June 2004


Darmstadt, Germany

Saturday morning was the first (and only) morning on this trip that I actually slept until my alarm clock went off; I proceeded to shut it off and then doze for another half hour until I forced myself out of bed and into the shower: I had to finish packing a few meager items before I headed out from Jena.

Sometime after 9:00 Rui, his student Joanna, and I headed out. We took the long way from Jena to Weimar. Once in Weimar we proceeded to my future apartment where I picked up my huge suitcase, which I had packed earlier with the kids coats, some wine, and whatnot.. Joanne is taking full advantage of the empty suitcases that I offered to let her fill.

We then took a trip down the German autobahn via Frankfurt to the lovely German city of Darmstadt. Darmstadt is located about 25 kilometers south of Frankfurt, which means that I really have no idea how far away it is, but it was less than half an hour south-driving at autobahn speeds. I wasn’t awake the entire distance, but I did notice that Rui was driving around 190km/hour in the Daewoo he had rented, and he thought the car was not very good.

Because all three of us were the brilliant academic types, we hadn’t bothered to print out either a map of Darmstadt or directions to the pedestrian core of the city, so we ended up just guessing, and guessing fairly well. We parked inside a monstrous underground parking garage, took an elevator up, appeared inside a mall, and then tried to find our friend Susanne.

Susanne found us fairly quickly and we were at the restaurant, City Braustübl. I’d found the restaurant based upon the recommendation of the new Lonely Planet guide to Germany. LP was accurate about most of the food-it was decent, but our waitress had apologized early on for her incompetence. It was only her second day.

One of the odder things about the decision making process was that after two meals where Rui and I had puzzled out what was on the menu at restaurants, suddenly we were very much reliant upon Susanne to do the heavy lifting of translating the entire menu for us. I ended up having an expensive beef stroganoff meal, but it was one of two items on the “traditional” portion of the menu that did not have pork.

My allergy to pork and me living in Germany is going to be a constant nightmare. Certainly I need to quickly learn all the possible words for pork, ham, bacon, etc…

After lunch, and a lengthy delay for coffee, we went on our way and into Karstadt, a fairly common German Department store that I have seen in all cities of reasonable size, since learning what it is (Stuttgart and Konstanz). Joanna was looking for a birthday present for her 2.5 year old nephew back in Portugal. I don’t recall at this moment what she located, but along the way I accidentally discovered a present for my sister whose birthday was last month. It is coming home with me now, but I know not if I will take it with me to Denver next week; it might be too big to fit in my suitcase. I was also rather proud because I recognized that we had entered the floor on the first floor, not the ground floor! (I should write about floor numbering sometime; although I probably just gave it away.)

Rui and Joanna left at this point in order to catch their flight from Flughafen Frankfurt to Lisbon, and Susanne and I were left, once we had found her car and put my bags in her car, to our own devices. This principally involved shopping and watching cute men play volleyball without shirts on in a plaza.

Oddly enough I had to talk Susanne into going into a shoe store! However once we were in the store, I went to the “Herren” portion and looked at various shoes that I thought were cute and did not look very American. I ended up trying on a few right feet before I found a right shoe that I liked, and then, despite not knowing German, I conveyed the idea that I wanted to try on the other shoe, and it was brought to me. I escaped for €0 because, get this, the shoe store did not take either Credit or Debit Cards-they only took a specific kind of debit card-the maestro card. Susanne kindly picked up the €65 expense and I got the tax refund form. (I got €5,00 back at the airport Sunday morning.)

I also picked up a lovely birthday present for my mother. I would describe it here, but, alas, Mother will read this blog entry before her birthday celebration-assuming the baggage handlers do not break it.

The rest of the time we spent sitting on stairs watching volleyball. We were not really clear what they were playing for, but it was obvious that the tournament was sponsored by the local BMW dealer who was promoting the new Mini Cabrio. I priced out the Mini, and I could get one for about €26.500,00 (that’s twenty-six thousand, five hundred Euro; Germans seem to switch the comma and the decimal when dealing with numbers. Since I need to get used to this–I’m doing it their way.).

The tournament ended shortly before 19:00, and I was left alone whilst Susanne ran back to the shoe store to pick up a pair of shoes for herself. I think her shoes were substantially more expensive than mine. I then watched the awards ceremony for the volleyball tournament while Susanne was otherwise occupied. Once she returned, she translated for me: The grand prize was the right to use a Mini for a week. Other prizes were to drive the Mini for shorter durations.

From Darmstadt, we headed north toward Frankfurt using back highways, until we got to a smaller city where the main street was blocked with a street festival. We parked, and went.

The street festival appeared to be just that. There was no grand reason-I guess it is much like the fun frolic in Bloomington. The principal difference was, of course, this place was wall-to-wall people. One could barely move through the streets. There were only a few rides, but the atmosphere was completely different from any similar type of event in the United States.

For example, on the bumper cars, there was no fence around the area, you could just walk right up to the edge, and then once the session was finished, people would run like mad onto the floor and claim a car. They only operated once you put money in them, so that was the control mechanism to ensure that people paid, but the pure chaos was fun- there wasn’t this silly waiting in line-you just went.

Of course the lack of fences around the rides was just one difference between the local carnival in Germany and one in the United States. In the United States adults wouldn’t want to be at the events because one would be compelled to either be sober, or consume your beer inside a specially fenced off area where police or a rent-a-cop would be standing guard to make sure that little kids did not get in, and filled cups did not get out. In Germany people were walking around the street drinking their beer and having a darned good time.

It is times like this, even though I didn’t have any beer myself, that I begin to think that Americans are even crazier than I suspect.

We wandered the street fair for awhile and then I foolishly decided I wanted to eat a crape from the crape stand. I think I accidentally tried to say it in German when Susanne decided I had to order it myself in German:

“Zwei crepe mit käse, bitte.”

Apparently my pronunciation of the German word for “two” is terrible. I can say “one” and “three” but not two.

My natural instinct to get shy in these cases kicked in and I found myself unwilling to ask, so Susanne finally confirmed what I wanted and then she said, “his Geman is terrible, too. He’s not from here.”

We stopped by a nearby Mexican restaurant and had some passable nachos for a snack and then made our way to the hotel where we spent the night. I was getting ready fly.

3 comments to Darmstadt, Germany

  • Chris C

    Wow, long entry. Lesse… 190 Km/h is 118 MPH, I have only once driven that speed myself since most cars designed for use in America have speed limiters on the engines. Oddly that was in a 1966 Mustang (pre automotive computers) where I capped out at 130. Not very bright, but I was 19.

    Two in German… Zwei — zzz-vy. 🙂

    Sounds like the area you’ll be living in over there is quite charming. I hope I get a chance to visit.

    And you’re heading to Denver… lucky dog! I have not been in years.

  • Chris C

    I like all the links you put in to the blogs, but thought you might like to know that occasionally one pops up that you cannot hit the back key for. It basically uses a script or something to hold you hostage and you have to manually type in the web address for where you were at before.

    Perhaps I’m not sophisticated enough to work around it or something but it might be worth noting for future blogs. 🙂

  • Hmmmm… What i really need to do is have links open in new windows. I will refresh my html and get that right…