Germany 2008: Berlin, part the first

Berlin was cool. I was really expecting to totally fall in love with it and want to marry it. A couple of things conspired to head that off at the pass, but I did fall in serious like with it.

Thing one was a nasty sinus infection. I get them every now and then thanks to my horrible seasonal (four seasons) allergies. They get backed up, and I get all snotty and congested for ten days. This was no exception.

Thing two was having to herd cats (i.e., teenagers) around the city for three days. I’d pretty much gotten used to them by that point, but it was still a pain in the ass. Next time, I want to go back sans anyone under the age of 35.

That being said, I like Berlin. It’s a nice, clean, efficient big city. If I were going to live in a big city in Germany, Berlin is the one I’d choose out of the five-ish I visited.

We did touristy stuff (Reichstag, TV Tower, Museum Island, etc.) the first two days.

The two highlights of that sort of thing were the DDR Museum and the Stasi Museum. I’ve got a serious case of Cold War Nostalgitis, so these fed right into that.

The DDR Museum is a really cool, hands-on museum about life in the East, pre-wallfall. It’s a good place to spend a couple of hours. It’s right near Museum Island, and a good break from all that high-toned crap (Nefertiti? Feh. Give me a Trabbi any day).

The Stasi Museum was my most favoritest stop of the whole trip. It’s a museum dedicated to the East German secret Police, the Stasi, and is housed in their old headquarters. It’s full of exhibits on 80s spy gear (the east germans were pretty advanced), symbols of the love between the Stasi and the KGB (latch-hooked rug of the Kremlin, anyone?), and included a truck that was one of the Stasi’s snatch-n-grab wagons and an example of the sort of cell in which they kept political prisoners, which were, of course, the only kind housed in Stasi prisons. Our guide was a senior citizen who had lived through that era, and it was amazing to listen to her stories. Definitely a highlight.

More in the next post on trains, planes and hotels.

Autolust, part 2

About a month ago, I posted about wanting a new car to replace the Lumbering Beast. In some weeks of driving the new commute, I’ve determined that the Lumbering Beast gets approximately 19 mpg on the highway. That’s NOT good. It’s rated (in 2005 numbers) 17/21. It gets more like 15/19, though. I need to improve that immensely.

Going to Germany added some perspective to what you need in a car. Granted, we were mostly in cities, so I saw a lot of city cars, but the German perspective on cars was refreshing.

First, they’re all SMALL cars. Only around what is often considered the most expensive hotel in Berlin (Hotel Adlon, where Michael Jackson famously dangled his infant son out the window a few years back) did we see any big cars (big Benzes and 7 series BMWs). There were virtually no SUVs or trucks in Germany. LOTS of VWs (with the Golf and its siblings being the most popular). Lots of A-class Mercedeseseses, too. I REALLY like the looks of those little cars, but they don’t sell them here and, if they did, they’d be almost $40k (or about $15k over my budget). Still, the Germans got me thinking about cars (and bathroom design, but that’s another topic).

The other car I mentioned in that other post was the 2009 Subaru Forester. I have some history with the Forester, having driven an ’03 for a while two vehicles ago. I loved that car. Sold it to get my MINI Cooper S (which I also loved). I test-drove the all-new ’09 Forester last week. I liked it, but not as much as I thought/hoped I would. Also, its fuel efficiency is not fantastic (20/29), though of course way better than the Lumbering Beast. That’s also the mileage range for both of VW’s american-spec engines (though the 2.0L turbo requires premium fuel).

On the horizon looms the VW Jetta SportWagen TDI, which has a few things going for it as far as I’m concerned: (a) it’s a wagon, and I’m partial to them, and (b) the new Bluetec TDI diesel engine, which is 50-states emissions safe (one of the cleanest engines in production now) and gets 40 city/60 hwy mileage. Oh, and it has a super-large giant moonroof, and I likes those (the Forester has a big moonroof, too). But, that version of the SportWagen (known as the Golf Variant in Europe) won’t be here until the fall. That might be okay, though. It might take me that long to decide what I want.

Stay tuned…

Germany 2008: Dresden

Dresden looks a little, um, run down on the way in on the train. Is this because it was in the East Germany? I don’t know. Maybe that’s just Dresden.

The Hotel Mercure was über-swanky. Upscale modern accomodations are always welcome. The teenagers were in awe. We were merely pleased.

Snow. Cold. Rain.

Bus tour of the city included a stop at the super cool Volkswagen facility where they put the glass on their high-dollar Phaeton sedan (which is no longer available in the US because no one here wanted to pay $70k for a VW, no matter how swank).

Also toured all the historical stuff. The Zwinger museum has a nice collection of arms and armor. Dresden’s old buildings are impressive, even the fake ones that aren’t really 500 years old (rather they are rebuilt versions that the Allies bombed the shit out of in WWII — sorry about that).

Germany 2008: München

München is more Euro-feeling than Heidelberg for some reason. Nice and clean for a big city. Lots of weird internets + phone booth joints for, I am assuming, the immigrant population.

München Hauptbahnhof is BIG and cool. Excellent wurst and pommes. Lots of Germans wear the Jack Wolfskin products. Sorta like the German The North Face (in ubiquity). Lots of Germans passing through on their way south to the Alps to go skiing.

I like traveling by train. It’s convenient and a good way to see the countryside.

Went on a private bus ride through the countryside to Neuschwanstein, largest castle built by the Mad King Ludwig. Really steep-ass hike up to the castle, which is gorgeous… from the outside. Inside is a whizzingly-short and lame welfare Disney-esque tour. My advice: make the trip, but skip the tour. Just use you imagination about what it’s like inside. You’ll have better memories.

The orginal Hoffbraü House. Beer is good. Hotel Apollo is older, but nice. BIG rooms for a German hotel. Bathrooms still very small.

German breakfasts are good: hard rolls with salami and cheese, yogurt, coffee, apfelsaft, fruit. More on German food in a standalone post, I suspect.

Germans who drive do so in small, often diesel-powered cars. Lots of VW Golfs, quite a few Opels, a number of BMWs (including MINIs) and Mercedeses. I’m loving the Mercedes A-Class, which we don’t have in the U.S. More on cars in a standalone post.

Germany 2008: day 1, Heidelberg

Generaly observation: Heidelberg is a tourist-y town. Hotel Ibis was nice. Euro-flavored, clean and comfortable. Bathrooms were quite small, but okay. Didn’t really see much of the town except for the area around the university. Photos to come.

Doesn’t yet feel very non-American yet (other than the speaking German all the time). I am haunted by American music of the 1980s.