Sunday, July 31, 2011


Man, we needed a Munich fix. Hadn’t been there in seven months. So Jeff and I left after work on Friday and made the four hour drive to the city. Checked into our favorite Hotel Schlicker and then walked through the Marienplatz to a relatively new beer establishment in the city center.

One of our favorite places in Germany is Kloster Andechs which sits on a hill about a half hour southeast of Munich. Because it consumes most of the day to get out there and back we can’t always visit the Kloster when we go to Munich. Now, however, there’s a great alternative just around the corner from the Marienplatz. Andechs has opened Andechser am Dom at the foot of the Frauenkirche, the famous, large, double-domed church in the city center. Now you can get all their great beers right in the heart of the city.

Jeff drinking the flagship brew of Kloster Andechs, Doppelbock Dunkel; considered by many beer experts to be the best beer in the world. Had a fun evening at our table talking with a native Münchener, Ed. He loves the U.S., has a house near Sarasota, Florida (he spends most of his time in Germany though), drives a Corvette and can't understand why we enjoy Germany so much.

Next morning, Saturday, we’re in the world famous Hofbräuhaus for a traditional Munich breakfast. 1000 (10 AM) bring it on!

Fine German craftsman ship in cabinetry and glassware. Shelves of one-liter glass beer mugs.

The traditional Munich frühstück (breakfast), weißwurst, sweet mustard, bretzel and beer.

How to circumcise a weißwurst (white sausage).

On the west side of Munich is the world’s largest biergarten, Hirschgarten. The biergarten is on the north side of a park with the same name. Outside, Hirschgarten sits 8000 people. In their gasthaus another 320 can sit in beautiful Bavarian décor.

They serve Augustiner, one of Munich’s “Big Six” breweries, at Hirschgarten. Many consider Augustiner the best beer made by any of big Munich brewers.

Huge, it sits 8000. The table outside seem to go on forever. They have a nice playground for kids and an enclosed deer and goat area.

Next stop, just a short tram ride away is the Augustiner Keller. It’s another very large biergarten seating 5000 and is heavily shaded by large chestnut trees.

One of the bier stations at the Augustiner Keller. Poured right out of the wooden keg. Just right of the keg is the round hammer used to tap the keg. Our beers await.

Perfect, half a chicken with spices and herbs to make it something special. Hey, they serve Augustiner here too.

We arrived at the Augustiner Keller around noon but because it was a bit cool, 60 degrees, overcast and, although it never happened, rain was threatening. So this video shows an interesting view of a near empty biergarten.

The J. W. on the Augustiner sign is for Joseph Wagner, who took over the brewery in 1862. The J. W. on the new hat stands for Jeff Wickstrom. Always one of Jeff's favorite beer logos.

On the west side of Munich's English Garden is Osterwaldgarten. Small it only seats 350 outside but a very nice place. Inside the gasthaus it's quite pretty.

They serve Spaten at Osterwaldgarten.

Our last beer garden of the day. With a visit here we have accomplished a lifetime achievement of visiting all four beer gardens in the English Garden; Chinesicher Turm, Seehaus, Osterwaldgarten (just visited), and now the Hirschau.

Breakfast at the Hofbräuhaus and now for the evening meal there too. Great seats in front of the band and, typically, we met some great German folks to spend the night with, Ober and Vonne.

A nice German band at the Hofbräuhaus. Interestingly, the clarinet player and the accordion player were both blind.

End of the night in front of the Hofbräuhaus we ran into a real a dick. Actually, it's a bachelor party and he's the groom.

Munich is always soooo much fun!! Great places to visit (yes, we've done all the museums, churchs and palaces), intriguing history, amazing places to eat and drink, and wonderful people to meet and talk to; can't ask for more than that. One more little item to discuss about Munich in the next blog. PROST!!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Wiesbaden Again

A friend of ours from Texas, Mike Franklin (Porker), worked an American Airlines flight into Frankfurt last weekend so we drove up to Mainz to pick him up at their layover hotel and then spent the afternoon in Wiesbaden. The planned events of the day were to visit some beer gardens and ride the Nerobergbahn (Nero hill train).

After picking up Mike we drove from Mainz over to Wiesbaden to have a bratwurst and beer at Walters. Walters is a long time imbiss that’s across the street from the old USAFE Wiesbaden hospital and the Amelia Earhart military hotel. Both of those establishments are no longer in US hands but for those of you that were stationed at the hospital or Lindsey Air Station, you’ll remember Walters;. still the same quick, quality German food.

From Walters we drove out into the countryside just east of Wiesbaden to Hockenberger Mühle, a wonderful restaurant and beer garden. What could be better than sitting on the edge of the forest, talking with old friends and drinking a crispy German beer?

Mike and I at Hockenberger Mühle beer garden.

Back into the city, we parked at one of Wiesbaden’s many parks and walked to the bottom station of the Nerobergbahn.

How can this happen? In the park on the way to the Nerobergbahn.

The Nerobergbahn is a funicular railway which is a train with two cars connected by a cable that move up and down steep embankments where the weight of the descending car counterbalances and pulls the ascending car up the hill. The Nerobergbahn is one of the few water powered funicular trains in the world. After a car reachs the top station, 7000 liters (1800 US gallons) of water are pumped into the a reservoir in the car. At the same time, at the bottom station, the same amount of water is released from that car. That water will be pumped back to the top for use there. Once the passengers are loaded and the brake is released the weight of the car at the top will cause it to begin rolling down hill and simulaneously pull the lighter car at the bottom back up the hill.

The bridge from the bottom station of the Nerobergbahn to the side of the hill. A lot of work to get up a hill to another park. The Nerobergbahn was built in 1888. The city had planned to convert the train to electricity prior to WW II but that was put on hold for the war. From 1944-48 it was inoperable do to war damage and when it was repaired the city never again considered a conversion to electricity. The average gradient of the track is 19% with a maximum of 26%.

At the bottom station of the Nerobergbahn and one of the two cars.

View from the top. Germans like to lay around on the grass. The top of the Neroberg (Nero Hill) is a park area. Very nice.

A little down the hill at a viewing point. A nice view of Wiesbaden with the red brick Marktkirche. That's where we'll be heading next, right next to the city Rathaus and it's beer garden.

WWI Memorial at the top of Neroberg.

An outdoor performing arena at the top of the hill. There was some performing art going on. Of course, it was in German but you could tell it was art. At least that’s what Jeff said, “Art is kind of like pornography, you’ll know it when you see it.”

On our way back to the bottom of Neroberg.

A car coming up to the top station.

A good view of the track. You can see that the middle rail is shared by both cars. Half way down, the tracks split so that the cars can pass but otherwise this is the track layout. On the left you can also see the steel cable that is attached to both cars and will pull the ascending car and lower the descending car. The Nerobergbahn is 1440’ long, and so, of course, is the steel cable. Up ahead, it kind of looks like the track just drops over the side.

Video on the descent. It takes 3.5 minutes for the cars to go from one station to the other but we cut out some to shorten it. You can see the cars pass in this video. At the very end you can hear as we pull into the bottom station and, almost immediately, water is released from the car.

Water releasing from the bottom car.

Seeing the houses around the park also made the walk to the Nerobergbahn well worth the trip. Wiesbaden is a very wealthy city and homes like these are common and indicative of well-to-do people, both past and present.

Our final stop of the day/evening was the Wiesbaden Rathaus beer garden. After some delicious Kloster Andech Doppelbock Dunkel we walked down into the Rathaus basement restaurant for some excellent German food.

Mike and Jeff flew A-10’s together 27 years ago in the 511th Tactical Fighter Squadron at RAF Bentwaters, UK. Man, they didn’t wear those cheater glasses back then and they certainly had more hair. Well, in at least in Jeff’s case there was more hair.

All the goals for the day were accomplished; beer gardens and Nerobergbahn. Both, along with seeing a close friend, made the trip to Wiesbaden a very good day.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Once Great Einselthum

The German wine festival season is warming up.

A half hour northeast of Kaiserslautern is the small wine town of Einselthum. When we were stationed here in Germany during the late 80’s and early 90’s Einselthum was one of the favorite winefests of the summer. They had a rather unique format for their annual wine event. For 10 Deutsch Marks you got a .1 liter glass, complete with the unique Einselthum design, and a coupon sheet that allowed you to get a .1 liter sample of wine from ten different Einslethum vintners. The Einselthum winefest became extremely popular and, although a small village, the crowds were quite large with a good portion being American. So, not having been to Einselthum in twenty years, Jeff and I had been looking forward to this year’s festival which was scheduled for 15-17 July. We were so excited that we invited a number of friends to meet us there at 1700 (5PM) and share the fun.

Well we arrived at 1700, parked on the edge of town, met our friends and walked into the village. It was nearly dead. We did quickly come upon one vintner station that was just starting to open. We had some wine and a little cheese plate. Walking up the street a couple blocks there was another festival area. After a wine sample there we continued on a short distance to the opposite side of the village and found a third and the last area; good wine and food though. So just three festival areas instead of ten, one bumper car ride instead of a carnival area, certainly no crowd, just locals and we were probably the only Americans.

At the first festival area on the west side of the village; Harpo, Jeff, Mike and Dan. Mike is our neighbor in Colleyville, TX. He and Dan were on an American Airlines layover in Frankfurt and came down to meet us for the winefest.

We certainly had a fun time with good wine and good food but we were puzzled as to why there was such a change. Later in the night we had a nice conversation with some local Germans and asked them how the past became the present. They told us the crowds had gotten so large and there had been problems at other festivals with skinheads causing fights with Americans. That got the village a little concerned. They consciously decided to cut back. Instead of 10 vintner stations, they would have just the three we saw and each separated by a few blocks. They would not advertise either. So over time the Einselthum winefest drew fewer and fewer people, fewer and fewer Americans, until it was attended mostly by just the local Germans.

One of the three remaining festival areas in Einselthum. It was inside this vintners courtyard; very nice atmosphere and fun people. Outstanding wines and great food!!

So that was Einselthum. The good thing though, the winefest season marches on.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Rostock, Germany

Our Scandinavia trip complete we had a long drive home from Stockholm. To break it up we decided to stop in Rostock, Germany and visit the business establishment of a couple of retired Luftwaffe fighter pilots that are acquaintances of Jeff’s. To get to Rostock we made the seven hour drive from Stockholm, Sweden to Gedser, Denmark. From Gedser we took the hour and forty-five minute ferry to Rostock.

After a six hour drive from Stockholm we're approaching the Øresundsbron bridge that connects Malmö, Sweden to Denmark, just south of Copenhage. From this point we're about an hour from the ferry at Gedser, Denmark that will take us on the crossing to Rostock, Germany.

On the ferry. That's our car front right. First ones on, first ones off.

Arriving in the Rostock harbor.

Until 1990 Rostock was in East Germany and the predominant shipping port for the German Democratic Republic. Following the collapse of the Eastern Bloc the Luftwaffe inherited the air base at Laage, east of Rostock, and the MiG-29’s stationed there. That’s where Jeff’s friends, Hurrell and Hooters, come in. As Luftwaffe fighter pilots they were assigned to Laage and the MiG-29 where they stayed until their retirements. That’s when they decided to go into business together; and what better business for two fighter pilots than a bar?. Hurrel and Hooters are the proprietors of Schallmauer (Sound Barrier).

Unfortunately, Hurrel and Hooters where out of town but their staff of bartenders took care of us quite well. If you consider free drinks for the night “quite well.”

Schallmauer (Sound Barrier). Rosktock's Fliegerkneipe (Flying Tavern).

Drinking Rostocker pils in Rostock. On the house at the Schallmauer for friends of the owners.

Schallmauer was a great fighter pilot bar. Fighter plane, jet and pilot memorabilia hanging all over the place. We had fun night.

Next day, finally home and the end of a wonderful trip. Here's a picture of the 42 beers we collected along the way from northern Germany, Denmark, Norway and Sweden. With these the vacation won't be over for a while.

Well, that's it. Our Scandinavia extravaganza complete. Time to rest up and get ready for the next big adventure. August, September and October already planned. Can't wait!!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Stockholm, Sweden

After two days in O$los we drove all the way across Sweden to Stockholm on the country’s east coast. It’s a beautiful drive, quite similar to northern Minnesota, Wisconsin or the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Gee, no wonder all those states are full of Scandinvians. Even saw a few moose.

The first mention of Stockholm comes from around 1250. The original settlement was on an island in the harbor which is now the old town of the city known as Gamla stan. Stockholm became a powerful and influential trading city and, as result, the country of Sweden became a major European power in the 17th century with the city becoming the country’s capital in 1634. After a plague in 1710, winter put that to an end, and the country’s defeat to Russia and Denmark-Norway in the Great Northern War, the city went into a decline. However, in the late 19th century and through to today, Stockholm again became an important economic center. Now, the city is considered a leader in social, ethical and technological advances. Plus, it’s cheaper than O$lo.

At the border crossing from Norway into Sweden. Yeah, that's Swedish for Sweden. Why can't we just all use English. Very pretty drive through Sweden. Even saw three moose.

Made it Stockholm. Really pretty city. It's the largest city in Scandinavia and it certainly has a big city feel.

Stockholm harbor.

More Stockholm harbor. Lots of cruise ships.

The oldest pub/restaurant in Stockholm in the old town part of the city known as Gamla stan (small S is how they spell it). Den Gyldene Freden opend in 1722. I'm there in the middle checking my iPhone. I inadvertantly left my purse behind here. Got back about a half hour later and, luckily, they had it. Only the third time in 28 years though, not too bad.

We haven't said much about the food on this trip but we tried to enjoy the local faire wherever we went. Here in Stockholm Jeff had Hotch Potch, Swedish hash. I had Fish Soup. Both very good!

We did a Hop On, Hop Off tour of the city. A typical American tourist. Although I'm the only one that wore their seat belt.

The Swedish Royal Palace. Larger than Buckingham Palace in London.

It seems like all the kings of Sweden were named Gustov. This is one of them.

Sweden's Parliment building.

Arches at the back of the Parliment building leading from Gamla stan to Drottninggaten, a major shopping area of Stockholm.

Stockholm city hall. Not many city halls with a light house.

Gamla stan from across the Stockholm harbor. Gamla stan is the old city of Stockholm with narrow streets and very old buildings.

The Swedish Mariner Museum on the left and, on the right, the connected red and brown building behind the masts, the Vasa Museum (more on that later).

Interesting street scene. An old style street toilet in Stockholm.

Free public pressurized air for bike tires. No where near the number of bikes as Copenhagen, or, although there were bike paths everywhere, no where near the organized flow of bike traffic. We almost got run over a few times here in Stockholm.

At the Vasa Museum. Vasa, the pride of the Swedish navy back in 1628. On August 10, 1628, ten minutes into its maiden voyage, a comedic tragedy, or a tragic comedy, occured when Vasa capsized and sank to the bottom of the Stockholm harbor. The story of the Vasa mishap, how it was recovered and refurbished is truly amazing. The Vasa museum was probably the highlight of our entire Scandinavia trip.

A 1/10 scale model the the Vasa warship. It shows how colorful and ornate some battleships were during the period.

Vasa is 95% original material. Because it was covered by the silt and mud at the bottom of the harbor it was preserved virtually intact. It's location was discovered in 1956 and raised in 1961. It was moved to its present location in 1990, a huge building that is air conditioned, de-humidified and rather dark to protect the ship in its present condition. That extention area around the corner of the stern were officer quarters and very colorful and ornate. You can see people on the different levels. That will give you idea of just how big the Vasa is.

Up on the third viewing level the stern of the Vasa is still high above us. At the top you can see two griffins placing a crown on Sweden's king at the time, Gustavus Alophus. At the bottom is the king's family coat of arms. The king was involved in the 30 Years War at the time and was in Poland awaiting the arrival of the Vasa when it set sail but sank in the Stockholm harbor. The stern at this point is about 20 feet wide.

Although it was a tragedy for the Swedish country and its navy to lose the Vasa it ended up being a blessing for the country and the world. There is no other fully intact man-of-war from the 17th century. It has revealed the the building techniques used on these ships and, of course, now earns millions of krones for the Swedish people.
You may be wondering why the Vasa capsized and sank. It had an inherent design flaw. It wasn't built wide or deep enough. The Vasa was the first man-of-war designed by the Swedes with two cannon decks. Since the width and depth of the ship weren't adequate, not enough ballast could be placed on board and so the ship was top heavy. It's believed that more ballast could have been put into storage areas but that have resulted in the bottom cannon deck being below the water line. On the day of the tragedy Vasa only had four sails up and had already tipped dramatically twice before, on the third time, it capsized to the point where the open cannon ports began taking on water. Once that happend the inevidible happened and the ship rapidly sank to the bottom of the harbor. There were about 450 men on board, 100 sailors and 350 soldiers. 20-30 people were killed. 1000's of Stockholm citizens stood on shore and watched the Vasa tragedy.

OK, that's it. Copenhagen, O$lo and Stockholm complete. What a wonderful experience. Just the long drive home to Germany. But, one more stop along the way. Rostock.