“The river Rhine is flowing happily and waiting for you”, my choir friend from Hamburg wrote to me when I moved to Düsseldorf. Almost four years later, I finally appreciate this stream that Germans call “Father Rhine”. A and my very first trip was to Koblenz, where Rhine and Mosel meet, and I’ve been wanting to go to Königswinter for a long time, too. Both cities are made for Rhine Romantics – majestic mountains rising up behind the water, picturesque old towns with half-timbered houses and wine restaurants and the occasional ferry transporting tourists up and down the river. Simply “a poet’s dream”, as Heinrich von Kleist described the Rhine region.
Königswinter had two strong arguments for me: it is just an hour’s drive from home (more time to explore, less time to travel) and it has the Drachenfels mountain with a castle that is referred to as the Rhineland’s Neuschwanstein. Traffic slowed us down a little but we were immediately enchanted by this little town (that is actually not that little, I researched Königswinter has 30,000 inhabitants!). We started with strolling down the river promenade and having lunch. In the 1920s, this was a swanky resort to which not only Germans but also many British travelled. A little bit of that atmosphere is still reflected in some of the buildings.
Always seeking knowledge, we followed the signs to the Siebengebirge Museum that recounts the history of the region. Such a modern, interesting museum! It even had augmented reality parts. We learned that
the mountains were used as a stone pit,
that Lord Byron made Königswinter famous with his poem about Drachenfels (and they dedicated a square to him a couple of hundreds years later),
that there is a Königswinterer oven, a special kind of oven that apparently was a huge innovation, and
that the donkies that used to transport stones from the mountains were repurposed as tourist attractions when the stone pit was discontinued. A called this donkey structual change.
When walking around in Königswinter you also see a mountain top with a large building on it: Petersberg. The Petersberg is a very historcial site as the Allies signed an agreement, the Petersberg Agreement, in 1949, granted Germany extended rights and led the Federal Republic away from occupation towards sovereignity. Feel the breath of history! Even today, the Hotel Petersberg is an official guest house of the German state. Queen Elizabeth, Nelson Mandela and Queen Margarethe of Denmark have stayed there.
On Sunday, we went up the mythical mountain Drachenfels. It’s 321 meters high and we took the Zahnradbahn (rack railway), something that particularily excited A. It wasn’t any rack railway but the oldest still functioning one. From 1883! The mountain became a popular tourist destination thanks to the poems of aforementioned Lord Byron and German poets and legends surround the “Dragon’s Rock”. Its name stems from the most well known legend of The Nibelungs’ Song’s Siegfried who slayed a dragon here.
In 1883, a ridicuously wealthy banker came up with the idea to build a magnificent Disney castle halfway on the way to the mountain top. He never even lived there, he only had it to impress important friends that he received there.
You know how D.C. and Kungsträdgården are hyped for their cherry blossoms? Apparently, we have that too here! We went to Bonn, the former capital (and a charming international city), has two streets that are lined with cherry trees. Spectacular! It’s like a roof of pink flush. The downside? Everyone was there. All ages, all nations, all with smartphones. Some with high-end cameras and selfie sticks – those were the Instagram models I assume. The most awkward sight was maybe the young man going down on one knee amidst hundreds of tourists to propose to his girlfriend. But…she said yes!
It has been 16 years or more since I last started learning a new language. And that was Spanish which is kind of close to French which I already knew so I am not sure if that’ll even count. So it was quite an adventure when I went to my Persian course for the first time last night. (“Wait, do I need something to write on?” I suddenly wondered as I got out of the door.)
“Do you have too much time on your hands?” my bonus co-worker asked me when I told him I had signed myself up for evening classes. I have all the time in the world!, I proclaimed my new credo. (And added, “And I resume work at night after the course”.) But yes, of course, it’s an additional committment and it is at night, starting first past 7:30 p.m.. Would I be able to stay awake and concentrate?
Turns out I can! Maybe it was because it was the very first lesson but I was kind of intruiged. Our teacher is from Tehran and speaks impeccable German with an endearing Persian accent. He also is a fan of Martin Luther. Or was. “The more I learn about him, the less I actually like him”, he informed us. “But he sure did the German language a great service”. In the first lesson, we learned that 60 percent of the language is Arabic words. Apparently, Persians say the Arabic word followed by the Persian synonyme directly after. A very interesting way of finding a compromise with your occupier.
From what we learned yesterday, I find Persian to be delightfully practical. If you want to say “Helen’s mom”, you just say “Mom of Helen”. If you want to say, “your car”, you just say “car of you”, meaning you don’t have to learn a new word for “your”. It gets even better: if you want to describe the car further, you just add the adjective with a connection-e, “maschine-bad” (bad means bad in Persian! How convenient?!). So now I am already very close to discussing investment banking: baanke bad!
We also learned that verbs are always placed at the end of the sentence. This means you never know what someone is doing before he’s done speaking. What a challenge for interpreters at the UN!
There’s a way of saying where you are which literally means “I am [place]”. Interestingly enough, German cool kids to that, too. Including me! I once texted a friend “I am fruit stand”. Now I wonder if this construction comes from Persian or other foreign languages that are spoken by third-generation-immigrant Germans or if Germans just created the same construction without any influence. Maybe I will be library to read up on that.
The tricky parts so far are pronounciation and the fact that written language and spoken language differ. (And I don’t even mean actual Persian letters.) You write naan but you say nun. If you don’t do that, the teacher told us, people think you are from the country side. And of course you want to come across as a cosmopolitan.
Today is Nooroz, Persian New Year. As far as I know, it’s the most important holiday. What a good day to start learning Persian! Nooroz pirooz!