How the Germans use Christmas to terrify children

The Germans have a (not entirely undeserved) reputation for being a harsh people.

The example for the holiday season? Krampus.

Krampus is basically St. Nick’s enforcer. Or, to put it other terms, St. Nick’s promise of toys and treats for good behavior is the carrot, and Krampus’ penchant for kidnapping, enslaving, and ultimately murdering children is the stick.

It’s more prominent in the Alpine regions of southern Germany and Austria, but is known across the country. And the Germans have pretty Christmas cards, just like we do in the states, but they also have Krampus cards.

He’s got some mean wheels, though.

So here’s to Krampus! The Grinch that stole Christmas has nothing on Krampus. I mean, he just stole presents and the roast beast, but didn’t go for any enslavement or murder.

Krampus day is December 5; mark your calendars for next year!

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Reunited! Errata forthcoming…

I got Cotterpin and Li over to Germany! It happened just last week!*

The Hessian, Li and Cotterpin, reunited at Burg Nanstein.

Sorry I’ve been incommunicado. When Cotterpin and Li got here, we sent some time getting them settled in, and running around doing those “setting up a new apartment” errands, and then we went right into traveling on the weekends.

I’ve pictures and stories saved up, and will start rolling them out more regularly now. I promise.

Want a preview of what I’ll be covering? A sneak peak (and better pictures) are available at:

http://cotterpinhouse.wordpress.com/

First hint: Switzerland.

Belgium. Also, a list of foreign countries through which I've carried my growing child on my shoulders.

*I’m actually writing this post on December 24. “But wait, the blog post itself says this post was uploaded on November 15; what gives?” That, my dear friends, is through the magic of the internet. Yes, Cotterpin and Li have been here about six weeks. What can I say? Time goes by faster (in a good way) when they’re around.

That's Cotterpin. Fresh Alpine air and Swiss chocolate made her come down with a serious case of the cute.

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The Headless Horseman, aka The Halloween Hessian, aka Hessian of the Month for October

Halloween remains my favorite holiday.

When I was a child, it was all so much fun. Candy. The chance to dress up and be someone else for a night. Days warmed by the autumn sun, but with portents of coming change. Crisp, cool autumn nights. Changing leaves.

As I grew, it was still so much fun, but of more of an adult nature. Namely, massive beer consumption and women, who have really done an excellent job of making “sexy” versions of every Halloween costume imaginable.

Well done, ladies. Now report to my cabin for your scurvy checks.

But no matter the age, Halloween has always been tinged with an air of the sinister. The supernatural. The unknown. Which brings us to the Hessian of the month for October: The Headless Horseman.

While most don’t realize he’s Hessian, he’s doubtless the most prominent Hessian in the American psyche. The main antagonist in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, a 1820 story by Washington Irving, his story is a natural fit for the Halloween season. He even comes with a pumpkin!

From the story:

“The dominant spirit, however, that haunts this enchanted region, and seems to be commander-in-chief of all the powers of the air, is the apparition of a figure on horseback, without a head. It is said by some to be the ghost of a Hessian trooper, whose head had been carried away by a cannon-ball, in some nameless battle during the Revolutionary War, and who is ever and anon seen by the country folk hurrying along in the gloom of night, as if on the wings of the wind. His haunts are not confined to the valley, but extend at times to the adjacent roads, and especially to the vicinity of a church at no great distance. Indeed, certain of the most authentic historians of those parts, who have been careful in collecting and collating the floating facts concerning this spectre, allege that the body of the trooper having been buried in the churchyard, the ghost rides forth to the scene of battle in nightly quest of his head, and that the rushing speed with which he sometimes passes along the Hollow, like a midnight blast, is owing to his being belated, and in a hurry to get back to the churchyard before daybreak.
“Such is the general purport of this legendary superstition, which has furnished materials for many a wild story in that region of shadows; and the spectre is known at all the country firesides, by the name of The Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow.”

Surprisingly, my father introduced me to the legend. I say “surprisingly” because he has always been a history-biography-western guy. There wasn’t much overlap in the books he and I liked, seeing I was always seeking out comics and books featuring monsters, superheroes, wizards and dragon-slaying knights. But the Horseman bridged the gap between our tastes.

The Headless Horseman is a unique American story. It’s old enough to have been around “forever” (at least in American terms) but specific enough that the details remain pretty fixed. Despite the common elements, there’s plenty of variations in how he’s depicted by artists.

He can be a cold, sinister aloof presence,

Or a fiery, blustery character.

He can be sleek, fast and nimble,

Or large and prominent, standing tall astride his destrier.

The Horseman can even appear, dare I say it, contemplative.

Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him.

Or he can be accoutered as the grandest of knights, majestic in his terrible ferocity.

He’s as essential to the Halloween pantheon as Dracula and Dr. Frankenstein’s monster. Dracula has his fear of crosses, Frankenstein’s monster has his neck bolts. The Horseman has his great steed, sword or axe, pumpkin, and never-ending search for his lost head. If the art is anything to go by, he often conducts his searches by the light of the full moon.

And, he makes a hell of a dog costume.

The appeal of the horseman, as with all of Halloween, is simply this: the world is a much more interesting place with some mystery in it. Irving’s story has endured precisely because it does not spell out the answers. It’s ambiguous as to the existence of the Horseman, and if the Horseman got Ichabod Crane, or Brom Bones drove him off. As it should be.  Halloween revels in what’s just out of reach and just out of sight; the things we don’t quite understand just beyond our perception. Those sinister hidden things remind us that we’re part of a larger world, and sometimes the world doesn’t conform to our whims and wishes; indeed, many times, the world moves on, not caring one whit for our wishes or desires on the matter. Just like the Horseman, who’s motivations and methods are a puzzle, but one cannot impugn his persistence.

At least, I cannot. Because no matter what else has occurred in my life, the Horseman shows up every fall. When the leaves start to change and the nights get crisp, he appears from the dark corners of my mind, scouring the countryside for his lost head (or possibly others’ heads?) reminding me that I don’t have it all figured out, that this, too shall pass, and the seasons will keep turning. But mostly he reminds me that there’s still some magic in the world. It’s just out of reach and just out of sight, but sometimes, like the Horseman, it slips into sight, allowing itself to be perceived for me to draw whatever truths I can from it.

So here’s to the Headless Horseman. May he never find his head, never cease his midnight rides, and keep the mystery alive. Our world certainly needs its heroes. But a hero needs to be humble, and nothing is quite so humbling as a ghost that cannot be vanquished and cannot be deterred from his errand.

Happy Halloween!

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Parents visit: Heidelberg

My parents came to visit, and I took them to Heidelberg to visit the castle there. It’s a pretty castle, and quite large, and on top of a very large hill. After a steep climb, we started going through the outer gates until we made it to the interior.

 

The castle has some beautiful views of the nearby hills, covered with vineyards, and the Neckar River.

 

A hilltop castle seems like a great place for a wedding.

 

The interior held what was purported to be the world’s largest wine barrel.

 

Nope, bigger than that one.

Ok, that’s pretty big. But it’s not that fuzzy in real life; the room was quite dim…

But then I found the REAL largest wine barrel (in an even darker, harder-to-photograph room):

Yes, that’s a staircase that goes up and over the barrel. I’m pretty sure this wine barrel would crush my house if it fell on it.

The courtyard was interesting, showing the old walls joined to the newer, renovated walls.

And of course, the fountains.

Heidelberg is a beautiful city, and we enjoyed the castle quite a bit.

Next up: Wine festival in Bad Durkheim.

 

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Five years

My wife and I celebrated our five year anniversary on Friday.

It’s a happy occasion, made more difficult by the fact that Mrs. Hessian is on another continent right now.

But she’ll be coming over to join me soon, and I’m counting the days. Literally counting the days; 33 days and she’ll be here!

We’ve packed a lot of events in our five years of marriage. Travel to new places. Experiencing new things, taking on projects and hobbies together, and recently, embarking on the adventure of parenthood together.

I love her more now than I did when we married, and am impatiently waiting for her to arrive here in Germany. She’s a wonderful mother, and is raising our daughter to be an equally awesome, kick-ass person. And the chance to live with my wife and daughter in Europe is an exciting prospect to me.

So here’s to five years that have been full and exciting, and here’s to many more full, exciting years with a person I love having by my side.

Happy anniversay, Mrs. Hessian, and I cannot wait to show you guys Europe.

With love,

The Hessian

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Range day

Got to go to the range for our annual weapons qualification. Technically, I only have to qualify on the M16 rifle, but we decided to go a second day and qualify on the M9 pistol as well. Like the bumper stickers say about fishing, “A bad day at the range beats a good day at the office.”

Day 1 was the M16

First you zero:

Then you do the actual qualifications:

You were supposed to spread your shots around, only do four shots per target. My weapon kept jamming, and I’d lose count of which ones I had shot how many times. The result was that the poor sucker at 150 meters really got it good.

They give you 40 rounds; I got 32 of them on the targets. Minimum to qualify is 24. Not the best I’ve ever done, but not bad, either.

Day 2 was the M9 pistol.

No zeroing with this one; the pistol’s sights are not adjustable. You just point and shoot. They give you one human silhouette target, and you have to get as many in the black as possible.

I didn’t break any records on this one, but shot the hell out of that guy’s spleen:

I think this proves I’ll never be a villain.

It’s a good thing, too. If I was a stormtrooper, Han, Luke and Leia would be dead as hell.

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Mainz

Mainz is an old town in the Rheinland, sitting on the edge of the Rhein river.  It was founded as a Roman fort over 2,000 years ago.  I decided to take a day and go check it out one weekend.

Narrow streets.  Exposed beam, wattle-and-daub construction.  And an huge old cathedral.  Yep, this is Germany all right.

Old walls. Reminders of Rome’s past presence.

And, the occasional actual Roman ruin.

There’s a very nice riverwalk area along the Rhein.

But over the river was the real prize… the Home Sought After:

Hesse.  I HAD to get there; it’s the name of the blog, after all.  So I climbed up to the great bridge that crosses the Rein, and started trudging across.  But was able to stop and appreciate the beach.  I don’t know about you, but I never envisioned the Rhein having beaches. And yet, there it was:

I continued on, and stopped halfway to savor the moment.

I was almost there! I took a moment to enjoy the view of the old sailing ship moored on the Hessian side.

I made it into Hesse, and climbed down off the bridge and found… graffiti.

Some pretty good graffiti, admittedly, but still…. On the other hand, as a young boy, my head probably would have exploded from the coolness of it, if I had just had the imagination to conjure up the image of a great white shark controlling a robot.

Well done, Hessian graffiti artist. You’ve restored my faith in the coolness of our people.

It was time for the most Hessian of meals. A variety of pork products served on sauerkraut, and mashed potatoes, and washed down with some dark lager.

That dark one in the upper left hand corner? Blutwurst. I’d never tried that. It’s one of those foods that’s intimidating because it is actually made from coagulated pig’s blood. It is quite tasty, though, once you get past the knowledge of what’s made of. The color is a dark, wine red, which makes it harder to forget that you’re eating congealed blood. The solution to that dilemma, of course, is a second half liter of lager.

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