Germany – Lavender Fields Forever

After my tribulations during my last day in Spain, I was quite ready to leave.  However, once I was in the air and on my way to Germany I managed to reflect on the entirety of the trip to Spain.  Meeting Janet for the first time and all the great things we did together more than made up for the kufufflae on my last day in Spain.  If nothing else, the warm weather was a great recharge after the dark months in Umeå.  Although, it may have been a bit too much of a recharge with the horrible burn I had gotten.  Spain has sun, but Germany has beer and amazing food.  If Germany is known for anything it is producing great beer.  They even had a purity law passed in 1516 in regards to how beer should be made.  I had a lot of very good beer, some of which I’m not likely to see again unless I return to Germany.

BEERS

I planned to visit Germany, like many of the places I visited, because I had a friend there: Artur.  I had thought Artur was returning to Germany from Umeå for a while and I could stay with him but it turned out he made the plans to visit his home in order to accommodate me.  He even booked his flight such a way so we would arrive at the airport around the same time.  I arrived at the Frankfurt airport before Artur after a quick layover in Vienna.  Once Artur arrived it was back to the old jokes and wondering if this trip was going to be as wild as our trip to Russia.  We were joking about ourselves as “Yogi and Booboo” because Artur was so big and myself so small and how we’re always running around getting into trouble and after our visit to Russia Boris and Natasha may be after us (It was funny at the time, ok!).  His brother picked us up at the airport to take us back to the village of Rimbach where Artur’s parents live.  “Live” is perhaps not the right word as Artur’s parents traveled around the country following festivals because they owned a food truck.  “Food truck” is also perhaps not the right word since this thing was more like a log cabin on wheels.  Anyways, we arrived at his home in Rimbach and took the evening easy. The following few days we saw the surrounding countryside and the nearby city of Heidelberg.  The area around Rimbach was gorgeous.  Several of the buildings looked like they had been there for generations (and probably have been).  The North American idea of old versus the European one is very different.  There were rolling hills with patches of fields and wood scattered about and the road twisted and wound around the hills.  Arthur was an avid motorcyclist and I could understand, with roads like this surrounding his home.  I thought maybe this was why Germans make such good cars and North Americans make essentially giant fisher-price vehicles.  There’s an awful lot of straight roads and massive distances in Canada so as long as a car can go and stop, not much else matters (its difficult to make driving in a straight line fun).  Perhaps I’m just bitter because my own North American made car drives more like a boat than a car.

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On our way to Heidelberg was my first taste of the Autobahn.  It was fast.  Very fast.  And could be very efficient so long as the rules were followed.  Regardless, congestion occurred… on a highway.  I thought it was so strange that you could get congestion on a highway.  However, Artur made me realize that Germany is very much in the middle of Europe.  Trucks and people are constantly traveling through the country in multiple directions.  Suddenly the need for the Autobahn made sense.  It is also only in certain portions of the Autobahn where there is no speed limit, not the entire thing.  We quickly arrived in Heidelberg which was exceptionally gorgeous.  Old cobble streets and buildings sat upon the river.  I had hoped to visit the Heidelberg University Museum as Heidelberg is an important site in my studies, but it didn’t happen.  Instead, Artur and I went to see Heidelberg Castle.  This was the first castle I had ever gotten up close to see.  I almost did back in Castella, Spain but the path was closed for construction.  Artur was surprised since (as I had noticed) Castles were scattered all throughout Germany.  Heidelberg Castle was in rough shape.  Towers were falling in on themselves and toppled in places.  It looked otherworldly.  The castle also contained a massive wine cask known as the “Heidelberg Tun.”  Unfortunately, it didn’t contain any wine for sampling.

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The Castle was situated above the city and it was quite a walk to get up to it.  Going down we took a new route to see more of Heidelberg.  The streets seemed piled upon one another in parts because of the incline and in the bushes of one of these streets was a yellow tube.  It was a slide.  As a kid, you tend to think slides should be everyone.  It’s a fun and efficient way to get down things, no?  The slide disappeared into the bushes below and we had no idea how far it went down or where we would come out.  We took the chance and came out the other end into a park between two different street levels on the incline.  Unfortunately, this was the only slide and we had to continue walking the rest of the way down.  Artur and I stopped for lunch at a pub and had a seat in the garden out back.  There was a cheap steak on the menu so I ordered that.  When I was in Umeå a lot of the Germans I knew would complain about the price of food in Sweden.  I didn’t find too much of a difference to the price of food in Canada.  So when I ordered this steak, I was thinking of what it would get me back home.  I expected the tiniest steak, a dozen fries and a cup of salad.  Instead I got two steaks with caramelized onions, an entire plate of fries and an entire plate of salad.  Suddenly it made sense why most German men seemed to be big and tall.  A beautiful country with great beer and cheap (but good) food: I was in love.

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Later that evening we met up with some of Artur’s friends in Heidelberg, Simon and Julian.  This was a bit of a coming home for Artur so we were going to have a night out.  I also had a Canadian friend, Matt, whom I met in Umeå, that lived in Heidelberg and met up with us.  Matt had lived in Montreal before moving to Heidelberg for school.  The troop of us went out moseying from bar to bar on the Heidelberg streets.  Two small Canadians and three large German men.  At one of the bars we managed to get a booth and spent a great deal of time there.  While being rowdy and reminiscing to Simon, Julian and Matt about the adventures of Russia, a young man came over looking to make friends.  Artur and Julien did most of the talking with the lad.  When asked where he was from he said it was somewhere awful and a shit-hole.  He said he was Canadian… and from Montreal.  There was a unanimous “YEEOOOHHH!” at the table.  “Well we have some Canadians here! – Matt is from Montreal too!”  I had never seen a more obvious “Oh shit.” expression on someone’s face before.  Matt and I didn’t even need to say a word to each other.  We both asked him questions which he sidestepped as best he could and suddenly acted much drunker than he was a moment ago.  I asked him why he thought Montreal was a shit-hole, since most people I know say it is the best city in Canada and suddenly he changed his mind saying Montreal was great.  I had heard of this but didn’t think it was true.  This guy had one of the thickest American accents ever.  He disappeared the first chance he got.

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After several bars later it was time to call it a night.  Artur’s friend Julien asked if we had a place to stay.  Artur said Matt lives close to where we were so he was sure we could stay there.  Artur, Matt and myself started walking back to where we met him earlier.  When we got there he said it was great to see me and was off.  I said to Artur we could catch up to Matt and ask if we could stay with him, but Artur’s pride deemed that if he did not offer then we would find somewhere else.  He wanted to drive and I said there was no way that was going to happen.  We were in the parking lot above the underground parkade that his car was in which required our pass to get into.  Artur’s voice grew shrill and went into Arnold Schwarzenegger mode out of sheer habit of our joking.  “Well what do you want me to do!? Do you want me to sleep right here!?”  He pointed to a small patch of lavender in one of the parking lot dividers.  “Do you want me to lay right here!?  Do you want me to do that for you!?”  He flung his body over and collapsed into the lavender like it was a memory foam mattress.  The branches parted around him and it looked like he was making a snow angel, but in lavender.  He lied there from a moment, and then, still shouting in his Arnie voice, “It smells lovely in here!!” I told him to stay put and I was going to find us somewhere to stay.  I ran around the area, trying not to wander too far and lose my way and abandon Artur.  Most hostels were closed.  The only one I found that was open had no rooms available.  I was completely stumped.  I had no idea what we could do.  We missed the last train, Artur was in no condition to drive and we had nowhere to go.  When I got back to the “lavender field,” as we called it (it was maybe 2 metres by 2 metres) Artur was out cold and sleeping.  I felt sure someone would see us and report us or cops would drive by and arrest us but I had no other ideas.  So, I lied down in the lavender field as well.  Looking up at the starry sky through a lavender tube because it reached so high and only the circle where my head and body lied was clear.

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Artur woke up and saw I was gone.  He also realized the car keys and pass to enter the locked parkade door were missing.  “He probably went to sleep in the car,”  Artur thought.  He went to the parkade door but couldn’t get into the underground parkade without the pass.  He saw what looked like an air vent or something and crawled into it.  He was crawling through the vents mission impossible style until he suddenly dropped into the parkade in a cloud of dust.  He ran over to the car, but I wasn’t in it.  “That little shit must have woken up and gone to the train station to wait for the first train.  He left me!” Artur thought.  He decided to go after me but first he needed to find the car keys and parkade pass…  Of course, I heard about all of this the next day because when Artur went back to the “lavender field,” there I was beside where he slept but hidden in lavender and the car keys and parkade pass were laying there in a patch of lavender in the shape of Artur.  He woke me up and we slept in the car for a little longer.  The parkade was brutally hot.  Artur very well may have broken the air intake when going black-ops through the vents.  A few hours later, Artur felt well enough to drive and we were headed back to Rimbach.

Back home in Alberta, after a night of drinking (or during) its popular to have a donair.  Artur decided we should go for proper Döners.  When I think about it, I’m not sure why donairs are so popular back home.  Its shredded mystery popsicle meat with cheese thats more like plastic than it is dairy, garlic sauce which tastes like mayonnaise with garlic salt added and all wrapped in a stale pita.  Not being a huge fan of donairs, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the döner, but Artur had been talking them up the entire time we were in Umeå.  It didn’t disappoint.  It was delicious, smothered meat shaved onto savoury fresh bread (Germans also complained about bread a lot while in Sweden, and now I know why) with sauerkraut and a large disc of feta finished off with a sprinkling of spices similar to togarashi.  More and more, Germany seemed like somewhere I could happily live.  I was quite content not having beer that day but before I knew it we were off to the Heidelberg area again to watch a group viewing of the Fifa World Cup at the University and have some beers on campus.  We met up with Julien again and some of Artur’s other friends and told them of the shenanigans from the previous night.  Artur and I were of the same mind:  We were tired and hungover and needed rest.  We spent some time watching the match but made sure to get back to Rimbach before late.  We needed a good nights rest because the next day we were off to Munich.

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Turns out we didn’t need that much rest.  For Canadians, idea’s of distance are a lot greater than most Europeans.  If I say I have a long day of driving I am thinking something like 14 hours driving out to Vancouver from Edmonton.  So when I heard Munich was a long drive, I had something around the ten hour mark in my head.  Instead, it took 4 hours.  The drive itself was gorgeous and was more time on the Autobahn.  We passed several fields of Hop vines growing beside the road.  It isn’t a stereotype: Germany does take beer seriously.  Over the stretch of a few hours we kept passing turnoffs for Ausfahrt.  I said to Artur, “Ausfahrt must be huge!” and he burst into laughter.  It turns out Ausfahrt means exit.  So literally every turn off was labeled Ausfahrt.  It turned out several foreigners make this mistake and there’s t-shirts, mugs and all sorts of paraphernalia with the slogan, “Where the fuck is Ausfahrt?”

Bavaria   Tobi

Once we got to Munich we met up with Artur’s good friend Tobias.  We would be staying with him for a few nights before heading back to Rimbach.  We went out for dinner and Artie and I had a far too long existential debate about cloning.  The next morning, Tobias made us a proper Bavarian breakfast.  We sat outside in the garden with jazz playing inside the house, eating our bratwurst and pretzels.  After all this travel, this was the moment I stopped feeling like a child.  I thoroughly enjoyed having a nice breakfast outside, calmly talking to one another rather than shouting.  Waking up hungover, miserable, and going to the local noodle shop for breakfast suddenly seemed bizarre.  I was given a glimpse of what its like to be a “grown up” and I liked it.

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After the morning passed we headed into the main city of Munich.  Artur and Tobi had been trying to convince me to wear a lederhosen and I thought they were trying to prank me.  “Only idiot tourists wear them.” I was sure.  But no.  Plenty of Bavarians wandered around the streets wearing them.  One of them was driving a horse drawn carriage of wooden beer kegs (I couldn’t make this up!).  While in Munich I went into my first proper beer hall.  It was a high crescent shape ceiling made of plaster.  At the front door there was a set of wooden lockers so the regulars could keep their “stein” beer mugs at the hall.  The beers were big, and the beers were good.  We had some traditional Bavarian pretzels and headed off to another beer garden.

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We arrived in Englischer Garten which has a large Chinese tower in the the centre (and Bavarian musicians playing from its balcony).  We had a few brief drinks and wandered around the park.  By chance we met up with Julien and a few of his friends.  The open field in the park was full of people.  Everyone was out enjoying the weather, having some drinks, and relaxing.  It’s the kind of feeling I would get going away to the mountains back in Canada, yet here we were in downtown Munich.  A lot of people were floating around in the water that flowed through the park when someone mentioned surfing.  Surfing?  I was floored when I saw what they were talking about.

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Surfing. In Germany.  In the middle of the city.  Amazing!  We were all fascinated by the site and stayed watching for a long while.  Each surfer queued up and waited their turn.  The veterans encouraging the not so experienced.

Later that night we picked up supplies for a BBQ at Tobi’s.  We had a lot of laughs and good food.  Tobi was a great host, even a great friend considering I had just met him.  Artur and I climbed into our tiny cot that we had to share and caught some sleep.  The next morning we were off to Rimbach.  Before we left, Tobias felt I needed a Bavarian parting gift and gave me a large Stein mug.  I loved it, and I still have it (lugging it around Europe the rest of the trip was not so much fun).

Back in Rimbach we met up with Artur’s girlfriend Kristin, who also came down from Umeå.  We went to Mannheim and were going to a public viewing for the World Cup with Julian and Simon so I thought I’d pick up a Team Germany jersey, plus it would double as a pretty good souvenir.  Of course, with German’s being such large individuals I fit into a youth jersey (which was cheaper too: win-win).  I had been hearing Artur say, “Supa-danke!” whenever he bought something so I did the same when buying the jersey.  The clerk was dumbfounded and looked a little shocked.  Artur and Kristin began giggling… clearly I flubbed.  Artur explained to me that my inflection was wrong.  He had been saying, “Super.  Thanks!”  Whereas I said something along the lines of, “SUPERTHANKS!”  We went around Mannheim doing some sightseeing and later met up with Julian and Simon and went off to the public viewing.  It was pretty incredible.

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Headed to Game     Kristin

It was an incredible vibe and a lot of fun.  It was hard not to become invested in the game with that kind of atmosphere.  Artur said if they lost he’d grab and throw the smallest thing around.  Being in Germany, that was me.  Thankfully they won.  After more döners, Julian was kind enough to allow all of us to stay at his place.  When we got back to Rimbach the next day, everyone was in pretty terrible shape.  Except me, surprisingly.  While Kristin and Artur slept it off I went out to get another döner, as it was nearing my time to leave and they were DELICIOUS.  Later that day, Artur’s parents came by the house and saw the terrible shape the two were in.  It was great to meet them, though there was fairly minimal english.  They invited me to join a family dinner at a restaurant they frequented back in Mannheim whenever they had the “food truck” in town.

The restaurant they took us too was great.  Artur and Kristin were about the only ones who spoke English so there was a lot of German flying about.  Artur’s family were clearly close with the owner.  This is something I noticed with Victoria’s family and with their favourite restaurant in The Hague as well. Europe has so many people yet so many places, even large cities can have a small town, community feel.  The owner/chef of the restaurant frequently came out to talk and joke with Artur’s family.  The owner was slapping his belly at one point and rested his hand on my shoulder and the rest of the German’s began slapping their bellies and having a laugh.  Artur told me that the owner said, “A man without a belly, is like a house without a balcony.”  I had no balcony, and it was funny.  My time in Germany was ending, and I was sad to see it go.  Artur had become one of my very good friends and I didn’t know when I would see him again after this point.  From his insistence that I play music with him, our escapade through Russia, to dinner with his family, Artur really made my year away from home something special.  I carved out a home and a social circle in Sweden thanks to his help and it was hard to let it go.  It is still hard.  We made our goodbyes and spoke of the hope that when Artur came to North America for his road trip I might be around, or better yet, have a motorcycle license by then.

Before I knew it, I was back on a train and headed to the Netherlands to stay with Victoria for a week.  This would be my last time seeing her before she arrived in Canada and would be the most time I would spend with her family.  Once again, I was made to feel at home.  We celebrated Victoria’s birthday together and had a week of relaxing and socializing with her friends.  She was also preparing her goodbyes before she departed for Japan once more.  We said goodbye to each other until I would pick her up at the Edmonton airport.  I boarded my flight (which Victoria’s mom couldn’t believe I had to pay for check-in luggage) and I was off to Iceland.  I had always dreamed of going to Iceland, although I never imagined doing it alone.  This was the first bit of extensive travel I would be doing completely alone.  It was difficult, but rewarding.  Here came the most epic road trip of my life.

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