Wednesday, June 16, 2010

...and this bird you cannot change...

I knew this would happen at some point. I knew my blog would back up on me and I’d have to write about something that seemed eons in the past, even though in reality it was only less than a month ago. I haven’t written about my time in Nürnberg yet and I’ve already left Amsterdam. Time glides by easily when days melt together. And I’m sure you all could imagine how effortlessly I can waste time in Amsterdam. But alas, those foggy stories will have to wait. First I need to share the stories of my adventures with German lederhosen.

My host Anna has an amazing two bedroom apartment in the little big city of Nürnberg in the southern Bavarian region of Germany. Actually, it was in Franconia but this is only important because of how they brew their beer there (and this only matters because of a story about a beer festival, which I will tell shortly).

Anna is happily settled in her life with a great career, apartment, groups of friends, and even the boyfriend to match. I was thrilled she managed to make room for me in her busy life but was happy to find she easily finds balance to a work-and-play lifestyle. She worked long hours everyday while I slept in and soaked in the comfort of enjoying a private apartment for a few hours. Even though the weather was a bit shit I managed to go for long walks and take touristy pictures. In the evenings we always enjoyed dinner together, whether at home or out with friends. Everyday was something different and fun, and mostly because Anna and I could talk forever and probably never run out of things to say. I was well impressed with her ability to wake up early, work all day, and then keep going well into the night. Especially Friday night.

Germany’s second largest beer festival just so happened to be taking place while I was in town. Nice. But it was bit out of town actually so she had arranged a carpool out to the forest so we could both drink beer all night long. And it wasn’t just any beer. Franconian beer (apparently) is stronger than others normally, but when they brew it for the festival, they give it that extra percentage of alcohol that will put you on your ass. And utterly destroy your stomach. No one told me this until Saturday when it was too late.

The festival was held out in the woods and it was a long row of various companies that sell their beer, set up a biergarten (aka outdoor sitting area), and all hire bands to play music the entire time. Each area has a different vibe and it’s good to scope them all out to find exactly what you’re in the mood for. Or a few different moods.

Now I know you’re picturing some sort of Hollywoodized German beer festival with lederhosen, traditional accordion music, and sausages and bratwurst as abundant as the blond Heidi-type girls in their customary dress. But before I scold you for buying into a ridiculous stereotype let me tell you, that’s exactly what it was. Sure most people were dressed normally, but no one could act normal after drinking even one of the abnormally large jugs of beer. I drank two and a half.

The festival ended unfortunately early but luckily we had run into a friend of Anna’s who conveniently lived in the town where the festival was being held. And he was even wearing lederhosen.

So we went into town to drink more (smart) before we all crashed in one drunken mess on his bed. Early the next morning an evil Franconian beer fairy crawled into my brain and started pounding with a very large hammer. Then he snuck in his friend to the depths of my stomach and he thrashed the place as well. Basically, I spent the following hours writhing in pain with one of the worst hangovers I’ve had in my life. Anna and her friend were enjoying breakfast on the terrace with the first warm rays of sunshine that had shone through in awhile.

The reason I’m sharing this shameful morning with you all is for the story about my best worst first impression. At one point when I darted for the bathroom it was occupied by someone showering. I ran to the kitchen to inform my host that I needed either a bucket or a way into the bathroom and we didn’t have long. He knocked on the door, said some things in German, and then it became unlocked and I was permitted to go on in.

Now this story is only effective if you understand just how tiny this bathroom is. The shower, with clear glass, was directly next to the toilet that I needed to heave into. After I emptied the life out of me the naked man behind the glass wished me a good morning. I muttered back “Guten morgen. Nice to meet you and sorry about all of this”.

A few hours and a power nap later I was back to life. It wasn’t even that awkward when I walked into the living room, looked at the two men I didn’t know, and asked them which one I had already greeted in the shower earlier. Apparently this happens to everyone when they first drink Franconian beer and everyone there had a similar experience.

Soon enough we were driven back to town to lie in a park and soak in the sun, the cure for every hangover. Unfortunately it was someone’s bachelor party and the groom was supposed to be out and selling tiny bottles of alcohol. One of the guys in the group bought some to support the cause and to torture slash challenge me to drink one. I figured my liver would go into detox and I’d get the shakes if I didn’t.

Saturday night was spent impressively avoiding alcohol at a brewery while watching the championship futbol match. The soccer teams were from Germany and Italy and so the large room was heated with passionate energy. The spirit got me really excited for the upcoming World Cup. It was a shame we had to walk out of there defeated. Regardless, it was the perfect chill night we needed before Sunday.

During the day Sunday, Anna and I got out of town and drove to the woods to hike around a bit. We even wandered (slash took a tour) through some caves which were pretty amazing. It was just nice to breathe fresh air and stretch my legs. It also made me realize how much I need nature in my life on a regular basis. But what made Sunday special, was Monday.

You see, Monday was another German holiday I didn’t understand and no one bothered to actually care about other than the fact that they get a Monday off of work. This worked out very conveniently for Anna’s friend who happened to be turning 30 that day. So for nearly six months he planned his party out and rented an amazing house and decked it out with lots of food and booze.

The party was a great mix of musical performances, good banter, delicious food, and dancing. It wasn’t until the sun was up and the world was functioning again that we made our way home just to sleep and relax out in the sun the next day.

The next few days were a bit stressful as a train ticket I was expecting to buy from Munich fell through and I suddenly became unaware of when I was going to leave and how I was getting to Amsterdam by the following weekend. Luckily at the last minute I scored another rideshare leaving Thursday morning from Nürnberg and taking me just into the Netherlands.

Unfortunately I had already made plans to visit someone in Munich and I felt like an ass for breaking them. Luckily, my friend already had the day off of work so he offered to take a fast train and come up to visit me for the day. This friend was actually Maria’s cousin and we met at the wedding. And if you’re wondering what you probably are, yes, Germans adore me like they adore David Hasselhoff and both are unexplainable.

The truth is he didn’t speak the greatest of English and since we had met previously well-inebriated, the conversation needed to be aided by his pocket dictionary. And since it was raining non-stop, simply strolling or lying in a beer garden was not really an option. But we did stroll, huddled under my much appreciated umbrella, and made the most of the one day we had together.

Now if you thought my date to a sex district was random, wait until you read about my ridiculous plan for the afternoon. You see, there was this Nazi museum I was really interested in visiting and didn’t entirely anticipate the awkwardness of going there on a first date type thing. And while it was a total downer and kind of weird, in the end I think it was poetic. Only a couple of generations after my grandfather fought a bloody war on this soil, a Jew and a German could come together in peace and acknowledge that while there are always demons in our past, we can move forward harmoniously, if only we are not doomed to repeat ourselves.

So my last evening in Germany was just as it should be. We met up with Anna and some friends for dinner with lots of drinks and for the first time in awhile I wasn’t the one in the language minority. It was a great evening of conversation, wine, and spätzle (the cheese and noodle dish I adore and spent nearly a month seeking out).

The next morning I embarked on a near 12 hour journey to meet my friend Sophie in Amsterdam Central Station. It began with a 7 hour car ride with 3 strangers who didn’t lead on that they spoke English until half way through the journey. This didn’t bother me as when we did all talk it was about American politics, culture, and history which most everyone claimed they had a better point of view than me (even without visiting the States). At least in the first half of the journey I could sleep.

The story will end here as the moment I arrived in Amsterdam I was running to catch another train for a four day hippie camping adventure out in nature. I promise to write this tale before I ramble on to Asia in a week, as well as a collection of short leftover stories from all over Europe. I’ve been here over three months so there are quite a few. And while I’ll be sad to go, I appreciate the fact that at this exact moment I’m in Paris outside at a café watching and listening to all the hustle and bustle and loving this spare day all to myself. No matter where in the world I am, I seem to be where I should be.