Heather and I stood on the stairs at the Hotel Uhland in Munich, studying the large map that hung on the wall. I was fiddling with a panel of small buttons on the right. “Too bad none of these buttons work anymore.” “They work,” Heather said. “See? Push it again.” I pressed the button for the Marienplatz, and an LCD bulb glowed beneath the faded paper. “Oh! Neat!” The manager stepped out from behind the desk. “Can I help you find something?” “Oh, no,” Heather said with a smile, “we were just admiring the map.” “Ja, my father built that himself. He wanted to update it, but my mother wouldn’t let him. Said it would be more trouble than its worth.”
We spoke with the manager for a while, and she told us all about the history of the hotel; how it has been run by her family (Hauzenberger) since 1955, how her young daughter is being groomed as the next manager, and how her father maintains all of the IT stuff (he bought all of the computers and set up the wireless network). Mrs. Hauzenberger at Hotel Uhland was another example of the kind of people we had encountered in Germany so far: friendly, warm, and eager to help in some way. Embarking on the final leg of our trip, I reflected on how humbled and impressed I was with the country, and how difficult it would be to leave.
Last winter, Heather and I attended a beer tasting at a beer den in the Lower East Side. Chef Wolfgang Theil traveled from his restaurant, Schlenkerla, in Bamberg to prepare dishes that would accompany samples of Bamberg’s world-famous smokebeers. Prior to that night, a friend of Heather’s—who lived in Bamberg for several years while in the military—strongly recommended that we make the city a stop on our trip. If his glowing recommendation was the step toward the cliff, Chef Theil’s Bamberg Onion and smokebeers were the push over the edge. Bamberg would be our next stop after Munich.
We were on the road by 10:00 and, after an uneventful drive, arrived in Bamberg by 12:30. Determined to let the TomTom take us all the way to our final destination for once, we soon found ourselves thwarted by construction. Turning around, we ended up creeping down a one-way street and across small a pedestrian-only bridge. “Are we allowed to do this?” “I THINK so. That’s what I thought the sign said.” “Then why are people giving us such funny looks?” A thin, blonde-haired college student approached the car and leaned down to Heather’s open window. “You can’t drive here,” he said kindly, “you’ll have to go back.” “OK, I’ll just—” Heather started. “There’s no room to turn around up there,” he interrupted, pointing toward the other side of the bridge. “You have to just back up the way you came.” “In reverse?” Heather gulped. “Ja.” So, backward we crept, 300 meters along the narrow, cobbled slope. Pedestrians stepped out of our way right and left—almost always at the last moment—with bored, puzzled looks on their faces, like cattle encountering the first Model A.
“OK, we’re fine. Let’s just take some deep breaths before we continue.” We rested, safe and unscathed, in a modern parking garage beneath the tourist information building at the center of town. “I wonder how many surprise traffic tickets Ivo will get in the mail,” I chuckled. Heather’s look shut me up. After a stop in the restroom, we grabbed a map at the TI and walked back through the city to Shlenkerla, passing the picturesque Altes Rathaus (the town hall, which was built in the middle of the river as a compromise between the church to the west and the farmers to the east) and several adorable shops. After fumbling through the all-German menu, we were relieved to decipher “Bamberg Onion,” the same dish we tried NYC. “Zwei, bitte,” we said to the friendly waitress, “und ein Märzen Bier.” The onions were delicious—a little bigger than the ones in NYC—and the beer was phenomenal. (It’s amazing how much better beer tastes when it is brewed literally a few meters from your table.) We bought two six packs—to thank Reinier and Ivo for their TomTom and hospitality, respectively—dropped them off at the car, and continued to wander around Bamberg. It started to drizzle, but we donned our raincoats and pressed on, undeterred.
The rest of our short day in Bamberg was spent wandering near the Neue Residenz, taking photos of its lush rose garden and nearby cathedral. Wandering through town on our way there, we encountered a bizarre little playground and an armed green gnome. We wound our way back to the car, walking along the river, bellies full of delicious food and beer, a little sad that we did not schedule more time in this wonderful town.
We arrived in Frankfurt around 19:30 and pulled into the Hotel Topas, a completely unremarkable urban hotel near the train station. Tired, and not terribly willing to wander around an iffy and unfamiliar area of town in the late evening, we decided to venture out for dönor kebab and then call it an early night. We planned to take Rick Steves’ walking tour of Frankfurt early the next morning but, after reviewing the schedule, decided that our last day in Germany would be better spent entirely in Köln.
Tomorrow: “See Ya in Hell, Frankfurt!”