Monday, July 20, 2009

My Cut-Rate Grand Tour, Day Thirty

Wednesday, 4 January, 1989
Karlsfelden* to Saßenberg*, Bebenhausen, and Tübingen;
to Stuttgart and on to Frankfurt

Friedl* and Anni* did us the honors of the region this morning. First stop, Friedl’s church in Saßenberg. The others were ahead of us and by the time Friedl, Theo*, Phoebe*, and I got to the church, Anni, Chrissie*, and Pete* were already waiting there.

The church building, which I think is dedicated to St. Michael, is a small stucco structure with stone facings and a half-timbered cupola. They’ve recently redone the interior and renewed the Scripture passages inscribed around the edges of the wooden balcony. They had a big Christmas tree, with electric candles, set up by the elevated pulpit, with a smaller tree and a creche arranged at the pulpit’s base.

Friedl’s vicar was there and took pictures of us all with our own cameras.

After that, we drove over to the old Cistercian monastery at
Bebenhausen. It struck me how different German Medieval architecture is from English or French. Much more blocky, less intricate or decorated or pointed.

Though I guess you couldn’t say that of the great tall roof of the monastery. It seemed to reach two or three storeys high, all pierced with little windows. Friedl said that’s where the monks slept.

The other thing that hit me was how different it was visiting the church here from how it was when I visited all those cathedrals and abbeys in France and Italy. In those churches, by myself, they were churches first and foremost. I was impelled first to offer an act of worship, to pray, before I did the architectural tourist thing.

But here, in a group of my friends, it was sightseeing and rubbernecking all the way. It made no difference that Chrissie, Friedl, and Theo are all theological students, or that Pete, Anni, and Phoebe are or might soon be theological students’ spouses. The dynamic was totally different, and I couldn’t influence it in the least. Losing the sense of holiness was the price I had to give for having good company.

For lunch Friedl took us all to his theological college at the
University of Tübingen. We ate in the Mensa with the other students who were still hanging around in the vacation, and I had a cabbage dish (Kohl) which for the first time in my life I found appetizing and good.

I had to be getting on, since I’m pretty sure my train pass expires Friday and I’ve got a thing or two yet to see before then. So Friedl left the others at the Uni while he drove me and my luggage (already stowed in his trunk-- the bags, I mean!) back to Stuttgart. I insisted he didn’t have to park the car to carry my things into the Bahnhof for me, so I thanked him and we said our farewells at the curb.

Having stashed the bags in a locker, I got out my Stadtplan and found my way on foot to James Stirling’s Neue Staatsgalerie.

Something funny on the walk over. I was standing at a corner, waiting to cross, when the driver of the approaching car saw me and stopped to let me go ahead. If he’s a typical German driver, they’re the most polite I’ve encountered so far. In Paris it seemed like a challenge game-- if you could get the Parisian driver to meet your eye, he’d concede and you, the pedestrian, could pass. While in Oxford--!? They’re vicious. They won’t meet your eye if their lives depended on it. They won’t even stop if you’re in the crosswalk. I’ve had to jump back on the curb more than once at that corner at Parks Road. This here is much better!

The Staatsgalerie turned out to be a double delight, both for the art and even more for the architecture. I didn’t like the look of the building all that much when I saw it published in Architectural Record a few years ago. Seemed like Stirling was being gimmicky for the sake of being gimmicky. But now that I’ve seen it in person, I can see how its curves and dips, its ramps and its terraces and its striped stonework echo, reflect, and bow to the great vineyard-girdled Weinberg outside the city. The sun was out this afternoon, gelobt sei Gott! shining full on the mellow stonework. Duty became pleasure as I spent more time exploring and photographing the building as a building than I did actually looking at the exhibits.

I had to cut my visit shorter than I would have liked because I still had to catch the train for Frankfurt late this afternoon. Didn’t want to arrive too terribly late.

Returned to the Hauptbahnhof, retrieved my luggage, and checked the Departures board. Hurray! A train to Frankfurt-am-Main on Gleis 8 a little after 4:00 PM, ten minutes from now! Got out to the platform where the train was waiting, got on, and deposited myself and my luggage in a compartment otherwise occupied by three businessmen.

The train got on its way and after a little time, the conductor appeared to check our tickets. The businessmen presented theirs and I showed my EurailPass.

At once the conductor seemed to be asking me where I was going! I say "seemed" because of course he said it in German and it didn’t make sense-- after all, the EurailPass is good anywhere in continental Europe, why did he care where I was going?

He repeated the question and I guess I was looking pretty daft, because one of the businessmen said in English, "He wants to know where you are going."

"To Frankfurt," I told the conductor.

To which he replied something like, "Nein, nein, meine Fraulein! Das ist nichts die Zug zu Frankfurt, es ist die Zug zu Nürnberg!"

Between him and the English-speaking businessman I was given to know that not only was this the train for Nuremberg, Nuremberg was also about two and a half hours east of Frankfurt. Nein, nein, Fraulein, you do not want this train.

I was a little nonplussed-- I mean, how did he know I wasn’t a history student going to Nuremberg to study the famous Nazi war crimes trials right on the site? Besides, I hear they’ve got a very fine castle there, very worth seeing!

I suppose, though, that the conductor’s conviction that no tourist in her right mind would go to Nuremberg of her own volition served me well. I think day after tomorrow’s the last day on my rail pass, but I could be wrong, I haven’t counted lately. So I couldn’t exactly say, Hey, long as I’m on this train, I think I’ll go see Nürnberg anyway! I could return to Oxford on Saturday or Sunday if I liked, true, but it’d mean buying extra train tickets for the last legs. And more food and lodging. No. Can’t afford that.

The conductor saw that I was put down at the next stop, the first one out of Stuttgart, and pointed to the Gleis that would return me to the Hauptbahnhof where I could start over. It was a commuter rail station, starting to fill up with workers returning from their jobs in the city. I liked being there this sunny late winter afternoon. It was another view of the city and everyday German life, and as I waited for my train I could pretend I lived there and went through there every day, myself. Fun, like trying on someone else’s clothes for dress up.

Once I got back to the Hauptbahnhof, I again checked the Departures board. Oh, golly. There was my mistake. I’d read a 5 for an 8!

This time I made it to the correct Gleis and onto the correct train. The one I caught got me to Frankfurt after dark, sometime after 8:00 PM.

Picked up my bags and walked out the front entrance of the Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof to get my bearings. Standing there on the sidewalk looking into the darkness, it came over me how tired I was. No, I was not up to walking off into town (lugging the luggage) trying to find an interesting hotel from the Frommer guide. I turned around, went back in, and found the Tourist Information Desk.

Turns out Frankfurt is very full tonight. There’s some convention in town. But look, here is the Hotel Tourist just a few metres away from the Hauptbahnhof, for the equivalent of $40 US per night! Would I allow the Information clerk to book me in there?

Well, you know me. Confront me anything with the word "Tourist" in it and I run like hell the other way.

On the other hand, it was dark, it was late, it was trying to rain, I was in a strange city dark and late and in the rain, and I was tired. So I conceded and let him call.

Then having been shown on the Stadtplan where the
Hotel Tourist was, I shouldered my load, went down the street, presented myself at the check-in desk, and was shown to my room.

It could have been worse . . . I guess . . . the really annoying and awkward thing was that the heating was going full blast and there was no way to turn it down, and my room gave directly out onto the fire escape. How safe in case of fire! but I opened the window and looked out and saw that anybody could climb right up it. No ventilation stop on the window, either. So I had a choice between suffocating or burning up with the window closed and locked, or opening the window for relieving air and risk being invaded.

In the end I went to bed in my underpants and a sleeveless undershirt, cracked the window about four inches, and prayed.

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