Neuschwanstein Castle, May 12, 2011


Germany 2011

Last updated June 5, 2011



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Day One | Day Two | Day Three | Day Four | Day Five | Day Six | Day Seven | Day Eight | Day Nine | Day Ten

In school, Norma studied German for a few years. As a young adult, she lived there for a year with two different families for six months each. In her current job, she uses her knowledge of the German language and culture.

In early 2011, Norma told me that she would be traveling there for business in May and that we should go there a week early for vacation. Traveling to Germany is something we've discussed before. It was something we both wanted to do and now was the perfect opportunity. So she booked our flights, contacted old friends, and made plans.

Day One, Saturday, May 7, 2011

We flew out of Dulles Airport via Lufthansa Airlines. Leaving from the Baltimore Washington Airport (BWI) would have been our first choice but they didn't have any flights to Germany. Once we were in the air, it took about 8.5 hours to get to Munich, Germany's third largest city and the capital of Bavaria. The city has about 1.35 million people living in its boundaries. In 2010, Munich was ranked as the world's most livable city.

I'm not much of a big city person so I was anxious to see how so many people could live together in harmony. I was even more anxious to get my feet on solid ground after such a long plane ride.

Day Two, Sunday, May 8, 2011

As we headed to Hotel Italia, it became evident why Munich was considered so liveable. The main difference between Munich and American cities is that Munich is very bicycle friendly. I'm not talking about nature or exercise trails. Rather, they can actually get around the city on bicycles safely where they need to go. How safely? Well, I didn't see anyone wearing a bicycle helmet. Bicycles had their own lane on the wide sidewalks. In the streets, drivers always recognized the right-of-way for bicyclists and pedestrians. Biking was a practical means to get around town. People used city bikes with baskets and wore regular street clothes. I saw no road bikes or anyone wearing spandex bike shorts. At various places around town, there were often dozens of bicycles locked up at covered bike racks. I can honestly say that I'd never seen so many bicycles in my life...except maybe at the New York City 5 Boro Bike Tour.

If one didn't want to ride a bike, they could get around on foot. I've always heard that American pedestrians aren't safe outside of the United States when cars are involved. In general, I've found that to be true. But in Munich, drivers yielded to walkers when they were supposed to. I felt as safe walking on foot as if I was in northern California.

Like New York City, many people in Munich don't own vehicles. If they don't walk or ride a bike, then they can rely on a sophisticated and reliable mass transit system to get them within a short distance of where they need to go. Norma and I used the subway to get around and I found it impressive.

We checked into our hotel which was in the heart of the strip club area. The first thing Norma showed me were the windows. One could open just the top or turn a lever and open them like a door. There was no screen. Mosquitos aren't a problem out there. Their winters may be cold but during the other seasons, they let fresh air circulate through their homes and buildings. In the states, I can't say I've ever seen a hotel, motel, or other business that had windows which open so widely except on the ground floor. I think someone would jump out and then try to sue the owner of the building if they could. Suing for's the American way.

Our room was small and our shower was so tiny that I had to step out before shaking out the water in my hair. Clearly, these rooms are not made for the average overweight American.

Enough of slamming the United States. There were a few things (not many) I recognized about Germany I didn't like. If you wanted to use a restroom, you'd have to pay at least 50 cents (half a Euro) unless you were a customer. In places like the airport, it was much more expensive. Sometimes, even if you were a customer, you still had to pay. There was often someone working to collect money and keep the restrooms clean and well stocked. Like Great Britain, there were no public drinking fountains. This didn't make any sense to me since it would not have cost much to run a couple of pipes from the restroom to a scuttlebutt and provide good German drinking water on demand anywhere (Munich drinking water tastes good). Speaking of water, even in restaurants, we had to pay just to have a glass of tap water with our meal.

There were some things I noticed in Munich that were similar to the states. While I didn't see much litter and only saw a few beggars, I did see quite a bit of graffitti, especially near the subway. Interestingly, it looked exactly like American graffitti. They also have a lottery.

Norma and I caught up with her former interns, Rotraud and Annika, who I got to know well on Columbus Day Weekend 2006. The four of us went to a huge beer garden dating back to the 1300s. There we met up with Mark, Rotraud's boyfriend. I ate traditional Bavarian food (pork-based sausages) and a tasty fruity dessert. I was told it would not be easy to find Diet Pepsi in Germany which did not make me happy. There was a big soccer game about to be played and the fans at the beer garden were drunk, happy, and singing before noon.

As is often the case when I'm with Norma, I got in a lot of walking. First, we walked through the heart of Munich, stopping by a place where Adolf Hitler gave a famous speech. According to Third Reich in Ruins, Munich was the birthplace of the Nazi party. Interestingly, I found modern Munich to be much more multi-ethnic than I expected.

We passed by several old buildings. See the first photo for (left to right) Rotraud, Norma, and Annika (along with a bunch of other people) in front of the new town hall building in the Marienplatz. We climbed to the top of a church where we got a better view of this building (see second photo).

The five of us walked by the Field Marshall's Hall which was commissioned by King Ludwig I to honor the Bavarian army and its victorious generals.

There was a man-made waterway where a strong force of water shot up over a hump. This allowed surfers to angle their boards downward, falling forward as the water pushed them back. The more skilled surfers were able to create a state of equilibrium and surf from side to side without moving forward or backwards. Generally, they couldn't do this for more than 20 seconds. But as soon as one surfer fell, there was another ready to take his place. As I would expect in the states, I saw no women partaking in this dangerous activity (maybe they are smarter than us) which took someone's life not so long ago. But it certainly looked like fun. See third and fourth photos.

Next, we walked through the English Garden which is larger than New York City's Central Park. There were lots of fit, young people out enjoying the nice sunny weather. A few were practicing their balance by walking on a nylon strap attached between two trees. I heard that chicks sometimes take off their tops to catch some rays but I wasn't fortunate enough to witness this. See fifth photo and sixth photos.

There were some pretty flowering trees and lots of big chestnut trees. I saw a jack-in-the-pulpit plant (seventh photo). But overall, the vegetation and animals looked pretty much the same as in the states.

We saw a big, tough looking guy walking a bulldog that looked like him...thick and broad shouldered. I think the only difference was that the dog didn't have any visible tattoos.

For dinner, I filled up on chicken and fries. Annika, Rotraud, and Mark took off while Norma and I went back to the hotel. Seeing Munich with familar faces was a great way to start off our vacation.

Day Three, Monday, May 9, 2011

One thing Norma told me she likes about Germany is their breakfasts. At the Hotel Italia, I learned what she meant. We ate really good, hearty, healthy bread, some processed pork and ham, yogurt, and fresh fruit. Unlike most of the American hotel breakfasts I've eaten, they weren't so heavy on the starches and sweets. I think the German breakfast kept us satisfied longer too. But we agreed that Germany may not be a good place for vegetarians or non-pork eaters. They also don't seem to be into low-fat or non-fat stuff which is fine by me. That stuff just makes me hungry faster.

We entered Saint Michael's Church (see first photo) and saw the crypt where the mad King Ludwig II of Bavaria slept in peace. He had lots of relatives in the crypt to keep him company.

We saw Annika again (second photo). On the hour (I forget which), we watched the Glockenspiel Clock Tower chime. Giant dolls danced around the clock, telling the story of the marriage of Duke Wilhelm V and Renata of Lorraine. See third photo.
A joust with knights represents Bavaria and Lothringen, honoring the happy couple. This wedding had been among the most expensive ones during the Middle Ages.
- from Glockenspiel New City Hall

The three of us walked around town then went to a market. Lots of vendors were selling white asparagus which is a German favorite and in season. I ate a horse meat sausage. It was nothing special.

Norma rented a Citroen car from Sixt. We then drove a href="" target="_blank">Eichstätt, the town that boasts having the famous 150 million year old archaeopteryx fossil that was (in my opinion) one of the biggest discoveries in the world of paleontology. This fossil was uncovered in Bavaria. Unfortunately, Erste Seite Jura, the museum displaying this relic, was closed.

We continued on the autobahn to Rothenburg. Driving on the autobahn was stressful because there were often only 2 lanes in each direction with big semi trucks moving only about 55-65 mph and cars speeding along at 85-100 mph. If you got stuck behind a big truck, then you had to be quick and careful about getting back in the fast lane. Sometimes a truck would pass another truck in the fast lane which sometimes meant you had to quickly slow down to avoid hitting it. It wasn't the fast driving that was the problem, it was the difference in speed between cars and trucks. At least the highway was well maintained.

Passing through the country, it seemed like about a third of the homes outside the city had solar panels. In my town, I think 4 of us have solar panels as of 2011.

We stopped at a small grocery store so I could buy Diet Pepsi and snacks. They didn't have Diet Pepsi but they did have Pepsi Light. I don't think they are the same thing. Interestingly, the name of the store was Norma.

Driving within the walls of the Rothenburg was hectic. This town, which dates back to 950, was clearly not made to handle vehicle traffic.

We stayed in a hotel built in 1374 called Gasthof Greifen that lay within the city walls. Then at dusk, we walked around about half the city on the inner side of the wall, about 8 feet below the top. See fourth and fifth photos. I noticed how all the rooftop shingles (not just in Rothenburg) were made of a brick-like material. I don't imagine Germans need to replace their roof every 20 years or so like we do. These shingles were really heavy-duty. But they were also heavy. One of the homes had a warped roof that looked much worse than our garage before I got solar panels installed. See sixth photo. But I bet Adriano (our roofer) could fix it.

A friendly cat came to greet us on the wall. See seventh photo.

Looking through a hole in the wall, we saw what appeared to be bee apiaries outside of town.

We ate a late dinner. I had pizza. It was good but nowhere near as good as Pizza Hut's meat lover's pan pizza, Pizza Inn's meat combo, or the now extinct Domino's Meatsa Trio.

Norma's travel book said the town empties out at night as the tourists leave. Her book was right. It felt good to feel alone in such a historic place. Like I said, I'm not a big city person so I much preferred the solitude of Rothenburg in the evening to Munich. From the wall, we could see the sun setting over the rooftops (eighth photo).

Day Four, Tuesday, May 10, 2011

We ate another nice German breakfast at the hotel. It was healthy but I was starting to crave a Spam omelet. I guess I need to go to Hawaii for that.

Loading our bags in the car, we took one last look at our room on the upper floor with the red and white shutters (first photo).

The weather was warm in the sun and cool in the shade. It was often difficult for me to tell how I should dress and I kept putting on and taking off layers. I think getting a little chilled along with the plane ride and getting used to the new time zone took its effect on my immune system. I developed a sore throat that lasted for a couple of days followed by a week of blowing my nose. But it wasn't bad and I wasn't going to let it slow me (or Norma) down.

At the hotels and the towns, I was noticing other things that differed from the states. The door hinges I saw in Germany are not like the ones we have. Theirs seem more solid and precise. I wish the doors at my house fit like those in Germany. Many of their metal fences were different than ours. What I call welded grid seemed more common. I didn't see as much chain link (what we call cyclone fence in California) and when I did see it, the edges were often not attached to the corner post with a steel rod. Hence, the tension was uneven.

Norma and I walked around Rothenburg. The tourists had taken over so we walked in the more secluded areas just outside of the wall. See second, third, and fourth photos.

Our next stop was Heidelberg in the state of Baden-Württemberg. We ate lunch at a nice outdoor cafe. There are lots of eating places with outdoor seating which was especially nice because the weather was so pleasant. Norma ordered the white asparagus (fifth photo).

After we ate, we took a short train ride up to the Heidelberg Castle which dates back to before 1214. Our tour wouldn't start for awhile so we walked through the German Pharmacy Museum where I saw a jar of semen crotonis (sixth photo). I thought it was funny (in a juvenile sort of way) until I learned that it is just another name for ba dou, a Chinese herb.

Our tour wasn't terribly interesting but the castle structure most certainly was impressive. See seventh and eighth photos. Supposedly there were bats living in certain parts. Unfortunately, we did not see any.

We walked back to the car, getting a good view of the city along the way. See ninth and tenth photos.

The final stop was Göcklingen in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate. This town of less than a thousand is known not for beer but for wine. It is here that Norma lived for six months with her host family: Eric and Beate. They welcomed us into their big home. We ate ham and white asparagus along with new potatoes. They have a wine grape orchard, a cat, dog, turtle, solar panels, and geothermal heating. I really liked their house. It was very energy efficient, well made, and had plenty of space.

We stayed up late talking. They were very gracious hosts and they spoke in English so I could keep up with the conversation. Their English was quite good. That seemed to be the general rule throughout Germany.

Day Five, Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Eric gave us a tour of his vineyard. See first photo. It looked much different from my grandfather's table grape orchard in Sacramento, California. Several farmers had their plots near each other. They used special narrow tractors to get between the vines. Interestingly, during my whole time in Germany, I never saw any pickup trucks. This was the first time I met a farmer who didn't own a pickup.

We went to Eric's mother's house who sells wine and honey. She gave us three jars of honey to take home. Each was a different flavor. In her backyard, she had chickens (second photo).

Eric, Beate, Norma, and I went to the Madenburg Castle. It was a short walk on a wooded trail (third photo) to the fortress (fourth photo). I'm not sure how old it is but sources say it was already built in the 11th century. From the castle, we had a clear view of the towns below. See fifth and sixth photos. The well maintained castles are impressive but I think I prefer the ones that have fallen apart. I feel like they tell more of a story.
  • Seventh photo: Ruins
  • Eighth photo: Norma and I
  • Ninth photo: Intricate carvings
  • Tenth photo: Norma playing peek-a-boo

  • We ate outside while watching numerous lizards out sunning themselves. See eleventh photo.

    Our next stop was the Speyer Cathedral which was inaugurated in 1061. This was a most impressive building. On the doors were carvings that depicted Biblical stories (twelfth photo). The inside had a VERY tall ceiling (thirteenth photo) and the outside was made of red sandstone (fourteenth photo).
    In 1024, Conrad II, commissioned the construction of the Christian Western world’s largest church which was also supposed to be his last resting place. Construction began 1030 on the site of a former basilica which stood on an elevated plateau right by the Rhine but safe from high water. Along with Santiago de Compostela, (begun 1075), Cluny Abbey (Cluny III, begun 1085), and Durham Cathedral, begun 1093, it was the most ambitious project of the time.
    - from Wikipedia - Speyer Cathedral

    In Speyer, we ate ice cream before before stopping at the Rhine River, the longest river in Germany. See fifteenth photo. Here I saw about 5 kayakers off in the distance. What I saw of the river was not scenic. Like many of the waterways we'd seen, it was obvious that humans had done quite a bit of work to alter the environment. Therefore, I saw few places that I would describe as scenic, nature-loving paddling places. I'm sure there must be such places...I just didn't see any during my time there. Up until today, I hadn't seen any kayaks or even cars with roof rack attachments to carry them.

    Norma and I walked to the house of a friend of hers in Göcklingen. His name is Hermann. I don't think I've ever seen anyone so happy to see Norma. His thousand year old property was in fantastic condition. Across from his house were his wine making buildings. While other farmers sell their grapes to a wine factory, he makes all the wine himself from his own grapes. It was all quite impressive. He gave us a bottle of his fine wine.

    Back at Eric and Beate's house, we looked at some of the photos taken during the day then went to bed.

    Day Six, Thursday, May 12, 2011

    After eating breakfast with Eric and Beate, we thanked them for their hospitality and bid our farewells. Like Hermann, Eric also gave us a bottle of wine. Too bad I don't drink.

    We had been fortunate with the weather up until now which brought a heavy downpour as we drove to the next town. A minor inconvenience for us but very good for the farmers in the area who desperately needed the rain.

    Norma and I stopped in Nürtingen, which became a city around 1335. See first photo. It is here that some of Norma's ancestors lived long ago. At a little Turkish fast food restaurant, we ate doner kebabs. I think this was the best meal I ate in Germany. I was getting a little tired of pork and craving some grilled red meat which I found very satisfying.

    The rain brought out some beautiful snails. This was the most exotic wildlife I would see in Germany. Some had stripes (second photo), others were smaller and yellow, and some were ordinary in color but very large (third photo). The large ones had a lot of meat on them. I could see why the French ate them. I'm sure they are a good source of protein.

    We continued driving in the rain. I checked out the music on German radio. Very bad. I was missing my satellite radio.

    Our next stop was the popular tourist town of Schwangau in Bavaria near a larger city called Füssen. This place is known for its castles in Hohenschwangau. Unlike the others we'd seen up until now, the two castles in this area are pristine. The rain stopped just as we pulled into Hohenschwangau so we took this opportunity to play the part of common tourists. The town bordered by the high mountains was quite a sight. See fourth and fifth photos.

    We bought our tickets to see the castles. The first was Hohenschwangau Castle (sixth photo) which was built by King Maximilian II.
    Hohenschwangau Castle was built on the remains of the fortress Schwanstein, which was first mentioned in historical records dating from the 12th century. A family of knights was responsible for the construction of the medieval fortress, and it served as the seat of the local government of Schwangau. In 1523, the schloss (castle) was described as having walls which were too thin to be useful for defensive purposes. After the demise of the knights in the 16th century, the fortress changed hands several times. The decay of the fortress continued until it finally fell into ruins at the beginning of the 19th century. In April 1829, Crown Prince Maximilian (the later King Maximilian II of Bavaria) discovered the historic site during a walking tour and reacted enthusiastically to the beauty of the surrounding area. He acquired the ruins - then still known as Schwanstein - in 1832. In February 1833, the reconstruction of the castle began, continuing until 1837, with additions up to 1855. King Maximilian died in 1864 and his son Ludwig succeeded to the throne, moving into his father's room in the castle.
    - from Hohenschwangau Castle - Wikipedia

    We got a lousy pre-recorded tour of the Hohenschwangau Castle. The fortress was nice but it looked a little too new (seventh photo). I was much more impressed with the surrounding landscape which was awe inspiring (eighth photo). This included the Alpsee (Alp Sea) which is up to 203 feet (62 meters) deep! See ninth and tenth photos.

    As we walked to the next castle, we saw numerous salamanders (or maybe they were newts) and slugs. See eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth photos. I'm guessing we saw a dozen salamanders, some of which were mating. Apparently, they were enjoying the wet post-rain environment. The slugs were also quite happy. They were big and thick. Some were brown, others were black. As some audibly munched on vegetation, I could see their lamprey-like round mouths that looked to be about 6 millimeters in diamter when open.

    The most impressive thing about the area were the German Alps (fourteenth photo). Here, in Bavaria, lies Zugspitze, its highest peak at 9721 feet (2963 meters) above sea level, on the German-Austrian border. The mountains around us weren't quite so big but they certainly were impressive and steep.

    Our next tour was excellent. A knowledgeable young man with a voice made for Shakespearian acting took us around the Neuschwanstein Castle (fifteenth photo), showing us many of the rooms and artwork. Although I tend to like older buildings, this castle (construction began in 1869) was definitely impressive just due to the fact that it was sooooo expensive. King Ludwig II had it built for himself but lived there for less than a year. It was still not finished at the time of his mysterious death. He acquired massive debt with its construction but the result was a castle whose beauty has been unparalleled. It even served as the inspiration for Disneyworld's Sleeping Beauty Castle.

    Ludwig is sometimes also called "Mad King Ludwig"...[but] because Ludwig was deposed on grounds of mental illness without any medical examination and died a day later under mysterious circumstances, questions about the medical "diagnosis" remain controversial. Ludwig is best known as an eccentric whose legacy is intertwined with the history of art and architecture. He commissioned the construction of several extravagant fantasy castles and palaces, the most famous being Neuschwanstein, and was a devoted patron of the composer Richard Wagner. Since his legacy of grandiose castles lives on in the form of massive tourist revenue, King Ludwig is generally well liked and even revered by many in Bavaria today.
    - from King Ludwig II - Wikipedia

    From Neuschwanstein Castle, we had spectacular views of the Marienbrücke bridge (sixteenth photo) and the surrounding mountains.

    Norma and I went for a walk where we got other nice glimpses of the Alpsee, and King Ludwig II father's Hohenschwangau Castle (seventeenth and eighteenth photos). Around dusk, we took a walk out to the bridge and caught some nice views of Neuschwanstein Castle and the water below (nineteenth photo).

    Back in Schwangau, we checked into our bed and breakfast, Beim Landhannes. This place is also a 200 year old working dairy farm.

    The German restaurants in the area all close relatively early so we were told to check out Da Pietro, an Italian restaurant. For dinner, I ate a tasty tuna pizza.

    Day Seven, Friday, May 13, 2011

    Looking out our bedroom window, I observed the roof gutter and downspouts. They, like all the others I'd seen in Germany, were made of copper. Unlike my skinny 2"x3" white aluminum rectangular downspouts at home, these ~5" diameter round downspouts were unlikely to get clogged by debris and looked very nice with the brick-like roof shingles, stone, wood, and stucco. The architecture was definitely different out here and I'd have to say that I prefer it to the modern American style. But what was interesting is how frequently the old style was covered in solar panels. It didn't look bad at all.

    We at breakfast at the B&B then drove to the Tegelbergbahn, a cable car. At the base of the mountain, several recreational parachutists were landing. See first and second photos. The cable car took us up into the Alps to Tegelberghaus. In this area were several hang gliders (third photo), waiting to participate in the 2011 King Ludwig Open, a competitive hang gliding event.

    Norma and I walked on a trail that took us to Branderschrofen, a mountain peak at 6165 feet (1879 meters) above sea level. Much of it was on a rocky ridgeline. Near the top, just a foot or two above the ridgeline were chains bolted into the rocks to give hikers something to grab onto. At the top was a big cross. Catholicism has strong roots in Bavaria. The view was mediocre because the clouds were obstructing our view.

    As we expected, the trip down was more difficult than the climb up. See fourth and fifth photos.

    There were several colorful, small flowers on this mountain.

    On the way back, we spoke to an older couple from Japan. I found it interesting how so many things in the tourist areas were written in both English and German, yet there were many Japanese tourists and folks from other parts of Europe. Norma said that tourists who can't read or speak German can usually read or speak English, which has become somewhat universal. I suppose we have the entertainment industry to thank for that.

    Having worked up a bit of an appetite, we ate lunch at Berggaststätte Bleckenau. I ate a beef burrito (I was craving red meat) which tasted more like beef barbeque in a tortilla.

    Norma led us on a hike to Alpe Jagerhutte (Alpine Hunter Lodge) at 4708 feet (1435 meters) above sea level. Along the way, we caught some spectacular views that were every bit as good as anything we'd seen in Yosemite during our May 2010 visit there. I'd have to say that today was the high point (literally and figuratively) of my time in Germany.
  • Sixth photo : Me in the Alps
  • Seventh photo : Me in the clouds
  • Eighth photo : See the cross behind us?
  • Ninth photo : Anybody home?
  • Tenth photo : See Norma on the trail below
  • Eleventh photo : Hang gliders competing in the 2011 King Ludwig Open
  • Twelfth photo : Me pointing to where we climbed
  • Thirteenth photo : Norma thinking "How did I get here?"
  • Fourteenth photo : Patches of snow ahead
  • Fifteenth photo : Who's the good looking chick?
  • Sixteenth photo : Norma on the move
  • Seventeenth photo : Are we done yet?
  • Eighteenth photo : Don't lose that map
  • Nineteenth photo : Peek-a-boo
  • Twentieth photo : Norma crossing a bridge
  • Twenty-first photo : Rugged mountains

  • While the scenery was incredible, there was a definite lack of wildlife. Maybe they were just hiding. The most interesting animal we saw were ants. Amongst the pine trees there were several large brown mounds about 18 inches high and 30 inches in diameter at the base. Each was covered by thousands of ants. See twenty-second photo.

    The weather was mostly cool and overcast but when the sun came out, it was warm.

    After reaching Alpe Jaggerhutte, we walked on a gravel road to Diensthaus (twenty-third photo) where we took a bus back to the car (me on the way there twenty-fourth photo). I estimate we hiked a good 10 miles in about 4.5 hours. My nose ran the whole time.

    That night, we ate dinner at the Waldmann Hotel. I ate venison with pasta.

    One would think that after a 10 mile hike in the Alps, we would be done walking. I was done...but Norma wasn't. So she dragged me kicking and screaming to walk in Schwangau for another mile or two...well, maybe not kicking and, not really (twenty-fifth photo). In town, there was an outdoor store that had a whitewater kayak out front. On the outskirts of town, we passed several cows, all of which were wearing bells (notice the castle in the background in the twenty-sixth photo). Why do the cows wear bells? Because their horns don't work. Then we walked between fields and to the Colomanskirche Church, built in the 1600s. See twenty-seventh photo.

    Having done so much walking, we slept well that night.

    Day Eight, Saturday, May 14, 2011

    It rained in the morning.

    We spoke to an elderly German couple. The man really loved the United States. He was particularly fond of Golden Corral.

    After breakfast, we checked out of the B&B then went to Wieskirche Church just before service began. See first, second, and third photos.

    Passing through some small towns, we noticed that some of the homes were pretty substantial (but not mega-mansions or cookie-cutterish) while in the bigger cities, the living spaces were very small.

    Back in Munich, Norma returned the rental car.

    At the big train station, we met up with our friend Clark, who was doing scientific work in Germany. There were more police in the train station than I'd ever seen before in such a small area. They walked and stood around in large groups, dressed in riot gear. We were told this was normal when a big soccer game takes place. Only a brave (or foolish) person would walk around wearing the jersey of the rival team.

    I ended up carrying our empty juice bottle for a long time because we couldn't find a recycling receptacle for it. That surprised me as I figured a big train station would surely have something. They did for paper but not glass, aluminum or plastic. Out in town, I still had a hard time finding recycling bins for plastic.

    We picked up some food at a bakery then ate it on the bus and train which took us to the Dachau Concentration Camp.

    Opened in 1933, it was the first regular concentration camp established by the coalition government of the National Socialist Party (Nazi Party) and the German Nationalist People's Party (dissolved on 6 July 1933). Heinrich Himmler, then Chief of Police of Munich, officially described the camp as "the first concentration camp for political prisoners."
    Dachau served as a prototype and model for the other Nazi concentration camps that followed. Almost every community in Germany had members taken away to these camps.
    The entrance gate to this concentration camp carries the words ("Arbeit macht frei"), meaning "through work one will be free".
    History may never know how many people were interned there or died there, due to periods of disruption. One source gives a general estimate of over 200,000 prisoners from more than 30 countries for the Third Reich's years, of whom two-thirds were political prisoners and nearly one-third were Jews. 25,613 prisoners are believed to have died in the camp and almost another 10,000 in its subcamps, primarily from disease, malnutrition and suicide. In early 1945, there was a typhus epidemic in the camp due to influx from other camps causing overcrowding, followed by an evacuation, in which large numbers of the weaker prisoners died. Toward the end of the war, death marches to and from the camp caused the expiration of large but unknown numbers of prisoners. Even after liberation, prisoners weakened beyond recovery continued to die.
    Together with the much larger Auschwitz, Dachau has come to symbolize the Nazi concentration camps to many people. Konzentrationslager (KZ) Dachau holds a significant place in public memory because it was the second camp to be liberated by British or American forces. Therefore, it was one of the first places where these previously unknown Nazi practices were exposed to the Western world through firsthand journalist accounts and through newsreels.
    - from Dachau Concentration Camp - Wikipedia

    Visually, the camp itself was not particularly interesting. See fourth and fifth photos. But the story it told most certainly was. We wondered how one group of people could be so cruel to another.

    Walking around the camp, we saw a memorial (sixth photo) and the crematory (seventh photo).

    I later learned that
    During the liberation of the sub-camps surrounding Dachau (which happened on the same day as the main camp's surrender on 29 April) the advance scouts of the US Army's 522nd Field Artillery Battalion, a Nisei-manned segregated Japanese-American Allied military unit, liberated the 3000 prisoners of the "Kaufering IV Hurlach" slave labor camp.
    - from Dachau Concentration Camp - Wikipedia

    I have two uncles who served with the mother unit (442nd Regimental Combat Team) of the 522nd.

    Back in Munich, we met Verena, another of Norma's former interns. I got to know her back on March 1, 2008. She introduced us to Johann, her boyfriend. After dropping off our luggage at her flat, the five of us went out for dinner and watched the 2011 Eurovision Song Contest which Norma's employer was helping promote. I caught a glimpse of the pre-finals and was very impressed by Turkey but they didn't make it to the finals. Georgia was my favorite act in the finals and I thought Sweden would win but in the end, Azerbaijan took home the trophy. Germany hosted the event but did not do well.

    For dinner, I ate a bacon cheeseburger with fries. Not bad but nowhere as good as Five Guys, Hardees, or Wendys though I'm sure none of these burger places can make a Bavarian Leberkäse.

    After watching Eurovision, we went to a local pub. Not being night people, Norma and I went back to Verena's place shortly after then went to bed.

    Day Nine, Sunday, May 15, 2011

    I was still congested so Verena gave me some black currant juice, which I had never had before. It was good. She also fixed us some breakfast. Delicious.

    I was very impressed with Verena's washing machine and dryer. It was a single, small, front-loading machine with many features. She could put her dirty clothes in and pull out clean, dry clothes later. How ingenioius! Now if only someone could invent something that would fold and put away the clean laundry.

    Verena's friend, Jonathan, came over. The four of us walked by the Ostersee and Fohnsee lakes. See first photo. There were some marshy grasslands that reminded me of Maryland, and one deep, clear area that reminded me of a Floridian spring.

    I found a tree to climb on to get a better look in the water (second photo). I saw some small fish but nothing interesting.

    Jonathan and I skipped some rocks but had a hard time finding any of the appropriate shape.

    It was cold and overcast.

    I saw a very large mayfly which was appropriate since it was the middle of May. See third photo.

    Not much else in terms of wildlife but we did find an interesting flower (fourth photo) growing at the Fohnseestuberl restaurant (fifth photo). Germany is a very dog-friendly place as compared to the states. It isn't uncommon for non-blind people to bring their dogs into a business or, as was the case here, a restaurant. They were all well behaved...both the people and the dogs.

    Near the end of our short hike, it started to rain.

    The four of us returned to Munich, then Jonathan took off. Verena, Norma, and I walked around town. We saw the Walking Man giant statue. See sixth photo. The foundation for such a structure must have been enormous to keep it from toppling in inclement weather.

    Europe is known for having many small, fuel efficient cars. That is definitely true. But I was surprised to see several larger cars too. Regarding car types, almost all the American cars were Fords. I saw one Chevy and two Dodge Rams. I looked for a car like my own but only saw one Subaru (not an Impreza). Surprisingly, I also only saw one Toyota Prius. But I did see plug-in stations for electric cars in a parking lot. I also saw various Fords and Hondas that I have never seen in the states including the Ford Ka. See seventh photo. I also saw a parking garage that had signs indicating that some spaces were reserved for women, which I found surprising.

    Peugeot was a popular car though its icon, the standing lion, was even more popular. I saw it on Löwenbräu and on several business signs that had nothing to do with the car or the beer.

    At a restaurant/bar, we played foozball. Verena kicks our collective asses every time.

    Day Ten, Monday, May 16, 2011

    It was now time to say our farewells. We were leaving Verena's apartment and Norma would be spending the next several days working. I was leaving back to the states. They told me which train to take. I was off on my own now...a stranger in a strange land (classic Iron Maiden).

    I flew back on Lufthansa. I watched The Dilemna and The Green Hornet. On a scale of one to ten, I rate them 7.4 and 5.1, respectively. I sat near a crying baby...there's one on every plane but at least I had an aisle seat with the one next to me unoccupied. I always carry ear plugs when I fly.

    Without Norma, it was a long flight back.

    I made it back just fine...but one of the jars of honey did not. It was my own fault. I put the jars in a mesh zippered compartment in the corner of my suitcase, which I felt was the strongest part. But I did not wrap them in clothes or plastic bags. There was lots of sticky honey and broken glass. After getting my clothes out, I soaked my suitcase in a big water trough overnight. The next day, it was covered in big red ants. So I used my pressure washer on it and hung it to dry. Good as new.

    My time in Germany was great. I thought a lot about their culture and compared it to my own. So many of the differences can be traced to our roots. The first American immigrants came to the states to escape tyranny and to find freedom. Thus, many of us (regardless of political party) are rather suspicious of "big" government or high taxes. Germans, on the other hand, along with most, if not all Europeans, pay much higher taxes and spend much more for gasoline. But what do their taxes and high costs get them?

    For one thing, they have a much better mass transit system and their roads are pedestrian and bicycle friendly. So they oftentimes don't even need a car to get around. When they do have cars, they are generally very fuel efficient and small. So they aren't contributing to greenhouse gases as much as us. We might be the same if gas cost as much as it does in Germany. As part of the whole energy-efficient mindset, they also invest heavily in renewable energy.

    Perhaps the biggest and best effect of not relying so much on cars is that people walk or ride their bicycles almost daily, regardless of age. So on the average, they are much fitter than your average American. With few overweight people, they don't have as many of the preventable heath problems that folks in the states do. I'm not saying they spend a lot of time in the gym. They just make getting around on foot or bicycle part of their culture. Their food certainly isn't low fat. But it is generally wholesome and healthy. After all, there's nothing wrong with eating meat or even processed meat as long as it is done so in moderation and the number of calories taken in is kept in check by the number that are burned.

    With a healthier population, they can implement an affordable health care program. Of course much of that is covered by their higher taxes and the fact they they aren't as "sue-happy" as us. That is, if a doctor makes a decision that doesn't produce the desired results, they aren't out to sue him/her for millions of dollars. Hence, the money that a doctor would otherwise pay for malpractice insurance isn't passed onto the patient who (in the states) ends up paying more for health insurance.

    Ironically, as healthy-looking as the German people seem to be, they smoke much more than us here in the states. That's a tough one for me to explain except for the fact that ever since I was a kid, the culture in America has been one of greater intolerance for smoking. Maybe smoking combined with an active lifestyle isn't so bad.

    But despite my good times in Germany, I was happy to get back to the good old U.S. of A. I looked forward to driving while listening to my hair metal bands on satellite radio. I enjoyed mowing the lawn in a wife-beater shirt and cowboy hat while listing to Kid Rock belt out the tunes on my iPod. I savored eating my Cheeze-Its and drinking Diet Pepsi. I couldn't wait to load my kayak, drive out to Delaware, set up my tent, and explore some creeks (see May 20-22, 2011).

    It was good to be home.