*The following is a story based on my travels throughout Germany. Written in a style like Bill Bryson’s, whose work includes A Walk in the Woods, The Lost Continent, and other Bestsellers
Jumpy and energetic I couldn’t believe it. I had made it. Yes I was in Germany! Oh Germany…the land of delicious beer and hot mustard and sizzling animal parts and so much more.
The flight from the Madrid Barajas Airport to Berlin Schoenefeld was quick and painless. I landed around 2pm and had a bus leaving at 3:30pm and so I had plenty of time for a nice lunch: an old ham and cheese sandwich buried at the bottom of my backpack. 4 hours of sleeping, reading, and two Becks later I had arrived in a small farming town by the name of Osnabruck. I unloaded my bags and was met by my friend Karsten – a native of the area who would double as resident tour guide and racecar driver.
This was a trip long in the making. Karsten was an old family friend, he had visited my family and I several times in the States but I had yet to see his homeland of Osnabruck, Germany. After months of planning, this was a trip I had been looking forward to. Stepping off the plane I took a deep breath of German air and grinned, ready to soak it all in. So what’s the first place we head to?
A bakery. The simple bakery or backerei, is one of Germany’s most visible storefronts. The equivalent to a coffee shop for us in the Pacific Northwest, these dough factories are everywhere. On every corner it seems – I would see three on the same block sometimes – all peddling delicious loafs of bread, salty pretzels, doughnuts and one item in particular that caught my eye. It was simple and round, a white yellow cookie with cream frosting on top. Standing at the counter and ready to order, I turned to Karsten and asked, “What’s this one?” He glanced up at the husky woman with giant butcher’s hands and asked in German “What is in this one here”. She replied “The American?” We both laughed sharply and asked in unison, “Why is it called an American?” She laughed as well and shook her head, “Not sure. Because it is white and round?” Really? Nice going U.S.A we now are insulted every morning over coffee. This jab struck deep. How could they insult our nation with a cookie? Oh well, I thought and brushed it off as a smear against a different group, a different type of Yankee. After all that insult definitely did not apply to me.
Getting ready for an afternoon stroll and tour of the city center, I fastened my black wool pea coat and draped a navy and white striped scarf around my neck. My eyes met my double in the mirror and I froze for a moment. Bronze colored and whippet thin after spending 4 weeks in Spain living off tapas and little else, I couldn’t believe who or what I was seeing. Hollow cheeks, dark stones for eyes, I looked like Adrian Brody’s little brother. This was disgusting. I looked nothing like myself and I needed some serious help. While staring back at my nothingness it suddenly hit me. Washed over with a realization – I needed to eat, gorge, and stuff myself like never before. Right then and there I decided there would be no greater place to attempt an epic “un-diet” and within moments the plan was created. My goal: to push myself to never before seen excess. This would serve as a catalyst for the entire trip, with my new hope to try anything and eat all that the country could offer. This would be a counter to all things minimalist and a rebuttal to dieting, rationing, and portioning. It would serve as a giant metaphorical slap in the face to all the withering vegetarians and vegans. A revolution! At least that would be my goal…see the sights, tour the countryside and eat anything put in front of me and wash it all down with as many beers as humanly possible. Yes I would eat and drink like a German!
After hearing of the plan, Karsten lit up. His face filled with a teddy bears’ grin, he assured me there would be no problem pushing our bodies to never before seen excess. “But where do we start?” I asked. He smiled and said nothing. A Bavarian restaurant of course.
We slid into our thick door sized wooden chairs and looked around. Traditional Bavarian decorations were all around us. Checkered white and blue tablecloths and flags were draped in every corner while thick heavy wooden tables seemed to be able to support an entire horse. A round, blonde bar maiden approached and smiled, asking something in German, I deferred to my hosts judgment. Moments later we were presented with giant mugs filled with dark, amber colored beer. Delicious. It seemed like the plates of food just kept coming – slow roasted pig knuckle, white sausage with spicy mustard, schnitzel, potatoes of all sorts, bread and well lots of other things I couldn’t quite tell where or what animal they were from. This was all exactly what I had been craving and needing. Full and drunk with food more than anything else, we groaned and waddled our way out of the door and down the street. Later in the evening we went out to explore the city, making our way through the softly lit cobble stone streets and sampling all of the different types of beer Germany has to offer.
Fast Cars and Freedom:
The morning greeted me with a gianormous hangover that felt like a kick in the head. A full German breakfast including three varieties of ham, 4 types of cheese, a carton of butter, a gallon of coffee, and a loaf of rye bread started the day off right.
We read the papers, glanced outside every minute or so, and frantically searched the weather channels. You see we had decided a little racecar driving would be a nice way to kick our vacation of excess into second gear. The car was a convertible and we were going to cancel if the weather was not planning on cooperating. We got lucky – the clouds decided to move over and the sky cleared up.
Opening the garage and stepping to the side, Karsten unveiled his baby – an old Caterham Super Seven 1700 SuperSprint. My first impression, Oh dear god this thing is small. And it was. Imagine if a mini cooper had a baby, then you would have the right idea. My second impression – after I was helplessly strapped into the racecar strap seats and there was no going back – what the fuck did I get myself into?
Once the engine roared to life, all worries went up in a puff of smoke. We raced out of the driveway and onto the previously quiet and safe streets of Western Germany. Making our way through the streets, unsuspecting pedestrians and office workers shot us looks of sheer amazement, awe, and utmost jealousy. But the best was once we hit the clear and open roads in between small farming towns. Like our own personal raceway, we faced miles of pristine, smooth and charcoal colored pavement. As the engine ripped and the gears shifted, the force of it all slammed me back into the seat – hair and cheeks flapping away while a mixed smile of joy and fear was plastered onto my face. One of the best experiences anyone could have – I tried to steal glances of the lush green fields and clear blue horizon as we broke every speeding limit in the country.
Lanterns Lead the Way:
Completely satisfied with our days adventure, we settled into a couple of cozy chairs and recounted the twists and turns of the road and the rush of it all. Surfing the web and sipping cleverly made gin and tonics we were making plans for the evening – looking for something we needed to do or see. And then we found it. A two hour long guided night tour of the city perimeter including a look at ancient moats and torture chambers. Oooh yes sign me up!
The tour was better than we could have imagined. Packed into an old chamber room the tour guides were adorned in full black robes with witch hats. They told us of the witch-hunts and trials that use to take place. They warned us that even to this day the locals liked to believe that witches were still hiding in their town. As we formed a line the guides handed out old-fashioned lanterns that you had to light yourself. Awesome.
We slowly traced around the outskirts of the town – admiring moats that protected this German town centuries ago. Then we crawled down forgotten tunnels and snapped photos of old chambers and prisons. The tour ended with a hike up the old watchtower, offering a stunning 360-degree view of the sleepy city.
After another night of pure, excessive drinking I woke up in groggy stupor and made my way to breakfast with Karsten. The discussion turned to the weather again and this time we weren’t so lucky. Dark grey clouds moved into position and threatened to end our reign of excess. But then of course we could always…go shooting? Why not. So we set off for Karsten’s neighborhood gun club. I was familiar with the snobby, club atmosphere that seems to permeate clubs of all sorts. As we made our way into the small brown building with a hand carved sign above the door, I was anticipating sweater vests and khakis. Slicked back hair, ill-fitting collared shirts, and cheesy grins. But no this was quite different.
A small wooden interior with tight confined nooks. It felt like a cross between a log cabin and the inside of a boat. A young woman at the desk greeted Karsten, “Oh we have missed you, when was the last time you were in?”. Followed by more German I couldn’t understand and laughs. I stood holding the large bag filled with weaponry and looked around. Through a glass wall I could see 3 or 4 men wearing brown leather jackets firing shots off. The noise was quite and muffled. My eyes wandered to the other side of club. Across the room stood an old wooden bar with a wrap around table and four beers on tap. At first I thought nothing of it then panicked. Wait how drunk are the people now firing off round after round – the people I will be standing right next to. Karsten read my mind, and whispered, “Oh no you don’t drink before, only after”. For some reason I wasn’t buying it.
I opened the door and stepped into the range. It was cold like the inside of a freezer and slightly smoky. My earmuffs draped around my neck I followed Karsten. Without warning an older man wearing a green ski hat fired off his rifle and the whole room shook and my ears began to bleed. Or at least it felt that way. I pulled on the dorky looking earmuffs and undid my jacket. Karsten loaded up a .38 revolver and waived me over. I had never fired a handgun at a target. My gun firing experiences had been the very poor life choices one makes at college – firing off all sorts of shotguns and handguns into the wavering wheat fields. I grabbed the revolver and felt its impressive weight and the cold metal of the trigger. Karsten instructed me to hold the gun as loose as possible – this seemed terribly inappropriate. Yes, now hold that life-taker with as much force and diligence as Popsicle.
I fired. And missed the target completely. Perhaps I was a little rusty. Karsten took over and demonstrated the professional technique – piercing the bull’s eye several times – gaining the respect of the other gun toters. Ready to move up the chain of power. I took aim with a .44 Magnum and relaxed my trigger finger. Boom. Boom. Almost a bull’s eye. Then a newcomer entered through the door and opened up his gun case, revealing a Dessert Eagle, the most awesome and powerful hand cannon ever made. The temperature in the room dropped and I think I saw someone shiver in the corner. This man was wearing a worn dark green jacket that had faint dark red blotches all over it. Either he had killed several men or he had a terribly clumsy habit of eating hot dogs with too much ketchup. Then he fired and there was no question. The weapon was incredibly powerful and with each shot the room shook hard. Karsten asked to try a go with it and nailed the bull’s eye again. Then he pulled an old-fashioned rifle used during the Spanish civil war from the club’s inventory. We moved the targets back to 100 meters and enjoyed the rest of the afternoon.
Over an enormous dinner of gruenkohl or winter kale as we know it, diced potatoes on the side and topped with assorted alarmingly sized sausage links, 3 stripes of bacon, and a slab or some other meat, we recounted the adrenaline rush and great fun of the day, while our left arms tingled away. Better yet we reflected back on our past few days of glorious excess. We spoke of the food, the tour, the racing, and more. After dinner I packed my bags and printed my bus ticket. In the morning I would head back to Berlin. The smart thing would have been to turn in early and get some rest – of course we chose a slightly different plan. Riding a pair of old creaky bicycles in the sub-zero temperatures we made our way to the city center.
We made our way into a sports bar and watched one of the Russian Klitschko brothers destroy another man’s face on the TV. We filled ourselves with good beer, talked and laughed effortlessly then played countless games of foosball. I don’t remember going home but I remember not wanting to leave in the morning.
A truly great time and a truly great friend, Karsten and I had pushed the visit to never before seen levels of excess and fun. We ate, drank, and shot everything in sight. And then I left for Berlin.