Friday, May 06, 2005

The Happy List, Germany edition

If you've already heard me talk about the trip or gotten a postcard from me, much of this will be familiar, but here goes:

  • On my first night in Germany, a bath in a gorgeously deep, long European bathtub, with my Henning Mankell mystery novel and towels heating on a towel-warmer. Afterward I put on my pajamas, snuggled under my duvet, watched MTV2Pop and the BBC, read more of the Mankell, and wrote in my journal: the perfect ending to a day that began with an eight-hour international flight, and more significantly, what felt like the first time I'd relaxed in nearly four months.
  • Smart cars and many Minis
  • Eating "seemans labskaus" for dinner in Hamburg -- that is, "seaman's lobscouse," a dish Jack and Stephen eat in Patrick O'Brian (which of course is why I ordered it). It consisted of pureed beef, potatoes, and beetroot, if I remember rightly, with two fried eggs on top. As a dinner it lacked variety, but I could see how it would be the perfect sailors' meal: easy to make in large quantities, heavy, warming, and pure protein.
  • Shooting south from Hamburg to Stuttgart and later Stuttgart to Munich on those brilliant European bullet trains: comfortable, warm, fast, quiet, good onboard cafes with real china and silverware -- the very antithesis of Amtrak.
  • Those marvelous timetable-announcement signs clicking as they flipped from one destination to another
  • Beating the editor of the Horn Book at Scrabble, thanks to BEAVERS, JO, OX, ZIP, and most significantly BURQA on a triple. It was a really good game -- I would have been happy even if I lost (though less happy, I admit). And we played on his Palm Pilot, which has me thinking I need to get a Palm Pilot . . .
  • Many wonderful dinners spent discussing publishing, books, politics, sights to see, and other topics with nice German editors and foreign rights people. One of the best of these was at the Unicorn pub in Esslingen, which had been there since, I think, 1671.
  • The fine Stuttgart and Munich public transportation systems, especially the Munich trams
  • Stopping by G. W. F. Hegel's house in Stuttgart. All the displays were in German, and nothing in the house was original except the structure, so it didn't do me much good knowledgewise; but the very act of visiting pleased my Quiz Bowler's soul.
  • Getting to know the many smart, booky people on the tour with me -- not least Roger Sutton, the aforementioned editor of the Horn Book, who I ended up liking very much.
  • The uncanny: Hearing a cover of the Garth Brooks song "If Tomorrow Never Comes" in a taxi in Stuttgart; seeing commands in German on the same kind of office copier we use at Scholastic; the sweeter taste of "Coca-Cola Light" (Diet Coke)
  • Visiting the Hofbrauhaus, a large barnlike structure in the heart of Munich, filled with tourists and Munich residents alike drinking one-liter glasses of beer, eating various kinds of sausage and potatoes, and occasionally singing along with the in-house polka band. I polished off an entire one-liter myself -- definitely the most beer I've ever drunk at one sitting -- and enjoyed it enormously.
  • Purchasing a "disco shirt" -- a black tank top with a large rhinestone butterfly fluttering across the front, hotcha hotcha -- at a store called "The New Yorker"
  • Dancing in two very different Munich nightclubs
  • Getting hit on twice (once per nightclub) -- neither was my type (or spoke English, for that matter), but a little admiration never hurts
  • The long walk along the canal to Nymphenborg Palace, and later another long walk through the almost too perfectly manicured palace grounds.
  • Radler -- this delightful combination of beer and lemonade; especially delicious when sipped outside at a sidewalk cafe
  • Ludwig II's castles. Linderhof and Neuschwanstein. The poor man obviously had to create fantasy worlds for himself because he didn't have any real friends, but what fantasy worlds they were -- especially the Byzantine throne room and the Wagner-inspired interiors at Neuschwanstein.
  • The Maypole and May Day folk dancers in the village below Neuschwanstein
  • Men in lederhosen and women in dirndls
  • The Alps -- beautiful peaks and valleys dusted with bright yellow dandelions and edged with tall white birches; hills practically alive with the Sound of Music
  • Drinking at the Chinescher Turm beergarden with a nice young Canadian I met on the castle tour. We need more beergardens in the United States, I've decided: outdoor cafes in parks where people can sit outside on a summer night and enjoy cold drinks and good conversation.
  • The African drumming circle in the Englischer Garden on Sunday evening, which reminded me fondly of the African drumming circle in Prospect Park on Sunday afternoons
  • Reading the International Herald Tribune over a gigantic continental breakfast: muesli, yogurt, cheese, salami, rolls, chocolate pudding, croissants with European Nutella, orange juice, and tea
  • Sitting at the fourth-floor window of my charmingly shabby pension in Munich, the Hotel Jedermann, and writing postcards
  • Coming home hugely satisfied from an interesting and productive trip

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