Saturday, January 06, 2007


Today is a holiday in predominantly-Catholic southern Germany, the Heilige Drei Könige, the feastday of the three kings who visited the infant Jesus in the stable in Bethlehem; this corresponds to Epiphany. I had forgotten that, and so was surprised on my way downtown first by how little traffic there was, and secondly that every shop was closed. It was a pleasant day, about 12°C and light cloud, so I continued walking anyway, and treated myself to a cappuccino on the terrace of the Kunstmuseum. There were very few passersby (obviously, since everything but the café and the artificial ice rink in the Schlossplatz was closed. I sat alone at first, then a few brave souls joined me.

It occurred to me as I sat there, how seldom I actually look at the city, so I did. I must say, Stuttgart has its pleasant parts, and the Schlossplatz ranks very high in this list (I'll try to find some photos on Flickr later). As I sat there, looking at the rich folks' houses up on the wooded hillside, and through the gap between Schloss and Kunstgalerie towards the opera house, I thought to myself: "This is like being in a nice European city." And then had to laugh: where exactly did I think I was, if not in Europe?

But it's true, I am often unaware of how and where I live. This isn't the same Europe that I lusted after as a teenager at the movies, it's very often just a place called "Life." What makes Europe real for me is the connectedness of it all: to sit on a café terrace and hear conversations in five languages, to see Rome and Warsaw as destinations on the indicator board in the train station. Europe is tiny to a North American: I can be in Paris in six hours by train, or Amsterdam in five, or Vienna in seven-and-a-half; even Milan is only eight hours away. I am amused by the idea of going to Milan for a proper Italian meal, then taking a sleeper train home and going work the next morning as though I'd been in the local pizzeria.

(The title is a common piece of self-applied graffiti in Stuttgart which I'll try to photograph tomorrow. People scribble it in chalk above the entrances to their cafés and houses on this day each year. C, M and B are the three kings: every good German knows that their names are Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar; 20+07 is obviously the year. I am amused by this habit, and also comforted in a way that I find hard to define: although I don't partake in this belief, I am pleased to see that there are those who do. Not having a street door, I've graffiti'd my blog.)

Well, I never knew that! Today is Twelfth Night. Dec. 25 + 12 = Jan. 6. To think that I studied Shakesper without anyone ever telling us what the significance of the title was.



Blogger Jenni said...

It is interesting to hear you comment about being able to be in hugely different cities in a matter of hours. When I talk with someone from the northeast US, for example, they are often astounded that I'll get in the car and drive three hours for a weekend. Or that just to get to the farthest point in my own great state of Texas is 10-12 hours by car. In that time, they will have gone through 3 or 4 states and back home!

I do so enjoy that connectedness as you call it in europe - the easy travel to so many different places. Which is why I love to visit!!

January 6, 2007 at 11:18:00 p.m. GMT+1  
Blogger CarpeDM said...

One of the things that I noticed in Portugal was the advertisements for plane tickets to other countries and how cheap it was.

I miss that "nice European town" feel.

January 7, 2007 at 2:20:00 a.m. GMT+1  
Anonymous antonia said...

really like this aspect of your blog that I always see these nice german things here, like Drano und Nikolaeuse und Weihenstephan und Dinner for One and now 20+C+M+B+07. Even tho I remember this abbreviation somewhat different, but maybe the protestants in the north figured out their own witchcraftsymbol...I guess it was more like 2+0+C+M+B+0+7 but not really sure...

January 7, 2007 at 7:37:00 a.m. GMT+1  
Anonymous arevik said...

hi udge! did you had a nice big part from the kings'cake (i don't know whether it is a german custom custom too)?

January 7, 2007 at 1:07:00 p.m. GMT+1  
Blogger brooksba said...

In high school, I knew a young boy whose birthday was/is January 6. He used to share the meaning behind the 12 days of Christmas each year with our group of friends. Thanks for the reminder.

It is a wonderful feeling to be so connected to so many cultures, amazing places, and people. Europe is a different feel than North America - preferrable. I enjoy it when you write about the culture and express the views of living in Europe.

January 7, 2007 at 1:11:00 p.m. GMT+1  
Blogger Udge said...

Thanks for the comments!

Antonia: I've seen it written both ways but 2+0+C+M+B+0+7 is more common.

Arevik: I didn't know the custom of the kings' cake until I looked up CMB on wikipedia. Probably a generational thing, few of my acquaintances do any baking.

January 8, 2007 at 12:35:00 p.m. GMT+1  

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