The March to Munich
11/6/11 – 11/22/11
11/4/11 Washington, DC The Journey Begins
…after a 30 minute Continental airline computer glitch and an attempted putsch by the fat red head in front of me, I made a dash for security which was fortunately light. Following the trail of my name on the PA system, I made it to gate C6 winded, yet grateful the plane’s door was still open.
11/5/11 Paris, France Landed
We landed in Paris at 6:30 am on a dark and misty Saturday morning. The background music, while taking the moving sidewalk, was none other than Louis Armstrong doing his version of Edith Piaf’s all time classic La Vie En Rose. Both versions are two of my favorite cuts. Terminal 1 at CDG reminds me of the international terminal at Narita in Japan, as they are both round pod-like structures, kind of depressing. Then, I was really depressed. I had no cash in my pocket as my bank had no Euro notes, and then I was running so late, I couldn’t stop at an ATM machine. Normally not a big problem as my bank card could easily fix the problem, this wasn’t a normal time. I lost my bank card two days ago, and the temporary one didn’t have my name raised, only the words: Preferred Customer. I prayed that it would not cause any problems as I ran over to the counter for the bullet train to Lorraine on my way to Nancy. Turning on my new world phone, it messaged something about GSM, which meant it knew this was a different country. Then, it kept saying it had no signal, which should not happen in a major metro area like Paris. Approaching the counter, payment worked fine, however I had no time to find an ATM as my train was leaving in the next 10 minutes.
... Nancy, France
70 minutes later, the bullet train pulled into Lorraine, basically an isolated outpost. It was still another 15 miles to Nancy and I had to either take a taxi, or a bus. Seeing the bus was only 5 Euros, while the cab was 30, I decided to take the bus. There was only one problem; I still had no Euros, only $27 dollars. While the bus driver spoke no English and I speak no French, I somehow convinced him to let me as I would pay him once we reached the Nancy train station. I found a cash machine, and yes to my grins, I withdrew 100 euro and paid and tipped him. The card now passed both tests, one for cash, the other for purchases. With greater confidence, I bought a croissant, pretzel & 2 European diet cokes (coca cola light) as I decided to amuse myself by “station watching.” It’s amazing, no matter where in the world you may be, train stations always have a bit of “dirty leg” look to them, kind of an amusing seediness.
I checked into my hotel across from the train station, and finally getting my phone to work, I called my local attorney, Alain Behr. Alain had represented my family in the French courts and was now tasked with informing the media of my trip. After a 2 hour nap, I met Alain outside and we walked to his office near St. Stanislaus plaza in the center of town. He has great offices on a street where the buildings date back at least 150 years in kind of a judicial neighborhood. With tradition as a background, court dress code includes frocks while in session. He had arranged for reporters from the two local newspapers to drop by today, and broadcast media to come tomorrow when I begin the march from the memorial to the victims near the train station. Before they came, we talked about different walking routes through France.
Two reporters with photographers me to interview me, from the two local papers, “Est Republicain & Le Republicain (names will be corrected). One of the reporters, Valerie Richard had done a nice piece on me when I attended the trial in March, 2011. The interview lasted about 40 minutes or so as I explained why I decided to march. It was upbeat and the only controversy was when the discussion turned to Deutsche Bahn and their role. It also helped that they realized that I was really on a quest and this was no publicity stunt. Afterwards, the photographers took some “action” pictures of me walking with map in hand.
After leaving Alain’s office, I walked over to St. Stanislaus square and had dinner at Café Foy, a restaurant I knew and liked from previous trips. Like then, I ordered the quiche Lorraine and had a relaxing dinner before heading back to the hotel to get some rest for my big day tomorrow.
11/6/11 Nancy, France What a Beautiful Day to Start a 300 Mile Walk!
6:00 am came a little quicker than usual as I discovered the flaw in my bargain hotel – a late night salsa club on the first floor! Alan picked me up at 7, and we stopped by a boulangerie for croissants before making our way to the marked memorial near the train station. When we arrived, the agency reporter and his camera man were already set up, just waiting for us. The interview lasted about 10 minutes, and like yesterday the larger issue was why I was going on the march. Every time I’m reminded of Deutsche Bahn, I feel like my batteries are put on a super recharge. Anyway, Alain turned to me and said Rollin, this is your march. Finally, my moment had come and I was not disappointed as it felt even better than I had imagined. And there I was, off to see the wizard!
Well, it wasn’t too long, in fact only a kilometer or so, that I had a route issue. You see, the streets in this part of France changed names every few hundred meters, or so which meant that my Google walking map had hundreds of directions, even though I was on the same road. Not only that, the only street maps I could find were on a scale of only 100,000 to 1. I came to one of those right or left decision points, guessed left and was proved correct by a direction sign further up the road. Now that wasn’t so bad, as lady luck was on my side for the first test.
A few miles out, in Jarville, a younger guy approached me, and before I could say I don’t speak French, in pretty good English he identified himself as a reporter and congratulated me. Asking how he knew who I was, he said it is a small world and a lot of people were rooting me on. After a few questions, I walked with my head higher and a bit more pep in my step. In Laneuveville-Devant-Nancy, an older lady, most certainly a local, stopped me, smiled and started speaking and put out her hand which I happily shook. While she only spoke French, the word “march” was clear. I took her picture, thanked her and went on my way. All I could think of was that there was an article in the newspaper about my walk after yesterday’s interview. After three other people stopped me in St-Nicolas-de-Port, I stopped at a little market and bought one pear, one apple and one copy of L’est Republicaine. Sure enough, about 6 or 7 pages in, in the front section, was a big article and picture in what is probably the most widely read paper in eastern France. After a pause, and in a moment of self modesty, I realized that I was only riding the tail wind of a popular newspaper.
Crossing over the Meurthe to Varangeville, the river was trailed by a canal that is still active in commerce. Aside from a very nice power boat which was at least 35 feet long, there were many working boats with both French and German names. From what I could tell, the area was actively mined for trap rock as well as a sand deposit for a cement factory. The sun was shining and the day warming up a bit so I shed my fleece sweater layer as I approached the outskirts. Until now, the walking route took me through a series of connected of towns and villages. Sidewalks were to end soon however, trading safety & comfort for the beauty of nature.
Once I reached the outskirts of Dombasle nature’s path laid herself at my feet. The countryside’s charm has a wonderful serenity about it. Even though I could see the next two miles were uphill, I was hypnotized by the view. Walking through grassed shoulders is a lot slower, and requires a lot more effort than sidewalks or tar, especially if the ground underneath is soft or muddy. But then again, the views made it all worth it.
Finally, there they were, the two towers of the centuries old castle were on the horizon as Luneville surrounded. Perched on top of a hill, they were that much more imposing. I had booked a room about 5 miles past Luneville, in Moncels, a somewhat run-down area with a McDonalds being the cleanest view. I booked at Hotel Acacia because it looked clean in the picture and sat squarely on the road on which I would continue.
11/6/11 Moncels Les Luneville A Rocky Start, Alain to The Rescue
My first challenge came soon on my way to Hotel Acacia. I was using two maps for this leg, the first a Google step-by-step, and the second, an official travel map. I figured two maps would make it twice as likely that I would find my way, well, not today. While most of the day’s walk had been on only two roads, Hotel Acacia was off the main route. The Google map not only had the address & directions, I also wrote in the phone and reservation numbers. Well, after carrying the two maps in my left hand for 8 hours and 20 miles, I looked down to see that I had dropped in the last mile when I re-adjusted my back pack. It was already 5:00 and the sun was starting to set. I needed to get there before dark because there were clearly no other hotels or traveler’s resources. Sunday in Lorraine reminded me of Sundays in Connecticut when I was younger, nothing open and no one around. I finally found someone to ask, who pointed straight ahead. The parking lot was empty and the locked front door seemed strange. There was an ATM like machine that you put in your card or reservation number. I did as instructed, but was snuffed at the gate as the electronic “no reservation” message was not a small problem. I tried calling the hotel number, but got a message in French which I could not understand. Then, when I got the same message calling Alain, I called my wireless carrier and got bad news. That local area did not have a network to call a number in France. It was nearly dark now, and unless the problem was solved, I was going to sleep on a park bench. So, I found the solution: I called my sister in-law, who called Alain who then called me and then called the hotel. Did you follow that? Alain called back to say he found the Hotel owner who would be there in 20 minutes. Alain to the rescue!
The owner, his wife and daughter, got out of the car, apologized and then shook my hand. Hmm, I was becoming famous. After checking in, Jean Pierre Bouillard invited me for dinner with them later, a happy acceptance.
Jean Pierre made a favorite of mine, breaded veal cutlets along with penne pasta. His daughter Lola, a student in Nancy, spoke English very well. We finished with cheese and bread, and of course, a great conversation. Jean Pierre and I then mapped out my route for the next day.
11/7/11 Raon l'Etape France A Very Special Motel
I must have been a real hurting puppy as I could barely make revelry at 7:00 am. Moving at half speed, I finally went to breakfast 45 minutes later. As I was the only guest in the hotel, Jean Pierre and I ate together, talking about today’s itinerary. (I really like the French breakfast concept, especially chocolate croissants) Jean Pierre was unable called the lone hotel in Baccarat, and when no one answered, he told me that most of the hotels in this area close during November. So now, my earlier easy day of 22 kms was stretched to at least 32, assuming he could find one in Roan l’Etape. The first one he called was closed and the second didn’t answer the phone, although he said they might open at 4:00 in the afternoon. Anyway, he would call me once he got through. He also gave directions, and unlike the minute detail of my Google maps, he pointed outside to road D590 and told me to start walking and not stop until I reached my destination. He listed every village on the way and told to just follow the signs. I was finally getting the knack of the roads in France, and his way was clearly the best.
The weather was misty, a bit foggy and a comfortable 45’sh degrees, great for walking. At the embarrassing hour of 9:00 am, I started to ease on down the road. Except for a few sheep and cows, the first 3 villages seemed deserted, no cars, no lights, no people. I almost felt I would see Rod Serling walk out and do the intro for twilight zone episode. About ½ way into the trip, I looked to my right at a car stopped in the road, and there was Jean Pierre, with camcorder in hand, shooting me as I walked. He made the trip to tell me that he was still unable to reach the second hotel, but would call me once he did. That was really nice of him.
By the time I reached Baccarat. My feet were pretty sore as I was getting blisters on the soles. Contrasting the villages, Baccarat was really busy. In the middle of town, there were crystal stores lining both sides of the street. I had forgotten about French Baccarat crystal. Looking up, I saw a sign for a hotel/restaurant. Hoping that Jean Pierre was wrong, I went in to try and get a room. Jean Pierre was right, they were closed, drats!
Only 11 more kms, and I would be in Raon l’Etape where hopefully, I would get a room. This last leg was becoming difficult with my feet blistering as all hope of an ambitious pace was dashed by a limp. My earlier good mood was now doused by thoughts of not finding a room. I hatched a plan that I would take a train from Raon l’Etape to either Nancy or Colmar, spend the night in a hotel, and then take a morning train back to continue marching. While the plan sounded reasonable, I couldn’t convince myself enough to take the edge off. When I finally arrived at the town center, I look up and see: Hotel de Ville. Bingo – a hotel with lights on, they must be open. When I walked in, there were several desks and partitions with a lot of people. While it looked busy, it just didn’t feel like a hotel, especially with no reception desk. I walked up to the first desk and asked for a hotel room. Well, after a startled look because I asked in English, the light bulb went off and the young man reached into his desk and took out a tourist brochure, opening it up to the hotel section. Was this a travel agency? After some cross talk with others, he asked me in a combination of the word wait and a raised finger, calling someone on the phone. Soon, another young man walked in, announcing in English he could help. He said there may be a room at the Museum Motel which he confirmed by calling. Well, this was great news, but I was curious about what I thought was a hotel, which he explained that “Hotel de Ville” was City hall. I felt both dumb and happy, a rare combination of emotions. His name was Jean, and as he walked me over to the hotel, he started telling me that this was a “special” hotel. Now, whenever I hear an adjective like special, it was code for unusual, and yes, this one was unusual. The Museum Motel was a collection of 8 to 10 free standing sprayed concrete hollowed out pods. While registering, the owners, Joel and Laurance told me that I would be sleeping in a bubble tonight. And, they were right. The owners were art lovers and their hotel was also an exhibition hall for contemporary art. Not only the architectural bubbles, but also their collection of art throughout the motel. I enjoyed my evening at the Museumotel as it was indeed special.
11/8/11 Sainte-Marie Aux Mines To The Mountains - The Real Challenge Begins
Day 3 began the same as day 2, right after breakfast and photographing the owners. Today’s walk would be 40 km (24 mi) because that was the first place after Raon l’Etape in which a room was available, at least according to Jean Pierre from Hotel Acacia, who, by now, has become both an advisor and friend. I am amazed that in this part of France, most of the hotels close down during November, their slow season. After bidding Laurance adieu, I was on my way.
The weather was perfect to walk, dry, sunny and cool at around 45 degrees. I made a couple wrong turns, however, quickly sensing it was wrong, I managed to ask for help to put me on the right track. Fortunately, I had that dumb American look on my face as the pity factor worked to my favor. I was really racing against time as any delay would put my arrival after sundown which can be a real problem on village and country road terrain.
For some reason, I just wasn’t making especially good time. I had a few little stops to get something to drink or getting something out of my backpack, which was a real process because of all the straps and restraints. Lunch was a quick stop in a Patisserie for a piece of marginal quiche Lorraine. I just love the French concept of fast food, most centered in the Patisseries. The first 15 miles were pretty uneventful, the scenery just ok. Heading out of St. Marguerite, I had mapped out a shorter route which went through really remote roads and villages. But, I was feeling good about myself, and foolishly daring. I was in the village of Coinch as the road lost any look of being promising. Fortunately, there, in the middle of nowhere, a car with young parents, baby and an open window were pressed into action. It seemed like the French didn’t find knowing road names as useful and didn’t even know the names or number of what were seemingly major roads. After looking at the map a few minutes I tried showing him on the map where I wanted to go while pointing at mapped road. He pointed to the road I was on, which really looked like a path, the combination of his words, facial expressions and hand movements led me to believe that this was a real bad route. His wife then started driving and he beckoned for me to follow him. First he looked at a road to the left with a real puzzled look, then turning the other way his wife was driving up. He had sent her ahead to kind of scout the roads. There couldn’t be more than 8 roads in the whole village, why did he need to look up and down the roads? Who knows, maybe he was from another village. We were walking slowly with his wife inching up behind us, when we saw another car with a girl sitting there, apparently a friend. They spoke a few minutes and he pointed down the road we were on. I said/asked Sainte Marie and all three nodded yes. Well, that kind of confidence could only mean two things; either they were confident of the answer, or they were tired of me and found the easy way to get rid of me.
As that road did not agree with my map, I had no choice but to pray they weren’t just trying to get rid of me. After a worried 45 minute, I finally was off the mountain. After another 15 minutes or so, I couldn’t believe my eyes as there on the street sign was my destination, Sainte-Marie aux Mines 15 Km. Wow only 15 kilometers and it was only 3 o’clock. I could easily walk that in less than 3 hours, or when the sun would set. I was in the mountains ever since yesterday when I walked to Raon l’Epate, however the mountain tops were closer. The two villages before St. Marie, Gemaingoutt and Wisebach were real pastoral and beautiful with patches of forest, fields and mountain tops. I was feeling great, only 10 kms between me and St. Marie. Well, that was pretty short lived as the road began a very steep incline up. Well, the incline didn’t stop, not for another 4 kms. Every step up became harder and harder as it seemed like I was making no progress, which I wasn’t. Finally, when I had barely enough strength to keep my legs moving, there was a sign and 2 restaurants. The sign said; Col de Sainte-Marie, 770 meters. One restaurant opened, one closed. Walking over, a gentleman with a gray beard (could it be I was at the North Pole?). Expecting a strange look, I asked if he was open, to which he nodded yes. Hoping he understood what I asked, I said “Do you speak English”, nodding yes, almost prophetically, he said “you’re saved”. I was, I was saved. Dehydrated, soaking with sweat, legs, feet and knees aching and approaching being delirious, I was saved. He asked if I wanted a beer, of I course I didn’t so I asked for both water and cola. Ducking away for a moment or two, he came back with a bottle of water and Coke zero. I put the water to my lips, nodded my head back a bit and finished the water without putting it down. Then, after an unexpected, yet inspiring “but it’s all downhill,” the life came right back into my body. All I could do was say “thank you, thank you, you don’t know what great news that is.” And, it was great news. I was so energized I could have probably jogged in from there. From the lowest of lows, I was now brought to the highest of highs.
The next 5 km down the hill turned out to be pretty challenging as it was now dark, foggy and much colder. I put on a small bikers flashing light in the hope that the oncoming traffic could see me. Oh, and the road had very little shoulder. It took at least another 90 minutes of oncoming headlights, whizzing traffic and an ankle bending gulch off the roads 12 inch shoulder. When I finally got into town, there was nothing, no people, no lights, no nothing. How was I going to find my hotel? Then, as if I had a guardian angel a car stopped with two guys. I walked over and in pidgin communication, I asked where there was a hotel. They looked at each other then at me, and said two words: no hotel, all the while shaking their heads. I reached into my bag and pulled out the reservation that Laurance printed. They looked at it, then went into a house, came out and motioning me to follow, one of the guys brought me down the street and pointed to a sign which had the words “Chambres” and “Zimmer” the words for room in French and German. I walked up a long dark driveway to the house, hoping there was really a room for rent. I knocked on the door, and the woman opening looked at me as if I were frightening. I asked if she spoke English, no, so then I asked if she spoke German, yes. Great, I had a communication language as I had studied German in school and knew enough to get by. Still, she looked at me as if I were the devil himself. So I handed her the confirmation which she studied for a minute or so. I must have really had a horrible smell as I sweated through my clothes walking up the mountain. I asked if I should remove my shoes at the door and almost holding her nose she nodded yes. She brought me down to a room in the cellar, my room. She asked if I had eaten, and said she would bring soup. I took a shower, and hopefully a lot more presentable when she came down with her husband, Herr Zinck and a tray with dinner, including the promised soup. I showed them the cut out article from the newspaper on my trip to let them know I wasn’t a weirdo or something. Thankfully, the alarm bells turned off and we spoke a few minutes as I was restored to the basic human being level. I asked if she could wash my clothes as I sweated through everything. She had no dryer which didn’t seem to be a problem as I was so tired and pained, I thought of taking a day off to recover. I ate my chicken and spaetzle, a German dumpling on my way back to humanness, called my aunt Rosemarie in Germany, looked at some maps and fell asleep.
11/9/11 Selestat, France A Light Day to Recover
Without a doubt, yesterday’s trip took a lot out of me. I didn’t even wake up until 8:30 which is generally mid-afternoon for me. Even though I decided to take a day off last night, I regretted what I wished for. While I was eating croissants, bread, butter and jam for breakfast, Frau Zinck came in with my pants and socks and hung them in front of the fireplace to finish drying from last night’s wash. The last thing holding me there, wet clothes, was now dry. I asked Frau Zinck if Selestal was a difficult walk, which it wasn’t. I went down to pack, and there was my sweater hanging, dry. She came down and gave me a paper with a WiFi code her husband got that morning for me. I mapped out my trip to Selestal and wrote each leg by hand as I had no printer. By 10:30, I was out the door, on my way to Munich via today’s destination.
The weather was again cool, about 45 F with fog and cloud cover. Seeing Sainte-Marie in the daylight improved it as a quaint several block village. My trip was along the river all the way with no mountains or hills. About 4 km out of town, my instructions took me off the main road and up a bit into the residential area on the hillside. I finally got my GPS on my phone to work which was confirming this village detour. After about 10 minutes bewildered, I wound up on a cycling path. So for the next 7 kilometers had a wonderful walk and didn’t have to duck cars in oncoming traffic. The next 7 km, however was payback as I was back on N59, a main road which had a 12 inch tar shoulder and 24 inch muddy grassed shoulder. I spent the next couple of hours ducking cars and trucks racing by.
While the path was rural and pretty, the roadside was not so. I guess the day’s grayness didn’t help with the view. After about 5 hours, I arrived in Selestal which had a bit more architectural urbanization than the other towns. I made a dash for a hotel I spotted on the entering outskirt. No lights, locked doors and nothing stirring; another closed hotel. Moving on, I stopped in a patisserie for an onion tart. The owner spoke German, a language I can work my way through. Being so close to the German border, I guess it would not be unusual for German to be spoken here. The owner was very nice and even let me charge my cell phone while I sat down and ate.
Walking to town center, there above the buildings was a big green lighted hotel sign just calling out to me, a call I couldn’t resist. I checked in, and sitting on the bed I was just amazed at how great even a moment’s rest could be. Going through my emails, I saw one from a reporter in Munich who wanted to do a story. The article in Sunday’s L’est Republicain had gotten her attention. So I called her and spent the next 20 minutes being interviewed.
Well, I guess it wasn’t a real news day here on my front, so I won’t try to put lipstick on a pig anymore. Signing out from Selestal.
11/10/11 Sasbach Germany C'est La Vie - Mein Gott ist Ein Feste Berg
Like the two lines above, France and Germany, separated by a mere 300 meters of river, the Rhine, could not be more different. While C’est la vie, such is life, is the life style of the French who enjoy the moment in life, eat, drink and love, Mein Gott is ein feste Berg is a German prayer which translates to; My God is a strong mountain, a prayer?
Waking up in Selstal France, I would go to sleep in Germany tonight. Unlike the family run hotels of the last 3 nights, the Valiant Hotel was much more commercial. With no particular affection for commercial hotel lobbies, I decided to get breakfast at a pattiserie. First, I would need to have a picture taken, an action shot of me on the march. The picture was for the Munich newspaper Abend Zeitung, to whom I had given a phone interview last night. The reporter Vanessa had found me on an internet search which turned up the L’est Republicain article earlier in the week. The desk clerk kindly agreed to come outside for a posed candid photo. After saying goodbye, I walked over to a cluster of shops on a quaint little cobble stoned plaza, stopping at a patisserie for a croissant for breakfast and a small quiche wrapped to go for lunch.
Well, like 3 of the last 4 days, the weather was overcast, misty and cool, about 45 f, great walking weather. Today’s leg, because of hotel availability was only 15 miles again, about 5 hours at a firm pace. By now, I had become comfortable with the French road markings, finally easing my road map anxieties on the last day. The French have a real unique system for road markings and directions. Road names are almost laughable here as every road changes its name every 50 meters while none of the names are posted. There are no street signs. Instead, local roads are marked by signs showing the next couple of villages on the road, and a road designation such as D424 or N50…etc. So all I needed to know was the list of towns and/or villages between where I was and where I wanted to go. That’s why Jean Pierre’s written directions from Moncles les Luneville to Raon l’Etape was just the names of 6 towns and villages.
Again, luck was with me today. The entire trip was on a cycling/walking path, although unlike yesterday’s detached path, this was just another lane in the road. I still had to keep awake as cars whizzed by, sometimes at a pretty quick pace.
I had a bit of a strange encounter about half way through the trip. On a part of the road where the pedestrian path was not very wide, ducked down several feet to a lower but parallel dirt road. I had stopped and taken off my pack next to a cluster of bushes when a car on the main road stopped, a man rolled down his window and asked me in German if I wanted a ride. What made it unusual was that I wasn’t really visible from the roadway, especially with cars travelling at least 45-50 miles per hour.
This was a mono-scenery type day, a fairly straight road with fields on both sides. Finally, I reached the Rhine, the border of France and Germany, two countries so close geographically yet so different culturally and philosophically. As soon as I stepped off the bridge into Germany, the scenery looked completely different than it had 300 meters ago. I was quickly on a walking path on my way to Sasbach. The sight of a pair of swans reminded me of the German fairytales my mother had read to me when I was young. Several of them had swans, a bird of exceptional beauty and grace. I guess I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. The next 4 kms were beautiful, really beautiful. As I walked into the village of Sasbach, it smelled of Germany with typical village architecture, homes with flower boxes and scenes painted on the homes themselves. Yes, this is the Germany I remember. I stopped an older gentleman riding his bike my way and asked in German where I could find hotel. It turned out to be two streets, maybe 100 meters, the Loewen Gasthaus, a German invention blending a hotel and a B&B with a restaurant featuring great local food. As much as I was glad to be in Germany, I looked at my last road map of France, and even though I was tossing everything useless to manage my carry weight, I think I’ll just keep it.
11/11/11 Waldkirch, Germany Oh What a Day!
I limped into the shower at about 6:15. The bathroom, like the room itself was barren, yet spotless. Over the years, I’ve come to realize the most important thing about a hotel room was its degree of cleanliness. By function, it has to pass the barefoot test, and if it doesn’t, turn around and hand back the key. I took my laundry (2 pair socks, 1 underwear & 1 base layer shirt) off the radiator, dry and clean.
The German “Gasthaus” is a wonderful concept. Literally translated as “guest house”, and similar to a B&B, they are located through Germany and welcomed, especially in areas too small to support a hotel. The typical gasthaus, locally owned, has a restaurant on the first floor and rooms above.
I went down for a quick breakfast as I had wanted to get an earlier start today. The restaurants, like the gasthauesern themselves, are traditional, painting a picture of post middle ages German culture. After having some buttered farmer’s bread with cold cuts and cheese, I was on my way. The weather, by now predictable, was overcast, damp and chilly. Walking out of town (2 blocks from the center), the scenery was just beautiful with farm fields on either side of the road and agriculture terraced hills a little farther to my left. Being my first morning in Germany, I was just amazed at how much more beautiful and cleaner Germany was than France so far.
As I looked around at the natural beauty, I became exhilarated and charged. I felt like the wind would take me as there was no weight on my feet. I felt like I could have walked 100 miles. I kept thinking about my mother and how I was looking into her past imagining I was seeing the same thing she saw. In a sense, I was also returning to my home. Many years ago, I had a most unusual dream, the most real and exhilarating thing I had ever experience. I dreamt that I was going home in a state of pure euphoria. It was so real, that I can still feel it. This is the only dream in my life I have ever remembered more than a day. Speaking of dreams, I dreamt about my brother Michael last night, something I do only rarely. It was a good dream, however as he had an illness he didn’t know about, and I was the one who had to tell him.
About 2 hours into today’s march, I was walking through Riegel, when on the outskirts there was a winery. When I stopped to take a picture, a lady came out and we started speaking as she was outgoing and spoke English well. When I told her about my march, she looked at me and said that I didn’t look sad. No, I wasn’t sad, after 9 years, my thoughts and memories of the family had blocked out the bad memories and put the good ones to the head of the line. I said good bye to Katya and continued, still charged by today’s beauty.
After 4 hours, I made it to the suburbs of Emmingden, easily the largest city in Germany so far. The city, however, was not very attractive. In fact its light industrial overlay was even a bit depressing, reminding of West Haven where I had spent too many years. Then, in almost an instant, the sun broke through as my mood quickly changed as did my pace. It’s amazing what a little sunshine could do.
Coming into the homestretch, the last two hours were rewarding, back to fields with mountains in the distance ahead of me. I saw an email from Vanessa, a reporter with Abend Zeitung, a Munich newspaper. She was letting me know that the story we interviewed on Wednesday was slated to print on Monday. I was glad that a German newspaper was carrying the story about my march as it was important to me to let the German public get a real picture of DB, and their actions up to and after the train fire. During that interview, she asked how my life changed because of the tragedy, a question no one else had asked. On the positive side, it reordered my life’s priorities. In 1998 I moved to San Francisco as a matter of convenience for my frequent trips to Asia. In short order, I was on a tread mill, one too difficult to get off. I would come back to Washington for 3-4 days every 2 weeks, and was off to Asia for short trips every 6 weeks or so. Along with my prosperity came the demand that I continue to go to Asia with as much, if not more, travel. The fire changed all that as I became more introspective, realizing that I was not a part of my 3 children’s lives and once I missed it, it could never be retrieved. The road back into my children’s life was not easy, however as I was a bit of a stranger to them. I am thankful every day that I was lucky enough to figure it out then and not when it was much too late.
After much anticipation and euphoria, I finally made it to Waldkirch, a city still small enough to retain some of its old world flavor. I walked around for about an hour or so to both take in its flavor and find a gasthaus for tonight. The first two gasthaeusern, were both closed, one until 5:00 pm and the other seemingly forever. I asked a few people in town where I could find a gasthaus. Finally, after being in town for more than an hour, I found one on a little backstreet, but, all 16 rooms were taken. My biggest fear on this trip was that I would not find a room along the way. As I was taking the rural route, this was a real concern. Other than taking a late train to a bigger city and returning in the morning to continue my journey, or sleeping on a park bench, there was not much else I could do. The owner of the gasthaus came to me rescue (she probably saw the panic in my face when she told me there was no room) by finding a room for me in a hotel about ½ km away. That was too close for comfort.
After checking in as the only guest that night, I took a shower, washed some clothes and went down to ask the owner, Helmut Disch, to recommend a restaurant for dinner. On a simple pre-drawn map, he directed me to a restaurant within 200 meters. Gasthaus Stadtrainsee, with all the smells as I remembered from my childhood, was authentic, the real deal. It was a quiet evening with maybe 4 other tables seated. Bingo, there on the first page of the menu, I found just what I wanted, kaese spaetzele, a southern German version of macaroni and cheese. Whenever my mother made kaese spaetzele, everyone found a way to be home at dinner time, you didn’t want to miss this one. While the real dish from Allgau in Bavaria used limburger cheese, the restaurant’s version used a cheese that was not quite as ripe. For desert, I had a cherry streusel because I convinced myself that I deserved it.
11/12/11 Black Forest, Germany Standing on Top of The World
Well, finally got an earlier start at 7:30 am, and it was cold. With the temperature somewhere in the 20s, I wore my Sherpa hat - brrrr! Walking thru the market square, MarktPlatz, the vendors were just setting up as the sun was rising. The smells from the metzgerei (sp?) wagons made me just want to go over and buy up all the deli meat cuts and wursts. The vegetables were all big and fresh looking, as were the apples and pears. Instead of eating deliciously and healthy, I decided to go to the baeckerei and ate deliciously and unhealthy; I just love those chocolate croissants! The morning sky was clear and still dark as the sun was just coming over the horizon as I walked north following the river valley through the mountains.
To me, the best way to understand a city or town, is to watch how it wakes in the morning, and Waldkirch was passing the test as you could feel the energy building in the air. Yes, this town does know how to wake up, setting the stage with the right smells, sights and smiles.
The road to Furtwangen would not be easy, as I had to go over a 1,000 meter mountain in the black forest. The views were nothing short of beautiful as the skies were a deep blue, the pastures were still vibrant green and the leaf bearing trees were a concert of reds and oranges. There were a lot of different types of grazing stock, from cows to goats to reindeer. The plow horses must have the day off as they were gently jousting each other and moseying about. One of the more beautiful sights was a patch of fog curling over a mountain top and hugging the side as it slowly came down. This stretch of valley was exceptionally scenic and probably a popular vacation spot as there were few houses, yet many gasthaeusern (plural of gasthaus), and even a vacation condo cluster. As they say in real estate, location, location, location!
My Google maps gave me two options, the first was about 23 km crossing two mountains, and the second was an extra 3 km, but only crossed over 1 mountain. As I’m not necessarily heroic when it comes to climbing mountains, I took the longer route and traded one mountain for 3 km. Besides, this is supposed be a protest not a contest of who had the most notches on their pick-ax!
After about 4 hours, I reached my cut off point and made a left turn up the path toward Furtwangen. The tarred path soon turned to a dirt road as the incline angle became noticeable. Did I mention that I really hated climbing anything and everything? This mountain was covered mostly in large evergreens blocking both the sunlight and any visual clue as to where the top was. Well, I climbed, and I climbed, and I climbed some more. After about an hour of this torture, I flagged down the first car of the day to ask how far it was to Furtwangen. The driver was very woodsy looking with half a ZZ Top beard. The good news was that I was on the right road for my destination. Then the bad news, I still had 3 km of my uphill climb. And, finally, the good news, the next, and last, 2 kms were downhill. He asked if I wanted a ride, a devil’s temptation. I had to decline, even though it looked just so tempting.
Climbing that mountain was difficult as my legs, feet and back ganged up on me, begging me for a rest. I couldn’t. Had I stopped for a rest, I’m not sure I would have been able to get back up. Soon, I started peeling layers as I was working up a real lather huffing and puffing. Finally, when I reached the top, the views were just stunning, the real life version of a post card. So this is what it looks like when you stand on top of the world. I spent about 10 minutes looking at the views and watching several cows in their version of a pasture social event.
As hard as it was going up the mountain, it was twice as easy coming down. The sunny skies called for sunglasses and the warming temps (60 F) called for peeling off a layer or two. But it was more than that, it was the sense that as much as my legs, knees, feet, back and shoulder were all ready to throw in the towel, I didn’t let them. Today, the weakest or controlling link was my mind and will power. As a little reward for myself, I put on ear buds and played several of Hubert Von Goisern and the Alpinkatz’s cuts. Getting a little carried away with the music, I started singing and performing as cars whizzed by. It must have been a real sight especially acting out Cabaret by Joel Grey and Midnight Hour by Wilson Pickett! When I finally reached Furtwangen, walking through town began to quickly deflate my mood. For a minute there, I thought I was in France as the streets were deserted and all businesses were closed. It reminded me of Sundays during my younger years in New Haven which under the blue laws which basically shut down the town on Sundays.
After checking in to the Linden Hotel, I had some bratwurst with my cousin Norman and his partner Eduardo who came to visit from Basel, where they live. Norman is the son of my Tante (aunt) Rosemarie, who is near and dear to me. Norman is wonderfully engaging with an enviable gift for languages as he speaks at least 3 languages, German, English & Spanish, fluently. His father, my uncle Eberhard, had the same gift. I had never met Eduardo, though we have spoken on the phone, and really enjoyed his company. After eating our wursts, we went to a café that Eduardo had spotted earlier and had coffee and the specialty of the Black Forest, Schartzwaelder Kirchen Torte (Black Forest Cherry Torte). This was the real deal, and it was great. After they left, I went back to the hotel, wrote today’s journal, and now I’m going to bed.
11/13/11 Tuningen, Germany A Day to Remember
Well, this was going to be a big day, 40 km and a small mountain, so I needed to get an early start. At 6:58, I was scooting down the hall for a quick breakfast. Seeing I was the only guest, I didn’t expect much, and boy was I wrong. As I got closer to the door, I heard loud voices and music. Maybe the owner was watching Woodstock or something. No, it wasn’t Woodstock, it was a party – at least the tail end of an all-nighter.
There, huddled around the bar were 3 girls, 2 guys and the owner, their heads in a cloud of smoke made blue by the bar’s spot lights. One of the girls, a blonde who was the spitting image of Rod Stewart, composed herself and said in English, “Welcome to the Black Forest”, to which I, clearly composed answered in German, “Ich habe Schawartz Wald Gern” (I like the Black Forest). I smiled politely and walked over to my breakfast, a platter of cold cuts, bread, butter and jam. I knew my answer was only a temporary block, and sure enough, she came up to me with a glass of wine, which I politely refused. The owner, sensing the need for damage control, came over very apologetic and kept asking if I slept well. I don’t know if he was part of the all-nighter or a late line jumper, but he was pretty polluted. I let him off the hook and said it was ok, I don’t mind their partying. As I was leaving a few minutes later, Rod Stewart came over to me and in pidgin English asked if she could draw Garfield on my back. I’ve got to admit, that was a new one to me. After a round of goodbye’s and hugs, as if we were lifetime friends, I slipped out the door. In less than two steps, I had to go back and take a picture of this crowd. So, I took a few pictures and as I walked out the front door, one of the girls followed me. She introduced herself as Andrea, and said that if I had any problems, to give her a call. I didn’t realize she was referring to travel problems, so I as if she were a psychiatrist. I must have dissed her because she just turned on her heels and went back into the party.
Leaving Furtwangen, the weather was beautiful, about 42 degrees and a brilliant blue sky. About an hour, or so, into the day’s walk I was on a small path up a mountain. I wasn’t really excited about a mountain today because of distance I had to cover. I put my mind into neutral, no bad thoughts and no good thoughts, and about an hour and 3 km later, I was at the peak. This one was easy, but then it was only a mini-mountain compared to all the others. By the time I reached the peak, I had already taken off my scarf and a sweater. Then, as soon as I was over the peak, the weather changed completely as it was foggy and cold. This was like San Francisco where you get fog two blocks from total sunshine. The farther I went down the mountain, the colder I got. The sweater and scarf went back on, as well as my Sherpa hat. I still had 27 km to go and once I stopped descending, the cold damp weather really slowed me down. While the German road system markings are better than France’s, they are still not great. I took a wrong turn somewhere adding nearly an hour to the trip. My hotel strategy for the trip was simple, just find a Gasthaus, as every town has at least one, and bed down for the night. What I did not realize is that a lot of the Gasthauesern, like their French counterparts, were also closed in the off season.
My target was Tuningen a smaller town which was the half-way point of the trip. I could have gone 5 miles less to Bad Duerrenheim to make the day easier, but I wanted to reach the downhill part of the trip. It was getting late, and I finally made it to Bad Duerrenheim about 5:00, with Tuningen another hour or so away. Right there in the town center was a nice gasthaus which looked open, and while my sensible side said to check in, my non-sensible side said to keep pushing. I am sometimes amazed at how maturity has failed me in that I should be a lot wiser at my age. I just kept walking, and walking until I came upon a little village about 1-2 km from Tuningen. Since coming down the mountain, the weather stayed foggy and it became colder and colder and colder. By now, I was tired, cold and confused, not a good state for travelling. About 1-2 km from my target was a little village with a big lit gasthaus right in front of me. Ok, I was officially ½ way, and went in to get a room. The restaurant was lit up with only one table occupied, the owner and her family. I asked for a room, but there was none. Actually, there was a hotel full of empty rooms, but the hotel itself was closed. In asking her if there were any gasthauesern in Tuningen she said yes, there were two, Kreutze and Stoltz, but she did not know if they were open. It was close to 6:00 pm, cold and dark, and my chances in getting a room seemed to be pretty slim. I could have walked back to Bad Durrheim, but again, when confronted with sensibility, I defaulted to stupidity.
I reached Tuningen about 10 minutes later, and there in front of me was a very lit up Gasthof Kreutz. I walked into a half filled restaurant and asked the hostess for a room. She gave me one of those “are you crazy” looks, and then turned to the open kitchen to the chef/owner and asked if he had a room for the night. He came out of the kitchen and looked me up and down, not sure whether I was a homeless person or someone who has had a real rough day. Thankfully, he knew I had a rough time travelling and was in trouble. He said yes, but breakfast would not be served before 9:00 am. You see, this hotel was also closed and he only gave me the room out of pity. Thank God for pity.
After one of the longest and warmest showers of my life, I came down to the restaurant, which was full, for dinner. When I looked at the menu, I realized this was a real “swaebish” restaurant, unique to my mother’s family. From wild game to maultaschen, this was the real deal. Even the bread was served with “schmaltz”, pork fat, instead of butter. The food was great. I ordered pork schnitzel with a bratwurst chaser, and apple streusel for dessert. The life in my body was quickly resuscitated.
I washed some clothes in the sink, put them on the radiator and had a great night’s sleep.
11/14/11 Tuttlingen, Germany Getting Down to Business
Gasthof Kreutz was by far the best hotel & restaurant of the trip so far. I regret not meeting the chef/owner other than the quick look over when he decided to give me a room. His restaurant and hotel would be well received anywhere in Europe or the US.
The weather, now consistently foggy and cold, masked the natural beauty of the German countryside with its patchwork of forest and pastures gracing the mountain-scape. On the plus side, the network of walking paths tracking the main arteries has thankfully taken me off the roads for most of the trip.
On the health side, which I have yet to report, I’m doing pretty well for an old man. My feet have blisters, my right knee will probably need surgery when I return, my back aches and my shoulders are sore. Other than that, I feel great. (actually, most of these ailments were pre-existing to some degree)
Today’s walk was short, about 22 km from Tuningen to Tuttlingen, the last major city in the Schaebische Alb.
The first 3-4 km was uphill, but no problem. By now, my alpine heritage was serving me well as I made it through with even breathing hard. On the downhill track I took a wrong turn and went through a valley ending at a bridge over the Donau river, better known as the Danube. There was a real ho-hum quality to my walk today as by now the dash of novelty of the trip was giving way to the task at hand, a task for which I was well prepared. I was for neither personal gain nor revenge, I was here to make sure that 12 needless deaths were not marginalized by Deutsche Bahn’s refusal to accept their due responsibility. For the first time, I let my guard down, allowing my mind to wander through thoughts of my mother and brother. It became a very emotional moment for me, as not only did I miss them so much, they didn’t need to die. I had to be here, there are no lingering doubts. I took a few moments, got myself together and continued my march.
The Stadtmitte (city center) was rundown and not especially safe looking. I found a Gasthaus around the corner from the city hall. Like the city around it, the gasthaus was also a bit rundown. Inside, sitting at a table, the owner’s family was watching a television on the wall. The owner was Turkish, as none looked the least German. A young guy named Madjan gave me a quick run-down of the room and the hotel. I spent most of the next several hours in a corner of the restaurant working where the internet connection was the best. Madjan’s whole family owned and lived at the gasthaus as family members came and went, eating and working. Later that evening, I met Abdullah and his brother/cousin who helped me find next evening’s accommodation. The owner, Osman, and his family were both hospitable and helpful.
11/15/11 Messkirch, Germany Another Light Day, or So I Thought
certainly didn’t mind leaving Tuttlingen which is probably the Waterbury of Germany. The largest determinate for my daily destinations is the location and availability of gasthauesern (guest house hotels). I had the choice today, either go 21 km to Messkirch, or 42 km someplace else. Well, I took the 21 km route with the condition that I do some of my real day job when I arrived. I needed to arrive before 2:00 because Germans have a strange habit of closing down everything from 2-5, and I mean everything. Can you imagine, an industry known as hospitality is closed down every day in the afternoon? Besides, there were only 3 or 4 turns on the whole route, what could be easier?
The first 5 km out of town was mostly uphill. Now that I was getting good (ha, ha) at uphill walks, after leaving the Schwabische Alb today, most of the hills are behind me. Germany has a pretty well developed system of pathways for walking and cycling which have covered about 70% of my route so far. I somehow find them favorable to cars whizzing by me at high speeds when I have less than a foot or so of shoulder. The only problem is that my Google walking route maps don’t really route along the paths, so I’ve been looking out for them as they run mostly parallel within 25 feet of the tracking artery. Once in a while they diverge off, but usually come back to re-join the road’s direction. Well, not today. For some reason, I got on a path that had a mind of its own.
I was making great time, about 5 km out of Messkirch when I decided to take a path. It was only noon, and I was sure to get into town no later than 1:30. When I got on the path, there was a fork in the road, and true to Yogi Berra, I took it. After about 5 minutes and non-correlation of the path and the direction I wanted, I asked two ladies who were hiking, ski poles and all, which way to go. They answered in German, gerade aus, which means straight ahead. With that they went in the complete opposite direction. After about 30 minutes, two new forks in the road and no signs of a town called Messkirch, two ladies come from under an overpass, and you guessed it, it was the same two I met going in the opposite direction 30 minutes ago. At first they were laughing because they spotted me first with my ear buds, singing and dancing while walking (Soul Man by Sam & Dave), then they were laughing because I had made a big circle. After a more humble request for directions and asking them to promise that this would get me into town, I was on my way. I couldn’t check my nav system because there was no gps signal. Well, I finally made it into town at 2:30 and the gasthaus was closed. So I spent the next 2 ½ hours jumping from café to café having coffee and croissants at each one. Finally, standing in the doorway, the lights went on at exactly 5:00 pm, not a minute sooner.
After a long hot shower (the weather was getting cold, below 40 all day with a frost in the morning), I washed a few clothes and put them to dry on the radiator. The restaurant was pretty good, as I had a pork steak in a mustard sauce with mushrooms and spaetzle. Actually, it was very good.
Even though many of the gasthausern were built in the 1800s, all except one, so far, had WiFi. Gasthof Adler had just installed its WiFi, but the owner was not really up to the task, so another guest and I had to work on getting it set up. I’m glad we did, because when I opened my email, there was the feature article about my trip published in one of Munich’s main papers, the AbendZeitung. Not only that, the reporter is going to do another story while walking in with me on the final day in Munich, as will also the French reporters. While my protest march certainly risks not getting enough media attention to make a difference, I have overcome a good portion of that hurdle with this and the other articles. Who knows, maybe Deutsche Bahn will feel a little pressure and finally do the right thing? I’m not holding my breath.
11/17/11 Bad Waldsee, Germany Here Comes The Sun
I made the call this morning, down at breakfast by 6:55 am where I was greeted by the smiling chef/owner of Gasthaus Hirsch, Josef. As usual, I had freshly baked local bread, wursts (cold cuts), cheese butter and jam, staples of southern Germany. Gasthaus Hirsch was the nicest on the trip yet, especially at only 40 euro for the room and breakfast. Josef recommended that I stay at Gasthaus Gruener Baum when I got to Bad Waldsee, today’s destination.
When I walked outside, there above me was an awakening blue sky with a still visible beautiful moon. I didn’t believe it. In fact, I couldn’t believe it, that there would ever be sunshine again in Germany! While the cooler foggy days were good for walking, I was long overdue for some sunshine, perfect for today’s 32 km walk.
Walking out of town there was still some fog & mist in the lower lying areas which still needed to burn off. Up ahead, two beautiful draft horses sprinted out of their stalls and then, tossing back their heads, they started prancing with obvious delight as the still cold air condensed as they exhaled. With the larger male leading the way, they nibbled at each other’s ears and just played as I guess horses play.
Finally, the monotony of my now routine was derailed by the sun and the timing couldn’t be any better as I needed a new energy for the last 1/3rd of the trip.
The next several hours went by quickly as I was captured by the sun drenched scenery, as even normally uninspiring landscapes were getting high marks. Somewhat surprising, my biggest challenge after 12 days was boredom, instead of the aches and pains of an old man. To fight boredom, I had to re-direct my thinking channels from free roaming to constructive thoughts. By now, I had fully developed, in thoughts, 3 new business concepts, a blockbuster golf club swinging aid and a possible explanation for recently observed sub-atomic particles measured to exceed the speed of light.
In between, when I couldn’t restrain free roaming thoughts, I started to relive a trip I had made to Germany with my parents in 1957 when I was only 5 years old. It’s funny how I can have remarkably strong memories of when I was 5, yet can’t remember what I ate for lunch yesterday. Anyway, this was my mother’s first trip back since she and I left Germany to be with my father in the US in 1953. We were living in New Haven on Chapel Street at that time, about 3 blocks from my father’s deli in the Italian neighborhood on Wooster Street. Half way between our apartment and the store, we had passport photos taken in a downstairs studio on Chapel St. We were all travelling on a family passport, so we took a group photo.
I don’t recall the airline, however I remember the 18 hour trip on what I now think was a DC6. The flight made stops in Iceland, Ireland, Brussels and finally Frankfurt. My mother was always easily bothered by motion sickness and this flight was no exception. The last leg of the trip was a commuter flight from Frankfurt to Stuttgart, our destination. My mother was so sick, she would not get on the plane. There we were standing on the tarmac, my father trying to gently coax her on the plane and she just kept shaking her head no. Finally, the pilot came down to speak with her and after promising he would fly the most gentle route, my father was able to nearly carry her on the plane.
I sat at the window seat and I can still see myself looking out the window at the sky and wanting to know what was beyond the horizon. My lifelong case of wanderlust began when I was still pretty young. My grandfather, his wife Hildegarde (my grandfather re-married after my grandmother died when my mother was 7 years), my mother’s younger sister Rosemarie and my mother’s two half brothers and one half sister lived in a small house with a big yard on a hill in Goeppingen, Germany. They had lived there since their bigger home in Singelfingen was bombed during world war II. The house had a backhouse and a chicken coop from which my grandfather’s wife would get an egg to cook for me every morning.
I can still see my Tante (aunt) Rosemarie, 22 yrs at the time, playing with me in the afternoons when she returned from work. I thought she was the most beautiful woman in the world. With dark short hair and light colored eyes, she had that Italian early ‘60s look, the kind you see in movies where they drive Vespa scooters. Memories of my grandfather all had the same the vision, that of a strict gentleman of respect. While staying with my Tante Lotte on that trip, my parents would leave for day trips by bus into the alps and other points, always sneaking out because I wanted to also go with them. On one of the trips, they brought me a little gift, a blue beanie with the shields of all the Germanic city states of yore. I loved that beanie, as I can still see myself wearing it. Then one day, while I was standing in the outhouse looking down, it fell right in. It still bothers me today
As a treat, my parents did take me on one of the bus trips to the alps with the added thrill of my first cable car ride. One day, my father took me onto a US Air Force base where we met a fighter pilot who even let me sit in his jet. On our last day, we were leaving from my grandfather’s house, taking a taxi to the airport in Stuttgart. My mother was wearing a dress and my father had his suit on as we all walked to the waiting cab at the front gate. That’s when my mother started crying hysterically as my poor father was trying so hard to calm her down. I’m not sure why she was crying, maybe she thought it was the last time she would see her father.
Back to the task at hand, I realized I must have missed a street sign because I was on a country lane with no clue of how to finish the last 10 km to Bad Waldsee. Fortunately, a biker came by and got me back on the right route. And while I lost about an hour, I still had plenty of time to get into town before sundown. I don’t remember ever being in Bad Waldsee, but it is really beautiful in its architecture and natural surroundings.
I checked in to the Gasthaus recommended by Josef, and had a great dinner of breaded pork filets, another specialty of the Schwabishce Alb area.
11/18/11 Memmingen, Germany The Homestretch
Leaving at 6:30 a.m., I stopped at a local backerei for some fresh baked breads and orange juice. Looking back quickly, I could just make out the silhouette of St. Peters’s steeples in the pre-dawn sky. Bad Waldsee is worth more than the 16 hours I managed to clock in. It was a real pleasure to stay at the Gruener Baum, an upgrade from the usual on the trip, kind of like a small one day gift to myself. I still tasted the Apfel Struedell from last night’s dinner at their restaurant. In addition to their Schwabische menu, they had a special menu in tribute to Hollywood, although I wasn’t aware that barbecue pork was a west coast signature dish. I was glad to go local, dinner was great
Like most of the towns in southern Germany’s glacier carved valleys, you either kept going down stream, or crossed the hills of the sides. Today, I was valley hopping over the hills. The skies were clear, and the air below freezing, but refreshing. The gentle but steady 10 km ascent into the fringes of the Allgau region slowed down my pace to less than 3 km per hour, but it was well worth it. As I climbed higher and higher, the views below were almost hypnotic. The Allgau is well known for its dairy products, a sweet creaminess unique to cows grazing on hills and mountainsides. Producing some of the best cheeses in Germany, the Allgau’s deep green pastures form the gateway to the alps. One of the family run dairy farms had an automated roadside milk machine. For about a dollar, I poured and drank a quart of fresh milk, rich and creamy. One of my favorite treats in Germany was the sweet creamy butter from the Allgau region, the flavor of which had a distinctive and wonderful flavor.
The sun’s warm rays were welcome after so many days of cold foggy weather throughout the first 2 weeks. While today’s leg would be at least 8 hours, I decided to still slow down the pace to take everything around me from the view to the wonderfully fresh air. About 10 Km out of today’s destination, Memmingen, the road started winding back and forth, bringing me down to the valley.
Medium in size, Memmingen had a wonderful old world quality about it, from a lookout tower to the entry gate of a walled city. I didn’t really have time to enjoy its old world quality as I had to go to the train station to meet my cousin Gabi who was coming down from Kassel to walk with me over the next two days. The oldest of Tante Rosemarie’s children, Gabi and I have always enjoyed our times together, whether during my trips to Germany, or hers to the US.
As a matter of good timing, her train arrived about 20 minutes after I got there. Fortunately, we quickly found a gasthaus near the city’s center. After a quick wash up, we met in the restaurant for dinner. The cuisine was a combo of Italian and German regional. I had a local classic and favorite, wiener schnitzel (breaded veal cutlet), while Gabi ordered mussels in wine sauce. We spent the next hour and a half, or so catching up on family business and everything else that’s happened over the last 10 years or so.
Gabi was no stranger to hiking, as she grew up hiking every Sunday with her father. Also, she and her husband Juergin took yearly hiking trips to Austria. She was going to be a good walking partner, something I needed sorely. The boredom of walking alone had gotten me literally talking to myself, in German!
After the table was cleared , we spread out the maps to plan out our next two days. Because I was planning to finish the final 115 km in 4 days, on Tuesday, I needed to be a little more precise than just wandering from town to town. It was official, this was the homestretch.
11/19/11 Mindelheim, Germany A Great Day For a Great Day
No snooze alarm at 5:30 this morning as Gabi and I were leaving at 6:00 am. We had both, a plan to walk 30 km to Mindelheim and a back-up plan to keep on walking another 8 km to Kirchdorf. Outside my door, the gasthaus left a breakfast box as we were leaving before breakfast started at 7:00 am. Peeking inside, it looked great, yoghurt, bread, cheese & wurst. Gabi and I decided to wait until we found an open baeckerei to have coffee and eat our breakfast. Although it was still dark, it was going to be a beautiful day and crystal clear as the half moon was intensely bright drowning out any pre-dawn stars still trying to get attention. When we reached the train station, we took a right and had 30+ km of open road ahead of us. It was cold, maybe 25 degrees f, a cold I felt right through my gloves as the early light rays were now reflecting off the frosted fields. I think I may have already mentioned it; I hate the cold, and were it not for the promise of a warming sun it would have been a long day.
After about an hour or so, we found an open market at which we stopped for coffee, just what Gabi needed to get her day going. Not that she is a chatty person, but the coffee opened a gentle conversation to last throughout most of the day. We soon found a hiker’s path which thankfully took us off the main roadway. Our walk today was taking us through one of the most beautiful regions of Germany, the Allgau in southern Bavaria. There on the horizon to the east, we saw the outline of the Alps, still powerful looking at 20 miles away. The sky was clear and blue from horizon to horizon, a great day for a great day.
Like most of my cousins, Gabi’s English was excellent which made it easier for clear conversation. She was the oldest daughter of my favorite aunt, my mother’s younger sister, Rosemarie. Tante Rosemarie had just spent 2 weeks visiting me in Washington, DC returning back to Germany the day after I began my journey. Like with the rest of my cousins, Gabi and I were very comfortable as we would see each other occasionally throughout the years either in Germany or the US. Even though our family was separated by the Atlantic, we were a close family, never out of touch or sight for any long times.
After 4 days of walking alone 6-9 hours per day, it was great to have company. Not surprising, our conversation centered on our family. We had a lot of uninterrupted time ahead of us to not only catch up on family business, but also to fill in some of the blanks on family history. As I am writing a book about my mother’s life, there were a lot of areas in which she could be helpful.
I was interested in learning more about our grandparents. My grandmother, Annamarie Immler Brueckner, was born into a very wealthy family, the Immler’s in the Allgau region. The family’s business, cheese and dairy farming was big and successful. My grandfather, Julius Brueckner, was from Stuttgart just due north of the Allgau. His father, from the eastern part of Germany, was on a quest for spirituality, a forerunner of the 1960s love and peace generation, while his mother was one of the first successful women in politics in Bad Wuettenburg. With modest wealth, Julius grew up in relative comfort, well educated and a talented artist who managed the family properties in the Wurttenburg region. For reasons still not fully known to me, his marriage to my grandmother Annamarie was not looked upon favorably by the Immler family, a circumstance which eventually led to Annamarie eventually being dis-inherited by her family.
Annamarie and Julius had 6 children in addition to my grandmother’s oldest daughter. My mother’s life as a child was full of warmth and love from her parents and older siblings. In 1937, when my mother was 7 and her younger sister Rosemarie was only 3, their mother Annamarie died, which also coincided with the beginning of the war years. The childhoods of both my mother Susanne and her younger sister Rosemarie, were cruelly and prematurely cut short.
The war years, were difficult for everyone, and so too my mother and her younger sister. By this time, Julius remarried Hildegard and they had 4 children over the next 7 years. The war brought many hardships including hunger and the bombing of their house in Sindelfingen. There were times when my grandfather would bring family possessions to the nearby farmers to come home with food to feed the family. Once my mother made her way by foot to Isny, to the Immler family for some food. As she tells the story, she was given only a small piece of cheese to bring back home.
My mother was emotionally ready for a change in her life, a change to lift her from a difficult home life. That change came in 1950 when she met a US soldier stationed in post war Germany. That US soldier, her knight in shining armor, was my father, Salvatore Amore, and thus the birth of a lifelong passionate love and a son, me, Rollin Amore.
Gabi and I covered a lot of ground as I was able to fill in a lot of blanks while gaining a much better understanding of our family.
After about 7 hours and 32 km, we reached the city of Mindelheim, a quaint walled city rich in history and culture. Because I wanted to reach Munich by Tuesday, I needed to walk at least another 5 km today. However, seeing there were no hotels or gasthauesern for at least another 15 – 20 km, we checked into rooms at gasthaus, Post Adler in Mindelheim. While Gabi went to take a nap, I became restless and decided to walk 7.5 km and back to the next town, Kirchdorf. This way, I built in a “credit” of 15 km which I will redeem tomorrow morning as Gabi and I will start our Sunday walk 15 miles closer to Munich. Only 75 km left to Munich.
Gabi and I had dinner at Post Adler, enjoying a fine Allgau meal with Cola Light. After dinner, we unrolled the map and made our plans for the next day. We also spoke with my cousin Alexander who will drive down from Stuttgart tomorrow evening and have dinner with us. 3 days and counting.
11/20/11 Mindelheim, Germany Love of Family
We resumed our march this morning where I had left off in Buchloe at about 8:00 am. Today, Gabi and I planned to walk about 30 km, closing in on Munich. There was a touch of sadness in the air, as Gabi would need to return to Kassel later this evening.
My thoughts today were about the importance of family, one of my mother’s deepest principles. Even though we lived in the US, my mother always spoke of family as if they were next door. Every aunt, uncle, cousin, nephew…etc. in Germany was just as important as my brothers. My mother understand the importance of family the hard way, by their love during the most difficult times. Gabi, my cousin, who I would see every few years during short visits, was here walking with me, an act of love one would expect of only the closest of family. We never questioned whether we should help in my family, we just helped without question.
A few months after the train fire, I was going through some of my brother Michael’s personal things when I found some notes he had made to himself. From what I could see, it was during a time of personal crisis for him. The heading read: “What’s most important in my life.” Just below the heading he wrote: “Jeanne, Mommy, Dad, Rollin and Darrin“ At 26 years old, Michael still considered me one of the most important things in his life, even though our lives were and had always been separate. It did not matter, the importance of family was not about friendships or good times, it was about real love, real love of family. Even after his death, I can still learn from Michael.
With most of the giddiness of yesterday’s walk giving way to a bit more solemnity, and why we were marching, Gabi and I walked more in silence and reflection today. With thoughts of Michael, I couldn’t help but think of him and his “saintly-ness” when he was a child. Michael was an honest-to-goodness nerdy good boy who never swore, disobeyed or lied. I always felt that gave me some license to do a little more of my share to make up for his “failings.” Even as nerdy as I was, Michael always made me look like Huck Finn. I guess I’ll always miss him.
As the day wore on, our pace slowed a bit as it took us close to eight hours to walk 31 km. Gabi had hurt her back earlier in the day as she kept putting her hands back to lift her pack a bit from the small of her back. She wouldn’t let me take some of the load for her, telling me that her back felt better. Gabi is not a very good fibber. We finally made it to Windach, where we found an open gasthaus for coffee and to wait for my cousin Alexander and his wife Claudia who were coming to meet me for dinner. It felt so good to sit down, as today’s walk seemed to be a little more achy in my feet and legs.
Once Alexander and Claudia arrived, we drove Gabi to the station for the S-Bahn to Munich where she could get a train home, to Kassel, a trip which would take about 5 hours. It was great to see them as they were probably my closest in both age and time together. After a wonderful dinner and semi plans of them coming to Washington, DC in the fall for a week on my sailboat, they dropped me off to make way to my room to prepare for tomorrow.
11/21/11 Munich, Germany Tomorrow The Fat Lady Sings
5:30 am came real quickly this morning. Before today's walk, I needed to walk 10 km this morning to make up for staying at a gasthaus that much closer than where my walk, yesterday had finished. Out by 6:30 and back by 8:45, the early briskness of the air felt good.
After a quick breakfast, I was out on the path by 9:45 as a quickly warming and sunny morning was unfolding. Within 10 minutes I was on a quiet road flanked by planting fields on either side of me. With the finish line in sight, I was feeling strong, ready to walk 100 km if I had to. This was it, after 16 days, the journey was coming to the end in another day.
I kept thinking about my arrival tomorrow at the Munich rail station. I was still putting the words to my letter to Deutsche Bahn, a letter which needed to be both clear in message and firm in tone. Because DB's corporate offices were in Frankfurt, I would need to deliver this letter to one of their representative offices, most likely the information desk.
By now, I was getting good at reading paper maps, and found exactly where I was on the larger scale city map that my friend Ulrich had sent. Because of logistics to rendezvous with the press, Ulrich and some family members, I had planned to arrive at the train station on Tuesday, Nov. 22. Being ahead of schedule for one of the first times in my life, I needed to pick today's end point as a convenient starting and meeting point for tomorrow, the intersection of Aubinger and Ravensburg Ring, about 10 km from the train station.
After marking the point, I made my way to my cousin Gunter's house which was close by. A few of my relatives had planned to come from different parts of southern Germany to see me over the next two days. My family in Germany is not only big, they are warm and wonderful, a great family. It was good to see Tante Rosemarie waiting for me at the door. In a sense, I was home. Later, my cousin Ulf and his wife Christa came from Kaufbeuren as did Gunter and his Daughter, who lived in town. I expect a few more will come tomorrow.
After a couple hours of family stories and catching up, I couldn't keep my eyes open and headed to bed.
11/22/11 Munich, Germany Wieder Hoam (Home Again)
This morning was different, very different. I'm not sure if I were nervous or anxious, although they're probably not much different. The plan was to meet with Ulrich at the intersection of Aubinger Strasse & Ravensburger Ring about 10 km to the Haupt Bahnhof (main train station). Ulrich was one of the survivors who has become a good friend over the years. I had hoped to arrive at the Bahnhof around 2:00 pm to deliver the petition to Deutsche Bahn, then meet with Vanessa, the Abendzeitung reporter, straight after for an interview.
My cousin Verena and her son Bastian drove arrived from Stuttgart at 10:00 am, just in time to give me a ride to meet Ulrich. In a scene, straight out of a Keystone Kops movie, we took 20 minutes to print out and make copies of the petition (see below) to Deutsche Bahn. Finally, 20 minutes late, we piled into the car, Tante Rosemarie and I in the back, Bastian in the front with Verena driving. Poor Ulrich would be left standing in the cold waiting for us.
We found Ulrich standing on the corner wearing his overcoat and a backpack, he was ready. Basti decided to walk with us also, so I gave him a field promotion to official photographer. The weather was perfect, sunny and 45 degrees. True wanderers, we took out our map and laid down our plan. The route was simple, straight down Bodensee Strasse/Landsberger Strasse 10 km to the Bahnhof. Seeing that Landsberger wasn't necessarily the most interesting way, Ulrich suggested we take some parallel back streets instead. Who am I to argue with a native? Finally, there it was, the yellow brick road. We were off to see the Wizard.
I was really energized walking, without effort, almost like walking on a cloud. Besides, 10k was now nothing more than a chip shot, an easy walk down the street to the mail box! Ulrich and I had a great conversation, from local architecture to what our children liked to do. Poor Basti, we crowded him out a bit, but he seemed to really enjoy the walk and local view. Besides, he had a mission, he was our photographer, although I did have to remind him a few times to take a picture.
When Ulrich asked whether I was able to get an appointment with an official from Deutsche Bahn, I explained that my lawyer, whom I had tasked to contact DB, told me late last night that I hadn't. I told him we would just go up to the info desk and ask to deliver our petition to the CEO. Ulrich gave me one of those real puzzled looks, like, you walked 500 km and you don't have anyone to receive you on the other end? I told him not to worry about it, DB knew we were coming, they read the newspapers. I'm not sure he bought in, however 10 minutes later, I got a phone call from Vanessa, the reporter from Abendzeitung to confirm our meeting at the station. Then, she told me that Deutsche Bahn had called her for my phone number, and was it ok to give it to her? Again feeling my mother's hand on my shoulder, I said sure.
Sure enough, about 10 minutes later, Bavarian DB chief executive Claus-Dieter Josel's office called to ask if he could meet with me tomorrow to welcome me to Munich. While surprised that I would be meeting with a regional head, I gladly accepted. Fortunately, Ulrich would also be available to go. We stopped for a quick coffee and to brace ourselves for the final km.
Ulrich and Basti walked ahead a bit, giving me a bit of space and solitude for the final leg. At first I couldn't believe it, 17 days and 500 km had led to this moment, then I was overwhelmed by both thoughts and emotions as I saw the Bahnhof straight ahead. Everything around me started to fade as it almost seemed like I was walking down an empty tunnel toward the main entrance. At first, I was almost afraid to keep walking, afraid that once I finished the march, my mother and brother would fade away, a now silly thought. I couldn't feel my legs or backpack, as I almost felt pulled slowly in. Once inside, the light was completely different from the yellow glow of the sun outside to the cooler blue light coming into the station. I looked toward the info desk under the departures and arrivals board, the apparent center of the station. I could feel the presence of my family with me, touching all my senses. I have no doubt that they were there with me. Taking off my pack, I placed it on the floor leaning against a pole to the left of the info desk, the end point of my trip. I took a few breaths standing there, feeling very comfortable, as if I could stand there almost indefinitely. All of a sudden my emotions caught up with me as the whole trip replayed in my mind and now accomplished my task. As I turned there was Tante Rosemarie, and when I hugged her, I didn't want to let her go. I looked at her and said, "they're home, I love you."
11/23/11 Munich, Germany Epilogue - A Meeting With Deutsche Bahn
The meeting with DB was scheduled for 12:00 noon. The plan was simple; Tante Rosemarie and I would meet Ulrich a little before noon at the train station before going over to meet with Klaus-Dieter Josel from DB. The good Tante and I walked about ½ mile to a metro stop not too far from Gunter’s house on a cold and misty morning, and even though taking a subway shouldn’t be difficult, German micro-engineering added an overlay of confusion with a bevy of fares, time zones, ages…etc.. I think there may have even been a special fare for vegans. Arriving at Marienplatz, the square was alive with people and merchants both on and off the streets. A crowd stood staring at a sooty church clock which came to life on the stroke of 11:00 with carved figures on a carousel, dancing to the delight of the grateful audience. Being an hour early, we ducked into a coffee shop for espresso and a cake where, there on a counter was a newspaper folded open to my picture and story titled “Der Reise ist ze Ende” (The trip is ended). Wow, it took up almost the whole page. Tante Rosemarie was so proud, she walked over to the newsstand outside and bought 4 copies.
Arriving at the train station a few minutes before noon, we caught up with Ulrich near the food court. We barely had time to say hello when he spotted two “official” looking men standing and peering at the information kiosk, our rendezvous point. Making eye contact, we walked toward two younger gentlemen with a serious tone about them. I let Ulrich go ahead for a quick exchange in German where the two men introduced themselves as Klaus-Dieter Josel and Bernd Honerkamp. Josel, who had a long title, was basically the person in charge of DB for Bavaria who reported directly to Dr. Ruediger Grube, CEO, while Honerkamp was the public relations person. In English, Honerkamp suggested we go up to a DB meeting room above the main terminal.
After we sat down, I couldn’t help but notice that Josel seemed a bit nervous, almost uncomfortable. I soon realized he was unsure of what to expect meeting with a victim’s family in a close setting. After exchanging niceties and cards, Josel asked if he could use a translator as he was sure to choose his words carefully. I didn’t mind, as Ulrich’s command of English gave me comfort in knowing that I wouldn’t need to worry about mistaken words, idioms or nuance. I noticed that on the top of Josel’s pile of papers and brief was today’s article with my picture as I guess I was the first item on his agenda today. Surprisingly, in English and with sincerity, he extended his apologies for the tragedy and its burdens to victims and their families. Even though he was not with DB in 2002, he was probably well briefed on the circumstances of the fire.
I thanked him for his apology, as well as meeting with us, and told him that I had a petition to deliver for the CEO. The petition itself was a summation of the march in that we called on DB to take responsibility for the cause and circumstances of the train fire. Accepting the petition signed by me and Ulrich, he assured me that I would receive a personal reply from Dr. Grube. With Honerkamp interpreting, he explained to us that the rail car had met the safety standards at the time of the fire. Well, he may have been briefed, but I doubt that he was intimate with the details, as I felt a need to bring perspective to the discussion. I explained that the only way this car met safety standards was either through loopholes, or on a technicality. The rail car had no smoke detectors, no fire alarms, no emergency hammers by the windows, no posted emergency instructions, only one fire extinguisher at the end opposite the kitchen…etc. The only way that car met safety standards, was if those standards were waived. Was it a matter of the 40 year old car being “grandfathered” to safety as new standards and regulations exempted older stock? He looked surprised, almost as if he now realized that in buying the company line on standards it was based only on a technicality. That’s the problem with being briefed by those who have a stake in the outcome, it’s hard to not drink the kool aid.
His next point was really puzzling, that SNCF was technically liable, not DB. I had attended the trial last March and I am certain SNCF did not think they were liable, not in the least. Instead of disputing his theory of liability, I explained to him, that even if true, it was DB who manned and operated the car, not SNCF. It was DB who did not equip the car with safety equipment, not SNCF. It was DB who locked the doors, not SNCF. It was DB who was responsible for 12 deaths, not SNCF.
Sensing a case of; “hat’s my story, and I’m sticking to it", I explained to him that I had come for a frank discussion. I didn’t have hidden cameras or reporters lurking behind the door waiting for a “gotcha” moment. I am neither an idealist, nor naïve, and yes, I realized that after 9 years of digging in their heels, and as a matter of corporate legal liability, DB could not publicly take responsibility. Yet, that does not make their position right. It’s that simple. Are we at a point in civilization that it is wrong to do what is right? This is why I just marched 500 km, a sense of fairness, honesty and morality, each of which instilled in me by mother since birth. It takes courage to do what is right, even in the face of self interest. Without answering, there was a slight pause in which Josel’s eyes met mine and I could only imagine that he had respect for my position.
With the “heavy” discussion over, the meeting shifted to other areas. Ulrich expressed dismay at how he, as a survivor, was given a difficult time to even make a claim for personal effects lost in the fire. DB had required receipts for his jacket, and even at one point demanding proof of it being damaged in the fire. Tante Rosemarie also spoke about DB’s post fire statement that the passengers had all died peacefully in their sleep, clearly not the case. Josel and Berndt, after understanding nods, said that DB had set up an office to coordinate as an ombudsman for issues such as ours so that DB’s future actions would be more sensitive to the circumstances. With that, the meeting wrapped up as we all walked down to the main terminal.
The three of us walked over to the food court for a quick bite to eat a Bavarian favorite, weiss wurst sausages with sweet mustard. With the easy part of the day over, Tante and I did a little shopping for my son Pang Pang, as I wanted to buy him a traditional Bavarian jacket, like I had as a child. She knew just the right store in Marienplatz, a fashionable clothing store which had traditional dress on its upper most floor. Somehow, Versace and Lederhosen seemed intuitively at odds. Both of us, now realizing that the march was really over, enjoyed our short free-time, the interval between the sets of life’s responsibilities where worries and challenges are put on temporarily hold. Well, almost fully on hold, we still had to struggle with the Munich subway system to get home.