I’m in the home stretch of this most recent jaunt, and in order to meet my outbound plane in Budapest on this coming Thursday, I needed to cover some serious ground. So yesterday I spent nearly ten hours on four trains (including one missed connection – not my fault), maneuvering myself from Dresden in the north-eastern part of Germany around the bulge of the Czech Republic and down to Munich in the southern part of the country. This is only around 285 miles, which in the US would be an easy four-hour ride, but when one is bound by the whims of public transportation, it’s a different story. But c’mon – what’s not to like about train travel? It’s soothing, easy, relatively comfortable, and you get a lot of time to watch the farms go by and think deep thoughts.
Munich, or actually a little town half-way between Munich and Salzburg was my destination because it is now home to two friends of mine, T & M, whom I knew from Portland, Oregon. I hadn’t seen them in too long and it was a great excuse to push me through much of the long leg back to Vienna (where I am today) and Budapest (where I am headed on Tuesday). They indeed turned themselves inside out to help me enjoy my brief weekend with them, and grateful indeed I am for their generous hospitality.
What this train trip didn’t have going for it was much in the way of dramatic scenery. After one leaves Dresden, a part of the former East Germany that has had a lot of economic support, you’re kind of out in the “West Virginia” of Germany. Twenty-five years after unification, a lot of towns that saw massive emigration following the fall of the Wall are still struggling to determine their futures, and that’s pretty evident.
One place that is making some progress is Chemnitz (KEM-nitz), a city of about a quarter of a million people that was a huge industrial center before World War II and was targeted the same day that Dresden was bombed, suffering much the same fate then or in following raids. The company that evolved into Audi had originated in Chemnitz but used the relocation to build a new factory which probably led to some serious process improvement, the only silver lining I can find to that sad chapter.
During the process of its rebuilding under the former GDR, Chemnitz also had the dubious distinction of having been renamed Karl-Marx-Stadt in 1953 by the forward-thinking East German prime minister Otto Grotewohl whose rationalization went something like this:
“The people who live here, do not look back, but look forward to a new and better future. They look at socialism. They look with love and devotion to the founder of the socialist doctrine, the greatest son of the German people, to Karl Marx. I hereby fulfill about the government’s decision. I carry out the solemn act of renaming the city and declare: From now on, this city bears the proud name and mandatory Karl-Marx-Stadt.”
It’s a tribute to their ‘love and devotion’ that just prior to reunification, 76 percent of the population voted to get its old name back (a proto-Slavic word meaning “stony brook”), firmly shutting at least one door closed on Grotewohl’s legacy.
So the route was: Dresden to Hof (change trains), Hof to Nuremburg (change trains – miss ICE connection by 30 seconds), Nuremburg to Munich (change trains) and Munich to Rosenheim. I was really ready to sink into a cozy booth at the Gramaphone Abend-Bistro with T& M to chill out and catch up on what’s new.
The next day T was kind enough to take me on a long drive on a mild Saturday afternoon through the soon-to-be blooming Bavarian countryside. Because of a fairly sturdy haze in the air, I didn’t get any good shots of the Alps (blue and beautiful in the near distance) nor was I very successful in capturing much of the local ambiance, being pretty engaged in our chewy and delightfully wide-ranging six-hour conversation. Here’s a shot of a popular pastry shop with typical detailing:
In the nearby parking lot, a sign reads:
“This is the parking lot of Mullner Stuberl, Cafe-Restaurant. Those who park so, so is the legend, (something like) you must you bring your belly in to eat with us.”
While T and I managed to resist the apricot strudel, we did start to get a tad thirsty, what with all that talk and all. T knew about a great spot, the Strandhaus, just beside the Chiemsee (sometimes known as the Bavarian Sea) a big beautiful freshwater lake in the Chiemgau recreational region. Well, I didn’t know where the heck I was, except that it was simply lovely and most unexpected temperate for an afternoon in March:
(I bet this place is just hoppin’ in the summer.) We settled in and ordered ourselves a couple Flammkuchen, kind of a Alsatian-cum-German pizza with a thin crust, creme fraiche, and little bits of bacon, onion, and tomato. Pair that with .31 liters of a local pils, and you have two happy campers:
So thanks to you both, T&M, for a most enjoyable weekend. Let’s do it again asap.