The German leg of my trip started inauspiciously, as I flew Air Berlin from Copenhagen to the superannuated (and originally scheduled to be mothballed last year) Tegel Airport in Berlin, only to sit well past the scheduled boarding time for the connection to Nuremberg... and finally to be told, without a word of explanation or apology, "Due to technical difficulties, your flight has been canceled."
This was at 12:45 p.m.; the next flight was scheduled for 6:00. But that was fine, just fine, just bloody well fine, I tell you! They gave us each a voucher for five Euros for food. That's $7.50, if you're keeping score at home. Do you know what five Euros will buy at airport prices? Three soggy French fries and a warm Coke, basically.
Tegel Airport is bigger than Tompkins County Airport in Ithaca, but not a whole lot more modern than the TCA was the last time I flew into it, in 1982. There wasn't anything to do for the next five-plus hours, I didn't have any Euros (or anything much to buy with them if I had), the geldautomat (ATM) wasn't taking my Korean check card--a recurring theme on my trip--and I needed to reach Turtle, who was planning to pick me up at the Bamberg train station, after my flight to Nuremberg, subway ride to the hauptbahnhof (railway station), and train ride to Bamberg, at 4:30.
I hadn't brought my laptop and my Korean Android phone won't work in Europe; I asked around and asked around for access to a computer so I could email Turtle, but apparently if you speak English you're disqualified from an airport job in Germany. Finally I was directed to an odd coin-operated email kiosk, where I sent an explanation to Turtle. (I found out later she never received it, so she went down to Bamberg Station at 4:30 and again at 5:30; of course, I was still in Berlin.)
Anyway, three-quarters through The Art of Fielding, Air Berlin finally took off. We didn't die on the way. From Nuremberg Airport, I couldn't figure out how to buy a ticket on the subway, so I bumbled my way through without one. (Don't tell the guy who works for the Copenhagen Metro!) At the train station, I found one of the last remaining Internet cafes in Europe and sent Turtle an email, telling her what time my train would get in. And she was there, cheerfully. Or at least doing a good imitation.
Turtle is an official with the Red Cross, working at the US Army base in Bamberg. As is true with the other military-connected people I've met, she has a lovely apartment, much bigger than the ones we wage-slave teachers get. She also has a lovely dog. Doobie is a sweetheart, very friendly and calm.
That evening, Turtle helped me work out a plan; I'd do Bamberg on Thursday, Nuremberg Friday, and Munich, including the hash, Saturday. As she was driving away to see our hashing friends Double Rainho and Spartakicks (and Sparta's dog Cooper, whom I'd once held on my lap while butt-sliding down a mountain outside Seoul), I'd have to get a hotel for my last night in Europe.
From Bamberg, it's an hour south by rail to Nuremberg, then another two hours south to Munich. The DB (German Rail) is quick, clean, pleasant, and, if one avoids the express trains, cheap. We Americans really messed up by shortchanging Amtrak and longchanging (shut up, I'm an English teacher) gas-guzzling cars.
Remember my credo for traveling, or, actually, for all of life: "Walk around and look at things." Boy, did I live up to my credo.
Thursday was Explore Bamberg day. I'd never heard of the town before, but I really like it. It was bypassed by the Allied bombings in the war, so it has a lot of authentic medieval buildings, cobblestone streets, and about 78 big ol' churches, all up on the hill at the south end of town. I passed on the bus and walked an hour from the army base into the old town.
I walked and I walked. And I walked. And walked. About nine hours' worth on Thursday... almost an hour from the Army base, past cigarette machines on every other block and apartments and cars sporting German flags (the Euro Cup soccer tournament was going on), over a stream and into the heart of the old city, then block after block of medieval/modern Germany, cobblestone streets lined with medieval buildings next to outdoor cafes, Starbucks and Gaps.
Bamberg was spared Allied bombings in the war, so its landmarks are authentic, from the Maxplatz (Maximillian Plaza), the big open square with ice cream vendors, a farmer's market, and a giant TV screen set up for the Eurocup games, to the Alt Rathaus (Old City Hall)...
Before climbing the Domberg, I discovered Bamberg's claim to fame: rauchbier (smoke beer). It's a dark, dark beer native to the town; they dry the hops over an open flame, and the beer comes out 80 percent Guinness, 20 percent campfire. Maybe if I had it all the time, I'd get sick of it; as is, it was wunderbar. Actually, after four years of Korean beer, any German beer is simply unglaublich. (No, no, that only sounds nasty because it's in German! It's really good.)
That evening, when my feet were flat from all that walking--including a long, weary, hot, not-at-all fun slog around downtown in search of a geldautomat that would give me cash with my Korean check card--and it only took about ten ATM's to find one that would--Turtle and Doobie bused downtown and joined me for dinner at a charming outdoor cafe, where I had spaetzle (a delicious mac 'n' cheese topped with carmelized onions, apparently the only food avaliable in Bavaria that doesn't originate inside a pig) and more rauchbier.
Incidentally, if you plan on nature's calling you at any time in Germany, take coins. The tourist info bureaus have pay toilets and the train stations have big facilities with names like Neat and Tidy or McClean with a dozen uniformed attendants and turnstiles that cost a Euro to get through. The whole experience, however necessary, isn't the best entertainment value for your buck and a half... though it is more enjoyable than, say, an Adam Sandler movie. Are the facilities neat and tidy? Not mcspecially.
I wandered through the huge plaza, which was filled end-to-end with fruit and flower and sausage (especially sausage) and cheese vendors, then through the winding streets up the hill to the Albrecht Durer house.
All the guidebooks say there's a museum in Durer's house, but all I found were studios (closed) andtrinket shops (very much open). I eased my disappointment with some more spaetzle and bier at a sidewalk cafe around the corner, gazing across the way at the Kaiserburg (Imperial Castle) and the very modern "Hare" statue in front of it...
I visited Coventry Cathedral with my then-girlfriend in 1976, and St. Sebald somehow brought my European experiences full circle and gave me a sense of connection with the me I was at age 22. (It's sobering to know that my visit to Coventry was exactly as close in time to the Battle of Britain, which in my mind belongs to dusty history books, as to today.)
I wandered some more and caught the train back to Bamberg. When I got back, it was dinnertime and Turtle asked me if I'd like to join her and a few of her work friends and a little beer garden out in the country. I would and I did, and that provided possibly my nicest memory from Germany. She drove a few miles out to a little town and an inn with picnic tables in a grassy yard, next to a stream and a mill. I can still recapture the taste of the beer, the friendliness of the conversation, and the relaxed, happy feeling from the warmth of the sun and the rush of the water.
On the way back to Turtle's apartment, I mentioned my puzzlement that there didn't seem to be any nice brown German mustard in German stores, so she took me to a supermarket and showed me the most amazing thing... mustard comes in toothpaste tubes! (Don't brush your teeth with it!)
...and something wonderful I still haven't figured out: there's no striking drop in elevation, no generators, no source for rushing water that I could detect, but there are people surfing the rapids in the middle of Munich: