Grace on Pace

Tag - Germany

Oktoberfest Rest Stop

Oktoberfest Rest Stop

Oktoberfest Rest Stop – Munich 2016

Somehow with two babies back at home still in diapers, I’m spending an evening in an Oktoberfest beer hall.  Cheers to travel regulations laid out in 14 FAM 584.4, my temporary duty yonder (TDY) has afforded me an evening in Munich on my way to Ankara.

The Oktoberfest has its origins in the year 1810. However, it looked a bit different then, as the first Oktoberfest was a horse-race, held as a part of the wedding festivities of Bavarian King Ludwig I.  This year, much press has been afforded to a ring of steel thrown up around the site at a previously open entrance.  Ultimately I think either way we would be doomed, but sometimes I wonder whether it would be more fun to travel to the past or to the future.  As I dazedly checked into my hotel, I decided to ponder it further with a quick jet lag induced nap.

Recharged, I hit the town in search of oompah, lederhosen, dirndl and lager. Despite this year’s beer being mixed with security concerns, I easily followed the hordes to the world’s largest folk fest.  The beer tents can be summed up as a classic Munich scene.  Despite being a mega party, the pavilions themselves create a special Bavarian coziness and knack for savoring the moment.

After surveying the scene in a few of the tents, I finally found an empty sliver at the end of one of the Paulaner festival hall tables.  Knowing I had to wake up early for my flight to Ankara, I leaned over to my table mate and politely questioned whether they sold half-liters. “This is a Biergarten, not a kindergarten!!” he yelled over the polka music.  Instantly, I was spending an evening in a frothy beer hall, clinking mugs with new friends, immersed in a boisterous and belching Bavarian atmosphere.

As I sat fuzzily in the terminal waiting for my morning flight, I returned to my hypothetical time travel dilemma.  Although seeing Ludwig hitched in the year 1810 would be on any one’s bucket list, I concluded going back to the past was out.  If I went back in time I would probably end up wanting to do something to change my present.  On the flip side, seeing a future Octoberfest might seem equally depressing.  After all, it means your future will always be such that you have to muddle through it and absent of pleasures such as finding yourself unexpectedly in Munich.  Stephen Hawking sums it up in an interesting way:

…the best evidence we have that time travel is not possible, and never will be, is that we have not been invaded by hordes of tourists from the future.

In all honesty, after thousands of miles and weeks without a good night’s rest, I had thought very hard about staying in and making it a real rest stop.  In the end though, life is surely to deal us the hard things, and when it deals unexpected ones, this is just a excellent reminder to seize them.  I guess even it means an Oktoberfest “Rest Stop”…haha.


Holiday Season in Berlin

Holiday Season in Berlin
Holiday Season in Berlin

Joining the Foreign Service permits a different kind of travel, by allowing you to become immersed in the local culture for up to three years.  We have traveled all over the world, but until this most recent adventure, never had the fortune to stay in a city more than a few days.  We have always tried to see as much as possible by “hitting” the highlights before jetting off to our next destination.  On my latest assignment, I got my first taste of “slow travel” with a six week temporary duty assignment to Berlin.  Fortunately for me, Jennilou and Esmei agreed to tag along for a holiday season in Berlin.

Setting up shop for our extended stay at the Hotel Otto, it was great to have such a fantastic home for exploring the city.  With Berlin playing host to over sixty Christmas markets annually, one of the highlights of our trip was getting to experience the shops at our leisure throughout the trip.  We also made evening and weekend trips to the Reichstag Building, Brandenburg Gate, Pergamon Museum, The Holocaust Memorial – Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, Gendarmenmarkt, Berlin Cathedral, East Side Gallery, Zoologischer Garten, Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, Charlottenburg Palace, Television Tower, Sony Center, and Hackescher Markt.  The metropolis is certainly charged with political history and reminders of a turbulent 20th-century are everywhere.  It seemed the more highlights we “hit”, the more we discovered existed.

For all the fond memories I have of Berlin, the tragedies which took place in Paris and San Bernardino during our posting will forever distinguish the stay.  Watching thousands of people march past our embassy to pay their respects across the street to the French at the mounting display of candles and flowers will be unforgettable.  I commit to memory the events that evoked an anxiety to bring the girls into crowed Christmas markets.  It’s sad to think about giving any space for fear and intolerance to terrorism and it gives all the more reason to stand together as humanity to uphold our way of life.

Exploring more slowly during our holiday season in Berlin allowed us to form a stronger connection to the place we were visiting.  With plenty of time, we didn’t feel the stress of attempting to knock out every site in our guidebook.  Instead, we stayed long enough to recognize commuting mates, shop in the local markets, and pick our favorite restaurants.  I have come to realize that few societies move as quickly as Americans do, and getting the chance to find myself slowing down a bit over time into the pace of the German culture, was a terrific feeling.

For recaps of the weekend getaways during my latest assignment, check out the following posts below:

Neuschwanstein Castle and Salzburg from Berlin

Neuschwanstein Castle and Salzburg from Berlin
Neuschwanstein Castle and Salzburg from Berlin

Although planned weeks before our arrival to Germany, on our final weekend together, we ventured south from Berlin into Bavaria to visit the Neuschwanstein Castle and Salzburg, Austria.  Nobody knows exactly how many castles and manor houses there are in Germany, but estimates put the number at close to 30,000.  However for us, the Neuschwanstein Castle and accompanying Hohenschwangau Castle were an effortless choice.  Used as the inspiration for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle, the structures have become global symbols for the era of Romanticism.

Although the “fairytale king” commissioned the castle to be perched on the north side of the Alps range, we had a relaxed and enjoyable time with the stroller exploring Ludwig II’s seemingly endless grounds.  As we left, it was interesting to reflect on how the citizens of his time referred to Ludwig as the “Mad King” for overspending on his grand projects, only to have befallen to endearment for the beauty of his projects in Bavaria as the time has passed.

On our way back to Berlin, we decided to take a short detour to the west and visit Salzburg for the afternoon.  The peaceful, glowing Austrian City seemed to be endowed with an old-world charm made famous in The Sound of Music, when the children learned to sing at its landmark Mirabell Palace and Gardens.  Looming from above while we explored Old Town, we couldn’t resist making the hike to Salzburg Fortress (Festung Hohensalzburg) to overlook the city skyline and impeding Alps beyond.  After all this, you could expect we were utterly exhausted and the girls were happy to saw some Z’s on the final stretch back to Berlin.


Berlin to Prague For The Weekend

From Berlin to Prague For The Weekend

For our first side trip during our long-term stay in Germany, we decided to rent a car and self drive Berlin to Prague for the weekend.  We soon learned, the Autobahn is the ultimate in driving altogether.  The roads are excellently designed, built and maintained for high speed driving.  Amenities were numerous along the way and drivers seemed to be uncharacteristically cooperative on the four hour jaunt.

It’s common enough to get lost in European cities, with their narrow, winding streets, but as we slowly rolled past our hotel for a third time, we had to laugh at our unadventurous arrival.  After settling in, wandering aimlessly became a goal in itself.  That evening, we managed to visit the Charles Bridge (Karluv Most), Old Town Square (Staromestske namesti), and the Astronomical Clock (Staromestska Radnice), before stumbling onto a restaurant / playground for Esmei to practice her Czech toddler gab.

In the morning, the staff at Hotel Residence Agnes, offered to give us and our stroller a ride to the Strahov Monastery, so we could simply walk down the hill visiting the St. Vitus Cathedral, Prague Castle (Prazsky hrad), St. Nicholas Cathedral, and Dancing House on our way back to the hotel.  After spending the day in Prague, I am convinced, anyone visiting will find a place where the crush of big crowds will fade away.  It will happen in a park or garden, or even in the middle of the city along its many cobble stone streets.  I take pride in my sense of direction, but loathe the thought of being lost (perhaps stemming from the days my father would plant me in the woods with a rifle and tell me to meet him just over the ridge at nightfall). Prague was different for me, as I was all but happy to lose myself for a few hours.

For us, Prague created that feeling you have when you’re on a great vacation: your stress levels drop and trivial concerns reveal themselves to be just that.  Unfortunately though, what makes Prague spectacular is that so much of what is encountered has been completely obliterated by war in other parts of Europe.  That being said, we feel lucky to have been afforded a visit and would never want to take away from what could be Europe’s most beautiful city.

Berlin to Prague For The Weekend