Monthly Archives: September 2011


Sketch of grapes

"Trauben - Grapes", by Kerry McFall

We arrived in Mannheim via a Very Fast Train (I was almost sad the ride was over), where we were greeted by our host Vollker, who escorted us to “the parsonage” and presented us with a set of keys.  He and Marika, another of our German “daughters” who stayed with us years ago in Atlanta, share ownership of an old parsonage with two other couples.  It is a huge brick house next to a tall brick church, full of unexpected doorways and mysterious dark stairs, and a marvelous guest apartment where we stay.  These people are the ultimate example of advanced city dwellers – they belong to a car share, so they don’t own a car, they just check one out when they need it.  They take their children to school and daycare on bicycles equipped with the trailers like we see a lot at home.  They ride the trolley or trains when they need to, but mostly they walk to the local version of our Co-op, or the Farmer’s Markets, or wherever they need to go.  And just like every other German town we’ve visited, there is a marvelous bakery every half a block.  Oh, my pinching waistband… how DO all of these people stay so fit?  Hopefully all of the walking will make a difference?

Ursula and baby Simon are with us, so once the baby is asleep, we have the wonderful intellectual discussions we remember from when Ursula and Marika were teens.  Both women are now accomplished global professionals, parents, citizens of the world, and their perspective is so intriguing, so refreshing.  They partnered with men of equal intellectual standing, who share the family responsibilities joyfully.  All that and they’re all just such fun to be with! 

I wanted to make a painting of the huge grape arbor that covers their patio/chourtyard; it’s a beautiful space behind the parsonage, below the church clock tower, almost completely roofed by a giant trellis full of juicy black grapes.  But as soon as I got out there, it began to rain.  Dang.  So I broke off a stem and brought it in the house, so instead of a landscape, voila – still life.  With “trauben”.

Technology Meets Thermals

sketch of architecture

Audi "Museum Mobile", by Kerry McFall

A tour of the Audi plant in Ingolstadt yesterday left me feeling like I had just visited a space station… and I swear those robots were looking right at me.  The corporate logo “Vorsprung durch Technich”  translates roughly into “Advantage Through Technology”, and indeed there was a lot of amazing technology, resulting of course in some really fast cars that just burn up the Autobahn at the speed of light (I much prefer the Autobahn to LA freeways – maybe it’s because all the drivers seem to know what they’re doing).  In the midst of technology that can apply four coats of paint into literally the thickness of a human hair, it seems odd that before the primer coat goes on, they dust off the surface with EMU feathers.  Seriously, right there in that fabulous “clean room environment”, Audi uses giant feather dusters to prep the surface – nothing else will do.  I was disappointed in their artistic acumen to find, however, that the most popular colors are silver, black, and pearly white, with “Grandma gold” coming in a distant 5th or 6th.

 Audi doesn’t seem to go in for fancy car names like American manufacturers do; they restrain their MBA’s and simply name their cars A3, A4, A5, etc.  Quite refreshing for those of us who cringe at names like Armada and Maurauder. 

Ergonomics guides the processes where humans are involved, so the workers’ backs and wrists are protected, but I couldn’t help but wonder what that assembly line shift work does to their psyches.   I know I personally wouldn’t last the first two hours before I told threw down my pneumatic screwdriver and said some very bad words.  Then again, it may not be an issue for much longer as the march of progress continues down the path of robotization.  Thirty thousand blue collar jobs in this little town, and my guess is that most are about to do a Detroit.

sketch of white stork in flight

"Im Aufwind" - On the Upswing, by Kerry McFall, ink and colored pencil

On the other side of the coin, where nature meets the 21st century, there is good news.  The local paper had an article that was still on the coffee table about a resurgence of White Storks.  The headline reads “Im Aufwind”, which can refer to both riding thermals and to being on the upswing.  The local stork population was nearly eliminated in the 80’s, but enjoyed unusually favorable breeding conditions in this region this year.  One stork eats one pound of food per day, which translates into roughly 24 mice or 1,100 worms.  Eew.  Normally they breed here, then migrate to Spain or north Africa for the winter, but recent winters have seen them only going as far as Spain, taking advantage of garbage dumps… Eeww.

As I sketched the photo, I kept thinking this is an impossible anatomy, but then again, no more impossible than our herons in Oregon I suppose.  Such big eyes they have!  And such awkward legs!


Adventures in Munich

Beer Garden Sketch

Augustiner Beer Garden, Munich

Labor Day back home, I hope the weather is cooperating as everyone relishes that last three day weekend of summer.   It’s raining and muggy here today, but the weekend was gorgeous.

We spent the weekend exploring Bavaria, first Regensburg on Saturday with Ursula and baby Simon, then Munich on Sunday with Markus.  Both days we enjoyed traditional lunches featuring schnitzel or roasts, with potato dumplings or potato salad, and Really Good Beer.  Light beer is called “Hell” on the menus, or “helle” on one menu… so in the college vernacular, I suppose I could say I drank hella beer?  That is especially appropriate since in a “real” beer garden, the only size beer available is one liter.  That’s a lot of beer… Markus and I split one.

Architecture.  Wow.  At the moment I’m feeling very much like this time last year at the Grand Canyon: I don’t know where to look.  I sit with my sketchbook and gape, so for now I content myself with pretzels and beer mugs and objects to which I can relate. 

Cultural Differences.  Just in the course of describing moving her furniture from Berlin to Inglestadt, Ursula mentioned that when you move in to a rental apartment, you must install your own light fixtures.  The last tenants take theirs, leaving you with just the wires hanging out of the ceiling or walls.  Ouch.

Traditions.  What goes around comes around.  Leiderhosen and dirndl skirts are making a comeback with the 20-something set.  Our travels over the weekend took us past several local harvest festivals, with many such outfits in evidence.  The twist is that more often than not, girls are wearing leather shorts, and/or some pretty risqué reincarnations of the classic little blouse and vest.  Fun!

We’ve found accommodations in London, more on that later.  We’re looking forward to a few more days here, then on to other German locales.

Vision and Courage

 This is the first time I’ve experienced reverse jet lag – I am not sleepy. I sleep for a couple of hours, then my eyes pop open and I’m awake. We were up until 1:30 a.m. after a late supper of coldcuts and salad, catching up with each others lives, laughing, and “carrying on” as they say in the South. This morning I came upstairs before dawn, tidied up the dishes from the night before, then made up a still life composition centered around the empty wine bottle, and painted until everyone else woke up. I was even awake before 4-month-old Simon! An oval flat bottle, a ripe pear, a bit of Brie cheese, and the quiet time for focus with no other agenda. Just what I have hungered for.

still life

"Jet Lag Still Life", watercolor, ink, colored pencil, by Kerry McFall

It was cool and overcast today, and Simon became fussy, so Ursula and I stayed home and I sketched the “New Castle” using several photographs from the local tourist brochure. When we crossed the bridge over the Danube this evening on our after dinner walk, I found myself thinking, “Oh, look, there’s my castle!” It’s amusing how sketching something seems to make it yours!

castle sketch

"Neues Schloss", watercolor, colored pencil, by Kerry McFall

 I had fun adding the “fire-breathing panther” mascot that appears around town here about as often as the OSU Beaver does back home in Corvallis. (Just between you and me and the fencepost, that panther’s mama was messing around with a dragon…) I noticed yesterday as we wandered through the narrow back streets that graffiti is creeping in amongst the cobblestones and ancient tiles. It’s new, you can tell, and there’s not a lot. It’s very amateurish as graffiti goes. My son is a ‘graffiti writer’ of some renown in L.A., so I know a little bit about the art – and it can be art. I suspect he would agree with me that while painting a concrete wall or a rusty old rail car is almost always an improvement, scrawling middle-school curse words on 700-year-old intricately-patterned and inlaid brick, borders on sacrilege. I am sure the ghost of Duke Ludwig the Rich is rolling in his several graves (evidently, bits and pieces were buried here and there to make sure that not just one but several cathedrals were blessed with his spirit. Or maybe it had more to do with the Frankenstein tradition…). At any rate, to be honest, I wouldn’t want to offend Ludwig, in whole or in part! Those graffiti writers better watch their steps.

 The evening walk was delightful as the sun set behind the dam on the Danube. We crossed at the dam, listening to the drumbeat of a “dragon boat”, a sort of a rowing crew team that jousts with other boats during festivals. Markus said he wanted to show us something a bit out of the way. We pushed the stroller into a shady park-like setting, where blue metal shafts stuck up out of the overgrown grass here and there. “It’s a memorial to those locals who died as a result of persecution by the National Socialists.” I sifted back through my memory, trying to figure out who the National Socialists were, wondering if it was a recent political happening that I had not taken any notice of, being so very American and clueless about European politics. And then I read the simple words beneath the photographs that were mounted inside the shafts. My German is rudimentary, but the words jumped out – executed, sterilized, commited suicide, died in prison. There were no names, just photos of young people circa 1938 or 1942. Oh. That’s what Nazi stands for. How quickly we forget. A few footsteps away, there were concrete lion memorials for platoons of local soldiers and airmen. Again, no individual names, just platoon ID’s.

So sad. So unnecessary. So easy to push out of our minds, thereby risking the “history repeats itself” consequences; not here surely, but where else do we refuse to take any notice? How many similar movements are under way in countries whose names we don’t even know how to pronounce… My thanks and admiration go to the citizens of Ingoldstadt who had the vision and courage to erect these memorials.