42 The Hitchhiker’s Guide to East Germany

“Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small, unregarded yellow sun.” Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Bonn to Merseburg Day 3 in country

The Autobahn. The combination of the words “the” and “Autobahn” together make any red blooded under thirty American male yearn for a hot car, a fast woman, and a full tank of gas. I’m forty one.

Cruising along in the center lane at my normal pace of just over 70 mph, with Porsche’s, BMW’s, Audi’s and the odd Smart Car whizzing past me at Mach 2 with their hair on fire, I managed to schlep us all four hours away from Bonn to Sachsen Anhalt, the federal state containing the Frau’s home town of Schraplau. Don’t bother looking it up, the English Wikipedia article simply states its a town and has lovely picture of the town crest, a Knight in armor holding in his hand a large sword and in the other a rather forlorn decapitated head.

I’m told by all in the car that the ride was very nice and the scenery for the most part was lovely, thats nice. I remember the ride as a hell spawned nightmare of negotiations between my recent, and becoming more and more debilitating, fear of heights and trying to remember what the hell the road signs are telling me to do, and monitoring the ever changing winter weather encountered along the route. As we drove up one hill in full sunlight, the next valley had fog. Up the next hill in rain, down into the valley of flurries. Repeat ad nauseum for three hours, never quite sure if I’m going too fast, too slow, or somewhere in the middle and trusting in Google Maps to get me to the end destination.

Now is a great time to have a quick discussion on cell phone data connectivity in the Fatherland. In a word; unreliable. I’ve gotten so used to the always there connection to the Google Mothership in the States that when it failed out in Germany, I was emotionally unprepared for the loss. The German’s on the other hand, being hardy folks, still sell paper maps at every rest stop along the massive Autobahn system.

Arriving into Merseburg in late afternoon, just ahead of my sister in law and her family, we found the Radisson Blu hotel for our three night stay. The hotel itself is very nice, modern, and European. Apparently catering to the business clients that don’t wish to stay at other more high end hotels in either Leipzig  or Halle, the local “big cities”. There’s the usual big ass church in the middle of town and a few statutes commemorating people I’ve never heard of in wars I vaguely read about in High School World History.. Some guy named Napoleon invaded somewhere around here and the guy’s that got the statue I guess did something about it. Ho hum. Ignorance and apathy are great qualities in an American, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!

As it was my wife’s birthday today, we saddled up the kiddies, and the sister in laws kiddies, and the local Aunt, Uncle, Expecting Cousin and Cousin’s new husband and drive off to Seeburg and the restaurant Orangierre. Now this is something very new, Seeburg I’ve driven past many times before in earlier travels to Germany and never quite managed to get there. Its a small, picturesque village on the shores of a small lake and mounted into the face of a small rolling hill. Seen from the local road its what you might imagine a postcard village would look like if you could still find postcards. Its of course got a small castle, recently for sale at the low price of 15,000 Euros and only needing a few million more in renovations. The restaurant itself is something new to the area as well, offering upscale dinning in a place where usually the locals never ever go out for diner. Whatever it was I ordered, I’ve already forgotten, I’m sure it was ok, and if it wasn’t I’m also sure my subsequent Yelp review would go over the dish in detail. As there is no Yelp review, I’m gonna assume ok. The Uncle on the other hand had a piece of veal unlike any I’ve ever encountered before. So good that he insisted on sharing it. So there’s that.

Another note on technology, specifically currency. I’ve become cashless. Have been for almost ten years. Why carry around wads of paper and annoying little coins when plastic is so much easier and doesn’t tinkle onto the floor when you take your pants off. Germany hasn’t fully had a Come to Jesus moment with regards to plastic of any kind. They are aware of it, they know what it does, they just don’t care. So, it behooves you to ask whether or not a place of business accepts credit cards, some do. Most are ambivalent.

After everyone was satiated and the littlest of the children becoming punchy for having to sit with the grownups for too damn long and the grownups getting punchy for having to sit with the grownups too damn long, I asked for the check. Of course knowing that Germany is fickle on credit cards, I’d asked earlier in the meal if they were accepted and failed to phrase my question correctly. I asked “do you accept credit cards?” I got back a very solid, very clear “Ja”.

My failure was in not knowing that the question didn’t contain the correct phrasing.

So, bill comes, its 355,00 Euros, Mr. Billy Baddass whips out his Bank of America Visa Debit card to a stunned and now visibly perturbed waitress. “Keine Visa, Keine Mastercard, Keine American Express! EC Card, bitte!”

Translation: “We take credit cards, but only EC cards you stupid, ignorant, brings his whole damn family to the restaurant and now you can’t pay, Arrogant American!” Of course, all the cards she mentioned are exactly what’s in my wallet, with the exception of the EC Card.

I’m entirely to blame here, the German bureaucratic mind won’t allow them to see fault in their logic, don’t believe me? Thats ok. Next chance you get ask one how they invaded Poland. The answer will almost invariably be; “Ja, well, someone must have said it was ok..”. At any given point during the early part of the 45 minute wait to get served, she could have easily said, “Yes, we do take cards, but only a special card that you’re not likely to have as you’re American.” and I would have driven a whopping 10 minute round trip to the bank in Schraplau to use the ATM there. Nope, in this case, I failed to ask the right question and she gave the correct answer. Garbage in, garbage out.

The next day, Saturday, finds me owing my sister in law 355 Euros and dawns bright and sunny outside. Its still very cold, but, that’s ok, who cares when you have the whole East German famdamily coming for lunch?

After milling about the big ass church in Merseburg for a bit and wandering around their morning market, we pack up everyone and schlep out to Esperstedt. Think of Esperstedt as the Staten Island to New York, the Little Neck to Great Neck, the West Boca to the City of Boca of Schraplau.  Its situated on top of a hill, one turn, one turn only Vasily!, from the A38 Autobahn. Its what you might call a one horse town if there were any horses… there are cows though!

The great family luncheon was held at the the old sports building, now redesigned and renovated into a Greek restaurant with its featured attraction of a Kegglebahn. If you’re female, I know what you’re thinking, and its not that. Wipe the silly grin off of your face. Not that at all.. Its a type of bowling ally with 10 pins. No, I’m not making that up. The game is played with a miniature ball with no finger holes, and roughly equates to the same thing as bowling, launch the ball towards the pins down the ally and knock as many pins down as possible.

Simple enough. Don’t ask about how the game is scored, I don’t know and I don’t think the Germans know either.

Wrangling 20 plus people into the same room at the same time is in and of itself a game of who’s more likely than the other to punch his or her seatmate first. Doubly so when its family. To add to the enjoyment of these varied people trying to get along is the fact the restaurant is… well… its brand new, opened the day prior and run by one Indian making Greek food, in East Germany. With over 200 items on the menu. Staffed by two kids. One of the kids I’ve known since he was 3 or so. Good kid. Good Parents. Strange restaurant.

There is a particular thing I’ve noticed in German restaurants in that by and large, they take and give orders based on the item’s number on the menu and without regard for who ordered it. So instead of seat one ordered the veal franchese and the waiter brings it to seat one, the waiters here bring food over without knowing who ordered what and then call out the menu number, something like this:

“I have a 23! 23! Who got 23?!”

Not too bad when you have two people at the table, but, twenty hungry, slightly drunk and getting less slightly and more full on by the second, people will turn this rapidly into a shit show of “thats not yours, I ordered the Gyro without tomatoes, you got it without onions, or did I order it with no lettuce?..this one has tzazki…whose soup is this?”.

Add to this that the Point of Sale system wasn’t online yet and everything had to be tallied by hand on paper with a calculator.

After the epic Greek Family Luncheon, we retired to Aunt and Uncle’s in Schraplau. After milling around a bit, I decided to go take a walk to where my wife’s Grandmother house is. She’s of course no longer in residence having left this plane of existence some years ago and its real misfortune that shes gone. She was always very kind to the kids and I, and I was very fond of her. My wife of course was devastated when she died and unfortunately at the time we had no money to attend the funeral making her pain doubly felt and held onto for many years.  So, we decided to make the trek up to her grave instead.

It got very windy up by the grave yard. Stung mine and everyone else’s eyes a bit. Or maybe it was a bit dusty. Hard to say.

Afterwards, back down to Aunt and Uncles for a specially gotten and prepared Plate of Death and then back to the hotel and bed.

Join me tomorrow while I write about more adventures in Sachsen Anhalt from 39,000 feet up in sky on American flight 71 Frankfurt to DFW!


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