Friday, 21 May 2010

Bielefeld, Germany: Part II

Something else you cannot help but notice as you walk down the streets is the number of smokers—and not only of cigarettes, but also of cigars (a smell that will forever remind me of my late grandfather). The prevalence of smoking in continental Europe is legendary, and many Brits who have become spoiled by smoke-free pubs come home from abroad complaining of the stench. While people definitely do still smoke in the UK, it seems to me that either fewer people smoke there, or each individual smokes less often. Either way, there is much more puffing here than I am used to. I am still amazed when I find working cigarette vending machines, as I did in one of the first restaurants we visited here. In the US, such machines were outlawed when I was a little girl. Also, I noticed an empty pack of cigarettes sitting on an ashtray and couldn’t help but observe how large the health warning was.

One of the nicest things about walking the streets of Bielefeld is the amount of green you get to experience. Here, that is partly due to the presence of the Teutoburg Forest ("Teutoburger wald"). In fact, while researching the trip before our departure, I was informed by Wikipedia that Bielefeld was originally founded to guard the valley that separates the forest into its northern and southern parts. Forest or no, I have been informed that cities in Europe quite often have this same look, with wide strips of grass and trees planted in between lanes of traffic, or along sidewalks, and preserved around houses and parking lots. These are not the puny little exotic ornamentals that you find in the US, occupying one little cement-free square in the sidewalk. These are decades-old chestnuts and maples and pines with plenty of room to spread out belowground without cracking the infrastructure:

(A view of the city from the castle)

(Another view from the castle. Looks haunted, doesn't it?)

Because of all this verdant loveliness, there are also many birds, and you can hear their singing constantly because the town is not that loud. There is car traffic, but not much—most people seem to use the tram/subway/bus systems that provide access all over town. That means you can clearly distinguish the sounds of great tits, blue tits, wrens, and, especially, blackbirds. This can also be said of life in the UK. However, even though our town, Falmouth, is considerably smaller than Bielefeld, it is less green and its bird life (other than the noisy gulls) is much less evident.

One other thing that Bielefeld has in abundance, which is not nearly as pleasant, is a whole lot of dog poo. As in the UK, it appears that practically everyone has a dog. There are many dachshunds here, including the wire-haired variety, which you do not see as often as the short-haired variety back in the US. Also as in the UK, people walk into shops with their dogs, including take-away cafes and other establishments selling food. I think this is great because I always used to hate having to tie up our dog outside if I needed to run into the post office or grocery store. You can get away with this much more in Europe for a couple of reasons. First of all, there are many more smaller dogs than bigger dogs, because people live in smaller houses and flats, and have smaller yards, if they have yards at all. In the UK, you see an infinite variety of terrier breeds; here, though there are a handful of terriers (particularly regular and toy Yorkshires), there are many more Asian lapdog breeds, including Malteses and Pekineses. More important than size, though, is being trained, and European dogs behave better than kids—and, lest you think I am exaggerating, let me state for the record that I am not. Both here and in the UK, dogs do not pay attention to anyone but their masters, they wander along right at their masters’ heels even if they are not on a leash, and they barely even investigate other dogs. It is amazing. Equally amazing is that, when they poo, most owners do not pick up after them. There is poo on sidewalks, poo on tree roots, poo next to streams, poo at the bottoms of buildings, poo in the grass…poo everywhere:

(Yes, I actually photographed poo...with a lovely side of litter)

However, my husband thinks that some city employee may come around early in the mornings or late in the evenings and clean it up, which does make things a bit better. All the same, it’s a little disturbing, especially for someone who was once a professional petsitter and avidly collected plastic baggies so as to have a perpetual supply on hand for erasing all evidence that a dog ever passed (literally and figuratively).

(more to come later...)

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