A Week in Deutscheland

In case you missed the last brief entry, my father and I are headed to Germany to drink beer and visit my brother Lockhart. It’s about 10 PM Friday at home, and 4 AM in our destination of Frankfurt. The in-flight display shows our location is somewhere over Newfoundland, so I’m guessing it’s probably 11 PM here. It’s dark outside. I’m bored, and can’t sleep even though I should, so I might as well write, even if I don’t know when I’ll actually be able to post this. It will probably be updated in segments before I get anywhere near an Internet connection. So what can a bored blogger say at this point in the journey, that could possibly be of interest to anyone else? Well, some people claim that getting there is half the fun, and in adherence to that principle, I didn’t even get as far as the ticket counter without some minor adventure.

I dropped my father and our luggage at the terminal entrance, and headed off to the long term parking lot. It’s just a couple of minutes drive from the terminal to the lot, and a quick bus ride back. There were a couple of other passengers waiting at the lot, and as we boarded the bus, which was empty except for the driver, we noticed an abandoned backpack on one of the seats.
As we left the lot, another passenger informed the driver about the backpack, and she radioed her dispatcher. I naively assumed she would be told to drop it at some lost and found location where it could have a chance of being returned to its owner. WRONG!

The message from dispatch was: “Stop your bus NOW! The police are on the way.” So we got to stand outside the bus, beside the road, forlornly watching other buses pass us by. Eventually a policeman showed up, and decided he needed to call for a bomb-sniffing dog. Several thoughts went through my mind as I considered the lunacy of the situation. First I thought I could probably walk back to the airport quicker than waiting for this situation to be resolved. But I was afraid that might look suspicious, and I’d really hate to be taken out by a police sharpshooter, leaving my father at the terminal wondering where I was. Then I wondered what the logic was in keeping everybody standing around a bus that contained a potential bomb. If there was a threat, wouldn’t it make more sense to clear the area?

Finally, I asked if they could put us on the next bus that passed, and they agreed. They stopped a bus for us, and we pulled away from the scene just as the bomb dog and his handler arrived. As our new bus approached the terminal, we heard radio traffic indicating that the backpack owner had appeared somewhere asking if he could retrieve it, so I suppose all’s well that ends well. But I hope it’s not an omen for the way things are going to go on this trip.

It’s now Thursday afternoon in Garmisch, Germany (in the Bavarian Alps). I’ll quickly recap the last few days while they’re fresh in my mind, although I’ll probably add some embellishment before this finally hits the web.

The remainder of our flight was blissfully uneventful. Lockhart and his girlfriend Liselotte met us at the Frankfurt airport, and our next destination was a Holiday Inn where we opted to relax for a while before setting out to tour Frankfurt. After a while, I began to hear a little voice in the back of my head, reminding me that I was in Germany: “Bier … bier…bier”. OK .. how hard can it be to find bier in Germany? Well, actually, a little harder than I thought.

The hotel bar was closed (I thought that was illegal in Germany), so I headed outside. Just a short distance from the hotel, I thought I was in luck. At an intersection behind the hotel, I spotted this sign. I didn’t know what Binding meant, but bierbrauer seemed obvious, and I knew the meaning of Reinheitsgebot. (I later found my instincts had been correct; Binding is one of the largest brewers in Germany).

I couldn’t really figure out what the sign was trying to tell me, but there was only one building close to the sign, and beyond that the road was blocked by a locked gate. I assumed the building and the sign must be connected, even though the building didn’t look particularly welcoming. I hesitated for a while, wandering back and forth between the sign and the building, trying to get the courage to walk in. Finally, somebody came out and said something incomprehensible. I responded with my one all-important German phrase, practiced to perfection: “Ein bier, bitte”. He said “No bier .. go back to hotel”.

So I set off in another direction. Across the street from the hotel was an area with hiking trails, and an adjacent campground. Wandering around, I spotted a trailer with an interesting pair of flags. The top one didn’t look familiar, but the bottom one made me feel even more at home than the ubiquitous McDonald’s that we constantly spotted. In this case, I thought maybe “Ein Jack Daniels, bitte” might work better, but my confidence had been drained by my first failure, and I decided not to chance it. (Speaking of McDonald’s, their drive-through restaurants in Germany are called McDrives. By the end of the week, I’d learned enough German to understand a tour guide’s joke that McDrive sounds better than McFahrt.)

Dismally admitting failure, I rejoined my family at the hotel, and we set off for a bus/walking tour of Frankfurt. We saw several interesting sights like this fountain. There’s a story attached to it, but I’ve forgotten it. After the tour, we found a restaurant for dinner, and I finally managed to get my first bier, about 10 hours after setting foot on German soil.

Sunday, we took a boat trip on the Rhine, which provided some beautiful scenery. We took a scenic chairlift ride from the bus stop to a nice small town where we had lunch. After lunch (and bier), we boarded our riverboat. For a couple of hours, we cruised past castles, churches, vineyards, and towns.

After the boat trip was a wine-tasting, which was a minor disappointment. I don’t have the tour brochure to check to see if it was just misleading or blatantly dishonest. We expected to visit a winery, and instead we ended up in a bar next to our lunch restaurant, and apparently under the same ownership. Our waitress was pretty, and it was pleasant to see her again, but I really would have preferred to be in a vineyard as we expected. At least the bar had plenty of images paying homage to the legendary lovely Loreley, who, according to legend, lured many a sailor to a watery death on Loreley’s Rock.

I didn’t even manage to finish writing Sunday’s story before heading out on a bold quest for bier and food. The rest of this is being written after returning to the USA..

After Sunday’s Rhine trip, we drove to Ansbach, where Lockhart lives in a nice rural village. One window of his house had a view of a nearby horse facility. Although there weren’t any horses turned out at the time I noticed that view, any place where you have a chance of looking out your window and seeing horses is a good place to be.

Monday’s itinerary included a trip to Nuremberg, including sights such as the Hall of Justice where the war crimes trials were held, the Nuremberg castle, and the clock in the market square that becomes animated at noon every day.

Tuesday, we toured Wurzburg, visiting the PrinceBishop’s residence and the Marienberg Fortress. Then we drove to Garmisch, in southern Bavaria, where a US military hotel was our base of operations for the next couple of days.

Garmisch is beautiful. Located in the Bavarian Alps, near some of the highest mountains in Germany, it’s a popular resort area, attracting skiers in the winter and hikers in the summer. But it also has a strong rural atmosphere, with farms all around. One afternoon our bus driver made a slight detour when his usual route through town was blocked by cattle returning to their barn in the evening.

Wednesday, we took a bus tour to Munich, which included another animated clock, and a liquid lunch at the famous Hofbrau house. An incompetent waiter and a tight schedule conflicted to prevent us from getting any solid food, but a liter of good dark bier provides plenty of nutrition. After lunch, we toured the Dachau concentration camp.

Thursday, we toured Neuschwanstein castle. We opted for a buggy ride back down the hill from the castle to the restaurant where our bus was waiting. Shortly before we reached the bottom, we stopped for a long time, and since I was facing backwards, I couldn’t tell what we were waiting for. Finally I looked around and found that we were changing horses. I guess it doesn’t take many trips up and down that hill to wear out a team.

Thursday’s bus ride back to Garmisch provided what was probably my only real disappointment of the trip. Our driver, Heinz, had a well-stocked cooler to keep us hydrated with soft drinks and bier. Drinking canned beer in Germany may seem blasphemous, but that was what Heinz had. Since he had already demonstrated his excellent taste at lunch, I was sure any beer he provided would be equally exquisite. Unfortunately, even in Germany, canned beer still tastes like it came out of a can. Heinz may have been holding out on us; when he started yodelling on the way home, I suspected that maybe he had hidden some good stuff for himself. I also learned an important factoid on that trip. According to our guide, Bavaria has 900 breweries making 5000 kinds of beer. I think that’s going to require an adjustment in my plans for a beer tour. Instead of one of every variety, I think I’ll have to limit myself to one from each brewery.

Friday was a quick tour of the Linderhof palace, and then a return to Ansbach, with a quick tour of the walled city of Rothenberg. Saturday, we hopped on a high-speed train which took us to the Frankfurt airport, where we switched to an even higher-speed 767 for the trip back across the Atlantic to Cincinnati.

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