Tuesday, December 04, 2001

O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum

O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum

Another home, another breakfast to get used to. We have a buffet of ham, nasty looking sliced meats that probably have names like blood sausage, head cheese, and other vicious names as well as ingredients. The rolls are little Kaiser rolls with and without poppy seeds, orange juice, coffee, yogurt, chesses, and soft-boiled eggs. Soft-boiled eggs are really gross looking and I could not stand to eat one with all of that slime dripping all around the shell. People who eat them are probably the same ones who eat mussels, clams raw, and thrived on picking their nose and eating their own gooey buggers as a kid. You won’t catch me eating any of it.

The walls of the hotel are lined with pictures of Maria Callas. I just noticed this this morning when going downstairs to the breakfast room. All of this because she stayed here. Thankfully, Elvis, Ronald Reagan, and the Pope passed over the hotel. I don’t think I could look any of them in the face and then have to eat breakfast on an empty stomach.

It is beginning to look a lot like Christmas. The Germans make up for what the Dutch lacked in decorating for the holiday. There are trees decorated all over the squares and there is a map specifically showing the location of all of the nativity sets on display around the city. This must be the difference between a Catholic city and a Protestant one.

Trying to get into the Christmas spirit, we had bought some Christmas cards at a multi-charity sale in Bath, England while we were there and decided we had better get them mailed from Germany. We had to narrow it down to important people who don’t have e-mail, so if you don’t get one, don’t feel unimportant. It seems that our English cards are two hairs too big for the normal rate of the German Postal Service. Each card cost $1.50 in postage, the Christmas postcard we bought in Holland cost $1.00 each in postage and we had to send Ron’s sister-in-law the books we bought. If we chose first class mail, it would have cost over $15.00 for the postage, so Mary Ellen, you will have a jump on next year since the books are coming via illegal immigrants at a much lower rate. It cost us close to forty dollars just for postage and I still had nine cards I had not addressed yet. So if there was a chance we were going to relax and send out more, it went out the window.

We thought it would be fun to see the other Christmas fairs, so we walked along the Rhine River to the medieval fair. They charged at this one, but it was only three marks each, a little over a $1.00. We thought it would be a hoot since we used to go to the Renaissance fair every year in California, only here they were supposedly speaking in medieval German. It didn’t sound any different to us. The fair was tiny and we covered it in a half hour. Like our fairs, there were more jewelry booths than anything else. Have you ever noticed that the jewelry at these things always looks alike and is always the same as every other time you have seen a jewelry booth at a fair? Yet, people line up to look, try on, and buy the same tired jewelry that has been mass produced in a little village in China by ten year old children that are not allowed to attend school, because the world wide demand is still too overwhelming to lay them off. If people want to be original and express themselves, why are they buying mass-produced jewelry at a fair?

The donkey was cute in his little shed, trying to open the gate to eat the hay that the sheep had. He never succeeded, poor thing. We could have provided a meal just from what stuck to the bottoms of our boots, since it was muddy and they spread hay to avoid a lawsuit from clumsy tourists who may slip and fall. There was no jousting, no Queen’s buns, no knights in shining armor, what the hell kind of renaissance fair was this anyway? They did not even have Christmas decorations. Music started pouring out of a loudspeaker that was hidden from view. “Frosty the Snowman” and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” was neither medieval or German. I want my mark back. The best thing was the woman who was baking bread in a clay oven. The smells were incredible. Ron stood in front of the oven and wafted the odors to his nose to show the woman his appreciation, but I know she was thinking, “Don’t just smell it, buy a loaf you cheap %&(%.”

Across the street from the disappointment of a fair, is the Museum for Sports and Olympics. Well you know you won’t catch me dead in a place like that for seeing the exhibits, but there were hundreds of people coming and going, so we thought that there might just be a real Christmas fair inside. The gift shop was where all of the action was and it was jamming with people buying candy. The entire place was so filled with candy, it could keep a bulimic busy for weeks just by sampling the different varieties. Any kind of candy you could possibly want was for sale. Bins upon bins were overflowing with loose candy in the shapes of worms, frogs, bananas, cigarettes, troll snot like in Harry Potter, and then there were the chocolates again. There were chocolate Santas, chocolate Sarottis, chocolate reindeer, and chocolate shapes that will never come close to this mouth, I can assure you. People were filling baskets like there was warning of a famine starting next week. I would like to know the statistics of Germans that die in a diabetic coma by New Years. All right, I admit I am jealous because I can’t taste chocolate. To me it is like eating earwax, but hey, what gives here?

Thinking that every church has its own Christmas fair, we walked back through town looking for churches, Ron with his trusty little map in hand. We found plenty of churches that were probably run by heathens, since they did not respond to the materialistic nature of Christmas by having a fair. So, we stopped at one of the drop down dead for type bakeries that has cakes, cookies, pastries, and breads that look like the Keebler Elf baked them before he went commercial. Just looking at these goodies could cause tooth decay, but willing to risk it, we jumped in there. After I ordered this rolled pastry that was filled with crushed poppy seeds and had a white glaze frosting on top and two teas, Ron was still deciding. There really were too many choices, so I can’t fault him for taking too much time this time, but when he did order the cherry crumb cake, there was a line of ten people behind him and the clerk had just enough time to fill out her retirement forms.

We must have come on day old day or the clerk gave us the fake cakes that are kept for show only. You know the kind, like the fake food in refrigerators in the stores, the ones that are marked “For display only, do not try to consume this”. Both of our cakes were like stone. Ron went to get the milk meant for coffee or tea and poured it on his. After the once full pitcher was emptied and there was no trace of it ever existing on his cake, he tried pitcher number two. That cake had a porosity that would shame a sponge. If they could bake it thinner, they could sell it to hotels as towels.

Looking out the window, while using a hammer and chisel on our pastry choices, I noticed a man with a miniature jet black pony standing on the corner. I give the guy credit for taking his pony for a walk, but he had his hand out and wanted change, presumably for pony chow. If he can’t afford to keep a pony, perhaps he needs to downgrade this pets to maybe a hamster for starters and then work his way up from there. It is a sin to shame the pony into showing the world that he comes from such a deprived home that he needs to stand on street corners to cull coins from strangers. This is not the first time I have seen this in Germany, but I have never seen it anywhere else. Once in Berlin, this man had a water buffalo on the street corner. Being amazed that anyone would own a water buffalo outside of Asia, I took his picture. He demanded five marks for the privilege. I only paid it because the water buffalo gave me a look as if to say, “Please, pay it. You can go on your way, but I have to go home with him.” Another year, I saw a man sitting on a bison of the North American kind. He was sitting there on the corner like they were waiting for a taxi and it was the most natural thing in the world. I reached again for my camera, but resisted only since I did not know how much control he had on the bison from the driver’s seat. As these memories are flashing through my mind, my thoughts are interrupted by yet another man walking a brown and white pony down the street. God bless the German, they do love animals.

Walking back toward the hotel, we passed dozens of stores that were closed. I could not understand this since it was during the week and during the day. Stopping to read the signs with what German I could make sense of, they close from 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm every day for lunch. That was disappointing since 3:00 to 5:00 pm are the best napping hours of the day. It doesn’t leave much time for browsing and in Cologne, window shopping is the only entertainment. For a recovering shop-a-holic, this city can be devastating. The pedestrian shopping mall is about twelve blocks in one direction, and then there are pedestrian only streets that jut off of this in every direction. Once you leave that area, there are dozens of other shopping areas to peruse. Even in my prime shop until you drop days, it would take me about four days to shop and drop to cover the entire offerings of stores without going into the same store twice and without a coffee or tea break either. Now that was with the dedication of a trained professional shopper, which should not be attempted by amateurs. Yet will all of this, have we seen anything that we could not live without? No! Even the Christmas things are the same as you see in the States that are marked “Made in Germany” or “Made in China”. I always hated combing the markets and stores for those rare finds that no one has ever seen at home before. You pay more than your good sense tells you you should, buy an extra suitcase to fit it in, lug it to the airport, pay extra for the extra weight, only to have it turn up a week later in Pier One or Cost Plus for $5.00 less than you paid for it.

Later in the evening we did search out another Christmas fair. It was really a huge one, but the set up was similar to the one by our hotel. Pine booths put together for the festive occasion to sell food and goods and not leave a trace by December 24th. Again, there was nothing spectacular to be found at any of these fairs. The one we went to in Berlin, nine years ago was smaller, but the goods for sale would have embarrassed these in Cologne. We did settle for three freshly made potato pancakes that we shared. Ron finished his dinner by eating a wurst of some variety with green cabbage that was like St. Patrick’s Day green and mixed with potato and onion. Whether I can taste or not, the sight is the psychological factor and I went off for shredded pork with garlic sauce in a large home baked bread. It looked marvelous and Ron taste tasted both giving them each a thumbs up.

At the Internet café, I have been trying desperately to find a room for us for a couple of nights in Salzburg, another city Ron wanted to see before heading to Budapest. Again, no luck, they are all full unless we want to spring for $250.00 a night. I think not. I would be thrown head first out of the Budget Traveler’s Guild for sure. I am sure they would not buy the fact that I am a multiple personality and my extravagant alter personality booked it and I had no clue. The next try was Vienna, but that was not looking good either, since Vienna makes New York City look like the Budget Capital of the World. So we are spending $6.00 an hour at a computer trying to find where we are going to lay our heads come the morning of the 6th, with little positive results. We decide we need to stay in Cologne one more night to give us time to reconnoiter our plans. In the meanwhile, our friend Myrtis, who is in northern Slovakia with her husband Randall, wants us to come visit them before going to Budapest. “It is a short flight or a straight shot on the train from Prague”, she wrote. Besides being short on time, since we have an appointment with the rental agent in Budapest on Monday, we don’t fly with two tons of luggage unless they are evacuating the country we happen to be in. Negotiating this luggage on the train is another reason to call in the Red Cross for disaster relief assistance. There is no way, as much as we love them that we are going to visit with anything more than a carry-on that is half filled with air. Anyway, her daughter is coming to visit and is flying into Vienna, so Myrtis and Rachel, possibly Randall too, will be stopping at our apartment to spend the night before continuing on to Slovakia, so we will have to wait to see them then. Hopefully, we can find a good chiropractor before then.

I finished “McCarthy’s Bar” last night and I highly recommend it. It was very witty and for me it was fun since we saw many of the things in Ireland that he writes about. You need not have traveled to Ireland, be Irish, or even like green to appreciate it. Ron had spotted it originally in England, but didn’t get it. In Holland, he was still regretting the decision, but I was still trying to dissuade him from looking for it since another ten ounces could be what broke the camel’s back. Feeling guilty, I found it at the American bookstore and we bought. No, lectures, yes, I am glad I did now get over it.

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