Subject: Deutschland Dreaming

Date: Wednesday, June 28, 2000 1:29 PM

As I'm nearing the end of my 4-week stay with Judith (whom everyone no doubt recalls from Australia) in Bavaria, I can actually say that I have learned to speak German. OK, perhaps I am not exactly fluent in German, but I can order beers and ask for the toilet all by myself. However, even on those more lucid occasions when I luckily utter a coherent sentence, nobody mistakes me for a German. Even if I had no accent, they would still have me pegged as an American- I wear my sandals without any socks. Yes, I refuse to comply with this fashion faux pas, even if it means I am ostracized. However, this has given me a chance to reflect upon several aspects of Deutschland that you may consult for future travel reference, procrastination from work, or perhaps, sheer entertainment if you have been drinking enough beers.


In the bucolic Bavarian countryside, quaint hamlets are nestled among undulating hills of wheat and vineyards with scattered fields of hops and coniferous forests. Each hamlet invariably has one or two churches that rise above the more humble buildings. The modest white cement houses are accented with traditional red wooden shutters and red-tile roofs. Bonanzas of colors overflow from flowerboxes on the balconies into manicured flower gardens where roses climb wooden lattices back towards the roofs. The scenes seem that they have not changed in hundreds of years.


Cities steeped in history harbor an abundance of gothic and baroque churches from the 13th - 19th centuries. At Andeck's monastery outside of Munich, we climbed the 14 stories of an 18th-century chapel to the top of the bell tower. Good thing we did not hang around up there. As soon as we descended, the massive bell rang the hour. Of course this paled in comparison to the 13th-century church in Koln, the Dome, where we ascended over 700 stone stairs (worn concave from almost 800 years of foot traffic) to the steeple apex 360 feet above the ground. Only more impressive than the churches are the castles. From the 11th-century Marionburg castle with its 14 kilometers of walkways in the interior of the defensive perimeter walls (it fell to the Swedes during the 30 years war in 1639) to the 19th-century Neushwanstein with its soaring spires (imitated on a smaller scale at Disney World) whose construction nearly bankrupted Bavaria before the king was officially declared to be insane, each boasts of wealth beyond comprehension.


Overall, the people are more reserved than Americans in their demeanor are. One day, Judith and I were walking past a group of 20 people as they entered a castle for an exclusive private tour. They were all well dressed and obviously knew each other (we later found out that they were a wedding party). The vexed tour guide chose to ignore our intrusion when we joined them for the next hour.

In light of this behavior, German mores seem paradoxical. Sex pervades the media. Nudity is rampant in billboards, magazines, and television. I saw one commercial on TV that showed a copulating couple in bed without any concealing blankets. I am not even sure what they were selling. Similarly, alcohol consumption is ubiquitous. Of course, I found it refreshing to legally drink alcohol in public, particularly at an all-night party at a city park on the Mein River. Sitting next to an open fire we watched 100-meter cargo boats pass within a bottle's throw.


There is only one word in sports here, football. No, not American "football," but true foot ball. Sitting at a bistro near the Siegestor Arch in Munich, we watched a spontaneous street party erupt when Turkey won an early round match in the European Cup. Rejoicing Turkish immigrants waved Turkish flags as they danced on the roofs of their cars parked in the middle of the main throughway.


Germans prefer mystery meat products. Forget those readily identifiable animal parts you are accustomed to eating in the States. There are no steaks here. No animal body parts are excluded from bratwursts, which are nothing more than obese hotdogs without the concealing red dye.


Beer, it's cheaper than soda. Seriously. However, because man cannot live on beer alone, soda is mixed with beer to make radler, a more affordable alternative to soda. As I am on a budget, I cannot afford to drink soda and have stuck with hefeweizens, dunkels, weisses, and pilsners. At last, I have finally mastered the pronunciation of Löwenbrau (Loovenbroy).


If there is anything Germans like better than beer, it's cars. Invariably stick shifts, invariably German (even the taxis are Mercedes), invariably fast. One day, I could only marvel at the convoy of Mercedes, BMW's, and Audis speeding past us on the autobahn. Judith decided to take action. For my birthday she

rented a 500-series BMW with a 196 horsepower V6. Screaming out of the rental agency en route to the autobahn, I jumped into traffic and quickly accelerated to 120 kilometers per hour (Kph) in 3rd gear before an automatic safety governor checked me when the engine redlined at 6700 rpm. On the autobahn the engine purred- no other sound was audible, even at 180 Kph. At this speed the car cruised comfortably, however, I was pushing my own limits. These tortuous freeways are not the straight highways that stretch to the horizon in the States. As we had not purchased the optional insurance, racing around the curves faster did not seem prudent. However, I succumbed to the allure. My pulse raced as I impossibly hit 200 Kph. I triumphed in my feat, as I joined the elite ranks of Mario Andretti, Dale Earnhardt, and Speed Racer. My celebrations were cut short when I looked in the rear-view mirror to see an elderly woman in a Mercedes riding my bumper to pass me. Yes, this is definitely Germany.