10 July 2011

It's not the Holiday Inn

One thing I was looking forward to on last week's trip was staying in some local Gasthauses.  Years back, before there were cell phones, Internet, travelocity, expedia, when we explored the countryside, we simply packed our bags, pointed the car in a general direction and lit out.  We would explore various towns and villages with different objectives (cuckoo clocks, wine tasting, castle tours, volksmarches, etc.) and we did not have any particular place set aside for lodging.  Most of the small villages had a couple of gasthauses - small, family owned inns with a restaurant and hotel rooms for rent (aka bed & breakfast).  All are locally owned and run by a family.  They are typically small, and cozy with genuine German flair.  We've stayed in a couple of gasthauses where we were the only guests and the man and woman who ran the place treated us like their own family.  In one place along the Mosel River, we had such a great time, I turned our overnight stay into 3 days.  The couple even gave us some wine from their own vineyard. 

Hotel Birkenhof

My first few nights in Germany were in a local 4 Star hotel/gasthaus in Steinheim.  Very nice, elegant place but a bit fancier than I was expecting.  This was built 25 years ago from a local farmhouse and has been expanded/improved over the past 10 years.  Now it boasts an excellent restaurant and spa included.  As I said, it was a very nice place, but a bit more than I am typically used to. 

Once I lit out on my own, I fell back on my earlier experience. Found an absolutely fantastic little Gasthaus in Boeblingen that was what I needed/expected. Simple, functional, clean, inexpensive, very nice. Breakfast was fantabulous.

Gasthaus Boeblingen



Drove up to Weisbaden and stayed in one of the Continental Hotels that is more of an "Ikea" style European hotel. Clean, efficient, secure, utilitarian. has everything a traveler needs without all the bells and whistles. Nice hotel, but lacks the flavor/love of a local gasthaus.

Hotel Ibis in Weisbaden

09 July 2011

On the economy

Busy but short week.  I am playing catch up with my all of my favorite blogs and still posting my after action reports from last week's road trip.

Previously, I noted that I like to get out and explore the countryside.  German cities are unique and have character.  Frankfurt and Hanau are large, older cities with sizeable populations.  They both have lots of interesting sights to see, areas to visit, but I prefer the smaller towns outside of those area.  Small villages with unique flavor and interesting sights that aren't in any tourbook.  Each town seems to have something unique characteristic or historical site.  Hanau-Steinheim (where I initally stayed) has a fortress that surrounded the main town It has three old towers and the fortress walls are still standing.  I spent time exploring the old town trying to discover the history behind the fortress.  Lots of narrow cobble stone streets and small cafes and biergartens.  

I finish up my business early and took an extra few days to revisit our old post south of Stuttgart which was about 3 hours southeast of Frankfurt.  Drove through the wine region along the Rhine river through towns like Bad Durkheim, Forst, Deidesheim, Konigsbach, all with rolling hills, vineyards, and the occasional castle/schloss.  Finally migrated my way over to Böblingen/Stuttgart after a slight (3 hour) delay on the autobahn.  Wound up finding a small Gasthaus in Böblingen just down the hill from our old base.  The post (Panzer Kaserne) is still there and still active with US troops.  Given the hightened security status, I did not try to cajole my way onto the base using the old retired captain, used to live here 25 years ago, ex-Army schtick.  Figured it wouldn't buy much traction with the new guys, so I spent most of my time exploring the old town of Böblingen where we lived for almost 5 years.  The town hasn't changed all that much over the past 25 years.  I was lucky to have stumbled into a festival going on downtown that took up most of the old town area.  Able to enjoy a few beers, some brats, and music with a lot of local townfolk.  

Bad Durkeim
Left Böblingen early Saturday to head back to Frankfurt/Weisbaden.  Took in some small towns along the way, did a volksmarch, toured the old Heidelberg Castle, explored the market of Weisbaden.  Wrapped up my adventures with another volksmarch early Sunday before heading out to the airport to catch my flight home.  Along the way, I toured a number of small towns, cities with really interesting sights/architecture.   
Heidelberg Castle

Steinheim Fortress

Festival in Böblingen

08 July 2011


Occasionally, you have to step outside your yard to learn new things and enjoy life.  (philosphy according to agg79).

We lived in Germany for 5 years back in the '80s, so my road trip to Hanau wasn't a total paradigm shift.  We lived on the local economy (off post), ate the local food, drank beer & wine with Germany friends, spoke a little German, toured the region when able.  Some asked me if I had a hard time adjusting to the cultural differences and honestly, I didn't.  I loved our time in Germany and last week's road trip was a chance to go back to see some of the sights we experienced 25 years ago. 

First out of the box, driving the autobahn.  I've always found it a thrill to conquer the German roads, both autobahns and back roads.  They have different rule, regulations, requirements than you will see stateside (old terms coming back from my expat days).  Right of way, pedestrians & bicycles have priority over cars, traffic signals, street directions, caution signs, and, oh yea, speed limits are different.  Not insurmountable, just an interesting challenge. 

My ride

The wine road
Pedestrians and cyclists have the ultimate right of way.  You must yield/stop whenever someone is crossing the road.  I know it is the law over there, but I've been in New York and if you step off the curb in heavy traffic, there ain't no one whose gonna slow down, much less stop. 

A lot of people walk & ride bikes over there so people outrank cars on the road. 

The autobahn is as much fun as I remember.  Despite rumors to the contrary, there are posted speed limits in sections near major cities and interchanges.  If you see a round sign with a 100 or 120 (KPH) posted, you best pay attention, cause they do have traffic cameras that will take your picture and mail you a souvenir.  Outside of the cities, it's a whole new ballgame.  Certain spots on the open road outside of Stuttgart there was no limit and I got to see how fast my little car would go.  At one point, I was up to 180 KPH (kilometers per hour).  Anyone care to do the math?  Even at that speed, I was still getting passed by a number of Mercedes, Audis, and Porschses. 

As much fun as the autobahns were, I really like the back roads.  Once you get off the autobahn, there are little towns that dot the countryside that are 5-10 km apart.  Nice little twisty roads between each town make it fun to roam the countryside.  On several occasions, I broke from the main road to explore the country.  No map, no GPS.  Just a general sense of direction and follow the signs to the next town.

The wine region is a good place to get lost for a while.  Lots of little towns, vineyards, bike trail to explore.  The one thing to remember that a lot of these towns were build back before there were Excursions, Suburbans and F150s,  You will learn quickly why most Germans drive small, zippy little cars when you are trying to squeeze yourself through narrow cobblestone streets with cars park on the curb on both sides.  My KIA wasn't the sexiest car on the road, but it did come in handy in those towns.  Besides, I made more than a few "tactical course corrections" (aka u-turns) that would have been impossible in anything larger than a minivan.  Was fun to explore the economy like we used to.  You uncover unique sights that you don't get on the tour on the when you get off the grid for a while. 

BTW - 180 KPH = 112MPH 

05 July 2011

Back on the reservation

I'm back.  No international incidents (reported).  Objective taken, with no loss of life or reportable injuries.  A week in Germany with some really great food, outstanding beer, fine wine, a stellar trip.  Still trying to readjust my inner clock to CST and catch up on my work.

Got in late Sunday night after a very long, but uneventful flight.  I am working up an after action report that may take several days to report.  But a short summary is that I spent two days in transit to/from Germany, two days working an audit at a supplier, and three days off the grid re-exploring some of my old haunts.  Lot of good notes, some less than optimal, but that's typical for a vacation/business trip.  

One of many open air cafes

Need I explain?

Weinerschnizel Jager 'Art'

The wine region
But a few quick notes from the road:  I forgot how really good/fresh German food can be.  The beer was as good as I remember.  The wine region is a great place to ride a bike or cruise with the top down.  Driving the autobahn is as much fun and thrilling as I recall.  It's been 25+ years since we lived there and while some things have changed, a lot of things are the same.