(reposted from Carrie’s WordPress blog)
Stefan here, writing a guest post for Carrie since my blog writing frequency has approached that of Sarah Palin making a sensical statement. That and I am the one with the requited love affair with Deutschland. I was a little disappointed that I wasn’t met at the airport by throngs of adoring Germans waiting for me to take on the tough questions about search but I quickly got over it when I arrived at the Intercontinental Bertschgaden, high up in the Alps where “the eagles fly, on the mountain high”. (True story: Joe Cocker wrote that song while sitting in the Eagle’s Nest when Hitler invited him over for Kugels and coffee. Or at least that’s what I think the brochure said – my German is a little rusty. Could have been something about the US Army liberating the area during WWII and tearing the compound down, but again – rusty.)
When we checked in to the Intercontinental that Carrie has previously gushed about we were presented with an offer we couldn’t refuse: nine Michelin starred chefs assembled for one night of gastronomical ecstasy. The catch? It was more money than God. That and it was all in German. BUT! Dispensation arrived in the form of something we Americans can love – it was for a charity and thus was a tax writeoff. I have no idea how poor Steve Reddway, our formidable CPA who has lost years off his life dealing with our taxes, will reconcile a ‘foreign charitable donation that I swear has a $0 FMV and for which the only receipt I have is one that also has spa treatments, poolside beverages, and babysitting charges on it’, but I’m sure he’ll pull thru.
With the allure of a tax deduction at hand, I signed up for the dinner. The hotel procured a babysitter for Elena (and she learned more German in a night than she has learned Spanish in a year of Spanish class) and we headed on down to the Michelin-starred restaurant in the hotel. Where the comedy began. Yes, it was a charity event. No, we have no idea what it was for. Yes, there was about 45 minutes of speeches in German. No, I had no idea what they were saying, but I timed my light laughter perfectly with the rest of the crowd, hoping to blend in. All I could think about is: thank gods food doesn’t need translation. Carrie was pretty sure the charity was something like “Down with the American Imperialism” but I’m still thinking it had something to do with orphans and rockclimbing since there was apparently a pretty big German celeb there who liked to show off his wall-climbing prowess by repeatedly climbing the walls of the hotel’s exterior. I kid you not. I can hear my colleagues saying “oh Stefan, you’re just jealous that someone more famous in Germany than you was in attendance and stole the press photos and the interviews” to which I respond: Yes. That doesn’t happen in Germany. Not to “The Stef”.
Rest assured I was correct in thinking the food would not need translation: we didn’t really know what we were eating but the tastebuds are remarkably xenophilic – as long as it’s good, they don’t need to see the food’s provenance. And it was good: foie gras (I had 4 helpings and silently cackled all the way to the farms in which the little geese were forcefed), scallops, sushi, duck, pigeon, about fifteen vegetables – who the hell knows. I stopped keeping track at some point which I believe happened to coincide with seventh or eight glass of Cristal champagne and/or wine. In any case, if you ever get the chance to have nine Michelin chefs cook 18 courses for you, take it. Be like Louis the XIV and just hire a little person to occasionally put his finger down your throat so you don’t fill up on ‘food’.
A couple of days later we absconded from our mountain paradise to the town of Heidelberg. I’m pretty sure Carrie will document the other Michelin Star dinner we had there (which was EPIC) but I wanted to focus my attention on something we found 1500 feet atop a mountain. Something that you would never expect to find and apparently neither did the Bavarians who ran it since the signage to find it was practically non-existent. What was this little paradise? The “Kids Amusement Park of Death” (cue scary music).
Let me set the stage: You take three funicular cars, one of which is from the early 1900s up a hill so steep it makes the learning curve for Todd Palin realizing he shouldn’t spit his chew out on the White House lawn look positively flat. You then trundle around a top of hill casually looking at signs and consulting your German trans-late-o-matic to try and figure out which direction you should head, ensuring you don’t walk any further than absolutely necessary (hey, I’ve been spending a lot of time in LA, so sue me). Finally you happen upon a little fence and begin to see a large wooden troll laying on his side peering at you with beady little eyes. And you see no one. It’s like the beginning of a bad horror movie. As you make your way around you can hear the squeals of little children and you’d be excused for thinking they are being fed into a sausage making machine had you consumed a couple of beers on the way up the mountain. Which I did.
As you approach the front of the park you’re reminded of the Seattle Center Fun Forest in better days. You pay a couple of Euros to get in and then buy a bunch of tokens. So far it feels like any other country fair in the US. You can make out rides in the distance and see people lounging on picnic tables enjoying the sun. All normal until you realize that the rides, complete with moving trains, horses, jumping apparati and the like are totally and utterly not attended by anyone. Yes folks you can just hop on a bumper car, put a token in, and smash the crap out of your better half. You want to take a train ride around the park and attempt to jump on the little car before it takes off, hoping you don’t fall onto the track and end up lying in a pool of your own blood as the train runs over you? Just need a token. No worries. You want to jump on a massive inflatable trampoline with sides so low you’re practically guaranteed to fly out and land on your head, causing massive hematoma and internal bleeding? Boom! You don’t even need a token for that! It’s like the whole park was designed as a population control measure for stupid people – if you can’t have fun without killing yourself, you probably shouldn’t live in Germany. It’s fricking brilliant. Darwin would be so stoked. In the US you’d literally have a consortium of trial lawyers pulling three shifts outside the park waiting for you to leave and asking if that scrape on your nose came from the game where you shoot fairly hard balls at each other from a distance of about 10 feet (which mine did). In Germany, the only thing waiting for you in a 40 minute descent back down the mountain into the middle of Heidelberg where a frosty Pils awaits. Man I love this country.
A couple of last observations as I sit here in the airport lounge on the way to Prague. First, why can’t US Airline lounges look like this? We’re in one of about a dozen Lufthansa lounges in Frankfurt and it is spotless. All manner of food and drink – complimentary. Tons of couches, chairs, shower rooms, nap rooms (!), work rooms – you name it. I swear I’d actually purchase a Red Carpet Club pass if our lounges in the US looked anything close to this.
Second, now that I’m on the plane, I’m seated next to a Russian Oligarch who is passing the douchebag test on so many levels: Level 1) he is fiddling with his Vertu brand phone (for people with more money than sense – Bing it); Level 2) he’s so powerful, he can take his laptop out and start watching illegally downloaded Russian Saturday Night Live shows (apparently ripped by Artemis128 who should probably finish cleaning up his mother’s basement before she comes home from the Vodka distillery and whales on him) during taxi, and 3) he used the little wet wipes they hand out before takeoff to not only wipe his face and neck (that’s fine by German etiquette standards) but then proceeds to wipe his armpits and put said wipe on the little middle tray between us. Seriously. I guarantee if this were longer than 45 minute flight, he would be f’d up on Stoli by the first half-hour in.
Off to Prague!