Everyone, I really need to apologize. I did not send new messages recently, and I should have told you why.
So here is the explanation: I am currently on a four-week stay in my German hometown.
While we do have the Internet in Germany, connecting is a bit of a problem in my case, You see, I am a country boy, so mobile Internet is veeeeery slow in these parts. There is no DSL (or any phone line, for that matter) in my father's house (he passed away last year). And the nice neighbours, who allowed me to use their Wifi, have moved away.
I will be back in Taiwan a week from now, so expect regular updates to resume then.
To make up for my lack of Taiwan updates, let me introduce my home region in Northern Germany to you.
So let me introduce you to the tiny corner of the world that I was born into and that I still call, if not actually home (that's currently Taipei), then definitely Heimat.
It is called the Elbe-Weser Triangle, has an English Wikipedia entry, and is quite different from Taiwan in almost every aspect.
If your geography of Germany is a bit rusty, here is a quick locator:
So you see that we are in the Northwest of Germany, close to the North Sea coast, and located roughly between the old Hanseatic port cities of Hamburg (Germany's 2nd largest city with 1.8 mio.) and Bremen (famous for its town musicians, and with 0.56 mio. still Germany's 11th largest.)
Here is a closer look.
When people ask me, I say my hometown is Bremervörde, right in the center of this region. (My actual hometown is a small village nearby, see below.) It's where the hospital that I was born in, the high school I graduated from, and the supermarkets I still do my shopping when I am back are all located.
When you mention Bremervörde (English Wikipedia) to a German from, say, Cologne, Heidelberg or even Hanover, you are very likely to draw a blank. It is a small (less than 20,000) and not too remarkable little town, just like hundreds others all over Germany.
During a stay there a year ago, to familiarize myself with Snapchat, I did a few video stories introducing certain aspects of my home region. Watch the first one on YouTube here.
We live in a very rural area. The bigger towns of Stade (which used to be as important a trading hub as Hamburg a long time ago, and features a decommissioned nuclear plant as well as a charming old town) and Bremerhaven (the US army's former foothold in Northern Germany, and the place where Elvis Presley set foot on German soil as a G.I.) are about 40 minutes drive away.
You need an hour to get to Bremen, and 90 Minutes to reach Hamburg.
Seen from space, it's all very green.
You can make out some forests, endless patches of fields (mostly corn nowadays), meadows (to feed the cows, we are also milk country) and some bogs. If there is one thing we have a lot of, it's space.
The landscape is pretty flat, though not completely. If you get closer to the coast, then there will be no hills at all. They say that people who live here just need to look out of the window at noon to know who will join them for afternoon tea (and in the days before cars, that was probaby true).
As if to make up for the lack of mountains, nature has blessed us with some of the most spectacular clouds you'll find anywhere.
It's really Germany's Big Sky Country.
Due to the proximity to the North Sea and the low altitude, our winters are milder than in more continental places like Munich or Berlin. In recent years, we rarely get snow at all. Summers are brief, though, and it rains frequently. (They call the Elbe-Weser triangle the "wet triangle".)
My actual home is a small village a few minutes away from Bremervörde with only about 1000 people. We have a bakery, a doctor and a primary school, and that's more infrastructure than in most other villages around. The only grocery store closed almost 20 years ago.
And we have about half a dozen active farms. Riding my bike through our village, I pass cowsheds, tractors, horse stables, and a biogas plant.
We never had a lot of industry in these parts, and farming has declined, if not in importance then in terms of the number of people employed. A generation ago, there were many more farmers. But as small farms gave up, the remaining ones grew bigger and bigger, as did their machines.
What we do hava a lot of, though, are craftsmen. Carpenters, bricklayers, plumbers, builders of all trades, companies big and small... they are the backbone of our local economy. Because Germany is currently enjoying a construction boom (low interest rates), business is good and our local unemployment rate quite low. Many companies are sending their teams to construction sites as far away as Hamburg every day.
It seems like almost everyone here knows how to handle power tools. Friends of us (the neighbors who let me use their Wifi) bought and renovated an old farmhouse. Check out the video about what that means!
While the Romans never got as far north as here, our region is nevertheless rich in history. Bremervörde was the seat of the mighty Archbishops of Bremen until the 17th century, when the invading Swedish put an end to that. They also razed what was a magnificent castle, leaving only a few buildings that today house a museum.
Who knows, without the devastation of the 30 Years' War, maybe Bremervörde would today be a tourist hotspot, instead of a quiet country town.
Many of the village churches around here are easily 800 years old.
The house that I grew up in is also a good example of local historic architecture. It is a typical Low German House, a type of half-timbered farmhouse with a thatched roof (yes, our roof is made of gras). In the old days, my ancestors and their cattle used to live under this roof together - people in the back, cattle towards the front of the house.
Maintaining a house like this, with 100 ping floor space, is no easy task - especially if you live in Taiwan.
So I hope you understand why I leave for Germany from time to time, and why during my time here I am preoccupied with things non-Taiwanese.
I will be back soon! Thank you for sticking with me.