Dear Family, Friends, and Diary,
After one last picture with our Grimm family hosts, we left for the part of Bavaria called Franconia. Ten years ago this was home.
Sunday is the best day to drive in Germany because the autobahns are free from the trucks that usually fill the right lane. We had driven this portion of the A3 dozens or hundreds of times in the past so it seemed familiar, however not completely. In the decade since we left, some parts had been expanded and many parts were currently under reconstruction. Despite it all, traffic was not too bad, some slow traffic, but the dreaded "Stau" sign never showed.
Mid-way, we stopped to recharge the Tesla, just to see if the process was as easy as I had hoped. There were dozens of places to choose from on the car's map, so I chose a 30-station Tesla facility at Geiselwind. Although this was an end-of-vacation weekend in Bavaria, we shared the station with just one or two other electric cars. This was easy.
Topped up with electrons, we turned off the freeway to detour via the side roads that we used to use every day. It was comforting to see that not much has changed, the narrow roads were still shared with farm equipment and drivers out for a Sunday spin. We followed a couple in an old open-top car for a mile or two, looking for a place to park. When I mentioned that this might be old friends the Weikerts, Marianne said: "No, they are too young".
Eventually we reached Steppach and the small shopping area that used to be a regular haunt. We ate often at Bei Gino's restaurant, banked at the Sparkasse, had haircuts at Friseur Herrman, bought kitchen counters from Weikert und Meier, and groceries from Nah und Gut. This last was the only shop that had closed in our absence.
Leaving, we drove along the back side to the shopping center, past the Weikert und Meier shops. Coming the other way was the "young couple" and their old roadster. It was the Weikerts! I jumped out and stopped them so we could say hello. We were all astounded that we had encountered each other! In minutes, Uschi had invited us over to their house for coffee and cake.
But first, Georg needed to put the old car away and, of course, we needed to see the rest of his five-car collection. These really are special machines, worthy of an automotive museum, but Georg insists on regularly using the treasures for Sunday spins and occasional rallies throughout Europe.
Up at the Weikert home, we were hosted warmly, as day to day friends, despite the language complication. The Weikerts speak no English, noting that they were of an age that did not have English as a mandatory school subject - unlike younger Germans. Of course, my German was never very good and even Marianne's has gotten rusty, but we carried on. Uschi served obskuchen from their back yard plum tree and we caught up on ten years, as best we could.
Along the way, they showed us a painting from Marianne that they had bought and even some small appliances they harvested at our final moving sale. It was nice to see our things had such a nice home.
After a most pleasant hour or more, we offered excuses for needing to go. I think we made plans to see them again for dinner at Bei Gino's on Thursday. We'll see.
Now it was on to Pommersfelden proper, starting with the Grüner Baum hotel to confirm that we would have a local place in a few days. We rang the bell and Friedrich answered, immediately recognizable. Again, we exchanged greetings in German, or maybe Frankish, with enough mutual understanding to get across our message. Rosie greeted us from an upstairs window and we all agreed we would see each other on Donnerstag.
Driving through the rest of our village, everything seemed the same, except the palace was now locked behind closed gates. We stopped briefly in front of our old house, blue now instead of the original peach-color, but still looking good. Later, we would unsuccessfully knock and ask if we could have a visit. (We did not know who now owns the place.)
Back on the road, we drove the half hour south to Nuremberg and the city-center apartment that friends Scott and Malinda were letting us use. We managed to park in the narrow street, unload our suitcases, schlep them up a narrow flight of stairs, and then go look for more permanent parking. It took a couple of tries, but we found the right entrance to a nearby covered public parking garage.
When we got back to the apartment building, the owners Winni and Ulli were just unloading their camper van from a vacation in Sicily. We introduced ourselves and were immediately charmed. They offered to help us any way they could and we took advantage by asking for a good place for dinner. Ulli recommended Optajia, around the corner, on our building's first floor. How convenient.
At the restaurant, we were given a high table where we could watch the crowd and activity. We ordered simple meals, salad for Marianne and pasta for me, and settled in to people-watching. Soon, Winni showed up and we invited him and Ulli to join us. They did, and we proceeded to exchange stories, becoming new old-friends.
Well fed and tired, we climbed the stairs and were asleep as soon as possible, given the reality of unpacking and setting up that travelers need to do when moving in. Then we collapsed.
Monday would be unplanned.
More or less, I started the day with travel routine: Starbucks for coffee and writing. Back home, this routine starts at 5 or 5:30, but here things run late and wake-up drinks were only available after 8:00. Big city hours, perhaps.
Breakfast was great ham and cheese sandwiches from a French bakery called Pique Nique. We sat at a sidewalk table and watched people.
Back home we enjoyed Scott and Malinda's generosity. The apartment they had lent us really is special, both in its central location and in all the space. Not what travelers usually get.
Our location is special, in part, because it is a few feet from the Pegnitz River where the oldest stone bridge in town, the Maxbrucke, crosses. Upstream and down, picture-perfect scenes are all around, with a covered bridge, part of the old town wall, half-timbered buildings, and cobblestone streets and sidewalks.
When we finally did get out and about, we noted that museums were closed on Monday, even the Nuremberger Wurst Museum. Too bad.
Instead, we shopped. Marianne bought a blouse she is very enthusiastic about, but the rest was just browsing. One of our favorite spots was the basement of the Karstadt department store. The small restaurants and food stalls are filled with temptations, but we were still full from our pique nique.
All this work had tired us out, but a ten minute walk was enough to be home again. Besides resting, we also needed to do a load of clothes washing. The first, we succeeded at, but the second was a failure. We simply could not figure out the European machine and, at one point, had locked our clothes inside the non-functioning washer. Ulli came to our rescue, freeing our clothes and offering to wash them upstairs in her apartment. Very nice.
Dinner was back downstairs in Opatija. Marianne ordered a shrimp and squid dish she had seen Ulli order the night before. I had shashlik, Croatian barbecue. We added non-alcoholic wheat beer for me and a similarly detuned cocktail for Marianne. A nice end to a day where we never got very far from our temporary home.
On the next day, we had an appointment up in Bamberg, probably our favorite Bavarian small city, although Nuremberg is tough competition.
Tuesday started with a walk over and around the Pegnitz, including a stop at the small organic deli on the back side of our block. I could get used to this!
It was Marianne's turn to drive and the first challenge was the parking garage where we had left the Tesla. By European standards, it is a big car and these old towns are barely sized to fit, even parking lots. She did fine, with just one tire bump at a tricky exit. The hour-long autobahn drive was definitely more her style.
In Bamberg, I navigated us to another parking garage - almost on the first try. Unfortunately, my directions missed a bit and our driver had to negotiate a series of tiny, twisty, town streets. Then this parking garage turned out to be worse, with very narrow ramps between every level. Not nice. We even had to share the duty.
Once parked, we made it over to Tambosi. The entrance looked plain and the the dining room/bar inside even plainer. However, out in back, was a wonderful garden, shaded by chestnut and linden trees.
That's were we found Axel, the architect of the restoration of our Pommersfelden home and a solid friend. He was as ebullient as ever, despite the broken shoulder he had acquired falling off his bike. We thoroughly enjoyed catching up on family events. Axel had just recently "half retired" and was enjoying the extra time, while his wife Silvia still has a few more years to go as a school teacher. Their two girls seem to have settled on lives far from Franconia, in Bali and on the Canary Islands.
The rest of the three hour conversation covered everything from health, to politics (only a little), singing, Ukraine, and generally how nice it was to be talking again. Our meal ended with ice cream from a street-side kiosk, as good as we've ever had. We walked a little bit more before Axel had to go get some work done on his shoulder and we needed to get our car. It was sad to say goodbye again, but we hope Axel will visit us in California in the not-too-distant future.
After squeezing the car out of the parking garage, we decided to take a spin through Bamberg. This was also a trick, with skinny streets, road construction, and one-way roads going where we did not want to go. Oh well, it reminded us that our favorite German town really was better seen on foot - and over several days, not just a few hours.
Eventually, we retraced our autobahn drive and squeezed again through the old part of Nuremberg and into our parking garage. Afterwards, Marianne chilled in the apartment, while I took an evening walk. There is no end to the perfect scenes.
The plan for the day included more friends, but first we needed to work in a couple of nearby museums. The first was a small place devoted to a small sausage, the Nuremberger Bratwurst Museum. (Spelling note: "Nuremberg" is English, "Nürenberg" is German. I mix them up all the time!) We learned how the city became famous for the wurst, or visa versa, as it became a staple of the local diet. Originally a more standard size, the Nurembergers got smaller as the ingredients got more expensive - kind of like Hershey's chocolate bars. Somewhere along the line, the size (and ingredients) became standardized in law - as things often do in Germany. Today, only wurst made in Nuremberg can be called "Nuremberger sausage" and ingredients must be identical.
Our second museum stop was at Das Zukunfts Museum, The Future Museum. Inside were four floors of hands-on explanations of future technology, from medical advances to robots. It looked great for middle or high school students. Good enough for us seniors, but bratwurst was more understandable.
For our friends' lunch, we drove out to Roettenbach, a small suburb of Erlangen where I used to work. Marilyn, Dieter, Cathy, and John had been part of our group that used to socialize frequently and it was great to do it again.
Everyone told stories and caught up on families, activities, and health - subjects typical for our vintage. We even threw in some politics, because in-person reporting from other countries is always interesting. The two or three hours of chatting flew by and too soon we were all on our ways. Maybe we will swing by again on our way out of Germany, but who knows?
Back in Nuremberg, Marianne and I took a short evening walk, enjoying the street scene. Shops were closing, so we did not collect much, but that's OK too, since we still have six weeks of travel and memento collecting. (While window shopping, I was struck again with the number of windows with help-wanted postings. Apparently, the recovery from the Covid pandemic has left large numbers of entry-level positions unfilled. Friends had said it was bad enough that many small restaurants and stores could not even remain in business.)
On Thursday, we moved from Nuremberg to Pommersfelden for our first social event of the day: "coffee and cakes" at the Kellerhaus Cafe with friends Rosemarie, Willie, Ursel, and Franz Johann. Willie built the restaurant on family property overlooking Schloss Weissenstein. The modern glass-walled cafe was attached to the to an 18th-century "kellerhaus", a small place that rumor says served as a brothel for men from the castle. Now, it is a top-class cafe. Willie retired a few years ago and handed the business over to his Konditor (cake maker).
Our job this afternoon was to enjoy the food, starting with flamkuechen (Alsatian pizza: paper-thin crust, with a light topping) before we moved on to "Kaffe und Kuchen", that special German afternoon tradition, dessert-centered and perfect for long conversations. We talked for more than three hours, mixing English and German when needed. Willi even gave us lessons in Frankish, the local dialect he grew up speaking as a boy in Pommersfelden.
Our next stop was at the Hotel Gasthof Grüner Baum. When we had been rebuilding our Pommersfelden home 18 years ago, this 16th-century hotel had been my home, while Marianne took a one-year assignment at a DODDS school three hours away. We were checked into the very same suite I had lived in back then, and nothing seemed to have changed. It was as if no one had used the space since I checked out almost two decades ago.
No sooner had we dropped our bags than we were off to dinner with the Weikerts at Bei Gino's, a favorite old haunt. This place too, had not changed at all since we left a decade ago. Antonio was still managing the front of the house, while his wife managed the kitchen. The food was still good.
We started Friday with Rosie and Friedrich's regular "German breakfast": eggs cooked to order, slices of cheese and meats, fruit, yogurt, bread, and better-than-American butter. Since we'd finished dinner less than 12 hours before, I was only eating to be polite. Sure.
From breakfast, we drove around to the other side of Pommersfelden, to our own neighborhood and home. Marianne rang the bell on the blue house, but the owner was not around. I'll admit we took advantage of his absence to snoop. Looking in windows, the place seemed as nice as we had left it. The garden and yard, however, struck us as tended to but allowed to grow too high. The wonderful view of the valley was obscured from the patio and even from the large windows upstairs in the barn guest quarters.
The other door Marianne knocked on was that of our neighbor, Wolfgang Bingen. In the ten years since we had been gone, he had not changed one iota. Much younger than us, he has been retired far longer. He was still spouting conspiracy theories about both America and Europe, bemoaning the decline of government and society everywhere, and complaining about how busy he was. (Doing what, beyond reading and watching television, we could never tell.) But friendly as can be.
Next, we headed south to Erlangen and a lunch date, but not before driving around locally. Our nearest "large" village, Hoechstadt seemed prosperous, even showing signs of growth. Most of the time, we could recognize the shops and businesses that were around when we lived in the area, but there are also new homes and businesses. There was certainly more prosperity than Wolfgang's monologue would have led us to believe.
Our lunch was planned with Richard, an American colleague from my old work life. He and wife Kathy moved to Germany from the States shortly after we arrived in Germany, not as "ex-pats", but as local hires. After 19 years, he is weeks away from retirement. I assured him retirement was a good thing. Unfortunately, Kathy was away in upstate New York, vising her parents. We need to convince them that they should use some of their retirement free time to visit us in California.
Leaving Richard to do his work thing, we went into Erlangen proper to see what we would recognize. The Arcadan shopping mall, opened 15 years ago when we were here, was little changed. However, like retail space anywhere in the age of online shopping, Arcadan may be weaker than when it opened. The city center walking street also seemed the same, but our positive impression may have been aided by the cheesecake vendor we found. That's not possible online.
Eating and shopping done, we made our way back to the Grüner Baum for a quiet evening, the only kind there is in Pommersfelden. Marianne took the opportunity to catch up on her Zoom art class. The lesson had been recorded, so time differences did not matter. Online wins, in this case.
While she sketched, I went out for an evening walk through the town, past the next door church, with its three-cross monument to missing and lost soldiers. There is an ambiguous feeling seeing this Nazi-era display, but so many names from such a small village should not be forgotten. Just past the crosses are remnants of the 14th century fortress and moat that was the origin of the village. Across from that are a collection of 17th and 18th century homes, still serving families, many of whom trace ancestors back to that era. Out on the highway, the sun was going down and created a photographer's light, making weeds and fields interesting.
A nice day.
Saturday started with another healthy breakfast and then a couple of errands. Marianne needed to mail a package and she remembered the helpful post office station in neighboring Mühlhausen and this gave us a reason to drive through our everyday villages from the old days. That station turned out to be closed, so we moved over to Wachenroth and to a small post station inside a grocery store, where the lady was as helpful as could be. This was another reminder of the friendliness of our Franconian neighborhood.
The next stop was the palace we used to call "our neighbor", as the grounds were just across the street. This 250+ room chateau, Schloss Weissenstein, was built in the early 1700s by the local prince/bishop to house his art collection, a collection that remains today. The property was passed down to the bishop's "nephew", and his heirs are still resident from time to time. On this day, their flag was flying, indicating royal presence, perhaps as part of the colorful show of old Porsches.
Speaking of Porsches, our next friend meeting was with Peter and Christine, the folks who bought Marianne's favorite car, a 2002 Porsche Boxster. They drove up from Lauf to join us for a second breakfast at Burkhardt's Bakery, conversation, and a short spin in the old car. Peter and Christine plan to keep it for another decade, long enough to qualify for "historic" plates. They have already added over 100,000 kilometers to the 140,000 we put on the roadster and are confident that reaching 300,000 kilometers will be doable.
Next, we stopped by the Friedhof (cemetery) to offer our thoughts to friends who could not wait for our return.
Albrecht and Betti Hofmann were there. When I stayed in the Grüner Baum in 2005 and 2006 they were charged with fixing my breakfast. Albrecht passed while we lived in Pommersfelden, but Betti remained a fixture at their hotel until after we had left Germany.
Marianne's old friend Margarete Winkler, always just called Gretel, was there too. Over the years, Marianne and Gretel had chatted for hours, despite Gretel speaking only Frankish. She had chided Marianne that we would leave her, and we did.
The Denzlers were neighbors on one side of our house and Herta Gumbrecht was close to the other. May they all rest in peace.
With subdued emotions, we went to the back entrance to the Grüner Baum. I stopped to take a picture of a "humming-bug", an insect that resembles a hummingbird. We used to have them on our patio as well. Friedrich's wood pile was getting trimmed for the winter season. He cooks and heats the whole hotel with wood, at least when oil prices are high. (He estimated an 18,000 euro bill for the coming winter.) The wood comes from dead and fallen trees in a family forest. Friedrick saws it to one meter lengths and then a machine is brought in to split the logs so he could throw them in the massive furnace. Lots of work.
For dinner, we enjoyed Friedrich's other skill: cooking. A "gasthaus" like Grüner Baum must offer well-cooked meals, but his skills really are above the norm. We ordered lamb roast with potatoes and broccoli and it was all prepared perfectly. When we had filled up, he brought out even more! I'm not sure everyone gets such generosity. After dinner, the chef brought in a dessert plate that we could not turn down. But, the best part of the meal was a chance to sit and talk with Friedrich and Rosey. It was great fun, overcoming the language confusion of English, German, and Friedrich's Frankish.
Filled with good food and good conversation, we slept well.
For Sunday, we decided to visit that most touristy of Bavarian towns, Rothenburg ob der Tauber. It's just an hour from Pommersfelden and we had gone here many times, every time we had American visitors plus a few times we just wanted a Sunday drive. The route over on highway 470 was familiar and still held the same landmarks and villages. I suppose there is plenty of change hidden away from the road, but we saw very little difference from our car windows.
Rothenburg is bad for photographers - because there are clickable scenes everywhere. Churches, squares, colorful homes, towers and gates, lots of towers and gates. Mostly, all we did was wander, and here is a measure of what we saw. Too many photos, perhaps, but what could I leave behind?
Our only really productive activity in Rothenburg was lunch. The smoked trout we had at Silbere Kanne (silver can?) was excellent! A clear recommendation, away from the more crowded venues.
On the drive home, we needed to fill up our battery in anticipation of Monday's trip down to Italy. There were no convenient Tesla superchargers, so we tried a very modern setup at an Aral gas station. I believe Europe has a fair number of these "off brand" fast charging stations and we needed to get some experience with them.
The experience was not without problems. Each brand of charger has a different process. We would not have succeeded had Marianne not asked for help from a nearby customer. The glare on the screen alone would have driven me nuts if our helper had not known where on the screen to push. We will try to stick with Tesla.
(The fill up cost $44.85, easily twice as much as we have ever paid for a charging session. But the premium gas our cars used to take was over $8 per gallon, making 79-euro-cents-per-kWh seem reasonable.)
Back in Pommersfelden, our day was not over. We still needed to visit with one of our favorite neighbors, Hermine and Georg Dorn. We probably should not have left them to the last day, something Georg reminded us of several times, but we had been doing the best we could. In any event, we enjoyed chatting on their back patio and then some more when they invited us to dinner at the Grüner Baum. There, we enjoyed being part of the town's roots. (Both the Dorn and Hofmann families go back at least four generations in our little village.)
With that, our visits to Franconian friends was complete, as we head out in the morning to the Italian Dolomites.
John and Marianne