Sights and Sounds, Venice and Carnevale


I’m very fortunate to be able to enjoy the sensations of Venezia for a few more months. This Carnevale will be my first, and so, I figure, do as much as I can, while I can. It’s the same mantra I have for life. Some words to describe how I feel about this lagoon città: magical, mesmerizing, dreamy, challenging at times, welcoming at others. It’s a city held together by a foundation of mud, silt, and trees, a network of bridges, and a mosaic of palazzos and chiese (palaces and churches), along with an emporium of goods, and, of course, massive tourism.

Piazza San Marco with its Basilica

As I trudge along the pathways and alleyways composed of centuries-old stone, moving quickly past the crush of tourists on my way to the library, I’m struck by the way the colors and sounds have a sort of unique frequency that can’t be found anywhere else. I’ve tried to capture some of that Venetian frequency in my video of an a capella group singing outside of the library I happened to be working at this weekend. I think they were all in masks, too. Nice touch.

I hope to share more videos of Venezia in the coming weeks, especially during Carnevale.

All words and images ©Sophia Quach McCabe.



Lost in Venezia

On the terrace of the Fondaco dei Tedeschi.
On the terrace of the Fondaco dei Tedeschi.

New research year, new city, new ways of saying “I would like a coffee, please.” All the things that one needs to relearn when going from Deutschland to Italia. Venice has been a dream, albeit with some wrenches thrown into the mix for that shocking bit of reality (more on that in future posts). I’ve been in the laguna for a couple of months now, and can say that there’s a Venetian pace to things. You want to move quickly through the streets to get to the library or the archives to start your workday. Well, when there’s a gaggle of tourists, you have to ease down. It becomes annoying at times when folks stop suddenly at the top of a bridge to consult their map or to take a photo. I’m starting to grumble too much, I see… yes, I should become like the Venetians and stroll along like everyone else, with ease because it’s really a lovely, beautiful city.

Fog and gondolier roll in.
Fog and gondolier roll in.


Venice is a dream. When the fog rolled in during November, I couldn’t help but stop in my own tracks to also take photos of gondolas emerging from the mist. The atmospheric weather conditions came for only one week so far, but I’m hoping for a return visit during the remaining winter months.

There’s no other place like Venezia, where light and water dance together magically, where waterways and walkways are the streets. No car sounds, no horns, only the occasional blare of music from a taxi boat or the resounding bellow from a ship (or the aria of gondoliers!), and the chatter of people strolling through the streets late at night.

Piazza San Marco, in front of the Doge’s Palace, with slight aqua alta (high water).

It’s been four years since I was last here, and I remember getting terribly lost in the labyrinth of the città almost every day. Like the titular character of Finding Dory, I become a bit anxious when I’m in enclosed spaces, especially when I’m lost. (Yes, I was one of the few grown-ups stressed out while watching the animated Pixar film.) With its endless alleyways that slash through the city’s neighborhoods, in which only one person’s body width can fit comfortably, Venezia at night had a way of tricking me into going around and around in circles four years ago. So you can imagine how ecstatic I was this time around with GPS on my phone. Though, admittedly, the GPS doesn’t work so well in certain parts of the city. Many a times I’ve walked over a bridge to find no pathway. Literally the bridge ended at a person’s front door. Allora, back to the same problem of getting lost. Well, I was very proud of myself when I reached the Biblioteca Marciana the first time without GPS. It’s the little things.

My workspace.
My workspace.

Missing Deutschland — the Biergarten report

It’s been almost two months since I’ve returned from my year in Germany. Since that time, I’ve already been to Belgium and back. So today’s post will be about my last month in Germany where I spent much of my time in Munich.

Tunix behind the Glyptothek.

Ah, Munich. Germans say that Munich in the summer is just wonderful. And they’re right. It’s warm, it’s full of Biergartens, and open-air festivals. I happened upon a two-day beer and music festival around the corner from my work, right behind the Glyptothek museum. I found it by following the sounds of live jazz-funk streaming through the air. This was my kind of festival. Called Tunix, it was put together by locals. Nice and intimate, the way I like my evenings after a long day of work in the library. Like a lot of towns in Germany–both large and small–Munich has a plethora of parks for walking, running, relaxing. Munich’s parks may be just a bit bigger than some, complete with a Chinese pagoda.

Chinese pagoda at the Chinesischer Turm, English Garden, Munich.
Chinese pagoda at the Chinesischer Turm, English Garden, Munich.

Okay, so the Chinesischer Turm is a beer garden located in the English Garden (I see now that this could be a little confusing). You can’t see it in the photo, but there’s a live oompah band playing inside the pagoda. For a Chinese person such as myself, it was a bit of a culture clash that was a bit surreal, but it somehow worked in Munich.

My days would be spent at the library or collections and when I’ve had too much, I’d go to the park and have my halb Maß (1/2 liter) beer and pretzel. Summer days in Munich kind of demand it.

Hofgarten, Munich.

The size of the pretzels are typically normal-sized, unless you buy it from a Biergarten. Then they are sized bigger-than-your-head. Which was fine, too. Maybe don’t have a pretzel every time you go to the Biergarten.

At Paulaner Biergarten, with a pretzel bigger than my head!


Speaking of Biergartens, my friend and I hiked up a mountain to find the Andechs Monastery, whose Benedictine monks of St. Boniface still brew their own beer. It was tiring but worthwhile. I think we were walking so slowly that a person in an electric wheelchair passed us up on the trail, LOL. So basically, we did a pilgrimage for beer. The Benedictine monastery was completed in 1455, but the pilgrimage (for religious and beer reasons, presumably) has been in existence since the 12th century. Good stuff. I liked the beer so much that I dragged home a heavy 1/2 Maß glass mug in my suitcase.

Andechs Monastery
Andechs Monastery
View from our hike to Andechs Monastery.
Big hunk of meat, potato salad, and pretzel from Andechs.

We also checked out Tollwood, a festival that occurs twice per year, summer and winter. It was really big, full of different foods and crafts. I was most impressed by the whale sculpture, which was entirely constructed from PLASTIC BOTTLES and presents a statement about environmental awareness.



There was choco-gyro, a strange (to me) presentation of savory food in sweet form, and burritos, which I longed for always while in Germany.

We watched the European Cup match between Germany and Belgium while drinking a 1/2 Maß of Andechs beer. It’s a sad state of affairs when I’m thinking about crafting my own German beer in the U.S. Haha, no that won’t ever happen, but the German bread… that’s another story and for a future post. Tschüss for now!

Entenrennen (Duck Run) & German festival life


Every weekend in Wolfenbüttel there seems to be a celebration. For Maifest (May Fest) during the weekend of May 21, the Entenrennen–translated as “duck run”–celebrated the arrival of spring, and, as a charity event, helped fund a children’s hospice in town. Naturally, my friends and I had to participate. How this worked: we paid 2 Euros for a rubber duck, and when it was time for the race to begin, we released our ducks into the Oker River. You could put your duck into a big plastic box, which would be dumped into the river all at one time. Or you could throw your duck as far as you can. I chose the latter, though, thinking about it later, I realized my throwing arm wasn’t strong enough to gain much distance. But at least it hit the river, unlike some unlucky ducks that were stuck on the bank.


The first five rubber ducks to reach the finish line (a big net) about 30 minutes later down the river won some choice prizes, such as a helicopter ride and movie tickets. The rest of the ducks were gathered for random drawings of 30 or so smaller prizes for children (rubber ball, frisbee, kleenex–apparently, the best prize of the smaller prizes!–and so forth). It was rather fantastic to be part of the community, walking along the banks of the river, following the ducks as they made their way down. Of course my concern was what would the real ducks think of these rubber ducks? Would they be confused? They’re probably smarter than that. After all, our rubber ducks were Lessing ducks.


Gotthold Ephraim Lessing was a writer, philosopher, poet, and art critic in the Enlightenment period. From 1770-1781, he was the librarian for Duke August the Younger of Brunswick-Lüneburg, at what is now the Herzog August Bibliothek in Wolfenbüttel. Lessing wore a powdered wig, like most of the folks in the Enlightenment period. These ducks had permanent wigs, books, and horses (part of Wolfenbüttel’s logo), and so of course, they were Lessing ducks. Some of them even contemplated the meaning of life…


Not only did Maifest bring rubber ducks, but it also ushered food trucks into Wolfenbüttel. So many different food options available. I chose a crepe egg wrap from Uganda, in which a fraction of the cost of the wrap went toward helping to fund water resources in Uganda.



The food truck festival in Wolfenbüttel was like a German Bacardi advertisement: cool trucks, lawn chairs, grass placed on cobblestone in the middle of the Stadtmarkt, surrounded by beautiful German buildings from the 17th century. In particular, the Wolfenbüttel Rathaus (Town Hall) right behind the food truck was constructed in 1602.


On Sunday, I will take part in further community festivities as I cheer on big burly men in the annual Bus Pulling Competition. Awww yeah, that’s right. Five-man teams will pull a gigantic bus. I’ll have more tales to tell after this weekend.


I adore the little town of Wolfenbüttel in Lower Saxony, Germany. It’s been my home away from home for the last six months. It’s a postcard town, complete with a duck pond, and literal ducks just strolling through town.



The dogs here are the most well-behaved dogs I’ve ever seen. They pay attention only to their owners. It’s unnerving for someone like me who loves dogs–and usually dogs love me back. Here, I barely get more than a sniff before the doggie turns its head back to the owner, completely ignoring the slobbering fool who’s making googly eyes at it (that would be me).


Weather permitting, I go running, finding new paths to the country. That’s how I discovered the duck pond and the community gardens. I find the care given to the parks and woods here to be incredible.


After exercising, naturally I needed to reward myself. What better way than with gelato? Wolfenbüttel has some choice Italian restaurants and a delicious gelateria. Eiscafé Roma on the pedestrian zone of the Langen Herzogstraße was recently remodeled. I had been counting the months down to its re-opening since last November when it closed for the winter. Sure, it has weird hours (no you can’t get gelato after dinner; it has to be before 7 p.m. so you just eat dessert first), but it’s one of the best places in town, and comparable to the gelato in Italy. Probably because the owners are Italian. I selected espresso, pistachio, and Mozart Kugeln as the first three flavors of the gelato season. My friend added nougat and dark chocolate. Lecker, lecker!


The Harz and Goslar!

Panoramic view from the Brocken
At the top of the Brocken


I don’t know why, but when I see the name Goslar, I say it with an exclamation point. Goslar! Maybe it should even be GOSLAR! In any case, last weekend’s daytrip to Goslar(!) was full of medieval history, fun, and witches.

“Witches? Did she actually say ‘witches’?” Why yes. Goslar is part of the Harz, a mountain range famous for its Brocken, the highest peak in Northern Germany where, according to legend, witches held their annual gathering on April 30.

In Goethe’s Faust, the devil took Faust to the Brocken on Walpurgis Night (April 30):

Now to the Brocken the witches ride;
The stubble is gold and the corn is green;
There is the carnival crew to be seen,
And Squire Urianus will come to preside.
So over the valleys our company floats,
With witches a-farting on stinking old goats.

Hans Baldung Grien, Witches Sabbath, 1510. Woodcut toned print. Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg.

And who could forget Black Sabbath’s ode to the Brocken with their song “Walpurgis“?

Ah, but today, Goslar and the Brocken have more friendly witches, more of the Bewitched-type or the Witch Hazel (a là Bugs Bunny)-type.

It’s quaint, it’s almost comedic. But then you see something haggard almost leap out at you from BEHIND glass. No, that’s not funny at all. NOT AT ALL.


The Kaiserpfalz

Goslar has much more than witches, of course. It was a favored town of emperors. The imperial palace (Kaiserpfalz) served as a seat of power when the emperor came to town. The other iron throne, so to speak.



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The Alt Stadt and the Mines of Rammelsberg here are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. And, fun fact, part of Monuments Men was filmed in Goslar.

And some of my favorite medieval beings were found here…


Augsburg: the Fuggerei and graffiti art

As a Fulbright Fellow in Germany, I am determined to visit as many towns as possible in Deutschland during my time here. Earlier this month, I went on a whirlwind 1-1/2 week tour of northern and southern cities, including Augsburg. Located about an hour northwest of Munich, Augsburg was a free imperial city favored by Emperor Charles V. Or, to be more precise, Charles V and his entourage took over the town during many Imperial Diets.

However, it is Augsburg’s history as a city with powerful dynastic merchant families, such as the Fuggers and the Welsers, which captured my interest. The Fuggers were one of the merchant families in Southern Germany that bankrolled the activities of emperors, dukes, and the papacy during the 16th century. Much literature may be found on the Fuggers and their patronage of the arts. One of their more humanitarian contributions–which continues to be operational today–exists in the form of the Fuggerei.

Jakob Fugger the Rich founded the Fuggerei, a housing complex for needy Catholic citizens of Augsburg. Built between 1516 and 1523, it was donated to the city in 1521. The annual rent from the beginning of its inception was one Rhenish guilder, and that same amount–translated to today’s monetary terms of 0.88 €/yr–remains today. Let me repeat, the rent in the Fuggerei is 88 CENT EURO PER YEAR. This is incredible; it was incredibly generous then, and it certainly is unheard of today. That the Fugger family can still maintain their support, and had done so for the last 500 years, is also quite amazing. Of course, there are certain criteria that must be met: one must be Catholic, one must be below a certain income level, one must pray three times per day for the salvation of the Fugger family at the on-site church of St. Markus, and one must observe a curfew of 10 p.m. lest be subject to a fine. No, I don’t think you can sneak back into the complex as there is an actual city wall with a controlled gate that closes at 10 p.m. Sixty-seven houses holding 142 apartments, a museum, and a 16th-century reconstructed apartment with “old” interiors remain extant at the Fuggerei.

The legendary folks who lived here included Franz Mozart, mason and great-grandfather of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; and the first victim of witch hunts in Augsburg, Dorothea Braun who was accused of being a witch by her own 11-year old daughter. Whoops.

I was also impressed by Augsburg’s contemporary graffiti art. In many cases, it rivals Berlin (*she says as she ducks for cover*).

Berlin’s Kunstgewerbemuseum and Kunstschrank (Art Cabinet)


Last weekend I visited Berlin’s Kunstgewerbemuseum (Museum of Decorative Arts) and discovered the existence of the little treasures from the Pomeranian Kunstschrank (art cabinet) owned by Duke Philipp II. The art cabinet itself was destroyed in 1945 during World War II, but to my surprise, many of the gifts kept inside its numerous drawers remained intact and were on display. The cabinet was orchestrated by Philipp Hainhofer, German art dealer and impressario of the 17th century. Think of him as a producer who selected the artists, silversmiths, and craftsmen responsible for creating such a work.

A film entitled “Welt im Schrank” (World in the Cabinet) played continuously alongside the display of items from the cabinet. Made before the cabinet’s destruction, the film showed how each section of the Kunstschrank could be opened to display the hidden treasures inside each drawer. Removal of the crowning sculpture of Mount Parnassus with Pegasus led to the section below. Some of the beautiful objects revealed in the film were displayed in nearby glass cabinets: metal playing cards, carved ivory chess pieces, small paintings, apothecary bottles, small to large jars that fit into one another like Russian dolls, a heart-shaped silver place setting, toiletries such as an ivory comb, razor (intricately designed, of course), shaving brush, and much more.

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Museum time! On my search for the Brothers Grimm story in Kassel, Germany where the Grimms collected and wrote fairy tales, I was distraught when I learned the Grimm Museum had closed in 2014. But then I found out about the latest ode to the Grimms: GRIMMWELT.

GRIMMWELT is a museum-slash-experiential gallery that blends history and contemporary art. Or more accurately, the museum features contemporary art rooted in history and historical objects. Here, the Brüder Grimm are celebrated for their contributions to the German language and culture.

Wilhelm Grimm’s letter to Goethe and Goethe’s reply (L, R, bottom).


Treppe — “how the ‘trip-trap’ of footsteps embodies the meaning of ‘Treppe,’ the (German) word for stairs.” Top right — publications of the Grimms’ dictionary. Bottom right — final publishing contract of the Grimms’ ‘German dictionary’, signed and executed by the Grimms in 1847.


Contemporary works with historical insight. Some of my faves: Alexej Tchernyi, “The biography of the ‘german dictionary’ Diorama in 14 scenes,” 2014/2015, handmade paper; the exhibition entrance is laid out in an alphabet soup-type of path; lost in a forest of “trees” equipped with speakers that told fairy tales.

And speaking of fairy tales… here’s an early edition of their first collection: Children’s and Household Tales published in 1812.


Aschenputtel (“Cinderella”)



Views from the motorcoach

Last year at this time, I couldn’t have guessed that I would be adventuring in Europe for almost a year for academic research. It’s funny how life passes and changes so quickly with its alleyways of twists and turns. Sort of like images of landscapes and seascapes zooming by during a bus tour through Northern Ireland. Last week I was fortunate enough to see some of the most beautiful countryside in the world: the Ireland in my mind, the Ireland purported by movies and television. All from the windowsill of a coach (specifically, Finn McCools Tours). No Instagram. No Photoshop. No re-composition. Just the view. How quickly it sped by.

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