Friday, July 1, 2011

German Jumble

Yes I know that's not a very elegant title, but hey. I wanted some alliteration, and I'm going to get some alliteration, actual first letters of words be damned.

Anyway, my trip to Germany last weekend really only could be described as a jumble. I mean, how else can you summarize a trip that crammed horses, small towns, überbread (more on that later), hundreds of drunk liederhosen-clad gun nuts, a mile of tanks, and full-time rain evasion all into less than four full days? Needless to say, my dad and I had a great time, but we didn't necessarily catch up on much sleep.

So, to the beginning. I left Oxford bright and early on Thursday morning, feeling pretty bittersweet about the whole thing. Apparently some of my friends tried to come to say goodbye to me the night before, but I had fallen asleep with the lights on and so I didn't hear them when they came to the door. I do sort of remember hearing my name a possible reference to ducks, but because of the second part (which definitely was NOT real) I had decided it was a dream and didn't get up. D'oh.

I arrived at Heathrow and quickly met up with Pa, who had just arrived from an overnight flight from Boston. After some quick hugs, we hopped on our flight to Hamburg and let the real adventure officially begin. We got in without trouble, got our somewhat adorably ugly rental car ("The Opel"), and before we knew it were on the roads. Eeee! I've been to Germany twice before already, but have never actually been on a German Autobahn before, so I was pretty excited. The Autobahn does, in fact, have no speed limits, and so we were endlessly amused (slash terrified) of the various station wagons, hatchbacks, and vans that roared past us at 200+ km/h as soon as we got on the road.

(ze Opel looking zexy)

We drove about an hour out into the countryside and went straight to the place where we'd be spending most of the weekend, the show grounds for the Luhmuhlen CCI****. There was some dressage going on that day which we watched with somewhat lackluster enthusiasm because we were both feeling pretty jetlagged/exhausted. We also peeked onto a bit of the cross country course, but quickly realized we were too tired to take anything in properly. We drove 45 minutes further south to our hotel in beautiful Soltau (note: it's actually kind of ugly, and is a bit of a heartless industrial town). We stayed awake just long enough to have a really surprisingly good dinner at a sketchy-looking Italian restaurant, and then it was bed time.

(We also found this thing on the lawn of our hotel. We never found out what it was)

The next morning we got up bright and early so that we could get to the show grounds before the competition began. I talk about the actual competition more over on my other blog, but needless to say it was awesome, and Friday especially was a great day to be an American spectator. All the American competitors did a great job and we were feeling very patriotic as we walked the course that afternoon. We whiled pretty much the whole day at the show, but did have enough time to stop at THE BEST TACK SHOP IN THE WORLD on the way home that evening.

(This sign was on our breakfast table. Unspeakably creepy older man FTW).

Now, as a horse crazy child, I've been to more than my fair share of tack shops. I've experienced the big southern warehouses, the western feed centers, the oak-paneled classiness of the Dover flagship store, and the unbelievable sprawl of the Badminton trade fair. There's not much out there when it comes to retailing horsey crap that I haven't seen before.

(Oooohhh ahhhhh)

Until I got to this store. The building was not big, but was crammed literally floor to 10' ceiling with stuff from every possible nook and cranny. Sub-aisles had been built into the walls to increase the surface area of shelves, hooks, and hanger space. One entire side of the store had probably well over a thousand pairs of britches stacked so high that you needed a stepladder to get to some of them in probably 8 crowded aisles. They also had three aisles dedicated solely to mens' breeches which was a huge coup for my dad, who usually has between 0 and 1 pairs of riding pants to choose from.

(Rug mountain)

There were also precarious-looking stacks of rugs, innumerable rows of boots and wraps, a mind-numbing selection of bridles and strapwear, an entire aisle of western saddles (really?? In Germany??), and some of the funniest hunt caps I'd ever seen, including one that had a mystifying fleecy lining. Pa and I spent about an hour wandering around in awe and came home with some serious goodies. I'd come back to Luhmuhlen just for the tack shop alone!

(You know, for the chilly days)

The rest of the weekend followed in a pretty similar fashion, enjoying the horse show and toodling through the German countryside. On Friday night we went to a Greek restaurant that served me one of the top ten strangest foods I've ever considered: breaded, deep-fried... bread. So simple, yet so strange! Überbread! It basically tasted like bread, but with the satisfaction that it was much less healthy than a normal piece of white bread would have been (and that's not saying much). It totally upstaged the rest of the meal in terms of my obsession with it, and my biggest regreat was that I dissected and inhaled it before I had a chance to capture its glory on film. Oh well.

We also had one extremely weird 'situation' on Saturday evening when we went out for a run and, on the way back, were passed by over a hundred drunk men and women in liederhosen riding in haywagons and carousing. We got to our hotel, only to discover that they had stopped there too, and had to endure like 25 drunk Germans trying to talk to us while we slunk back to our room to de-sweatify and change. I even got to see an aged, liederhosen-clad old man peeing against a tree. Ahhh, the German life. Apparently the town we were staying in was holding a massive shooting festival that weekend, which we were strongly invited to join (we could even shoot! We were assured)... but we declined. Maybe next time.

On Sunday, when the competition was over, we decided to head over to nearby Munster to see the National Panzer Museum. It seemed only fitting given our shared penchant for all things WWII. The museum was HUGE, and had hundreds of tanks stored in a series of interconnected warehouses that we could wander through. The history ranged from WWI all the way through the present day, with a totally overwhelming number of prototypes and production examples of pretty much every kind of tank you could ever imagine ever.

(Hey! I've studied these!)

(Germany also has tank speed limits, apparently. Why am I surprised?)

(Sick fu man chu, dude)

I love a good tank, but I must say that after an hour of pretty much just straight walking from one room to another with minimal stopping and contemplating and STILL HAVING MORE TANKS TO LOOK AT I was getting a little burnt out. We pretty much ignored the last three rooms, only stopping to check out a UN Tank with these crazy flails designed to clear minefields. Still, the weather had been terrible all day Sunday, so it was an amusing way to pass the last part of a crappy afternoon. And I got to pick up a shell! A good day.

(It's like a baby! A big, 40 pound, explosive baby.)

(Tank attack!)

(Pa, with his man strength, found the shell a little easier to wield)

The weekend had flown by, and before we knew it we were driving back to Hamburg on Monday morning, saying goodbye to the Opel, and setting off for Helsinki and the next leg of the adventure. I have to say that I found Germans to be way more friendly and fun to interact with than I'd imagined or even experienced previously (though actually I had had a pretty great time in Munich too, so perhaps it was just Berlin). German is seriously fun to try to pronounce, and includes far too many improbably long and hilarious-looking words to not enjoy. Even though it probably would have been more logical to go to Germany AFTER my summer-long intensive course, I still think it was great. I may have only learned a few words (all of them food-related… I know where my priorities are) but I've already used them in my class! I was also reassured that German is, at the end of the day, a fairly easy to understand language when it counts. As we were soon to learn, that is not always the case! Finnish, for example. . .

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