Esslingen turns back time 600 years, awakens in Middle Ages

Esslinger Medieval, Christmas Markets come alive for holidays


Story and photos by Kevin S. Abel

As the Holiday season is upon us, across Europe the Christmas markets open their stalls and attract millions of visitors with decorated and lighted stands and the smells of the holiday.

If you consider yourself a Weihnachtsmarkt professional, the Esslinger Christmas market is a must.

As if the city had been enchanted overnight, Mittelalter and Weihnachtsmarkt goers will be turned 600 years back; as Esslingen awakens in the Middle Ages.

Fire-breathing dragons, jugglers, story tellers and musicians entertain, while candle makers, blacksmiths, basket weavers and glassblowers celebrate old world craftsmanship from days of the past.

Above all lies the smell of charcoal fire, exotic spices, Glühwein (German mulled wine) and toasted almonds in the air between the magnificent half-timbered houses in the city center will draw you into the Medieval age.

Starting the Tuesday before the first advent Esslingen transforms and reinvents itself. The mediaeval market takes over the Marktplatz, (market square), the old town hall to Hafenmarkt for four weeks before Christmas.

The market aims to be authentic for visitors to truly experience the Middle Ages, which is why artisans, craftsmen and vendors wear medieval garments, and speak using the language of medieval times.

If Black Friday shopping didn’t fulfill all your gift needs there are lots of potential Christmas gifts for the loved ones from candles, spirits, to regional Christmas decorations along with crafts of the times.

If shopping isn’t your thing, you can step back in time with a few friends and bath in the public Zuber (wooden bath), learn medieval dances, sing traditional Christmas songs or take the children for the human powered carnival styled rides.

Whatever your passion is traditional Weihnachtsmarkt shopping, live entertainment, great food or immersing yourself into the festivities of the season, Mittelalter and Weihnachtsmarkt in Esslingen has a lot to explore.

Esslinger Mittelalter and Weihnachtsmarkt is open daily from 11 a.m. to 8.30 p.m. until Dec. 22. Except on the last market day, which is exactly a month after its opening day the market closes for this year at 6 p.m.

To get to Esslingen take the A8 to L1202 in Neuhausen auf den Fildern. exit 54-Esslingen. Continue on L1202. to L1192 and Ulmer Strasse to Rathausplatz in Esslingen am Neckar.

The address is Rathausplatz, 73728 Esslingen am Neckar.

By public transportation take the S1 toward Kirchheim getting o at Esslingen, you will then need to walk about 750 meters to the Mittelalter and Weihnachtsmarkts.

esslingenmarket12-1-2016PUBLISHED IN THE STUTTGART CITIZEN DEC. 1, 2016
Feature Travel

Festive event brings cattle home

Tradition starts Viehscheid/Almabtrieb in Allgäu region


Story and photos by Kevin S. Abel

What better way to celebrate the end of summer of wondering and foraging
in the Allgäu Region of Southern Germany than with festivals including 30,000 of your fellow mountain travelers.

Having spent summer in the mountains grazing in the Alpine meadows, cattle are brought back down into the valleys in September before winter sets in, this is known as the Viehscheid or Almabtrieb.

Bells sounds can be heard throughout the valleys to the delight of all locals and guests as herders and cattle make their way down.

During the Viehscheid around 30,000 head of cattle leave the lush mountain pastures of the Allgäu Region and are herded into the valley to the Scheidplatz and sorted before being returned to their owners.

It all starts in the spring when herders promise owners of cattle herds they will return all of their animals to them in good health in the fall.

These herders take on a great amount of responsibility and drive the cattle up into the mountains shortly after the snowmelt to fatten them up throughout the 100 days of summer.

The time spent up in the mountains is not always easy for the herders. They often live in very simple conditions and lead extremely lonely lives.

29065138194_6ba388869e_kIf all has gone well, the leading cow is elaborately decorated. While all of the cattle are decorated with an elaborate bells and collars, only the  leading cow, or ‘Kranz’, or ‘Kranzkuh’ in Bavaria, is decorated with a wreath.

The wreath is fashioned from pine boughs, alpine flowers, bearing a cross and a mirror. All the other cows wear huge bells to ward off any evil demons the cattle might encounter on their way back down into the valley.

It’s the traditional way of giving thanks for good grazing season without losses. The Allgäu is a region in Swabia in southern Germany. It covers the south of Bavarian Swabia, southeastern Baden-Württemberg and parts of Austria.

The region stretches from the pre-alpine lands up to the Alps.

In recent years, the Viehscheid hasbecome increasingly popular and vary in the number of cattle and tourists.cattle-flickr

The average size of the gather is approximately 100-300 head of cattle per

It’s advisable to get to the Viehscheid early to get a good view. However, depending on the weather, it may also be delayed.

Published in the Stuttgart Citizen Sept. 22, 2016

360 VR Images produced for this story

Cattle graze in the high meadows of the Allgäu region before the start of the Viehscheid.

Cattle are herded in the valley at the Scheidplatz and sorted before being returned to their owners during the Viehscheid.


360 VR Photographs Feature Travel

1,000-year wine growing history awaits


Weinmuseum Brömserburg (Brömser-burg Wine Museum), tells the Rüdesheim area’s 1,000-year wine growing history in one of the oldest castles in the Rhine River Valley.

The Brömserburg in Rüdesheim is one of the oldest castles along the Rhine River. The former fort, which was once surrounded by water, was built around 1000 A.D. as an early castle of the archbishops of Mainz, was rebuilt as a residence about 1200A.D. and later belonged to the knights of Rüdesheim. Since 1950, it has housed the Weinmuseum.

The castle offers the world’s oldest wine-related collection, ranging from wine and drinking vessels made out of different materials, to hundreds of bottles and labels, to tools and equipment used by coppers, cellar men and wine-growers. A fascinating history is provided in several languages.160508-A-UP937-15.jpg

The still preserved walls of the former moated castle date from the 12th century.

The castle itself is situated in a garden beside the Rüdesheim Rheinstraße, just a short walk away from the famous Drosselgasse. In a journey through the history of wine, visitors experience the Brömserburg: 2,000 wine-related exhibits from the past to the present day.

At the entrance of Rheinstraße is a winery statue, 6000 liter wine barrel, barrel and crate carts, and a large number of presses throughout the garden to see.

In the halls and vaults of the castle a large number of wine and drinking vessels from early times to modern day including ceramic vessels from the Middle East, ancient Greece and the Roman Empire.

You will also find collections of Roman glasses and medieval wine jars from the Rheingau ceramic centers of Aulhausen and Dippenhausen, along with stoneware, cans and cups of tin and precious metals from the 16-19th centuries.

Also on display is collection of wine, brandy and schnapps glasses, in all major European styles from the Middle Ages through the Renaissance, Baroque and Rococo and Biedermeier to Art Nouveau and Art Deco.

Ancient sculptures illustrate the importance of wine in mythology and religion, explain the cult of Dionysus (god of the grape harvest, winemaking and wine, of ritual madness, fertility, theatre and religious ecstasy in Greek mythology) and a Christian era collection of measuring cups and jugs and a representation of a wine saint.

You will find wine bottles of different shapes from the 17th century to modern times, wine labels, decorative cork and corkscrew and tools of the winemaker, winemaker and barrel copper.

If you venture through the small winding staircases and work your way up, great views from the roof and the terrace await you of the Rhine River and surrounding vineyards.

Besides offering information on the history of wine, the Brömserburg also gives visitors the opportunity to try different wines.  There are self-guided audio tours available in multiple languages to assist you in your visit. To enjoy the special exhibits and get a full museum experience allow yourself at least two hours.160508-A-UP937-7.jpg

Rüdesheim is a tourist town filled with half-timber houses, narrow streets, and old inns give the town a medieval character. On the edge of town on top of the Niederwald is a monument that was built between 1877 and 1883 to commemorate the re-establishment of the German Empire in 1871, after the end of the Franco-Prussian War. The 125 foot tall monument represents the union of all Germans. The monument can be reached by gondola lift from Rüdesheim to Niederwald, by car from Assmanshausen or by trail on foot.

Every September Rüdesheim holds a wine festival; it is also known for its brandy and Sekt, a sparkling wine. Its location, architecture, and wines make the town a favored stop along the Rhine for tourists.

If your travels permit, you can catch a ride down the middle Rhine on a number of small ships that travel the waterway giving a view of castles along the way. As most ships travel from Mainz to Cologne, and some of these ships also offer special dinner and dance cruises.

During your visit to the Rhine, immerse yourself in the magical atmosphere created by fountains of fire reflected in the waters of the Rhine and the thunder of the fireworks echoing from the steep banks. Around 50 ships join a flotilla that glides below perhaps the most elaborate _ reworks to be seen in Germany. The surrounding Middle Rhine Valley erupts in a final climactic display of pyrotechnic art during select days of the summer called Rhein in Flammen (Rhine in Flames). The biggest Rhein in Flammen event takes place in Koblenz every year, on the second Saturday in August. More information on Rhein in Flammen can be found at

Opening times — Mid-March to late October daily 10 a.m.–6 p.m.
Address — Rheingau Wine Museum, Brömserburg, Rheinstraße 2, 65385 Rüdesheim am Rhein
Telephone — +49 (0) 6722-2348
GPS — 49.9776, 7.9179
Fee — €5
Stroller/ADA Friendly — No


Feature Travel

Ehrenfels Castle ruins stand testament of time along Rhein River

Ehrenfels Castle.jpg

Photo by Kevin S. Abel

The Ehrenfels Castle formed together with the Mauseturm and the Klopp Castle a northward barrier since the 13th Century, in order to protect the territory of the archbishop of Mainz.

In the Middle Ages it was strategically of greatest importance because of its favorable location above the Binger Loch. It was as toll station, an important pecuniary resource for the bishops and the church.

The castle, which was used in times of war as a hiding place for the cathedral treasury of Aachen, was extensively destroyed in 1689.

Standalone Photos Travel

Lava Lizard of the Galapagos Islands


Story and photos by Kevin S. Abel

Galapagos Lava Lizards (Microlophus albemariensis) are the most abundant reptile on the Galapagos Islands. Lava Lizards have attitude and like most of the Galapagos animals, they have a relative lack of fear of humans and can be observed quite closely.Galapagos

There are 7 different species of Lava Lizard on the Galapagos Islands.

The distribution of these lizards and their variations in shape, color and behavior show the phenomenon of adaptive radiation so typical of the inhabitants of this archipelago.

A common feature in lizards is to change color if they are threatened or if there is a temperature change.

Lava Lizards play an important part in controlling over-populated insect populations such as the Painted Locust. They are predators of invertebrates and will eat each other, but generally eat plants, particularly during dry spells.

Lava lizard males are especially territorial, staking out a prominent spot on top of a boulder and bobbing their heads up and down to indicate ownership. This push-up behavior becomes pronounced during breeding, which peaks in the warm season.


A Crack in Time

CITG-Pano1.jpgEst. 1001 A.D. (Approximately)

Story and photos by Kevin S. Abel

A visit to Crack-in-the-Ground near Bend is like traveling back in time to Oregon’s volcanic past.

BOOM! For more than a millennium, Oregon’s Crack-in-the-Ground has served as a majestic memento of its explosive past.

Across eons, earthquakes and volcanos have split and splintered the earth’s surface. Such shocks to the system are not uncommon over the span of six billion years. But still, they have caused many cracks and blisters in the ground.

So…why doesn’t more of our earth look like the Grand Canyon – if not “Land of the Lost?”

The reason we don’t see as much blunt trauma to local landscape is because, over time, rock rubble along with hardening lava generally serve to refill and patch up fissures. As the earth cracks, so it fills itself. Think bondo. But not all breaks mend equally.

Time Traveling

Eight miles north of Christmas Valley in south central Oregon – some 100 miles from Bend – there’s a unique fissure called, aptly, Crack-in-the-Ground. The volcanic crevice covers over two miles and descends 70 feet. This particular split has likely been open for 1,000 years.

And it’s also available to visit on your public lands.

Normally, fissures like this one would have been washed away with soil and rock through years of erosion and changing landscapes. But because Crack-in-the-Ground exists in such an arid, desert-like region, very little filling-in has occurred.

The Lost Fountain…of Ice Cream?

Crack-in-the-Ground may live in the desert, but it is also a source of cool weather. The temperature at bottom of the crack can be as much as twenty degrees cooler than that of the surface above it.

Reub Long, renowned author of The Oregon Desert, reported that when he lived at Christmas Valley as a boy, he used to explore “the Crack” as it was called locally. He remembered homesteaders who went there to hold picnics where they made homemade ice cream from the ice they found in the caves of the chasm.

Today there’s no guarantee of free ice cream. But the entire two-mile length of the fissure can be hiked. An established trail runs along the fissure’s bottom from the parking area – which is open to the public year-round.

Ultimately, Crack-in-the-Ground is a gateway to the past. And if you’re ready to drop down into an adventure and go back in time to see what this land looked like 1,000 years ago, your journey awaits.

Crack1.jpgCrack 2.jpgPublished Winter 2014 Edition of the Northwest Passage magazine.



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