Friday, May 25
After sleeping in a bit following my quick tour around Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg, Stefan said that he and I were going to visit Bamberg. He described the town as a traditional medieval town, and it helped that it was just 40 minutes away from his home.
There was not a lot to see in Bamberg, so we did not arrive in town until around lunchtime. We saw the unique city hall, which spans the Regnitz River. The structure was built on an island in the river because of the division in the town between the ecclesiastical and secular sections of the city. Along the banks of the Regnitz was a section of town called Little Venice because it was originally built on stilts, like Venice, Italy.
We also saw the New Palace (a.k.a. Neue Residenz) and the Imperial Cathedral (a.k.a. Kaiserdom) along with the Old Palace (a.k.a. Alte Hofhaltung), which were clustered together in a square. The Rose Garden at the New Palace was quite striking and provided an excellent view of the city.
Personally, I liked the Imperial Cathedral the best. It was interesting to see a baptism occurring when we entered the building. It was neat to see that a building built nearly one thousand years ago is still being used for one of the simplest and most beautiful ceremonies of the Christian faith. It was also exciting to see a burial site of a pope (Clement II) and a German emperor (Henry II).
Upon returning to Erlangen, we relaxed at the apartment for a few hours before heading to Bergkirchweih. Bergkirchweih is Germany’s second-oldest beer festival, after Oktoberfest. It has been held in Erlangen since 1775 and I’ve heard stories about it from Stefan ever since I met him in 2001.
Hilke, Stefan’s girlfriend, was originally going to join us this evening but had to cancel because her allergies were bothering her. So he and I ride a bikes down to the festival, which was scary as heck for me since I hadn’t ridden a bike since I was in eighth grade. I had one close call riding on the street with cars, but managed to get to the festival grounds safely.
We quickly found Stefan’s parents, meeting them for the first time. His mother, Renata, shock my hand rather vigorously while his father, Otto, was a little more subdued in his greeting. Renata also offered me a drink of their beer. I initially declined because I knew I’d get a drink later, but she insisted. So after taking a sip, Stefan and I leave and walk around the festival grounds.
Following a brief walk, Stefan and I get a bite to eat and a drink. We sit near a stage and enjoy our meal while listening to some music. After eat, we move towards the stage to stretch our legs and dance a bit. After finishing my drink, I get another one and return to dancing in the street. The band was playing a mix of German-language songs and some ’80s pop hits.
I don’t remember all the songs the band played, but I sang along to most of them even if they were in German. It was a great time because I wasn’t paying attention to anything or anybody, I was just relaxing and having a good time. Eventually a little redhead cozies up to me and stands in front of me dancing. At some point she turned to me and spoke in German. Unfortunately, Stefan wasn’t around to translate and I barely mutter in broken German that I don’t speak Deutsch. She didn’t seem to understand me, so I looked at her quizzically and said, “Ja” as we toasted.
When the band starts playing Paul Simon’s, “You Can Call Me Al,” the gal turns to me and say something about me speaking English or being an American. I really couldn’t understand her because of the noise, but she did speak English. Stefan and I left for his apartment shortly after her revelation, but she seemed a bit pissed as I left.
Now, the adventure really began. I had to ride a bike about 15 minutes from the fairgrounds back to Stefan’s apartment. Since he did not have a light on his bicycle, we had to take several back roads. Even though it had been several years since I last rode a bike, I managed to navigate the streets OK right until the end. When we were two minutes from Stefan’s apartment, I had a little trouble turning left and scraped my knuckles on a fence.
Saturday, May 26
Before heading to bed the previous night, Stefan asked whether I wanted to visit Regensberg or Rothenburg ob der Tauber. Both are well preserved medieval towns and not too far from Erlangen. After looking through my Frommer’s guide, I was unable to make a decision. Stefan suggested I flip a coin because the towns were very similar, so I did and we awoke today prepared to visit Rothenburg on the Romantic Road.
The three of us (Stefan, Hilke and myself) arrived in Rothenburg around 11 a.m. and walked into the city to learn that it was hosting its annual historical festival. The festival recreates a siege during the 30 Years War when Count Tilly, leader of the Holy Roman Empire’s forces, tells the residents of the city that he will spare the town if anybody is capable of drinking a large tankard that contained approximately six pints of wine. The mayor said he could drink the tankard, which he did and saved the town.
It was really neat seeing people walking around in costumes and getting to see various encampments around the town, especially seeing the Swedish knights.
Sunday, May 27
Today was one of my most relaxed days during the trip. Stefan was a little worn out from our travels and suggested we just relax at the apartment. That was fine with me because I getting a bit sick from late nights and early mornings, so it was nice to sleep in and enjoy a leisurely day.
After a traditional continental breakfast, the three of us just relaxed at the apartment. I watched some TV and got to see “Road Trip” in German. Even though I didn’t understand what was being said, I could still enjoy the jokes because I’ve seen the movie enough times in English to remember what most of the characters were saying.
Hilke left early in the afternoon to see her sister, who attends the local university and lives in the dorms near the Bergkirchweih festival grounds. Stefan and I eventually rode our bikes through downtown Erlangen, which gave me the opportunity to see the city hall and the main shopping district where we stopped to get some ice cream.
As we rode our bikes down to Imke’s dorm the chain fell off my bicycle. Somehow I didn’t fall off the bike and walked the last bit down to the building. After meeting Imke and Hilke, the four of us waited for a friend of Stefan’s to arrive near the festival grounds.
Eventually he arrived and we headed to Bergkirchweih for another night of fun. I had a steak sandwich while Hilke and Imke rode one of the festival’s crazy rides. It was a nice change from having a sausage of some sort.
Tonight’s revelry was a bit different since 1. FC Nürnberg had defeated VfB Stuttgart the previous night in Berlin for the German Cup (a.k.a. DFB Cup). The championship was FCN’s first championship in 39 years (winning the Bundesliga in 1968) and the club’s first German Cup since 1962. So numerous fans from Nuremberg drove up to Bergkirchweih and several supporters from Erlangen were proudly wearing the club’s colors.
Since Monday was a public holiday, the festival had a larger than normal crowd. It was difficult to find a spot near the same stage Stefan and I gravitated toward on Friday, but eventually we made it there. Again, the music was great and so was the beer and the company.
Monday, May 28
It was raining when I woke up and after a leisurely breakfast, Stefan suggested that he and I head to Nuremberg to visit the German Railway Museum (a.k.a. DB Museum). It was one of his favorite museums as a child and he said it had a really neat model train display.
Thankfully the museum was primarily indoors, although there were a few train cars and engines outside. We got to see one of Germany’s first rail cars, which ran on a track between Fürth and Nürnberg in 1835. The museum also had rail cars used by King Ludwig II of Bavaria and Chancellor Otto von Bismarck.
Eventually we went outside and got to see some engines, as the rain moved on. I got to see one of the engines I grew up seeing in Germany when my family lived in Italy during the 1980s. The museum also had a subway used by the East Berlin subway system during the Cold War.
Stefan fixed stir fry for dinner as Imke came over for the meal. Later that night Stefan and I watched the German version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” which was rather funny to see since it was a celebrity edition of the show.
Tuesday, May 29
As Stefan had to return to work today, he prepared me to visit Nuremberg and the German National Museum on my own. The previous night he wrote down directions for me to take a bus into downtown Erlangen where I would catch a regional express train to Nuremberg.
I made it to Nuremberg around 10:30 a.m. and eventually made it to the museum around 11. I spent about two hours walking around the museum and drying out after getting soaked walking from the train station, although it was barely a 15-minute walk.
Although I did not recognize many of the artists in the museum, there were still plenty of interesting pieces in the collection. I saw some sculptures removed from the city’s Beautiful Fountain (a.k.a. Schöner Brunnen painting, “) and Philipp Veit’s Germania.” I discovered “Germania” by accident, but it was awesome to see such a beautiful piece of work that embodies the German spirit.
After stopping for lunch, I walked to Albrecht Dürer’s House. It was closed when Stefan and I originally visited Nuremberg, but I knew it would be open today. I spent about an hour touring the home, listening to an audio tour. Unfortunately the house did not have any of his original works, but I got to see some prints and one of the pens he used.
When I left this morning, I had hoped that the rain would clear before too long and that I’d get to enjoy at least a peaceful afternoon in the city. Unfortunately, my wishes were unfulfilled as it rained all day long. It was never a hard rain, although there were some wind gusts, but it was still difficult to stay dry.
After touring Dürer’s house I spent the rest of the afternoon moving from church to church and souvenir shop to souvenir shop simply trying to stay dry until meeting Stefan and Hilke for dinner. We had planned to meet around 6 p.m. to eat at an American-style diner that he said served excellent hamburgers.
Eventually the three of us met and had a nice dinner before returning to Erlangen. I struggled to decide on what burger I wanted, but eventually chose a blue cheese hamburger instead of the Toby burger.
Wednesday, May 30
I had set my alarm for 5 a.m. since I wanted to shower and be clean before spending an entire day traveling. When my phone alarm rang, I quickly shut it off and dozed off for just a few minutes before Stefan woke me up again.
While my originally plane ticket was booked from Frankfurt to Atlanta, I still had to get to Frankfurt from Erlangen. I could have taken the train, which would have cost approximately €40, or I could take a flight from the Nuremberg Airport (a.k.a. Flughafen Nürnberg) for approximately €100. A few days ago I opted to take a flight since it would be a little easier to move gates at the Frankfurt airport instead of moving from the train station to the terminal.
In order to catch my 7:30 a.m. flight, I had to leave Stefan’s apartment around six to reach the Nuremberg airport by 6:30. We stopped at the corner bakery and I got a small bite to eat before we hit the road to Nuremberg. Although there was a long line to check in at the Lufthansa counter, I eventually got my ticket and headed to security.
I said good-bye to my friend and headed to the gate. I had a quick and simple flight to Frankfurt, but encountered a few issues when trying to get my boarding pass to Atlanta. For some reason, the agent at the transfer desk had difficulty finding my original reservation and was unable to give me the assigned seat I had reserved several months ago. Thankfully she got me on the plane, but was unable to put me in an aisle or window seat. So I had to get a new assignment when I reached the gate.
It took about 30 minutes to move around the airport and clear security, but I succeeded in getting an aisle seat. However, the time it took to reach my new gate and get a new seat assignment cost me the opportunity to get something more substantial to eat before my 10:40 a.m. flight.
Regardless, we boarded our plane in a timely manner and we were quickly in the air. The flight was relatively uneventful except for the numerous Indians on the flight who allowed their young children to roam around the plane relatively unattended. I do not fault the child, but it is aggravating when a parent lets a young child run around unsupervised.
Thankfully the flight arrived in Atlanta about 30 minutes early. After clearing immigration and customs I had to wait for my suitcase at baggage claim and was unable to catch the 3:00 p.m. shuttle back to Macon. However, I made sure I was one of the few people who found a seat on the four o’clock shuttle and I made it to Macon around 5.
Even though I got two meals on my flight, I was still hungry because I basically skipped breakfast. So I ordered a pizza and unpacked my suitcase. Today was a very long day, but it felt great to unwind and relax at my home. It was also a wonderful feeling to sleep in my own bed.
Despite the ups and downs of my travels, I had an awesome trip and an experience that I would not trade for anything else in the world. It was great to see a close friend and to finally meet his lovely girlfriend. It was also exciting to visit a place I had been before, but had changed so drastically since my last visit. Hopefully I will return to Germany and see my friend in the near future instead of having to wait nearly 20 years between visits to the Fatherland.