Bier, bier, schnitzel
That's the kind of blog post title that'll get me not hired by some web-crawling HR department 10 years in the future.
Two weeks ago today we left for Germany. It was snowing in New York but not for keeps, another Potemkin storm in the midst of a sham winter. In Munich they weren't fooling around; they know what February's about. We took the S-Bahn from the airport to the Marienplatz in the center of town and rose to the streets at 8:30 Sunday morning, staring up at this, weak-kneed and blurry-eyed, and all around us, snow.
From Newark International to the Dark Ages in under 12 hours. The square was empty but since this was Europe there were plenty of Mercedes(es) around. Eight thousand kg of baggage and four exhausted Mädchens were hefted into two taxis for the trip to the Novotel, and somehow traveling the exact same distance at the exact same time of day cost 6 euros in one car and 10 in the other. I asked no questions since for once I was on the right side of history, even though our cab driver seemed homicidal. It's tough to tell with cab drivers, though, isn't it? The ones who look normal always go 600 km/h while staging a running commentary on Cuban refugees or the cost of pretzels, while the crazy ones obey traffic signals and take the time to extend the handle of your carry-on bag when they deposit you on the curb.
Filling in the blanks
Ad hoc experiment on surviving an overnight transatlantic crossing: you can in fact manipulate a neck pillow in such a way as to make it impossible to drool on yourself, so everyone can stop worrying about that. As with most things there’s a Faustian flipside, which is that even if you do manage to fall asleep, you run the risk of waking up face to face with some German. The choice is yours.
It was winter, as I said, and it snowed for three days, and on the second day I succumbed to the acute febrile contagious disease that had been bequeathed unto me by the alchemy of aviation (viruses on planes being one check my body's guaranteed to cash). In addition to the usual phlegm-induced misery and snoring, this really set back my beer drinking.
Munich was beautiful, by the way. Terribly civilized. Fine museums, easy to navigate, good for adults. My recommendation is to visit the Hofbräuhaus when you are already in your cups, or bypass it entirely and head to Tavernetta on Hildegardstrasse instead. Those cats will feed you enormous pizzas.
An interlude from James Salter
"Kant had four questions that he believed philosophy should answer: What can I know? What may I hope? What ought I to do? What is man? All of these Europe helped to clarify. It was the home of a veteran civilization. Its strengths are vertical, which is to say they are deep."
That ol' winter magic
Mid-week we took a bus tour into the wilds of Bavaria and climbed a hill in a blizzard to see a castle built on a cliff by a swan-and-Wagner-loving yahoo(!) who may or may not have been insane. (I know what you're thinking: when it comes to royal European bloodlines, does that really narrow it down?) At the top of the hill I bowed to atmospheric pressure and thought about God for a while. It seemed important on some existential, moment-defining level, but all I saw was ice and rock and tree. I don't get what God "is" or is supposed to be, although I sometimes like His music, but I stood with my friends in the snow on a hill surrounded by mountains and we held out our arms to a sky that looked like heaven and it seemed no less a miracle for my non-believing. On the way down we shoved fresh, hot doughnuts into our gaping maws and hitched a ride in a horse-drawn carriage that for 3 euros saw us safely back to earth.
Taking the cure
Friday morning we hopped das train to Baden-Baden to see an opera [insert hyperlink here]. From the train station perspective, Baden-Baden looks like the back end of Dubuque and nothing close to what Rick Steves suggests is "the Paris of Germany." Does Rick Steves know what Paris looks like? Why would opera singers come here? Then we found the Olde part of Towne and spent hours in the baths (Bad = Deutsch for "bath")—out of doors, with the hot water bubbling up from our feet and the winter wind in our faces—and the question was, why would anybody leave? It was milder than Munich, closer to end-of-March weather, but it felt grand and illicit, even though everybody kept their clothes on (the naked spa being elsewhere).
Naturally no photographs exist of this experience, but here's something else. Very very Paris, no?
We also saw the opera, and the opera singer, who on our last day in town invited us to tea. I'm not sure there's much to be gained by placing human beings on pedestals for random genetic traits they happen to possess, and you certainly can't discount the tremendous amount of time and effort and will it takes to sustain them, and yet. Ann Patchett writes, "Not everyone can be the artist. There have to be those who witness the art, who love and appreciate what they have been privileged to see." Such have I done. I found Renée Fleming and this place and these friends because of Bel Canto, and once upon a time, in a faraway land, I got to sit across the table from her and tell her so.