Speaking German

My husband with his aunt and uncle (this was a test shot when I was setting up my camera for my husband)

My husband with his aunt and uncle (this was a test shot when I was setting up my camera for my husband)

It’s been a pretty crazy week.  Last Wednesday, I left for a solo road trip to Columbus, Ohio.  I spent a few days up North and then met up with my husband’s family to pick up his aunt and uncle, who are visiting from Germany.  I brought them home with me to Chattanooga on Sunday.

As a typical American who speaks only 1 language with anything close to fluency, driving for 7+ hours with two people who speak little English introduced some interesting challenges.  We attempted to address the challenges with technology.  I downloaded the Google translator app on my iPad and handed it to Pat’s aunt so she could speak into the iPad and translate what she wanted to say into English.  The app will even read the translation out loud, which is perfect when you’re driving.

Horst takes a turn holding Buddy

Horst takes a turn holding Buddy

There were a few glitches, however.  Elvi, Pat’s aunt, had trouble getting it to hear her properly.  At one point, I heard her mutter, “Transfestite . . . transvestite . . . oh!  Transvestite!”  I looked over at her, smiling, and she said (in much better English than google managed), “Something I never said!”  I was just impressed she knew the word.

Horst meets Gilbert--they had no trouble communicating

Horst meets Gilbert–they had no trouble communicating

I learned that, in Germany, people are not allowed to talk on their cell phones while operating a vehicle.  Elvi was rather shocked when she saw a man driving by in what seems to be the common posture of 20-something American men:  slouched low in the seat, elbow propped on the window sill, cell phone held tight against his ear.  As he sped past me at something well over 75 mph, I wondered if it was physically possible for him to see out of his windshield, let alone his side windows or rearview mirrors.

I also learned that in Germany, passengers can drink alcohol while someone who is not drinking is driving.  I thought about this for a while.  Study after study has shown that people who are on a cell phone can’t drive.  Some studies suggest cell-phone-talkers exhibit worse response times and greater levels of distraction while driving than people who have a blood alcohol level that barely exceeds the legal limit.

Elvi and Buddy bonding

Elvi and Buddy bonding

I did not even try to explain why we Americans (except in a handful of states) think it’s our god-given right to talk on the phone while we drive, yet think it’s just plain criminal to let a passenger enjoy a beer as they ride down the road.  I picked up my cell phone and called my husband instead.

We made it to Chattanooga with what may have been a world record for the fewest words spoken during a 7 hour car ride ever.  I spent most of the journey trying to remember all the German words I once knew (not that there were a lot).  It wouldn’t have helped much–even if I could remember them, I wouldn’t have been able to pronounce them in a recognizable form.

I think Gilbert developed a crush on Elvi

I think Gilbert developed a crush on Elvi

Taking Lessons

As I rode my bike home from my first day of Learn to Row, it occurred to me I’ve been taking lessons my whole life.  I began to compile a list of all the classes, workshops, lessons I’ve taken.

First, there was ballet.  This always shocks people for two reasons.  First, I am approximately 2x the size of the average ballerina in all directions.  Second, I am incredibly clumsy.  Although, I did have a guy tell me I was graceful once.  When I protested that I’m always falling, he said, “Yes, but you fall gracefully.”  Maybe I learned something.

There were summer swimming lessons, which were re-taken as an adult when I wanted to learn how to swim freestyle efficiently.  There were ice skating lessons which were also repeated in adulthood until I realized 30 is not the right time in life to learn how to jump on ice (after partially tearing an MCL in my knee).

There were gymnastics lessons.  I was exceptionally good at the uneven parallel bars for my age.  Perhaps it was because I was the only one who could reach them?

I took piano lessons and learned how to play “Happiness Is” from some Charlie Brown musical I’d never head of.  It still gets stuck in my head from time to time.  I had slightly better results when I switched to the clarinet, but having no sense of time was a problem.

I settled on horseback riding and for 4 years was pretty much dedicated to nothing but horses, paying for them, and school.  By my senior year of high school, I realized I had to choose between having a horse and going to college–my minimum wage jobs weren’t going to pay for both.  That’s about the time I managed to come up with the money for a package of skiing lessons.

In college, I took a weight lifting class and aerobics–both part of my PE requirement.  When I was a little more settled again, I started with a trainer at the gym.  Then it was nutrition classes.  I even took a cooking class, although it turned out to be a rather alternative cooking class based on the yin and yang of food.  My husband wouldn’t eat anything I prepared from there.

I took a motorcycle class and friends taught me how to water ski, bowl, and play softball.  I took a rock climbing class and eventually took up yoga classes.

Later, Pat tried to teach me to play the drums, then I resorted to learning to play a hand drum.  Still no sense of time.  I switched to trying to learn to speak German instead, but I wasn’t much better at that.

The list goes on and on.

Since coming to Chattanooga, I’ve earned my novice hang gliding pilot rating, started learning how to care for non-releasable birds of prey, gotten some informal lessons on kayaking, and gone to several photography workshops.

Jack of all trades, master of none. As I rode my bike home from my first day of Learn to Row, it occurred to me I’ve been taking lessons my whole life.  I began to compile a list of all the classes, workshops, lessons I’ve taken.

First, there was ballet.  This always shocks people for two reasons.  First, I am approximately 2x the size of the average ballerina in all directions.  Second, I am incredibly clumsy.  Although, I did have a guy tell me I was graceful once.  When I protested that I’m always falling, he said, “Yes, but you fall gracefully.”  Maybe I learned something.

There were summer swimming lessons, which were re-taken as an adult when I wanted to learn how to swim freestyle efficiently.  There were ice skating lessons which were also repeated in adulthood until I realized 30 is not the right time in life to learn how to jump on ice (after partially tearing an MCL in my knee).

There were gymnastics lessons.  I was exceptionally good at the uneven parallel bars for my age.  Perhaps it was because I was the only one who could reach them?

I took piano lessons and learned how to play “Happiness Is” from some Charlie Brown musical I’d never head of.  It still gets stuck in my head from time to time.  I had slightly better results when I switched to the clarinet, but having no sense of time was a problem.

I settled on horseback riding and for 4 years was pretty much dedicated to nothing but horses, paying for them, and school.  By my senior year of high school, I realized I had to choose between having a horse and going to college–my minimum wage jobs weren’t going to pay for both.  That’s about the time I managed to come up with the money for a package of skiing lessons.

In college, I took a weight lifting class and aerobics–both part of my PE requirement.  When I was a little more settled again, I started with a trainer at the gym.  Then it was nutrition classes.  I even took a cooking class, although it turned out to be a rather alternative cooking class based on the yin and yang of food.  My husband wouldn’t eat anything I prepared from there.

I took a motorcycle class and friends taught me how to water ski, bowl, and play softball.  I took a rock climbing class and eventually took up yoga classes.

Later, Pat tried to teach me to play the drums, then I resorted to learning to play a hand drum.  Still no sense of time.  I switched to trying to learn to speak German instead, but I wasn’t much better at that.

The list goes on and on.

Since coming to Chattanooga, I’ve earned my novice hang gliding pilot rating, started learning how to care for non-releasable birds of prey, gotten some informal lessons on kayaking, and gone to several photography workshops.

Jack of all trades, master of none.

Airport Adventure

For once, we are relaxed getting to the airport. It’s a funny thing; even when I used to fly nearly every week, I always got anxious from the point when I started packing to the point when I was sitting at the gate. Of course, back then, that was only a couple of hours, but it never went away. But today, we are a 20 minute shuttle bus ride from the airport, we woke up earlier than we needed to, we were already mostly packed from the night before, and we find ourselves getting on the shuttle an hour earlier than we planned. Our flight doesn’t leave until 11:30AM, but we prefer to allow as much time as possible for getting through security since Pat has been detained numerous times, his name confused with someone on the no-fly list. Although it’s usually a bigger problem clearing customs in the US than in departing from other countries, it still makes us nervous since we’ve missed flights as a result of how long it takes for immigration to figure out that my Pat is not whoever it is they’re looking for.

But, here we are today, at the airport before 8AM and hungry. First, we check in. I have checked in online already, so all we have to do is print boarding passes and drop our bags. There is no one in line at one of the kiosks, we walk right up and start entering information. However, I have to go through all the steps of checking in, including swiping each passport into the machine. This process takes a few minutes. As I struggle to figure out which direction to put a passport in, a man suddenly appears just over my left shoulder. Everything about his body language says I’m in his way and he would like me move faster. Having never had an American stranger stand so close to me, I am thrown by his behavior. Pat immediately perceives danger and steps closer to me as if he is going to end up punching this man. The man must sense he’s triggering hostility because he says in a New Jersey accent, “They really ask for a lot of information, huh?” as if he’s just trying to be friendly. Yet, he continues to look over my shoulder and stand too close. I stop what I’m doing and turn to look at him. Perhaps the realization that he is slowing me down causes him to step back or maybe I’ve unknowingly given him one of my looks, but he takes a step back. However, he continues to participate in the process verbally, counting out each boarding pass as it prints and trying to joke about how slow the machine is. We are happy to take our bags and move on quickly when all four boarding passes finally print.

There are only two people in front of us at the bag drop. I begin to suspect that most of Germany is still in Munich at Oktoberfest–I have never gotten checked in to an international flight so quickly. Barely past 8AM, we have completed the bag check process and are ready to approach security. Since it’s so early and we can’t remember what’s on the other side of security, but we have memories of being stuck in a secure area with no restaurants or even a restroom on some flight that might have been out of Frankfurt, we decide to have pretzels and coffee before we hit security. We sit where we can watch the volume of people heading towards security in case there is a sudden rush, but we are able to eat our pretzels uninterrupted. Pat even goes back for more food. When he returns with an ice cream bar, I raise my eyebrows at him, “Breakfast of champions?” He smiles and enjoys his ice cream guilt free.

We discover a classic Mercedes convertible on display in the airport. There is some drawing where you can win 100,000 Euro to spend at the Mercedes classic shop. It requires finding out how much a certain perfume costs in the Duty Free shop. We determine that the duty free shop is on the other side of security, so we go through the security check and then head for duty free. Now, checking the price on a bottle of perfume may seem like a harmless request, but Pat gets scent-triggered migraines if he’s exposed to heavy perfumes for too long. Interestingly, since giving up perfume for Pat 16 years ago, I have now developed a sensitivity to it as well. Although, I get more of an allergy response involving congestion and sneezing. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a way to sell perfume without the scent lingering in the air all around the displays. We scope the perimeter, trying to stay outside the danger zone. Then, I make a break through one of the aisles trying to quickly identify where the brand we’re looking for is located. When I find it, Pat surprises me by breaking through the perimeter and joining me as I try to figure out which one is the particular scent we’re looking for. We find it and then retreat quickly from the noxious odors to a safe, scent-free zone where we can fill out our entries in the drawing.

Next, we head to the gate. Oddly, we must clear security a second time before we can enter the gate area. Discovering that there are plenty of shops between the first security checkpoint and the second, but none in the gate area, we decide to eat a real breakfast at a restaurant across from the gate. But having had my fill of fatty foods, I opt for yogurt and muesli instead of a more American breakfast. When we finish eating, I spot a spa across from the restaurant and suggest we get chair massages while we’re waiting. Pat counts out the last of our Euros and decides it’s the perfect way to use up what we have left. We each get a 10 minute chair massage, which does wonders for my aching neck.

Now we are fed and relaxed. We go through the second security checkpoint (where they are suddenly concerned about the battery charger for my camera battery) and then sit at the gate. We discover there is a restroom in the gate area and Pat decides to go use it. While I wait for him, a woman comes over and tells everyone sitting in the gate area that it’s a secure area and we must leave. Given that we’ve passed through security 2x already, I’m not sure why we need to leave, but she allows me to stand and wait for Pat to return, so I don’t argue. A few minutes later, several gate agents set up in front of the seating area and tell us we can now go through a line to get checked into the seating area. An agent looks at each person’s passport and ticket before we can enter. I count the number of times I have now shown someone my passport: 1) Swiping it into machine, 2) Agent to get into line at bag drop, 3) Agent who checked our bags, 4) Security downstairs, 5) Security upstairs, 6) Agent to get to seating area. Six passport checks just to get a seat at the gate. When they finally start boarding the plane, they check our passports a 7th time. Given that they don’t seem to be scanning our passports to get any data from them, I find myself wondering if this repeated checking is due to an inherent distrust of others’ ability to adequately look at a passport or just a desire to be annoying. In any case, I’m pretty sure that everyone on the plane is carrying a passport. It may not be a legal passport, but everyone’s got one!

Fortunately, given how relaxed the overall experience of getting to the airport has been today, I take the passport thing in stride and maintain a sense of calm. After all, we’re about to spend 8 hours on a plane, so there is no point in getting worked up. We “upgraded” to comfort seats on this plane. It’s not really an upgrade, the seats just have more leg room and recline further. But, it makes all the difference as we settle in and stretch out. We test the recline as we wait for take off. We exchange giddy smiles as we think back to the cramped seats we flew over in. Then, we return the seats to upright and prepare for take off.

Returning to Frankfurt

At long last, our trip is winding down.  We meet Pat’s parents for breakfast one last time before returning to the hotel in Karlsruhe to pack.  We will spend tonight in Frankfurt at an airport hotel and then fly home the next morning.  It’s a funny thing for me.  As much as I like travel, a two week vacation always seems like a little too much.  During dinner with Dieter and Gisela one night earlier in the week, Gisela suggested dividing our vacation into two parts:  one for sight seeing and one for relaxing at a spa.  I think this is an excellent suggestion.  But, there will be no spa time this trip.

After we pack, we walk down to the lobby to meet Pat’s parents one last time.  They will walk us to the S-bahn stop that will take us to the Karlsruhe train station on their way into Karlsruhe.  They are riding their bikes, so they will leave us at the stop.  We get to the stop ahead of schedule and tell Jim and Renate our final goodbyes before our train arrives.  They take off and tell us they will wave when our train passes them.  We hop on the train and watch out the window for Jim and Renate.  They are far ahead of our train and we stop before we catch up.  Then, we start talking about what we’re going to do in Frankfurt and momentarily forget to look for Jim and Renate.  We are relieved to find them still ahead of the train and we stand in the door where we can wave at them as the train goes by.  We pass them just a block before the train turns, so we don’t see them again at our next stop.

We arrive at the Karlsruhe train station just a few minutes before the 10:00AM train.  We rush to try to catch it, but we can’t tell which platform to go to.  By the time we figure it out and find the correct escalator, the train is at the station.  Several steps ahead of Pat, I get in front of a group of people getting on the escalator while he stands back and lets them go ahead.  When I get to the top of the escalator, the whistle is blowing indicating the doors are about to close, I am torn between trying to get on the train and hold it for Pat and waiting for him.  My fear that I will end up on the train alone makes me hesitate and I watch as the doors close just as Pat gets off the escalator.  We try pushing the buttons to open the doors, but no luck.  A man and his son come running up the escalator moments later and repeat the process, only they go a step further and argue with a conductor to let them on the train.  The doors remain shut.  Ironically, the train remains at the station for a couple more minutes with all doors closed tight before finally departing.

While it’s somewhat frustrating to just miss the train, we really hadn’t planned to make that train anyway.  So, it’s not such a big deal to us that we have to wait an hour for the next train to Frankfurt.  We return to the terminal and find a coffee shop and an outdoor seat.  On our way, we pass a couple in the middle of a fight.  They are young.  The girl is furious.  She is screaming at the man who stands there looking like he is visibly shrinking.  She screams louder, pushing on his chest and then kicking one of their large suitcases until it falls over.  Then, she exits stage right.  The man picks up the luggage and rolls it after her, looking like he’s still shrinking.

After relaxing with a cup of coffee, Pat and I successfully board the 11AM train.  We make it to the Frankfurt airport without further incident.  However, now we must wait for our hotel shuttle so we can drop our luggage off.  The bus shows up eventually and takes us to the far side of the airport.  It takes a good 25 minutes to get there and I joke that it would be a more direct route if we could just take one of the airport runways instead.  When we get to the hotel, it’s long before check-in time, but they have a room ready and allow us to check in early.  After dropping off our things, we take the next shuttle back to the airport where we take the train into the center of downtown Frankfurt.

There is a farmers market set up in the plaza outside the S-bahn stop.  We walk slowly past all the tents selling goods ranging from German meats to household decorations.  One of the tents sells local honey.  In this case, the honey is really local–they have brought the hive along.  The honey combs spin inside a large glass jar and the honey runs out a spout at the bottom.  Bees come and go as they please–we have been seeing bees since getting off the escalator coming out of the train stop, now we know why.  Pat wonders out loud what kind of insurance and legal agreements would be required to bring a bee hive to a crowded public plaza in the US.  No one seems to be the least bit worried about the presence of the bees here.

Hungry, we decide to find a place to eat.  We pick an outdoor table that appears to be out of range for the bees, although one or two seem to have followed us.  It’s a cloudy day, but the sun keeps threatening to pop through at any moment.  I am fascinated by a group of clouds with a hole it in that allows sunlight to stream through above a tall building.  I keep waiting for the beams to shine down on the building, but the clouds, sun, and building never quite align for me.

Pat and I finish eating and then walk around a bit.  We find the opera house and an interesting fountain full of bathing women sculptures.  A class of young children is lined up on one side of the fountain and a teacher attempts to get them all looking in the same direction at the same time as she takes pictures.  We sit for a moment and look at our map.  I would like to make it down to the river.  We plan a route and start to walk.  Like in Karlsruhe, we find ourselves going from a clean, safe area of town to a sleazy and rather frightening section in the matter of a block.  We abandon hope of finding the river and head towards a busier street where the environment feels safer.  Pat has experienced a complete loss of energy.  I am also tired and not all that enthusiastic about re-exploring Frankfurt.  We decide to call it a day and head back to the hotel.  Taking the train back to the airport and the shuttle back to the hotel seems like an easy way to get back to the hotel, but we end up just missing the shuttle and having to wait a half hour for the next one.  When the shuttle arrives, we collapse into seats.

Returning to the hotel, we discover it’s happy hour.  We have a beer in the bar and then decide to go to bed early.  On the way down the hall, we notice the Coke machine for the first time.  What catches our attention is the button for “Bier” at the bottom of the choices.  I can’t remember ever seeing beer in a vending machine before–I thought there was an age limit on alcohol now, I wonder how they check IDs?

We get ourselves as ready for our trip home tomorrow as we can and then fall into bed.  We watch the season premier of Two and a Half Men on my iPad, which is just short enough that I manage to stay awake for the whole thing.  Then, I fall to sleep thinking about how good it’s going to feel to sleep in my own bed tomorrow night.

Dinner with the Family

Pat and I are in downtown Karlsruhe finishing delicious slices of cake. It’s 4pm and we are meeting Pat’s family, including two uncles and their wives, at our hotel at 4:30. We finish up the final bites and quickly and rush to the closest S-bahn stop. The S-bahn is not exactly a high-speed train, stopping every couple of blocks or so, but it still gets us back to the stop by our hotel at 4:20.

We walk the short block to the hotel. No sign of the family in the parking lot yet. We dash inside and upstairs to our room so we can change clothes, brush our teeth, etc. At 4:29, we are counting down trying to get out the door. We finally get outside, walking out the front door of the hotel about 2 minutes late, and find a family gathering in the parking lot plus one man. When we step outside, Jim (Pat’s father) and the stranger walk over to us, reaching us while we are still halfway between the hotel and Pat’s relatives. He’s a very friendly man who speaks English well. It turns out he is a friend of Jim’s. He greets us both and the starts talking. I find myself torn on whether it’s more rude to stand there talking to him and ignoring Pat’s family or more rude to cut him off. Fortunately, Renate joins us and end the dilemma by saying that we need to get going. We tell the friend good bye.

We walk the rest of the way across the parking lot to greet Pat’s Uncle Horst and Aunt Elvi as well as his Great Uncle Erwin and Aunt Emmi. I have met all four of them once before, but our greeting is awkward. It’s been many years since we’ve seen each other–it was before Pat and I got married, actually–and with limited ability to communicate, it’s not like we really got to know each other at the time. The lack of familiarity makes it hard for me to decide if the customary cheek kisses are appropriate or not. I follow each of their leads and go with handshakes for the men and cheek kisses for the women. The four have come in two cars since each car will hold only 4 people. We are meeting Pat’s cousin Claudia and he new boyfriend at a restaurant on the Rhine that is difficult to get to other than by bike or car. Pat and I ride with Horst and Elvi while Renate and Jim join Erwin and Emmi in their car.

When we arrive at the restaurant, Claudia is already there and her boyfriend has just pulled into the lot. He introduces himself as Alfonso and as we arrive at the table, because he speaks English well, I am seated on his left, across the table from Pat who sits next to Jim. Claudia sits in the corner across from Jim and on the other side of Alfonso. Pat and Claudia catch up in German. Alfonso, it turns out, is one of those chatty, entertaining people who likes to tell funny stories. It also turns out that German is his first language in spite of his Spanish genes and English is not as comfortable for him. As a result, the stories are told in German and Claudia and Pat have a good time while Jim smiles along and tries to look like he understands. I am too tired to pretend. Alfonso periodically turns to me and speaks English, clueing me in to the subject of the conversation.

After a while, Pat decides to change seats and catch up with the other end of the table. I use this as an excuse to walk down to the river and shoot the sunset. As I stand there watching the light change, a man walks by with a similar camera to mine also trying to capture the perfect angle of the sun to the bridge. I notice that neither one of us has a tripod. We exchange only smiles as he passes me by.

When I return to the table, everyone is cold and has decided to move to a table inside. It’s actually colder inside that out, but since the temperature continues to drop outside, I guess we figure it will eventually be warmer inside and sit down. We have had dinner and drinks and it is only about 6PM now. Even though I ordered the smallest dinner on the menu, I am so full from our late lunch that I feel like there is a giant anchor in my belly. I have no desire to eat or drink anything else. The conversation continues in German. No one has the energy to make the effort to speak English by now–the conversation is flowing and trying to speak a second language always disrupts social events. Pat occasionally translates for me and I follow the conversation as best I can, knowing what they’re talking about whenever Pat is telling a story simply because I was there. Sometimes I laugh before the funny part of the story because I am playing the story in my mind and it’s moving faster than Pat is telling it. But, at least it keeps me from looking bored. It’s hard to make a good impression on your husband’s family when you don’t speak the same language. I want them to feel comfortable having fun and catching up with Pat in German without having to worry about me–I figure it’s the best I can do.

After a while, Horst invites everyone back to their house. Alfonso has to go do something related to his children and Claudia takes off, but the rest of us caravan back to Horst and Elvi’s house. They have an amazing collection of things from Africa. Horst also has butterflies that he used to collect, although I am told he no longer believes in killing butterflies. He also has a collection of bird books. This gives me an opportunity to check on some of the birds that we’ve seen throughout our trip. Pat translates a description, Horst makes a guess at what we saw and shows me the bird in a book. I agree that it’s the correct bird and then google the Latin name to find the English name for the bird. In this way, I discover we have been seeing Gray Herons all over the place along with a hawk that Europeans call a “Buzzard.”

In the end, it’s a lovely evening. I entertain myself flipping through bird books and exchanging information with Horst even though neither of us speaks the same language. Pat has enjoyed catching up with his relatives–they are all favorites of his. We walk from Horst’s to the hotel–he lives only a few blocks away. In the cool, night air, I am revived. I start thinking about trying to learn German again. This happened the last time I met Pat’s family. I regret not speaking German and get motivated to learn it, but then have little opportunity to speak it again and lose interest until the next visit. We’ll see.

Cake in Karlsruhe

Our first, and only, full day in Karlsruhe, we start with Laugenwek for breakfast.  These are a special treat for my husband as they are not something that can be found in the US–well, at least not a version that is worth buying.  Laugenwek are like pretzel rolls only really, really good.  We’ve tried “pretzel rolls” in the US many times and have always been horribly disappointed.  Dry and tough, the US version always leaves us wondering why anyone would even sell such rot.  In any case, today we are in Karlsruhe and deliciously fresh Laugenwek are readily available.  We slice them in half and spread them with butter from Irish cows–smooth, creamy, and sweet. They are amazingly delicious.  Unfortunately, the only sit down table at the bakery is occupied by a lone man.  There are two stand-up tables–one with a woman standing at it eating breakfast and the other with a cup of coffee on it.  We try to stand at the latter in such a way that we’re using the table to rest the things we can’t hold, but not actually standing at the table.  However, by the time our Lugenwek is ready, we’ve seen no sign of any person belonging to the cup of coffee.  It’s as if the person went to get sugar or cream and got called away so suddenly that they forgot they were in the middle of having coffee.  After a while, we give up on “borrowing” the table and simply take it over.  The owner of the coffee never appears.

On the way back to the hotel after breakfast, we pass the street that Pat’s grandmother lived on.  At the corner one block away, a man on crutches stands at a car parked in front of a dentist’s office.  Renate (my mother-in-law) calls out to him and waves.  It turns out that he was Renate’s neighbor growing up and and she has known him virtually all of her life.  We stand and talk (well, Renate, Pat, and the man talk) for several minutes, catching up.  Renate hasn’t seen the man in some time.  I wonder how many people live in this village who still know Renate–the village has grown into a regular town and there is new construction of townhomes on many of the streets we pass.

We continue to the hotel and say our goodbyes for the day.  We will meet up again at dinner, but Pat and I are going to spend the day in Karlsruhe on our own.  When Pat and I head for the closest S-bahn stop a few minutes later, the train is already sitting there.  We walk to the next stop and manage to make it on foot faster than the train makes it through the lights between the two stops.  The ride to downtown takes only a few minutes–we are not far and Karlsruhe is not a large town.  As we approach our stop, we pass a pyramid sculpture.  I forget to ask why there is a pyramid in Karlsruhe, but Pat probably doesn’t know either.

We walk towards the castle.  Or, at least we try to walk to the castle.  First we have to get around construction that has multiple sidewalks closed.  We have to reroute three times before we find a way to the plaza that surrounds the Karlsruhe castle.  When we get to the plaza, we are both thirsty and need to use a restroom.  Feeling funny just ordering water in the cafe, we decide to sit and have coffee.  I go to the ladies room and return to find Pat sitting at our table with a Pilsner.  I look at my watch and discover it is already 11AM, which I guess is not horribly early for a first beer if one is German and on vacation.  Not being German myself, I stick to coffee.

We re-enter the bright sunlight–it’s a beautiful morning–and walk over to the castle, which is now a museum. We stop on the grounds to snap off some quick shots and then follow a group of teenagers we can only assume are on a field trip inside the building where we buy tickets.  Walking through the museum is not exactly exciting for me.  I am more excited by castles that have been preserved in their original state than in looking at displays of the contents that once inhabited them.  Plus, there are no signs in English, so I have a hard time understanding, for example, why there is a large exhibit from Turkey in the middle of one floor.  Even Pat cannot figure this out from the German signs he attempts to read.  On top of the lack of available information, no photos are allowed inside, which pretty much makes going to museums pointless to me.  Just as I am about to suggest we head back out to the park outside and walk around among the trees, a museum employee standing on the floor looking at my camera asks if we have gone up the tower yet.  Pat tells her we have not and she explains that there are great views from up there and that pictures are allowed.  We find the tower entrance and walk up the many, many stairs to get to the top.  A door opens to the balcony so that we can walk around the complete circle outside with no glass between my lens and the view.  It’s fabulous.  I am suddenly ecstatic that we came.  What’s also cool is that it allows us to see the layout of the city.  We saw maps inside that show that Karl had built Karlsruhe with all the main roads radiating out from the castle at the center.  Seeing this from the tower after seeing it in drawings and a model makes it real.  I’m not sure why all the roads need to radiate from the castle, but it does look really cool.

After climbing back down to the interior of the museum, we try to work our way towards the restrooms.  However, it’s like a maze with only one path that leads out and that path takes us through every exhibit in the museum.  After winding our way through two more floors containing Egypt, a 19th century general store, and more of Turkey, we finally ask someone for the most direct route to the restroom.  She points us towards the elevator to the first floor, but we still have to go through 3 more exhibits to get to the elevator.  Finally, we make it to the first floor and find the restrooms.  We decide to forego anymore exhibits this trip and to head back outside.  Pat is hungry and he wants to have cake.  We are now on a quest to find cakes that can stand up to Pat’s childhood memories.

We walk through Karlsruhe looking for a bakery.  We pass what seems like dozens, but none of them are serving the type of cake Pat is looking for.  We end up walking through a part of town that attracts seedy looking individuals–the storefronts are mostly casinos and strip clubs.  At the end of this strip, however, sits a huge cathedral that I want to see, so we walk on.  When we get to the cathedral and walk inside, we are disappointed to discover that there is a glass wall between the entry foyer and the rest of the church.  We are unable to walk through it, but I do get one shot of the interior through the glass wall.  A man sits in a pew inside praying.  We wonder if there is a hidden entrance for parishioners.

Heading back through the seedy part of Karlsruhe, we pass a brewery and hope that maybe we can take a tour.  However, there is no sign of life in the windows and the doors that we can see look bolted shut and have no signs that imply they are ever open to the public.  At this point, feeling uncomfortable with the surroundings and starting to run out of time, I suggest we take the S-bahn back to where we started to get cake.  We hop on the next train a ride the mile or so that we’ve walked back to the pyramid in mid-town.  I get out Google maps and look up the department store Pat remembers having really good cakes.  We walk down the street and I put the iPhone away when we get close.  But we can’t find it.  I get the iPhone out again and we find the address.  When we get there, the department store is now a sporting goods store and they don’t carry cake.  Pat is crushed.

We return to looking around and finally ask some elderly ladies outside a bakery across the street.  They suggest another department store, but when we go up to their restaurant, Pat isn’t satisfied with their offerings.  We wander around until we decide we must eat.  We stop at a restaurant in the plaza by the pyramid and sit down.  We eat real food instead of cakes.  It’s 3:00 by the time we sit and we are supposed to meet Pat’s family at the hotel at 4:30.  The server is busy and it takes a long time to get food.  As we sit and watch, we notice that all of the people eating at the tables on restaurant down are having huge desserts.  After we finish eating, we ask the server if they have desserts; he tells us to go next door.  We move over about 10 tables and pick up a menu.  It’s all ice cream.  Pat asks a server if they have cakes and the server tells him to go inside.  I sit at the table while Pat goes inside to select cakes.  When he comes out, he is thrilled.  This is the place he remembered all along and they offer an enormous assortment of cakes to choose from.  When the server brings out the cakes he’s selected, we indulge in one filled with a nut cream and one filled with lemon cream.  We both like the lemon cream better, but the cakes are delicious.  It’s after 4 by the time we finish and we must pay and rush back to the hotel to get ready for dinner.

Tour to Karlsruhe

This is our last morning to eat breakfast at the wellness hotel. But when we all convene in the lobby at 8AM, we discover that the restaurant is already full of people. This surprises us because, all week, we’ve been operating on the belief that the restaurant doesn’t open until 8AM. Since we have a reserved table, it’s not a concern. We walk to our table and discover that there are 3 people sitting at it in spite of the neat little sign with Dieter’s last name on it identifying the table as reserved. As a non-morning person, I am thrown into a mental spin that prevents me from coming to any conclusion as to what to do. It seems like such a trivial problem, yet there is no where else to sit. Fortunately, the Germans take over and find the server who sets up the table we sat at the night before and gets us all back on course again. Ironically, by the time the new table is set, the people at our table have already gone.

This morning, the conversation is all about our plan for the day. We are riding to Karlsruhe with Dieter, Gisela, and Pat’s parents. Pat spent the early years of his life in a village just outside Karlsruhe. We will stay two nights in a hotel there, allowing time to get together with Pat’s aunts, uncles, and cousin who sill live in the area. Pat’s parents have reserved a room for us at the same hotel they’ve been staying at, which is in walking distance of several friends and relatives.

After the others come to a conclusion in German about our itinerary for the day, Dieter summarizes for me and Jim in English: We will take the scenic route to the Bodensee. We will stop in 3-4 villages along the way and have lunch in one of them. We will then take the scenic route to Karlsruhe through the Black Forest, stopping in another village there. We will arrive at our hotel around 5PM. After checking in and freshening up, we will walk over to Dieter and Gisela’s for sandwiches. We have a plan.

The scenic route to the Bodensee provides lots of view of the Alps, many of which are covered in snow at the top even though it is still quite early. Fortunately for us, today promises to be a bright and sunny day with warmer temperatures–a welcome change from the cold and rainy weather we’ve had since Berlin.

Our first stop is Lindau. We find a parking place immediately, but it is on the far side of the bridge to a small island we want to visit. With the weather being so nice, the extra walk is welcome and we make our way across the bridge into the main town area, and down to the shore. On the way across the bridge, I spot a duck with 3 young following closely behind. They are diving ducks. For a while, I try to get a shot, but they keep disappearing under the water as soon as I set my lens on them. Since half of our group has continued walking and is now getting quite far ahead, I am forced to give up on shooting wildlife. Given that I left my telephoto in the car, it is just as well.

We make a quick pass around the outskirts of the island, walking along the shore at the docks, pausing to look at the view and take a few quick shots. Then, we head back towards the car with only one quick stop for postcards. Dieter is nervous about the time and looks at his watch frequently. I imagine he feels pressure to try to get all of our planned stops into the allocated time for our trip without being late getting us home.

Our next stop is Meersburg. Here, the parking situation is worse. We spend a good 15 minutes circling around looking for a place. Finally, we make a wider circle and find a spot that is several blocks further away. We walk down steep cobblestone streets to enter the village. The tudor style buildings lining the streets look like they might have been constructed about the same time the earth was formed, although they are well maintained and in perfect condition. Everything about this village seems like it must be historically significant somehow in that each building seems so well cared for that it must be an heirloom.

We find a cafe with outdoor seating facing the lake. Almost all of us order one preparation of Bodensee fish or another. I am pleased with my fish, although I honestly can’t say that it’s significantly better than any other well-prepared mild, white fish I’ve ever had. It is tasty, though. I am amazed by the plain, boiled potatoes. I didn’t know that it was possible for plain, boiled potatoes to have so much flavor!

As we eat, we watch a group of young swans, still in gray down, gliding towards us on the water. When they are close to the docks, they start tipping over with their heads down, eating off the bottom of the water. Their size makes them look far funnier than any duck I’ve seen doing this. I don’t know if this is normal behavior for swans of if these were raised by ducks like the Ugly Duckling.

We are now far behind schedule. We stop only one more time along the Bodensee, skipping over at least one planned village. When we do stop, we do a brisk walk through the town and then head back to the car. Now we must skip stopping in the Black Forest as well–it is getting quite late. However, we still take the scenic route and the beautiful views of ancient villages tucked among the trees keep us entertained.

After a brief stop at the hotel to check in and get cleaned up, we meet up with Pat’s parents and then walk over to Dieter and Gisela’s house for dinner. It’s a relatively short walk, but it feels good to get out and stretch our legs after spending so much time in the car. When we get to Dieter and Gisela’s, Gisela has waved a magic wand and produced a massive spread of meats, bread, and accompaniments for sandwiches. Pat calls her Martha Stewart and I concur. I want to try everything. The Black Forest ham is particularly special. I haven’t had any on this trip, not even when we were in the black forest for 4 days.

After gorging on good German meats and sharing a bottle of Riesling, we thank our hosts one last time before walking home. The temperature has dropped and we walk as quickly as our full stomachs will allow. When we get back to the hotel, we walk through a lobby full of business people chatting one another up. We seem to be the only tourist at this hotel–it shares a parking lot with a large Siemens location.

The room lacks certain amenities (like coffee in the room), but it’s clean and comfortable and we are soon sound asleep.

Oktoberfest

As we walk from the train stop to Oktoberfest, more and more people wearing lederhosen and drindl crowd the streets.  We pass a collection of port-a-potties and decide to stop.  At this point, I am envisioning a large collection of big white tents (like the kind people use for wedding receptions in the US) in a field with thousands of drunk people staggering around drunk.  Having not given a thought to restroom logistics, the fact that the Germans want to stop at a port-a-potty on the way there now makes me worry that there will be no restrooms at the fest itself.  This worry is reinforced when we pass a man urinating in the bushes just 20 yards from the port-a-potties.

When we arrive at the entrance to Oktoberfest, I am surprised to discover that it is much like arriving at the Ohio State Fair.  The grounds are smaller, the rides are bigger and more sophisticated, rivaling the rides at permanent amusement parks, and the crowd is far more dense (in terms of number of people per square foot of space; I have no evidence to compare IQ levels).  Another interesting difference is that the people look like the same people we’ve seen all over Germany rather than the bizarre part of the US population, usually kept hidden from view, that mysteriously gathers at the Ohio State Fair.  And of course, the fact that at least half of the attendees are wearing traditional lederhosen and drindl just to be wearing it and not because they are participating in some act makes the crowd seem more interesting as well.

When we get inside the entry, first we discover there is no fee to get in.  Second, we find there are plenty of places to spend money to make up for the free admittance.  Each brewery has their team of draft horses standing around waiting for me to pet them.  I’m not sure who called ahead to arrange this, but I appreciate it.  It’s been a lot of years since I spent time with horses; having the opportunity to scratch some giant heads makes my day.  As we walk away from the horses, we see a group of young men coming out of one of the beer tents.  Two of them are supporting a third who has clearly not paced himself well.  As we pass them, we understand the value of wearing lederhosen with suspenders.  This guy is wearing only lose jeans and they have slid down over his rear end, leaving him leaning against his friends with his bare butt hanging in the wind.  We all look and laugh, tipping off the guys friends that he needs a little help.  They pull up his jeans and make a joke in German.  Everyone laughs and we go on our way.  As I look around, I realize that no one else in the vicinity is staggering and I am surprised.

We slip inside a beer “tent” and are surprised it’s not a tent at all but a permanent building with massive beams supporting the roof and a wood floor.  We’re surprised and ask our friends about the buildings being permanent.  They tell us that no, the site of the fest is a park and that the “tents” go up about a week before the fest starts and are gone again within a week after.  We look at the structure again and are amazed at what it must take to erect this building in a week,–when we go to the restroom and discover a huge room of flush toilets, we are even more amazed.

The original plan for Oktoberfest was that we would have a reservation for three hours at one of the tents.  We would be served all we could eat and drink for those three hours and then we would have to give up the table.  However, Dieter and Giesala had friends tell them that a reservation wasn’t really needed and that we could show up at any time, so we did not have a reservation.  This worked well from the perspective that it allowed us to switch days on when we were going with the rain and cold weather, but not so well in that even on a Tuesday afternoon, the tents were packed and finding unreserved tables with open seats was not easy.  At the first beer tent, we were able to sit at a reserved table where the reservation didn’t start for several more hours.  We ordered a round of beers and sat sipping away.  I practiced my new beer holding technique–my wrist was already tired from the beer earlier in the day at the Haufbrauhaus.  We sit and watch people.  There are an overwhelming number of people to watch.

I watch the drindls and lederhosen, fascinated that while the basic look is always the same, they come in wide varieties.  Most interesting to me is the shoe choices of women wearing drindls.  I don’t know what the traditional show would be, but each woman seems to have made up her own mind without consulting tradition or fashion on what footwear choice works for her.  I see one woman in rubber Hunter boots with her drindl.  Another with 4 1/2 inch spike heels–the heels are literally spikes, made from metal.  There is everything in between, although ballet flats seem to be the most popular.

After finishing our beers (once again, I am unable to finish mine and I share with Pat), we start strolling through the park again.  We stop at some shooting galleries where Giesala and Jim try out the shooting skills.  The guns don’t shoot straight and it takes a while to adjust.  Once Jim gets the hang of it, he makes every shot, having been a sharp shooter in the military.  After spending something like 10 Euro on shooting, he wins a prize and allows Giesala to pick from the choices.  She selects a small teddy bear, which she decides should go to me and fastens him to the zipper of my rain jacket.  He bounces along as we continue our walk down the strip.

Eventually, we find ourselves in the Haufbrauhaus tent.  Here, the unreserved tables are jammed with people and the reserved tables are blocked off so they can’t be used even when no one with a reservation is there.  We wander around not sure of what to do.  Eventually, we find a table out in the beer garden.  It’s jammed up against the tables on either side so that when we sit down, we are literally using the people behind us as back rests.  No one whose been sitting there a while seems to notice.  The people already at the table we join are laughing and talking with the people at the next table over.  It seems like everyone knows each other with people switching tables frequently to visit with other people, but I think this is just the atmosphere of the fest.  We are surrounded by people from different parts of the country.  A guy with an odd long-haired wig on sits behind me.  He has a cart with what looks like karaoke machine in it sitting next to him.  Jim offers the guy 10 euro to sing.  The guy turns out to be a local personality there with a guy with a camera and they decide this will be a good bit.  They have Jim hand the guy 10 euro on camera and the guy sings.  Supposedly it will be on TV in Munich.  I find myself wondering what they are saying and hope that it’s not too embarrassing for Jim.

Before I can worry too much about the TV bit, a large group of Scottish guys in kilts arrives.  They greet the guy with the wig and walk around to join his table.  One of them immediately attaches himself to Pat’s mother and can’t seem to stop hugging her and telling her he loves her.  We end up in a conversation with him.  It’s a sort of odd transition, but we end up talking about Scotland and Pat’s own experience with wearing a kilt for a wedding.  This, of course, leads to discussion about what one wears under a kilt.  We learn that the Scots are traditionalists and the offer to prove it; Renate stops the one closest to her when his kilt is at about mid-thigh.  Back on the subject of Scotland, he tells us that we can have it–it rains too much for him.

It’s getting late in the day and Dieter wants to return to our country hotel in Wald.  We are trying to drink up so we can leave.  Pat and I are splitting a beer this time instead of me pretending I’m going to drink one myself.  I try to polish off the last bit of my half, but even half is a strain.  Pat takes an few extra sips for me and then works on helping Jim finish his beer.  I do some math and realize that I’ve had 1 1/4 beers since the first half beer at the Haufbrauhaus in Munich. But it’s 1.25 liters of beer, which is approximately 40 0z of beer or 3 1/2 US beers.  That’s a lot of beer!

We return to the train station at sunset.  We skipped the port-a-potty on the way, having all used the restroom at the tent.  But, it was a long walk from the Haufbrauhaus to the train station.  Pat needs a restroom now.  There are 7 minutes until our next train; Pat decided to risk it.  I will omit some of the more sordid details of the events of the rest of the evening, but Pat did not find a restroom, but did cause us to miss our train.  Having to wait 20 minutes for the next one with all of us having consumed much beer, that 20 minute wait led to much discomfort across the board.  Then there was the 30 minute train ride to to the park-and-ride and the discovery that the restroom there was closed.  Let me just conclude that we were pleased that the parking lot was surrounded by dense woods and there were very few people around by the time we arrived there.

When we returned to the hotel, we sit and allow Dieter to drink.  He had the least beer of all, having cut himself off early in the evening since he was driving.  The hotel is no longer serving dinner, but now we are hungry.  They fix us a spread of meats and cheeses that we enjoy with homemade bread.  Tired and full, we all retire as soon as the food is gone.

Intro to Munich

Tuesday morning, we wake up to find that it’s still cold and cloudy, but the rain has stopped. We cross our fingers that the sky will clear and the sun will come out–today is our day to go to Oktoberfest.

After our usual breakfast at the hotel, our little group drives off to find a park-and-ride. From there, we will take the S-bahn into Munich. Getting to the park-and-ride goes smoothly. We find a spot in the crowded gravel parking lot (although bike parking is completely full, the car lot has a few places left). We find a place to buy tickets, everyone uses the restroom and then we head up to catch the next train, which we miss by about 30 seconds. So, we get to hang out on the platform for an extra 18 minutes waiting for the next one to arrive.

As we wait, more and more people gather on the platform. About half of them are wearing traditional bavarian clothes: lederhosen for men and dirndls for women. It’s interesting how this traditional garb looks like a costume on some people and like heritage on others. I suppose it depends on how traditional the garb is–some of the dirndls seem to have taken a “naughty beer girl” adult halloween costume twist. By contrast, the men struggle to look sexy in their lederhosen. There is just something about the way suede hangs that makes it nearly impossible.

A loud and laughing group of young people get on the train at our first stop. It’s interesting to watch people’s faces and try to decide what’s going on. A middle-aged couple standing among the youngsters are laughing with them and enjoying the ride. Similarly aged people sitting around the group look disapproving and, in some cases, annoyed. I am unable to draw any conclusion except that several of the boys are pretty determined to get closer to several of the girls in the group. But I suppose even someone who wasn’t there could have guessed that would be true!

We get off at the Karlplatz stop in Munich. We will “tour” Munich for a couple hours before going to the fest. There is a tremendous crowd at Karlplatz. I’m surprised–I figured everyone would be at Oktoberfest. We walk to the Rathaus to see the famous clock there that has a bunch of figures that move at noon. It’s now quarter ’til. Dieter has timed this perfectly to make sure we get to see this clock. We position ourselves in the courtyard for photos, although I did not bring my long lens for this. As we stand there listening, we discover we’re surrounded by Americans. Americans and other tourists–we don’t hear anyone speaking German. Tourists (perhaps from Spain) ask an American next to us to take a photo of them. He takes his time lining up a perfect shot of the group with the courthouse clock in the background and just as he snaps the shutter, a German walks right in front of his camera. My husband laughs and comments to the man–it’s a cultural difference we’ve noticed frequently at various tourist stops. A crowd of foreigners will divide around someone taking a photo, but a German will invariably walk right through the shot.

Eventually, noon begins to strike. Chimes start, music starts, and the ancient players in the clock come to life. My favorite part is the jousting on horseback. The jousters come out once and safely pass each other by, but on the second round, one of the jousters is struck and falls forward over his horse. After the top level of figures finishes their enactment, a lower level of dancing men goes into action. The way that the figures appear to hang on to the clockworks and the angle of their bodies make them look alive as they spin. We watch fascinated, trying to figure out exactly what it is that makes them look so realistic.

Once the clock finishes. we are ready for the next item on the agenda. This is to go to the original Haufbrauhaus in Munich. The Haufbrauhaus in Pittsburg has become a favorite place for my in-laws when they’re home, so going to the original version here is a must. It seems a bit odd to go there during Oktoberfest instead of going to their tent at the fest, but I am told that we will do both. I am surprised by the crowd there when we arrive–it’s a weekday after peak tourist season, and it’s competing with Oktoberfest, yet we have a hard time finding a table. Eventually, one frees up that is close to the action. We sit down and order beers. We’ve decided to have lunch here as well, so we check out the menus and pick out which form of sausage we will enjoy today.

The beers come and they are served in 1L mugs. Pat has to show me how to slide my hand under the handle with my thumb over it so I can lift the mug one-handed without injuring my wrist. This reminds me of a story a former colleague once told me. When he was a teenager, he worked in a grocery store. One day, he was restocking beer when a customer came in and picked up 2 40-oz beers. My colleague had seen this man buy 2 40’s every day for several weeks. Trying to be helpful, he pointed out the 12 pack of the same beer telling the man how much money he could save by going that route. The man replied, “No, that’s OK. My doctor told me I can only have 2 beers a day.” I will make sure I adhere to the same logic today. 🙂

When our food comes, a woman sitting behind me at the next table leans over and says, “Excuse me, do you speak English?” Everyone within earshot says, “Yes!” She asks what the pork knuckle is that Dieter has ordered–it’s a massive thing that looks like it should be held by a caveman and gnawed at vigorously. We explain what it is and show her which item it is on the German menu. I notice when her food comes she didn’t order it.

A girl selling enormous pretzels walks around the room for the second time since we arrived. This time Pat stops her and hands me a pretzel bigger than my head. I split it amongst 4 of us. It’s surprisingly good. The thick part is especially good–nice and fluffy on the inside like every good pretzel should be. Eating is periodically interrupted by a group toast led by the oompah band at the front of the hall. Everyone waves their beer back and forth and sings along until the final Prost. It’s like a piano bar in the US.

At the end of my meal, I still have 1/4 of my beer left and I cannot drink anymore. I hand off to Pat who polishes it off for me while the rest of the group finishes eating. When everyone is done, we track down our server, pay the bill, and head out. We have seen enough of Munich; it is time for Oktoberfest. But first, we must find a bank and exchange some money.

We find a bank on the way back to the train station. Pat goes in by himself while the rest of us stand outside waiting. The bank entrance has a life-sized statue of a lion outside the door. Two girls walk up and take turns posing with the lion while the other snaps photos. One hugs his neck, the other leans against him. I’m surprised neither gets up on his back like they’re taking a ride. Maybe it’s considered rude to ride a statue?

Pat returns and we head for the train. The closer we get, the more lederhosen and drindls we see. We are getting psyched for Oktoberfest even though we feel inappropriately dressed. We cannot wait to find out what it’s like, none of us having ever gone before.

Linderhof Castle

After touring Neuschwanstein castle in Schwangau, we head towards Linderhof castle. Linderhof is close to an hour drive from Neuschwanstein, which is why Pat and I didn’t go see it on our last trip to Germany. But I am immediately glad that we came when we approach the grounds. Crazy King Ludwig was obsessed with Louis XIV and built this castle with the intention of creating a miniature Versailles. The grounds, however, are more beautiful just because of the surrounding mountains and forests and the resulting vertical rise on either side of the castle. When we go inside for our tour, we learn that this is the smallest castle Ludwig built and the only one he actually finished. All but one room is decorated in gold leaf, all of it looking remarkably like Versailles in style. Even the statues and paintings are of French kings and court members from the time when France was a absolute monarchy. However, Ludwig must not have paid attention to French history given that he came along nearly 100 years after the French Revolution. In any case, he apparently created this castle as a little playhouse for himself where he could disappear into his fantasy that he was a real king in a time when kings had real power. I am less and less confused about why he was declared insane.

The castle is beautiful, however. Although, a horrific waste of resources considering Ludwig’s main intention was to be completely alone in it. He had his small dining table made on a platform that could be lowered into the kitchen below and completely set with his meal and then raised back into his room so that he didn’t have to see any servants at meal time. The table was barely big enough for a spread fit for a king, let alone for any guests.

Oddly, in spite of his desire to be left alone, he constructed an “opera house” in a fake cave off the garden. It is another salute to Wagner and apparently comes from the Rings. It has stalactites and stalagmites molded out of something like stucco. At the back, a pool simulates a lake and a swan-shaped gondola sits, still waiting to take the king adrift in the water where he apparently liked to listen to music. Even more oddly, it’s in this cave where the first electric lights in Germany were installed. They were even colored by putting colored plates of glass in front of them. The coup de grace is the waterfall that the tour guide turns on after giving her spiel. Water flows over fake stones and down into the pond. It’s so noisy, it would be impossible to hear music over the falls. I find myself wondering if Ludwig ever actually had a concert in this cave or if he just listened to the music in his head.

The castle is wonderful in its own way–strangely beautiful and certainly fascinating to see. The smallness of it makes it somehow more intimate and enjoyable than the real Versailles, although, I admit I haven’t been there since I was a teenager.

We return to our hotel in time for the dinner. Tonight’s soup is called “Leber Spaetzle.”. When they set a bowl in front of me, I am troubled. The “spaetzle” looks suspiciously like deer poop–nearly black and shaped in pellets. I look at Pat and ask, “What kind of soup is this?” and he replies, “It’s deer poop soup,” without cracking a smile. I laugh out loud and take a spoonful, glad I’m not the only one who thinks that’s what it looks like. I can’t give a comparison of the flavor to deer poop, having never eaten any, but I have to imagine deer poop wouldn’t taste worse provided you added salt. The saltiness got to me worse than the flavor of the liver, but neither was exactly pleasing. I gave up once I got down a respectable amount. The entree was more to my liking, but also very salty. It was a traditional German dish made of something described as pork meatloaf, but Pat told me it was like a piece of sausage shaped like a slice of ham, fried and served with an egg sunny side up on top. Had it been less salty, I might have been able to eat the whole thing, but I gave up about 7/8 of the way in.

Tonight, we are all tired and don’t sit as long over beers after dinner as we did the night before. A larger portion of the conversation is in German, as well, a sign of fatigue in my bilingual friends, I think. It’s tiring even for me to tell stories in English using vocabulary our friend are likely to know vs the casual idioms and expressions I would use with my American friends; communicating in a second language must be even more fatiguing for them. I wish I would have spent more time learning German before this trip–it’s been a couple of years since I took continuing education classes in German and I didn’t get very far. My mouth twists around many German sounds and the words come out unrecognizable. I am far more self-conscious attempting German than I ever was speaking French, Italian, Spanish, or evan Korean. But, I was younger then and I didn’t have a native speaker laughing at my pronunciation (well, except the Italians when I pronounce “penne” as “pene”, which means something entirely inappropriate for the dinner table). Oh well, I guess I will have to try again. Maybe Pat and I can start speaking German when we’re alone together if I can get him to stop laughing at me. 🙂