Chapter 55: Stuttgart and Schwarzwald

Trip Start Oct 01, 2003
Trip End Nov 2004

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Sunday, September 26, 2004

Jonas and I woke up late on Saturday and had a breakfast of fresh pretzels, nutella, and butter; this became our standard morning feast for the next few days. Then we drove around Stetten shopping for food supplies and toiletries. The town is really cute, but very tiny. Jonas and his father live in a beautiful flat in a complex with a few other families. In the afternoon Jonas and his friend Benjamin had a team table tennis match, so I came along to watch and work on my German studies book for a few hours. I'm always amazed by how fast table tennis players can react, and Jonas was quite good despite his protests that he was out of practice. That evening while eating dinner (local noodles and pasta pockets called "maultauschen") we watched a German TV show called "The Top 100 Most Annoying Summer Hits of All Time," which was predictably hilarious; I was just glad that half of the Euro-trash offerings never made it to the US.

At 10:30pm we drove to Jonas' friend Andy's place; Andy is a gay flight attendant, and the idea was for the two of them to take me out that night and show me the Stuttgart scene. First we hung out at Andy's for an hour or so, because he has two adorable ball pythons that I couldn't pull myself away from. While we were there, Jonas presented me with an amazing gift: two professionally bound and printed hardcover books filled with photos from my digital camera from our time together in Southeast Asia. I was so moved I almost cried; the books were beautiful and obviously expensive, and made me miss our Asian travels in a painful way. We left around midnight and had a drink at a quiet bar before moving on to the hot spot in town: King's Club. I loved the place immediately. It was small-ish, but still packed in 3+ bars, a sizeable dancefloor, and a lounge. The guys were very attractive (all 20-something preppy with good hair), and the vibe was just really fun. We stayed until 3-something drinking and chatting, and then took off; I decided I'd have to return the following weekend on my own.

We got up at noon on Sunday, and Jonas' father cooked us an excellent afternoon dinner of lamb, mushrooms, rice, and veggies. Guess I'm officially back on the red meat now, to some extent. That afternoon Jonas' friend Nadia came over, and we looked at photos from Jonas' adventures in Indonesia. He got to see the Komodo dragons, which made me jealous. Nadia was a fun girl; she'd been on an internet date the previous night, and it had gone horribly wrong. I could relate. The three of us met Benjamin and some of his siblings/friends for pizza that night, and then went for drinks at a cool bar called CBC (or BCB?). It was cool just hanging out with friendly Germans in their own scene, and getting to practice my language skills with such patient teachers.

Monday Jonas took me into Stuttgart and showed me around. I like the downtown area a lot, even though it's not super-big. The pedestrian shopping street, Konigstrasse, is very long and scenic, and it features every kind of store you could need. The city looks prosperous, which it probably owes to the major auto manufacturers in town (like Daimler-Chrysler). I bought some CDs, naturally: Killers (on U.S. import!) and Finn Brothers. We got tired from walking around by 5, so we returned to Jonas' place and ate leftover lamb and watched movies. One of them, "Der Schuh des Manitou," was a German comedy western by the same troupe responsible for the current German hit Star Trek parody "Periode 1." THAT film has spawned the annoying but hilarious hit song "Space Taxi;" download the video and be thankful for the waters that divide.

My stay in Stuttgart was pretty relaxed, as you might have noticed, but it was great to be able to chill out in a homey place for a few days. Jonas' father was gone for most of my stay, so we had the apartment to ourselves and could sleep late and be lazy. Tuesday's big outing was a trip to the doctor so that Jonas could get his ear checked out. After his appointment we stopped by the Aldi store for snacks. Aldi is a German chain that sells re-packaged brand name goods at discount prices. I'm not sure how that works, exactly, but supposedly the system has made the Aldi creators the richest guys in Germany. For dinner I treated Jonas to a meal at the restaurant where his brother works. It was a cool place with a loyal group of regulars and a casual atmosphere. When we got back to the apartment, I spent an hour stewing over whether I should buy a Eurail pass or not (I decided not), and then we watched "The Butterfly Effect," which got both of us thinking, despite its faults.

After breakfast on Wednesday I packed up my stuff, and Jonas drove me to the train station. My plan was to leave him alone for a few days so he could prepare for school, and then meet him on Sunday so we could travel to Switzerland together to spend a few days with our friend Christian. Rather than be over-ambitious, I decided to spend a few days checking out the surrounding region - specifically the Schwarzwald, or Black Forest. My frist stop, however, was the famous university town of Heidelberg, which is an hour+ north of Stuttgart.

I arrived on the train at 4pm, and it was grey and cold and drizzly. The hostel was way out on the edge of town, so I took a bus out there, checked in, and then took the bus back downtown. By the time I was walking down the main shopping street it was fully raining, so I hopped from store to store and tried to admire the quaint old town through the raindrops. The ruined schloss (palace) overlooking the city seemed impressive from the street, but I couldn't be bothered going up in the rain; I figured I could go up the next morning before leaving town if the weather improved. I had dinner at a Thai restaurant, and then spent the night writing in my journal and listening to new CDs (love the Killers). On the bus on the way back to the hostel I met a funny group of American couples in their 50's or so; they were a little drunk and insisted on hearing all about my travels for the duration of the ride. It was cute.

The weather was still crappy on Thursday, so I went straight to the train station and bought a ticket to Freiburg, in the heart of the Schwarzwald. The ride there was a little disappointing; I expected to pass through lots of spooky Hansel & Gretel-style deep dark forests, but instead I got farms and towns and a few trees here & there. Luckily Freiburg made up for the journey with loads of atmosphere and tree-covered hills. Once I got to town I headed to the tourist office, and asked (in German!) if they could call the hostel and inquire about a bed for me. They assured me there was space, and sent me on my way with a map which made it look like the hostel was just on the outskirts of town.

The map lied. The walk took about 45 minutes, and I thought I was halfway back to Stuttgart when I finally got to the enormous building in the forest. German hostels are a little different from other hostels I've encountered. They tend to be filled exclusively with young school groups or university students, and there are hardly any backpackers staying there. That makes them somewhat lonelier than comparable hostels in Oz, New Zealand, Asia, or the rest of Europe, for that matter. On the bright side, I did get to work on my German some more in Freiburg, as one of my roommates was a student from Hamburg who spoke no English. He overestimated my grasp of the language, and launched right into a conversation about the death penalty in various US states.

Having learned my lesson (and earned sore feet) on the walk to the hostel, I took the tram back downtown after dumping my bags, and set about looking for internet access and food. Downtown Freiburg was awesome: a winding maze of medieval streets, painted tower gates, and half-timbered houses. It would have been nicer if the sun had come out once or twice during my stay, but oh well. Finding the internet proved futile, as the only place I could locate (after hours of looking and asking) was having connection problems. Wandering around Freiburg was a blast, though, and I had an excellent dinner of Nurnburgerwurste, bauerbrot, and sauerkraut at a popular Hofbrauhaus.

Friday I slept in and then ventured downtown again for a productive day. The first stop was the post office, where I sent my new photo books home along with some money that I owed mom. Then I bought a phone card, called the tiny Museumstube hotel in Stuttgart, and booked a single room for Saturday night - 100% auf Deutsch. For some reason this made me very proud. Next I played tourist and visited the famous Freiburg Munster. I climbed countless steps to the top of the gothic cathedral tower and was rewarded with a beautiful view of the area. One of the 7,000kg bells went off right beside me while I was up there, and I almost fell down the stairs in fright.

It was still bleak and grey yesterday. I took the train back to Stuttgart and checked into my hotel, which was right in the center of the city about two blocks from King's Club. In the afternoon I walked a few kilometers to do laundry at a place called "Waschbar," and while I was waiting for my clothes I picked up supplies for a picnic dinner in my hotel room. I browsed the H&M and Zara stores, and when I got back to the hotel I called Jonas, and agreed to call him around 1 on Sunday so we could meet up. Then I dove into my smorgasbord of chicken & turkey slices, bread, mustard, cheese, "Bifi" (prepackaged wurst-jerky rolled in bread), and mini bottles of wine.

I got to King's Club at 12 or so, and it was half empty. By 1 it was packed, though, and I had a fun night dancing and making small talk with the hotties until 5. It was a little depressing, though, because I missed my chance with the one really cute guy who I had lots of eye contact and smiles with... his ugly friend spoke English and started talking to me every time I came near, and while this was going on some other guy came in and stole my boy away! Grrr. I overslept this morning, but luckily I'd packed last night so I was able to check out on time even though I only had 5 minutes to get ready. Ate a hung over brunch of turkey cordon bleu at the Wienerwald restaurant, and next I'll meet Jonas around 2. Then it's off to Switzerland! Talk to you soon...

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