Archive for Sunday, June 20, 1999


June 20, 1999


We went to Germany a few weeks ago. It was a good trip, except for some details. In the Black Forest area my wife bought me a T-shirt that has the German coat of arms (I guess that's what it is), and representations of Munich, Berlin, Heidelberg, Rothenburg, Neuschwanstein and the Schwarzwald, the Black Forest.

They're the nice, pleasant, touristy things. The Frankfurt airport is hardly touristy, and I wouldn't install Norman Bates in the Tourotel in Munich.

People have asked me why we wanted to go to Germany. Well, we had good memories from a trip in 1971, some beautiful countryside, some grand old buildings, the Rhine, Munich, Heidelberg. We missed out on a lot in '71, mainly Berlin, then a divided city, and the Bavarian Alps. My grandparents came from Germany, as did my wife's father. We wanted to see the Brandenburg Gate, and what is left of the Wall. Our '71 look at the Cologne cathedral was mainly a glance. I wondered about the place in Nuremberg where Hitler held his gigantic rallies, the ones in a famous propaganda movie called "The Triumph of the Will."

We especially wanted to take the cable car ride to the top of the Jugspitze, highest mountain in Germany. We almost missed out on that one. Maybe you read about the floods that hit several places in the German Alps. In '71 we drove both sides of the Rhine, but there was a boat trip promised on this tour.

When you fly to Germany you land in Frankfurt. Frankfurt looks like a big, glassy American city. The architecture has little charm. You might as well go to Dallas. Big old blah Frankfurt was the place our tourist company had us scheduled for an extra night. We could have walked around and admired the Delta Airlines and Nestle skyscrapers. When you're ready to come home, you're ready to come home. Right?

We boarded a boat at Rudesheim and traveled the Rhine to up around Koblenz. We saw all the castles and the fabled Lorelei cliffs. On the boat I met up with two nice guys who went to Kansas State and spotted the little hat I wore that said "KANSAS," with a Jayhawk, too. I kept seeing these fellows; they needled me about KU, and I deplored their football victories and asked them whether Lake Constance was as big as Tuttle Creek.

The Cologne cathedral was all we had hoped for. My wife and I love cathedrals and try to visit one in every city that has one. I had winced at the prospect of stopping in Dusseldorf, but the hotel was our best (damning with faint praise?). We had stopped at the Remagen bridge area, and it didn't look like the slides I took in '71.

I had thought the Ruhr area would be like the New Jersey Turnpike, but it wasn't bad. Hamelin had the clock tower, the glockenspiel with the pied piper and some rats and the children. Great old buildings there. No Frankfurt. When we got onto the highway to Berlin, riding in the former East Germany, we realized what the East had been like before the fall of the Wall. Torn-up highways. Abandoned buildings that made me remember a ride through the Bronx years ago. Our tour guide put on a video about the fall of the Wall, and it was one of the most moving things I've ever seen. I wasn't the only one crying on the bus when we heard Leonard Bernstein leading an international orchestra on Beethoven's Ninth.

Tour books said Berlin was ugly. We disagree. The Pergamon museum, the place where the Nazis burned the books, a tour of Potsdam, and a great night out with dinner and two fellows playing and singing German songs. Only recently did I realize that the "Beer Barrel Polka" is "Rosamunde" over there.

Leipzig, and a T-shirt with "BACH" in big letters. Nuremberg, and that medieval wonder, Rothenburg, and the Romantic Road, which didn't seem romantic at all. To Munich, and we went to the Hofbrauhaus, saw the glockenspiel, saw Nymphenburg. We were to go to Garmisch, but instead we stayed in Oberammergau, and I'm glad we did this in '99. Next year, the Passion Play. Tourists all over the place.

Up the Jugspitze, and the obligatory Neuschwanstein, and a palace called Lindenhof. To Lindau, a lovely city on the lake, and Freiburg, and the Black Forest. And back to Frankfurt. Footnote: Have the Germans forgotten Hitler? How could we visit Munich and never hear the word "Dachau" uttered?

-- Calder Pickett is a professor emeritus of journalism at Kansas University. His columns appear on Sundays in the Journal-World.

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