So. My ten days of vacation are over, and I’ve successfully navigated my way from the beer and bratwurst halls of old Deutschland back to home sweet home.
(Missed the note about that trip? Well, then catch up, Sparky. I’m only singing this song once. Probably.)
In lieu of a long and overwrought blow-by-blow of where I went, what I did, who I saw, how I ate and why-oh-why I drank that one thing — all of which may or may not see the light of day in future — I figured I’d sum up the trip with the most indelible impression made upon me each day since my last post. Ten points for ten days. As the fourteen-century ruling Prussian aristocracy used to say: “I love it when a plan comes together.”
(Maybe i learned that on the trip. Or maybe I made it up. And maybe I hallucinated it lying in a beer tent after one too many steins of festbier and salty pretzels. Let’s just do this thing, all right?)
Anyway, here’s the list of ‘What I Did on My German Vacation’. Gesundheit.
#1. Saturday – Boston / Munich: I’ve flown to Europe a couple of times, but never on Lufthansa. Even after accidentally asking the ticket agent how she liked “serving with the Luftwaffe” — which I would NOT suggest — I figured they were pretty much like any other airline. Until we boarded, and one of the very first in-flight announcements began:
‘Gutentag! Welcome to Lufthansa flight 424 to Munich. I’m Helga Humpf, one of your pursers…‘
I’m not even remotely making this up. I thought Helga Humpfs only happened in dirty limericks and Benny Hill reruns. But we had one right on our flight, presumably stirring our drinks and fluffing our head pillows.
That got the trip off on the right note. Fly the friendly skies, indeed.
#2. Sunday – Munich: I always had the idea that Oktoberfest was like a carnival for beer drinkers, that the brau tents and oompah bands and delicious animal parts stuffed into sausage sleeves were the main and sole attractions for ‘Festgoers.
Not so, it turns out.
Actually, I discovered, Oktoberfest is more like a carnival with beer drinkers. All that stuff I just said is there in spades, sure — but there’s also an honest-to-Wilhelm amusement park, too. A dozen rides or more, with bumper cars and fun houses and a a hundred-foot mega-drop. Also, an enormous ferris wheel and a ginormous three-loop roller coaster. My notion of the place as solely a haven for swillhounds and beer jockeys was disabused when I saw the rides from three blocks away, before I’d even stepped foot on the grounds.
So now I know: Oktoberfest isn’t “like Six Flags for beer”. Instead, it’s “Six Flags with beer, and pretzels, and traditional Bavarian-dress cleavage as far as the eye can see”.
Which kind of makes you wonder why they bothered with the ‘Six Flags’ part. But hey — I’m not complaining.
#3. Monday – Munich: The (in)famous beer tents of Oktoberfest open at 10am. At the height of the festival, I hear you have to wait in line starting around six in the morning, just to score a seat at one of the tables. They say once you get a spot, you do. Not. Leave. For anything. Guard that spot with your ever-drinking life.
By contrast, on a sleepy Monday after the first week of the ‘Fest, you can get a tent seat by strolling in at, oh, say, five minutes after ten. I know, because that’s what we did. And the first tent we entered, run by Paulaner, wasn’t even ready yet. They were still setting up tables and scrubbing down steins from the night before. No one had yet sat down, and nobody was being served.
So the first thing we did upon entering our very first Oktoberfest tent was to leave an Oktoberfest tent. So much for traditional wisdom.
Luckily, the Augstiner tent nearby was somewhat more ‘hopping’ — but not yet full — so we spent a highly profitable (if you’re a liver, anyway) four hours or so sampling their brews, scarfing their food and rubbing glasses with our new German friends at the table every time the oompah band played the ‘Prost!‘ song. Which was every twelve seconds or so. So there was that.
“So basically, the U.S. airlines can kiss my fat chocolate-snarfing ass.”
#4. Tuesday – Munich / Berlin: When a U.S. airline has a flight too short to serve a meal, you’re lucky if you get a pack of stale off-brand Chex Mix to tide you over.
The flight from Munchen to Tegel airport in Berlin is roughly fifty minutes long. They handed out Toblerones as we boarded.
So basically, the U.S. airlines can kiss my fat chocolate-snarfing ass.
#5. Wednesday – Berlin: Our hotel in the capital city was centrally located, near many sights we wanted to see, and just a couple of blocks from the famous Checkpoint Charlie gate on the old Berlin Wall. Also, it catered nearly exclusively, it seemed, to Australians.
Why? I haven’t the foggiest, Bruce, but from the other guests to the desk clerks’ accented English to the wine list at the in-house restaurant, it was clear that this was a place working to make the Aussie crowd feel right at home.
The most telling nod to the Down Under clientele? The restaurant menu, which featured, among other things, steaks made from kangaroos.
Naturally, I ate the g’day out of one of those. That’s another animal — and a delectable animal, I might add — off the list of “Beasts I’d Like to Eat Someday”.
(You can make a Scarlett Johansson joke here, if you like. I won’t stop you. But I’m moving ahead. Suit yourself.)
#6. Thursday – Berlin: We had another nice — though decidedly less exotic dinner in town on Thursday, and discovered/remembered as we were walking back to our hotel late at night that we were staying in the former East Berlin, not West Berlin.
In the daytime, there’s not so much difference. The Wall’s been down for a generation or so, and the architecture, atmosphere and ambiance of most areas we went to — former-East or former-West — were fairly indistinguishable. In the daylight.
At night, we quickly noticed the sparse streetlights and dark and ominous overgrown lots flanking the street we walked along. And then walked faster along — first on one side, then the other, and finally, like speed-walkers with bathroom emergencies, right down the middle of the street. Because it was the only area that was lit, and there was nobody else around.
I know Hostel didn’t take place in Berlin. But we took a different route back to the hotel after that. You never know when they’re going to be making another sequel.
#7. Friday – Berlin: We did a lot of sightseeing in Berlin — museums, monuments, walking tours, currywurst stands, you name it. But the oddest, in many ways, was the trip to the Reichstag we took on Friday afternoon. Or rather, the pre-trip preparation.
The Reichstag is where the re-unified German parliament sits, and also an interesting historic site in its own right. To complete the triple-whammy of touristy goodness, they’ve also seen fit to top it with a big glass dome with a wide spiral walkway, from which you can see (and hear about, on a location-aware audio tour) many of the local sights. So far, so good.
Because of the government affiliation, security is much higher at the Reichstag than most sites. They check your passport on the way in, and send you through a metal detector, which seem like reasonable enough precautions. But you also can’t just waltz (or polka) up to the guard post and get in. Nope. You have to reserve a spot in advance. By email.
We did just that, on the advice of a friend, on Wednesday evening, and come Friday morning received a lovely — and somewhat personalized, even — email invitation to tour the Reichstag dome. Signed by a government official, too. We had to print out the message and take it with us, or we’d have been turned away at the door. As were most people in line in front of us when we arrived.
Silly tourists. One does not simply walk into the Reichstag. Jeez.
#8. Saturday – Berlin / Boston: By this point, we’d taken the Berlin subway system a few times. We knew the lines, and our relevant stops, so it was natural to think of hopping the Metro to get back to the airport. We’d pretty much mastered it by then. And we’d been told how much easier and cheaper the subway was than Berlin cabbies. So armed with our vast three days of experience, we took the Metro. It was the smart thing to do.
Or so we thought. And yet? Nein.
The problem was, we needed to change lines a couple of times. And one subway line — the one in the middle of our trek — was littered with cars that weren’t going the whole way, but rather getting only to a particular stop and turning around. Repeatedly. We made our first switch, lugged our suitcases onto the next train, and settled in for a ten-stop wait.
Two stops later, it was ‘everybody off — this train’s kaput!‘. We waited for the next — and that got us two more stops, then kicked out to the station again. We let the next one go — it was only going one stop, by the name on the front — and waited ten minutes for another, which was labeled the same as the last. But how many trains only go one station? We figured it was just a common stop, plastered up to give an idea of the direction, and climbed aboard. And reached the next stop, and waited, and… felt the train accelerate back in the other direction, where it dropped us unceremoniously back where we’d picked it up. With another train just like it due next.
So we hiked up to street level and hailed a cab. I’m not sure the cabbie always went in the right direction to get us to the airport, but he never went backwards with us in the car, either. Money well spent, if you ask me.
#9. Sunday – Boston: I worried about jetlag after finally arriving home Saturday night. I had — is there no mercy in this world? — a softball game scheduled for 9:30 Sunday morning, and fretted that I’d miss my alarm, or sleep late, or sack out for fourteen oblivious hours or something. I hit the sack around 10pm Saturday — or four in the morning, according to the clocks back in Germany — and hoped I’d scrape myself together in time.
I woke up at six. Wide awake. I’m by no definition a morning person, and this trip had me screwy enough to rise with the chickens, roughly three hours before necessary. I don’t know if that’s ‘jetlag’ or something else — ‘jetperk’, maybe? — but I don’t like it one bit. If that’s the kind of thing travel does to you, I may not bother to leave the house again — never mind the continent.
#10. Monday – Boston: Happily, I’d taken the day off work, in case of flight delays or issues. And now, clearly, most of my Monday was spent sussing out all the nonsense above. What do you want, a report on what I had for breakfast?
That’s enough, already. I’ve got an office and a desk to go back to and cry under in the morning. I’m calling this thing, right now. Nothing more to see here — this vacation is OVER. Auf wiedersehen.Permalink | No Comments