Americans in Bavaria ~ A Spring Stroll by the Danube River

“I thought there’d be booze. Shouldn’t there be booze?

“It’s not the real Valhalla, mother. I mean, we didn’t even have to cross the Bifröst or anything.”

“Climbing this monster of a hill doesn’t count?”

“‘fraid not.”

“Is there a manager I can talk to?”

“Regarding what? The unconscionable lack of feasting and mead and general mayhem, or that hauling ourselves up here doesn’t warrant the former?”

“Both?”

“I think I could manage a little mayhem,” elder Valkyrie interjects mildly. Kind soul, she can’t bear to see mother moping.

“You two go on wreaking and havocing. I’m going to check out this view!”

“Oh, alright then. I didn’t bring my horse and shield anyways.”

Walhalla (1)

Walhalla.

Not the real one, as established above, but still a pretty neat little place high above the Danube River, just a hop and a skip from ancient Regensburg. A neo-classical hall of fame for Germans and sort-of-Germans, built between 1830 and 1842 because king Ludwig, First of His Name (no, not the guy with the Disney castles), thought it would be more fun than getting involved in another stupid war to reap glory. Can’t fault the old boy there.

The place is accessible by boat or road – you can book a little roundtrip cruise right in downtown Regensburg, and enjoy floating down the mighty river while the white marble framed by lush shades of green grows larger and larger in your view … until you realize a lot of this marble represents stairs. Mother Valkyrie and her Shieldmaidens learned a lot of interesting new German epithets that day.

Slightly less harrowing, though requiring the skill to navigate roads where two donkeys can scarcely pass (and a good GPS system!), is the approach from the rear. Skirting the beautiful town of Donaustauf and its medieval charm, one gets lost once or twice and eventually enters a dense forest. There one climbs a winding, narrow road until a friendly German in an orange vest appears out of nowhere and directs one to a fine spot in the shade of a giant oak. How those buses ever manage it up there in one piece remains a mystery.

At least the gravel parking lot is halfway up the hill, and any climbing that remains to be done is over shady forest paths. Unpaved paths, as a vexed fellow tourist in heels had to find out.

The view alone is worth the hike, as youngest Valkyrie so succinctly pointed out. Off to the west there was Regensburg basking in the spring sunlight, the towers of the famous cathedral barely visible in the distance. Villages scattered between fields south of the river, and dense forest to the east. A few sailboats were trying to catch a breeze on the big blue ribbon cutting through all that green.

Having strolled around the premises and looked their fill, the Valkyries decided to enter through the hallowed gates.

“Definitely no carousing and throwing of axes.”

“Pity, that.”

“I think that’s why they have beer gardens. For the carousing at least.”

“Is that a not so subtle hint, mother?”

“I wish. Driving and Bavarian beer do not mix so well. Oh look, Mozart!”

Walhalla (38)

Walhalla (24)

There are Germans, quasi Germans, nabbed Germans, and people who happened to speak something similar to German. Warriors and poets and scientists (of this, the Valkyries heartily approved!), men and women. Plaques commemorate people whose likeness is long forgotten, busts line the walls for the younger additions. Sophie Scholl has a place of honor all by herself, representing all the resistance fighters against the Nazi regime. She’s in fine company, her marble eyes surveying heroes such as Kepler, Heine, and Einstein, next to movers and shakers of history like Catherine of Russia, Martin Luther, and old Arminius the original superhero with a shaggy cape, havoc wreaker against the Romans and rabble-rouser of Teutoburg.

For all the marble weight of history it’s a lovely place. Bright and airy, with intricate details for the visitor to discover. If the Valkyries felt that some fine spirits and rousing songs to commemorate the fallen wouldn’t go amiss, it wasn’t because the great hall was lacking splendor.

What kind of a dream is it,’ said Óðinn,
in which just before daybreak,
I thought I cleared Valhǫll,
for coming of slain men?
I waked the Einherjar,
bade Valkyries rise up,
to strew the bench,
and scour the beakers,
wine to carry,
as for a king’s coming,
here to me I expect
heroes’ coming from the world,
certain great ones,
so glad is my heart. 
Walhalla (20)

“Take me to the beer garden or lose me forever!”

“Look, I know I forgot the water bottles. No need to keep rubbing it in!”

“Really? Of all the movies to quote from, you pick that one?”

“I blame the heat. What’s the legal beer-ing age in Germany again?”

“Now who’s doing the rubbing?”

Perhaps some people manage peaceful walks. Quiet, serene strolls, listening to bird song and smelling the flowers. I wouldn’t know, because all we ever manage is to be entertainment. Sure, we smell the flowers- we even call out to each other and show off a particularly pretty or exotic find. From above, it would likely look like three cats joined by an elastic band. Traveling in a general direction, but each following her own trajectory, occasionally converging in a pile, then moving off again. All accompanied by a good deal of meows and playfighting.

Somehow we made it back to the car, and down the hill. We had spied a charming beer garden on the way up, but had not counted on the German automobilist’s bane – nowhere to park, unless you want to back up traffic all the way to Stuttgart. The beer garden’s tiny parking lot was crowded with cars nearly sharing paint at this point (yes, Germans have been spotted exiting their vehicles through sunroofs if it meant securing a good parking spot). If not for youngest Valkyrie’s eagle eyes spotting a narrow gap near the church that left a whole two inches for us to exit on either side, we might still be circling (say what you will, this country teaches you how to drive).

Donaustauf (9)

Positively parched by now, we crossed the distance like lionesses with a juicy zebra in sight. And were rewarded by a pint-sized but utterly delightful beer garden. The premises, we learned, had been a poor house and hospital once, lovingly renovated and converted into a restaurant and cafe.

As it was early in the afternoon, they served only “Brotzeit“, the Bavarian equivalent of snacks, though that hardly does the savory dishes justice. Brotzeit is designed to complement the center of the Bavarian Universe – the beer – and it does so magnificently. While only elder Valkyrie indulged in a Weizen (mother and youngest stuck their heads into a bucket of water instead), we all sampled some traditional cuisine and emerged ready for new adventures…

Donaustauf (4)

Donaustauf (3)


 

Inspired by RestlessJo‘s Monday Walks – a weekly favorite with never anything less than absolutely stunning pictures (when I grow up, I want to take photos like Jo!)

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We Go North the Rush Is On ~ The Denmark Saga, Verse I

Picture it: Germany, 2016. A gleaming white ICE rushes towards the majestic Hanse city of Hamburg. It has departed ancient Nuremberg in the early hours of dawn, its nose unerringly pointed north. For over 300 miles it has traversed the country; rushing through Frankonia’s hills and vineyards at breakneck speeds, carefully navigating the forested highlands of Hesse, and finally barreling into the flat expanse of Lower Saxony like a very German and thus sleek, efficient, and air conditioned Bat out of Hell. By now the midsummer sun stands high in the sky. Black and white blobs dot the green landscape basking in the heat- they might be cows. At 170 mph it can be hard to tell. One of the three lovely American ladies who are firmly ensconced in the on board café gives her empty cappuccino cup a mournful look. Is there time for another?

“Guys, I think we’re slowing down.”

Hamburg
Ooooooh we’re halfway theeheere

 

And so they are. Coasting into fair Hamburg, city of elegant mansions and merry red-light districts, rowdy soccer fans and obscenely rich merchant nobility. Canals and harbors, sailing ships and mighty container vessels, and of course the busy Hauptbahnhof.

Picture, if you will, the three Americans confidently grabbing their eclectic assortment of bags and suitcases, some of those emitting a faint aroma of horse. One by one, they spill out onto the platform, bright eyed, bushy-tailed, and their necks craning like baby owls’ to take in this new, unknown place in all its fascinating details.

They’ve drawn a bit of attention on their journey, those amiable ladies (being Teutonic attention of course it was mostly discreet). Whether it were the distinctly military looking duffel bags propped against a sturdy red Samsonite (which by the looks of it is the only one to have seen a war zone), the mentioned equine scent, or their animated chatter in a foreign language; they are exotic this far from any of the Army bases tucked into Bavaria’s deep forests. Which is not a bad thing, as it turns out.

They have traveled the world. They have safely navigated some of the planet’s largest airports, and at least one of them is equipped with a carrier pigeon’s sense of direction. Surely, they can find their way from one train to another?

Maybe not. Where is Ariadne with her wool when you need the old girl? A map wouldn’t go amiss, either. Golly, I swear I just saw Dr. Livingstone.

“Do the ladies require assistance?” A “Hanseat” appears, as if conjured out of a stereotype parallel universe, complete with smart suit and affable dignity. Utterly charmed, the ladies nod in unison. Why yes sir, they do. They do indeed.

Perhaps they still tell tales of the three American ducks following the Hanseatic swan. Hamburg is a harbor city, and sailors love a good story. “The Soldier and the Merchant Prince” has a nice ring to it. Or so the young ducklings would have agreed, if not for the stubborn mother duck being more interested in food and that wretched train. A magical romance, withered beneath the German summer sun before it could blossom.

We’ll always have Hamburg…

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It’s quite a different train that takes the urban German from the bustling metropolis out to the coast, and onward to the fabled island of Sylt. Chugging along at a pace sedate enough to identify the black and white blobs as large, gentle Holstein cows; crossing rivers and seemingly endless plains, one lazy hour after the other. It is nearly mid-afternoon when one of the hitherto peacefully dozing Americans sniffs the air and strikes a heroic pose (as heroic as one might, hemmed in by luggage and German bicycles haphazardly piled upon one another) and declares: “Thálatta!”

Riding a train through the Atlantic Ocean sounds rather more dramatic than it is. The Hindenburgdamm, while a triumph of German engineering I’m sure, does not inspire much awe from actual Germans. Yet it is a sight. A teenage Teuton is happily explaining the history and geography of the region to the youngest American, while outside the windows eternity seems to stretch on in a thousand shades of blue. All too soon the ocean gives way to dunes and scrappy heather. And then the Americans spill out onto another platform, bushy tails looking rather a bit more travel worn by now, yet their spirits remain undimmed.

Moin!” Once more, the travelers are proving exotic enough to alert their Taxi driver that these are indeed The Americans She Is Looking For. And thus they are gently shepherded into the Mercedes that will take them North yet again, to the harbor and the ferry. Clear across the island, past the windswept dunes and the summer villas of the rich and famous, past the simpler yet infinitely more charming dwellings of the locals, past Chanel outlets and trendy bars.

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At a place located at 55°0′N 8°26′E, the heat should not be permitted to be this oppressive. Even the breeze from the open ocean provides only little relief. After bidding their kind driver a fond farewell, the travelers shoulder their luggage which seems to inexplicably have gained 50 pounds since Hamburg, and meander their way through flocks of tourists and inquisitive seagulls. The older teen is the first to spy the Dannebrog flying high above the ferry that sits on the picturesque little harbor’s outer edge. Vikings of old have shown less enthusiasm storming towards Paris than these three Americans do charging towards this second to last leg of their long journey. They probably didn’t sweat so much, either. 

Ferry
Yes, but why is the rum gone? –  (overheard at the Duty-free)

 

It’s the loveliest part, and thus of course the shortest. Propelled across the open water by powerful engines, the little ferry crosses the distance in less than an hour.

At first it’s only a pale smudge on the horizon. Then a dancing mirage in ivory and green. At last, the coastline of Rømø, stretching out under an almost ridiculous postcard-blue sky.

Velkommen til Danmark.

The Americans disembark amidst a flurry of automobiles and bicycles. The hotel is supposed to have arranged transportation for the final leg, but much as they strain their aching necks, they cannot locate a bus, or anything resembling a shuttle service.

Horse people know one another. It’s a constant in the universe, one that has been proven time and again. Thus the tall, bearded descendant of mighty warriors has no trouble honing in on the three ladies walking in bewildered circles.

“Hej! Hvad så! My Americans, ja?”

“What gave us away?”

“Away where?”

Thus they are piled into a sturdy old Land Rover. At long last, exhaustion and heat take their toll; or perhaps it’s the soothing aroma of horse and saddle soap that permeates the Rover’s interior, but the three ladies soon resemble a baroque painting. A slightly odd one, with three graces in jeans and t-shirts languidly draped over horse blankets and assorted tack. Still, they instantly become alert when Olaf mentions a seafood buffet just as they come to a stop after what felt a mere five minutes.

Dusk has fallen by the time the three graces stumble from the magnificent little hotel restaurant, having done their ancestors proud by executing a flawless raid of every dish in evidence, and going back for seconds. Then thirds. You better believe I have room for dessert. Their room awaits, as does their luggage which kind and thoughtful Olaf has already deposited there. After 15 hours on rail, road and sea, they are ready to postpone the adventure of Denmark until dawn.

But it finds them first.

As they round a corner, the sun dips below the western horizon and warm lights spring to life, illuminating a path to the pool and the front door of what will turn out to be a charming little apartment. A breeze from the ocean rustles the trees, carrying a scent of salt and roses and horses with it.

“This is it. I live here now.”

A donkey somewhere behind the trees brays his agreement.

Romo Hotel

Vafthruthnir spake:

“The father of day | is Delling called,
And the night was begotten by Nor;
Full moon and old | by the gods were fashioned,
To tell the time for men.”

 

The Saga continues here: Horses, bicycles and assorted calamities connected therewith. More pictures.

 

 

About that “National Security” speech…

Picture it: Bavaria, 2017. A cold wind stirs the snow over the nightly hills, and inside a charming, rustic inn a small group of American soldiers huddles up to friendly natives. The intoxicating aroma of ancient Bavarian brewing art mingles with the scent of pine branches, wet dog, and just a hint of cowshed. In the background a small TV set mumbles on about soccer stats, occasionally acknowledged by the indigenous population with a small groan or a satisfied huff. All is peaceful. Until … a strange man appears on the screen, his frowning visage framed by the familiar colors of the American flag. The soldiers tense. One of them discreetly scans for viable escape routes. But they are in luck. As the man with the toupee waves and gestures, his uncharacteristically stilted speech drowned by the far more pleasant German translator, the natives barely acknowledge him beyond an occasional eye roll. They have more pressing matters to attend to – one of the hunters has brought in a boar that afternoon, and there is disagreement over the sauce (Madeira. The answer is Madeira). The soldiers however keep casting wary glances at the TV – this is their Commander in Chief speaking. And his speech, painfully obvious as it is that he is parroting someone else’s words, does not do much to soothe their uneasy hearts. But whether it is the famous Bavarian aplomb with which the natives dismiss the strange man, or the rich, mouthwatering scents that begin to waft from the kitchen, or the unbroken stream of beer glasses flowing forth from the gates of Bavarian heaven – slowly, the soldiers relax. Let themselves be drawn back into the magical realm where peace on earth is found among the clinking of glasses and the telling of badly translated jokes, and a muddy dog snoring beneath the table…

When you least expect it – German Blitz

“So, exactly how is ‘America First’ different from ‘Deutschland uber alles’ anyways?”

It wasn’t so much the question itself – left field though it was – that caused the delicious Weizen beer to end up in the wrong pipe, and prompted some good natured “Americans can’t handle ze real beer” heckling as I desperately tried to stop coughing before Max the volunteer fireman succeeded in pounding my lungs out though my ears (the Bavarian approach to people choking on their beer is as robust as it is effective – a slap to the back that plants your face on the table, followed by what feels like an elephant performing the “In the air tonight” drum-solo on your ribs until shock and survival instinct prompt a huge intake of air and frantic “I’m fine!” waving of arms).

It was rather the casual, ‘a propos’, tone of the question. The mildly inquisitive expression, as if Mr Florian were trying to puzzle out the reason why Americans shun

Related image
Never saw that one coming

the delicious Obazda but will eat every scrap of liver cheese in sight. It was the fact that the very same people who, for all their nonchalant approach to any number of sensitive subjects, almost unilaterally shut down at the mention of Hitler, Nazis and suchlike, suddenly tossed this Blitz-question into an unsuspecting American’s lap. It was admittedly also the implication. The unspoken but perceived “Why are you allowed to say this, but we are evil when we do?”

My first instinct was to say “Because we don’t mean it like that!” Not in the “Germany above all” sense. The “We are better than everyone else” sense.

But with a band of agreeable Teutons waiting patiently for the American to gather and line up her scattered ducks, I choked on the words worse than I had on the beer.

How is it different?

Because it’s US saying it

It was the second thought popping into my head, and it felt imminently reasonable. Cheap, yes. A classic cop-out of the high horsed sort. But it makes sense, right?

We’re the country who fought the Nazis, for crying out loud. We’re the Shining City on

https://i0.wp.com/cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0436/4061/products/America-the-Beautiful.jpg
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

the Hill. The champion of the underdog, the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free. We’ve sacrificed our own, all over the world, to help others.

Yes, fine, the Brits fought the bad guys, too, and the French and the Russians did, after the Reich had overrun them with brutal German efficiency, but we saved the day, right? And maybe others have done some good around the world since those days, and built functioning democracies with Liberty and Justice for all, but we’re the ones who came up with it. We the People got the ball rolling.

So we get to say it, right? We got the moral high ground, the highest horse in the stable. If we want to put this awesome thing first, this admittedly still flawed country that nonetheless is ours, and the only one we got, and it’s a good thing we have … we get to say it. Right? Because it is different.

Why are they looking at me like that?

Because economy, stupid

They’ll understand that. Germans are practical. Infuriatingly so.

Because we really don’t mean it in the “we’re better” way, but in the “We need to look to our own people first” way. Sure, our current administration blows trade deficits out of proportion and sometimes flat out lies about important economic issues. Sure, their way of going about it could stand some scrutiny (alright, a lot of scrutiny), but the sentiment is valid. Right?

Because we’re not talking about isolationism, just maybe scaling back the globalization a little bit until we can sort out the troubles at home. Yes I know we’re depending on the world market to an extensive degree, and protectionism is a short term fix, if that. Yes I know our government is selling it as our deliverance from evil, which it is not, but…

Ah, damn.

Stuff the excuses, buttercup

Arguing economy with Germans is like playing table tennis with an octopus. Arguing nationalism with the guys whose grandparents invented flag waving hyper-patriotism

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“Is it true your Nazis smell like lemons?” – (German humor)

and mood lighting with 1000 torches, is entering a spitting contest with a llama on steroids.

And it would be pointless anyways.

Because it isn’t different.

It wasn’t different before Charlottesville, it isn’t different now.

America First. Deutschland, Deutschland uber alles, uber alles in der Welt.

So, with my capacity for speech restored and my ribs mildly bruised, I cowgirl’d up. Dismissing the first, second, and third sorry excuse my frantic mind had conjured up as the bison-sized dungheap they are, I looked my friends squarely in the eyes.

“It isn’t, guys. Not really. Not the way my people are using it right now.”

But hear me out…

It’s no secret my opinion of the current administration has gone from an unenthusiastic “Meh” about a year ago, to an irked “Do any of them have a clue what they’re doing?” around summer, to an all out irate “Government of the people, by the people, for the people, anyone? F*ckssakes!” by now.

Neither is it a secret that I’ve sworn an oath to defend and uphold the Constitution of the Image result for john wayne quote whiskeyUnited States, with my life if need be, and that I damn well meant those words when I said them. That I love my home, right or wrong, and may whatever deity you believe in have mercy on you if you try to harm it. Because you’ll get none from me.

But do my hackles rise automatically when I hear “USA!” chants, see people cheerfully wave Old Glory (I do cringe when she’s drunkenly dropped in the mud, or pretty airheads – looking at you, Tomi Lahren – think it’s OK to cut her up and wear her like a cheap scarf), or when anyone crows about how awesome our country is, and what a marvelous place to be? Hell to the no. Somewhat jaded, cynical battle horse that I am, I still smile at that kind of oh so American enthusiasm.

It’s the intent that matters. And that’s where our “America First” crowd has gone tragically off the rails.

Not only in their “National Sovereignty over Alliances” approach, because no man is an island, and even a superpower can not stand alone. Not only in their perceived moral superiority, because guess what guys, we’ve forfeited that for the time being. Not only in their at least somewhat understandable “Economic anxiety” roundhouse kick, because trade is simply never a zero-sum game, and anyone claiming otherwise might want to find a dictionary and look up the word “Recession”.

But also, distressingly, in their tolerance, even open acceptance of the “Blood and Soil” crowd, the David Dukes of KKK fame, the white supremacists and ultra-right religious groups; in the legitimizing and normalizing of hatred, blatant racism, and mad conspiracy theories (looking at you, Alex Jones. Gay frogs indeed). When you’re listening to these people, really listening, you will soon hear the theme beyond the hogwash. The “Me first! Me first! Only me!” that wraps itself in a patriotic fanfare. In their world, there is no united America that must come first, there is only their respective group. Or rather, they are America, and the rest of us are not. So naturally, being the only real Americans, they must come first, and everyone else may comply or leave at their leisure. Or die. That offer is extended disturbingly often.

Sorry, guys. Mr Duke, Mr Jones, Mr citronella tiki-torch. You’re messing with the wrong country.Image result for united states constitution

We are Americans. Our ancestors actually fought a war against would-be dictators. And then another, because we didn’t quite get that “Unalienable Rights” with the “Life, Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness” part right the first time around.

There’s actually a lot we got wrong during our short existence. But not everything. Never everything.

Unless and until you understand this, that true love sees flaws and accepts them, takes them as incentive to do better, to become greater, you’ll never put America first. Until you realize that an ideal is something that can never reasonably be fulfilled, but is nonetheless worth striving for, fighting for, moving mountains for and changing history for, you’ll never even glimpse a shadow of what it means to be great. Unless you accept that admitting “we were wrong” is not unpatriotic and weak, but taking responsibility and reclaiming your own humanity, you’ll forever be stuck feeling like a victim and carrying silly torches to protest the mean, mean world daring to change and move on without you.

Unless and until you dare to open your eyes and look at this marvelous country we had the impossibly dumb luck to be born to, and see it, see all of it, the ideals we built it on and the countless ways we found and still find to mess up, always getting back up and trying again, trying harder, how can you love it? Really love it, in that stupid, inexplicable, unreasonable way that, yes!, makes you put it First?

“So it is different, and it isn’t”

At least, that is how Mr Florian summed up our lively debate, nodding sagely over the foaming crown of his Weizen. I did mention that German practicality, yes?

I’ll have Knodel with my Wildschwein, thank you.

 

“Well, Doctor, what have we got—a Republic or a Monarchy?”

  “A Republic, madam, if you can keep it.”

(Benjamin Franklin, 1787)