Germany II: Travel in Style

April 21, 2003

I’m a budget traveler, through and through. I’m one of those guys who scours the Internet for cheap plane tickets, even if it means an awkward overnight stay on a friend’s couch, and a seat next to a sweaty guy with dandruff and a horrifying case of halitosis. I enjoy it, in a slightly masochistic way — I know how hard I’ve worked to partake of the lands I’m traveling to, which inspires me to make the most of my journeys.

However, there is a time and a place for luxury, especially when it’s free. So here I am, cruising at thirty three thousand feet, with my legs stretched out, a glass of good port in my hand, and a belly full of Gebratene Etenbrust (duck breast).

I’m under the impression that most people in coach don’t actually understand how good life is at the front of the plane. I certainly had no idea. Of course, on domestic flights, you walk past business and first class on the way back to your little nylon seat. You don’t really see anything special — maybe a hint of faux leather and the suggestion of more leg room, but certainly nothing worth taking out a second mortgage.

International is an entirely different scene. Economy passengers never get to walk through the front of a 747 to see the bounty offered to those with thick wallets, or, like myself, girlfriends who work for companies that enjoy moving their employees and significant others to foreign continents.

To get a good idea of what life is like on the other side of the curtain, go find a lazy-boy chair. Congratulate yourself with a glass of champaign. Find an attractive friend to serve you free drinks at the ring of a bell. Find an up-scale restaurant to personally deliver filet mignon and braised duck. And while you’re at it, bring a personal television — you get your own up here. Stretch out. Kick back. Take your shoes off. Sip your favorite apertif and make disparaging remarks about how those less fortunate than yourself are suffering from aching knees and plastic utensils.

I try my hardest to stretch my toes out towards my cat, who’s cooped up in a tiny bag stuffed under the seat in front of me. I still can’t reach him. Poor bastard. The smell of grilled swordfish smothered in butter must be driving him crazy.

Welcome to the cheapest seats in business class. God only knows what happens in first class, up that proverbial stairway to heaven. I’ve heard rumors of beds, celebrities, massages, and other unspeakable pleasures, all of which make me somewhat nervous — what are we, the common men and women of this Earth, missing out on? What strange curtain has been drawn between us and the sophisticate?

A mystery to be sure, but not one to be addressed here.

So, we’ve been in Germany almost exactly a week. It’s Monday morning, the 21st of April. Our first week has been pretty good — the cats are adjusting to their new home, we’re getting settled in our temporary housing, and the weather has been beautiful.

We’re at the tail end of a four-day weekend. The Germans love their public holidays, and I’m under the impression that most weekends are actually three-day weekends. For most people, it’s actually illegal to work on public holidays — and those who do work have jobs that are of civil importance, like police officers, firemen, and cafe workers.

The events this weekend are Good Friday, and Easter Monday. Easter is a big deal over here, running a distant second place to Christmas in the grand scheme of holidays. The stores have rabbits and chicks and chocolates everywhere. All of the houses and apartments have easter trees, decorated with colorful eggs. The churches celebrate by ringing their bells at god awful hours of the morning, with the hope of waking those of us who resemble the dead at about 6am.

The bells aren’t so bad, really. In the United States, there’s only a couple of churches who ring their bells by hand — the rest turn their bells into monuments with little plaques that read “Imagine the sound of this bell.” Down in Christchurch, they installed some speakers in the big church in the middle of the town square. Down the street from where I am, there’s a church of little consequence where a half-deaf monk climbs the steeple every hour or so to remind everyone in the neighborhood that their several hundred year old bells are still working just fine. It’s nice. Every now and then, he brings a few friends and they ring all the bells (I think there’s six of them) for about five minutes, just to keep them in good shape.

When the Germans build something, they mean it: they take the phrase “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” to heart, and build damn near everything to last several hundred years, barring wars and such. All of the houses, even modern ones, are built with heavy stones and concrete. The windows are all heavy duty storm windows, and the plumbing is all top notch. Doors are heavy. Everything feels very permanent. It’s very impressive.

Our temporary place is pretty nice. It’s the standard residence adidas offers to transferring employees, with two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a nice little kitchen, and a big open area for the dining room and living room. I’m trying not to get too comfortable with the space — it’s way out of our price range, and we still don’t know where we’re going to be living after adidas gets tired of paying our rent.

We don’t have an Internet connection yet, and I’m sorry we haven’t been able to respond to everyone’s e-mail. We expect to have a connection here at the house within the next couple of weeks, but I’ll be going to adidas every now and then to check in and say hello.

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