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Christmas 1993

Hello to all from Germany!! Would you believe that this is our third Christmas Newsletter from Europe! I know its hard to believe from this end. We just hope you haven't all forgotten us and are wondering who this letter is from!

Winter came early to Stuttgart, as we hear it did for some parts of the States. The last week or so hasn't seen the temperature go above freezing, with the days tending toward gray and cloudy with that hint of cold fog that makes it feel like it could start snowing any minute. We actually did get some snow the week before Thanksgiving. Not much, but it was cold enough so its still on the ground as we head into December.

Well, lets see if we can bring you up-to-date on the comings and goings of the Vogt Family in Germany! If I remember correctly, our Christmas 1992 letter ended with Gene's sister Betty and her husband Jim just arriving for a visit. Since then a lot has happened. The Vogts and Jim & Betty spent Thanksgiving 1992 in Austria. We stayed in a Gasthof (an Alpine hotel) in Oberndorf Austria and visited skiing and tourist areas in the Alps. We didn't ski, we just looked around. We also had an Austrian style Thanksgiving Turkey dinner in the Gasthof, and really enjoyed it all. Last Christmas (1992) was quiet; we had no visitors from the states, just local friends. The German Christmas school break is longer than the American one (about 2.5 weeks), so Megan and Audrey got out of the habit of getting up on time for school quite quickly (they do that whenever there is a vacation, it seems).

Audrey's school class took a trip to EuroSpace camp in Brussels during January of this year. They learned a lot about space travel and what its like being an astronaut. We saw the video of her in the zero-G chair. It looked like fun!

This year I (Gene) turned the big four-oh in January! My 40th birthday was quite a day! For weeks Lynn had been scheming and planning with our German neighbor about what to do and how to do it. For Germans, a birthday is a big deal, and the "ump-ti-eth" (like 30th, or 40th, or 50th) are really big deals. A typical German "ump-ti-eth" birthday party is more like a wedding reception than a birthday party; rented hall, printed invitations, catered sit-down dinner, dance band, the works. It took a lot of work on Lynn's part to convince our neighbor that we weren't having a sit-down dinner party. She kept offering to bring the soup! Lynn decided to make forty billion different kinds of hors d'oeuvres for the party, which was Saturday evening, the 23rd (a day early, but so what). She was working the whole week on them, but she kept saying she was having fun, so I left her alone. In the end, it was the most impressive birthday party I've either had or attended! Everything was spectacular!

In February we spent a few days with friends in the southern German town of Rottweil (famous for the dogs of the same name). The beginning of Lent is celebrated in Germany a lot like its celebrated in New Orleans; Mardi Gras style. Over here its called Fasching. Lots of cities and towns have parades and all kinds of celebrations. The Rottweil Fasching parade is called the Narrensprung, or Fool's Jump. It's probably named after the little hop-step that the marchers use to make the bells they wear ring loudly. Some of the bell sets weigh over 50 pounds! There are only seven types of masks and costumes, although there are thousands of marchers. The first part of the parade has clowns carrying feather dusters. They skip along tickling people and trying to steal hats. After that comes the Fasching marchers in the costumes, thousands and thousands of them. We got some great video of them.

Lynn's mom came for her second visit for three weeks in March. We did a lot of traveling in the area around Stuttgart while she was here, but the highlight of her visit was a five day visit to England! Lynn, Gene, Audrey, and mom flew in to London on a Friday night, and stayed through until the next Tuesday (Megan was on a school field trip to Rome). The first day was spent on an all-day bus tour of London. We saw all the sights and really got a good feel for the city. We were staying in a great hotel across from Hyde Park and Marble Arch, so we were central to lots of the main attractions. We spent one overnight in the Cambridge area north of London, visiting some friends who used to work with Gene in Stuttgart but moved to England last year, and we also got to see the Andrew Lloyd-Webber musical Cats in the original theater when we returned to London the next day! It was great!

Lynn spent a few days in April on an organized shopping trip to the Czech Republic (the western half of the former Czechoslovakia - these countries are changing over here faster than I can learn how to spell them). The Czech Republic is famous for cheap crystal (though now that capitalism has taken hold its getting less and less cheap), so there are frequent organized shopping trips there. Lynn did win a prize on the trip; she won the prize for spending the least! Boy was I relieved! In the April-May-June time frame I was traveling a lot. I spent many nights in the Netherlands in a town called Brunssum, where the NATO Allied Forces Central Command headquarters is. I also had some trips to High Wycombe and Molesworth in England, and I even had a three day trip to Washington DC for a six hour meeting! I didn't even have time to get jet-lag!

Also in May, Lynn turned the big four-oh, to join me in my old age! Lynn's sister Gail came over for the occasion, and we celebrated in as big a style as I was capable of. I knew I was going to be in trouble if I tried to keep up with Lynn for parties, so we did a more traditional style birthday party. I don't know how to make hors d'oeuvres; heck, I can't even spell it (thank goodness for computer dictionaries), so we settled for a Gene-made cake, lots of munchies, and take-out Chinese food. Our German friends were taken a bit by surprise, but they got into it pretty quickly.

While her sister was here, Lynn and Gail took off for a "girls-only" vacation to the Bodensee, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, and the northern part of Austria. They had lots of fun and Gail got to see what we've been raving about for the past two years. Gail's visit was short (only a week), but Lynn really enjoyed seeing her.

In June, just before our bi-annual trip home, we spent a weekend hiking in the Austrian Alps with our German neighbors. They have a favorite place they like to visit in a valley called Montafone, and Gerhard and I hiked to an Alpine hiking lodge high up in the Alps. We hiked, but Lynn, Ursula, and the girls rode a jeep to the lodge, so we all got to see it. One of the nights we went to a Heimat-Abend; an evening of local culture, folk-songs, and folk dancing. It's mostly for the tourists, but it was great fun to see. Once again I got some great video.

Our home leave in July ended up being the Vacation From Hell. We tried to do too much in too little time, and ended up feeling exhausted by the end. My (Gene's) sister Gerry hosted a big Vogt family cookout our second day back. That, some shopping, and some doctors' appointments took up most of our first week. The 2nd weekend we headed down to see friends in Rhode Island, and spent our most restful 3 days. Ahhhhhhh! From there we headed to Cape Cod on Tuesday for some beach time with the cousins. Wednesday we spent the whole day at Mayflower Beach in Dennis. It was wonderful; a picture perfect beach day! So perfect we all got sunburns! Thursday we headed back up to Woburn and did some more shopping, and then Friday Lynn and I hopped on a plane and spent the day traveling to Sedalia Colorado (via Dallas) for my niece's wedding. We crashed the rehearsal party in my sister's back yard Friday night.

Saturday was the wedding, Sunday was a rest/shopping day (we had to replace an old dilapidated suitcase that didn't survive the flight to Denver), and Monday was a flying day, back to Boston (via Chicago). Tuesday we hopped in the rental car and headed for Camden Maine to visit Lynn's mom. We had made plans to stay there 2 nights and then drive to Portland to stay with Lynn's sister and niece for two days, but I pooped out and refused to budge from Camden until it was time for me to go home.

That last Saturday morning (July 24th), I hopped on a Trailways bus in Camden Maine at 8:30 AM while Lynn and the girls stayed behind, and the bus weaved and poked its way down the Maine coast to Portland, where I changed to an "express" bus to Boston, where I changed to a shuttle bus to Logan. I arrived at Logan at 2:00 PM, 5½ hours later, but still 6 hours ahead of my scheduled departure time of 8:00 PM. Luckily, my brother-in-law Jim and three of my nieces were at the airport seeing someone else off, so they helped me kill some time in the coffee shop. The flight actually left late (~9:30 PM), but the pilot made up most of the time, which was great because I only had FIVE HOURS to wait for my train to Stuttgart (that's sarcasm, in case you couldn't tell). I finally dragged my body and my GIANT duffel bags through our front door in Stuttgart on Sunday at 3:30 PM Stuttgart time, 25 hours after I had started my trek! I was pooped!

I settled into a bachelor routine here in Stuttgart, but Lynn and the girls were still whooping it up in Maine.....

(Lynn speaking now.....) After Gene left, I finished up a relaxing 10 days at my mothers' house, being mothered and pampered. It was great! In the middle of it all I spent an over-night down in Portland to finally visit my sister and niece that Gene pooped out on before he left. Sunday, the 1st of August, we all went back to Woburn to get ready for a final round of Doctors' appointments on Monday, and more shopping. The flight back was smooth and uneventful, and our chauffeur (Gene) made sure we didn't have to wait five hours for a train.

It's been busy since we returned from our Vacation From Hell! As I mentioned, I got two weeks of bachelorhood while Lynn and the girls were still in the States, and I made the most of it! I grilled steaks for myself a lot, and worked (played?) on the computer almost every night. I even worked late at the office a couple of nights. A couple of the other families over here thought I must be suffering from lack of food or something while Lynn was away (HA!) so they kept inviting me to dinner so I could get a "home-cooked meal." I countered by inviting THEM to dinner, and explained what I cooked for myself while I was "wasting away!" One does not get to be my size and not know how to cook!

After two weeks of peace and quiet, everything got back to normal real quick. Lynn and the girls and one of Megan's friends from Woburn (Melinda) returned on Sunday, August 8th. Melinda got to stay until the 4th of September; after school started over here but before she had to return to Joyce Middle School in Woburn. While she was here we took a lot of little day trips, and one big five-day trip down through the Austrian Alps into northern Italy and the Dolomites (the name for a Dolomite-filled section of the Alps - clever name huh?). We visited Bolzano, and Merano, and followed the trail of Mozart for a while (when he used to travel from Salzburg to Venice). We drove over some amazing mountain passes, and saw a lot of vintage wine country (pun intended). On our trip back we drove through the Timmelsjoch Pass on the Italian-Austrian border. The old van was working hard and gasping for air (Timmelsjoch Pass is at 2509 meters - 8232 feet!), but it made it. The pass is also less than a half-mile from where they found the 5,200 year old bronze age man back in 1991 (there was a great article about it in the June 1993 National Geographic magazine).

I spent a week up in Norway in September. The trip was not very eventful, but the weather was cold! It felt cold enough to snow, but I did get to walk around a lot and sample the Scandinavian cuisine. I ate salmon, and moose, and reindeer! Breakfast was mostly pickled herring in about six different sauces, most of them a lot like the Sil we used to have at Christmas-time when I was a kid! I brought some home for Lynn and the kids, as well as some Norwegian caviar! Delicious! The kids ate most of it, though. We need to teach them how to be more lady-like and not stuff their mouths with fancy food!

September 20th was the second anniversary of our arrival over here. Time sure flies. Our local (but not small) OctoberFest, the Cannstatter VolksFest, seemed to draw us to it quite a few times this year. It opened on September 25th for two weeks. Its actually two events in one; there's the beer-fest that everyone imagines OctoberFest to be, but outside the beer tents there's a gigantic carnival going on, with some of the biggest carnival rides you've ever seen, and side-shows and shooting galleries and candy booths and snack booths and souvenir tents; its amazing! The kids love it for the carnival. They have the largest portable ferris wheel in the world (200 feet high, 48 cars seating 8 adults each), two complete midways, a 5-loop roller coaster, four or five sets of bumper cars, and lots more, all portable!

Because of major school field trips that were imminent (more on those later in the letter), we took the girls down to the fest on a Wednesday night. First, we had our traditional family ride on the giant ferris wheel (we do it every year - this was the third time!). Then we headed to a beer-tent for dinner before returning to the two midways to do more rides and games later. All of the beer-tents have huge kitchens in them, roasting two or three hundred chickens at a time on big rotisseries, and running big ovens that bake schweine-haxe: roasted pig's hip-knuckle (sounds gross but its delicious - a lot like our smoked shoulder back in the states, but smaller). The girls had a half-chicken each, and Lynn and I each had a schweine-haxe and a liter of fest-beer in a big crockery mug. The fest-beer is stronger than regular beer (~5.8% alcohol versus ~4.5% for typical bottled or tap beer), and it goes down smooth. Meanwhile, there's a 20-piece orchestra up on stage playing ooom-pah music and singing drinking songs and telling everyone to buy another beer now to be ready for the next toast. Its great! Talk about local culture! In that environment, its no wonder the people end up dancing on the tables and singing at the top of their lungs!

That was our first trip to the fest this year, and it was fairly calm (no table dancing). The following Friday night was our office party at the fest, and that visit was more rowdy. If you have enough people, you can reserve benches with the tent proprietor (each tent is sponsored by a local brewery). We ended up dancing on the benches along with everyone else in the place (about 8000 people in each tent), whooping it up and having a grand old time. We stumbled home via subway around 11:00 PM (we had left the fest around 10:30; the fest closes at 11:00 PM, even on Friday and Saturday nights). It was fun! Not much of a headache the next day, either!

Sunday of that week (the 3rd of October) both girls headed off on week-long field trips; Audrey was off to an Outward Bound program of mountain climbing and adventure stuff in the Alps, and Megan was off to Russia! Audrey left first. Her group gathered at the school around 10:00 AM on Sunday and headed off in cars for the German Alps, in the vicinity of Berchtesgaden (near Salzburg). During her trip the class visited a giant salt mine in the area (the name of the Austrian city of Salzburg translates to Salt Mountain). Megan's group headed off from the school about 11:30 AM to drive to Frankfurt Airport, where they caught an AeroFlot flight to St. Petersburg. Keep in mind the date they left; October 3rd. That's the very same day that Yeltsin counter-attacked the parliament building at the beginning of "the excitement." The class was in the air flying when we heard about it! That was a nerve-wracking day or two for us! I was glued to CNN at work! Instead of the planned schedule of three days in St. Petersburg and four days in Moscow, they modified the itinerary and spent all seven days in St. Petersburg, thank heaven!

In attempting to squeeze information out of them to include in this letter, I finally resorted to a WHO - WHAT - WHEN - WHERE - HOW - WHY fill-in-the-blank form that I had them fill out. They loved their trips, but all we get is one-word answers from them when we ask about it! I guess its the age.

Audrey had a great time on her trip. In her own words from the form: When was the trip? 3rd Oct. - 8th Oct. Where did we go? Outward Bound mountain climbing. Why did we go? Educational experience. Who else went on the trip with me? My classmates and their parents. How did we get there? By car. Where did we stay while we were there? At the Seeklaus (that's the name of the hotel/gasthof). What was the hotel/gasthof/hostel/etc like? Comfy. How was the food? Good. What did I bring home? A hat pin (for Dad), a box of salt rock (for Audrey), a Salt Mine picture (group photo in the salt mine). What was my most favorite thing about the trip? Rappelling (as in ropes down the mountain!). What was my least favorite thing about the trip? Hiking. Do I want to go back? Yes. Why? It was fun. Anything extra to add? (blank).

Megan also had a wonderful time in Russia. In her own words (right off the form): When was the trip? Oct 3-10. Where did we go? St. Petersburg and "Moscow" (not really - they stayed in St. Petersburg the whole week because of the uprising). Why did we go? To conclude our studies of Russia. Who else went on the trip with me? The whole 7+8th grade and the chaperons. How did we get there? We flew (Aeroflot, no less!) Where did we stay while we were there? In a hotel. What was the hotel/gasthof/hostel/etc like? It was really big and stuff wasn't all that great. There were 17 floors. How was the food? Disgusting! What did I bring home? Lots of stuff. Dirty clothes, Christmas gifts, souvenirs, clean clothes, ME! What was my most favorite thing about the trip? The shopping and the circus & ballet. What was my least favorite thing about the trip? The food. Do I want to go back? Yes. Why? To see all the things we missed from not going to Moscow. Anything extra to add? It didn't snow!

Our third visit to the Volksfest in Stuttgart was while my (Gene's) sister Betty and her husband Jim were here. They arrived in Stuttgart for a short visit on Friday October 8th, the same day that Audrey came home from her trip. We weren't sure exactly when Audrey was arriving home, so we all stayed home that night and had a home-cooked German meal - Maultaschen - which are like big raviolis stuffed with meat and vegetables in a broth soup. The next day was Saturday, so we all headed out on the subway for a town southwest of Stuttgart called Esslingen. Esslingen was once a walled city, and a portion of the wall remains intact, so we headed for the hill on the edge of town where the wall is. We climbed up the hill through vineyards (literally, it was a footpath through the grape arbors), to the base of the remaining wall. There's a pleasant park up there and a fancy restaurant, but we just walked around and enjoyed the view. We walked back down by walking along the top of the wall (which goes down the hill into the old part of the city). Don't worry, it's meant for walking!

From Esslingen it was two stops on the subway back to the Volksfest, so that's where we went so Betty and Jim could experience it. This was the Saturday night before closing, so it was mobbed. We couldn't find a place in any of the big tents; they were jammed full of people. So we found seats in one of the smaller tents (only held about 5000 people!) and had dinner and beer there. The band was great, and we ended up dancing on the benches again! It's contagious! Sunday was the day Megan came home from Russia, so we only did a short trip to a great little castle about an hour from Stuttgart; Lichtenstein Castle. It's not in the country of Lichtenstein, its just called that. It's a tiny little castle built on a limestone butte - literally; the foundation of the castle rises up as an extension of the butte, and the butte is the size of the castle footprint.

Megan arrived home in the late afternoon/early evening, quite tired but happy. From there we went to our favorite Italian restaurant just down the street from our house. The Maitre'd / owner gave us a big greeting (we're regulars) and treated us like royalty. Betty and Jim got a kick out of it! Monday was a holiday for me but not for the kids (they're on a German calendar for holidays, I'm on American), so the adults went to the International Garden Association exhibition (called the IGA - eee-gah). Its a once-every-ten-years world's fair of horticulture and landscaping held in Stuttgart all this summer. One of our favorite summer pastimes was to go there and spend a few hours, or a whole day! We bought a family pass for the whole summer. It's closed now, but the weekend Betty and Jim were here it was still open. Monday night Jim and Betty treated us to dinner at a wonderful restaurant in the woods; we call it the Hunter's Lodge, but its real name is the Glemstal. Jim and I had a veal haxe (like schweine haxe, but veal) for two that was so big they had to wheel the tray out on a cart. Betty had venison steaks and Lynn had veal in cream sauce. Everything was heavenly! On Tuesday Betty and Jim headed back, and life returned to dull normalcy for the rest of the week; the kids off to school, I off to work, Lynn working in the Library at school. Calmness can sometimes be appealing, but not for too long.

I was off to England again for two days in September and three days just before Thanksgiving on business (same places, High Wycombe and Molesworth). I also had some excitement on my most recent visit to Brunssum (in the Netherlands) in November. On my last day there (a Wednesday), I had a delicious lunch of mussels steamed in wine and garlic in the NATO Officer's Club (they eat well in NATO), but evidently one of the mussels was bad, because I was violently ill on the train back to Stuttgart that night. It started to hit within an hour of eating, and at its worst I was heaving so hard I couldn't catch my breath. My spasms were so strong that I burst blood vessels in both eyes and all over my face. I had pooled blood in the whites of both eyes, and black and blue circles over and under both eyes. I looked a mess! I had recovered by the next day, but I was exhausted, so I slept all day; luckily it was a holiday (Thursday, Veteran's Day). By Friday every muscle in my body ached from the spasms. That was the sickest I have ever been, and the quickest I have ever recovered! Watch out for Mussels!

Well, that's about all for the year (at least so far). We have no scheduled guests for the holidays, so we'll make do with friends in the area, and buy lots of fireworks to light off on New Year's Eve (called Silvester in German). Sorry we haven't written more this year. We did pretty good the first year or so keeping you all informed as the year progressed, but this year was a bust, letter-wise. We can try to do better next year, but I suspect we'll be as busy if not busier, so it may not get any better. If you write to us, though, we always try to answer.


Gene, Lynn, Megan, and Audrey






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