Picking up where I left off, later that day we went to climb the huge spire of the Cologne Cathedral, the Dom. What a very long way up! Sadly it was spoiled by the fact that there was schoolkid graffiti all the way up! Outrageous! You have to hope that there’s some explanation why it’s not been removed.
We ended the day with a protest steak at an Argentinean steak house. By this point we had overloaded on pork! There’s only so much dead pig a man can eat!

Next day was off to see my parents in the Netherlands, which was good. We did some cycling around and ended up getting somewhat burnt on a two hour cycle ride. Typical. Two weeks of wandering around in the summer heat and barely a tan, but two hours on the coast and WHAM! Sunburn.

After that it was back home via Belgium and it’s curious lack of petrol stations, but overall it was quite painless.
And there you have it.

Here are the stats:

Miles driven: 2000
Days travelled: 16
Borders crossed: 13
Countries seen: 6
ODP members encountered: 5
Speed cameras triggered: 2
Days of “I feel too rough to drink”: 1
Grand Dukes foiled: 1/2 (He hit us hard, but we survived and weren’t thrown in an oubliette. We’ll call it a draw)

Highest mountain ascended: Zugspitze
Biggest lake seen: Bodensee
Most responsible for nigh alcohol poisoning: in Munich and it’s evil 1 litre jugs of dark beer
Most dubious honour:
Prettiest village: Ribeauville
Prettiest town: Tough, but I liked Heidelberg
Ugliest town: Brussels. It might have been Mannheim, but it was redeemed by the Rhein banks
Most potent memory: “Ghost”, the garlic sausage-eating, foul-smelling monstrosity.

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Germany is out of the World Cup and we’re nearly at the end of our stay here. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

On our way north we decided to visit the beautiful old universty town of , including a trip up to the castle. A very nice town indeed. And such a contrast tour next stop, the concrete jungle of . It was not out of some sense of completion that we ventured here, but rather that we visiting some of Andy’s friends from , Irene and Daniel, who at the end of the day very kindly fed us whiskey and put us up on their floor as we had not managed to find a for the night.

The next day we had a good early start, following the Rhein north, with a stop-off in for the cathedral and an open air pool in the forest for a cool off as it was a 33°C day and we were roasting! We ended up staying at the excellent Youth hostel in the tiny Bad Marienberg (a nightmare to find) where they treated us excellently and we watched the expulsion of the German team from the World Cup.

Next morning we were up bright and early to go to , renowned for it’s impressive cathedral. After some sightseeing we once again met up with one of Andy’s ODP friends, Chris, who started to to show us around her city, but we were rudely interrupted by the return performance of the infernal weather machine of the as the skies opened and immense amounts of water fell to the earth. So we interrupted the tour to go and have some Thai food in a restaurant.

Andy’s feeling a little tender today, due to the post-dinner cocktails which seemed to present themselves, but we should be okay to climb the spire of the cathedral today. And tomorrow… the Netherlands.

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I never did mention the Arch-Duke’s infernal weather machine in the last post… talk about false advertising! However, due to an unscheduled change in itinerary we ended up evading it and the hailstorm hit the black forest just as we left it. Phew!

So far Andy has managed to get flashed for speeding twice. Luckily they were stationary cameras and not traffic police otherwise he’d be racking up spot fines by now!

We made it to the top of the Zugspitze via the cable car (no hard slog for us, we had a schedule to keep!) but sadly there were virtually no views since the top of the mountain was encased in cloud. Rubbish!

Next stop, and current location, was Munich. Quite an amazing city really, very vibrant. It seems the entire city is dedicated to god and beer and it’s major cathedral is the Hofbrauhaus. We ended up spending quite a few hours there, drinking liters of dark German beer at a time, watching England knocked out of the World Cup and, unfortunately, not eating very much. Needless to say we feel like shit today! It’s a good thing that everything is closed today as we’re not really up to doing very much at all!

Tomorrow morning it’s off towards Mannheim. For the rest of today, just chilling.

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Forgot to add on the experiences in Ribaeuville that when we came back to the hotel after our night out there (the night before the wine tasting) we caught the hotel proprietor in flagrante, in the middle of the lobby, watching porn! Andy and I observed different aspects of this before the channel as swiftly switched. He heard the enthusiastic moaning and I saw the … well, I think you get the idea. Highly amusing

Baden Baden is famous as a spa town, it´s hot mineral springs renowned for their curing abilities. More recently, BB was the site of a battle of Collossi: Andy´s prudish English nature and the spa´s tradition of naked bathing! And quite a battle it was, when you add in that going in nude would have meant that we didn´t have to go back to the car for our stuff! In the end, prudishness (and frugalness) won out when we found a newer, cheaper spa pool with no nudist requirements.

Oh and I must add the world´s largest cuckoo clock. It was the size of a house, but failed to impress Andy. The nearby myth-infested Mummelsee was much more interesting.

Pforzheim was a brief sojourn into nostalgia for me. Not much to see there, so on to the next stop of Konstanz, a pretty little town on the Bodensee. (In the background I hear Andy cackle: “Aaah! You used to live in a flat like a tramp!” but I´ll give it no heed!)

We shared our hostel room with two contrasting characters. One superfit guy who was cycling from Germany to Barcelona who was quite chilled. The other? Well… He was of the much more rotund variety… a smelly, and ate too much garlic sausage, farted throughout the night, got up at 5am to do the world´s loudest smelliest shit taking him about twenty minutes and the sounds horrified even Andy! He then proceeded to take 2 hours to pack his shit up, rustling carrier bags the whole time! Combine that with the attacks of low-flying mosquitoes and you can imagine we didn´t get much sleep!

Right, we´re off to the Zugspitze now so we´d better get going. I´ll try and edit this post sometime in Munich.

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“Critics argue that school uniforms suppress individualism and are typical of authoritarian regimes such as the Third Reich.”

Wow. I always thought the justification was that school uniforms a) looked stupid and b) suppressed individualism but that they were a ‘leveling’ factor amongst the kids.

Germany is going to agonise over this. They won’t want school uniforms, but they (okay, fine, Bavaria) won’t tolerate the French-style banning of religious clothing and symbols in schools. The uber-Catholic Bavaria would have a fit.

So, we’re going to have a massive stalemate that will result in more issues as bureaucratic workarounds are sought.

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BBC NEWS | World | Europe | Austria holds ‘Holocaust denier’: “UK revisionist historian David Irving has been arrested in Austria under laws against denying the Holocaust.

Mr Irving – author of Hitler’s War – said then that he had never claimed that the Holocaust did not occur, but did question the number of Jewish dead and denied their systematic extermination in concentration camp gas chambers. “

Hah! I worked together with a guy who was a big believer in this guy and his theories. Believe me it did not go down well at all when a huge half-German, half-South African guy starts going on about how Jews exaggerated the whole thing and it might not have been true at all.

Of course this is the same colleague who assured me that humanity was just an alien genetic experiment. He knew because he’d read it in a book…

Thursday

Phew! The last day of running workshops! (Pork and fish were the lunch options again) And so another evening’s entertainment had been organised. This time it was *gasp* in the centre of Braunschweig! We were going to leave the hotel! After some Dutch courage to brave the great outdoors, we headed off to an Argentinian steakhouse. Mmmm Lovely! Best steak ever! Though I might have been biased by the fact that it was neither pork nor fish.

After food some colleagues and I decided to go off and do some sightseeing before joining the others in a bar. It turns out that Braunschweig, of which I’d not seen anything but the industrial side, was actually a very pleasant, pretty mid-sized town with an architecturally interesting old-town.

So eventually we ended up in a bar called DAX, after the German stock exchange. It turned out not to be as random a name as was thought, as the prices of all drinks were displayed on a giant board and changed electronically every two minutes, depending on demand. It did cause quite some drink mixing with some people, as they would rush up to the bar whenever something was particularly cheap, regardless of what it was. Personally, I made sure managers were buying and stuck to the excellent local beer, Duckstein.

Friday

A sort of day-off! Hurrah! After some work in the morning, I had nothing else to do. Around about this time I also learnt that I had had the most gruelling workshop schedule of everyone, as I had been presenting in every single slot. The next nearest person had only presented in every second slot. So, with that in mind, I decided I was entirely justified in going off to Braunschweig to do some sight-seeing, shopping and general dosing about before it was time to catch my flight home.

I finally came home Friday night, laden with food, new clothes and books. It was a long a troubled journey home, but I was certainly glad to be back and glad to see Penny again.

Saturday

Ah, blessed weekend! Saturday was a busy day, consisting of picking up a new company mobile, a new computer part-paid by the company and, when Penny finished work, we went and had a lovely meal at The Swan, which is on the Basingstoke Canal. Next we had the Aldershot Fireworks Extravaganza, or whatever it was called, which was actually excellent. And finally, Di’s housewarming where I most anti-socially drank Di’s wine and spent most of the evening talking to someone with fairly balanced views on paganism.

Sunday

Virtually nothing happened today. Thank the gods…

Monday

Monday morning began ridiculously early, so I could catch a morning flight to Hannover. My weekends are more precious than ever now that I’m home less, so there was no way I was going to agree to flying out on Sunday night. Thankfully the company paid for cabs for everyone, which was a relief as it meant I wouldn’t have to try and negotiate public transport at stupid-o’clock.

Upon arrival, work began in earnest with a couple of workshops to run. The destination at the end of the day? The hotel bar of course!

Tuesday

Take away the travel, Tuesday was identical to Monday. Workshop, after workshop, hour after hour. By now though a pattern is emerging in the meals. Every single lunchtime and every single evening meal there is some variant of having a choice of either pork, fish and/or vegetables. There had been some cost-saving going on and we had a restricted menu, differing each mealtime only the cut of pork and the type of fish. Every single meal except breakfast. Blegh. Only one thing for it… Off to the hotel bar!

Wednesday

Ah, more workshops. More pork. More fish. But at least the evening was different this time and some entertainment was arranged. In the hotel of course, which I still hadn’t left by this point. It was starting to feel like Hotel California. “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.”

The bowling, for such was the entertainment, ended up being an adequate diversion, but not the main one of the night. That coveted title went to a somewhat inebriated manager who began his somewhat drunken escapades by getting much drunker by doing a couple of tequila slammers. Not in the usual fashion though. His particular technique was to snort the salt and pour the lemon in his eye before downing his (generous) shots. It still wasn’t over though. Not content with pawing and, in some cases literally, chasing some of the women from the project team around the bar he decided it was time do his part of international relations. He put his left hand on his top lip (so as to impersonate a moustache) and began goose-stepping up and down the bar, bellowing “Eins, zwei, drei, bier!”. In a German bar. In Germany. In front of a room full of Germans.

Oops!

I forgot to blog this last week: Last weekend Penny went to visit her Dad and his wife, Betty. They had just returned from a trip to Italy and wished to regale Penny, her sister Donna and Donna’s husband Andy with their tales of Venice. Sadly for Betty the trip was made less pleasant by a comobination of factors. Firstly, it was rather expensive; Secondly although Betty apparently likes to emerge herself in the culture of her holiday destinations, found that language was somewhat of a barrier to this. But the third, and worst, thing that ruined Venice? Those ghastly Germans! They were everywhere!

Now, I should point out at this point that within Penny’s family only her sisters know of the fact that she is seeing me. Her ‘rents have no idea and, to be honest, this suits me fine. My parents are enough of a handful, quite frankly!

So after Betty rops her clanger about those ghastly Germans, it goes quiet for a second while Donna and Andy look over at Penny to see how she reacts to this statement.

Penny’s face goes deadly serious and launches into “Oh, I agree, those Germans, they’re awful! Oh no, the Germans! They’re just horrible!” She has so much fun with this that Andy and Donna join in as soon as they know it’s safe, encouraging Betty to more and more extreme statements against Germans, before they al finally tire of the game. To cap it all, Donna manages a venom-filled “And we certainly wouldn’t one of them in our family!”

On Penny’s return to Aldershot, she managed to exercise levels of restraint that were superhuman (for her) by waiting at least 2 minutes before spilling the whole story out. Most amusing! However, she did deliver a vicious taunt too… Her souvenir was a mug, labelled Bardolino. Why is this a taunt? I’m very fond of a bottle of Bardolino wine which can be hard to get hold of in shops. Grrr….

Personally I blame the Germans…

Weekend was a good one. Penny and I had been together for a year on Saturday, so we went out for a meal and went to see ‘The Corpse Bride‘ a Tim Burton movie in the style of ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’, which was muchly enjoyed.

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Blogged mainly for those people with an interest in economics, Germany or both. Quite an interesting report on Germany’s economy in the days before Chancellor Schroeder loses his job.

I’ve long felt that Germany needs to revamp it’s labour laws significantly to get back to being the powerful economy they were before unification. And the mindset needs to change; Most countries seek foreign investment to bolster their economy, but Germany resists this passionately, seeing it almost as an invasion. Recall when Vodafone wanted to buy Mannesman, a diverse German manufacturing company, just so it could grab it’s mobile wing and flog the rest. The entire country was up in arms, it was the first successful hostile take-over of a German company by a foreign investor. I believe this mindset must change to make the economy more dynamic.

But then I’m hardly a trained economist!