Wolfenbüttel encourages wandering. Of course I can take the shortest route from my apartment to the Zeughaus reading room. Straight down Neuestrasse between rows of fachwerk houses, a left, then a right, then across lovers’ bridge, a pause to look at the flowers, the ducks, and the padlocks initialed by dozens of sweethearts, another left and the back of the old red armory is in sight. But I like the less direct route, down Lange Herzogstrasse where I can look at the shop windows, and see the displays and signs being set up outside each morning. If it’s a Wednesday or Saturday morning, I wander through farmers’ market stalls of apples, roast chickens, leeks, onions, celery, and at least eight different kinds of potatoes.
A few windows merit a longer look. You can tell that someone behind the scenes has thought about color, theme, and season and come up with an inspired plan. My favorite windows belong to the bookstore where I pick up a crimi now and then. Situated on the corner, it has five windows to decorate, but someone with an undaunted sense of drama crosses one window with a swath of silky blue and displays books about sailing against a map of the Pacific or drapes stands of different heights with brilliant red and adorns them with books of murder and revenge. One of my longest German conversations took place here on a Sunday afternoon. I was gazing at a window full of daffodils and garden books when a woman came up next to me and said, “It is so sad. Those flowers are dying.” She was right; some of the daffodils were beginning to wither. “They’re too dry,” I replied. “They need water,” (Happily, plants are one thing I know how to talk about in German.) “It’s the sun,” she said, “It shines straight in this window all day.” We commiserated companionably about the flowers until Chuck came walking back to see why I had fallen behind.
I always have to check the chocolate shop window, even though I rarely go in. Chocolate seems like a natural for seasonal displays, wrapped in sparkling cellophane and tied with colorful ribbons for Christmas or Mother’s Day. But it still takes imagination to group them artfully in the window in a way that attracts the eye for yet another holiday. You can’t go wrong with chocolate. Walking by the window in April, we noticed that the yellow basket with assorted candies and a big chocolate bunny, was just the thing to bring to our hosts in Alsace for Easter.
And I have a soft spot for the jewelry store—the one with three windows, one sparkly, one casual, and one exotic with a poster of a young woman wearing an improbable amount of baubles and beads. Every time Chuck comes back to Wolfenbüttel he buys me something bright and colorful here. He arrived last Monday. I can’t wait to see what he picks out this time.