Friday, October 29, 2010

Surprising Germany

I recently spent two weeks traveling across the waist of Germany and despite arriving on the final day of Oktoberfest didn't hear a single oom-pah band. Saw no dirndls or lederhosen either.

Oh there was beer galore but where my trip began in the Rhine valley - Dusseldorf, Cologne, Bonn - karneval, what we think of as Mardi Gras, is much more important. Unlike Louisiana's version, where male krewes lead the way, in Germany the women take center stage for high-jinks.

Surprised? So was I, but it was just one of many experienced.

There are truisms that you will encounter all over Germany so here are a few to orient you.

Bathrooms. TIP: Levelers, watch that beer consumption because bathrooms are inevitably upstairs or downstairs from where you drink and dine. Even in hotels. The older the building the more challenging the stairs. No lifts either.

Often you will encounter a closed door with the sign "Restrooms". This is not usually a unisex one-seater as you might expect. If it's unlocked, open the door and you will find separate facilities for Herren and Damen.

Pronunciation. Can be as you expect - umlauts over a letter mean to stretch it out - or counter-intuitive as in ie and ei.  When you see ie think long e - eee; when you see ei it's long i - as in eye.

Tipping. Not really expected so forget the 10-20 percent bit; just round up, but don't leave the change on the table. Hand it to your server.

Tip: Always inquire about lifts, elevators, because Europeans count floors beginning with zero. Their second floor is our third.

Sleeping. Is your pillow too big? Ask for a fritzie.

Bars. If there's a rainbow sign outside, it's a gay bar. If one of waves, it's a lesbian bar.

Beer houses. The server will slap down a coaster under your glass. Leave it and you will be brought refills. Turn the coaster over if you don't want any more. When toasting with steins, clink bottoms; less likely to chip than the thinner rims.

Food. Seeking organic? Look for bio.

Next: Duesseldorf.


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