While our travels have taken us all over the continent of Europe, most of our time has been spent in a beautiful country called Germany. So now we have a chance to tell you all about our favorite place to be at the moment….home.
We live on 3rd floor of a stairwell apartment building on an Army Post called Landstuhl. Our great view out of the living room window is of the huge sprawling hospital and the hill beyond it. There are only a few apartment buildings around us, all dominated by the hospital, which is the heart of the post and contains the mailroom, food court, bank, and barber shop, among other things. The hospital itself is overshadowed with trees that surround the post, and make it look like a mountaintop resort.
Landstuhl post is on top of an oblong hill several hundred meters high, overlooking the German town of Landstuhl nestled in a valley to the East. The town castle is on another hill on the far side of town. To both east and west, a row of tree-covered hills marches along, with villages every couple kilometers at the base. These hills create rolling plateau’s to the south, which are covered with fields of barley and turnips and peas, and of course more tiny villages. To the north there are more hills, but these are more irregular, and sometimes flatten out into fields rather than forests. We do not live in the area of Germany called the black forest, but the forests that surround us sometimes look just as dark.
We live at a crossroads of two major autobahns (interstates). To the West one heads to Paris, 5 hours away. To the Southeast you would drive through a huge German forest, eventually cross into France and down to Strasbourg and then hit Switzerland. To the North the road leads to Luxembourg and also to the German cities of Bonn and Koln. The Eastern road is the one we travel the most, taking us to other military posts and also to the town of Kaiserslautern. Another hour to the East would bring you to Mannheim and the wide flat Rhein river valley.
The German countryside is just that, country. German law prohibits anyone from living outside of the villages, with very rare exceptions. So there are forests, fields, and villages, and the idea of acreages doesn’t exist here. This makes it easy for traditional German families to walk downtown every morning to make the day’s shopping purchases of cheese, fresh bread, and other goodies.
The forests are very well kept, and there are trails and biking paths everywhere. Germans love to go walking, and it is easy to walk right out of any village and find quiet forest trails. In fact, walking has been organized into a national sport here in Germany. A favorite activity for us to do on weekends is to go to Volksmarches. A Volksmarch (people’s march) is an organized walk through the woods. These Volksmarches are organized by walking clubs in multitudes of villages throughout Germany, France, Luxembourg, Belgium, and even down in Italy.
The area where we live is a hotspot for these events, and on any given weekend of the years, we can find one within an hour of us. The event is started at the village’s largest gathering place, often a basketball gym. Inside you find lots of tables, with vendors selling food and other enticing local products. We try to ignore the food at first, and go to the booth selling Startcards for 1.50 Euro. With this card in hand, we can get started on our walk, choosing the distance that we want to cover that day. Distances can be 5 k, 10 k, 20 k, or sometimes even 42 kilometers (marathon distance). We like to walk the 10 k, (6 miles) which takes about 2 hours. We follow a path marked with tape, painted arrows, streamers, sawdust, and sometimes even printed signs along a circular route. Along the way there are several checkpoints, where our cards are stamped and we are given sweet tea to speed us along the path. We are often passed by old German men wearing Lederhosen that seem to be able to walk faster than I can run.
When we finally straggle back into the Starthall, we are ready to gain back all those calories lost by munching on Bratwurst and homemade pies. The food is reasonable priced (a slice of pie is $1.00), and tastes great after a long walk through the woods. I can always get Rob to agree to do a march by promising him a pie stop afterwards!
Before we leave, we take our stamped cards and our Volksmarch booklets and get credit for the march, and also for the distance we walked. The International Volksmarching Association gives certificates and patches for completing 10, 30, 50 marches (and on up), and also 500, 1000, 1500 kilometers (and on up). Completing a marathon will also earn a special patch. As expected, we are still working on the very lowest prizes, but some Germans proudly display all of their patches on special vests, and we have seen some that say 30,000 kilometers!
Of course, the Christmas Season is now approaching, and we are looking forward to visiting new cities including their Christmas Markets.
November 1, 2005
The First Sergeant (1SG) of C Company, has been organizing Company Volksmarches on the weekends since he arrived over a year ago. There have been 61 company Volksmarching events at C Company so far, and they usually revolve around the shorter trails of 5 or 10 kilometers to keep them family friendly. However, about once a month, 1SG likes to challenge the Soldiers to join him on the marathon distance of 26.2 miles. Sixteen Soldiers and one spouse have taken the challenge and completed at least one marathon.
In the most recent marathon challenge, 10 of us carpooled to the city of Koblenz, Germany. A few early-rising volunteers served us coffee, cake, and sandwiches at the hall before the start of our big walk. Then, carrying an assortment of snacks, water bottles, Band-Aids, and backpacks, we set out walking as the sun was coming up. The trail took us along the banks of the Rhein and Mosel Rivers, and then incorporated a ferryboat crossing of the Rhein River. On the other side, the trail went from very flat to very steep, and our views of the river valley became a lot more expansive. At one overlook high above the river, we counted the castles that we could see up and down the valley. What goes up must come down, and we eventually made our way back across the Rhein River, where the trail canted steeply upwards again (a few groans were heard this time), but this time we were treated to close-up views of the beautiful castle of Schloss Stolzenfels.
At eight checkpoints spaced along the trail, we took short breaks and snacked on tea and cheese bread. Our goal was to finish as a group, so we made sure everyone made it to each checkpoint before the group started again. The pictures we took at the beginning of the day showed smiling faces, which by the middle turned into grimaces as a few blisters and steep hills took their toll. Yet by the end, we were all smiling again, excited that we had gone the distance and proven ourselves capable of a marathon. We were just as excited to feast on German food and beer at the start hall to celebrate the fact that we were sitting down and no longer walking. We counted a few blisters, rubbed aching muscles, and exchanged injury stories, but for the most part we had come through unscathed. A few intrepid souls even had the courage to ask on the drive home, “So when is the next marathon, 1SG?”