My 1997 Trip to Germany

There are links to pictures dispersed throughout this account. All of these,and more, can be found, with thumbnails, on my Germany97 picture page.


Well, I survived my trip to Germany. More than survived, I suppose. Before the trip I was a bit nervous -- and not just the type of nervous I would have expected from a three day trip. For me, the Jewish me; the American me; and the non German-speaking me, a trip to Germany had special causes for concern. Of course, there was also the little matter of two weeks of lectures in theoretical computer science (those in the know like to leave off the theoretical bit) that were the primary purpose for my visit. Those two weeks had me terribly worried. Not that I want to ruin the ending, but it all worked out fine.

To start at the beginning, which in this case is not an auspicious place to start, picture yourself (or me) on a BA-Deutsch (normal BA not being good enough for Germany) plane heading off to the continent. With no air-conditioning. I was not a happy camper (and BA -- the normal one -- will be getting a letter soon). After landing I was faced with the discomforting sight of a German in uniform. British customs people never gave me that feeling. And we beat them in two wars, just like the Germans. :-) to all you non-USers. After that vision, it's no wonder I latched onto two Edinburghers in the airport -- they sounded like they were from home.

I used the first day of my train pass (119 pound EuroDomino. Available in Europe, outside of Germ., good for 5 days out of 30. Also available in 3 and 10 day versions) to get to Marktoberdorf, site of the NATO Science Institute Summer School in Computer Logic I was attending. I knew it would be an interesting experience when I got on my last train because I met an Igor from Siberia (would you believe there where two Igor's from Siberia at the school?).

Everything about the school was pretty amazing. The lecturers are all quite prominent researchers, and even though I didn't understand more than half of what I heard (and I did go to all but 5 or 6 of the 50 or so lectures) it was definitely a great experience for me. It might have helped someone else more, but I did get a good idea for what's going on in at least this part of the world of computer science. I'm not that interested in it at the moment, but at least I know what I'm not interested in.

The lecturers were also fairly entertaining -- some demonstrations with bread rolls, a lot of references to each other, even offers of PhD positions from Hank Berendregt, who even I had heard of before the lecture. That was all pretty much in keeping with the attitude of the school. It was serious material, which most of the people loved or at least enjoyed, so the fact that they were doing something enjoyable was much more important than the fact that it was serious. And it got us all away from dissertation research for a while. Which isn't entirely true, because some of the students at the school where lecturers, researchers, or post-docs back at home.

Where ever home was. I now have contacts in 27 different countries. From Siberia down to Japan, across to Turkey, down into Croatia, over the ocean to Brazil, up to Canada, and then back into Western Europe -- the students came from all over. Conveniently, everyone spoke English to one degree or another. It's weird to see someone from Belgium speaking to someone from Turkey in fluent English. Comforting though.

Outside of the lectures we spent a lot of time playing in the sun. The school took place in a grammar school cum boarding house. The rooms were pretty nice, and there were nice facilities for sports. A lot of basketball, a lot of volleyball, some frisbee, no mini-golf (putt putt) (although others did), and even some simple sun-bathing. I ventured out to a lake the very last day and made a trip to the local gym the second day. Actually, the weather was so nice that we were able to enjoy ice cream after the farewell dinner. But I get ahead of myself.

We had one day to ourselves, so I went with a woman named Tanya to Obersdorf, in the German Alps. It's a beautiful town and popular among Germans. It's also much more of a winter resort than a summer one. In any case, Tanya and I, feeling a bit lazy, took the cable car up to about 2000 meters, and then walked the last bit to hit, I think, 2160. Or maybe we went to 1900 and walked to 2060. I've got it written down somewhere. The peak, by the way, was the Nebelhorn.

A few days laster we had an organised expedition to Breitberg, or Brittenburg, or something similar. Also in the German Alps. And again we all took the cable cars up and then started walking. I made it up the easy slope with the first group, enjoyed my lager-tea (which is tea spiked with something REALLY strong), and even conned Hank Berendregt into buying me a piece of cake. Then I got conned into attempting to climb the steep slope. I fell twice in the mud -- before we even started going up. Oh yeah, I forgot to say that it was raining. Anyway, I got about half way up before Thomas (who was keeping me company in the back of our group of 5, which included the above mentioned Tanya and Noemie) was so far ahead that I just had to give up. Going down was possibly the scariest time of my life. I had wimped out going up, when all I could see was the rock in front of me (actually, my shoes aren't climbing shoes -- that's my excuse). But going down! You can see just how far there is to fall! Despite all this, I made it to dinner.

The food in Germany was quite nice. Not great, but not expensive either. Of course, it was all free while at the school, which was great. And the beer was pretty heavily subsidised. To the tune of 1 DM for .5 liters (bottled). That's about 35 pence or 70 cents. That's cheap. Even out in the town you can get half a liter for about 5 DM (2 pounds, $3.75). At least in Bavaria.

After the summer school I took the train to Munich (2nd day of the train pass was used to get to Obersdorf, so this was day 3) and then Koln (o with an umlaut), or Cologne. There the special beer is something called Kolch (o with an umlaut) and is, in my opinion, not that great. It's also usually served in .2 or .3 liter glasses, which seemed rather effete after macho Bavaria.

I stayed at the youth hostel (30 dm a night, despite the 12-15 promised by my Rough Guide) for 3 nights. 3 and a half days is too much time to spend in Cologne -- especially if you're not a big museum buff. But I saw the dom (cathedral), the museum of modern art, a lot of shops (the museums were closed on Monday, the first full day I was there), and several of the parks. The cathedral was, I suppose quite impressive, although more so from the outside than the inside. But my impression is definitely colored by the construction that was going on. It's a combination of continuing repairs of WWII damage (a lot of Germany is still being repaired) and preparation for the Pope's visit next year on the 750th anniversary of the cathedral.

The reason I stayed so long in Cologne is I met some Germans in the hostel. Thomas and Gesche (pronounced, roughly, gaisha). T was my roommate and G was staying in the hostel until she found a place to live in Koln for next year, when she would be at University. Mind you, she was already 20. Germany has an odd school system and she spent much time travelling. G couldn't afford to take a train home, so we struck a deal and I paid part of her train fare and she put me up for a two nights. In the meantime we found a park to play in.

That brings us to Wolfsburg. Now, there's absolutely nothing to do there. Almost. There's another great museum of modern art (according to the Rough Guide. We just went into the gift shop), there's the Car Museum (some of you got postcards from there -- we didn't go in that either). And there's the Volkswagen factory. In 1932 there were 150 people living in the town. Or settlement. In 1933 Hitler decided that its central location was ideal for his new VW factory. Now 150,000 people live there. It still, like every German town, has a castle. But we didn't go there either :-).

Turns out that G's dad is a big R&D engineer for VW (which is why she travelled a lot) and they live in a really nice house outside of the city. So I think I got a good deal. :-). What was interesting was how accepting her family was. Wasn't how I thought they'd react when G called and said she was bringing a Yank home with her. G's mom doesn't speak English too well -- probably only slightly better than my German -- but we managed to have a few conversations with G translating. Anyway, I had a good time in Wolfsburg.

I went back to Munich on Friday (this is getting more general b/c I'm tired of writing). This time I took an ICE train -- InterCity Express. Quite nice. When I arrived in Munchen I had to find a hostel. This proved a bit difficult as the first one I went to was booked, the next two I called were also full, and I had to go all the way to the bottom of the list before I found one. The Jump In turned out to be pretty nice. No breakfast (which most hostels and hotels in Germany do include), but only 29 DM per night. I booked for two nights.

The first night in Munich I walked around alone, bought dinner, had a few beers, and went to bed. I was feeling a bit lonely after spending time with my German friends, but was also tired from the travelling. However, I awoke refreshed and started off for Dachau.

Dachau was interesting. I have a book on it, and took a few photos of some of the memorials, but I can't really do more than describe facts. Visits to Yad Vashem and the DC Holocaust Museum had prepared me for the sights, and the camp itself was not a death camp. It was the first concentration camp and was used mostly for political prisoners. It had gas-chambers, but they were never used. However, it also had crematoria. Stacks of them, like a bakery. Except instead of burning bread they burned human bodies. you can read that sentence again if you want. But it helps to have an image of a dozen or so bakery style (or pizzeria-style) ovens in you head. I always will.

Despite not being a death camp, at least 60,000 of more than 200,000 official inmates officially died. They were either shot, tortured to death, overworked, or victims of disease.

After a somber bus and train ride back, I wasn't in the mood for much. So I had lunch with some people from the Hostel and then went back for a little rest. That's when I met my new roommates, two Brazilians travelling Europe. They freelanced in the TV industry, and carried video cameras wherever they went. Making a documentary, of course. A group of us trouped down to the Hofbrauhaus, a very touristy beer house in the middle of Munchen. This is one of those places where you can get beer by the liter (for just over 10DM). I had to try all three types, and our group ended up closing the place down. We staggered back to the hostel and fell asleep.

The next morning was Sunday, my last day. I wanted to do some shopping, but EVERYTHING outside of the train station and the airport was closed. I went to the Hauptbahnhoff (main train station) hoping to do some souvenir hunting in that area, but I ended up just buying a roll and moving on to the airport. Munchen airport is nice, but it stinks for shopping. However, I managed to acquire some chocolate for friends and my first Single Malt Whisky for myself. Who knows when I'll open it.

It's good to be home.

Okay, some final random thoughts and impressions:


Last modified: Mon Aug 17 14:59:58 BST 1998