Sunday, May 17, 2009

Some Observations.....From Dland

Got the EYM on the train this morn, bound for the FRA Flughafen. Quite a week. We did our best to support the local beer and restaurant industry.

Some random observations:

1. Witnessed a fantastic, operatic dust-up between the Parking Enforcement guy and a woman who wanted to park. She had a piece of paper, and he kept alternating between refusing to look at the piece of paper and insisting that there was a specific line on the paper, to which he would point triumphantly, which meant that the woman was out of luck. They actually alternated in JUST the way an opera would have gone. She would wave her arms, and yell, with him standing with arms folded and then sing, "NOOOOOO!" to punctuate her questions. Then he would have a go, pointing behind her, pointing down the street, pointing at the cross bar that he refused to raise for her. Fantastic scene. The best parking argument I have EVER seen, made better by the fact we couldn't understand what they were saying. Getting shut down by the parking Gestapo is a universal human experience, one that transcends language.

2. The DBahn should have a disclaimer on their tickets, for the sake of full information. To wit: "The traveller should be warned, because of our combination of simple imcompetence and aggressive indifference to your need for timely travel, that you should completely ignore any ticket with a connection of less than 20 minutes. You will not make the connection, because we will probably dawdle and delay without warning or explanation."
If they would give you that warning, then you could try to make shorter connections (now the default, and withOUT warning), but it would be at your own peril. The problem is the discontinuity: there is an enormous difference between just barely making your train connection, and just barely missing your train connection. ESPECIALLY if you are trying to go (for example) to an airport. The regional trains, as far as I can tell, are ALWAYS ten minutes late, and probably more. You can guess what this means for the 8 minute connection that the DB "planners" (who probably drive to work, so they are not late) schedule as the default. I'm just asking for a sporting chance here, a little information.

3. Nuremberg. Very, very nice. The old part of the city: extraordinary. Albrecht Durer's home town. Very fine beer pretty much everywhere. "Drei im Weckla" means heaven for the those of us who work represent Herb. "Drei im Weckla" is three very fine little keyhole brats, in a most excellent weckla, or hard roll. A fine selection of spicy senfs, or mustard. All for 1.20 Euro. Or you can get six brats, a weckla, and a big pile of sauerkraut, for 3 euro. Food fit for kings, if the king is Herb Munger. I should explain the brats: the rule was that the butchers had to close, and that the city walls of Nuremberg had to close. But travellers still wanted those (really, really great) sausages. So, instead of obeying the state, or confronting the state (neither of which is the way of German business), they made the brats really skinny, so they would pass through the keyhole of the main gate. A kind of food-oriented glory hole, if you will.
4. Bamberg. Not what I expected. I had expected it to be smaller, for some reason. It is quite a large city. But the old part of the city, the extremely cool medieval part that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, begins when you cross the SOUTH branch of the river Regnitz. Many people had said "you should go!" to Bamberg, and they were quite right. Plenty of travel guides, so I won't go through the obvious things. But I would say this: If you are on a budget, and want to go early enough for a nice breakfast, just walk south on Luitpoldstr., straight from the Bahnhof, and stop at Nico's bakery and coffee shop on the right, right after you cross the North branch of the river, which you come to first. Enormous, fantastic pastries, and you will have trouble spending 6 euro for two people, for more than you can eat. The cafe looks out over the river, and it is steady but not crowded. Lots of locals come in to buy bread and stuff, but it is very pleasant to sit there, too. Then go ahead and cross the second (south) branch, and look around. Very, very steep. Wear comfy shoes. Two more things to do: (1) make sure you go up to the old Benedictine monastery on the Michaelsberg; (2) even if you are tired, make sure you leave a little time for the breweries up on Konigstrasse, north of the north branch of the river. (You can't go wrong, but here is my choice.) Little, local places with small beer gardens and lots of families just out for the afternoon. Didn't see a lot of tourists up here, just serious beer fans and local folks. (A photo of the BG at the Spezial...)

Our favorite beer, though, was the Mahrs Dunkel Weissbier. It helped that we enjoyed this most excellent beverage in the courtyard of the little restaurant behind the old Benedictine monastery at the top of the Michaelsberg. If it looks like a long way up, it is. But once you get up there, it is a long way down. Very, very fine view, very very fine beer.

5. Also in Bamberg, but deserving special mention....E. T. A. Hoffman. I had, to my shame, never heard of E. T. A. Hoffman, but the EYM is a big fan, both on the merits and because ETA Hoffman was a big influence on Nikolai Gogol, the author that the EYM studies and follows most closely. We tried to visit the Hoffman house, and museum. And the museum had a sign saying that it was "geöffnet," or open. But it was locked tight. The explanation was that it was open only 10 - noon on Saturdays. Since the time was then 10:45 am, this seemed like a pretty bad explanation for being both "geöffnet" and locked. But I do have to say that MOST of the places I have tried to visit in Germany have this attitude. The operators and employees are simply MUCH too busy and important to wait on customers. It's like that Monty Python skit, where if you try to get served, or try to get in the door to a place that is supposed to be open, then Eric Idle yells back at you, "You think YOU have it bad? When I was growing up we would have BEGGED just to be turned away from a museum. We were turned away and TORTURED! You are just SOFT, complaining that the museum should actually be open during the hours it is supposed to be open!" So, we had a good laugh, because it had taken us an hour to find the place, and we actually arrived in the two hour geoffnet window, and it was STILL closed. THEN, we noticed a series of semi-guerilla griffiti stenciled on the sidewalk, marking the path in the "E. T. A. Hoffman" tour. If ol' ETA had ever walked in a spot, then that seemed to be a spot on the tour. The stencils appear in strange spots, nearly a "Kilroy was here" anarchist blotch on the old city. We loved it, and made an effort to keep track of the strange places (there were DOZENS) where the E.T.A. Hoffman logo would turn up, on cobblestones or ancient roads. Someday, I'm going to try and go back and visit, if the curators of the museum ever decide to actually open the doors during open hours.