"Uprising in Urach..The Stammtisch has landed!"
Saturday Sept. 16 and Day 1 Sunday Sept. 17 ....we're off
The big day has finally arrived. Ben's limo service
arrives promptly at noon, however there is a slight problem. Whereas I only have one bag and a carry-on, it appears
Ben is moving to Germany rather than just visiting. Either he is planning on at least two or three changes of clothes
per day, or the wife has decided to come along at the last minute, because the trunk is completely full. We finally
end up with my suitcase wedged vertically between him and his daughter in the back seat and off we go to DFW airport.
Check in at Lufthansa goes smoothly (as usual) and we migrate over to the lounge to cool our heels over a beer. Our ride, an Airbus A340, arrives at the gate and shortly thereafter the boarding call is made. We have lucked out and gotten seats near the front, over the wing, which should make for a comfortable flight. Suddenly, disaster strikes. Ben had made some joke about all we needed now was a crying kid in the next row. Sure enough, two ladies get on with twin boys and take the seats across the aisle. From takeoff to landing those kids cried constantly.
The meal is served and afterwards everyone starts to settle in for the night. I have a couple of biers on my tray, a magazine, and the headphones going so I'm happy. Ben, OTOH, is starting to wish he hadn't made the crack about crying kids because he got an earful all night long. :0(
Dawn on Sunday finds us entering Europe over Northern Ireland as we make our way towards London, across the channel to Amsterdam, and finally cruise on into Frankfurt a good 40 minutes ahead of schedule (love those Lufthansa folks!!). Bags come off o.k. and we breeze through the terminal, past passport control, and on over to the National counter. Our booking is thru Kemwel and we are given a new Navy Blue Opel Astra stationwagon, manual shift, diesel, and with A/C for $283 for two weeks. We are good to go.
With me driving, and Ben navigating, we are off to
the A5 heading
South. Our first stop is a bit of a ritual started years ago on one of our first group trips. There is a nice reststop
about 20km down the road at Grafenhausen. We are dying for some coffee but end up ordering a bratwurst with roasted potatoes and a
Back on the road we are pleased to see we are making good time as there is little traffic at this time of morning, and best of all no trucks!! At about 12:00 we hit the Offenburg cutoff and pick up the B33. Our first stop is a quick visit to the "Schillihof" near Gengenbach which holds the honor of starting us on this farm kick in the first place.
We stayed here in '93 when a group of us went over,
and have since recommended it to anyone looking for a nice farm in that area (Chuck and Beverly have also stayed
there.) After a brief hello we are off and running towards Gutach, Hornberg, and Triberg.
Another mandatory stop is at the "Haus am 1000 Uhren" which is a must do on any trip. Our objective is to pick up a couple of walking sticks as souvenirs and start filling them with decorative pins of places we have been. We also like to check the prices on the wallclocks we bought in '88.
Back then they went for about DM500, but they are
now up to DM899. Makes us feel like we got a bargain. :0)
Finally we are off to Furtwangen and on into the Urach valley. Our accommodations are at the bauernhof "Unterroturachhof" which I found while doing a web search last year. It is run by none other than the Bärmann family (yep...they are cousins to the Zum Sternen clan). They are expecting us, but instead of staying in the main house they lead us to a smaller house which turns out to contain the parents on the lower floor, and our large apartment upstairs. Hey...at DM35 per night each we're not picky. (Note: little did we know the dangers that lay ahead but more on that later).
With bags unpacked we can finally take a breather. It's been a long day and the jet lag is starting to kick in. The plan is to rest up for a couple of hours and then head on over to the Sternen to see who has showed up.
At 5 pm we are pulling up in front, and sure enough there are a couple of cars already there. Making our grand entrance, we open the door to find Lump, Lisa, and Gary sitting at the Stammtisch table scarfing down biers and acting like they own the place. For me, this is my second time to meet Bill and Lisa, last year being the first, and the first time with Gary.
We have now taken over the place as we are the only
ones there other than Rudi and Tina, and so the bier starts to flow. A short time later in comes Cornelius, Len,
Jim and Bess, and our little group on Day 1 is complete. It feels great just to relax and unwind with good company
and we all wonder aloud if it will go this well once everyone else arrives. We were not to be disappointed.
After a great meal (schnitzel mit pommes) and a few more Fürstenberg's we finally start breaking up around 8:00. The others have been here a day or so and are in pretty good shape, whereas Ben and I can barely drag ourselves back to the farm. The temperature has dropped sharply, a blessed relief from the scorcher back home, and we are looking forward to collapsing into our beds with those warm duvets covering our carcasses. We both agree this trip is off to a good start and with that it is Lights out and Taps by 10:00. Next stop... dreamland.
Day 2 .... Sept. 18 - "Things that go bump in the night"
As Ben has already mentioned in his report, our accommodations, while suitable, are plagued with opportunities to do bodily harm to one's self. Upon our arrival yesterday we quickly recognized that this place is definitely not for tall people. Large ceiling beams throughout the rooms require that you constantly move about in a hunched position which resulted in back and shoulder aches the entire time. Ben, at 5'9", and me at 6'1" are both accidents waiting to happen.
Sometime during the night Ben apparently forgot about
the boobytrap and connected solidly with one of the low hanging beams during a visit in the dark to the latrine.
As a result of this encounter, the next morning he went from a hat size 7 to an 8. Somehow there seems to be a
mathematical relationship here...something like BH + CB = P² (Ben's Head + Ceiling Beam = Pain squared.).
Not the best way to start the day. :0(
Because we were staying in a Ferienwohnung we failed to take into account one of the basic rules of the game... if you want to eat, buy your own stuff and fix it there. That's what apartments are for. Great! We are both dying for some breakfast and are feeling a little stupid for not asking if this was included back when the reservations were made. (Note to self...never assume anything...in the future always ask first).
Fortunately, while sitting and deciding on what our next move should be, resourceful Ben has brewed up a couple of cups of coffee using the handy packets he always brings along, and an electric immersion coil to heat the water. This helps loosen the cobwebs and we decide to go for a second cup. Unfortunately, Ben has just discovered that the laws of electricity are alive and well when he accidentally knocks the immersion coil into a sink while it is still plugged in. (Bzzzzzhhhhhttttt!) So much for the coffee.
We finally decide the best thing to do is go into Furtwangen and find a bakery where we can grab a quickie breakfast and be done with it. Feeling much better afterward we then set off to tackle the day.
The plan is for Ben to join Tooooobah's Trekkers for a frolic in the forest.
Everyone gathers at the Sternen as the starting point, and soon Jim is leading his motley crew consisting of Ben, Jerry, Len, Gary, and Cornelius over hill and dale.
My idea of seeing the countryside however is slightly
different. I'll take the comfort of the car with radio blaring and sunroof open if you please.
Apparently Jane, Jerry's better half, feels the same because she realizes the hike may be more than it is cracked up to be and decides to join me as co-pilot for a leisurely drive through the countryside. Off we go from Urach over to Vöhrenbach, then over the backroads to Furtwangen. I happened to mention that there was a nice family that owns a farm I stayed at last year near Triberg that I would like to stop in and say hi to. Jane had never been to Triberg so voilà, we will kill two birds with one stone.
Everything goes well until we hit the city limits. There is a major stau in both directions all the way through town due to road crews resurfacing and filling potholes. As a result we creepy crawled our way along realizing we just have to do it all over again on the way back. Finally we break free of the traffic and I am on a steep winding narrow road leading up into the hills above Triberg where the bauernhof "Oberfeissesberghof" is located. Suddenly we come to a screeching halt. I'm not believing this. Another road crew has the road shut down so nobody can get by. They are digging up a stretch of road and rocks and debris are everywhere.
We now have a major problem... the road is only wide enough for one car and no room to turn around! There is no way I am backing all the way back down that steep hill. Jane must have been reading my mind because she asked "Now what!". I finally decide to back as far as the nearest wide spot in the road and try to turn the car around using the hope and a prayer approach. Jane quickly offers to act as road guide and jumps out to help guide me as I do the three inches forward and back routine. (Chicken!!!) We are finally turned around and zooming back the way we came. Once more through the stau and I am glad to see Triberg in my rearview mirror.
By now it is getting close to noon and Tooooobah has agreed the motley crew will meet at the Kalte Herberge for lunch. Our timing is perfect as we arrive to find them taking seats at an outdoor table and ordering up hydraulic sandwiches. Gary and Cornelius look like they could use some oxygen, and Ben's noggin is throbbing like a bass drum. Jane and I, on the other hand, are feeling quite rested and order up a bier just to be sociable.
After a leisurely lunch Tooooobah announces it is time to start the return trip. Ben graciously bows out due to his headache (wise choice son) and we all start to leave. Suddenly, a car whips into the parking lot and it turns out to be none other than Bill Hickox and frau Suzie. Apparently he knows who we are and starts rattling off everyone's name like we were old friends (boned up on the Stammtisch pics huh Bill?). :0)
Since the plan is for the whole group to meet for dinner at the Sternen tonight we decide to head back to the farm to relax and spend some time updating the new and bigger Stammtisch album Ben has brought. The original one was getting pretty full with pictures and comments so it is time to upgrade.
Although this is Monday, and normally ruhetag for the Zum Sternen, Rudi has graciously opened the place up for the Americans and has even spent the day cooking up some venison stew for dinner. These folks couldn't have been nicer, and even though we probably overwhelmed them, I am sure those three days will be talked about by the locals for years to come.
Around 5-ish the rest of the members (except Val, who is due in the next day) start showing up and we are soon putting names with faces and feeling like this is a family reunion.
No one feels awkward as might be typical when meeting strangers for the first time, and the rest of the evening is spent table hopping and sharing travel stories.
The Bärmann's are kept busy shuttling back and forth between the kitchen and bar. Bier, venison stew and schnitzels all around, and everyone seems to be having a good time.
Tonight may as well have been the big event as far as we are all concerned, however little did we know what the locals had cooked up for us for tomorrow night.
And so, after good food, good company, and Day 2 in the history book, we all start to break up around 9:00 as everyone has different plans for the next day.
I have a bottle of red wine chilling on the balcony so I know I will sleep good tonight. Now... if I can just remember where I put that hard hat ????
Day 3...Tuesday Sept. 19 "The Big Event"
Somehow we managed to survive the night without further concussions, however come morning we quickly re-discover that the shower is also built for the vertically challenged. It is impossible to stand completely upright and you are forced to hunch down the whole time. (This farm definitely gets a rating of one on my scale of 1-3 which I use to categorize places I stay. Another six inches of ceiling would have gotten them a three, not to mention no goose egg for Ben.. but that's the breaks).
Since we are without benefit of the immersion coil to make coffee we are both hell-bent to crank up and head into Furtwangen for another visit to the bakery for breakfast.
The morning started out hazy but is quickly starting to clear up. This is great, as our first stop of the day is to be at the start of the Danube river, the "Donauquelle" located up in the hills above Furtwangen. Having been briefed by Rolfoe at dinner last night not to expect anything spectacular, we decided it was at least worth a photostop.
Following the road about 3km up into the hills we come to a small hotel out in the middle of nowhere. Signs point the way from the parkplatz toward a small trail leading down to the landmark. Sure enough, Rolf was right. All we saw was a small stream of water about the size of a garden hose coming out of a pipe in the ground. Birthplace of the mighty Danube? ..no way, but the plaque says different.
We get our pics and it is back up the hill. Ben stops
long enough to sign the guest register for visitors, so next time you are there look for "BavariaBen and PStuyvsant
landed here, Sept 19, 2000".
Our next objective is a drive over to Lake Titisee for a first time visit. The weather is now sunny and clear and should make for some good scenery. We enter the town and find a parkplatz near the lake. We no sooner pull in than who should appear but "No turn is a wrong turn Hickox" and Suzie. Apparently they too are here to check out the scenery.
Ben and I head over to the lake and come upon one of several facilities where you can rent paddle boats, or electric ones, for a cruise on the lake. We opt for a two-man electric for DM15 for half an hour.
- - -
Ben elects to drive so I can get some pics and movies from the back seat.
After a pleasant cruise our time is soon up. Back
on dry land we head over to the small Fussgänger zone to check out the souvenir shops where we drop a few
marks. It is now 11:00, which in my mind makes it socially acceptable for my first bier of the day. We spot an
outdoor restaurant and order up. All of a sudden more familiar faces appear. It is Pat and Bud out on a shopping
spree and they stop to chat for a few minutes.
Around 1:00 we decide we have done enough sightseeing for the day and the plan is to head back to the farm to rest up for what could turn out to be a long night (and it was...). But first Ben states he needs to find an Apotheke to try and find something for what has become a nagging stomachache.
I claim it is probably just the jitters because of
the big night, but he assures me this is for real. A few days later we would find out how right he was.
We follow the backroads over to Vöhrenbach where we make a quick stop for the german version of maalox, and from there it is just a short hop back to the farm. Our t.v. only has one channel, and poor reception to boot, so the afternoon is spent getting our gear together so we can pack up quickly for an early start tomorrow morning.
Shortly before 5:00 we arrive at the Zum Sternen and stroll through the door to find that some of the others are already there. Pat and Bud, Bill Hickox, Jim, Gary, Ben and I take up positions on the outdoor patio and order up some biers. Over the next half hour the rest of the group starts showing up and it looks like we are all accounted for when someone asks "Has anybody seen Val?". Sure enough...the whole gang is there except for her and no one seems to know what the deal is.
By 6:00 everyone starts taking seats in the main dining room. Unlike last night, all the tables have been rearranged along the walls in a big "U" shape with the center of the floor open. "Is this where Val does her dance" we wonder. :0) The Bärmanns have also added reinforcements to the staff so they must be planning for a busy night.
By now the locals start showing up and soon the Sternen is packed to the roof. Meals are being served, and bier and wine start to flow. All of a sudden in comes Val with her entourage, (talk about a timely entrance) and the Stammtisch is now complete. It's SHOWTIME!!!
Great food and conversation quickly become the order of the evening. By now we are all feeling like family, but we try not to let the thought of knowing this is our last night together dampen the program. Promptly at 7:00 members of the town band arrive, dressed in true Black Forest fashion, and start setting up their instruments.
For the next several hours there was a steady stream of entertainment from the band,
and some local choir members who sang acapella during band breaks.
Just to show he is one of the guys, Tooooobah does
his Lawrence Welk impersonation by leading the band in a few rousing sessions (ah-one-and-ah-two). Len is overcome
with emotion and decides to help Jim by becoming assistant director (better go easy on the Fürstenberg's Len.
Unfortunately, despite the great time we are having, the reality of cramming too many people in a small space starts to appear. Some of us, me included, are starting to sweat profusely. Ben, who is sitting next to me, looks like somebody kicked him in the stomach. We head outside for some fresh air and he admits he is feeling like death warmed over. This is definitely not a case of the jitters. I ask him if he wants to call it an early evening but he decides to stick it out. So folks...take it from me, it was not a case of being unsociable or not having a good time. The man was in pain.
All through the evening there is a steady stream of Americans,and Germans, heading towards the doors to take turns breathing the crisp night air. Around 11:00 the band finishes their last number and starts to gather up their gear. It has been an evening unlike anything any of us expected, the likes of which Urach may never see again.
This has been a moment in history...the planning,
the endless e-mails, the apprehension of such a big group from all corners of the U.S. getting together for the
first time on foreign soil, but everything came together perfectly.
I for one was proud to be part of this memorable occasion. To everyone in the Stammtisch, especially Bill in Houston, Bob in Heidelberg, Lump and Lisa, Rolf, Cornelius, Len, Jane and Jerry, which made up our table, I would like to say it was a pleasure making your acquaintance. This night will be the talk of that little town for years to come.
By midnight Ben and I say our final goodbyes and drag ourselves back to the barn. We are exhausted but content. We crash around 2 am knowing full well we will suffer for it tomorrow. But this night we have memories that will stay with us the rest of our lives.
Stay tuned for more.....