A few months ago, my Stepdad Rich asked me and The Wife if we’d be willing to travel to Germany on his behalf, to escort his grandchildren back to the states for their American summer vacation. We thought, hey, not like we’ve got anything else planned.
So, this is what happened:
Flight on Lufthansa to Frankfurt, direct from Denver. Flight attendants speak German. WHAT THE HELL, MAN. Listen to White Light/White Heat on the way, until the Xanax dropped me partway through “Sister Ray.” Try that and see if you don’t dream that Lou Reed and Goldie Hawn are trying to fit you for a Beatle wig.
Connect in Frankfurt to Munich, encounter bespectacled young German next to U-Bahn ticket terminal who wants us to pay him to ride along on his group ticket. We stare, suspicious. He explains the process–no, really, it’s a legitimate ticket, they’ll charge you each 10 Euro, you only pay me 5, it’s a win-win!–and we still stare, suspicious. Puzzled, he shows us his German passport, proving without a doubt that he is actually German and thus empowered with legitimate knowledge of German rail prices. We continue to stare, suspicious. “But no, it’s a win-win!” Stare, suspicious. “Oh, you’re Americans, I understand.” Alright, now we can do business.
Train takes a while and on the trip German guy tells us about the best cities in the world. All without us even asking. Turns out that our eventual destination Erlangen isn’t among them; in fact, to hear him tell it, place doesn’t even have any cows to tip, much less a good Saturday barn dance. But New Delhi! Now, that’s a city. Also Buenos Aires. And somewhere else, maybe Pittsburgh. We check the railmap for a connector to New Delhi or Argentina or Pennslyvania but come up with bupkis.
Hotel in Munich is fancy. The girl at the front desk speaks better English than I do. It is also right across the street from a strip club called “Madam Bar” that features a helpful window display stocked with 8 x 10 cheesecake photos and a single high-heeled shoe, all nestled in that decorative fluff they sell by the ton (tonne?) at Michael’s. I try to promote cross-cultural understanding but am rebuffed by my closed-minded American counterpart. HMPH.
Munich itself: stunningly walkable and clean. Wide Italianate avenues (thanks to Mad King Ludwig’s deficit spending!) a million people walking a million little dogs and not a spare turd to be found. So many gelato shops that businesses have little “no ice cream” logos on their front doors. We kinda look like everyone. Wonder why that is. They sell schniztel sandwiches. Guess what I love? Yes, Ryne Sandberg. And mom. And the free exchange of ideas. Also, schnitzel sandwiches.*
What I don’t love:
That…thing is the Butcher’s Platter, courtesy of a local establishment that didn’t seem especially offal on the surface. Bloodwurst, pig’s trotter in aspic, pig’s trotter in aspic with blood, some sort of extra smushy liverwurst item. And ham. We buy it because the menu says “ham.” But then, it was the English version of the menu, and they probably leave stuff off just to fuck with us. I think I hear Tuetonic giggles from the kitchen.
Best fountain ever.
In Nuremberg, we climb cobbled streets and drink authentic red ale in the shadow of Albrecht Durer’s house. I also break the brain of the kid tending bar at our hotel by ordering a Maker’s Mark on the rocks. He finally figures it out–I have to say “it’s just ice” like three times, even though he spoke English–but while so doing cruelly neglects his drunken teenage girlfriend, the only other person in the room, who is reduced to yelling TEQUILA TEQUILA TEQUILA! between gigglesnorts. Woo Girls are Woo Girls the world over.
Erlangen, despite what our smirky scofflaw of a train companion thinks, is purely wonderful. Bikes everywhere, beer gardens, the kids from the university studying in the park. Our hosts Julia and Dieter could not be more kind, and Julia’s daughters–our ostensible reason for being in Germany to begin with–are a couple of bright, entertaining young ladies. We drink late with a family friend in a local bar run by an old Spaniard, where I am mercilessly quizzed about Dirk Nowitzy by a couple of young German scientists. We defy multiple last call orders. We see a really excellent Jerry Lee Lewis cover band (!) play a neighborhood beer festival where thousands of happily buzzed locals walk around drinking from glass mugs–imagine a similar scene stateside ending any way other than with mass arrests. We eat doner kebab.
(I’m flummoxed by the absence of doner kebab in Denver. It’s kinda like an gyro, but not, and cheap. This is my future, my scheme, my ticket to the good livin’ over on Easy Street. Look for Alex’s House of Doner Kebab sometime in early 2037.)
And everywhere, always, beer. People having it for breakfast, for afters, to celebrate weddings, waiting for the bus, to dull the inevitable agony of simple consciousness, because it is all so tasty.
The return trip to America is best not mentioned here, or anywhere else, ever again, save to say that our teen travel companions maintain their good humor and composure far, far better than the two adults supposedly shepherding them to America. Oh, and if you’re ever offered a free night’s stay and meals in a Frankfurt hotel courtesy of Lufthansa, sleep in the terminal and scrounge crackers from the garbage instead.
*Here’s the thing. We do touristy stuff on vacation. This is because we are tourists, touring. We’re gonna visit museums, see sights. We’re gonna climb to the top of St. Peter’s and take pictures. We’re gonna buy dirndls and go to the Hofbrauhaus (admittedly almost too much, even for me). We’re gonna purchase magnets, we’re gonna ask for the English menu. The scarf-wrapped poseurs pining for a Lost Generation of their own–without accompanying Somme, of course–may say things like oh, I’m not a tourist, I’m a traveler or I choose to experience a place the way that locals do or Dad, your Mastercard didn’t go through tonight but you can wire me the cash, but here’s the deal: the locals don’t really like you. They like that you give them your cigarettes and buy them drinks. In some cases they are hoping to sleep with you, or maybe steal a kidney. And while Anthony Bourdain might sneer at our style, I say fuck him, because for every tree-grub he scarfs down, every pithy take of the destruction of “authenticity” by the polluting cross-current of 1st and 3d World, he drinks three infused foam caviar martinis off the backs off three high-priced Latvian escorts. I’ll keep my schnitzel sandwich.