Frankfurt seemed a glorious bastion of civilization. For a few hours. I spent my first demi-month in Germany casting around, revelling in couchsurf opportunities and museums. I met some great people in Heidelberg and on the Neckhar River, including Martin Knoll's cousin Peter. Dortmund and the German industrial corridor yielded some friends. Dresden and Saxony could barely hold Eliza Greenman, so we exploded to Munich for a rowdy Oktoberfest. I've finally settled down though - living here in Eichstätt for the last two weeks has been fantastic. Bavaria is where it's at.
By it, I mean Archaeopteryx. I spend half of my days about fifty yards from the Eichstätt exemplar - widely held to be at least second best for feathers, and an easy first for skull elements. The Jura Museum at Willibaldsburg Castle is chock full of great fossils and cool people. The Altmühl river valley and environs are made of Jurassic fossils, and some days I have to remind myself that this isn't the Cumberland Plateau. You just have to look around until you see the big white castle on the hill. That usually means you're in Bavaria, not Tennessee.
I could probably write a small novel about this time in Eichstätt, but I'd have to collect some notes. So I'll wait on that and just give some details about a little side trip I got back from the other day.
People in Germany still hitchike. Everyone under about 57 does it, and in all desperation, I can never forgive the vast folly of North America for ruining this institution. I guess it just takes about seven nutjobs out of three-hundred fifty million good folks to scare the crap out of the general population. So I walked out of my door with the peace offering of a guitar neck poking out of my backpack. I stood on the road to Ingolstadt with a sign that said 'South.' Under this, I scribbled ''ich habe schokolade.'' Eric Keen once pulled a world-record hitch from Kaikoura to Dunedin on that other haven of rides, South Island New Zealand. He says that writing ''I have chocolate'' on a piece of cardboard basically makes you invinceable. So I gave it a shot.
Before twelve minutes had elapsed, a silver Jetta full of girls came to a stop at my feet. The one in the back switched with another one in the front seat before I hopped in. I asked about that, and was briefed concerning the long democratic process that had proceeded. Apparently, these nursing students had circled the block pitting the ill omen of my ragged facial hair against the possibility of free chocolate. The chocolate won, proving once again that Eve probably did swipe that tasty treat in the face of certain ruin. There was one dissenter who was still smart enough to be terrified, so she switched to the front, presumably to let her pal take the Fall.
I tried my best to prove harmelss, and what's more, I coughed up the chocolate. RitterSport, redwine flavor if you must know. I have a long history of becoming popular by bribe. Keen, I guess I owe you one.
I was dropped near the AutoBahn outside Ingolstadt. That was a chilly rush-hour wait for somebody with a sweet tooth headed to Munich. In Germany, the first two letters of the license plate betray your car's hometown, and they conveniently have two copies on each vehicle - one smack on the front. This is an excellent arrangement if you're trying to divine the destination of any given unit of oncoming traffic. I saved my special smiles and thumbs and pouty faces for those cars bearing a big fat letter M at the head of the digits.
Curiously, middle aged men alone with ties in BMWs, Mercedes, Alfa Romeos, Porsches, Aston Martins, Lamborghinis and pretty much any other car worth more than my education all tend to head to München - alone. Well, I shouldn't be so greedy. Those four extra seats were probably just being saved for the crowd of jovial friends they'd be picking up later. Some say there's money in that town. I say it's mostly a big ol' sack of scowls.
I got a lot of smiles and shrugs from the mass of cars going North, presumably because that direction leads to rural regions. I almost didn't notice the kindly honking microscopic blue car that was trying to get my attention in the driveway to my left. I hopped in and proceeded to jam out to turkish fiddle. We managed to converse in grunts and Germano-Anglisch and gesticulations while my bag rode on an old TV in the back. This guy was a couple years older than me with a brother in the city. He tried to give me everything he owned, and wouldn't hear of my trying to pay for that giant raft of thai food we ate. He put me right down on the bus line in middle of the city with a big grin and took off. If I'm ever in K--in--gree--, Turkey, I'll settle that Karma.
By this time, it was good and dark, and I had no love for headlights. I stole a bus ride and hopped a ten-dollar train that would take me way out of town and right toward the alps. Bavaria is something like the Texas of Germany. I won't offend my Texan and Bavarian friends with a more detailed comparison, but 'Lone Star' seems to cover some of the main points. The train I was on was proudly labelled a BOB. The conveyance was at pains to appear separated from the general German train system. It was the Bayerische Oberlandbahn, complete with a vastly different color scheme, map format, and prodigious coats of arms. Whatever. I just had a ticket and was trying to figure out how the thing worked.
I gathered from a clever diagram that his was a three part train. What and ingeniously German solution! Without this scheme, hordes of people going from Munich would turn into tiny handfuls of people on several wasteful trains going to any certain town out in the coutryside. The staggeringly efficient answer is to put them all on the same train, and split up the single cars at junctions in the track whenever the destinations diverge. So there were three lines serviced by this single proud BOB. I spent several minutes in study of the chart, finally determining that I needed to be in the part of the train that was going to go on that blue section. Perfect, this was a masterful system I couldn't wait to see in action.
It was hilarious. Every time the train would stop and split up, a recorded announcement came on, and everybody started squawking and running around the platforms making sure their color was right. ''Für die Zug nach Lenggries, gegen sie auf...'' The maleström around me raged, while I, with perfect composure and confidence, was certain of my destination at least four seconds out of every fifteen.
I found myself on a dark platform in Bad Tölz, the BOB was rumbling away. I would meet some couchsurfers after awhile, but I passed the time there with the local crowd. Any place with a streetlight after eight PM can usually be depended upon to harbor some cargo of teenagers engaged in the generally acknowledged pastime of Loitering. The main difference in Germany is that that the legal drinking age is sixteen. You can drink wherever you want in any public place before midnight. I found myself in the company of a dozen and a half fellows with black fingernails, and the regular crop of hangers-on. Ankle length black leather coats and brave juxtapositions of flesh and metal prevailed. We even had a jukebox. Surrounded, I was entreated to employ my troubador's lute, which I did, to save my life.
They turned out to be just regular kids wondering if their English was good and functional. Small town, bright lights, Friday night.
I got into a black PT Cruiser when some couchsurfing pals arrived to rescue me. Lisa and Christian said we'd be picking up another guy to complete the band. This explained the drumset packed in around me. This Charlie had no idea I'd be there, so my task was to pose as the new singer, from France. I pulled that off for about thirty seconds. We headed to the greatest Bavarian farmhouse ever with a case of Hofmühl and passed the full moon night with some big hemlocks and hay bales. I had gained some chilly elevation since that morning. So far the clothes I've amassed here were not eaqual to the task, though i was wearing about six shirts. Christian told me about driving from Maine to California via New Orleans over about five months. Impressed, I accepted his offer of a rug for the night.
Charlie made some crazy sandwich with a can of out-of-date anchovies, Lisa rocked out on the traps, and some wild keytars got played. It was a fine old basement.
The next day, we emerged forcibly at 5:30 AM. They had to get up to Heidelberg. I found a section of that train left over, and rode it the opposite way, out to the end. Lenggries is a ski town that rakes in the kind of walkers who carry nordic walking poles during the off season. I arrived in the off-off season. That is the period between good weather and snow when everyone wonders why they live there. That suited me ok, I had a raincoat. It wasn't really rain.
I found this hostel, and I don't really like hostels, but didn't have the energy for much else. It was completely deserted, so I stuck a note on my backpack and left it in the corner and visited the local bakery. It was 7:30am. I got the best five-pound loaf of bread in the bunch, and the nice old lady with a nephew in Alaska paired it with the proper cheese. Duly equipped, I sauntered out into the fog that never exactly cleared. Towns in Germany have this excellent quality of being discreet units. If you want to get out of one, just pick a direction and walk. I walked sort of uphill and found myself in a forest. I kept going and got high enough to see that I was probably in the mountains. At that point of my Alpine Trek, I penetrated the cloud cieling, which was way up around 100 feet above town. I found snowline and a bit of a maze of trails. I got in a haunted grove of hemlocks and mist and rocks. I guess frozen feet would have been possible, but the biggest risk I ran was a slightly damp butt since I sat down to watch needles blowing around this huge tree while I ate my cheese and read a book.
I thought I was within striking distance of a really cool lake, but that plan never really got off the ground. I came out of the clouds to watch a cat inspect a fencepost beside a gravel road that I started to walk along. The cows up in the foothills still wear big fat brass bells. The whole swirly mass of mist and glowing leaves with clanging and tinkling green grass swells ended up being the payoff for that excursion.
Folks down there still wear Lederhosen to Church, which is a great relief. It's always funny to note how traditional garb never seems to look odd in its native land. Every dwelling was a perfect little gingerbread house with drooping gables garnished with a healthy mix of hunting trophies and crucifixes scattered round. The winter wood crop was all packed away in neat piles, ready to fight snow that was dying to dump overhead. Every once in a while, a cloud would abandon its duty and let me see some scrap of jagged peak. After about five hours, I found myself back where I started. This was my cue to head back to a cup of tea at the hostel, content with a warning.
After some peace, I discovered that my housemates comprised an orchestra. The bus was hiding out back. When deprived of strings to abuse, these dogged youngsters persevere by whistling. In concert. At all hours. If one takes up the tune, termed an 'ear warmer' in German, his fellows will adopt their appropriate parts, thus propelling an innocent exercise into a vast mob of concerto-inspired classical gas putting the reluctant audience in mind of some warehouse of sparrows being rendered slowly for pillow stuffing. Like I said, I hate hostels.
I had smooth transit later back to Eichstätt. I was out of chocolate, so I put in some Euros that would train me back to my attic home. I was trying to make sense of my schedule. I looked at my clock, it said 12:24. The machine I was petitioning offered me a ticket that would leave at 11:46. I was too smart for it. Coming from Morocco, I laughed indulgently at this feeble attempt to scam me. Supremely inaccessible in my travel savvy, I plunged onward and succeeded in collecting a proper ticket that would leave at 12:50 or so. I looked for the vehicle in question. The electronic sign informed me that a train would, in the future, be leaving here at 11:32. 'These idiotic Germans,' I thought. Can't even be bothered to reset a sign. It was probably miles down the track. The train pulled in, and people going to the 11:32 destination were taken on. I was baffled. I took a seat at a nearby table and busted out a jar of peanut butter. I bought this one because it said 'Made in USA!' which was a sure guarantee of some kind that should be more or less regulated by the government, I feel.
I was mulling things over, watching these absurd German signs that were persistenly reading the wrong time. I looked at my clock again. Then at every other clock in the surrounding fifty yard perimeter. It occurred to me that in Germany, I had never been able to detect a technical error of any kind without first identifying something like sixty-seven of my own. It was, I supposed, at least remotely possible that I was wrong. The time had changed while I was being whistled to sleep. This gave a whole new dimension to my ticket purchase. I settled in to wait with my peanut butter. I was then asked by a waitress what I would like to order. ''uh...'' At that very second, I saw a sign that showed a train going to just where I wanted to be, just at that moment. I said ''nothing... I'm leaving...'' Under reproof, I collected my food and skulked away to install myself in the car as it pulled toward home.
I found Eichstätt as I had left it - beautiful and full of oak trees. And showers.