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Dance like no one’s lookin’ (and they did!)



Posted by on Oct 20, 2012 |


31-Days-of-Travel-in-Europe-PENSIEVEOut of Germany's 16 states (or Länder), I am most thankful my husband's job brought us to the Free State of Bavaria (Freistaat Bayern).  Located in Southeast Germany, it is the largest state in the country, and (as far as I know) the most beautiful.  Think scenery from the Sound of Music and you'll understand (Austria shares its border).

Bavaria's culture is rife with tradition.  Attend any festival and you'll see – and hear and taste and smell, and maybe even touch – in an instant what I mean.  Just wait until I publish my Oktoberfest post!

Today while I'm still narrowing down what to include in my Berlin Top Ten list, I thought it'd be fun to bring you DANCE.  


In Bavaria, you never know when you're going to run into a performance.  The other night when we were enjoying dinner at a nearby monestary restaurant, we heard it before we saw it.  Following our ears, we happened upon a small band of brothers performing the Schuhplattler for a private party; they didn't mind our intrusion so we were treated to dinner and a show.  Originally a gesture of courtship, Schuhplattler involves men (typically) in a synchronized series of hip, thigh and sole slapping in rhythm to the music.



Goaßlschalzn, Goasslschnoizen or plain old' Bavarian Whipcracking

Tad's employer treated us to a monestary and brewery tour shortly after we arrived last February; I had no idea what to expect, but the entire evening exceeded expectation and introduced me to a culture I would soon learn to deeply appreciated.  I was amazed by this groups synchronicity–who knew cracking a whip could be so entertaining?



That same night, just a little fun with the Oompah Band.  How can you not love a lot of brass and some good ol' accordian…?



I've already written about the Schäffler (and how lucky I was to see it when it's performed only every seven years!), but no German "dance" post would be complete without it.



And last, but no where near least, this precious gentleman entertained us for quite a while during our local Fall festival; he was having the most fun of them all!




Are you beginning to see why I love this place?  

Stay tuned for more adventures :).




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Why I loved Berlin (and why you should add it to your Travel Bucket List)



Posted by on Oct 19, 2012 | 5 comments

31-Days-of-Travel-in-Europe-PENSIEVEA crucial reality you have to come to come to terms with when traveling abroad is you can't do everything (I bet Rick Steves would back me up on this).  Accept this and you'll better enjoy what you do have the time and money to do.

Berlin is the perfect example; we had less than two days to squeeze in as much as possible.  Even if we had two weeks, I'm certain there would still be things left undone.  It's not easy to choose from the hundreds of pictures I've taken, but here's my attempt to share my favorite

Top Ten Things To Do in Berlin

1.  The Berlin Wall

Berlin Wall

Important, impressive and unexpectedly moving.  So much so I've already devoted an entire post to the Wall (be sure to click if you haven't, there's a good chance you'll see the Berlin Wall like you never have before!).


2.  Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate)

Brandenburg Gate statue ~

During our visit, Pariser Platz was partially blocked for the grandstands and screen set up for public viewing of the 2012 UEFA European Football Championship.

At Berlin's Brandenburg Gate

Located in Pariser Platz, the famed Brandenburger Tor is a first-visit must-see.  Designed by Carl Gotthard Langhans in the late 18th century, it was later topped with the Quadriga, a chariot drawn by four horses driven by Victoria (the Roman goddess of victory).  Throughout its history, the Brandenburg Gate has been a symbol for peace, victory, political party and reunification.  

It is where in 1987 President Ronald Reagan declared "General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"

And, lastly and perhaps infamously (at least to Americans), it's where David Hasselhoff sang "Looking for Freedom" in 1989.  


3.  Holocaust Denkmal
(Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe)

 German Holocaust Memorial, Berlin

"…the design represents a radical approach to the traditional concept of a memorial…"

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

Located between Brandenburg Gate and Potsdamer Platz and designed by New York architect Peter Eisenman, the Holocaust Memorial is a field of 2,711 stela set on undulating ground, the same length (7' 10") and width (3' 1") but with varying height. Though very different, its lack of convention reminded me of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., and when I read Eisenman's words, I better understood his vision:

"The enormity and scale of the horror of the Holocaust is such that any attempt to represent it by traditional means is inevitably inadequate … Our memorial attempts to present a new idea of memory as distinct from nostalgia … We can only know the past today through a manifestation in the present."


4.  Checkpoint Charlie


Checkpoint Charlie ~ Entering American Sector,

The photos of soldiers above and to the right are contemporary art; “Ohne Titel” (light boxes), Frank Thiel, 1998.  Said the artist, "…these portraits translate the omnipresent sector signs of the past – 'You are leaving the American/British/French sector; – into picture form. They are likewise a reference to the historical moment when Soviet and American tanks faced off against each other right here."

Entering the American Sector sign @ Checkpoint Charlie



Russian soldier photo at Checkpoint Charlie
Leaving American Sector Checkpoint Charlie Sign















5.  Outdoor exhibition at Checkpoint Charlie

Outdoor exhibition of Berliner Mauer at Checkpoint Charlie

Outdoor exhibition at Checkpoint Charlie, photo credit to berlin.deNow, THIS is a fantastic way to teach history in school:  a larger-than-life gallery of photographs and text of important events.  I'm borrowing a photo from the website that shows you what I mean; I'm kicking myself for missing the opportunity to take one.

It's right beside Checkpoint Charlie, impossible to miss.  I wanted to read and memorize every word.  Many of the images chosen for the exhibition are familiar, which makes this incredibly engaging.


Faceoff of American and Soviet tanks at Checkpoint Charlie

Soviet and American tanks face off against one another, October 1961.  (On display at Outdoor exhibition.)

Outdoor exhibition at Checkpoint Charlie




Yikes–this is getting long.  To make it easier for you to read (and for me to compile), I'm dividing my Top Ten Berlin list into two posts.  Be sure to subscribe in a reader or by email if you haven't; I've already begun the next list and you're going to want to see where we're headed!

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Tips for traveling abroad



Posted by on Oct 6, 2012 | 1 comment

31-Days-of-Travel-in-Europe-PENSIEVEAs I've considered the topics I'll cover in my 31 Days in Europe series, it occurred to me how a few simple tips will maximize any travel experience–whether it's domestic or international.  I'll be interspersing these posts among the more exciting destination pieces, and I hope the information will make a helpful difference in your experience.

Travel Tip #1:  Research!

Travel isn't cheap.  Often, your destination is once in a lifetime.  It just makes sense to learn as much as you can in advance to maximize your experience and fully appreciate all you're going to see.  Three suggestions:

1.  Invest in travel books.

If you're spending an extended amount of time in a new country, it's not just helpful, it's essential, to get a book on the country.  However, if you're spending time in a specific region, it's more helpful to buy one devoted to that area.  We really like the DK Eyewitness Travel books ~ 

The Germany
book, left above, has been helpful in planning overnight trips, while the book on DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Munich and the Bavarian Alps–focusing on the area we're living in–has been perfect for day trips.  

Family and friends (I'm looking at you Lora, Christi, Charles and Stephanie…!) swear by Rick Steves' travel guides.  We've also been happy with Fodor's.

Travel books are more than worth the $15-20 you'll spend buying them, a small investment with a great return.

Travel guides and books

2.  Poll your friends.

Because for so many years I was scared to fly, coupled with the expense of a family of five, travel to Europe was never on my radar; consequently, I must have turned a deaf ear to any talk of it.  

I was amazed at how much insight my friends provided in how to plan for both general travel, specific destinations and Must See and Do's.   Sharing their personal experiences made a significant difference in our choices.

3.  Scour the internet.

In a world where it's so easy to reach for your computer or smart phone to research everything, there's a reason I put this as my last suggestion (but I'd wager it's the first choice for many).

You're going to miss some wonderful less-traveled roads if the internet is all you rely on.

Sure, you might find some, too, but the tips and suggestions from friends and travel guides are the things that have added the most to our travel.  What to eat, the first thing to do upon arrival to a new place, pitfalls and touristy things to skip, these are the things that have proved invaluable in our travel.

It makes sense, especially where friends are concerned:  our friends know us.  Travel books are fairly objective.  But the returns on an internet search are based largely on smart SEO which may or may not lend itself to what's best for you.  

Of course I google the spots we're going to every time, but I don't rely on that information only.

Next travel tip will focus on planning, for which research is only the beginning.

Your turn:  What about you?  What other means of research do you recommend for those traveling (especially internationally)?  

Note:  Affiliate links used in this post.

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Berlin, Part 1 (spectacular Wall pictures)



Posted by on Oct 4, 2012 | 5 comments

Berlin is a city with a divided past.


Living as an expat in Germany has flung wide History's door and left me wishing I had paid better attention in World History.  The little I remember is disgraceful and I suppose I'm trying to make up for lost time by learning…well…everything now.  I've tapped the fire hydrant, pressed my lips to its mouth and I'm gulping 'til my eyes bulge like baseballs.

Ignorance aside, standing in the presence of spectacular architecture and art, walking in the steps of heroes and villians and everyman from centuries past, you can't help but be moved…





Berlin eclipsed expectation.  

It's an important city whose history wasn't confined to state or even country.  The decisions made by its leaders for her people affected the world.  

My next post will share my Top Ten must-sees for Berlin tourists, but today I wanted to highlight the iconic Berlin Wall, its fall synonymous with the end of Communist reign in Germany.  To see it, touch it and meander its stories alone is worth a trip to Berlin.  Add it to your Bucket List.



Man chipping away the Berlin Wall

Obviously, this is a picture of a picture; it's part of the display near Checkpoint Charlie. More on that in my next post, though.


Yes, Berlin is a city with a divided past, but thankfully her present tells a much different story.

Interesting Berlin Wall Facts:

  • The Wall dividing East and West Germany (and East and West Berlin) was constructed overnight on August 13, 1961 by the German Democratic Republic (GDR).  
  • The "Eastern Bloc claimed that the wall was erected to protect its population from fascist elements conspiring to prevent the 'will of the people' in building socialist state in East Germany;" in reality it was to prevent defections of East Germans to West.  Over 2.7 million people had defected prior to the Wall's construction, crippling the East German economy and undermining political gain.
  • Construction of the Wall took place in different phases over the course of 19 years.  Early itinerations of barbed wire gave way to reinforced concrete. 
  • Initially the Wall was 87 miles long; eventually it was extended to over 100.
  • Its fall began on November 9, 1989 after Hungary opened its borders to East Germans; demolition wasn't completed until October 1990 completing reunification and establishing Germany as one country.
  • Graffiti was only on the West German side.
  • Accounts vary for the number of East Germans murdered trying to defect to West Germany; sources suggest over 80 and as many as 200.  Countless more were imprisoned for attempting to or helping others escape.



Ten Facts




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Burgfest ~ a SPECTACULAR Bavarian Castle Festival



Posted by on Oct 2, 2012 | 8 comments

Burghausen Castle - Bavara - picture by Robin Dance

I’ve taken to calling her Mayberry, this place that has gentled her way into my heart.

There’s no Andy or Barney but it’s small town and slow and her people simmer friendly and open. I know when it’s time to go for good, she’ll hold back a sliver of my heart.  How could that not happen when you live in the place fairytales are born?

Burghausen is home to the longest castle in the world, so it makes perfect sense to have a party that goes on for days.  And based on the crowds and revelry, I think every one of her 19,000 residents showed up or somehow took part in Burgfest 2012, a Renaissance Festival of Epic Proportion.

Children playing drums at Burgfest Castle festival


Burghausen Castle Festival processional

Burgfest 2012 ~ Dancing and music


Burgfest is sensory feast.

Festival eats and drinks, of course, but the scents, sights, sounds and tactile experience filled me to the overflow.  Imagine men, women and children celebrating their heritage fully committed with wild abandon.  In a storehouse of memory, this one dazzles me dizzy.

Burgfest 2012 ~ Drum processional


Steckerfische ~ literal fish (on) sticks!!

Food at Burgfest

Burgfest foods, grilled meats and sausages

Peasants at Burgfest gathering flowers

Renaissance Festival family


Their commitment to authenticity is remarkable, a romantic depiction of Medieval times.  Puppet shows, live entertainment, reenactments…all made me long to understand the language.  Then again, I understood enough.


Burgfest Castle Festival

Hand-cranked swing at Burgfest Castle Festival

Fruit and vegetable cart at Burgfest



Children of all ages had a difficult choice to make:  what festival novelties to take home.

Wooden clogs at Burgfest

Armor helmets, Renaissance Festival

Swords at Burgfest Castle Festival

Bows and arrows, Renaissance Festival (Burghausen Castle Festival)


It was all I could do not to buy Renaissance clothing (or a COOL bow and arrow)–you know me and my propensity for wearing princess dresses…. If only I had known I needed cash!  (After the fact, I realized I could have gotten a deal on period dress at Amazon.  Le sigh….)

I’ve never considered going to a Renaissance Festival before, but if they’re anything like Burghausen’s Castle Festival, attendance is just a matter of time (DO tell if you’ve been to one yourself).

Have you subscribed to blog updates yet to follow this series?  Tomorrow I’ll complete my recap of Burgfest with my favorite discovery of the day:  the thing squeezed my heart so tight I can still feel the hug months later….

Amazon affiliate links used.


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PLEASE say you’ll join me for 31 Days of Europe?!



Posted by on Sep 30, 2012 | 15 comments


If you're visiting for the first time from Nester's 31 Days Linky–I'm so glad you popped over!  And to all readers, now would be the perfect time to subscribe to PENSIEVE if you haven't already (and your Facebook "Likes" or Twitter tweets are like rainbow sprinkles on the icing on the cake).

I haven't been this excited about blogging (ohmyword) EVERY DAY for a long, long time. What used to be my modus operandi has long been relegated to past practice.  I'm beyond thrilled to have a good reason:

My friend, Nester, is making me.

If you've followed my blog for the past year, you're probably a little confused.  Am I living in the U.S. or Germany?  Well, I've been intentionally vague, not thrilled about letting the Scary People know my exact travel plans (which makes me especially thankful for our house sitters who give me much peace o' mind).  

I've been collecting, thoughmyLANta, I've been collecting. Memories. Pictures.  Experience and experiences.  Holding my three teenage children hostage for two months this summer without cell phones or having to share them with friends–THAT might be the hightlight of all this for me. 


Don't believe for a second, though, that it's all good. This is not perpetual vacation; this is daily living…and it can be hard.  

But I'm too full and happy and content in t h i s moment to think on those things, and I want to share the richness and beauty of our experience.


I've taken thousands of pictures and shared very few (save Instagram, where I've been known to share a lot), and Nester's 31 Days kick-in-the-tail is just the motivation I've needed.

Now would be the perfect time to subscribe to PENSIEVE if you haven't already (and your Facebook "Likes" or Twitter tweets are like rainbow sprinkles on the icing on the cake).

In addition to my favorite pictures, 31 Days of Europe will include cultures and traditions, Expat and travel tips, destination recommendations and who knows what else?  I'm not exactly one to write posts in advance…and hopefully you'll even learn a thing or two :).  DO ask questions and if I know the answer, I'll feature you in an upcoming post!

I messed up thinking today was the day to begin posting, but we're only introducing our series; tomorrow I'll begin for real with my temporary home state of Bavaria and introduce you to one of our hometown annual events (and favorite things so far!).  

You don't wanna miss it–it's really something special!  




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