Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A day of extremes.

Well, the day was a bit of an odd duck, if you ask me. We started out with breakfast in Fussen where our gastof is apparently used to house students during the week so they can go to school in town. German schools must start pretty early, because I head the kids leaving their rooms around 7 and they were apparently heading out by 7:30 when Dad put his stuff in the car. By the time I got to breakfast shortly before 8, the buffet had been pretty clearly picked over, and there wasn’t a whole lot left. I had a roll with a soft boiled egg and some herb creamed cheese and then we headed out.

The weather here has been pretty crappy the last few days. When we got into Lahr it was sunny and muggy and uncomfortable. Yesterday, for our tour of the royal castles, it was over-cast and we got some light drizzle around noon, but that was all. Today, the fog and clouds just wouldn’t lift and it rained quite a bit. We did have a few exceptions when we got out of the car, so we were pretty lucky with that.

Our first stop this morning was at the town of Weis, on the Romantistrass to see the pilgrimage church in town. I use the term ‘town’ loosely – it was made up of about 6 buildings (other than the church), a couple of herds of cows, and three stalls selling touristy knick-knacks. When we got there, we were the only ones really there and as we were walking out of the church a tour bus was unloading, so we lucked out with timing. Of course, always looking to make a quick buck, the local authorities (church?) was charging for parking – Dad paid two Euros (that’s all he had on him) which bought us almost two hours of parking. As we were leaving, Dad did his Christian duty of charity and gave our extra hour and a half to some people who were about to pay. Dad assures me it was less about being a Christian, and more about hating to pay for parking.

From Weis, we headed on to Oberammergau. Oberammergau is very famous for one thing – Passion Plays. Every 10 years, the city puts on a festival with the Passion Play being the centre of the festivities. I had wanted to go because I was thinking it would be a traditional Play, you know, with the guilds putting on a scene each and the apprentices getting drunk to celebrate. No so much – Oberammergau is now a tourist mecca for Brits and Americans. Dad and I stopped in town just to pick up some postcards and souvenirs, but on our way out, we caught a glimpse of the permanent theater where the Plays are staged – it is quite large, and really state of the art. We didn’t stay overnight for a performance since both Dad and I know how it ends, and it lasts 5 hours. No, thanks.

From Oberammergau we headed towards and autobahn, and this time, I really opened her up – got the ol’ VW up above 150 and could have gone higher, but had to exit. Driving an autobahn is quite an experience – not only are you watching the road ahead of you, but you have to watch the road behind you for quite a ways as well. The Germans come whipping down those highways so fast, that if you’re not watching your rear-view as much as the road in front of you, you can make the locals really frustrated and agro. The other problem with the autobahn is the on-ramps – they’re virtually non-existent. You’ve got to be ready and able to go from a complete stop at the end of the ‘on-ramp’ to at least 90 in only a few seconds to avoid becoming a bug on someone’s windshield. After you’re on the road, you’d better only use the left lane for passing – the locals have no problem getting right on your tail when you’re in their way. And signal lights? Forget them – they’re apparently considered a waste of time. All told, a lot of fun to drive on them, but only if you’re a very conscientious driver. (I think I freaked out Dad since he wasn’t saying very much, but I was comfortable doing the driving and fit right in with the Germans.)

Off the autobahn we were heading through the country side on a fast-ish highway to get to the next autobahn when we passed a Commonwealth war cemetery. After a u-turn, we stopped for a few minutes to have a look around. I signed the guestbook while Dad looked through the directory – we found 3 Guests buried there, all from British regiments. Dad figures there was a POW camp or hospital near by since a lot of the graves we saw there from late in 1944. I’m not a WWII historian, but the whole situation really hit me hard. I was having a hard time not bursting into tears walking through the rows of graves. I don’t know how people manage the Battlefields Tours – I would be a blubbering wreck the entire time. It’s starting to make me wonder how I’ll react at Dachau…

After we left the cemetery, we got onto another autobahn, only to get off shortly and head back into the country side. We stopped in a little town (seemingly in BFN, but Dad mentioned it was closer to Austria then that) for lunch. We pulled into a gastof and I was surprised to see how big and swanky the place was. It’s comforting to know that if we have to stay in the country side that was can find classy accommodations like that one. After lunch (Dad had some sort of pork stew and I had a ratatouille) we headed of to Berchtesgaden. We got in around 2, and started looking for a hotel. We found on that had pretty small rooms, and is within 3 blocks of 3 churches (to go by the bells that ring on the hour), but we’re only here for one night, so it will do.

After checking in, we headed up to Kehlsteinhaus – or the Eagle’s Nest – more commonly known as Hitler’s Teahouse. It’s a small building, built at the very top of a peak in the mountains that was a gift to Hitler by the Nazi party for his 50th birthday. It was used as a diplomatic retreat and was never permanently lived in. When we got into Berchtesgaden the weather was committed to rain, and that hadn’t let up by the time we got to the base of the Kehlsteinhaus. At the base, you have to buy bus tickets to get up to the top – which starts to make sense when you realize that the roads are incredibly steep and only wide enough for one vehicle at a time (the organization that is running it even runs the buses up in convoys to avoid having them meet anywhere on the road). When we got to the top, we realized that we were above the fog line, but still below the cloud line. As we walked from one end of the ridge to the other that Kehlsteinhaus is on, we would sometimes loose sight of either side as the clouds/fogs obscured our view. We were able to see some of the surrounding mountains, as well as some of the high planes that surround the peak. We were constantly drizzled on, but when we went down the 124 meters to the front entrance of the retreat, the drizzle was full out rain.

Back in Berchtesgaden, we headed for our hotel and will eat here in the gastof, since both Dad and I are pretty wiped.

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