Germany - First Grand Tour


“On iz Germanii tumannoy privez uchenosti plody”

Kammerjunker von Puschkin

German Civilization

I am not saying that Germany is not a civilized country. Indeed, compared to
most other countries of the world it is highly so. It’s just that the only
truly civilized country is these here United States of A (with Canada included
on an honorary basis). Here is a laundry list of faults of the German

1) Tiefgarage

This seems to be an invention of the same mind that gave the world “The
Hammer of Witches (Malleus Maleficarum),” a thorough guide on ferreting out
and punishing the hapless “Hexen”. A guide of course is also needed for the
unlucky souls thrust unwittingly into a Tiefgarage. Sometimes an instruction
sheet is actually posted right next to it, but don’t believe what it says:
it’s really for the appropriate functionary whom you have to call to get your
car in or out, and who already knows all the steps in his (more often her)
sleep. The real rules are as follows:

– go to the hotel, tell the receptionist that you need “ausfahren”;
– the receptionist will say “jawohl” and look for a flunkey to get the
key and go with you to push the button;
– the flunkey discovers that a couple of cars are actually parked on the
driveway in front of the Tiefgarage;
– the flunkey goes to look for other hotel flunkeys whose cars those are
to get them to drive out for a second;
– when everybody is gathered somebody has to direct the traffic on the
one way street to which the driveway leads and whose drivable
part is about 2 meters wide;
– I double over and squeeze between my car and the one in the next box
to slither in through the door that opens only a crack;
– with the precision of a space shuttle sidling up to Mir I am slowly
floating out and up the 30% incline of the driveway, making
sure not to ram a glass business truck parked permanently right
next to the driveway.

Now, you are on your way to this “must be on time” early morning appointment.
To drive in, the steps are simply reversed. Of course, if you have luggage, it
could be loaded or unloaded only outside of the box. Finally, the sign at the
entrance says, pull in your radio antenna. My tiny car has no place to pull it
in and for a couple of days I direct my antenna manually when entering and
exiting. Then I forget and soon discover that the tip of it was sheared off,
just like the head of that guy in a movie who was riding on a train roof
through the tunnel. The rental company does not notice (I think) but for
the price they charge (see below) they can afford it.

2) Klimaanlage

Air conditioning is an almost unknown phenomenon in the Bundesrepublik. Granted,
it’s almost a northern country, but they also don’t have it in chain hotels,
like a Best Western where I stayed. I suppose it was due to its other name,
“Alt Heidelberg”, with the emphasis on “alt” (old). Nor do they have it in
high tech companies, like the one where I worked, except, deep in the bunker
for the big iron computers. Up above the ground, people and smaller iron have
to make do with open windows. And open windows we did, even when the
temperature outside was under 20C. A dozen people and half a dozen
PC’s and workstations in a small lab could not breathe otherwise. Of course,
this allowed an easy breach of the elaborate system of security at the site,
which would let in and out only with a special card and one person at a
time. There was no limit on the number of people who could jump in and out the
window on the ground floor. I was sometimes tempted to join a crew of
landscapers working on the other side of the window pane.

3) Mittagpause (obedenny pereryv)

Come on, folks, don’t tell me you need a siesta in this scorching German
climate. Otherwise, with all that technology, Klimaanlage would have been in
place long ago (on the other hand, maybe not, if some other part of the
Ordnung were disturbed by this, see item 6, Ordnung). As it is, the pause takes
2 – 2.5 hours. This is probably due to the fact that in the brisk German air
store clerks can walk to and from their nap couches much faster than their
Spanish counterparts who allocate 3 – 4 hours to this activity.

4) Window screens

Germany, at least its southern part, does not have many mosquitoes in its
inhabited places, but is does have flies. This is not, mind you, your Black
Sea vacation spot, and I suspect German flies may even follow some appropriate
cleanliness regulations, still the wurst selection at the orderly German
breakfast at my hotel was visited by an occasional fly or two. This is a
combined effect of the lack of Klimaanlage and window screens.

5) Frankfurt airport parking

Strikman and others warned me that returning a rental car at the Frankfurt
airport is a major challenge. Scared, I got detailed instructions while
checking the car out so my drive back was as straighforward and painless as
laser dentistry. The adventure began when I pedestrianized. Unlike America,
nobody politely asks you if you enjoyed your trip, picks up the key and gives
you your rental receipt on the spot. You have to find the counter by first
riding the elevator to different floors, each time following a different hint
from some sign on a wall, and then exploring each dead end you invariably
encounter. This of course with a full set of luggage augmented by souvenirs.
After 20 minutes I found the counter, where they charged me $122 per day (this
is still being investigated). Then it took me another 20 minutes just to figure
out how to find the infoboard for departures. Luckily, I had this much spare
time assured by my expectation-breaking fast drive to the rental stable.

6) Ordnung /= efficiency

As I said, there were about a dozen people in our lab: Germans, Saudis and
British, not counting an odd duck like myself. As the days were dragging along
and this or that item was missing or failed or was late, the Britishers would
poke fun at the vaunted “German efficiency.” I stayed silent but thought: “this
is not efficiency, this is no less vaunted German Ordnung.” Procedures had to
be followed, instructions obeyed – and they were. But read avout Kafka allusions later in this text.

Note: according to some guidebooks, the only country the Germans might defer
to in terms of Ordnung and cleanliness is Switzerland. Not in my book. I did
not see the equivalent of the leaking roof of the Bundeshaus in Bern (national
parliament) or a malfunctioning urinal in the nearby 5-star hotel. The heavy
rains bearing on the areopagus of Confederatio Helvetica may have been a quirk
of the weather, but the 5-star rating for a hotel should mean something, nicht


As I knew in advance, German TV was actually mostly American TV but dubbed.
Soon I could tell pretty quickly if the scene was in New York, which
most of them were. (I am completely ignorant of those shows and could not tell
what it was by the actors faces). But there are exceptions produced locally.
A guy named Harald Schmidt is known as the German Letterman. Unlike the crazy
Dave, he looks like the epitome of burgerlich decorum: regular features,
glasses, gray hair but relatively young. He tries to act crazy, however,
with varying success. While Dave specializes in sophomoric period, Harald-Dave
is stuck in junior high. The most striking feature I ran across was chicken sex
detection competition. An alleged chicken-sex guru from China squared off
against one of Schmidt’s sidekicks. They had to determine the sex of 3
young chicks. With a serious mien the sidekick and the chinaman would
pronounce “mannlich” or “weiblich” (the chinese guru – in translation).
To the audience’s overboard delight and to no one’s surpise the guru won 3:0.
I later discovered that Herr Schmidt’s web site, billed as the place for jokes,
actually contained dully mild (mildly dull) porn.

Another diversion was a channel named Arte. This one specialized in Russian
movies with subtitles. One night I watched the whole “First Teacher” complete
with Duyshen and Altynai. The German translation was especially enjoyable. Thus
the German for “bay” turned out to be “Grossbauer”. The next night it was
“Burned by the Sun”. The tradition was broken on the third night when
Brunnhilde and assorted Siegfrieds frolicked around in outlandish costumes
amidst outlandish scenery that was supposed to represent the Rhine valley. Not!


Heidelberg is the city of Mark Twain, just like Granada is of Washington Irving
and Chillon of Byron. These days an English language promoter is essential for
creating a place legend (legenda ozera Issyk-Kul). Then you can translate the
stuff into all other languages and add to the local revenue. The old geezer Clemens
(at that time actually still young) loved Germany and especially Heidelberg
and stayed there for a long time even trying to learn German. He would come to
Hirschgasse Hotel to watch student duels drenched in blood. When I came there
the waitress seated me in the cheap Volksgerichte (local cooking) section
(predbannik) of the restaurant, needless to say, at my request. Turned out
however, that the corner bench seat she put me in used to be warmed up by Otto
v. Bismarck himself, not that I could verify it. She was pleasantly surprised
to learn that I had heard of the “Iron Chancellor”. In the old days, most of
the rest of the building was a big duelling “gym”, pictured on the wall next
to a German translation of Mark Twain’s “A Tramp Abroad”. Because of this even
Herr Kanzler was forced to sit in the corner, I suppose. As it were, I was
alone in the whole room. Multicolored (hues by fraternity) student caps and swords
covered the walls and the ceiling of the hall.

I suspect that the least visited museum in Heidelberg is the Documentation and
Cultural Center of the German Sinti and Roma. We are talking about Gypsies or
Zigeuner, of course. The place is primarily a collection of photographs, stories
and maps on presentation boards. Nevertheless, it counts Dr. Helmut Kohl on its
board of supervisors and boasts of a friendly connection with the Wiesenthal
Center. They have a program of lectures and concerts but I could not find a
sufficiently Zigeuner program to visit in the time I was there. A certain
Tony Lakatos jazz quartet was playing one evening and judging by the Hungarian
name of the leader and one other player (Decebal Badila) these might have been
Gypsies, but I was just too tired that day.

Walking on the streets of Heidelberg one sees memorial plaques on buildings,
like, “Georg Friedrich Wilhelm Hegel lived here”, or “Robert Bunsen [of the
burner fame]”. Some people here definitely studied dialectics according to Hegel.

One of the poshest restaurants in town is Simplicissimus, billed, like many
others, as an old student hangout. Nowadays, it’s a place of ostentation. The
head Saudi (of our customer team) invited all the tech monkeys to this
restaurant for a “tech monkey appreciation night” [terminology mine, ys].
It took about the time a kurfurstische feast might have taken, but with about
the 10th of the amount of food. The selection and preparation of dishes
consumed 90% of the 3 hours we spent there. I picked Pfefferlinge Suppe
(Chanterelle soup – a good choice) and Kaninchen (rabbit) which turned out to
be just like the luncheon chicken on a rubber-chicken circuit, if you didn’t
know what it’s called.

A piece of news from the local newspaper: an American tourist died as he fell
from a wine barrel. To be sure, that barrel is 7 meters in diameter. It was
built on the orders of Kurfurst Karl Theodor in 1751. This barrel was the butt
of jokes by Mark Twain who questioned the need for such volume (58,000 gallons),
presumably to dilute the wine, when the Rhine was not too far. To get back to
the latest news, an 81-year old man leaned from the observation deck on top
of the barrel, lost his camera, tried to recover it and plunged all the way
down. A more romantic fate would have been to drown in a barrel, but we don’t
normally choose our end…


While the big monarchies had their royal villas concentrated around capital
cities and in selected places of a big country, in Germany every other town had
a monarch, so the countryside and smaller towns are carpeted with rulers’
estates. Heidelberg, with its population of 132,000 has a royal suburb, too. Its
pink Schloss stands on the edge of a regular park which unfortunately closes
at dusk. A wrought iron gate with kurfurstische initials separates the park
from the central square – an outdoor restaurant ground. As I was circling the
grilled fence surrounding the schloss, looking for a way to penetrate it, two
men in nice pastel jackets and ties, apparently waiting for somebody, started .
speaking Russian. It turned out that they were waiting for their dinner
company and were themselves local, from Heidelberg! While I was intrigued by
the novelty of the situation, they did not blink for a second hearing Russian
speech. It’s surely Drang nach Westen, not Osten, these days.


These days, the village in the middle of nowhere (by German standards) is
the capital of SAP, the fourth largest software house in the world,
founded by the local boys with names like Dr. Prof. Hasso Plattner
and Dr. Prof. Dietmar Hopp. But in the old days if was simply known as
Astorstadt. A big bust of Mr. Jon Jakob Astor stands in the center of the town
in front of the big pseudo-gothic building called Astor Haus. If you are lucky
(or stupid) enough to hang out there in the middle of a Sunday afternoon you
can enter the house and enjoy the Heimatsmuseum (yes, krayevedcheskiy musey!)
devoted to the memory of wunderkind JJ. One block away from Astor Haus, signs
read “Heinrich-Heine-Strasse” and “Arno Willnauer Stukkateurmeister”. One block
further a sign says “Turk hava yollari Sututtgart-Istanbul-Sututtgart”. This
is a travel service for the latter day seekers of overseas opportunities.

At the edge of the village, next to a field of corn, stand California-style
ranches of SAP honchos. They can enjoy the view of their Industriezone across
the empty expanse, but I am told rarely have more than one bathroom. This is
cultural diversity in action.

News item: the much vilified Bill Gates is only fifth on the list of the
richest Americans of all time. With his dinky $62 billion he is way behind
the #1, John D. Rockefeller, with $192 billion in today’s money. Three more
nabobs of yesteryear left the super-nerd in the dust: Andrew Carnegie,
Cornelius Vanderbilt, and the very relevant to this story, an immigrant
success poster boy, John Jacob Astor.


Drs. Professors Hasso Plattner and Dietmar Hopp had just been indicted, I mean
inducted, into the German business hall of fame. I spent most of my otherwise
unoccupied time in the house they built. It sits across a cornfield from
downtown Walldorf, in the middle of even more nowhere than its metropolis. The
scenery reminds quite a bit of Houston landscape, except you see a few
centuries-old church spires on the horizon. SAP buildings and satellites occupy
a whole industrial zone, an island amidst fields of corn and rye. The satellites
are various competence centers inhabited by companies selling computers and
other stuff that works together with SAP. The first analogy that came to mind
when I learned about this layout was Kafka’s The Castle (Der Schloss). I did not
know how much of a kafkaesque experience it would be with life imitating art.

The campus is growing as you watch: a whole grove of trees was planted around
the building where I was working during my stay there.
When you enter the building, the first thing you notice is the security doors
already mentioned elsewhere. They make other arrangements I have seen
seem amateurish. This must work to protect whatever they wish to protect,
except for the opportunity to use the ground floor windows. Those windows are
big enough for the most corpulent German even with his supercomputer in tow.

In keeping with the German political philosophy of Sozialgerechtigkeit (social
justice), lunch at SAP is free. You only have to pay for bottled drinks and
bread. For me of course it made things worse: they did not give out receipts so
I had to pay a couple of marks of my own money a day for that stuff. Given the
time and inclination one might engage in naturphilosophical cogitation on why
pig knuckles with gravy are free and bread rolls are not. I leave it
unexplored, as a home exercise for the reader.


The German elections have taken place by now but the campaign was in full swing
back then. For “my friend Helmut”, as both Bill and Boris were fond of calling
him, it meant that his broad visage graced his party’s billboards, with the
following clarifying caption: “Weltklasse fur Deutschland” (world class for
Germany). It apparently hinted at the ample Chancellor’s ability to fill the
world with his presence. His main competition vowed to pretty much not change
anything but make many things much, much better. In the end enough Germans seem
to have believed them. The loony Greenies had their own posters inviting
everybody to discuss how to introduce free lunches (and everything else) for
all, and at the same time stop any industrial or agricultural activities likely
to have an effect on the environment (100% by my calculation). This was beyond
even Sozialgerechtigkeit.
The right-wing Republican party was much more concrete: “Criminelle Auslander
– raus!” and “Deutsche Interesse zuerst”, were their slogans hardly requiring


This is a delightful city. Although I had never heard this assessment before,
my Strasbourg-born co-worker tells me that it’s a well known fact in France.

La Petite France part of the city is a network of canals and dams. Its name
seems to betray the fact that for much of its history this was not a French
city: there is no Chinatown in Beijing. On Barrage Vauban, a big dam with the
best view of La Petite France, a slightly lost Russian family was happy to
to borrow my map to figure out where and how far to go. They were on foot.
They were not from France, however, but from Germany. On the main cathedral
square, a trio of Moscow Conservatory students, including a giant balalaika,
performed standard Russian balalaika orchestra fare intermingled with high
baroque. A tourist kiosk sold local guides in Russian.

This was just around the corner from Rue des Juifs. As it turned out
from the local newspaper, there are still some Jews living, or at the very
least, dying in Strasbourg. Monsieur Joseph Tronik was dearly mourned by his
family and about to be interred at the Cimetiere israelite de Cronenbourg.
Minian was to take place that same day at 25, quai Rouget-de-Lisle. The
newspaper comes out in two identical editions in German and French, identical
that is except the German one was really randomly bilingual. As I learned a few
hours later, there was one more language in use there – Elsassisch (see

The Strasbourg Cathedral is the second most beautiful in France, according to
my resident Strasbourgeois. I don’t know how they measure that, but it was
indeed pretty awesome. Besides the oldies, Strasbourg boasts of being the city
of the future, particularly European future. A space-age looking tram runs not
too far from the cathedral and the European parliament complex on the outskirts
is far removed from gothic in its architectural style. If it qualifies as the
second most beautiful European Community building I would not be too hot on the
ones further down the list. A sculpture entitled “Europe a Coeur” by a certain
Ludmila Tcherina and billed as the Symbol of the European Union sits in
the back of it. And Russia is not even a member!

The weirdest moment of the whole trip also occurred in Strasbourg. As I was
driving towards the European Parliament on the aforementioned qais
Rouget-de-Lisle (La Marseillese was written in one sleepless night just around
the corner from the spot), I was tuned to Sud-West Rundfunk from Baden-Baden.
They were playing the Beatles singing, in English, “Back to the USSR”!


The reason I went to Luxembourg instead of, say Munich, was to visit a really
small country. I was at times not too far from several others but never
actually in. Luxembourg prefers not to display its own flag at the entrance,
rather it shows the 12-star EU emblem with the word Luxembourg in the middle.
The architecture of small towns changes dramatically as you cross the border.
Instead of gothic/baroque gaily colored in pastel tones German towns the buildings
here are unadorned, almost austere in a couple of shades of gray. The capital of
the small Grossherzogtum appears just as stern at first. Only when you walk the
streets you discover the miniature cake palace of the Grossherzog next to an
even smaller parliament. Then not at all miniature Corniche, a dramatic wall
of cliffs along the Alzette River, with walls, towers, and chateaux on the edges.

I had heard about Luxemburgisch language before and tried to find any
periodicals or literature in it – to no avail. But a local newspaper,
presumably in German, was in fact in four languages. French cropped up in all
possible places. Luxemburgisch (Letzebuergesch) was used on the front page
to wish the readers “schei Kiirmesdeg”, i.e., a nice church fair day.
Many birth and marriage congratulation ads also used Letzebuergesch. As for
want ads, they usually required 3, sometimes 4 languages to qualify. The fourth
language was of course English. The ad was usually written in the language most
important for the job, thus international banks had their ads in English.

The final linguistic touch came in the store where I was buying maps and
t-shirts while trying to find out where I should go for Letzembuergesch. In the
back of the store, two men who appeared to be the management and processed my
credit card slip communicating with me in French, spoke to each other in Hebrew. When
I said l’hitraot before leaving, I got back an unexpected smile.

I just recalled that the second reason I chose Luxembourg was its being a
temporary refuge for my one-time Unix systems administrator Valery Carey, in
his past life known as Ukrainian dissident Valera Kravchenko.


Baden-Baden is the city of torments. It was probably poetically imperative
to fully demonstrate the essence of the place once populated by
Dostoyevsky’s and Turgenev’s characters whose aptitude for suffering was
second to none. To begin with, I was late for the nude bath. In German it’s
simply called “gemischt” or mixed. The line of cars to Friedrichsbad parking
was long and by the time my turn came up it was 5pm, exactly 3 hours, needed for
the full course, before closing. I was cut off. Instead of the Romisch-Irische Bad I started
by enjoying a walk through the underground garage. The long wall of the
exit corridor was covered with just as long a fresco depicting local
attractions. Next to the Russian church on the wall was a portrait of Turgenyev
(definitely) and Dostoyevsky (possibly, although it looked a bit more like
Raskolnikov). It was clear that this town valued its Russian heritage. It also
became clear to me at that moment that for the rest of my tour of Baden-Baden
I would have to limp around: my ankle got somehow twisted on the drive from

The first view on the surface part of B-B could have been in Prague:
cafe Zum Sveik with the familiar profile on the sign, a few more restaurants
with Czech flags at the entrance, people sitting under Pilsner umbrellas
drinking beer. The very next house to Zum Sveik’s however, turned out to be
Dostojewski-Haus Hotel. It was cream-colored, with grilled and beflowered
balconies, complete with a bronze bust of the famous Fedor protruding from
the wall over the second floor balcony. It was supported by an also bronze
open book with the visible title: Der Spieler. Later around the Casino and in
its promotional literature I could not find any references to the engineer of
the Russian soul. My attempts to ring the doorbell and somehow enter the Dostojewski shrine, even
pretending to be looking for a room, were also in vain: nobody answered…

As I limped along to inspect Lichtentaler Allee, where Russian generals used
to ride in fashionable carriages and poor-devil main characters stalked their
S&M tormentresses, I realized that I could not walk back to my car for a
jacket and tie and would have to rent the stuff to enter the Kurhaus, i.e.,
casino. Mark Twain noted that it was quite advantageous to be a Russian prince
in Baden-Baden, at least in his time. I, on the other hand, was just an
American bum and had to pay 15 marks for the decent get-up and leave my
passport at the door as a security deposit. This being Sunday, the lowest bet was 10 marks. I
got 2 chips. The first time I tried to put my chip on the table, the
croupier wouldn’t let me do it: he was still sweeping around little hills of
chips from the previous game. I bet one chip on manque (this was the only spot
available near the roulette table) and lost. With my remaining chip intact, I picked
up my passport, dropped the jacket and tie and limped out.

Rushing back to the car, or with as much rushing as I could muster, I was accosted by a man
urgently looking for help. While he seemed to speak German I couldn’t quite
get what he was saying. I tried English also unsuccessfully, and then the man
confessed in exasperation that he spoke only Elsassisch. I was helpless to save him. On the last
leg, or rather wheel of my B-B tour, I decided to go up to the famous Merkur summit,
Schlangenberg, according to Dostoyevsky. When I drove to Bergbahnhof it was already
dusk and the place was completely empty. This contradicted the schedule I
had picked up at the tourist office. I found. however, that the ride was on
complete self-service! You buy a ticket from the machine, go through the
turnstile, enter the car, push a button and up you go. Not a single person was
around during this, probably the eeriest trip I ever had. At the top, the view
was all the way across the Rhine to France. And just to think that the hero of Turgenev’s
“Dym” had to climb up and down on foot.

Bad Wimpfen

When Friedrich Barbarossa, of a much later June 22, 1941 fame, decided to settle
on this hill above the Neckar in 1182, he assured a flow of visitors to the town for years
to come. Still, compared to the crush of humanity that by all accounts afflicts
Rothenburg ob der Tauber, an hour away, Bad Wimpfen is a good alternative which
seems to be just as if not more beautiful. Basically, imagine a Suzdal of
half-timbered houses complete with churches and a thousand-year old
Hohenstaufen palace. Oh, yes, there is a Bad there too, for those still
enjoying the lavish benefits of Sozialgerechtigkeit, while they last.


Kaisers, even dead, especially dead, are a powerful attraction. Speyer’s
Kaiserdom has four of them, including Heinrich IV of Canossa infamy, and four
kings to boot. They lie in rows in the Kaiser crypt under the stones that
look freshly stone-masoned even though they will soon mark their Y1K
anniversaries. Nearby, a whole separate chapel of her own is dedicated to
Dr. Edith Stein. The flyer next to the bronze image of the blessed describes
how the current pope beautified her to the wide acclaim of the population.
The story, however, begins with the words “Judin, Philosophin, Konvertitin,
Karmelitin” (Jewess, and so on). Her carmelite status did nothing to interfere
with her trip to Auschwitz in 1942, which is also duly noted in the flyer.

Back in the fresh air and turning the corner, one finds Judengasse leading to
Judenbad, i.e., mikvah, dating from the time of its neighbors, the Kaisers.
This is a museum. Plywood covers the entrance, but a plan of the future
construction promises almost as much reverence as enjoyed by the kicked-in-the-
bucket monarchs.

A marble monument on the main street has the following carved inscription:
“Deutschland muss leben, auch wenn wir sterben mussen” (Germany must live even
if we have to die). A bronze plaque attached at the corner explains that the
ideas expressed here are those of the (bad) old times, the 1920’s and the WWI
(not, god forbid, of the present Stadtrat of Speyer).


Worms is also a Kaiser city but bigger, grittier and sootier than Speyer. No
pastel-candy colored promenade for its center. The Kaiserdom is also slightly
blackened although more elaborate in architecture than Speyer’s. No high tombs
in the crypt of this one. Another Kaiser, Charles V, made it famous by
summoning Martin Luther (non-junior) to an imperial trial there 500 years ago.
As a result, it is Luther’s huge and incoungrous monument that stands behind
the cathedral, not the Kaiser’s.

The Luther monument covers quite an area where Fryar Martin almost gets lost
among dozens of statues and bronze plates which include colleagues in heresy,
like Hus and Savonarola, fuzzy persons like Augsburg Peace Treaty, and solidly
German localities like Riga, Strasbourg and Konigsberg. Unlike in Speyer, I
found no helpful notes here referring to old outdated thinking.


Marx was a true bourgeois (burzhuy, burger) as the communist group from
South China visiting his birthplace readily agreed with me. You could not
come to a different conclusion after viewing the three-story house with a
flower-filled courtyard which belonged to his parents, but is now filled with
medium-mild propaganda of his and buddy Friedrich’s oeuvre and heritage. The
heritage does not include, however, even a single piece of furniture from the
appropriate times. The 30-person strong group of Chinese was already blocking
my view when I walked down the street and tried to take a picture of the house.
Each and every one of them had to have his picture taken in front of Karla
Marla’s famously coiffed and barbered profile. When the only person
in the group speaking a non-Chinese language (English) was identified, the conversation
was decidedly far from small talk. When my Soviet, fading into American,
background was revealed they wanted to know if I studied Marx, in particular
Das Kapital and then what I thought about the giver of the true creed.
Using all the diplomacy I could muster I replied that I thought Washington
was better. Then I thought for a second and added Jefferson. The “new communists”
grinned broadly and all nodded in agreement. Nevertheless they refused the
honor of having their picture taken citing unspecified potential problems back
home. It was my turn to smile and profess complete understanding.

While this shrine certainly ranks as a tourist attraction, the locals are sure
to patronize another Marx, two blocks away. Marx Modehaus is a medium
couture establishment whose billboards around the town solidly proclaim
“Zuerst zu Marx” (first to Marx). Marxism is alive, or at least some relatives
of its founder are.

Halfway between the Marx Haus (the propaganda one) and the local imperial
Roman Therme stands a recently built sinagogue. This is the place where
Modehaus owners fulfill their spiritual needs. As for others, they have no
shortage of spiritual houses of the dominant denomination. Once again,
balalaika music reached my ears near the main cathedral in town. This time
the musicians were from SPB and they even heard of the Lycee #239 whose
memorial t-shirt I was wearing. They said that Trier was the best of many
places they had tried for summer gigs. I assume that the residents of this
delightful and prosperous town by the Mosel felt a moral obligation to make up
for all the ills their notorious townsman inflicted on the land of their
eastern neighbors. The sun was setting when I strolled through the cutest
pink Kurfurstische Schloss around. Alabaster, not marble (no Summer Garden for
you), statues of German heros stood on the shores of a reflecting pond. They
included such soulmates as Charlemagne and Moshe the Lawgiver.

That evening a Sekt Gala (local champagne feast) was taking place in the open
air under the shadow of the ancient Roman gate for which Trier is primarily
famous. The gate itself was almost jumping with the crowd to the strains of, yes,
an American style jazz band. I was too tired to jump after a dinner which
included “juschka gribnaja” (mushroom soup, in Ukrainian) and “Rehnuesschen”
(roe testicles) a la Zar Nikolai at the establishment owned by Herr and
Frau Belostenniy, a Cossack name if there was one. Instead, I ordered a glass
of ayran, a sour milk drink, which I strongly recommend, at a Turkish fast-food
place near Karl-Marx Haus, and returned to my hotel.


The run of Mosel began for me with a descent through Urzig, a wine town so
picturesque that they sell bottles of Moselwine with its picture on the label
at our local liquor store in Massachusetts. The whole valley looks and feels
like Italy, namely lakes Maggiore and Como, at least in this weather and this time of the year.
The hills solidly covered with vineyards and occasional castles, wine towns
with steepled churches and wine presses on display enticing to taste their
wares, sightseeing ships from as far (actually quite near) as Luxembourg
cruising the river, and a bikeroute along the whole run – this was balmier and
more soothing than the Rhine Valley that I saw later that day.

As I cut over to Rhine, I could not help passing by Schloss Ehrenburg. Soon
after in the town of Emmelshausen I saw the other side of a winefest. Two
guys were pulling a third one, completely listless, by his arms, from the
crowd and into a car. He was apparently drunk quite a la russe.


The Rhine was somewhat of an anticlimax. It was grander and sterner than the
Mosel, but less attractive. The huge castle Rheinfels on my way down was so
overrun with tourists that there was no hope of parking next to it. This was just as well
as I was already short on time and jumped on the cross-Rhine ferry to the world
famous Loreley. The drive up the hill was even more crowded on the other side of
the river but fortunately most of the competition were punks gathering for
a huge concert at the outdoor arena right next to the syren maiden.

I had a sense of completion when I stepped on the top of the cliff, which from
a time long ago was both abstract and familiar to me and was totally
contained in these words by the most “German” of poets: “Ich weiss nicht was
soll es bedeuten…” As if on cue, an old lady who took a picture for me
started asking about my background, parents and children and how I liked
Germany. “This place is the ‘schoenste'”, she confidently declared. As I
reported to her that my kids were bi-tri-lingual but spoke no German, whereas
my parents did, I suddenly wondered where this lady was before 1945.

I got to run up the hill that day, after all. Burg Maus on the other end of
the town scheduled a demonstration of the ancient art of falcon and eagle hunt
and there was no car access to the top. The show was just what you would expect at
your local nature center with the eager K-5 set craning their necks the better to
see the animals, only instead of furry rabbits sitting quietly on the ranger’s
lap, the awe-inspiring birdies would fly the width, length and height of the
Rhine and its valley well below, before coming back to the stage to roost.

Last crossing by the white-walled toy castle of Pfalz bei Kaub, erected on an
island in the middle of the river, and I whizzed without stopping through
Bingen, home (like all around there 1000 years ago) of St. Hildegard, Mother
Superior of all composers, big and small.


Hexe (German) – witch

Tiefgarage (German) – “deep” (sort of underground) garage

Nicht wahr? (German) – n’est ce pas?

Sozialgerechtigkeit (German) – social justice

Wahlen (German) – elections

Kurfurstische Schloss (German) – palace of a prince-elector