Category Archives: Germany

Road Trip

August 24

For the last two full days of our vacation, we decided to take a road trip with Scott’s parents. The original plan was to drive Scott’s parent’s Volvo, but the word from the repair shop was a cracked cylinder head caused the explosion on the trip home from the airport. While I’m admittedly no automotive mechanic, I think fairly highly of Volvos made in 1988 that have been driven 176,000 miles. But all good things must come to an end, and this was no exception. After a brief discussion, we all agreed the only logical course of action was to break into the local mortuary, steal two cadavers, situate the bodies in the front seat of the Volvo, and roll the vehicle on to the autobahn during the middle of the night.

While Scott and I were taking in the sights in Berlin, his father was busy trading in the Volvo for something else. After a series of intense negotiations he exchanged the car for a very nice cup of coffee to enjoy while looking for a new vehicle. He eventually agreed to buy another slightly less broken Volvo. I assumed we were going to take the car on our weekend excursion, but in Germany it takes roughly two weeks to buy a used car. I’m not sure what is involved in the whole process, but it starts with multiple signatures, continues with an extensive paperwork trail, and somewhere along the line requires a complete DNA sequencing analysis from all parties involved in the transaction.

Fortunately, Scott’s father was able to secure a rental car for the weekend. Given the extensive presence of the German automobile industry around Stuttgart, I was expecting to spend the next two days driving around in a Mercedes or BMW. But since the reservation was placed less than the customary thirty weeks in advance, we ended up with an Imbizu. Yes, it’s the best four-door compact diesel that Spain has ever designed and manufactured. Ever.

August 25

As much as it pains me to do so, I must admit that the Imbizu is doing a pretty good job of getting us around. It doesn’t do much to make me feel cool, but it does manage to get us around the steep mountain roads. To the best of my knowledge none of the cylinder heads have cracked. That is, of course, if diesel engines have any.

That is enough about cars. After spending the past eight days with Scott, I can’t help but to notice that he likes to walk a noticeable distance in front of everyone. At first I thought it was just me walking too slow, but now that we are with Scott’s parents I’ve decided he walks faster than everyone in the group. I’ve mentioned it a few times, but he still does it. I don’t really mind except for the fact he is out of earshot, so it makes any kind of conversation rather impractical. I’ve been entertaining myself by calling him “Scout” and envisioning him getting snared in a trap involving a net concealed under a bunch of leaves and attached to a nearby tree. Perhaps I’ve watched a few too many episodes of “Xena Warrior Princess.”

We have spent the day visiting various castles and their surrounding towns in Germany and Austria. While castles come in many shapes and sizes, the one thing they all seem to have in common is that they are all built on ground that is a lot higher than the rest of the area. The only exception to this rule seems to be the “White Castle” hamburger franchise which generally settles in the crappy part of town all across the Midwestern United States.

While getting to these structures requires a moderate amount of uphill hiking, seeing them close up is worth the effort. In one village in Austria, we walked up to the ruins of a 12th century defensive outpost. Despite the fact that many of the upper levels had collapsed, you can still see the general design of the building. I kept thinking this is what my apartment is going to look like a few years down the road.

August 26

Today we drove through Liechtenstein. Proportionally, I’ve already spent too much time writing about it. I’m not sure how they managed it, but this country is a four mile wide sliver of land sandwiched between Austria and Switzerland. The most notable quality of this country I’ve discovered is they charge you to stamp your passport.

We rather briefly drove through Switzerland, but most of the time was spent driving on a road next to a large lake. While visually stimulating, I don’t really feel as though I got to experience the true Swiss culture. I didn’t even see a single person drinking hot chocolate. So even though I can add it to the list of countries I’ve been to, I think sometime in the future I’ll come back to get a better look around.

August 27

Well, that wraps things up for my trip to Germany and neighboring countries. After spending ten days here I’m definitely ready to be back in Colorado. The public transportation isn’t as good and we don’t have quaint little villas in Colorado, but at least we never had to worry about evil oppressive forces occupying parts of our state. Unless, of course you count Colorado Springs.

Berlin

August 20

I’m sitting on a train I am moderately convinced is heading towards Berlin. I think the uncertainty of getting on a train in another country where they don’t speak English makes the experience just a bit more exciting. I could just imagine getting off the train only to realize we somehow managed to end up in western Canada. In case you aren’t familiar with the events of my life, I’m in the middle of a ten day vacation trip in Germany with my longtime friend Scott.

Growing up in Colorado I have developed a resistance to using public transportation. One thing I’ve been noticing is that trains in Germany can go really fast. In addition to numerous messages in German, the electronic message board at the front of the passenger car would occasionally say how fast the train was moving. During the trip the speed of the train would reach 250 kilometers an hour. To put that into perspective for anyone not familiar with the metric system, that speed is 108 times faster than any form of public transportation moves in the state of Colorado.

After watching the German country side for an hour or so I eventually dozed off. I’m not exactly sure how my brain works, but my overactive imagination doesn’t seem to sleep when the rest of my body is recharging itself. I started dreaming about my apartment back in Boulder. I suppose I need to preface this by saying I’m not the best at keeping my apartment as clean as I possibly could. In my shower I have a circle of rust from a shaving cream can that has been there for, well, a lot longer than I really want to admit. It’s there, and I know it’s there, and it knows I know, but it doesn’t smell funny or seem to be growing, so I generally don’t spend much time worrying about it or attempting to get rid of it. But in my dream, the ring of rust penetrated all the way through the material of the tub and a perfect circle fell through to the floor as I was shampooing my hair. Mental note to self-clean shower upon returning to apartment.

Our hotel room, which Scott picked out, is quite clean and spacious. And it is right across the street from the “Erotik Museum.”

August 21

We started the day traveling to the east side of Berlin. Until 1989 this section of the city was controlled by Communist forces where the general population was forced to wear funny hats and dance the mamushka every night. We took the subway to one of the main squares in East Berlin to get a better idea of what life would have been like under such an oppressive regime. As we walked up the subway stairs one of the first things I saw was a man wearing brightly colored clothes, a large rainbow umbrella, and a strange mechanical contraption around his torso. Upon closer inspection, the equipment was a completely self-contained grill designed for cooking sausages. Say what you want about communism, but they are light years ahead of us in personal hot dog vending devices.

Despite several navigational errors on the local subway system, we are still in Berlin. Due to a massive misunderstanding in the scale of our map, we decided to walk the entire length of a park located in the center of the city. On the map the park was roughly the width of my thumb. In reality it is much, much bigger. By the time we got to the exact middle of the park we realized the magnitude of our miscalculation. Of course by then we didn’t have any choice but to walk the rest of the way out of the park.

August 22

After seeing a few more sights in the morning, we headed back to the station to catch the train back to Stuttgart. I’m not sure why, but the train stations in Germany have a noticeable lack of seats. I guess they decided the trains are so punctual that there isn’t any need to wait for a train-it’s just there when they say it is. Scott and I were sitting on the ground waiting for the train to arrive when what looked like a homeless man started talking to us in German. Being that I can’t even pretend to speak German, I just kind of nodded. When he realized I didn’t know German he got all annoyed and started saying things I can’t repeat here. Not because they were profane and inappropriate, but because we was yelling at me in German which we have already established is not my language of choice for optimal communication. After a few minutes he got bored and walked away, possibly to yell at someone else who doesn’t speak his language.

These are the highlights from Berlin. Stay tuned next week for the last part of my vacation involving a road trip to the countries of Austria, Switzerland, and, most important, Liechtenstein.

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.”