I owe this trip to my lovely Frau who fell in love with a Sebring convertible right after our trip to Europe in the summer of 99. Part of the deal for the new car was that Ben gets to do Deutschland in 2000. Worked like a charm... Dee Dee was still suffering from her last plane ride and at the time could not have cared less about getting back on any vehicle that she was not personally driving or flying. (She doesn't get sick when she is in control but put her in a passenger seat and it's lights out for Mama).
So - the groundwork was laid and plans commenced to unfold. Originally I considered doing a solo trip but my old buddy Larry (PStuyvsant) takes his annual trips to Europe in September so it was easy enough to work out a two-weeker together. As soon as he returned from last year's trip we started working on this year's itinerary and decided what route we would take this time around. We decided on 6 locations to base our travels from - one 3-night location and five 2-nighters. We determined long ago that those 1-nighters are killers and will put a real drag on a vacation so we try not to ever include more than one a trip. In writing to some of our Stammtisch members - PatBee and Rolfoe in particular - we considered getting together with a few other folks who would also be in-country at the same time as us. Our first thought was a meeting at a beer tent at Oktoberfest but those plans eventually turned into several days in the small village of Urach (Black Forest). Within a few months our get-together grew to a group of almost 30 folks who made plans to spend at least one day (19 Sep) together at the wonderful little Gasthaus zum Sternen.
So with the 3 days in the Schwarzwald as the foundation of our plans - Larry and I split responsibilities for our itinerary. We would each take 3 locations, find accommodations and work out the fine details. We don't mind traveling by the seat of our pants but we both prefer to nail down our accommodations and know where we want to be each day. We might be boring and we know it but we don't care. We like laying out our itineraries and trying to work around them. Our daily activities are flexible but our locations are firm. We have found that we can find accommodations easily enough by browsing the catalogs we have accumulated over the years and by doing internet searches. This year we looked for farms at each location that fit our needs - Two double rooms (we like our privacy and we like to spread out) or an apartment with two sleeping rooms - private bath and toilet are not a factor for us but we prefer places with balconies where we can enjoy our coffee in the early mornings and beer and wine in the evenings. And of course price is a big factor but with most farms the prices are well within our budgets. This year we went with 3 apartments and 3 double rooms at 5 farms (Urach in the Black Forest - Schwangau/Horn near Neuschwanstein - Münsing south of Munich by Starnbergersee - Annaberg south of Salzburg near Hallstatt - Iphofen between Rothenburg o.d.T. and Bamberg) and 1 Weingut at Oberheimbach in the hills above the Rhine Gorge. Everything was confirmed by email, fax or letter prior to the trip.
We purchased our airline tickets thru T.I.S.S. which is a consolidator group that we have found to be very reliable. The company that wrote my ticket was EuroLloyd. We purchased our tickets in January for the September trip. The price was $599 plus tax and $10 shipping and handling. We could have beaten that price by a few bucks by going with another airline but for a Lufthansa direct flight from DFW we were very content with the deal.
Larry took care of the car rental thru Kemwell (National) and found us an Astra station wagon (diesel), standard shift, with A/C (not that we would need it) for $288 for two weeks. Good deal and the perfect size for our bags and assorted trash. Diesel fuel was 1.69 DM to 1.79 DM per liter (depending on which part of the country) and that wagon had no problem running with the big dogs on the Autobahn.
So everything was in order - Passports - Airline - Car Rental - Lodging - Money belt with US and German currency - Credit Card - ATM Card - Drivers License - International Driving Permit (yes you do need one for Austria) - Bags packed (extra bag for souvenirs) - let's do it...
The big day arrives - I load up my sweet wife's convertible - and we're off to pick up Herr PStuyvsant - the baggage is a tight fit but no problem - we're off to DFW on a hot sweltering day (typical Texas) - check in smooth - kiss the Frau and daughter - smooth on-time flight except for the two screaming munchkins from a bad dream in adjacent seats. But not a problem for two cowboys on a mission.
Day 1 - Sunday - Flight arrives on schedule. Magic time! Weather in Frankfurt - overcast with occasional light rain. Luggage pickup smooth - easy walk to National Car Rental booth. No problems with clean new vehicle. Is a diesel OK? You bet - had one last year - saves on fuel bill. We figure out the radio, lights and windshield wipers and are out of the airport in short order and no problems hooking up with A5 south.
15 km later we pull into Gräfenhausen reststop for our first Wurst and Bier and a telephone card. Larry buys his first pack of Peter Stuyvesant smokes and is a happy camper. (He only smokes in Germany and only Stuyvesants.) On to the Black Forest - we pull off of A5 at Offenburg onto the B33 which takes us into Gengenbach where we pull into an old farm favorite - the Shillihof. We stop by to say our hello's and move on down the road. We drive by another farm that Larry is familiar with and eventually work our way into Triberg where we of course stop by the House of 1000 Clocks. Walking canes are the order of the day and we find a couple to our liking. Easy ride south thru Black Forest except for one slight 'Bill Hickox - no turn is a wrong turn' when we found ourselves on a winding rural road and ended up in front of a farm I had stayed at last year. We didn't intend to visit it but I took the opportunity to show it to Larry anyway. That may have been how I found it the first time. :-)
We picked up B500 in Triberg and eventually arrived midafternoon in Urach and located our home for 3 days (the Unterroturachhof farm).
We were shown our apartment by Stephanie
(daughter of owners) who spoke some English and was very nice to these two tired travelers. The sleeping rooms
were spacious, bath/shower/toilet room very nice and the kitchen and living room very adequate. The large TV had
only one channel (at least that's all we could find) but everything was as good as could be expected - except for
one minor problem which could be a major problem for other guests - depending on their height. The problem was
that almost all of the ceilings were at a height of 6' or less plus there were several cross beams that lowered that clearance
to about 5'
and failed to budge when our noggins came in contact. We found that we were constantly bending over to avoid problems.
Suffice it to say - the Bärmann family that owned this farm were all shorter than me.
We stowed our gear, took a short break and headed for the Gasthaus zum Sternen where we found Lump and Lisa (Oldgybe) and Gary (Roosia) already enjoying the Bier. Len (Lenox862) and Cornelius (CFriedsam) were also there and then we were joined by Jim and Bess (Tooooobah) and Jane and Jerry (JRLVR1). We all visited for awhile - I had a great Kalbschnitzel and promptly crashed about 2130. The Sternen is also owned by a Bärmann family - Rudolf and Martina (cousins of our farm owners) and is located in a beautiful little valley between Furtwangen and Titisee. This valley was first recommended to me by our serious hiker and Biermeister - Tooooobah.
Day 2 - Monday - Tooooobah's Trekers showed in front of the Sternen at 1000 (Jim - Len - Gary - Jerry - Cornelius - myself). I busted my head pretty good during the night and picked up a nasty headache but I really didn't want to miss this little hike.
The initial climb to the ridgeline was a killer but then it was clear sailing thru the woods for a few hours and finally exited at the Gasthaus Kalte Herberge.
We met up with Bess, Lisa, Lump, Larry and Jane and had a nice lunch out back of the Herberge.
cruised the Titisee (motorized one speed boat) where we ran into Bill and Suzie and Pat and Bud -
and toured Vöhrenbach looking for an Apotheke for stomach medicine - and a short nap before the big 'official' meeting. I called my wife and daughter daily at around 1400 to catch them before school and work (0700 Texas' time). Today I get the news that one of my dogs had died and they just buried her. Another excuse to feel bad but I'm still excited about the meeting.
1700 rolls around and most everyone is there chitchating, mingling and enjoying that good Fürstenberg Bier.
I had a feeling we were in for a long night when a large
case of Bier was placed on the floor in the middle of the band. To that effort we donated 150 DM.
An a-cappella town church choir entertained us with several songs during a band break and then a trio serenaded us with some of their favorite Schwarzwalder melodies. It all made for a very loud and lively evening. The band was great and so were the town folks that showed up. The band played on (Len and Jim also took a turn at leading and the band played Happy Birthday to celebrate Gunner's birthday) until around 2300 and then the majority of our group started breaking up. A few had departed a bit earlier but not until Jim was able to present certificates of appreciation to the band and the Bärmann family and Joan and Val waylaid me with a beautiful woodburned plaque and a very impressive engraved photo album. Special thanks to Cornelius who came up with the idea to help fund a Urach Kinderspielplatz by passing the hat. 580 DM was collected and Cornelius kicked in another 20 to make the total 600 DM. Thanks Cornelius - that really added a nice touch to the evening.
For me the Urach Gathering was everything and more than I expected. It was as if the Stammtisch Album just came to life and there were all these breathing, talking, Bier drinking, warm bodies behind all of those crazy AOL screennames. There was more than one occasion during those 3 days that the entire experience had me muttering - 'Wow' - 'Cool' - 'Awesome'. And it was all of that plus...
For those of you who were there - thanks for coming - I enjoyed every second of it. For those who weren't - fear not for I'm sure there will be another in the future. It was a great start to what would be another excellent two week vacation in Deutschland ...
Click here for a page of Urach photos by BobinHeidelberg