Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Home? Sweet Home? I was born here, only that much is certain.

No, NOT here! 

Let's take it slowly.   The first thing I notice when I wake up in Eppelborn is that the Um Pah Pah music has stopped.

During a 6:30 am pre-breakfast walk around the neighbourhood, I notice that Germany seems to be MUCH busier at this time than France.  There is traffic on the roads. People going to work I guess.   All the roads in the towns in France that I stayed in were DEAD-QUIET at this hour.  

Breakfast in my fabulous cheap little hotel in Eppelborn in the Saarland is GREAT.  There is something to be said for German buns ;-) 

The sun is out early, so I leave early as well. After all, cycling through my birth place has been a fantasy of mine for quite some time. Yet another dream that I never thought would ever come true.

Since this is Germany, I am on the lookout for the oh-so-German Gartenzwerg (Garden Gnome), a representative of German mental mediocrity known around the world even more than Um Pah Pah music.  Just think Pink Plastic Flamingo !

But things seem different in Germany these days.  No, mental mediocrity has not diminished. That much is evidenced by the unbelievable number of fire-bomb attacks against refugee housing and violent attacks by 'Proper Germans' against people of different colour in recent years.

But Germans seem to have realized that Garden Gnomes are no longer cool.  The front gardens are devoid of the little clay critters.  Does somewhere in German exists an unmarked mass grave for vanished millions of expression of individualism?  Or has someone come up with an Endloesung that doesn't leave any trace?  I don't know, but when I finally think I have struck golden gnome, I am almost appalled to find that it's a clay Buddha.
Note how it neatly fits on the remnant of a tree trunk

No proper garden gnomes either
Maybe Germans are now shunning Garden Gnomes because these days they are made in China and no 'Proper' German would place a Chinese gnome in his garden???

Another thing that is noticeably different in Germany compared to France: Out with the OLD; in with the NEW.  Being from Vancouver and witness to the constant noise of circular saws and construction lorries, I am the first to say that this is not the right direction

Ooops. Google Maps has done it again.  Unpaved gravel roads through fields, meadows, and forests.  But they're not quite as bad as in France.  And some project of various 'artists' have carved animals out of remaining tree stumps.

Somewhere along the way I find this thing. No idea what it means but somehow it reminds me of times long gone.

I get an unwelcome reminder of my childhood, when the German Luftwaffe is practicing dog fights over the otherwise calm and quiet country side. Quiet no longer, those fighter jets make a hell of a noise. On second thought, since decades of bureaucracy and neglect have resulted in every second German Luftwaffe plane not being operational (I kid you not), the noisemakers are most likely members of the USAF stationed at nearby Ramstein.

an unsuccessful attempt to catch one of those noisy and fast bastards in the act

Who says you can't get a very decent meal in the middle of the forest?
St Wendel. The name is very familiar but I can't remember ever having been here.  Arriving here at 11:45 am, I decide that it's the perfect spot for lunch.

Alan is a great fan of Flammkuchen and my Spare Mom used to LOVE her Aperol Spritz.  So that seems the perfect combination for this stop-over.

Flammkuchen with Pfifferlingen !
Uwe & Uta in Frankfurt not only have graciously offered me to stay with them and their family, but also have pre-announced the presence of another guest, namely Budweiser beer.  You shrug?  Yeah, but only because you never tasted the REAL Budweiser beer from the Czech Republic.  
The Americans just stole the name but neglected to also steal the secret of how to get the divine TASTE into that liquid. I grew up in Germany and do like a German beer once in a while if I can my hands on a real one, but NONE of them can compete with Czech beer, and Budweiser is the best of Czech beer.  So there, now you know why I will pedal at double speed ;-)

So I leave St. Wendel.   Along the Fritz-Wunderlich Bike & Hike Path.  Fritz Wunderlich was a famous Tenor who happened to be born in the same town that I was born in, only much earlier.  

This one would get Zu excited.  I like the Bauhaus (?) design of the writing

Solar Panels are EVERYWHERE in Germany. It pays to have a physicist as chancellor  !

No one ever accused Germans of being imprecise ;-)
A Gartenzwerg?   Close since made from clay, but more of a Garden Nun ;-(
... and a Garden Mary !

Le Velo LIKES this kind of power plant ;-)

Of course, they didn't want to spend tooo much money honouring the name of Fritz Wunderlich by building an entirely new route, so they used the old right-of-way of the railway that connected St Wendel to Kusel and removed the tracks.   

There is a carved wood bear along the bike path (Why? It has something to do with the town's name) and I can't help myself. Some Selfie Weirdos:

And it actually works REALLY well !   

The first time I see my home town's name on a sign on this trip

The tunnels have motion sensors that turn on slightly dim but bright enough overhead lights when a cyclist or pedestrian enters.  NICE, not like in the Myra or Othello tunnels where you are prone to collide head-on with other cyclists in the dark if you refuse to walk your bike.

When my Grandma was young, she actually took the train of the Ostertalbahn !
Now, there are only a few sections left where tracks and old railroad stock have not been removed

Getting closer
 Arriving at my hotel for the night, I am almost (but not quite) speechless.
The first thing the receptionist said when I arrived was "xx Euros please!".  In two weeks of cycle travel from Paris to here, that was the FIRST TIME someone asked me to pay in advance.  They have my credit card info through, what are they worried about?
A pic of the hotel from the hotel's website. My room has a balcony !

Then he tells me to fill out a guest registration sheet.  WHAT ??? I tell him that this is the digital age and that they have received all that information with the booking. After he finds the info, I only get a sheepish look but NO apology when he gives me my room key.
WOW. Welcome Home !

When I ride my bike through the place of my birth I am flabbergasted and sad. The house where I spent a few years in as a toddler has been completely renovated, removing any charming signs of its age, including the old Magnolia Tree that was already huge when I was little.  The butcher 2 doors down is long gone.  It's a  Gambling Centre now. (!!!).

If the narrow winding roads of the town where charming when I was little (although in the few images I remember of them they seemed much bigger and wider), they are now a pity to watch as long caravans of cars try to force their way through them. But what's worse are the facial expressions of the young people here in town. 

After that I am off to visit the cemetery.  I follow Google Map's directions up and down various rough forest paths over various hills.

Is there a reward for those forest roads?      Oh, yes:  
Unfortunately I have pedaled to  the WRONG cemetery as I am informed upon arrival by some humans present.   Thanks Google Maps ;-)

Sometimes the imprecise Human information is still worth a lot more than the digital kind (even though it doesn't come with a blue line on a digital map) because it's accurate and I actually end up at the correct cemetery after another 5 km bike ride.

Correct as in that THIS cemetery contains the remains of my Great-Grandmother (and her husband), and her son (my Great-Uncle and Grandma's brother) and his wife. These people played various important roles in my young and so-called formative years and they were Good People, as some people would say.  

 I still remember the day when my Great-Uncle marched me back the 3 km into town after he discovered that I had taken something that did not belong to me.  The embarrassment was so excruciating that I never stole another bright red shoe horn for the rest of my life. 

There are relatives living in Germany but no one has been here in quite some time.

an attempt to cheer the grave up with 'flowers'

Only barely older than Grandma and most likely a distant relative

The view from the hotel balcony: Darkness creeping in 
I play with the computer for a while and then decide to try the hotel's restaurant
Progress as shown by the TripAdvisor Travel Map
After the questionable reception experience, I don't have any high hopes, but the restaurant surprises me.   I order a steak in green peppercorn sauce.   It's FABULOUS.  I used to eat like that when I was MUCH younger and was taken to restaurants by my two sets of Grandparents. This was about 40 years ago.  But I had assumed that this German high culture of eating had vanished with that generation.  Part of this erroneous thinking probably can be blamed on living in Canada, which never had that kind of culture (except in Quebec). But I'm very surprised and immensely relieved  to find that at least this part of the Good Old Days is still preserved in Germany.

At the end of the meal, there is NO TRACE left of that peppercorn sauce !

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