Tuesday, August 28, 2012


Now playing: "There Will Be Beer".

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)...
(Set, hundreds of years ago, on an island between the church-dominated north side 
and prince-dominated south side of the stream that divides the city)

 ...to the Cathedral, in the background here...

...which shares the Domberg (Cathedral Hill) with an amazing number of huge, gloomy medieval churches, as well as the New Residence and its lovely Rose Garden...
(Not many roses in this picture, but, hey, nekkid lady!)

...and its view of the old city and its hills beyond.

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.
Us. I wasn't squinting because I had been drinking... the low late afternoon sun was bright.

It took me a while to warm to Nuremberg the next day. Maybe I was a little burned out from the days of walking; maybe it was just too modern (even most of the "medieval" buildings had been rebuilt after the war); maybe I was just too aware of the city's history, from the gigantic party rallies before the war to the Judgment at... . Maybe the hauptbahnhof was just too huge, hot, and annoying.

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.
I'm an art ignoramus, but I love Durer's Hare.

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...
...which in theory should be delightful, but close up is vaguely horrifying.
Then I wandered around the grassy battlements atop the Kaiserberg and back down to the city below. On the way, I found the church of St. Sebald, which seemed at first to be just another airless, gloomy old stone pile. 
 It was gloomier when I was there. (I didn't take these Nuremberg photos; my phone was dead.)

The church interior had a series of photo placards illustrating its reconstruction from a roofless pile of rubble at the end of the war. Where I started to warm to Nuremberg was at the photo of St. Sebald's sister church,
Coventry Cathedral. I found it touching that the British church destroyed by the Germans and the German church destroyed by the British had joined together in the spirit of peace.

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!)
I brought back Sahne-Merrettich (horseradish sauce), mittlescharf Delicatess-Senf (medium mustard), Scharfer Senf (sharp mustard), and Lowensenf (lion mustard?!)


Saturday in Munich was something new: something old. I mean that this was the first place on this trip that I'd been to before. I remember three specific places from my stay in Munich with my parents, when I was 14: the glockenspiel clock in the Marienplatz, the Hofbrauhaus beer garden, and the inside of our rental car when they went in to take the tour of the Dachau concentration camp. I had the time and inclination to revisit the first two.
I got to the Munich hauptbahnhof  in midmorning, grabbed a map, and headed for the Marienplatz. Between the railway station and the square there are blocks of pedestrian mall lined with all the same brands of shops I know from Gangnam in Seoul, along with the occasional rebuilt medieval building. I waited in the sun with all the other Griswolds for 11 a.m. and the ringing of the glockenspiel.
It's basically a giant cuckoo clock; the peasants march around and bow and twirl, a knight knocks another knight back in a joust... it's a real crowd pleaser, but things are more impressive when you're 14. (Or they were when I was 14... today's kids are probably a bit jaded when it comes to special effects.)
From there I walked around and looked at stuff. (Have you noticed a pattern in my activities?) I wound my way around to the world's most famous beer garden. I sat outside the Hofbrauhaus in the summer sunshine and enjoyed a 55-gallon drum (well, a full liter) of good German dark beer.
I resisted the European pastries, the chocolate, the saugage... not the beer. I have not a single regret.

In a way, I copped out by sitting on the terrace, across from the Hard Rock Cafe; the real HB experience is indoors, in a gigantic open vault with thousands upon thousands of happy biertrinkers at countless picnic tables and a ban in liederhosen. That's where I'd been, so many years before, with my folks. But the din in there was unbelievable, and to sit alone in that happy madhouse... well, I get lonely, but I don't like to wallow in aloneness.

Afterward, I wandered some more to and through the English Garden, a misnamed, massive public space that rivals Central Park. There's a huge green for sunbathing, streams and ponds for fowl play...

...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:

I stood and watched them for the longest time (and absolutely not the young woman in the wetsuit any more than the guys, I swear), and wandered out of the park, but not before stumbling upon the Chinese Garden, with hundreds and hundreds of diners surrounding yet another surreal sight...
...a big Bavarian oompah band playing jolly tuba songs from a pseudo-pagoda.

Oh, and finally there was an eight-person, round bike zipping by, full of lovely, laughing Bavarian maidens wearing dirndls. (I don't find Seoul as exotic as I once did.)

Before long, it was time to head out to the 'burbs on the S-bahn (local train) for the Munich Hash. I met my new besties on the train platform, we moseyed to a store parking lot, and we were off, through the suburban streets, through the woods, a quick stop at a hasher's house for a beverage (guess what), and back on the road.

Just as I did in Copenhagen (and Ventura, and Songtan...), with hashers I found instant friends. There's no competition, no meanness, just an openhanded welcome to everyone who wants to share a nice run, a naughty song or two, and a fun time. The Munich hashers were just as warm as the Viking Wankers in Copenhagen--and gave me two dozen pens and a tote bag to bring back to my packmates in Seoul. All the same, I guess I was a little let down by my hashing in Europe, just because I'd envisioned running down cobblestone streets past bell towers, and both hashes were so suburban I could have been in Florida or Illinois. But it was a great time and I think of both packs fondly.

I caught the S-bahn back into town with a new hashing buddy, who bought me a train ticket as I retrieved my stuff from a locker, I ran to the platform, got on the train, and went back to Nuremberg. When I got in, late and exhausted, I went to a very cheap hotel near the station, but it was full. They directed me to a nearby, not-so-cheap hotel, but it was full. They directed me to a nearby not-cheap hotel, it wasn't full, and I went upstairs and slept.

And then, in the morning, it was back to Korea.

There's one more blog entry coming about my trip. Warning: there may be Deep Thoughts.