If I were to write a fairy tale, I’d set it here. A good, old fashioned fairy tale, like the Brothers Grimm collated. Above the howl of the wind in the hills would be the shrieks of dragons. Straying off the beaten path in the woods would take you to a gingerbread house, a witch lurking inside ready to fatten you up. Trolls would haunt the broken down bridges, charging pedestrians for crossing their ruins. Through the town there would be a steady stream of princes and princesses, on their way to marriages, jousts and balls. The foxes that screech in the night would decide to form a band, playing in front of the town hall. The lakes would house frogs eager to rescue lost toys from the depths in exchange for true love’s kiss. Following the smoke that spirals above the woods would lead you to Rumpelstiltskin, dancing round the fire. Bears would be princes under a spell, statues actually beautiful women and above all there would be magic dancing in the air. If I were to write a fairy tale, I’d set it here. Because although instead of briars it has blocks of flats, and instead of a castle it has factories, Ilmenau has the look of a fairy tale. And what is Germany if not the home of Once Upon A Time?
So what with today being Unification day and all, I kinda had the urge to put on my browncoat, go looking for a quiet drink at an alliance friendly bar, but instead of living out a Firefly reference (sorry for alienating a good 80% of you in the first sentence), I went to a Herbstfest.
As Tag der deutschen Einheit is a national holiday, buses don’t really run and nor do all the trains. Happily, there were trains laid on especially to get to the Herbstfest. I wandered down to Ilmenau Hauptbahnhof, asked a lovely old couple if I needed to buy a ticket on the platform or on the train, and was assured that I needed to buy a ticket on the train. Half an hour and a few stops later, it turns out I may have been meant to buy a ticket before I got on the train. Ah well. Then at a place called Stützerbach it was all change. We got onto another train, which everyone else seemed to be very excited about being on, but I didn’t really understand why. Turns out it was a steam train. I didn’t know! I mean, it didn’t look like the Hogwarts Express or anything. See for yourself.
I mean, it’s red, but not particularly magical.
So having made it to Bahnhof Rennsteig, it turns out that it’s the highest train station above sea level in Germany, possibly even Europe if you believe the guy who was talking on the PA. This was where the Herbstfest was taking place. First lot of stalls I saw were all selling food, which is always a welcome sight.
As the guy on the P.A. kept saying, it was beautiful weather on this, the 3rd October 2013.
The stall I actually managed to get to first was, somehow, the alcohol stall. Got given free samples of walnut liquor, strawberry liquor and sour cherry liquor. All of them were delicious, and I’ve got to say, all craft fairs/autumn festivals ought to start with alcohol. Then I had a wander looking at the wood carving stalls and the glass blowing stalls and the fur stalls. I did buy things, but most of them were Christmas presents for people who read this blog, so sorry, no details for you. I did, however, buy a bottle of the strawberry liquor. And lunch. How can I forget lunch? Cheese and ham on rye bread which apparently is an Ilmenau dish. It was so tasty – I even managed not to drop any of it down me.
I’ve become one of those people who takes pictures of their food. Help me.
The trains back to Ilmenau were at 12.15, 2.15 and 4.15, and I’d managed to miss the 12.15 one by getting distracted by lunch. So with two hours to kill, I went on a wander in the woods, which are omnipresent in Thüringen. I ended up at the Hotel/Restaurant that I’d gone to with my grandparents and Dad on their last day in Germany. One strudel later it was time to head back to Bahnhof Rennsteig to catch the train.
Once you start taking pictures of your food, it’s really hard to stop…
Armed with a ticket this time, I managed to successfully get on the train home. This time I ended up on the other steam train, which still didn’t look like the Hogwarts Express. Seeing everyone else so excited about being on the train made me excited too, especially when it actually smelt like a steam engine, despite the lack of prettiness.
See? It’s no Hogwarts Express.
As days go, it was pretty good. Surrounded by grandparents, young couples and small children in the countryside kinda felt like being at a National Trust house, which is an environment I’m very used to. The weather was beautiful, and it’s reminding me why I like autumn. And on the way home, I saw uni students playing cricket, which was awesome because who doesn’t like reminders of England, though surprising because I thought Germans didn’t play cricket. But excellent day. Really excellent day.
As my family are still around, and as I have not a lot to do considering I don’t have training until the sixteenth, and don’t start work until the twenty third, we have gone on a couple of jaunts out into the surrounding area.
On Thursday (5th Sept.) we went to Erfurt. It’s the capital city of Thüringen, so in essence it is to Thüringen, as Birmingham is to the West Midlands, or Stafford is to Staffordshire. (For my southern readers, I have no frame of reference for you. Sorry.) In actuality, all it had in common with Birmingham is its status within the state. Erfurt is very pretty and is centred around a catholic Cathedral, with a market. It has traditional German houses, a river, and good shops. It was very pleasant, and it has a tram network, which is most excellent. I do love trams. The strangest part was going into a small shop that sold ornaments and cushions and notebooks and many cutesy, kitschy things, and finding a set of cushions that you can currently buy in England at your local BHS. Despite being in a foreign country about 750 miles from home, I can still get exactly the same things as in Britain.
On Friday (6th Sept.), we drove out into the forest. Let me be entirely honest here. To get to the forest one must only drive for about five minutes. But we drove through the forest, through many lovely looking villages until we stopped at a café with a spectacular view.
I am living in the “Green Heart of Germany” for the next year. Apparently, the school often takes the children for walks in the forest, so I will soon be familiar with it. I like the idea of living near a forest. All those trees in fairytale country. If I stumble across fairies or a gingerbread house, I will let you know. As soon as I’ve escaped the clutches of the witch, of course.