Even though the conference was held about two miles from our offices, security at work was greatly tightened. I half expected to get stopped for taking two plants up to my office after a late night of shopping (that Aloe Vera plants *could* be hiding something). But, at work, there was nary a protester in sight during the two weeks of the conference. Therefore, a group of co-workers and myself decided we would riot on one of our lunch hours, so that all this extra security wasn't for naught.
My question to you all was this -- when I throw the trash can through the front window of McDonald's, what should I yell? Your responses, starting with my two own ideas:
"Down with Chicken McNuggets!"Don't worry, Mom -- we didn't actually protest anything. But we did, indeed, go down and have a look at the conference. It was pretty dead, actually. Maybe because it was lunch time, because it was about to rain, because it was the second day of the conference, and/or because all the really lively protesters were down in Italy for the G8 summit. As Friday is dress down at work, we all looked like protesters in our jeans (and me with a flannel shirt), so it was interesting to see how closely our badges got scrutinized whenever we went through check point after check point after check point after check point. We walked around in the official conference area for a while, but it was quite dull. So we headed over to the NGO and Press area to see if it was more lively there. It wasn't. No music, no yelling, no drumming, no chanting -- everyone was eating instead -- all the lively stuff happened earlier in the day. And the booth handing out the "Support the Kyoto Accord" buttons was all out of them.
"How dare you tear down that historic house in Henderson, Kentucky to build a McDonald's?!"
"how the hell can you make french fries without lard???"
"there ain't no milk in yer shakes!!!"
"In France they call it a Royale -- what's your excuse for Quarter Pounders?"
"80% of Americans prefer the Whopper!"
"Death to the Hamburglar!"
"Serve over 99 Billion THIS!"
"There ain't nothing happy about these meals!"
"Down with the clown!"
"Two big heart attacks, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on some five day old buns!"
"Support your animal killers! Eat here!"
"Now serving McMad Cow Disease!"
"We love to serve you shit!"
"Food, folks, and indigestion!"
The World Wildlife Fund had a really interesting display -- perhaps you've seen it on the news? -- of world made entirely of ice, slowly melting away. I got a great poster from the Greenpeace press office that says "Visit America: Home of the Climate Killers" with a picture of the Shrub (GB) in front of the American flag and lots of pollution. It's now in my office at work (be sure to check out the Greenpeace's Flash contest; a guy at work did the music for the winning entry).
There was a big protest the following Saturday, and I had wanted to go and watch, but I was out waaaaay too late the previous Friday night: two co-workers got married a while back and they had a party for their friends in this terribly quaint Inn, Haus Schlesien, in the village of Heisterbacherrott. This is all on the other side of Königswinter, which is across the Rhein from where I live. During the drive on the long, winding road, I saw a church that was mostly destroyed, probably during WWII. Part of it is still up and there's now what looks like a monastery next to it and around it. It's quite beautiful. Everything is so green. There are forests everywhere in this part of the world. We passed a corn field and I got homesick for a second. One of the cool things about Haus Schlesien is that, out in the courtyard, there was a "Hunde Bar" -- a place outside for dogs to get refreshment. I love Germany, if for no other reason that they love dogs!!!
The following Sunday, I went to Trier, a charming German town on the border with Luxembourg, sitting sweetly on the Moselle River. It has a population of around 100,000, but it feels much, much smaller. According to Lonely Planet: Germany, Trier shares the title of "Germany's oldest town" with Worms. It was founded by the Romans as Augusta Terverorum in 15 B.C. In the Third Century, it became the capital of the Western Roman Empire and the residence of emperors, including Constantin the Great.
There are more Roman ruins clustered here than anywhere else north of the Alps. It's why UNESCO named Trier a World Heritage Site. Trier is also the birthplace of Karl Marx; he lived here until he was 17, when he went to study at the University of Bonn.
Trier's main attractions are Porta Nigra, an imposing second century city gate that was once part of a 6.4 KM-long Roman wall. It's made from giant blocks of blackened sandstone, held together by iron clamps (no mortar was used to construct the original fortress). In the 11th Century, it was turned into a church, and you can see all sorts of Christian facades that were placed over the Roman walls in later years. We decided to have fun picturing manly Roman guards going up and down wooden ladders and steps in their little Roman skirts... You can read lots more about Porta Nigra, as see lots of good pictures, on the official web site (had to take mine down -- needed the room for newer photos).
We walked by the 14th St. Gangolf Kirche and the cathedral Dom, but didn't have time to make it inside either, nor of any of the many, many museums, which are supposed to be quite spectacular.
The house where Karl Marx lived most of his life in Trier is within spitting distance of Porta Nigra, but hard to find, as it's marked only by a simple plaque above the sign of the shop that's there now. The house where he was born has been preserved and turned into a museum and study center. There's a larger study center annex down the street, and the bus stop is named for him as well. This official Karl Marx house was the highlight of the trip for me. I'm no Communist (I love money and owning things myself too much). It's just that I gotta love a guy that encouraged us all to stick it to the Man! Plus, the only folks that hate Fascists as much as me are Communists. The house is fascinating and definitely worth a visit if you are in town. They have a film that plays continuously, in German, then French, then English, plus lots and lots of photos and artifacts. I meant to ask the people working there if they were in a union (grin ). There's a small statue of Marx and Engels in one of the rooms; Marx has his hand somewhat extended out, and open. The day we were there, someone had put a 10 pfennig coin in his hand. Ha Ha. Read more about the Karl Marx Haus on the official site.
We stopped by the massive Fourth Century ruins of the Kaiserthermen (Imperial Thermal Baths), but there was a big fair and performance ("Medea") in preparation, so we couldn't go in. These are the largest Roman baths outside of the city of Rome itself, with an area measuring 260 x 145m). As we walked past, Alexandra got in a 007 mood and started talking into her secret transmitter, reporting our movements. We had a few shoot outs as we crossed under the pedestrian tunnel on our way to the Amphitheater. It was once capable of holding 15,000 - 20,000 spectators (depending on which guidebook you adhere to). There were gladiator tournaments, forced fights between prisoners, and animal fights, usually on the same bill. You can go down into the dank cellars through the middle of the arena, where once were kept prisoners, caged animals and corpses. The performance space is lovely -- I was really impressed -- and this was the second highlight of the trip... but I got really sad midway through the visit there, thinking about all of the terrified, starving animals -- bears, lions, tigers, whatever -- tortured as they were brought to Germany for people's entertainment, and if they didn't die in transit, they were killed slowly and painfully in the arena, by each other or by a gladiator. Shameful. Sinful. And don't you tell me "that's just the way people were back then." I don't buy it. They just didn't care -- their arrogance blinded them. What does our arrogance blind us from now? Anyway, you can read and see more about the Amphitheater on the official site (and see better pictures of the stuff that I'm talking about than I took).
Trier is definitely worth a return trip.
I ended the month with a Sunday bike tour. My goal was to go as far South as I could and still make it back before 5 -- without falling over with exhaustion. I hit the road just before 10 a.m. After just a few meters, I remembered that I didn't have my bike gloves. But I didn't feel like going back, so I headed onward. I'd been as far South as Unkel, but not father. Since I had ridden the first part of this route before, I made incredible time -- I got to to the side of the river opposite Unkel in under an hour. As I looked over the Rhein at the village, the church bells began to ring. It was incredibly hazy out -- most buildings that weren't right on the shoreline were just dark outlines the horizon. As I rounded the curb, I saw the dark outline of the Remagen cathedral. It's amazing that it wasn't destroyed in the war. As I approached the city, another church let loose its bells -- it was a cacophony of sound. What a way to start a morning.
I stopped to rest on a park bench, had some water and an apple, and decided to head up to a city street to see a little more of the city. I found an interesting memorial, but I had no idea for what. Something to do with Mercedes Benz? Later, a friend explained:
I was perusing your Germany photos and came across one particular shot of a monument in which you inquired who the gentleman was in the caption. You should have known better than put that hook out for a MAS (male answer syndrome) individual like myself. Here's a bio on Mr. Caracciola.....
RUDOLF CARACCIOLA was born in the town of Remagen, Germany in 1901 the son of parents who originally came from Italy. He won his first car race at the age of 22. He worked as a salesman at newly formed Daimler-Benz and was allowed to race on weekends if the race was within driving distance of the Dresden agency. He won the first Grand Prix of Germany at age 25, even though his car stalled on the finish line, he started dead last, and his car broke down again later in the race. Caracciola would gain fame throughout Germany racing a legendary white SSK for Mercedes. He won Mille Miglia, Grand Prix de Monaco, Grand Prix of Tripoli, Coppa Acerbo at Pescara, Spanish Grand Prix, and many other races, as well as holding the World Land Speed Record. He died at the age of 58 in 1959.
There was a street fair near the statue, and I decided to have a closer look. But instead of homemade or folk crafts, it was a kind of Wal-Mart on the street: socks, sun glasses, cheap t-shirts, cleaning products... I moved on quickly and rode a few meters down to what remains of the Remagen Bridge. It was a massive steel structure with four imposing towers, two on either side of the river. Towards the end of WWII, the Germans started frantically destroying all bridges across the Rhein, to keep out the Allied forces. The Germans tried to destroy the Remagen Bridge all the way up until the time the Allies marched across it in 1945. This was the Allies' entry point into Germany, and this important event is marked with several plaques and a simple Friedensmuseum (Peace Museum) in one of the towers. The picture of one of the plaques didn't really come out, but I liked the poem, both in German and English, on it:
Constructed for war
destroyed in war
the towers shall always remind
Here fought the soldiers
of two great nations
Here died the heroes
from near and far
I don't have a map for this area, but one on the wall of the Peace museum showed that Linz was just a little farther South. A co-worker had said Linz was quite charming, so I decided to make that my final destination before turning back. I took a ferry over, and wasn't disappointed -- though I didn't see much, what I did see was, indeed, quite charming. I wonder why it isn't in Lonely Planet? Anyway, I get the impression this village, which starts on the shore of the Rhein and stretches up the hill, is swamped with people on Saturdays, so I'm glad I went on a Sunday. Like so many German villages, one enters through a stone gate. This one, as well as the bridge towers at Remagen, are marked by several "Hochwasser" (high water) plaques. I wanted to take a picture of this old group of Germans standing in front of the gate and pointing to all the little plaques, discussing how they remember these floods, no doubt, but I just knew they'd get mad at me (I have met so many people in Germany who do NOT like their pictures taken!).
The streets of Linz, all closed to cars, are tiny, winding, and lined with typical colorful German buildings. Advice for anyone touring a German village -- or New York City, for that matter -- look up. At least look at the second and third floors. You will see sculptures and ornate facades and bell towers and decorative beer barrels and all sorts of other interesting stuff. You miss out on all sorts of stuff if you just look at things that are eye level.
I found an Italian restaraunt off the beaten path and had a pizza, served by a really gorgeous waiter who called me "Senora." Sigh. I'm sorry, what was I talking about? While I was eating, bells in a nearby square began to play some little tune. Another picturesque moment in Germany...
Foolishly, I had a beer with lunch. The food, plus the beer, plus riding farther than I ever had... I wanted a nap. But I still had to ride all the way home. I pushed on, but much slower than I'd ridden in the morning. I road on the other side of the Rhein, which I did not like much -- part of the way back put me on a really busy street, and I was quite uncomfortable driving in such fast-moving traffic. But I did see some villages I never have before, and I found my way to a tiny ferry on the other side of Unkel, to cross back over the river and onto a more friendly bike trail. I got home at 3... and promptly fell over into my bed with exhaustion. I slept for two hours, then woke up and watched Lance Armstrong accept his third Tour De France title.
I'll end with this -- Jim Morrison Simulatron. Click on the letters to get Jim to dance.
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