Sunday, September 8, 2013

"I'm With Her"..."Forever?"

SUNDAY, 9/8:

To quote a soon to be famous American (okay, my niece Mallory)—“Wait.  What?”

Greetings from Chicago.  That’s right; we’re back in the U.S., and Customs was even nice enough to let us back in the county.  The “Wait?  What?” comes from the fact that everywhere you look you run into examples of culture shock.  From the air you can see the roads are now lined up on a straight grid instead of gently curving and meandering wherever they feel like, and on the ground all the signs are in English instead of German (more on that, and on Mallory, in a bit).

First of all, we did indeed wake up at 10:15 pm Marquette time last night, and left Munich with no problem at all.  London was fine, too, and was also a place where we had our big laugh for the day.  Getting on the plane in London Loraine was ahead of me, and when the flight attendant asked where I was sitting I replied “I’m with her”.  He then joked, “Forever”?  And that caused something that hardly ever happens—

It put me at a loss for words.

Upon hearing me speechless, my dear wife shot me one of those looks that all married men, especially married men who didn’t have an answer for a question like that, have seen.  It also caused the flight attendant to break out laughing, and then say, and I quote, “Oh, you’re keeping your options open, aren’t you”?  Just for the record, no, I’m not keeping my options open.  My only defense is that I woke up at 4:15 am this morning, if that indeed is a defense.

And I’m guessing both Loraine and the flight attendant wouldn’t think it is.

Speaking of flight attendants, I have to give every single British Airways flight crew we had a big thumbs up.  Not only did they seem to smile the entire time we were flying between countries, but, like the “Forever?” comment, did so with good humor.  For instance, flying into London last week Loraine asked for milk when the beverage cart rolled around.  The flight attendant at that time said something along the lines of “Sure, but I don’t have any Oreos”.  So all in all, a big thumbs up for the B.A. flight crew.

Jolly good show all around!

Okay, now onto a few more observations about what we saw and what we did over there, the first being about the signs I mentioned earlier.  More and more, they look like this—

I’d say a quarter of the signs you see in Germany are either fully or totally in English.  I think I’ve mentioned in here before that almost everyone in the country speaks a little English, and Tony the Tour Guide, who spends a lot of time over there, has noticed that more and more Germans are adapting American attitudes and American language.  The signs are just a small indication of what could be a big change over there in the years to come.  For instance, pizza is becoming a very popular food in Germany; at least the delivery cars are still European in nature!!

As you may remember, one of my dorky habits while sitting in the back seat of the car is to look at all the license plates of the cars that go by.  Each plate has a letter corresponding to which country it comes from.  For example, here’s Germany—

The “D” stands for Deutschland, the German way of saying Germany.  (And if you'd like a bonus fact (and you know you would), the first two or three letters of the plate, at least in Germany, tells you what city it's from, in this case Weissenfels).  Well, when we’re in France, we see plates from a TON of European countries (I once counted 22, in fact), but in Germany, there were several long rides when I only saw plates from five or six countries.  And they were mostly central European countries like Poland and the Czech Republic; it wasn’t until yesterday on the Autobahn that I even saw a plate from France.  When you consider Germany and France are the two major powers in the Euro zone, you’d figure they’d like each other, but apparently the memory of half a dozen invasions over the past two hundred years (from both sides) still lingers in the minds of the residents of the countries.  In fact, when we were waiting to enter the tunnels at Nordhausen Tuesday I said something (jokingly) to Loraine in French, and my use of the language was met by several strange glances from German citizens standing nearby.

Interesting, isn’t it?  It’s almost as interesting as another habit the German people have.  They’re intensely curious about other people, curious to the point that they’ll stare at you for minutes on end until their curiosity is sated.  Several times I had a German person just stare at me in that very German way.  It was a bit unusual, and if you’re not used to it, can be a bit unnerving.  I mean, what did they think—that I was David Hasslehoff’s son, or something?

Just wondering.

A few more pictures to send your way before signing off for the night.  I mentioned my niece Mallory at the start of this.  Well, when Mallory was four she gave me a bookmark with her picture on it, two years later I brought it with me on my first trip over so she could “go’ to Europe with me, and I’ve actually done it every time since.  So here’s Mallory in Germany this trip—

She’s almost 16 now, and while I don’t know if she’d find her “trips’ to Europe as unique as she did at age six, it’s a tradition I’ve continued doing, and plan to keep doing so as long as I have the bookmark.

Just call me an old softie.

Finally, here’s the story of a German icon, and how it (or they, to be more precise) became one of the few non-chocolate and non-cereal souvenirs I brought back.  Back when Berlin was split into two, the residents of East Germany had slightly different “walk” & “don’t walk” lights as did their West Berlin counterparts.  You’d see this guy in a hat when you were supposed to walk—

And this different guy in a hat when you weren’t supposed to walk—

Well, when the wall came down and the city was reunified, almost every single symbol of East Germany was tossed by the wayside.  The one thing residents wanted to keep?  The guys with the hats on the “Walk/Don’t Walk’ lights.  In fact, a whole cottage industry has sprung up around the “Walk/Don’t Walk” guys, including postcards, posters, stickers, and even cookie cutters, a set of which I picked up and plan on using during this upcoming Christmas cookie season.

Oh, the stories I’ll have to tell when people see the cookies!

Speaking of stories, we hope you’ve enjoyed some of the ramblings we’ve posted over the past 10 days.  I know a lot of people enjoy traveling vicariously through us, and we certainly have a blast sharing some of the amazing—and absurd—things we get to experience.  We’re planning on heading over again next year, so make sure that your virtual passport is up to date!  But until then, thanks for reading.  Our trips wouldn’t be the same without you.

(, a bit disappointed he didn’t get his real passport stamped when he came back into the U.S.!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Variations on a Theme: Peace & Chaos


It wouldn’t be a trip back to Munich from Berchtesgaden without a traffic jam.

This is the third time we’ve made the trip, and this is the third time we’ve been stuck in a traffic jam on the Munich to Salzburg freeway.  This one was a doozy, though, lasting almost an hour.  Traffic was moving kind of slowly to begin with, and when you add in motorcycle riders zipping in between cars at supersonic speeds and a guy in a maroon Mercedes-Benz passing where he shouldn’t be (in fact, he was even passing the motorcycles that shouldn’t have been passing the cars in the first place), things just got worse, to the point where traffic stopped.  Like I said, it took us an hour to move five kilometers, and when we got to the end of the five kilometers we found out why.

The guy in the maroon Benz had rear-ended a tour bus.  The gods of Karma caught up with him.  It’s only too bad it caused thousands of people to lose an hour of their lives.

Our day started with one last trip around Berchtesgaden to take a few more pictures—

And even sneak a peak at the inside of a church—

All before we did our good deed for the day.  As we were heading down a hill an older German woman, out for a hike, had hurt her knee, and was asking if we could give her a ride back into town, which we did.  It turns out she’s on a “health vacation”, which is something German workers get every few years.  It’s a week or two of paid time off of work where you go to a spa town and simply rejuvenate, by sleeping, by soaking in mineral waters, or by playing outside, like this lady was.  It sounds like a great concept, and it’s something that’s apparently allowed German workers to be among the healthiest and most productive on the planet.  Hopefully, though, our new friend won’t need a “health vacation” from her “health vacation”!

After our traffic jam we arrived and Munich and did a typically Munich thing—we had lunch at a Bier Garten!

Yes, I know that last night I said I was never going to eat again.  I changed my mind.

The Bier Garten was at the end of Munich’s English Gardens, which is their version of Central Park,  It’s a beautiful place—

Filled with families walking on the paths, bikers and runners riding (and running) everywhere, at least one wedding party having their pictures snapped, and an old guy playing the theme from “The Godfather” over and over again on the accordion.  It also has the Isar River running through it—

And at one end of the river, near a bridge that causes a series of rapids, you have wake boarders!

There’s a crowd of around 100 people watching them, and some of the boarders are quite talented.  Now aside from all that, you can also catch a glimpse of ducks & geese in the park—

And even Santa Claus on a summer vacation---

Okay, I’m not technically sure that that’s the REAL Santa Claus, but it’s close enough for me.

Sadly, this is our last night here.  We have to get up tomorrow morning at 4:15 local time (which is 10:15pm Saturday night in Marquette) to catch our three flights, which end in Marquette at 9:30 Sunday night.  That should be a blast, right?  But at least it’ll give me a chance to write another one or two of these to post tomorrow.  I have a notebook filled with things I didn’t get to write about and pictures I still wanna share, so that should kill one or two of those 23 and a half hours, right?

Before I finish for the night, I do wanna thank the two people who made this adventure possible.  One would be Tony the Tour Guide, who keeps insisting that we can travel through Germany ourselves, which might be true, but it sure wouldn’t be as much fun.  Besides, who would translate for us at a news conference?  And speaking of which, I definitely have to thank the woman who made this all possible, the superstar of Weissenfels, my dear wife Loraine.  Every time she puts one of these adventures together she keeps topping herself and leaving me sitting in a hotel room typing in slack-jawed amazement.

Kind of like I’m doing now.

Well, I have to (sadly) go put my Euros away and figure out where I stuck my dollars, so until either London tomorrow morning or Chicago tomorrow afternoon...


Friday, September 6, 2013

Dangling Over a Lake in Germany??

FRIDAY, 9/6:

I am never going to eat again.

We went out for our traditional “Last Night in Berchtesgaden” dinner at a restaurant 4,000 feet in elevation called The Hochlenzer, where they serve some of the best schnitzel known to human-kind.  The servings are kinda big, too—

And if that wasn’t enough, then you have to have Apple Strudel (the real stuff) with warm vanilla sauce for dessert—

NOW do you see why I’m never eating again, especially when you consider that the bowl is a foot in diameter?

Actually, we could probably eat as much as we want, considering what we did today.  If there’s one thing the Germans love it’s hiking.  And since we’re staying at the edge of a German National Park that has the best hiking trails in the country; well, we just decided to do what the Germans do.  So we got up bright and early and headed out to a lake called Konigssee.  First we kept to the beaten path (albeit a beaten path that looks like something out of "Dracula", thanks to fog that hadn't burned off yet)—

But since Tony the Tour Guide spent years working here he knows all the little ins & outs of the area.  So we left the beaten path, jumped over some rocks, down a few hills, and amped up the degree of difficulty on to a trail like this—

A trail full of wet rocks that had a cable fastened to the rock wall so you’d have something to hang on to and wouldn’t fall into the lake.  I won’t lie; it was a challenging hike, but 45 minutes later, it was worth it when we saw this—

That’s a waterfall called Konigsbach, and this is the place where the higher you hike, the more “clothing optional” it becomes.  And I can understand why, as you’re sweating like a pig by the time you get up there.  We were lucky; we made it up before the sun hit our side of the mountain.  I can’t imagine what how much sweat would’ve been dripping from us if it would’ve been later in the day in full sun (and when the temps hit 88).  As it was, we just cooled ourselves by sticking our feet into the cold water that pools everywhere along the waterfall’s path, and gazed at sights like this—

We made it back down, ate some well-deserved ice cream (I had marzipan, Loraine straciatella & Mozart Ball (don’t ask)) and then drove a little bit to have a proper lunch, in this setting—

This is actually on what’s called the Rossfeld Panoramastrasse, a road that straddles the border of Germany and Austria, and a road that gives you great views wherever you look, especially when Tony throws on a CD of Bavarian folk music (complete with one track that has a wooden spoon solo!)  For instance, say “hello” to Salzburg, Austria—

And to other mountains of Austria (picture by Loraine)--

We actually have a hundred or so pictures of the Alps, but in no way wanted to bore you with them.  It’s just that everywhere you look, there’s a great picture waiting to be taken.

Speaking of which, we visited a cemetery, as well--

See?  Great views everywhere you look!

Sad to say, the fun is almost at an end.  We have to head back to Munich tomorrow to catch our plane home (very) early Sunday morning.  We will be stopping for a bit at one of Europe’s great city parks, though, Munich’s English Gardens, so while the fun it almost at an end, it’s not over yet.

(p.s.—I will most certainly do my best to post one of these tomorrow, but the last time we stayed at the hotel we’re staying at, their internet network blocked Blogspot, the service I’m using, one owned by Google, as a “pornographic site”.  Hopefully, they’ll have updated their filters by now!)

Thursday, September 5, 2013

When in Bavaria...


I think it’s safe to say you’ve had a good day when this is the view you get while eating dinner on your hotel balcony.

Or even when this is the view you have walking back to your hotel from the grocery store with the food for your dinner—

In case you’re curious, our hotel room is dead center in the picture, partially obscured by the tree, here in beautiful downtown Berchtesgaden, Germany, a stone’s throw (literally) from the German Alps.  It’s the final stop in this little adventure (well, only if you don’t count the night we spend near the Munich Airport waiting to fly out) and since we’ve been here twice before and know what it’s like, we decided to save the best for last.

Like I said, we’ve been here twice before, but we obviously didn’t wander around enough because as we were rambling around after arriving today we stumbled upon a beautiful public garden—

I mean, it’s not like the public garden isn’t right next to both the town market area and the town cemetery, both places we frequent when we’re here.  I guess in the hustle and bustle of the previous visits we never just had the time to look at an entrance way and wonder what was behind it.

I’m glad that this time we had the time!

Our day started with one last research project for Loraine.  This one involved the last young man from the city of Marquette killed in Europe in WWII, PFC George Kamecki—

George was killed when his unit was trying to cross the Danube near Regensburg, and although she didn’t know exactly where he died, she wanted to stop on the river and pay him a little tribute—

George died on April 26th, 1945, just over a week before the war ended.  He wasn’t the only loss suffered by the family during the war, either.  His brother Aloysius was killed right at the beginning of the war when the merchant ship on which he was a Naval guard was torpedoed near Greenland.  Can you imagine—losing a son right at the start of the war and then losing another right at the end?

My mind just shudders at the thought.

We made one big stop on our trip today, and that was at the biggest lake in Germany, Lake Chiemsee.  It’s a lake that has a 40-kilometer bike path around it, and beaches and marinas almost every mile or so.  So you can guess that it would be quite popular even if you couldn’t see the Alps in the background—

Admittedly, it’s not the best picture to prove my point, as the mountains were still covered in haze when I took the picture.  But you get the idea, I hope.  It’s a beautiful place.  Even the weird ducks seem to think so—

By the way, when driving down, Tony the Tour Guide hit a switch he shouldn’t have and soon announced to no one in particular, and I quote, “My butt is on fire”.  Apparently he accidentally started up the seat warmer (on an 85 degree day) and couldn’t figure out how to turn it off. 

Those Czech cars...they’ll get you ever time, I guess!

If you’ve been listening on the air, I know you haven’t heard many reports from me, some of which were the fault of an e-mail server being down in the U.S. and some because I couldn’t get wi-fi on my phone (where I record them).  But one of the ones that did get through mentioned about how it’s election season here in Germany, and when it’s election season in Germany you can only advertise for a month before the vote and you can NOT run negative ads against an individual (wouldn’t THAT be nice?).  In fact, you can only (mostly) put up little signs with your picture, your party, and a saying.  And because the ads have to be so simple, you have to appeal to your audience, like this guy dressed in lederhosen—

When in Bavaria, do as the Bavarians do, I guess.

Tomorrow we go hiking, hiking on a trail where the higher you go, the more optional clothing becomes.  How far up will we go?  We’ll find out tomorrow!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Danube Decides (or Dirndls & Flip-Flops)


For the record, I did not photo-bomb Loraine’s newspaper picture.

Just after I stuck up yesterday’s entry we received word that Loraine had made the front page of the Weissenfels newspaper for her little meeting with the mayor (if you’d like to read it (in German), click here).  I stuck the link on Facebook, and when I woke up this morning to check out the responses, several of my “friends” jokingly wondered why my ugly mug was stuck in the picture.  Why was I photo-bombing my dear wife?

I wasn’t.  For some bizarre reason, they actually asked me to stand up there with them, despite the fact that I had nothing to do with Loraine’s book or her presentation of it to Mayor Risch.  Maybe they figured they needed a dork to balance the gravitas of the other two people.  That’s about the only reason I can think of.


Anyway, greetings from Regensburg, Germany, right on the banks of the Danube River.  And when I say on the banks of the Danube River, I mean on the banks of the Danube River, as our hotel sits right on it!

And if you’ve ever wondered (with apologies to Richard Strauss) if the Danube is indeed blue, well...

Now you have your answer.  By the way, that picture was taken from our one big stop of the day before we arrived in Regensburg, a place called (and I’m not kidding) Walhalla, a monument that sits high above the Danube and looks a little like this—

Yes, it’s a honking big place with 100 or so steps just to get up to it and a massive hall inside filled with the busts of every famous German (non-mass murderer & dictator division) who ever lived, including our old friend Sophie Scholl—

Sophie’s bust had more visitors than anyone else, and that runs the gamut from Richard Wagner to Albert Einstein!

Once we got into Regensburg we high-tailed it over to the “Old City”, but I have to admit we were a little disappointed.  It was kind of a tourist trap.  Sure, it’s a nice old German tourist trap, but a tourist trap nonetheless, with souvenir stores, throngs of loud, smoking people, and, admittedly, one big church—

It’s funny, though, because if you cross the Danube back to our hotel, you see another side of Regensburg, a quiet, gentle, non-tourist trap, where you can walk along a canal bike path, sit & eat dinner on a bench, say “Guten Tag” to the people running by you, and just stare at the calmness and beauty that everyday Regensburgers see—

Heck, there’s even an “other side” equivalent to the Old City---

There’s also a carnival a couple of blocks away, with a Ferris wheel, all kinds of strange food, and people dressed in Dirndls and lederhosen.  And if you’ve never seen a young woman walk past you wearing a dirndl and flip-flops, well, you just haven’t lived.  It’s amazing what you can find if you just head a few meters off the beaten tourist track.  Consider that your travel lesson for the day!

Two more quick things.  First of all, we’re holding Tony the Tour Guide’s chocolate hostage.  Well, not “hostage”, really, as he asked us to hold on to it for him tonight, because he feels he may eat it all if it’s in his hotel room with him.  And seeing as how we may have perhaps influenced him (in the tiniest, most subtle way possible) to actually buy the chocolate, I guess we feel a little guilty.  And that’s why we’re holding it for him.

Finally, we wrapped up our day doing what dozens of other couple did—we stood on the bridge between our side of the river and the Old City and just watched the sun set, picture courtesy of Loraine—

Then as we were walking back to the hotel, Loraine looked up and said, and I quote, “Hey—that guy has a stick up his butt”.  And sure, enough that guy DID have a stick up his butt!

You never know what you’ll see here in Germany, and you never know what downright bizarre and occasionally disgusting things I’ll take pictures of.

No, that’s okay.  You can thank me later.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

A Fish Tale


You know this has been a weird trip for the Koskis when we made a horrid discovery this morning—we haven’t eaten much chocolate.  Or, according to Loraine, we haven’t ENOUGH chocolate.

I know; shocking, isn’t it?  And it’s not like we haven’t purchased a lot of chocolate, because we have. Heck, Saturday we even visited a store to devoted to nothing BUT chocolate.  But things have just been so hectic recently that until our shocking discovery this morning we haven’t gotten around to consuming so much as a piece of the chocolate we bought.

Don’t worry, though.  I think we’ve almost caught up by now.


Our main objective for today was to visit the city of Nordhausen, and I’ll talk about that in a second.  First, though, I have to share another story about the “Cult of Loraine.”  After everything that happened yesterday we figured we’d have a quiet day, but that changed in a heartbeat.  We stopped in a town called Leuna (pronounced LOY-nuh) to get this picture—

It’s a picture of the chemical factory that was the target of Elwood Norr’s B-17 bomber the day it was shot down.  I took the picture and we were getting ready to leave when Tony the Tour Guide suggested we stop into the town’s Tourist Information Office to see if they had anything we might pick up.  Well, as soon as we walked in and Tony explained why we were there, the people at the T.I. had loaded Loraine down with all kinds of swag, had called the town’s archives to see if they could help us at all, and had called the Public Relations office at the chemical company, who then asked us to come over and take a tour of the place, which we did.  An hour and a half after making a 30-second stop, we left Leuna.

It’s quite the adventure traveling in Europe with Loraine.  It really is!

Anyway, we finally made it to Nordhausen, where we wanted to do a couple of things.  The first was to pass pictures along to the museum there.  My great-uncle (my grandfather’s sister’s husband) had helped liberate the concentration camp there, and took a bunch of pictures while doing so.  We tried to match up the pictures, now—

And then (with warnings that this picture is quite graphic)--

Apparently, Dwight Eisenhower had wanted the concentration camps as well documented as possible, and asked soldiers to take pictures, which my great uncle did.  And now they’re in the capable hands of an archivist in Nordhausen.

Right outside of town is a mountain, a mountain Nazis had tunneled into and had slave laborers building parts for the V-2 rocket.  Long-time readers of my daily blogs know the mixed feelings I have about Werner Von Braun, the architect of the U.S. space program.  I mean, sure, he helped put together humanity’s greatest achievement.  But it was an achievement built on technology he developed in places like Nordhausen.  It just doesn’t seem, well, just, you know?

Anyway, you can take a tour into part of the tunnel complex, where they still have parts of old rockets lying in the darkness, like this nose cone of a V-2—

They also have a V-2 engine lying around, and sometimes you can even see a dork posing in front of it—

All in all, it was a very cool place, my ambivalent feelings about it notwithstanding.

I think I mentioned yesterday about how fascinated I’ve become with the former East Germany and the transition they’ve had to make from a state-run government to democracy.  Everywhere you look you can see signs of it, from the architecture to the interesting way that many businesses around here use copy-cat techniques to try and lure customers in.  An example?

Now, I’m not a copyright lawyer, nor do I play one on TV, but I have the feeling a cease & desist order could be popping up sometime in the near future!

Speaking of pizza, Loraine and I continued a long-standing tradition and went out to an Italian restaurant for dinner, persuading Tony to come along.  The Jim and Loraine tradition began our first trip over, when the only restaurant open in a small town was an Italian place.  Every trip since then, we’ve always managed to get to one Italian restaurant.  And tonight, we did it again.  (I had an amazing basil-butter gnocchi with pine nuts, if anyone’s curious!)

Finally, a couple of things about animals.  I know I haven’t been posting any pictures of flowers this time around, but that’s because in this part of Germany, aside from the occasional field of dying sunflowers, there really don’t seem to be many flowers (another holdover from the pre-Unification days, perhaps?)    So I’ll make up for it with a picture of a German butterfly—

Also, we’ve been staying at a chain called Motel One in both Berlin and Leipzig.  One of the cool things about Motel One is that they have a video loop of a fish bowl playing on their TVs.  We first noticed it two years ago, when Loraine started watching a certain blue fish with a yellow tail.  When we turned the TV on in Berlin, she was a little disappointed that her fish wasn’t there any more.  But guess who showed up in Leipzig?

It’s hard to take a picture of a fish swimming on TV, but there’s Loraine’s fish in the lower right hand corner of the screen.  And since today marks our last day in a Motel One for this trip, it’ll be a while before we see Loraine’s fish again.

Yes, you may shed a tear or two if you’d like.  I‘m sure she’ll appreciate it.,

Tomorrow we head south, where the weather the rest of our trip is set to be sunny and in the 80s, unlike the clouds & rain & 60s of the pasty few days.  We can’t wait!  So until then. . .