Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Into the Black Forest We Go...Cake, Anyone?

We went up to the race site this morning and it looks fantastic! We couldn’t ski the race trails because they are getting them back in shape after hosting the FIS World Junior Championships, but the recreational trails were great. I’m not exactly up on my German, but I think the brochure says there are 100km of trails here for people who want to go lang laufen (cross-country ski). We are in the Black Forest and the area is very pretty! Andrea is on the lookout for black forest cake and black forest ham....

In the afternoon, we headed over to Freiberg, the largest city in the immediate area. Oberried is tiny – maybe 300 people – but Freiberg has more than 200,000 residents. We had a look at the cathedral there built during the 13th century. During World War II, on November 22nd, 1944, the entire city of Freiberg was destroyed by Allied bombings. The only building to survive essentially unharmed was the church.

We were lucky enough to be able to go inside as well, which was amazing! I have seen a lot of European churches over the years, but when we went inside this one, there was an organist playing a pipe organ; one of the ones that has huge pipes going up the cathedral walls. It is hard to describe how incredible it was to be in the church with the music being played.

The church is currently being restored, which explains the scaffolding around the tower. Though I don't have any good photos, there were lots of gargoyles, which, I have discovered, are designed to keep the flow of water away from the building to prevent erosion. The word "gargoyle" is derived from the French word "gargouille", meaning "throat" and the Latin word "gurgulio", meaning "gullet". 

There is an amusing, though not very credible, legend that supposedly explains where gargoyles came from. There once was a dragon called La Gargouille who lived in a cave close to the River Seine in France. The dragon swallowed ships, caused destruction with its fiery breath, and spouted so much water that it caused flooding. The residents of nearby Rouen attempted to placate La Gargouille with an annual offering of a live victim; although the dragon preferred maidens, it was usually given a criminal to consume instead. Around the year 600, the priest Romanus (or Romain) arrived in Rouen and promised to deal with the dragon if the townspeople agreed to be baptized and to build a church. Equipped with everything needed for an exorcism, Romanus subdued the dragon by making the sign of the cross. La Gargouille was burned at the stake, but the head and neck, well tempered by the heat of the dragon's fiery breath, would not burn. These remnants were mounted on the town wall and became the model for gargoyles for centuries to come. This legend also supports the idea that gargoyles were used to educate the general illiterate public by being examples of souls condemned for their sins and, therefore, denied entry into the church. They were a visual reminder of what could happen to sinners. 

Another reason gargoyles are thought to have been developed was the belief that they would act as a sacred scarecrow and scare away the devil, keeping the church, its treasures and whomever was inside, safe from evil, which would explain why gargoyles are, for the most part, ugly and grotesque looking. Sorry for the history lesson, but I thought it was pretty interesting!

Other than having a look at the church, we just wandered around the downtown area. Nice shops, none of them were really uniquely German. Andrea and I found some nice teapots, but decided against buying them when we discovered they were made in Thailand.

Last night Mary and I tried to do laundry in what we hoped was a washing machine in our apartment, but after it took us 10 minutes to figure out how to open the darn thing, we asked the woman who owns the house how to get it to work. She came downstairs and turned all the dials for us and then asked us a question in German. Hmmm, we don’t speak German and she doesn’t speak English…..I finally clued in that what she was asking was what temperature did we want the water. Mary and I both crossed our arms and went “Brrrrr, brrrr!” like we were cold. The woman just looked at us like we were from outer space. Mary and I tried again and again to make like we were cold, but obviously we are not so good at charades. The good thing was that all three of us were laughing about our lack of communication skills. Mary finally said something like, “How are we going to get her to understand that we want cold water?” and the woman suddenly gets this “Ah-ah!” look on her face and then said, “Kault? You vant kault?” Mary and I both started saying, “Yes! Yes!” So there, you might have learned something new today - kault is German for cold. Not sure how that will help all of you over in Canada, but hey, you never know!

Today we were back up at the race site, but actually had a chance to look at the sprint course. It is a nice course with one wicked long downhill that, for some completely illogical reason, a number of teams and volunteers liked to collect at the bottom of. Andrea had to scream at people every time we went down to get out of our way. One volunteer almost ended up as a grease spot on the trail it was so close!

Tomorrow is our last sprint race and we’ll have to go full tilt in the prologue for our ranking. We don’t care if we die in the second round, as long as our first one is our best so please send happy thoughts our way…we can always use them!

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