Adventures in Europe

No matter how many times it happens to me, I’m never totally comfortable when I am stranded near a nuclear power plant and witness an explosion. I suspect this is a good thing. But, as usual, I’m getting ahead of myself.

This story is the first of three documenting my recent trip to Germany. If you are anything like me, you may be wondering what exactly I was doing several thousand of miles away from my apartment in Boulder, Colorado. Like every other aspect of my life, it just happened.

The whole situation started when I decided to accompany Scott (a friend I have known since I was three years old) to visit his parents who recently moved to Stuttgart, Germany. After flying into the airport at Frankfurt we found our luggage and met up with Scott’s parents. We piled our stuff into the back of the used Volvo they purchased after arriving in the country and headed out on the Autobahn.

I’m not exactly sure what caused the car to overheat on the way back from the airport. I suspect it was either a larger than usual payload, extreme heat and humidity, or what the German people like to refer to as “fahrfegnugen.” Before this trip I had always assumed it to be a condiment for bratwurst. Whatever the reason, we pulled over at a rest stop to investigate the situation in more detail.

After coming to a complete stop and opening the hood of the car, the three males got out to troubleshoot the situation. A few minutes of quiet contemplation produced three completely different and largely contradictory explanations as to the cause of the overheating. It was either A) the radiator, B) the water pump, or C) the windshield wiper fluid. Always the optimist, I decided to choose the one component in the car which I knew the most about. Having run out of windshield wiper fluid in my own car before, I knew how to handle the situation. The fact that the situation shared no common symptoms with my previous experience in no way influenced my diagnosis of the situation.

My idea about the windshield wiper fluid being low turned out to be incorrect. After locating the reservoir, it quickly became apparent there was enough of this fluid for the car to operate. Adding to my extensive database of car repair knowledge, I now hypothesize that windshield wiper fluid is not directly related to the regulating the temperature of an automobile engine. At least for Volvos.

While I did learn something new, it wasn’t proving to be immediately useful in getting the car back in working order. After letting the engine cool down a little bit we slowly opened the radiator cap and noticed it seemed a bit low on whatever type of fluid it was suppose to contain. We ended up pouring a bottle of water I had filled up back at the airport into the radiator. We started the car back up and the temperature returned to an acceptable level. We cautiously got back on the highway.

After a few minutes, the temperature returned to its “too hot” reading on the dashboard. Lacking any actual numbers on the temperature gauge, I can only make an educated guess as to what constitutes an abnormally high engine temperature. Based on causal observations I believe the far left side of the gauge represents room temperature and the far right side represents the surface temperature of the sun.

So once again we pull off the highway. This time, however, we stopped right next to a nuclear power plant. This is when I remembered I recently purchased a membership in AAA. I whipped out my cell phone and called the 1-800 number. After explaining the situation with the vehicle overheating the woman on the other end of the line explained to me that AAA stands for something something of America, and that they did not have the resources to dispatch a tow truck to Germany.

After several additional calls to a more local automobile support group, we were able to get some assistance. A man in bright orange overalls filled the radiator full of water. He then shook one of the rubber hoses that ran from the radiator to some other part of the engine. I don’t think he should have done that. The hose burst open and steam and water came flying out in all directions. The guy wasn’t hurt, but the car seemed to be done moving under its own power for the day.

Eventually a tow truck arrived and took us all to the local Volvo shop. By then it was after 6 PM on Saturday. Being that we were in Europe the shop had already closed. The sign on the window said, “We will be open again in September-October at the latest.” We left the car at the dealership and took a series of taxis and trains to get the rest of the way back to Scott’s parent’s house.

The flight from Denver, Colorado to Frankfurt, Germany took roughly nine hours. Getting the rest of the way only took another six. We did all manage to get there without any other difficulties. I learned a lot on the trip, and I’ll never forget how to say in German that, “The automobile has exploded by the nuclear power plant.”