Experiencing Germany With Three of My Nieces. Part 9 – Departure

We ended the trip much as we began it, but in reverse.  This time we left the hotel relatively early, went to the station, and I helped my nieces onto a S-Bahn heading to the Hauptbahnhof where they would board an ICE bound for Hamburg, then continue on to Copenhagen.  I returned to the hotel planning on having the breakfast that was included in my rate before heading on to the Munich airport, but there was some form of a mixup between my reservation confirmation and the way the room had been handled in their system, and I figured I had better things to do than to get in an argument about an overpriced breakfast buffet I really didn’t need.  I headed back up to the room, grabbed my bag, and headed back to the station, where I had a really good station bakery breakfast while waiting on the first train to the airport.


I felt I was very early for my flight; I arrived at the terminal 2 full hours ahead and there were only a handful of people checking in for the British Airways flight to London.  Checking in was no problem despite needing to go to a separate bag drop-off so they could put my backpack in a plastic bin for it’s ride through the handling system.  On my way to security I noticed I had plenty of time left and was starting to think of actually having a chance to kick back and have a second breakfast while I waited, but then I rounded a corner and saw a line stretching off as far as I could see the other way.


It was a nightmare.  Over 50 minutes of waiting in a line seeming to go nowhere with a large number of other people who were also on a schedule which was gradually tightening.  The bottleneck was departing passport control for non-EU citizens, and for whatever reason only 4 of the 6 stations were staffed and they were not flowing quickly.  Every so often someone would make an announcement about passengers for flight this-or-that which was about to close boarding needing to identify themselves and then be checked off a list and sent through an expedited line, and yet more often as the line wound around itself someone would try and sneak across a lane with a mumbled “I’m late for my flight…”.  Or at least they did until an older gentleman a few places ahead of me turned to one of them and loudly told them off.  End result of the experience: I got to the boarding gate for my flight with just enough time before boarding to buy a token last pretzel and stop off at the restroom.

Departure from Munich was quite scenic for the first 10 or so minutes, then we went over clouds and it stayed that way through landing at Heathrow.  I had a fairly long layover, so the time involved in the shuttle bus from terminal 5 to terminal 3, a 20 minute security line (which felt short in comparison to the fiasco in Munich) , and hiking through the various hallways to get to the waiting area was far less stressful than the morning in Munich had been.  I had a bit over 2 hours to kill, so after meandering through duty free shopping options I eventually found a restaurant with an open seat and completed my artificial airport English visit with a fish pie and a pint.

My transatlantic leg was on a 747-400 to Phoenix, a route I had intentionally selected despite adding a layover so that I could have an intentional final flight as a passenger on a 747-400 before they all get retired.  I was on G-CIVD and happened to land the seat in the last rows of the airplane where the window side seating changes from 3 wide to 2 wide – which had the unanticipated perk of extra legroom. Sometimes it’s not all bad to be in the back.



Arrival in the US was surprisingly quick and easy, and I had enough of a layover to decide to end the trip with a decent dinner at one of the restaurants in the Phoenix airport.  While I was eating, another diner got up to leave and swung his bag on his shoulder, inadvertently hitting the tray of a passing waitress and launching a tray full of beer at my seat.  The waitress was incredibly embarrassed, the manager very apologetic, and the guy who caused it was gone.

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Experiencing Germany With Three of My Nieces. Part 8 – Munich

We started off the next morning with a bit of a bittersweet moment; my oldest niece was departing our tour and catching a train to Amsterdam for the next phase of her journey.  My friend and I took her to the nearby station in Bobingen and helped her get on the S-Bahn to her connection in Augsburg, then stopped off at a local bakery to pick up some things for breakfast.  By the time we were back everything was set up for a relaxed morning repast before we also packed up and headed out across the Bavarian countryside for the environs of Munich.

When I was booking the hire car I debated where to drop it off in Munich as it would be a liability rather than a benefit for our day in the city.  Augsburg was the logical place and we could then take the train onward, but the return center there was too far away from the station to be able to comfortably walk with our luggage.  I narrowed my search down to return centers within walking distance of stations, and picked the closest one to Augsburg.

It was located in the city of Dachau.  Yes, that Dachau.  The site of the first of the Nazi Concentration Camps.  Accordingly, after a very pleasant drive through the spring countryside under bright blue skies, we stopped to fill up the car with its final dosage of diesel and then headed to the memorial as I felt it was important that my nieces have the experience of standing on the site of such inhumanity and tragedy.  Less than a year earlier I had taken them to visit the American Concentration Camp at Manzanar where Japanese-Americans had been interred in the same time period; visiting Dachau was exposing them to a yet more evil incarnation of that same thought process.

Much has been written and said about Dachau and the other Nazi Concentration Camps.  I will not attempt to repeat that documentation.  For me it is a deeply personal experience every time I visit one. I cannot begin to guess how each of my nieces experienced it, any more than I could guess how the person 20 steps away from me as we entered experienced it.  My personal response to our visit to Dachau was a regenerated commitment to be a voice opposed to the resurgent racial, religious, sexist, and nationalistic bigotry; as a global population we have seen too many examples of tragedies committed under these banners which could have been stopped had enough people recognized the symptoms and stood up for truth and justice at the point where that was still possible.

Our last miles in the rental car were very quiet as we each contemplated where we had just left, but as we parked, turned the car in, and headed off on the short walk to the train station we individually came out of the shells we had retreated into and discovered that we were once again enjoying a beautiful spring day.   We bought a group day pass, caught the S-Bahn into Munich, and proceeded on to Ostbahnhof and the Courtyard hotel nearby, checked in, and got ready to head into the city for an afternoon of exploration before our evening engagement at the Munich Philharmonic.

Part of why I had selected that particular hotel was because it was near the concert location at the Gasteig.  I wasn’t quite sure how best to get there, so we decided to walk the 1 subway stop to it.  In the process we passed by the memorial to Sophie School and the Weisse Rose movement attached to the building on Orleansstrasse which was pictured in the background of the photo of her seeing her brother and his friends off to the Eastern Front.   On the way to the hotel we had walked along the very fence in the picture.

After an enjoyable meander down Weissenburgerstrasse, passing traffic police giving out tickets to bicyclists who had disregarded the signs to walk their bikes through the crowded area, we carried on down Rosenheimerstrasse and came to the Gasteig.  All told about 20 minutes from the hotel to the entrance.  The  Isar river was right in front of us, so we kept on walking and crossed over.  From there we simply meandered through the city.  As our stomachs started to remind us it had been a while since breakfast we found a table at one of the Biergartens near the Viktualienmarkt and refueled on beer, sausages, and a perfect spring afternoon to enjoy them.


After lunch we headed back into the city, eventually reaching the Hofgarten and through it to the English Garden. Whereas the night before we had seen a collection of Dirndl in the shop windows of Augsburg, we suddenly found ourselves seemingly surrounded by groups of young women wearing them in the park.  It reminded me quite a bit of the groups of teens I would often see near Yoyogi Park in Tokyo, with the exception that there the kids went out of their way to be cutting edge trendy and unique, whereas in Munich they were back to the clothing traditions of the area.

While I was pondering this, one of my nieces suddenly hissed “Don’t look over there, I think those people don’t have any clothes on!”    I had known that the English Gardens has a clothing optional area, but in my memory it was further into the park.  My memory was proven inaccurate.  Since both of my nieces were clearly appalled by this, we opted to head off in another direction and found a quiet rock by the stream to relax at, then headed back to the U-Bahn at Odeonsplatz and on to the hotel.

After a tea break and a change of clothes, we decided that as warm as the day had become we might as well take the train to the Gasteig for the concert rather than work up a sweat walking there.  Once on the platform, however, there was an announcement that the train was out of service so we ended up retracing our earlier steps and walking to the venue.   We arrived in plenty of time to settle in to our seats.

The concert was the last of the “really want to do” list we had put together while planning the trip, and my nieces had surprised me by picking up the price of my ticket despite it being significantly more expensive than their student tickets.  I had never before gone to a concert with them, and I was amazed to see them pull out notepaper and pencils and start taking notes as the concert progressed, much in the same way others might take lecture notes.  I guess for those who study music a high level orchestral concert is probably pretty close to a lecture….  The highlight of the evening was the Labeque Sisters playing Bruch’s Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra op. 88a.

Following the concert we headed back to the hotel and settled into a booth at the bar to reflect on the concert, the trip, and life in general. It was a wonderful way to wrap up our trip together, as the next morning we would be heading off on our separate ways.

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Through the Camera – Cobblestones and Cherry Blossoms

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Experiencing Germany With Three of My Nieces. Part 7 – The Schwarzwald and Augsburg

Our final morning in the Pfalz was a rather relaxed one. We enjoyed our last visit to the excellent breakfast buffet put on by Weingut Manz, then finished up packing before turning in the keys and bidding Wachenheim and the Pfalz farewell.  Once out on the road, we picked up the A-65 Autobahn and headed southeast toward the Rhein before crossing outside Karlsruhe.  We passed within 3 miles of where I had lived in Karlsruhe and I thought about making a detour to show my nieces the university where I had started my graduate studies and the building I had lived in on the edge of the city forest, but we had friends awaiting our afternoon arrival in Augsburg and we already had a detour through the northern portion of the Black Forest planned, so at the crucial interchange I opted to stay on the highway.  My nieces had been sufficiently tolerant of my meander down memory lane in Hamburg, and in the back of my head I knew that if I pulled off for Karlsruhe it would turn into the same again – with the requisite stops in old familar places and associated stories – and that would most certainly not be a short visit.

Having picked a Black Forest tour route more by traffic connections than by destination, we had settled on a stop in Calw as the best combination of scenic drives and progress toward the end destination of the day at Augsburg.  Accordingly we left the Autobahn at Pforzheim and meandered our way up the Nagold valley toward Calw…  at least until we hit a construction detour.  Given our general interest in seeing the area a detour wasn’t overly out of place, and the one we took lead us up out of the forested river valley onto a higher plain decorated with fields of bright yellow raps alternating with first growth hay,  as well as smaller roadside strips of u-pick flower stands.  We then descended back into the valley and eventually into Calw where we meandered a bit in the car before finding a quiet (and free) parking spot just outside of the old town area.

Once on foot, we headed off on a targeted search for cake.  Black Forest Cherry Cake in particular, and we were successful.  The cafe we found serving it had outdoor seating which would have been quite nice a bit later in the day, but at the time we were there it was a bit on the cool and breezy side and sitting inside was far more attractive.

After our tea and cake break, we spent a few more minutes walking through the section of Calw we were in before heading back to the car and letting the GPS guide us back to the Autobahn and onward to my friends’ home in Koenigsbrunn by Augsburg.

We were in a good traffic flow, running ahead of schedule, and in the midst of a rousing game of license plate bingo when we approached the exit for Ulm, which in the back of my mind I had considered taking for a quick drive through the town and then proceed onward to Koenigsbrunn on some of the more local roads if traffic had been heavy on the Autobahn.  I saw no need to do so, and we carried on.  A few minutes later we were stuck in a full blown Stau, as in a near gridlock traffic jam in the middle of the highway where nothing ca move and most people turn off their cars.  After about 15 minutes or so some people around us started to get out of their cars and walk around, talk to each other, and generally kill time.  My nieces thought it was quite humorous, so they also got out of the car and joined in the pop-up road festival for a few minutes before heading back to join me in the car at that mysterious signal that lets groups of people know that something is about to happen.  After a total time stopped of roughly half hour things started to move again, and 15 minutes later we were pulling in the driveway at my friends’ house.

They had tea and coffee waiting for us, and after a short visit to settle in we headed out to explore Augsburg in the evening.  Most of the buildings had already closed for the day, but it was still a very enjoyable stroll through a city filled with history as well as everyday activities. Although I had not planned on turning the trip into a Luther-tour, having visited Coburg earlier in the trip it was hard not to appreciate the connection as we enjoyed the garden in front of the rebuilt Bishop’s residence and passed by other sites that Coburg is where Luther stayed during the preparation for the Diet of Augsburg and the Augsburg Confession.

We continued our tour through the historic city center as we learned of Augsburg’s leading roles in medieval finance and textiles before eventually leaving the historic part behind us and returning to the car park.  On the way there, however, we had a final encounter with the textile traditions of the city when one of my nieces noticed the window displays of a store selling traditional Bavarian clothing and was enthralled by seeing a store apparently selling nothing but dirndls.  Cherry trees were also in full bloom, and our path out of the city was lined with cherry pink highlights.

Following an excellent dinner at one of our hosts’ favorite Italian restaurants, we returned to their home for an extended evening of conversation.  One of my nieces who had gone several months without playing the piano noticed theirs, and as she was appreciating it was invited to play, a request she happily complied with.

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Experiencing Germany With Three of My Nieces. Part 6 – Bad Duerkheim and the Pfaelzer Wald

Since we had gone further afield the day before, our last full day in the Pfalz was focused more on relatively local activities where a bit of rain would be more easily managed.  We started off with another excellent breakfast, then set off to visit the ruins of the Limburg monastery.


Although well tended, the Limburg in it’s current state bears only slight resemblance to the importance it once carried.  The hill it crowns was a seat of the Salian dynasty, and as they came to power as Kings of German and Holy Roman Emperors  it was re-purposed and expanded into a powerful monastery at around the same time as the cathedral in Speyer was constructed.  It was at the Limburg that various factions within the Church agreed to a 4 week period of preparation prior to Christmas, what is currently celebrated as Advent, where previously some factions used other timeframes.  In that time period, the Limburg carried in Germany the distinction that Westminster Abbey carries today in England… but times change, and on an evening described by James Fenimore Cooper in “The Heidenmauer” tensions between the Church and the local secular ruler in the nearby Hardenburg castle overflowed and resulted in the monastery being burned down in the 16’th century.  Now it stands quiet as an imposing relic with superb views of forests and vineyards while the exposed stone of it’s construction hints at hundreds of years of architectural development from Romanesque to Gothic.


It had been intended to be a place of royal burial, yet after the initial burial of Gunhild, the teen aged Danish princess who was married to the future King Henry III but died before he was crowned, all subsequent royal burials took place at Speyer, including that of her husband.  I personally have a soft spot for Gunhild and try and make a point of visiting her grave with it’s modern stone whenever I am in the area, and I hope that she was an independent enough spirit to relish being the only burial in a long-since vanished basilica floor rather than being perturbed at not being with the others in a still-standing cathedral.  There were of course others buried nearby – a monastery can’t last over 500 years without having had it’s share of monks and abbots die, not to mention the other supporting personnel, but they were likely buried elsewhere.


After a good visit at the Limburg the wind began to pick up and the first splatters of rain hit the windshield, so we made a quick detour through Seebach to see the Klosterkirche and the neighborhood around it where I had often visited with another group of relatives who unfortunately have since passed away or moved out of the area.  From there we headed deeper into the forest with a drive to Kaiserslautern.  In and of itself Kaiserslautern has no attraction for me, but the drive through the forest to it is nice as a way to see the landscape and, given the number of US military personnel stationed there, I wanted my nieces to have at least seen the scale of what that means.   I was prepared as we came through the town of Frankenstein to point out the ruined castle with the railroad tunnel running under it, but one of my nieces had seen the town name as we drove in and was prepared in advance to (correctly) dispute any suggestion that it was at all related to the book beyond perhaps the name.

On the way back from Kaiserslautern the skies started to clear up and I began to entertain the thought of stopping at one of the many trailheads for a short hike.  Unfortunately I had never been driving when I had gone hiking from any of them, and I found myself seeing them too late to be able to safely pull over and stop, and traffic was heavy enough that turning around wasn’t much of an option.  Eventually I recalled one sufficiently in advance as we were entering Grethen to be able to make the turn and head into the forest to the trailhead parking.

Quite conveniently this particular trailhead led off around a small pond, through a forested section, and then crossed the road the trailhead was off of and paralleled it to the Naturfreundehaus Groß-Eppental.  As hikes go it wasn’t much of one but given that we were in the window for lunch and happened to walk up to a restaurant along the trail it was too good of a moment to not stop in and eat.  We sat out on the terrace to eat a meal of regional specialties (including introducing my nieces to Leberknoedel – another of my favorite dishes) and finished up just as the rain came back.


It was only a half mile or so back to the car along the road, and as I enjoy the occasional walk in the rain I offered to go get the car and come back for them, but they decided that a walk in the rain was more enjoyable than sitting under an awning and waiting.

Once back at the car we decided to head into Bad Duerkheim for further exploration on foot.  Unfortunately when we were a block away from the entrance to the parking area we had been aiming for the road was closed ahead of us due to set-up for an event later in the week.  Luckily I still had enough of a picture of the roads of the central part of the town to be able to come up with a viable alternate plan without too much of a detour.  Once parked, we set out on foot for a general walking tour through the market area, along the main shopping road, and back to the car via the train station, Schlossgarten and the Saline.  Along the way we did a bit of shopping, stopped off in a cafe for cake and coffee while another rain band moved through, and generally enjoyed the city before reclaiming the car and heading back to Wachenheim.


After a tea break we had a wine tasting in the courtyard and I picked up a few bottles for the friends we would be staying with later in the trip, then we headed over to Ungstein to meet up with some of our relatives and visit over dinner in their home.  It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening, however the more we visited the more I forgot that my nieces are not fluent in German so I am afraid they may have become  a bit bored sitting around the remnants of dinner while the rest of us talked until late in the night.


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Experiencing Germany With Three of My Nieces. Part 5 – Wachenheim an der Weinstrasse and into France

In 1891 a man from Friedelsheim, Germany became a naturalized US citizen in Cleveland, Ohio.  That man was my Great-Great-Grandfather.  Through a relatively convoluted chain of events, in the 1990’s families on both sides of the Atlantic who were wondering what ever became of the one(s) who had left / stayed behind were able to connect with each other.  As the only person on the US side who spoke German I became the primary contact on the US side, and when I then moved to Germany a few years later I had the opportunity to meet with my counterpart on the German side.  Technically my 2’nd cousin twice removed, by virtue of age and relationship he seemed to fit in somewhere between an uncle and a grandfather to me, and I was warmly welcomed into the extended family centered around the town of Bad Duerkheim.  Over the course of several years they became a second family to me, and Bad Duerkheim and it’s environs became a second home. One of the places he took me to was the village of Oberschlettenbach, which is where, in about 1750, our earliest identified common ancestor was born and at least a couple of subsequent generations lived before they left the forested valleys of the Pfaelzer Wald and moved to the more open areas of the Rhine plain.

When it came time to make the travel plans for this trip, I knew we needed to go to the Pfalz and spend several days there.  There was the family history and the opportunity to introduce my nieces to our relatives there; there was my own depth of experience and stories I wanted to tell on the locations they happened; and equally important was that the Pfalz is simply a phenomenal place to visit.  There are forests and vineyards; major cities and picturesque villages; regional history bridging current national borders and historic ruins from the time when it was a major theater of European conflict.  In short, we had to go.

There are plenty of accommodation options in the Pfalz, but  I wanted to do something a bit more memorable for my nieces and decided that a B&B stay at a winery would fit that bill.  I recalled that one of our relatives who owned a winery had been thinking about doing that the last time I was there, so I got in contact and sure enough they had done so. I booked their 2 bedroom apartment at the winery in the middle of Wachenheim, and it served us very well as a base of operations.

After the drama of the transportation issues getting there were behind us, I decided that my original plan of driving into Bad Duerkheim for dinner at the iconic Duerkheimer Fass (a restaurant housed inside a giant wine barrel) was probably better saved for another night and we headed out on foot to find dinner in Wachenheim.  It was a Monday night, which meant most places we fond on our evening stroll were closed, but Cafe Schellack, a cafe diagonally opposite us, was open so we headed in there and I was able to introduce my nieces to the local wines and regional cuisine – and in the process satisfy my need for Saumagen.

The weather forecast called for rain on day 3, so after a good breakfast (including Pfaelzer Leberwurst – another of the favorite foods I was after on the trip) I opted to turn day 2 into the out and about day just in case that the rain turned out to be heavy.  The primary goal for the day was to take my nieces to Oberschlettenbach and then spend some time enjoying the forest and castle ruins of the southern section of the Pfaelzer Wald.  2 of my nieces had studied French in school and I decided that given the proximity to the French border we might just as well pop over and have dinner there.  I had thought about going to Strassbourg, but to be worth the trip that would have taken most of the day, and as a big part of the theory of the trip was to show them places they might not otherwise find I decided to dive a bit more deeply into the other areas.

The drive to Oberschlettenbach was a fun journey down memory lane, as much of the way was the same as I used to do when traveling between Bad Duerkheim and Karlsruhe.  My memory from past visits was that we had pretty much just dropped the car off near the central well, but having lost my familiarity with small town German parking customs I instead opted to go a bit further through the village and found a marked parking area near what looked to be the town hall.  As I was getting out of the car a man approached and pointed out that they were doing some masonry work nearby and suggested I move the car to an area less likely to get dusty, then politely asked what we were doing stopping there in the middle of the day.  It turned out he was the Burgermeister, and I explained about our ancestor having been from Oberschlettenbach, which led into a very enjoyable conversation before he returned to the work he was doing and we headed off on a stroll.  The old well at the center of the village has a humorous inscription about walking around it three times for a long life, and as my “uncle” had me do on my first visit I had my nieces follow the advice and circle it the requisite number of times.

Having had a chance to see and get an appreciation for one of the places we had a genetic tie to, we said our farewells and headed on to the somewhat restored castle of Berwartstein, which was once the seat of local power for the area.  The geology of the area is primarily sandstone and consists of deep valleys separated by ridges, and during the medieval period the valleys were popular transit ways for both commerce and military activities – leading to a very large number of fortified positions being built on any high ground with a view.  Most of these started as basic positions on ridge tops and hollowed out of the rock, and over time the better positions began to develop as combinations of built and natural structures.  The Berwartstein is a privately owned example which was reconstructed in a somewhat romanticized manner, but despite the occasional lack of historic authenticity the guided tour through it provides a good introduction to elements typical of castles in the area as well as some understanding of the political dynamics in play at the time it was created.

Next on the tour was a trip across the border into France to visit the remains of Fleckenstein, which is my absolute favorite castle ruin.  As we approached the border my nieces asked me to stop so they could take some pictures, and it was fun to watch them commemorate crossing what is currently, and hopefully remains, essentially a line on a map with no significance to those who pass over it on a daily basis… particularly in contrast to the one we had observed outside of Coburg.

Fleckenstein is to me the epitome of a tragically romantic ruined castle.  Having been carved out of the rock for the most part, it has a very interesting feeling of almost being natural in the setting.  it’s built around a narrow ridge of sandstone commanding the valleys around it, and when it was destroyed and left in ruins it was only the later sections of the complex that had been built above and around the ridge that were damaged. All of it’s military and political significance and history aside, what always fascinates me about Fleckenstein is the one remaining section of the wall of a tower.  In it is a rather decorative window complete with seats built into the wall, and it’s easy to see where the floor was below it.  It is a setting incredibly adaptive to whatever story you might wish to assign to it.

It had been a few years since i had last been there, and my most recent approach had been on foot during a hike, so I was somewhat surprised to see signs for the turnoff and parking.  When we had parked and walked up what was left of the hill, I understood why.  Where my memory had a small clearing with a couple of picnic tables overlooked by the ruins, I now found a museum / cafe / visitor center established and a fence around what had previously been freely accessible.  I don’t exactly disagree with having relatively fragile historic sites being looked after, but it was a shock to my system to see a place that had been free and open suddenly fenced in and surrounded by “developed” infrastructure.  What was most annoying, however, was an attempt that had been made (I’m guessing) to keep children interested by creating a fictional character and having interpretative signs based on that character scattered around the ruins.  All together though it is still my favorite ruined castle and I’m glad I was able to introduce my nieces to it.

When I had lived in Karlsruhe I had a public transportation pass that went all the way to Weissembourg, a small French city right on the German border.  and since at that time German stores still closed early on Saturday and were not open at all on Sundays, there were several Saturday afternoons when I missed the German grocery stores opening times and journeyed to Weissembourg instead.  Quite conveniently they had a nice grocery store a few steps away from the station, and a short walk past it led into the picturesque old city where I would usually make time for a Flammkuchen (aka Tarte Flambé) from one of the several places offering them.  I have had Flammkuchen in many different places, but my benchmark for quality and authenticity is Weissembourg….   so it seemed a shame not to introduce my nieces to that also.

Accordingly, after leaving Fleckenstein we drove along twisty backroads through forests, fields, and villages enroute to Weissembourg.  Once there, our first attention was to our somewhat neglected stomachs with a stop in Patisserie Rebert, a veritable temple to the arts of chocolate and refined sweets.  Armed with a box of eclairs from there and a baguette we picked up at a nearby baker (the purchase of both I left to my French speaking nieces), we followed the Lauter to a suitable park bench and restored our energy before continuing our exploration of the city, including what remained of the wall as well as the monastery.


Once we had explored sufficiently long for the restaurants to re-open after their afternoon pause we followed our senses to a location serving Flammkuchen, and I think my nieces were well introduced to the nuances of Flammkuchen.

We then headed back to Wachenheim with the intent of calling it a day, but after an evening tea we decided that we might just as well end the day of castle ruins with a stop at the Wachtenburg, the ruins overlooking Wachenheim.  Although night was falling it was well lit, and on the way we passed a sign indicating that the seasonal bar was open so we went ahead on the assumption that there would be other people around.  After reaching it, however, we found the bar closed and no one else around.  We were still able to enjoy the view across the Rhein plain, though the floodlights lighting up the walls made it difficult to see more than the brightest lights below.

On the way back down we noticed that Cafe Schellack was open, so we stopped in for a glass of wine and some snacks.  As we were waiting it seemed odd given the hour on a weeknight that they started preparing a large table next to us, but a few minutes later about 20 people came in.  After a few minutes one of them started singing, and the others picked up.  It turned out that it was a birthday celebration for one of the members of the local singing club, and was as good a way as any to end the evening.

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Experiencing Germany With Three of My Nieces. Part 4 – Adventures in Transportation

I realized the night before that I hadn’t made reservations for the day’s train journey, but wasn’t overly concerned as I figured that a late morning train on a Monday would not be overly crowded. As we drove to the station I thought over it again and decided that it was probably worth getting them anyway so that we could sit together, and after my friend dropped us off I headed over to the ticket desk and requested reservations for 4 seats together for our journey.

I recalled having been able to get reservations while on a train in the past and figured there would be no issues getting reservations an hour or so ahead of the first train that would need them, but that wasn’t the case – that train had already left it’s first station, and the ticket agent informed me that after that point they couldn’t make reservations. No big deal in my mind; we had a fairly simple itinerary to get to our end station for the day – Coburg to Nuremberg on a regional train, Nuremberg to Frankfurt on an ICE, and Frankfurt to Heidelberg on an IC. We’d have a couple of hours to sample Heidelberg, then pick up our rental car and head west over the Rhine to our accommodation in Wachenheim an der Weinstrasse for an early evening arrival.

The first train was easy – it started in Coburg and was sitting at the platform, so we boarded and settled in. We arrived in Nueremburg with plenty of time to transfer trains as well as get some pretzels at a bakery in the station, and while we were standing on the platform the thought struck me that since two of my nieces had first class railpasses it might be easier for us to split up for the trip to Frankfurt; they could make full use of their passes and 2 groups of 2 is a much easier find than 1 group of 4. I pointed out to them the part of the platform where the first class section would board and then headed to the second class area with my other niece. About that time the train came and we boarded.

About 15 minutes later I got a text from one of the ones in first class saying that the compartment was pretty full and asking where we were sitting because they might come back to find us. For a few minutes I expected to see them come down the aisle, but when they didn’t I figured they had found seats after all. As we pulled out of the last stop before Frankfurt I sent them a text that the next stop was Frankfurt and we would be getting off the train there. A few minutes later I got a text to the effect of: “Frankfurt? Didn’t they just announce that Halle is the next one?”

It took a few more texts to realize that we were not on the same train. It turned out that shortly after our train arrived at the platform in Nuremburg, another one going the opposite direction arrived at the other side of the platform. Somehow they managed to think it was ours and got on….

Fortunately it was an easily rectifiable situation. I suggested that they get off at the next station, go to the ticket window, and request a connection sheet to Wachenheim and meet us there. They did a variation of that – they found a woman who spoke English who had the DB app on her phone, and she gave them the route information. Given that they had a railpass there was no extra cost or re-ticketing to deal with, so they essentially had a bit of a bonus ride. All that said, it highlights just how useful it can be to pick up a mobile phone that works in the place you are travelling; if this had happened 20 years ago in the pre-mobile age it would have been a bit more convoluted to get back together.

With them on their extended trip, my other niece and I transferred in Frankfurt for Heidelberg, and I thoroughly enjoyed the short ride along the edge of the Odenwald. The plan was to swing by the off-station car rental agency we would be picking our car for the next stage of the trip up at, drop our bags off there, then head into the old part of the city for a quick look before picking the car up and heading over to Wachenheim.

Such was the plan. Reality looked much different. It was hot and muggy, the road I had planned to walk down to the rental place was under construction and the sidewalk was closed, and by the time we detoured a few blocks to get around the construction the idea of walking the mile or so to the old part didn’t seem like such a great idea. Then the rental company couldn’t find our reservation for a Passat wagon, then once they did the car wasn’t ready, and so by the time the keys to a very low mileage black Mercedes E220d diesel wagon appeared I was ready to just get in it and head out. My niece wasn’t dead-set on seeing Heidelberg, so we adjusted our plans and set off for the Pfalz… and I fell in love with our transportation option for the next few days.

We stayed at the B&B located within the winery at Weingut Manz in Wachenheim an der Weinstrasse, so we made our way there and got checked in. We had an hour or so before the other nieces were set to arrive, so we opted for a gelato followed by a bit of a stroll to kill time before heading to the station. We got there about 10 minutes before they were due to arrve when we got another text, this time letting us know that they had gotten on the wrong train in Neustadt and would be arriving later. Somehow that seemed normal for the day, so my other niece and I decided to just go take a walk in the vineyards surrounding the station while we waited. Eventually the others arrived and after a short walk we were comfortably settled in.

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