Travel Memories blog posts tell you more about each of the cities of GamesforLanguage's travel-story based courses. We typically use the cities' real street names, hotels, squares, restaurants, etc. and we've been to many of them ourselves.

In future blog posts, we'll provide more details of the two other German cities Michael visits, Munich and Berlin. And we'll do the same for the cities that our other travelers visit in France, Italy, Spain, and the U.S.

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 travel terms in German.

Quick Facts about HeidelbergHeidelberg view from Castle

The city of Heidelberg lies on the Neckar river, in the south-western part of Baden-Württemberg (one of Germany's 16 federal states).

Because of its stunning location and picturesque cityscape, Heidelberg is a hugely popular travel destination.

A quintessential college town, Heidelberg has a population of just over 150,000, with roughly a quarter of its inhabitants being students.

The city is well known for its university, which was founded in 1386 and said to be one of the oldest in Germany. Over the centuries it has attracted prominent philosophers, poets, and scholars.

In addition, Heidelberg is the location of numerous research institutions, among them four Max Plank Institutes.

After World War II, Heidelberg, which was situated in the American Zone, became the Headquarters of the American forces in Europe.

  • Bundesland (n.) - federal state
  • Lage (f.) - location (of a city)
  • Stadtbild (n.) - cityscape
  • Universitätsstadt (f.) - college/university town
  • Studenten (pl. m.) - students
  • Philosophen (pl. m.) - philosophers
  • Forschung (f.) - research
  • Forschungsinstitut - research institute
  • Hauptquartier (n.) - (military) Headquarters, H.Q.
  • die amerikanischen Truppen - the American forces

Arrival in Heidelberg (the Weststadt Neighborhood)

House Zum Ritter in Heidelberg, GermanyFrom Frankfurt, Michael takes the ICE (InterCity) to Heidelberg, a train ride of less than an hour. (You can also take the S-Bahn, or a regional train.)

Heidelberg has 15 city districts. The Central Railway Station is located in Weststadt, the district next to the historic core of the city (Altstadt). It's also where Michael's friends live: on the Schillerstraße.

Weststadt is a residential district dating back to the 1830s. Starting in the 1870s and continuing into the 20th century (a period which is often called "Gründerzeit"), Weststadt experienced a residential building boom and became a highly fashionble neighborhood.

The "Gründerzeit" (literally, "founders' period") - related to the period when the German national state was consolidated under Chancellor Bismarck - coincided with rapid industrialization and economic growth in central Europe.

The architectural style of that time was eclectic and mixed diverse historical periods. So walking through the Weststadt neighborhood, you'll see buildings in various styles: Italian Renaissance, Baroque Revival, Neoclassical, Art Nouveau, etc.

  • Hauptbahnhof (m.) - Central Railway Station
  • Altstadt (f.) - historic city center
  • Wohngegend (f.) - residential area
  • Gründerzeit (f.) - economic phase of rapid development (lit.: "founders' period")
  • Bauboom (m.) - building boom
  • Industrialisierung (f.) - industrialization
  • Wirtschaftswachstum (n.) - economic growth
  • Baustil (m.) - (architectural) style
  • Ritter (m.) knight
  • Friedrich Schiller - German philospher, playwright, poet (1759-1805)
  • nach rechts - to the right
  • nach links - to the left
  • geradeaus - straight ahead

Mark Twain's Travel Memories of Heidelberg

Michael and his friends walk through the historic of Heidelberg ("Altstadt").

One of his friends, Renate, points out a hotel, where Mark Twain supposedly stayed during his visit to Heidelberg in 1878.

In that year, Mark Twain was struggling to finish his novel Huckleberry Finn (as some journalists claim), and went on a Europe tour with his family, as a kind of working holiday.

Mark Twain loved Heidelberg (as you can  read in his Travel Book "A Tramp Abroad") and stayed there for three months. 

Possibly, the hotel that Renate points out, is today's Crowne Plaza, built in 1838 as Hotel Ernst, and located in the Old Town on the Bahnhofstraße. Mark Twain first notes in "A Tramp Abroad": "We stopped at a hotel by the railway-station."

Twain continues:

The weather was growing pretty warm,—very warm, in fact. View from Heidelberg castle where Mark Twain made travel memoriesSo we left the valley and took quarters at the Schloss Hotel, on the hill, above the Castle.

As Twain describes it, the Schloss Hotel provided him with a fantastic view: (see view from Heidelberg castle)

"Now if one turns and looks up the gorge once more, he will see the Schloss Hotel on the right perched on a precipice overlooking the Neckar—a precipice which is so sumptuously cushioned and draped with foliage that no glimpse of the rock appears. The building seems very airily situated. ...

Out of a billowy upheaval of vivid green foliage, a rifle-shot removed, rises the huge ruin of Heidelberg Castle, with empty window arches, ivy-mailed battlements, moldering towers ... It is a fine sight to see the evening sunlight suddenly strike the leafy declivity at the Castle’s base and dash up it and drench it as with a luminous spray, while the adjacent groves are in deep shadow."

Journalists and historians have tried to guess why Mark Twain loved Heidelberg so much.

Was it because "Heidelberg" (short for "Heidelbeerenberg"), in fact, means "Huckelberry mountain" as we speculate in Why did Mark Twain like Heidelberg?

More likely, Twain fell in love with the beauty of town itself, and its picturesque riverside setting.

  • Roman (m.) - novel
  • Arbeitsurlaub (m.) - working holiday
  • Heidelbeere (f.) - huckleberry
  • Wetter (n.) - weather
  • Aussicht (f.) - view
  • Schloss (n.) - castle
  • Klippe (f.) - precipice
  • raten - to guess

Twain had a love-hate relationship with the German language and his The Awful German Language - an Appendix to his 1880 book, A Tramp Abroad, is a fun travel memories read for anyone learning German.

Heidelberg University

Heidelberg Universität The founding of the University of Heidelberg (1386) was prompted by a curious historical event. At the time of the Great Schism of 1378 (when two popes - one French and one Italian - were elected after the death of Pope Gregory XI), German secular and spiritual leaders supported the Italian one in Rome.

As a result, German students and teachers at the University of Paris had to leave. But, the Italian Pope, Urban VI, allowed the creation of a university in Heidelberg.

During the years 1804 to 1809, a number of writers who were part of the German Romantic movement, spent time in Heidelberg for teaching and research at the university. They included poets such as Clemens Brentano and Friedrich Hölderlin.

In the 1960s and 70s, Heidelberg University became one of the main centers of left-wing student protests.

Today, Heidelberg University is internationally renowned. Its building are grouped in two main locations. 1) In the Altstadt: the Old Town Campus (for humanities), some of whose buildings reach back to 1712, and the Bergheim Campus (for economics and social sciences). 2) In the district of Neuenheim across the river: The New Campus built during the 1960's (for the natural sciences and life science).

  • Universität (f.) - university
  • Gründung (f.) - founding
  • Pabst (m.) - pope
  • Romantik (f.) - Romantic movement in the arts and literature (late 18th-early 19th c.)
  • Dichter (m.) - poet, writer
  • Dichterin (f.) - poet, writer
  • Linker Studentenprotest (m.) - left-wing student protest
  • Ort (m.) - location, site, place
  • Unigelände (n.) / Campus (m.) - campus

Heidelberg SchlossDas Schloss

A Renaissance ruin and well-known landmark, Heidelberg Castle is nestled on the slope of the Königstuhl hill, 300 feet above the city of Heidelberg.

To go up to the castle from near the center of town, you can take a funicular to the Molkenkur station, and from there change to another funicular up to the castle. In all, it's about a 15-minute ride, and the view from the top is fantastic.

First built in 1890, the two Heidelberg mountain railways (Bergbahnen) underwent various building phases, renovations, and additions to meet current safety standards.

  • Ruine (f.) - ruin
  • Abhang (m.) - hillside
  • Wahrzeichen (n.) - landmark
  • Standseilbahn (f.) - funicular (cable car on a slope)

Further sights may interest you:

Other Places to visit in Heidelberg

Studentenkarzer: The Student Prison (part of the old university), which was used from 1778 to 1914.

Philosophenweg: The Philosopher's Walk is a pathway that the university's philosophers frequented. It runs along the side of Heiligenberg and provides spectacular views of the castle and the city.

Alte Brücke: The Karl Theodor Bridge goes over the Neckar river joining the two historic parts of Heidelberg.

Königstuhl: Instead of taking the funicular up to the summit, you can also make the Königstuhl (King's Chair) a destination for hiking.

For anyone interested in poetry, click on Poems about Heidelberg (Heidelberg in der Dichtung) 

Michael's Next Stop

Munich HofbräuhausFrom Heidelberg, Michael takes the Intercity to Munich. There he stays at a hotel, visits the Hofbräuhaus (see picture ), and spends the evening with friends in Schwabing, a lively student quarter.

We'll soon tell you more about Munich in our future post "German Travel Memories - Michael in Munich"

Register or log in again to continue with the German 1 course.


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.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

Spanish Travel Memories 2 - David in Granada

Travel memories at ancient fortress of Alhambra, Granada, SpainThe Spanish Travel Memories add to the information that our young traveler David picks up in our GamesforLanguage travel-story courses.

In the courses, we use street names, neighborhoods, hotels, and restaurants - many of which we've explored ourselves - in each of the Spanish cities.

In Spanish Travel Memories 1, we tell you more about Barcelona. After visiting his aunt and uncle there and exploring the city, David heads south to Granada.

If you're going to visit Spain, you wouldn't want to miss Granada. It's a fascinating city with a multicultural history, and certainly a place for travel memories.

We're also listing a few basic words and phrases in Spanish that will help you to communicate locally. The word lists are a combination of words and phrases taught in the course and other useful travel terms.

Just as we did with our post about Barcelona, we'll follow David's discoveries in Granada. For those of you who have done or are doing our Spanish 1 course: David en Españathis may be of special interest.

Quick Facts about Granada

The city of Granada is the capital of the province of Granada, one of the eight provinces in the autonomous community of Andalusia. The city proper has a population of over 236,000.

Granada has a great location. It lies close to the Sierra NevadaGranada with Sierra Nevada in background mountain range, and is only about an hour by car from the Mediterranean coast.

The name "Granada" may come from either the Spanish word for "pomegranate" (granada) or from the Arabic word said to mean "hill of strangers."

In its early history, the region of what is now Granada was the site of an Iberian settlement, Elibyrge, (5th century b.c.), and of the Roman town Illiberis (150 b.c.). During the reign of the Visigoths (500 a.d.), a small community of Jews who had also settled there, named the area Garnata al-yahut.

In 711, a Moorish Caliphate invaded and conquered Granada. After internal conflicts among Arab clans, the Ziries clan created an independent kingdom, which lasted from (1013-1238). It was followed by the powerful Nazrid dynasty (1238-1492).

It was during the reign of the Nazrid kingdom, that the Alhambra fortress and the Generalife palace were built.

Granada was the last Muslim kingdom to be conquered by the Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492.

  • the mountain range - la sierra
  • snow-covered, snowy - nevado/a (adj.)
  • the coast - la costa
  • the pomegranate - la granada
  • the settlement - el asentamiento
  • the dynasty - la dinastía
  • Catholic Monarchs - Reyes Católicos

Train to Granada

Barcelona to Granada mapThe distance between Barcelona (located in the northeast of Spain) and Granada (in the south) is 425 miles. Rather than fly to Granada, David chooses the less expensive option. He takes the train, which in his case is the Arco train with a route along the eastern coast.

Side Note: Obviously, train schedules and routes change over time. The Arco train to cities in Andalusia, operated by RENFE (Red Nacional de los Ferrocarriles Españoles), has been replaced by their AVE trains with somewhat different routes. The map above shows the driving options, which also mirror the train routes quite closely. The train route via Madrid may be faster. 

Once he arrives in Granada, David asks for directions to “la calle Reyes Católicos,” the street where his friend Daniel lives, in the center of town. From the train station it's about a three-mile walk. (There's also an easy bus connection.)

  • the train station - la estación de tren
  • the distance - la distancia
  • the train schedule - el horario de trenes
  • the train ticket - el billete de tren
  • the (train) track - la vía
  • to wait - esperar
  • a seat by the window - un asiento en la ventana
  • Is this seat available? - ¿Está este asiento todavía libre?

Washington Irving and the Alhambra

Washington Irving Statue in Alhambra, Granada, SpainThe Alhambra ("the red" in Arabic) is a spectacular palace and fortress built between 1238 and 1358 during the Moorish Nazrid dynasty. It stands on a plateau overlooking the city of Granada. You can read up more on its history HERE.

We were surprised to learn that the American writer Washington Irving (1783-1859) had actually lodged in a room in the Alhambra palace for three months in 1829. During that time he began his "Tales of the Alhambra," a colorful mixture of local history and legend. There's a plaque in the room where he stayed.

On the way down through the gardens, you can see a statue of Irving, which commemorates the 150th anniversary of his death. Downtown, there's also a street named after him.

  • the palace - el palacio
  • a palatial complex - un complejo palaciego
  • the writer (m/f) - el escritor, la escritora
  • the tale, story - el cuento
  • the plaque - la placa
  • the garden - el jardín
  • the statue - la estatua

Side note: The city of Alhambra in California is reportedly named after the "Tales of the Alhambra." In 1874, the daughter of Benjamin Wilson, a wealthy developer, was reading the book and encouraged him to use the name for his new suburban development in Los Angeles County.

University of Granada

Founded in 1531 by emperor Charles V, the University of Granada is one of the oldest in Spain and continues a long educational tradition that goes back to the time of the Moorish epoch.

With over 50,000 students in Granada alone (and seven campuses, five in Granada, and two in Spanish territories in Northern Africa), the University of Granada is the one of the largest in Spain.

The university is also highly popular with students of Erasmus, a program adopted by the European Commission in 1987, to encourage and support student exchanges throughout the European Union.

Side Note: The Erasmus Program was named after the Dutch philosopher and scholar, Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466-1536). At the same time, ERASMUS also stands for: European Region Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students.

Mirador de San Cristóbal

The San Cristobal Viewpoint is in the picAlbaicin neighborhoodturesque Albaicín neighborhood of Granada. From the viewpoint you have a stunning panoramic view of the city, including a side view of the Alhambra and the snow-peaked mountains behind.

El Albaicín has maintained the narrow winding streets and the architecture of its Moorish past. It was declared a world heritage site in 1984, together with the Alhambra. 

(We recently came across this Post "Ask an Expat: Living in Granada, Spain" by Nina Bosken, who describes her experience teaching and living in Granada. And to fill out the picture of Granada, read this New York Times Travel Dispatch In Spain, Secrets and a Possible Betrayal!)

David's next Stop (and future Spanish Travel Memories 3)

From Granada, David takes the train to Seville for more travel memories. There he checks into a hotel his friends had recommended to him.

He explores the Toro del Oro and the Almohad Tower, called La Giralda. Together with Ana and some of her friends he spends an evening in Triana, the neighborhood known for flamenco dancers and singers.

Register or log in again and continue with the Spanish 1 course.

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 below or with contact. 

Posted on by Peter Rettig

European Travel 5 – Discoveries in Austria

Beer Garden in Austria with "Grüass Eich God" sign - Gamesforlanguage.comAustria always holds new things for us to discover. After a week in Überlingen, Germany, where we explored sights along Lake Constance, we picked up a rental car in Friedrichshafen and headed to Austria.

And we were happy to still have our Webspot Pocket WiFi with us, which we had first used while canal cruising in the Netherlands and during our train trip from Utrecht to Lake Constance. This way we could easily google information about the towns and sights we passed by. (Returning the pocket WIFI was also easy: Later in Vienna, we just dropped it off at a Post office in its metal case and prepaid envelope!)

In Austria

Our car's navigation system led us easily around Munich and, it being a Saturday, we didn't encounter any of the notorious Munich traffic jams.

Soon we found ourselves on Austrian territory. (There are open borders between Germany and Austria, so we had no wait at the border. This is one advantage of the “Schengen Agreement” for tourists and travelers.)

At noon we stopped in a little town. The warm and sunny September weather allowed us to enjoy our lunch in a typical Austrian beer garden.

We watched as the restaurant became busy and the tables all got occupied.

We picked up pieces of Austrian conversation here and there, and as is customary in Austria, we were not surprised when another couple joined us at our table.

We enjoyed a delicious meal. As we wereBeer Garden sign: "Pfüad Eich God" leaving, we chuckled when we noticed the sign over the entrance to the garden restaurant:“Grüass Eich God” (see above left) and on the other side of the sign, when leaving: “Pfüad Eich God” (see right).

The first one is a local form of “Grüß Gott” meaning “May God greet (or bless) you. ”The second translates as something like “Be well with God,” meaning “Goodby.”

Both Austrian/Bavarian versions would be pretty well incomprehensible to a German learner. (Now you also know what “Pfüad di” means?)

Wels, Austria

A little more than an hour later, we arrived in Wels where one of Ulrike's Austrian cousins lives with his family. His son now manages the family business, the Hotel and the Gasthof Maxlhaid, located on the outskirts of Wels.

Wels, the seventh-largest city in Austria with 60,000 inhabitants, lies at the Traun River, about 20 miles from Linz.

It was my first visit to Wels and I was eager to learn more about its history.

Important during the Roman age, prosperous during the Middle Ages, devastated during the 30 Years' War, Wels became an important manufacturing center during the industrial revolution.

In World War II, Wels saw heavy destruction, and only a few historic buildings have remained. However over the years, new industries have settled there and the city has also gained prominence with its trade fairs and congresses.

The Saturday we arrived happened to be the Lange Nacht der Museen (Long Night of the Museums). For a small fee, people could visit any of the area's participating museums, many of which stayed open until midnight.

We took advantage of that opportunity and visited several museums in town, including the City Museum.

Stadtmuseum Burg Wels

Stadtmuseum Burg Wels GardenThe City Museum is located in a castle, which for centuries belonged to the Habsburg family. (see the castle gardens left) The castle was rebuilt between 1504 and 1514 by emperor Maximilian I in late-Gothic style.

Many artifacts from that time are exhibited, together with documents, models, and audio-visual presentations of the city's and area's history.

One exhibit shows the many different bread forms bakers have used over time. Another one shows the various tools and machines the agricultural industry had developed in Austria.

In another display, we were fascinated by several maps that show the German enclaves in what used to be called the “German-Austrian empire” before 1918.

Our understanding of the Upper Austrian dialect was also tested (we passed!), when we watched museum staff perform several humorous sketches about Wels personalities.

Pferdeeisenbahnmuseum in der Maxlhaid

At the end of the night, Ulrike's cousin gave us a private tour of hisHorse railway map Budweis to Gmunden own horse railway museum, which is located in a large barn behind the hotel. The museum, a longterm hobby, is his love and passion.

The history of the horse railway is quite interesting. The Italian Franz Zola, (father of the French writer Émile Zola, 1840-1902) was an engineer/surveyor during the construction of the first continental horse railway between Budweis (now Czech Republic) and Linz (Austria).

That was the northern route of the horse railway, which opened in 1832.

Franz Zola received a license from Emperor Franz in 1828 to continue the southern route from Linz to Gmunden. However, when his financing fell through, Zola left for the Foreign Legion and settled later in France.

Subsequently, the southern route of the railway was completed by others in 1836. The 123 miles of track from Gmunden to Budweis could then meet their real purpose: transporting goods, especially salt from Gmunden to Bohemia.

The station Maxlhaid, at the location of the current hotel, was one of several stations where horse changes occurred and a tavern already existed there in 1835.

By 1855, however, steam engines replaced the horses and the horse railway became history. (See the map above and the German Wikipedia entry for further details of the Budweis-Gmunden horse railway).

Linz, Austria

The next day, we visited Linz, the capital of Upper Austria. It is Austria's third-largest city with a population of over 200,000.

Linz is only 19 miles from the Czech border. Founded by the Romans and called “Lentia,” Linz was the most important city in the Habsburg Empire, but lost its status to Vienna and Prague after the death of Emperor Frederick III in 1493.

Today Linz remains one of Austria's main economic centers. Its harbor on the Danube (one of four in Austria) attracts logistic and trading enterprises as well as manufacturing plants along the river banks.

"Winged Piano" in Linz, AustriaFrom the Pöstlingberg, a 1700-foot hill on the left bank of the Danube, we had a wonderful view of the city.

We were intrigued by “Höhenrausch 2016,” an exhibition now in its ninth year, with always changing art. This year angels were the main topic.

The “Höhenrausch” tour takes you through large rooms of the Ursuline Church, the top of a parking garage and terraces with various sculptures. It was all both fun and instructive. We learned about the history of angels in different religions, and in literature and art.

We were amused by various interactive exhibits (click on the picture above or this YouTube clip to see a piano with wings).

The views across the roofs of Linz from one of the wooden towers were spectacular.

Our short stay did not allow us to visit any of the many museums along the banks of the Danube, for example, the Schlossmuseum, the Lentos Art Museum, the Ars Electronica Center, but we got a glimpse of them during our walk through the city and along the Danube.

The Danube

Seeing the Danube wind its way through Linz Map of Rhine - Danubeprompted me to look a little further into this great European river.

Indeed, with a length of about 1785 miles, the Danube is the second longest European river after the Volga.

And, as no other river in the world, it touches 10 different countries on its way: From its source in the Black Forest in Germany, it flows through Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Serbia, Romania, Croatia, Bulgaria, Moldavia, and Ukraine, where it empties into the Black Sea.

With the completion of the Main-Danube Canal (Main-Donau Kanal) in 1992, linking the Rhine with the Danube, a waterway connection between the North Sea and the Black Sea was established.

Thereby even more European states were linked through their own connected waterways. (On the map above, the Rhine and Main are shown in green, The Main-Danube Canal in red, and the navigable stretch of the Danube in blue.)

We would be amiss if we didn't mention the poster child of German compound words:

Donaudampfschifffahrtskapitän (Captain of the Danube Steamship Company)

(However, it even pales against this one which contains 79 letters and, reportedly, holds the 1996 Guinness Book of World Records. Click HERE for the translation and history:) 

Donaudampfschiffahrtselektrizitätenhauptbetriebswerkbauunterbeamtengesellschaft,

Vienna, Austria

Austrian National Library: Prunksaal - Gamesforlanguage.comA few days later found us walking through the streets of Vienna, a city we both know well. But you can always find something new to do in Vienna!

This time we happened to walk by the Austrian National Library and were attracted by the exhibition about the life of Emperor Franz Joseph I. It was held in remembrance of the 100th anniversary of his death in 1916.

Franz Joseph's long life (1830-1910) made him the “ewige Kaiser” (eternal emperor) to many Austrians. He reportedly was the most painted and photographed person of the 19th century.

The exhibition described his life from young child to teenager, young man, media star, and statesman, with portraits, letters, news reports. It was was set up in the Library's grand “Prunksaal” (State Hall).

The Austrian National Library is not only the largest library in Austria with 7.4 million books, but the “Prunksaal” of the old imperial library takes your breath away.

It forms part of the Hofburg Palace and everywhere you look, there are sculptures, frescos, marble statues, and paintings.

So next time you go to Austria, consider going a little of the beaten track. And don't forget, when you come to Vienna, take a look at the Austrian National Library.

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

The Other Swiss Languages: Italian and Romansh

Swiss map with CantonsBesides German and French, there are two other official Swiss languages: Italian and Romansh. (See also our previous post: Language Learning: German and French in Fribourg, Switzerland)

Like German and French, Italian has full official status on the federal level in Switzerland: all laws and official documents have to be written in these three languages.

Romansh has "partial" official status, i.e. it is used on the federal level when needed for communication with Romansh speakers.

However, each Swiss canton and, generally, even each community can choose which language to use for its own official communication.

Italian is the only official language of the Canton of Ticino and one of the three official languages of the Canton of Graubünden.

Romansh is recognized as an official language only in the Canton of Graubünden, (the largest Swiss canton, but with less than 200,000 inhabitants, also the canton with the lowest population density).

According to an article about Swiss languages published in July 2016 by swissinfo.ch, German (both High German and Swiss German) is spoken by about 63% of the population, French by about 23%, Italian by about 8%. Romansh is spoken by less than 1% of the total population.

The Third Swiss Language: Where Italian is Spoken

Swiss Italian is the Italian spoken in the Canton of Ticino and in the southern part of the Canton Graubünden. Ticino on Swiss map(see map of Ticino, right and map of Graubünden below)

The territory of present-day Ticino was annexed from Italian cities in the 15th century. With the creation of the Swiss Confederation in 1803, the lands were named Ticino, after the largest river in the area. To read up on the history of Ticino: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ticino

The official name of Ticino is Repubblica e Cantone Ticino (Republic and Canton of Ticino). Because of historical ties, the people of Ticino have a strong cultural affinity to their Italian neighbors.

Ticino is the only canton where Italian is the sole official language. Over 87% of the people speak Italian as their native language, around 666,000 according to Ethnologue. (About 10% speak German, and about 5% speak French.)

In the Canton of Graubünden about 15% of the population speaks Italian (just under 30,000). 

Please note: The numbers and percentages I'm quoting show some variation in the French, German, English, and Italian articles I consulted about Swiss languages.

Swiss Italian - Svizzero Italiano

Over the centuries, the Swiss Italian language has been influenced by the local Ticinese dialects and the other national languages, French and German. There are Helveticisms (words typical for Switzerland), differences in idiomatic usage and syntax, and loan words (not known in Standard Italian). 

Here are a few loan words that come from French or German:

To book, reserve (a room or table)
Italian: prenotare.  Swiss Italian: riservare.  French: réserver.

Change, money back
Italian: resto.  Swiss Italian: ritorno.  French: retour.

Sticker (for car)
Italian: bollino.  Swiss Italian: vignetta.  French: vignette.

Discount
Italian: sconto.  Swiss Italian: ribasso.  German: rabatt.

Blind, roller shutter
Italian: taparelle.  Swiss Italian: rolladen.  German: Rollladen. (yes, 3x "l")

Here's a nice little YouTube podcast in Italian about the Swiss Italian language. 

More Swiss Languages: Ticinese

In addition to Swiss Italien, a part of the population of Ticino speaks Ticinese, which is a group of dialect varieties of the Lombard language. For many Italian speakers, Ticinese is difficult to understand.

Ticinese has now been named an endangered language. (According to Ethnologue, there are 303,000 speakers of Ticinese in Switzerland.)

The Lombard language is also spoken in the Northern Italian regions of Lombardy, Piedmont, and Trentino. https://www.ethnologue.com/country/CH/languages

The Fourth Swiss Language: Where Romansh/Rumantsch is Spoken

Graubünden on Swiss mapThe Romansh language is spoken primarily in the southeast of Switzerland, in the Canton of Graubünden, where it has official status alongside German and Italian. (Besides the two spellings above, there are a number of other ways to spell the language.)

Romansh is a descendant of Vulgar (or spoken) Latin. In 2012, it counted just over 36 thousand people who called it their main language. At 0.9% of Swiss citizens makes it the least spoken of the four official Swiss languages.

The spoken Romansh language is generally divided into 5 dialect groups, which together form a continuum. Still, there are recognizable differences even from village to village. The most widely spoken dialect is Sursilvan, which is used by more than half of the speakers of Romansh. In addition to the 5 major dialects, there are a number of other recognized dialects.

Although they are closely related, the Romansh dialects are not always mutually comprehensible. For that reason, when speakers of different varieties talk with each other, they tend to use Swiss German rather than their own dialect. Apparently for Romansh speakers, identity is tied largely to the local dialect region.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, grammar and spelling guidelines were developed for the regional written dialects. Now, each of the 5 Romansh dialect varieties has its own standardized written language. Romansh is taught in some of the local schools.

In 2000 a bilingual high-school diploma was introduced in Graubünden. Since then, if they wished, students have been able to follow studies and graduate in Romansh/German or in Italian/German. 

Pan-Regional Rumansch Grischun

There were attempts to create a unified written Romansh language in 1867, and again in 1958, but these did not gather much support during the early days. A main criticism was that such a created language would be artificial and destroy the Romansh cultural heritage.

Nevertheless, attempts to introduce the standardized Rumansch Grischun in local schools have continued. Finally, in 2015, a hesitant compromise was reached: This unified version of the language is not to be introduced before grade 7. As expected, both supporters and opponents are unhappy.

How do the Swiss Manage?

In researching this topic, it became clear to me that accommodating these four languages and various dialects remains a challenge for Swiss communities and their government.

Resentments between language groups continue to exist. And still Switzerland, a small country of only 8.5 million inhabitants, is somehow managing.

One key may be the autonomy that the individual cantons and communities have in choosing their official language(s), and how and where the languages are taught, etc.

Maybe direct and frequent voting gives the citizens a sense of control? Maybe becoming bilingual by the time they get to school let children become more tolerant towards other languages?

Whatever the reasons, it seems to work. And it reminds me that South Tyrol may have emulated the language success of its neighbor, as we wrote in a previous post: South Tyrol – A Multicultural Success Story.

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 below!

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