Sunday, April 6, 2014

I can’t believe it’s already been a week since leaving Hawaii.

We departed Sunday night and arrived in California for a brief layover and continued on to New Jersey where we stayed overnight.  Initially our go time was 2AM; at 1:45 we learned it had been pushed back to 6AM.  Thankfully we were able to get our room keys back and sleep a little longer.  However, some of us found a 24-hour Subway first to get whatever odd meal you’d call it that takes place when you’re supposed to be asleep.  I believe a certain subculture calls it “the munchies.”

A few hours later we were winging our way across the Atlantic to Germany!  It was about 1AM when we arrived and 1:45 by the time we were all in our hotel rooms in Ramstein.  I was able to sleep a few hours, but I naturally woke up around 5 and started getting to the business of the day, namely wrapping up the final paperwork for obtaining a German driver’s license as I had to rent a car.  Thankfully they don’t drive on the left side of the road here, though some of the rules and laws are a bit different. 

For example, if you’re approaching an intersection and there are no signs, if someone is coming from the right, they have the right of way. 

And there’s the Autobahn…I like the lack of speed limit over most of the roadway.  However, when you’re coming up on an exit, a limit of 90 km/h goes into effect.  Also, just because there’s no set limit, in general it’s recommended you don’t go much over 120 km/h, but really if you just go with the flow of traffic you’ll be fine.  I want to say I topped out around 140-150.  It’s pretty cool.

We’re driving Ford station wagons and I dig ‘em.  They’re diesels; it’s my first time driving a diesel.  It’s not all that different from my Saturn at home except that it gets amazing fuel economy.

Anyway, our first real night in Germany we went to a restaurant called Zum Dicken Emma  - or The Fat Emma.  Seeing as how there’s an Air Force base in Ramstein a lot of the commerce in the vicinity is somewhat Americanized, and that is demonstrated, if not exaggerated, by the food portions at Fat Emma’s.  As you can see, a cheeseburger of medium size (they come in small, medium, and holy crap) is the size of normal plate, if not bigger.


And then there’s this:

I call it “the huge mistake.”

When our waitress was taking orders she gave the first guy, Bradshaw, a little grief for ordering a small beer instead of a liter; so he ordered a liter.  I was on the opposite side of the table from him, and when Johnny ordered his drink before mine the waitress casually mentioned that there’s also a three liter size.  That intrigued me.

“I’ll take the three-liter,” I said.  I don’t think she was expecting someone to actually do it.  Now, I’ve had liter-sized sodas; I’ve purchased many a two-liter in my day.  I even remember when three-liter bottles were popular – yet I was unprepared for the upright fish tank brought before me filled with Dunkelweisen beer.  The head itself was about four or five inches tall and it took a couple sips before I finally broke through the foam.

Oy vey…what was I-?  Oh – I wasn’t thinking. 

Well, drinking that beast required two hands and many bathroom breaks.  Don’t get me wrong, everyone had fun that night, as did I…until the last liter….

And I’m not sure, but I think what did me in was the shot of Uzo, which is a shot of whiskey designed to help food settle.  Well, for my internal beer sponge I had a pepper steak and some fries.  It was a delicate balance internally, but I was doing alright until Uzo…then…I held it together – nothing emerged from the properly marked exits that wasn’t supposed to, but I was hurtin’.  The three who remained with me as I finished off the Dunkelmonster and I walked – yes, walked; no staggering – back to the hotel three hours after we walked to the restaurant. 

I slept extraordinarily well that night.

Thankfully, there were no aftereffects.  I was a little groggy upon wake-up, but none the worse for wear.

Around 8 or 9 we gathered up in our convoy of three wagons and took off.

Ah!  I forgot to mention that the night before we met our translator, an older gentleman by the name of Ernst.  He’s a retired mechanical engineer who collects typewriters and lives with his wife here in southern Germany.  He is truly a delight and I’ve enjoyed the conversations I’ve had with him thus far and look forward to those to come over the next several weeks.  Perhaps I’ll interview him for the podcast….

So it was a convoy of three wagons and Ernst in his blue car.  

The ride to Dillingen wasn’t long at all, and as we drove into town the déjà vu began….

On the outskirts of town is an old Industrial Works factory – it’s now a tourist attraction, but the appearance of it triggered a memory of something I can’t remember experiencing.  Alternate realities synching up?  Dr. Bishop hasn’t been returning my calls, so I’m not positive, but we’ll see.

As we were cruising down the main drag to our first destination I spotted an Aldi on the left and thought, “Ah!  They have Aldi here, too!”  And then I remembered, this is where Aldi originated – not necessarily Dillingen, but Germany.

We were an hour or so early for our first engagement so we found a nearby Eiscafe, or ice cream shop.  It looked fairly new.  As the boss conferred with the committee I looked around, taking it all in.  As I mentioned before, Ramstein and the surrounding area is somewhat Americanized – ain’t nothing American about Dillingen. 

The seats were outside and I’d hear people speaking in German to each other as they’d walk by.  A couple at a nearby table exchanged greetings and began talking excitedly to each other over some chocolate gelato.  It was so cool to hear it being used so naturally.  I hadn’t heard that much German since high school. 

Once it was time, we arose and walked down the cobblestone sidewalks to the library and met with our contacts.  It was a brief meeting and within the hour we’d all dispersed then reconvened at a nearby Italian restaurant.  It seemed kind of small, though in a long building, and driving to it was fun.  The streets twist and turn about; there are many roundabouts in addition to traffic lights; a bridge spanning the train tracks going through town, and an older part of town filled with rows of homes that connect as one large building down each block.

Lunch was good.  I got to hear more conversational German and in my own limited usage found much of it coming back to me.  I surprised some of our hosts as well as myself. 

From there we were taken to a large field where we’d be spending the next three days doing our work.  A running trail runs along it so we weren’t without a fair share of spectators wondering what these folks were doing (“Ah! Amerikans!”) out there including a local TV crew.

Nuts…I can’t find the link to the video, but here’s a news article – in German (Google should translate):;art27857,5205263

Some local volunteers worked with us over the following couple of days, but the highlight would have to be speaking with the mother of one of the volunteers who was living in Dillingen during the War.

Now, Dillingen saw quite a bit of action at that time.  Any WWII buffs out there can look it up and see how involved it was, but just in random areas around town you’ll see bunkers with gun turrets, bullet holes in different buildings, and in the surrounding areas one can find many artifacts. 

Here are some examples and for more you can click over to my Flick*r page.


Yesterday some of us visited a restored bunker that serves as a museum, albeit quite a small one.  We descended about 30 meters into the earth and observed the cramped spaces the soldiers lived in; and yes, to be clear it was a German bunker used during WWII. 

It was very interesting seeing what life was like.  After going into the heart of the bunker we climbed 30 meters up into the turret where two to three soldiers would be serving as lookout, gunner, and assistant.  And suddenly it occurred to me that to get out of that horribly small space you’d have to go back down the ladders, through the tight passages, and back up the stairs.  That thought was immediately followed by: this would be a terrible time to get claustrophobia; that thought’s caboose carried the sensation of panic but I quickly reminded myself I’m not claustrophobic and continued to take pictures.


That pretty much concluded our time here and today, Sunday, we had a day off.

Most of our team went off to a nearby town to see the sights, but Bradshaw and I stayed behind.

We strolled around Dillingen, finding a Mediterranean Café for lunch and a nearby pub for afternoon pints (pints – one each).  Afterward Bradshaw had his own work to do and I retrieved my camera gear from my room and strolled about on my own. 

I’ve never done a time-lapse video before and the Nikon D800 I’m using has that functionality built in.  I’ve been wanting to do one for a while, especially with the more photographers I meet the more popular time lapses seem to be. 

I first walked down to the bridge spanning the train yards.  Being unsure of what the timing on the shots should be I set it at one shot every ten seconds for five minutes.  Given the combination of the brevity of what the final product would amount to along with the lack of trains I wound up with a rather boring five second clip of train tracks.  I deleted the file, took a still shot of the area and moved on.

One thing I didn’t anticipate is that most of the town shuts down on Sundays – that’s a cultural characteristic of Germany.  And I like that.  While it initially proved inconvenient for Bradshaw and I in our quest for lunch, I do like that entire municipalities at least delay opening up for the sake of going to church.  To quote the dad in That Thing You Do, “You shouldn’t have to work on Sunday to support your family.”  Saying all that to say, after 12 things start to open up and people come out to enjoy the afternoon; and it was indeed a lovely afternoon.

From the bridge I hoofed it over to the Eiscafe we stopped at when we first arrived in town.  That place was hopping!  I set up my camera on the tripod and adjusted the settings to release the shutter once every three seconds for about 20 minutes.  While I waited I wrote a bit in my journal and talked to a couple inquisitive locals about what I was doing.  Now I have a neat ten second segment of people walking around and enjoying their ice cream/gelato.  And I also want to make more time lapses.

Well, packing up from there I figured other areas of town must be more active, too.  I walked over to the main square to find - - - hardly anyone.  I walked to another area with pubs and cafes - - - hardly anyone.  Apparently, the place to be is at that one café. 

By that time it was coming up on dinner so I returned to our hotel to rendezvous with the rest of the group.

Ah, our hotel – it is one of the nicest hotels I’ve ever stayed in; and by nice I don’t mean luxurious or five stars or anything like that; it’s…nice; it’s pleasant, it’s cheerful.  The hotel’s personality is nice.  Yes, I believe that place has personality.  For example, I think I mentioned in my remarks about one of the hotels we stayed at in the Philippines (from a previous excursion) that it was a sad hotel.  Well, the Saar Hotel is nice, it’s happy, it’s good. 

Yellow is the primary color setting the scheme and it’s delightful.  When the sun shines through the windows of the quaint pub and restaurant on the ground floor it’s always with golden beams; even on cloudy days. 

My room is bright, but not uncomfortably so.  It’s bright with the sun’s warmth and tranquil cheerfulness.  It’s like setting foot inside a hug, or a freshly-baked loaf of bread.  It’s just lovely and I don’t look forward to leaving it in the morning, but we must.

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Well, that’s the first week in.  I’m going to try updating a bit more frequently so the posts won’t be so overloaded.  That’s dependent on what happens during the days, though, and if I ever overcome the jet lag.  Like clockwork, each night, everyone in the group starts getting sleepy around 7 or 8 o’clock.  Tonight I powered through, though, so as to get this post up.

Thanks for reading!

1 comment:

  1. I'd die. Die die die if I ate that burger or drank that beer.