Wednesday, November 21, 2012

German Cemeteries

Walking around our town here in Germany, and other German villages and towns, we’ve happened upon a number of German cemeteries. I’ve always found cemeteries interesting so we’ve wandered around these German graveyards to see how they might be different from what we’re familiar with in the States. Two of the biggest differences are much more ornate decorations and, quite often, very large grave stones. Beyond that though, we've learned some things about the German cemetery industry that we figured you'd find as interesting as we did.

Here in Germany cemeteries are relatively small, especially compared to every other European country and the U.S. One reason is that most Germans are cremated but another cause is the fact that in Germany, grave sites are recycled. You're probably wondering, "How's that work?" Graves are leased in Germany, usually for 20 or 25 years at the cost of 800 to 4000 Euros depending on the size of the plot, single or family. At the end of the lease period most cemeteries place a yellow-tag notice on the grave to let any relatives or friends know that the time to rest in peace is up. Usually there's no accompanying phone call and only one notice. If the cemetery director doesn't hear from the family and a new lease period contracted, the head stone will be pulled up and, when the need arises, the site will be leased to a new occupant, the plot dug up and a new tenant buried there.

An example of the large grave stones that are very common here in Germany.

Now, when folks are buried in Germany their body is placed in a simple wooden coffin. No lead lined caskets, no cement vaults. So the body and coffin decompose relatively quickly. If a lease is not renewed for a grave site, the bones are left in the ground. Should a new grave be dug those bones will be dug up too and placed back with the dirt when the new inhabitant is settled into the ground.

Very well kept plot that's decorated for the upcoming Christmas season.

Another Christmas decorated grave with a "perpetual" candle that's very common here.

In order to save money, some Germans choose smaller plots rather than a long, rectangular grave. They can choose a smaller square grave and be put in the ground vertically . . . yes, perpendicular eternity.

You may wonder what a cemetery might do with the grave stones it removes from plots that no longer have a lease. They buff off the name and any comments on the stone and put it up for sale once again.

A war memorial site in the Weilerbach cemetery.

A small plot that may be one of those vertical grave sites.

Germany is the only country in Europe that does this grave recycling. They began the practice about 200 years ago in order to save space. Jewish and Muslim cemeteries are not required to utilize this leasing system. The graves of famous people are not leased either, in order to save their resting place for posterity. However, not everyone's fame lasts forever. Each year cemeteries review their list of in-ground celebrities, so a family might surprisingly find that their has-been dead personality no longer qualifies for a perpetual, no-cost resting place.

Simple but well kept.

You can see here how popular these "perpetual" candles are.

This grave has a little bit of everything.

A lot of Germans are not happy with these practices and maybe that's one of the reasons so many choose cremation. Quite often at the end of the initial 25 year lease families simple choose not to renew. Other times, families/friends that don't visit often are surprised to find somebody else occupying what once was their dead acquaintance's grave. Well, regardless of the complaints from many Germans, obviously, cemeteries are doing a good business . . . people are dying to get in there.  Hahaha!!  I just had to throw that in there.

Rest In Peace!!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Prague . . . Again

In May 2011 Jeff and I enjoyed a wonderful trip to Prague, Czech Republic. Well, we had such a good time that we wanted to go again and, this time, we went with some friends to expand the fun. We joined up at our house in Weilerbach and started our drive at 0800.  Here we are below, and yes, it's foggy.  From left, Killer, Cassius, Me, Paige, Sue and Linda.


Stopping once for gas, buying a mandatory vignette at the Czech border and probably a traffic delay or two, it takes six hours to drive to Prague.  Here we're approaching the German/Czech border but we've got to make a gas stop at the Esso in Amberg, the last "cheap" gas before departing Germany.

One other stop before Prague on this trip, the Pilsner Urquell Brewery in Pilsen, Czech Republic.  This is the gate, built in 1892, that leads into the original Pilsner Urquell brewing site.  Before 1842, the city of Pilsen was not happy with the local swill being produced that was being called beer.  So they invested in a new, modern brewery and hired a Bavarian brewer, Josef Groll, to produce a whole new style of beer.  In October, 1842, Groll brewed a bottom fermenting lager, the world's first golden beer that became known as Pilsner Urquell (From Pilsen, the original).

We drove right through the gates and parked next to this Pilsner Urquell ice cream cone.

Part of the original Pilsner Urquell brewery and the water tower.

Killer, Rowdy and Cassius. These hats identify them as beer drinking professionals.  The green sticker on  Jeff's shirt cost $5 and allows him to take photos during the brewery tour.

Jeff and I at the Pilsner Urquell brewery.  What a distinguished hat. I guess it's pictures like this, that we've posted in previous blogs, that got us recognized on the streets of Prague.  Later during this trip I was standing on the curb of a very narrow street, waiting for our group to catch up, when a gentleman on the other side of the road said, "Hey, aren't you the lady that does the RowdyInGermany blog?" Wow, that really made me happy.

This way to the brewery tour.

Pilsner Urquell is actually German.  The beers name in Czech is what you see below and means the same, From Pilsen, the Orignal.

We're about to start the tour.  Hat's in place.

An early symbol of the Pilsner Urquell Brewery; wooden keg of beer, brewery gate, year of the first Pilsner Urquell and P for Pilsen.

Our tour bus. It only took us a couple blocks back and forth.

The brewery's original water tower.

Walking into the brewery.

A depiction of the Pilsner Urquell brewery bottling process.  

Here's part of what we saw during the brewery tour.  In the video you'll notice a strange magnetic, bottle cap  belt and, very quickly, a strobe light that detects defective bottles.  You might also notice that these a brown bottles.  Pilsner Urquell is bottled in green bottles.  The brewery also produces a number of other brands, such as Gambrinus and Master, both brown bottled beers.  The day we were on the tour the Pilsner Urquell line was momentarily not running.

One of the things that made Pilsner Urquell so special was a new strain of yeast that fermented in the bottom of the beer rather than on top, as was common prior to 1842.  That strain of yeast is stored today in Pilsen, Prague and London. 

Mandatory brewery art pictures.  BAV, Big Ass Vats.  These are old vats that are no longer used.

These are BAVs that are used today in the modern Pilner Urquell brewery.

Jeff with even more BAVs.  Nice hat!  Even our tour guide said so.

Stainless steel cooling BAVs. 

Even more BAVs.

Jeff next to a portrait of Josef Groll, the first brewer of the brewery and the developer of Pilsner Urquell.

The large copper vat that produced the very first Pilsner Urquell in 1842.  Pilsner Urquell was and still is the only beer in the world that is triple mashed.  Some beers use only one, others two.  Mashing is the process of adding water and barley malt and heating it to allow enzymes to break down the starch into sugars.  The resulting product is called mash.

Beneath the brewery are nine kilometers of caves that were dug out by hand.

Some of the old style wooden beer barrels.  It took coopers, barrel builders, one month to construct one of these barrels.  The little hatch at the bottom of the barrel is to access the inside of the barrel for cleaning.  Just open and crawl in.  Our tour guide on the right.

Pilsner Urquell still brews a small portion of their product using old fashioned techniques.  These are barrels of mash fermenting a new batch of beer.  This beer will be served unpasteurized and unfiltered.

This is a daily record of the wort as it is fermenting in the barrel.  First column is the days of fermentation, the second is the temperature of the wort.  As the fermentation process continues the temperature increases.

Walking in beer heaven.

This guy was filling up a number of these big pitchers.  Regretfully, not for us.

Ahh, here's our sample of fresh, unpasteurized, unfiltered Pilsner Urquell.  You can see how hazy the beer is because the yeast is still in the beer. 

We're a happy group.

Pretty sight in the caves of Pilsner Urquell.

On the way out they had a barrel access simulator so I gave it a shot.

Must have been a pretty sight in the Czech countryside to see a train pulling a long line of these.

It's been a long day, driving, brewery, check into hotel, but now we're at U Medvidku.  It's a great hotel/restaurant/brewery in old town Prague.  Here's Linda sampling their sekt bier, champagne beer.  Tasted like ginger ale.

U Medvidku's own freshly brewed beer.  Very good.

Here's our bill at U Medvidku.  I know the slashes at the bottom are our beer count.

Walking back to the hotel we came across this restaurant. Švejk is a character from the 1923 publication The Good Soldier Švejk which is one of the very first satirical antiwar protestsŠvejk has become a kind of Czech favorite in terms of a character that resists authority. In World War I, the Czechs were reluctantly dragged into the war on the side of Germany and Austria-Hungary. Švejk epitomizes the entire countries reluctance to be involved in that war.

This cartoon on the front of the Švejk restaurant shows that the Germans had to force Švejk to the front.  In spite of the handcuffs, Švejk puffs on his pipe is happy with who he is.

We stopped in the Prague old town square for a night cap.  Amazingly they served Pilsner Urquell.  What better way to end the day?

Hat still one, Jeff with a Pilsner Urquell.

This place offers a Prague Breakfast.  Sounds tasty.


Next morning we're on our way.  Here's Jeff and I in the Prague old town square with the double spired Gothic towers of Church of Mother of God before Týn.  Really a magnificent building.

Prague's Astronomical Clock and the Church of Mother of God before Týn.

We're on the Charles Bridge now with the Prague Castle high in the background with Saint Vitus' Cathedral there in the center.

The tower at the east end of the Charles Bridge.  Beyond that tower is the old town of Prague.  Charles Bridge is built across the Vltava River.

The towers at the west end of the Charles Bridge.  Also, Saint Vitus' Cathedral high on the right.

Jeff and I on the Charles Bridge.  In the background are the Prague Castle with Saint Vitus' Cathedral in its center.

Gotta take a rest from intense sightseeing.  We're at Jo's Bar on the west side of the river in Prague.

Surprisingly, we all agreed, the nachos at Jo's Bar were the best any of us had ever had.  So you gotta go to Prague for the best nachos in the world.

Men's urinal in Jo's Bar.  Wonder who created this citrus wonderland?

The city of Prague from the Prague Castle. On the left side you can see the twin spires of  the Church of Mother of God before Týn.  Our hotel is just behind them; a leisurely walk here to the castle.

Royal guard at the front of the Prague Castle.  You can see by Jeff's expression that this guarding stuff is serious  business.

Strange but interesting street light near the Prague Castle.

 From above the castle; Saint Vitus' Cathedral.

Another break from sightseeing. Pilsner Urquell dark.

Another good Czech beer.  Notice the nice porcelain condensation plate under the glass.  That's pure genius.

Hey, look who we found in this place, Švejk.  He didn't say much but certainly seemed pleased to be there.

These hats kickass.

Here's a little change of pace, an Absinthe bar.

Shelves and shelves of  Absinthe.  Absinthe is an anise flavored liquor that was said to have hallucinogenic abilities that was very fashionable among writers and artists of the late 1800s and early 1900s such as Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, Vincent van Gogh and Ernest Hemingway.  Because the drink is green in color it became known as the Green Fairy.  The chemical compound thujone, which was in Absinthe in trace amounts was said to provide the hallucinogenic affects that eventually resulted in the drinks ban in the US and most of Europe by 1915.  Absinthe was once again resurrected, without thujone, in the 1990s.

One of Vincent van Gogh's favorite drinks.

A video of our Absinthe drinks being poured.  If you don't like black licorice, you probably won't like Absinthe.

OK, let's get back to normal.  Jeff has a Guinness night cap. That hat goes with all beers.


Interesting poster in Prague advertising one of their art museums.

We're at the Pilsner Urquell store in Prague.  Here's Jeff with the Magic Glass.  No clue why it's the Magic Glass but you could buy it for 4800 Czech Koruna, $240.  

What would you expect at the Pilsner Urquell store?  You're right, Pilsner Urquell.

Killer getting tips on the proper technique to pour Pilsner Urquell.  I guess this guy doesn't know us or didn't pay attention to our hats.  Otherwise he'd know that we're professional beer drinkers.

Sitting outside in Prague, just below the Charles Bridge, after another intense sightseeing stretch at the Pilsner Urquell store.  Yeah, that qualifies at sightseeing!!  Me, Cassius, Killer, Sue, Paige and Linda.

Jeff and I in Prague.  On our way to one of the best spots in the entire city, U Zlateho tygra.  

We're at U Zlateho tygra, At the Golden Tiger. They're one of the few establishments in Prague that serve an unpasteurized Pilsner Urquell.  Here the beer is extra fresh and very tasty.

The Golden Tiger isn't anywhere near the size of Munich's Hofbrauhaus.  There's one small room at the back in this picture.  It's mostly a locals place and every table is a locals table.  You ask to sit at a table if there's room.  Once the place fills up, if other locals show up they may tell you vacate the table so they have a place to sit.  But the beer is worth the short looks of indignation and even these folks can become quite friendly once the beer flows.

Jeff at the operation center of the Golden Tiger.

Our group in U Zlateho tygra.

Stopped in another place that night in Prague, U Vejvodu.  The Czech Republic drinks more beer than any other country per capita.  They make some of the best beers in the world too.  With all that, you'd think they could do without Corona Extra.  But no, that lime gimmick in the top of the bottle has them tricked too.

On our way back to our hotel.  If you've been around in Europe at all you've probably casually noticed where short concrete protective columns are build at the corners of buildings or alleyways where vehicles may scratch or gouge the building.   Normally, that involves just a single, short column to protect the exterior of the building.  During the German occupation of Czechoslovakia, prior to World War II, the owner of this building built this alleyways protective column and more; a subtle message to the occupiers.


Just the drive home. Even with a stop for the "cheap" gas in Amberg we made it back in five hours.  What a great weekend with wonderful friends and all in a beautiful, fun city. 

Na zdraví!