Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Deutschland Dregs

Okay, whilst downing a few delicious Northwest-brewed beers, I finally managed to catch up on my Heidelberg photos and provide not-so-witty accompanying commentary.

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggety Jig!

No matter how much you enjoy the place you've been, you're always glad to be home. Many thanks to my brother, Steve, who looked after the house and the "boys," otherwise known as Buddy, Cookie and Buster. As a gift to Steve, I brought home two bottles of genuine Heidelberger pils beer, two matching glasses and two coasters (the latter I swiped from "zum Wisse Schwan"...see below). When I got home, Steve and I drank a toast to my arrival and his survival. He looks happy, don't he?

Although now the TRUTH can be told. The gift pack I got Steve contained two glasses. One was engraved with "Heidelberger" (the term for a male native of Heidelberg) and one was engraved with "Heidelbergerin," (the term for a FEMALE native of Heidelberg). Obviously, the pack was designed to be shared by a man and a woman, but I didn't mind drinking out of the "Heidelbergerin" glass. I'm secure in my masculinity, and besides, I'm drinking BEER. GREAT beer, goddammit!
And speaking of the "boys," here they are enjoying a playful (more or less) tussle shortly after I returned:

It's good to be home, and yet I can't be happy being apart from my lovely, wonderful, beautiful wife. Here she is preparing to enjoy some Thai food outdoors on the cobblestone streets of the Alt Stadt on my last full day in Heidelberg:

I will see you soon, my love!

Things I like about Deutschland

I had a feeling before I visited Deutschland that I would like the way they do things. That turned out to be mostly true. First of all, EVERYONE rides bikes. Kids, students, grandmas, blue-collar types, executives, you name it. In fact, this can make for quite a jumble in the "parking lot."

I also very much like the bars/restaurants. Very close to Lisa's apartment is a place called the "Wisse Schwan," or White Swan. (Lisa may have to provide the exact name.) I struck up a very formal relationship with a waitress there (I should have taken a picture of her, you can only see her back in the photo below). She was the only person who asked me why I walked with a limp. I tried to explain to her in broken German why that was, and she expressed her sympathy in broken English. Well, not broken English, really. It was WAY better than my German. Anyway, the folks at the WS are friendly and they have a real live Stammtisch (Regular's Table) where patrons are allowed to bring their doggies. How civilized!

In the above photo, you can see a regular member of the Stammtisch in the lower left. Here's a better picture of Chika:

And finally, in a previous post, I took the Germans to task for their love of cigarettes, a habit I find all things "not German": stupid, illogical, sociopathic and reckless. But that's not for lack of warnings. Check this out!

Obviously, printing "smoking kills" and "smoking causes fatal lung cancer" right on the box in huge letters is quite a bit more progressive than the wimpy warnings we have in the States. (I'm sure my friend Lyle, who designs packaging for a living, blanches at the prospect of such labeling becoming typical in America.)
I hope that someday Americans can easily bike to their favorite pub and take their favorite doggie in with them, even if they have a cancer stick dangling from their lips!

Last H-berg days

On my last couple of days in Heidelberg, Lisa was busy doing frivolous things, like attending classes. The nerve! So it was up to me to entertain myself in H-berg, one of the most beautiful cities in Germany. What to do, what to do? Although I enjoy an urban environment, even I was getting a little edgy with the constant flow of people and the lack of green space in the Alt Stadt. So I decided to drag myself, artificial hip and all, up to the Philosophenweg, or Philosopher's Way, a lane that overlooks H-berg from high above the north side of the Neckar river. Word has it that Goethe and other reprobates availed themselves of the Philosophenweg to talk nice to (and subsequently have relations with) young ladies. I can see why. It's a good heart-pumping walk, but not too far -- Mr. Gimpyhip made it easily -- and the views of the city are quite breathtaking.

It's a good 12% incline or so up the cobblestone lane to the PWeg,

There are a few little outlooks with benches so one may rest and take pictures of H-berg across the Neckar. None of the photos I took with Sammy really did it justice, so if you want the full experience, you'll have to go do it yourself. And you should. At the top, where one reaches the "Pweg," I saw a little sign which said, I think, "Path to river may be closed in winter." No shit...it's a pretty slick slope as it is, and a bit of snow would make it an elbow-scrapin' trip down...

After scaling the heights of the "Pweg," one may return to H-berg across the Alten Brucke, "Old Bridge."

On the Heidelberg side of the Neckar, one finds a sculpture of...well, it is supposed to be a monkey, and it is, but I'm sure many drunk Heidelbergers have seen this Baboon from Hell in their nightmares:

Next to the the Monkey is a plaque. It is in Old German but Lisa translated it as best she could as: "What are you looking at? Haven't you seen enough in Heidelberg? If not, touch my plate and you will return." Or something to that effect.

Of course, I touched the plate, because I want more than anything to get back to my lovely, sexy, wonderful wife!

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Heidelberg catch-up

I was unable to upload these two posts from Heidelberg, so here they are now!

Fruehling Im Heidelberg

Lisa has been lucky enough to land a really nice little student apartment in Heidelberg in the heart of the Alt Stadt (old city). The room itself has a tiny galley kitchen with a minifridge and a couple of hot plates on a range-top sufficient to heat saucepans and skillets, a private bathroom with kickass shower, and a nook featuring a writing desk from which she can view the building's courtyard and the hills beyond.

She was very lucky to get this room, as she was told to expect a regular (though private) dorm room where she would have to share a kitchen and bathroom facilities. In such an arrangement, the students are expected to share the cleaning duties, a hit-and-miss arrangement at best. I can tell you that if my floormates in the dorm I attended (in the Mesozoic Era) were required to clean the bathrooms and a kitchen, the health inspector would have received an emergency call within a month.

Lisa's apartment is just off the Hauptstrasse, a cobblestone, car-free street appoximately half a mile long that's lined with shops and boutiques (including the mighty Star Coffee, wherein we access the Internet.)

But just in case you think it's all fun and games for our girl, here's a photo of what she's been doing most: filling out forms.

Excuse me, I ordered a Zima...

...not emphysema.
The Germans, by and large, seem to be a pretty hearty and heath-conscious lot. They walk (with great purpose!) everywhere and true to the stereotype seem quite industrious. But their youth, much like their American counterparts, suffer one fatal exception: a love of smoking. And unlike in America, Germans are unenlightened (pun intended) about banning smoking in public places. Case in point, Star Coffee, where Lisa and I like to go to access the Internet and also enjoy super-delicious milschcoffee and chocolate muffins. When the students invade, suddenly the place becomes fogbound in a cancerous haze that makes our eyes water and burn and our clothes smell like an astray (not to mention what it does to our lungs). But who cares about cancer, emphysema, heart disease and poisoning the airspace of innocent and defenseless fellow patrons when one has a chance to look cool in front of one's mates?

There are not many instances when I can say it, but in this case, "Viva America, you hackin' Hessians!"

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Heidelberg Schloss

On Sunday, Lisa and I visited the schloss (castle) overlooking Heidelberg. Granted, every tourist who passes within 50 kilometers of "H-berg" does the same thing, but the schloss is like Niagra Falls...once you see it from a distance, you have to see it up close. And it's tough to miss, as it sits overlooking the Neckar river and dominates the hills southeast of the city.

For example, from the main plaza of H-berg's Alt Stadt (old city), the schloss squats overlooking the town in a wooded area that in America would undoubtedly be occupied by McMansions or luxury condos. The photos below were taken with the camera on my handheld (Sammy), which is best described not in terms of mega-pixels but rather "scheisse-pixels." However, one can still sense the darned majestic essence of the thing -- the schloss, I mean.

It's strange to think that people who live here just seem not to notice it...

We were fortunate to have a bit of sun on the day we went, and it's still so early in the tourist season that it wasn't too crowded. It's pretty easy to walk up to the schloss from the Alt Stadt, in which Lisa's student apartment is located. Even old Mr. Gimpyhip made it without too much difficulty. One enjoys lovely views of H-berg on the way up...

Then, suddenly, "look Ethyl, it's a durned castle!"

As Lisa pointed out, the schloss and the views from it just can't be captured on flm in a way that accurately conveys the experience, no matter how talented the photographer or how fancy the equipment. Perhaps one day when 3D becomes common, one will gain some conception second-hand. But for now, the only way is to join the tourists.

Below: The ruined southeast tower, and two views of H-berg.

Lisa's apartment is just to the left of the bridge.
After wandering around for a bit, Lisa and I had a lovely lunch of spinach crepes at a nice romantic restaurant near the schloss. It was great to have day of luxury, because next day, Lisa began her classes.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

The High Life at the Hotel Auerstein

One of the things Lisa I did right on this trip was to get a hotel room at Hotel Auerstein the on our first day in Deutschland, rather than just head straight to the school and go through the room registration process right off the plane. It was great to simply crash for a couple of hours, then take shower to wash the "travel crud" off and head down to the hotel restaurant for a wonderful meal.

It was also really nice to get up the next morning -- well, we were up at 4am local and puttered around for a while -- and have a nice breakfast buffet waiting for us. I plan to do a post at the end of the trip summarizing my impressions of Deutschland, but I'll let one slip now: these folks really like their swine flesh. But luckily for Lisa, they also like their Nutella!

The hotel had internet access, but it was spotty from our room. Fortunately, we had done some research for free wi-fi spots before we left and found one at "Star Coffee." As luck would have it, one of Star Coffee's locations is just around the corner from Lisa's residence building. How fortunate. It's a very pleasant spot as you can see, despite the often incongruous music selection ranging from Cat Stevens to the Doobie Brothers!

Guten Tag From Deutschland!

Lisa and I arrived safely on Wednesday about 11:30 am German time. As I said to Lisa, "That was the best flight possible for a ten-hour haul in Economy Class." Luftansa's food was quite good, the booze was free and the attendants friendly and competent. That's about all you can ask, I reckon. After about five hours, it was impossible to get comfortable, but that was expected.

Customs was a bit anticlimactic -- the unsmiling and efficient gentleman glanced at my passport photo and then slammed a rather plain-looking stamp on it. But at least I got the satisfaction of an old-fashioned hand stamp -- I was afraid he'd just put my passport in a machine and it would "ka-chunk" like a timecard. Lisa and I then just sauntered through the "nothing to declare" gate.

After getting our baggage, Lisa and I wandered aimlessly for a while -- well, not aimlessly, but rather frazzledly -- looking for the Luftansa bus to Heidelberg. With the help of Lisa's Deutsche-sprechen skills and the nice lady at the Luftansa lost baggage counter, we were eventually sucessful.

This is for my brother, Steve: On the Autobahn, I saw a Ferrari Testarossa and innumerable Porsche 911 Cararras. They blew past the pokey old Luftansa bus -- the Ferrari sounding disturbingly like a lawnmower -- but we were happy to be comfy and firmly on our way to Heidelberg.

Once in town, we staggered around again in an effort to find the streetcar that went past our hotel. A lovely young woman gave Lisa some helpful instructions after I helped her haul her baby-laden pram up a flight of steps outside some government building (so much for Germans being unhelpful and untrusting). After a few more small misadventures (figuring out which tickets to buy for the streetcar and panicking for a moment on it because we thought we might be going the wrong way) we reached our hotel about when we estimated we would -- roughly 3pm local and after we'd been up 24 hours straight. Happily, our room looked just like the one on the Hotel Auerstein's web site. I don't think Lisa and I have ever been so happy to be anywhere in our lives.