Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Germany the Beautiful

We're back-tracking a bit here, folks ... to a magical time in September, early September, when things were not so freezy here in the upper Midwest, when our youngest daughter was not yet showing signs of walking and performing all the feats of young toddler balance which include dozens of epic falls per day (many of which end with her landing on her skull -- do you ever wonder how the hell babies can make it through this stage of existence?)

Ah, Germany, where do I begin? Well, I went there to do some work. However, I want to focus my blog entry on the last day and a half I was there because I was not technically working at that point. We'll get to that later.

Eurobike was one huge spectacle that didn't seem so huge while I was there because I had no frame of reference. By huge I mean HUGE -- take your favorite well laid out bike shop and multiply it by 10,000 or more for effect. Eurobike had punch, gusto, amore. And that doesn't even count the fashion shows.

The show was really fun, for work that is. Eurobike is held in Friedrichshafen which is a actually a pretty small town. The hospitality is wonderful and the landscape and scenery are equally so. The weather was warm at first but then got cooler. Speaking of cool I met a lot of cool people. There was a party Saturday night in a pouring rain to slight drizzle. It was chilly. The lines to the beer tent were occasionally long since there were well over a thousand people. Bands played on a very large outdoor stage. Covers of Skynyrd, Metallica and Nirvana abounded. It was a fun time.

Yeah, it's blurry, but it still is not hard to make out the fact that is a trombone in the background on stage. This was one interesting party.

Two good blokes from the German distributor, Pieter and Igor, brothers actually. That's Igor with a long I, not a long E, please. (Think "Young Frankenstein.") What's that in my hand, you ask? Well, it is a hefeweizen. I'm an ale guy and at first I was slow to come around to the hefeweizen which is sweet and yeasty and not very crisp (not like you don't know). It's also served a bit warmer than we drink most beers here in Amuricah. By the end of the trip I was craving the stuff and have been most disappointed that you just can't find the real thing here. Can you say fresh? This beer was the epitome of fresh tasting. No Miller or Bud products proliferating this festival, just good ol' local German brews.

So, my boss and I had an agreement that even though the show continued through Sunday we'd take the last day off and go ride. We'd brought Travelers Checks and had ridden to and from the show everyday (about 13 miles round trip and we only got really lost once. We solved that by flagging down a very nice Indian gentleman at 11:30pm. Through broken German and hand gestures we got back on track).

From the hotel/inn in Bitzenhofen to Friedrichshafen there was a bike path beside the road. It carved its way through fields, apple orchards and forests. It was quite pleasant actually. As an aside I should say that Eddy Merckx stayed at our same hotel and we're not talking a place with a bunch of rooms either. I botched many chances at breakfast to strike up a conversation with a guy whom I thought would be a giant, but was more just a dude in casual sport dress. Nevertheless, he was one of my heros when I was a junior racer -- back when I really thought I wanted to become a pro. Some girls thought it was pretty cool that I could swap leg shaving tips with them in high school. Everyone else probably knew I was a freak.

Our "hotel" which I said was more like an inn. They had an on-site restaurant that served phenomenal food, not to mention a traditional German breakfast of rolls, cold cuts, cheeses, yogurt, granola, fresh juices and cider and lots of other stuff I wish I could be eating right now.

The road and path with orchards to the right. Courtesy of the wetness and abundance of fruit I saw the biggest slugs and snails I have ever seen along this path.

All the appointments were cleared for Sunday. One problem was we had that small obstacle of a party the night before our planned day off. We accrued an extra room guest, Christoph, as well since he was destined to spend a rainy night in a shoddy tent. He's a Surly fan and dealer from Switzerland. When we pedaled back in the wet darkness early Sunday morning we all stayed up chatting and sipping off bottles of hefe generously doled out after hours by the kitchen staff. I think our waitress got the request for beer more than she did my later hug of thanks for being so good to us.

The next morning Peter wasn't feeling it. By this time I'd had four days of orienting my brain to the general layout of the countryside and the locations of certain key villages. I was eager to explore. I hadn't flown thousands of miles with a bike in tow to stand around a convention hall the entire time. At a crossroads a couple of kilos from our inn we split up and I forged on alone toward the unknown (to me) -- bound for a lakeside town called Meersburg. Peter and Christoph headed to the Messe Friedrichshafen for the final day of the show.

The weather was misty and threatened of rain. Temps were in the 60s. I had a full repair kit, rain jacket, some Euros and credit cards. I did not have a cell phone. I normally always ride with my phone in the States and it felt exciting to be out without one, especially in a place where no one knew me and if something should happen I'd be at the total mercy of fate to deliver me to a kind-hearted English speaker willing to help. I wasn't really worried though.

A roadside church replete with the Byzantine dome. Old Catholicism in effect here.

And a trailside shrine, i.e. crucifix. I'm not a big fan of christianity but with all these centuries-old relics around I was moved to say the least. One can not help but breathe in the "oldness" and history of everything around.

I could see living on this estate. It was along the bike path which followed a highway to Meersburg.

A view from the woods. This photo does no justice for the actual density of the wood cover. This was wonderful old-growth and it glowed with an intense green light beneath overcast, wet skies.

A slight diversion from the paved bike trail which led me into the woods and orchards. This was a very unexpected fork in the trail but was well worth the extra half hour I spent exploring it.

An apple barn which is located in a town that is very proud of its apples. I wish I could have met the apple queen, pictured above (minutely), but she was no where around. I actually waited out a cloudburst in this town and stood beneath the eave of an unknown building until the rain slacked, then got on my bike and rode on.

This little day trip reminded me of the fact that I never go on bike rides like this. I am always commuting or running errands or headed somewhere with a purpose and usually a deadline. How magical it is to just wander on a bike, letting spontaneity take hold and adapting to sudden challenges like a rain storm with the freedom to just stop and wait.

Apple country fades into grape country. A view from the trailside up toward the perfectly spaced vineyards.

T-Check poses in front of the village map of old Meersburg on the shores of the Bodensee. Meersburg is an amazing village. It was quaint -- an entire district of historic buildings have been immaculately preserved and are actually occupied. The place was humming with the energy of centuries of history.

I'm no Catholic scholar, but this looks like St Christopher to me. He is sculpted at a port on the lake as if to protect (or dissuade) travelers headed out of Germany toward Switzerland. The gaze was quite haunting. [ED Note: Brother Houts has since corrected me that this is most likely St Nicholas, patron saint of mariners. However, this may speak to Houts' upbringing, he assures me he has now reformed to the rastafari ways.]

This sculpture in a square in the old city of Meersburg was lovely and haunting as well. The only parallel I could draw was with the piper legends of the past, drawing rats and mice away. Notice the German way of venting windows in the upper right. No windows, even in restaurants, had screens. Therefore, a lot of flying critters were found indoors.

When I saw this inscription on a building frontice I was humbled. It's older than our country and the grape leaves seem to symbolize that it will grow yet still. I remember thinking that my children shall see places like this that still thrive before they, themselves, are old enough to vote. That is one of my goals -- my kids will travel internationally while they're young, something I waited until my 30s to do.

I presumed this was the old governmental square in Meersburg. Three very plain buildings opened into a common court closed off by large wrought gates. Yellow is my favorite color and I admire any place that has yellow exterior painted walls. Hell yeah. And if you plant a red-flowering bush outside that yellow building, you're golden in my book. Can you say complementary color palette?

The heart of the matter -- lunch. Currywurst and frites purchased at a streetside tavern a block from the shore of the lake. Along with the hefe ... ahh, the hefe ... That whole meal set me back not 7 Euro, which isn't a bad deal at all. Fortified and content, I stopped off for souvenirs I'd scoped in shops earlier and was on my bike headed along the shore toward Friedrichshafen, and reality, again.

On the ride back toward Friedrichshafen I found great humor in this caricature of a man taking a "pissoir." Unlike our all-accommodating Biffies/Port-o-Potties/PortaJohns I think it is meant to say, "Don't expect to take a grumpy here" or "Standing room only."

If you're riding your bike and it's been at least 30 minutes since your last tasty beer, and you see folks gathered lakeside having beers served out of a little shack, it's pretty damn hard not to stop and have one yourself. So, I did and it was good. It was also good to sit and feel the wind, catch faint glimpses of sun cracking the cloud cover and watch kids play along the shore while parents reined them in occasionally with stern shouts in German. I wrote a half-liter's worth of journal entry and was on my way.

Just in time, too. Everyone was wondering where the hell I was and I suppose I was a tad bit late. I did after all take the time to get lost one last time in Friedrichshafen -- and rescued by a very kind rider who happened to speak excellent English. I guess the time hadn't been flying the way it did for me -- alone on my bike in a place I didn't really want to leave. I apologized for making the group wait, but on the inside I was gloating from having taken a magical day off in one of the most beautiful places I've ever visited.

1 comment:

Jim Thill said...

Hefeweizens and other weizens are easy to brew at home.