SEMers Visit Germany

By Don Kleist

Shortly after 2 p.m. on Wednesday, October 27, we began to assemble at Detroit’s Metro airport, 25 of us who would spend the next 9 days together on a trip through Germany. Some of us know each other, but no all. At that time we were a bunch of people who would be together for several days.

We waited for boarding, then were off on a 7 1/2 hour flight to Frankfort, arriving tired but eager. After stumbling through immigration and baggage claim we boarded the bus that would take us 1500 miles through southern Germany and into Austria and France.

We visited big cities, Munich, Nuremberg, and Stuttgart, and small cities, Bad Windsheim, Rothenburg, and Wolfach. We visited castles, churches, ancient city walls, and factories. We experienced life in big, modern cities, which is not unlike like in big American cities, and in old, small towns that date back thousands of years, where life for many is not much different than it was centuries ago. We saw the Porsche factory in Zuffenhausen and the BMW factory in Munich, as modern as they come. We also visited a glass factory where glass objects are hand blown and saw a man cutting his field with a scythe.

We drove by a small Army base where Linda Wainstreet lived in the early 1960s and experienced the cold War first hand. We visited the stadium in Nuremberg where Hitler held many of his rallies. Our route took us through the fertile farmlands of southern Germany, by fields of corn, sugar beets, rapeseed, from which we get canola oil, wine grapes, and even tobacco.

We crossed rivers on bridges as modern in construction as any in the world and entered old cities through covered archways only a meter or so wider than our bus. We had a superb lunch of beef tenderloin in the Porsche customer lounge and ate wurst and kraut bought from vendors in market plazas.

And who can forget Oktoberefest? Fourteen days of PARTY! (This year there were two extra days because of a national holiday.) For the two weeks ending on the first Sunday in October, Munich parties. Originally a wedding feast for the Crown Prince, later King Ludwig I, Oktoberfest has been held since 1810. Today it attracts more than 6 million visitors yearly, who consume nearly 1.5 million liters of specially brewed beer, 60,000 bottles of wine, 500,000 chickens, 360,000 sausages, and much more. Outside on the grounds is a carnival-midway like those found at state fairs, only on a much larger scale. Inside, there are 14 beer tents that range in size form a relatively cozy 3,400 seats to 9,300 seats in the largest.

We were crammed in like sardines. Beer, wine, singing and dancing on the tables. And smiles everywhere. The emotion was infectious. I have been to some great parties in my time. But nothing compares to Oktoberfest! Thousands of people mixed with thousands of liters of beer and wine, extremely cramped space, and nothing but smiles, singing and laughter. It was truly an amazing experience.

Yes, the “things” were grand and beautiful, often breathtaking, and many times, especially those of the Nazi era, a somber reminder that not all of history involves the best that man can produce. But above all, we experienced genuine warmth and hospitality throughout Germany.

From the smiling woman who greeted me at breakfast the first morning with a stream of German I did not understand, but who ended with the magic word, “kaffee,” to the young women who served us at Oktoberfest, to the innkeeper in Oberammergau who described the four generations of her family who still take part in the Passion Plays, to our guide through the Porsche factory, to the winemaker, who, with four family members, runs a 40,000 bottle per year winery, we found that the people made our trip memorable.

We had a busy 9 days. We experienced a lot together and we became great friends. At the end we were a group of 25 close friends. We shared an experience none of us will forget. I am sure most of us feel that we will be back.

For those who want to read my annotated diary of the trip and view many, many more pictures, click here.

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