Blue skies. Puffy clouds. Lush fields. Sweet wine. A perky 7-month old Boxer. These were the pleasant surprises I found upon my arrival in Germany last weekend.
I never really had any desire to go to Germany. Unlike what feels like every single one of my Caucasian friends, I don’t have any ancestral ties to the country. My knowledge of Germany mostly comes from lessons in world history (not that great of a perspective on things) and watching The Sound of Music one too many times (in a very indirect way, of course).
But last winter, my best friend Alyssa had mentioned that one of her friends was being stationed in Germany for the military. Being the determined and amazing person she is, Alyssa made plans to visit by summertime. When news came that I would be spending time in London through the MU internship program, it only made sense that we met up somewhere in Europe. Eight years of friendship has really taken us so far.
So last weekend, I packed my one RyanAir-approved bag and jetted off to the land of schnitzel, Volkswagen and some of the most beautiful countrysides imaginable. Here are just some of the new German words and phrases I learned during my time there.
Frankfurt-Hahn: hell on earth. My one-hour flight from London to Frankfurt took a three-hour detour when we were rerouted to land at a neighboring airport because of inclement weather. I was still high and dry by the time we landed at Cologne Bonn and waited for our two-hour coach ride back to the original destination. But after being held onboard for another hour until the buses got to us, the skies had opened and I soon regretted not having a jacket or umbrella with me.
Quirnbach Pfalz: heaven on earth. Despite my rocky landing, I was finally saved from Frankfurt-Hahn by Ryan and Alyssa. At 4:30 a.m., the sun was beginning to rise over the surrounding countryside, and our drive back to the Quirnbach Pfalz village where Ryan and her fiancé stay was absolutely breathtaking. Settled in 1444, only a few of the original buildings still stand. But the small town of probably less than 100 people was a splendor of quintessentially German country houses and electrifying lush fields. A couple times when Alyssa and I had some down time, we went on walks throughout the village.
As much as I love the city of London and all the amazing attractions and opportunities it has to offer, I’ve come to admit that a little part of me will always be a bit of a small-town girl. I grew up in a place that only a few years ago reached a population of 100,000. The city’s major employer is a state university. I could always expect having a backyard or nearby park to romp around in. So stopping down in Germany to breathe the fresh air, marvel at the clear skies and just enjoy some peace and quiet was a refresher of how amazing natural surroundings can be.
Jagershnitzel: more heaven on earth. I really didn’t know much about German cuisine. But when we all went out to dinner the first night I was there, I was advised to try any of the schnitzel dishes at the restaurant. I ended up with the jagershnitzel, or a pork cutlet pounded thin, breaded and fried, then topped with a sour cream-mushroom gravy. It was eight ounces of gloriousness and one of the best meals I’ve had in Europe so far. If there’s one thing that the Germans don’t kid around with, it’s their meats.
Heifer weisse: to go with my hearty dinner, I asked our waitress for the most popular beer, or “what the locals would drink.” She brought a heifer weisse, or wheat beer. I can see why it’s a crowd pleaser.
Ramstein: this is the air base where Ryan and her fiancé, Garrett, work. I didn’t actually go in, but they made a quick stop one day in order to drop something off. Alyssa and I hung out at the visitor center and observed people pass through as they spoke every kind of language imaginable. Because of the military base, the area around there has a high concentration of Americans, English-speakers and non-Germans in general.
Rüdesheim am Rhein: on my second full day in Germany, we drove along the Rhine River and explored the little wine-making town there. At the city center was a little marketplace with plenty of shops filled with spices, brandy and little trinkets you could only find in the alleyways of a river town.
After brief explorations through the market, we took a gondola air-lift up through the vineyards to an overlooking point. If at all possible, the 12-odd minute ride was even more beautiful than what I had already seen. Fields and fields of grapes being cultivated for some of the greatest wine around Europe filled the vast landscape. The slope-y terrain made the ride all the more fun as we got a perfect view of the mountains and rivers.
Kinder maxi king: after the gondola ride, we settled down for some authentic pizza at a little Italian restaurant. Even though the meal was delicious and filling, Garrett suggested we indulge further at a popular, albeit simple, ice cream shop in the area. For the bargain of €1 per scoop, I opted for something that I hadn’t tried before but also settled my chocolate craving. I ended up getting a scoop of the kinder maxi king, which is just a type of chocolate swirled in vanilla ice cream with caramel and peanuts. It didn’t disappoint.
Loreley: a mystical river singer and a landmark location. A quick bout of castle-hunting along the Rhine, which is totally possible considering we passed by at least half a dozen in a 5-minute span of driving, quickly turned into one more sight-seeing stop before our long afternoon would end. Just past one of the castles, we took a sharp turn and headed up a mountainside.
At the top, we got a peek at fields and fields full of tents. Maybe it was some kind of festival going on? You better believe it. Better still, it was a heavy metal rock festival gracing the entrance of the Loreley rock.
This, looking back, was a twist of irony. After driving through the camping grounds of people clad in black leather and chains (not to mention a Confederate flag spotted on a pickup truck … did I end up back in the US somehow?), I learned why driving up the mountain and through this scene was such a big deal.
We were headed to the Loreley, or a cliff that marks the narrowest point of the Rhine between Switzerland and the North Sea. Because of its narrow passageway and swift currents, it was a site for frequent shipwrecks. The most recent occurred in 2011.
The site also marks the location of the mystifying Loreley. According to legend, she was a beautiful young woman who would sing to passing ships. Her voice was so captivating that it would distract the captains of the ships and cause them to wreck along the cliffs surrounding the Rhine. When one of the captains and his crews tried to track down this river singer and kill her to prevent further accidents, she dived into the river and was never seen again.
Even with the mysterious legends of the region, it was astounding nonetheless.
Burg Nanstein: Sunday marked my last day in Germany. And as is custom in small German towns, that meant that pretty much everything would be closed.
One attraction, though, luckily kept its doors open. That’s partly because this building didn’t really have doors, just archways.
We visited the Burg Nanstein, a castle just 20 minutes away from Quirnbach Pfalz. Most of the signage around the attraction was in German, so I was out of luck to figure out just what it was all about. However, it wasn’t difficult to appreciate the architectural marvel as it stood. I may only be one season in, but it reminded me a bit of Game of Thrones if only for the atmosphere of former grandeur and mastery craftsmanship within the stone walls. I was told that the castle was actually built into the side of the mountain on which it sits. I observed this as I walked through some of the floors and winding staircases that the wall was in fact the rocky terrain of a mountainside.
The day finally brightened up after a spot of drizzle, and I was whisked away in Garrett’s Porsche to admire more of the German countryside. The rest of the afternoon was spent with the group of us cooking, playing board games, taking Leila (their 7-month old Boxer) out to the neighborhood park, walking through the pristine fields and altogether just taking in the immense fortune of being able to witness something so simple yet beautiful.
My weekend in Germany wasn’t filled with packed schedules to visit the top 10 tourist attractions of whatever bustling city people flock to most. It was spent with great people, great food and great scenery. Not to mention, I pretty much expanded my German vocabulary six-fold.