Rhein in Flammen
May 6, 2001

No, as a matter fact, I still don't know how to work German washing machines. But I'm getting better.

Last night was "Rhein in Flammen" which, you can probably guess, means "Rhein in Flames." So, I'm thinking, geesh, they are going to pour gasoline into the Rhein and light it and throw virgins into it as part of some leftover ancient Germanic or Roman ritual. Cool! It was actually not quite so dramatic. It's an entire day of music and food and stuff down on the Rhein, extending from way South of here to downtown Bonn -- and maybe more, I dunno. The highlight, from what I was told, was fireworks all up and down the river.

I would have gone to all the daytime stuff, but I was out the previous two nights -- on Thursday, out with friends to a Spanish restaurant and then a vodka bar with a Russian communist theme; Friday night, out with friends to hear an Estonian a cappella choir and an orchestra at the University of Bonn followed by a bar called "Pawlow's", playing Johnny Cash and Roger Miller and Nancy Sinatra as mood music. After this, plus shopping all Saturday morning, I was absolutely wiped out by the afternoon.

Around 10:15 p.m. last night, I took the dogs out for a much abbreviated walk, knowing that there would be people and dogs everywhere outside for the big party. Luckily, we happened to encounter only people without dogs. The dogs were resentful of having such an incredibly abbreviated walk (night time is the BIG walk time, but instead of 30 or 40 minutes, tonight we were out for, like, 10). And I couldn't understand what all these men with flashlights were doing in the woods between my apartment complex and the drop to the bike trail and the Rhein down below....

I put the boys back in the apartment and went back outside, heading for the large park next door across Rhein Allee. The sky was bright red -- there was a very high fog outside, and below this red misty canopy, it's quite clear. I reached the line of people looking over the cliff into the river just as the fireworks were going off on our side of the Rhein across from Königswinter, and all of these red flares had been lit up and down the shoreline, mostly behind low hedges, trees and planters, making it look like there were small fires raging along the shore. Drachenfels (the Roman fortress ruins atop the mountain across the river), as well as the trail leading up to it, were all lit up with red flares, as though a great medieval army carrying torches was ascending up the mountainside to lay seige. There were also fireworks going off on top of the hotel on the Rhein near my house. And a massive flotilla of huge pleasure/dinner yachts, each holding between 100 and 400 people, and all outlined in Christmas-type lights, was just passing the port at Rhein Allee.

Cool! Better than sacrificing virgins, definitely.

It really did look like everything was on fire with all the flares going off, even in the little park where I walk the dogs (THAT'S what all those guys with flashlights were doing back there). The crowds along the shore yelled at the crowds on the boats, but always in a festive way, never a rowdy one. It's very much a festive-but-family event. The dozens of boats, all lit up, heading down the Rhein, also all lit up, were really beautiful. Some of the songs coming from the passing boats were interesting -- "Love Shack" by the B52s and "You're The One That I Want" from "Grease."

My guess is that the boats continued on to downtown Bonn, where another fireworks display would happen. And maybe there was even something going on in downtown Bad Godesberg; there's a fortress ruin here too, but you can't see it from the Rhein.

There were lots of people down on the river to watch all this. They obviously have been enjoying the whole day and evening. Across the river, there was a big, BIG party going on. If I had more energy, I would have walked on down to the UN, but I was exhausted.

I wonder what all this is for? I'm sure it's not for the Derby. Or Cinco de Mayo.

I came back and tried to find the Kentucky Derby on TV. Never did. Earlier in the day, BBC World did a story about both Traitor Rick and Bobby Hurley both having horses in the Kentucky Derby. I hoped Pitino's would come in last. I always liked Bobby Hurley, so I hoped his horse would do well. The BBC story was actually a very nice in that it captured why this is such a special event, although the reporter kept calling it the Kentucky "Darby" and "Louis-ville." CNN International has been doing stories as well, but I expected such from them.

In other commentaries regarding life in Deutschland, Jeff in D.C. says:

I've always thought that German food was an experiment to determine how much a person would take before complaining. I guess it makes them tougher?

See, I'm not the only one with this view. Knoblauch is the German word for garlic. It's one of those words I look for when I go out to a restaurant. The other one is Käse - cheese. I figure anything that's got garlic or cheese in it has to be good. It's been an excellent strategy so far.

Staying on the food theme: I finally found basil at the grocery! After searching for it for more than two months (since my arrival), I finally found it! It's my favorite seasoning -- can you tell? I grew and dried my own in Austin. I've got some plants here, but haven't figured out where to dry the leaves yet.

I've been trying to take a long bike ride every Sunday, as long as it's not pouring down rain. My long-term goal is to be able to take a bike holiday in Spain or France. My overall goal is to get healthier and to see more of Germany -- there's just no better way of really getting to know a region than biking or walking through it.

To start, I've been biking South along the Rhein, a little farther every day. It's picture-postcard perfect and charming, with lots of little shops and restaurants, small customized pleasure boats docked along the Rhein, lovely churches, long stretches of green space -- even a campground. There are patches of adorable, TINY cottages along the way. When I say tiny, I mean TINY -- one could easily fit in my mother's dining room back home. Each is surrounded by enough space for a garden or entertaining. They aren't used to sleep in -- just to store gardening supplies, tents, lawn chairs, etc., from what I can tell from the outside. People who live in apartments in the city must use them as weekend getaways. I saw lots when I went to Amsterdam, and had wondered what they were.

During one trip, I was standing eating a bratwurst at a road side stand and looking over at the small island of Nonnenwerth. It has a large church -- Kirche St. Clemens -- and a few other buildings, but not much else. Between the island and the shore is just a small body of water -- the main channel is on the other side of the island. I'm standing there, wondering how the heck people get to the island and how that huge building got built over there, when I notice two women and a young boy down on the shoreline. They are looking at the customized boats docked along the shore. These are boats with a lot of personality -- I think they are home to some people, actually. A guy left the stand where I'd bought my brat, and headed down the path towards the shore. He reached the three and said something, and I realized he was offering to show the boy his boat. I stood there watching him show the boy around and telling him what everything was and how it all worked, while the two women watched from the shore. It was a nice moment.

Last Tuesday (May Day is a holiday over here, comrades), I rode all the way to Unkel, a beautiful town on the other side of the Rhein. The day was wonderfully sunny and warm -- not like Germany at all! I took my bike on the ferry down below my apartment complex and then road through Niederdollendorf and the extremely crowded Königswinter. The foot traffic was so thick that I started to think riding on that side of the Rhein was a really bad idea. But once I was passed the road to Bad Honnef, things got better. I discovered that there is an island on the other side of the island of Nonnenwerth. It's got a huge park on it, a swimming pool, lots of food stands, a restaurant, and clay tennis courts. From this island was an even better view of Kirche St. Clemens on Nonnenwerth -- I would love to know more about the place.

I road back over the small bridge to the mainland and continued my way south along the river. The riding got even better, with wider bike trails and less people. I passed more of those small gardening/party cottages, but now, there were actually people outside of them, tending to their gardens or getting ready to have a gathering. Meals start late in Germany, particularly on holidays and weekends -- the large May Day lunch gatherings wouldn't happen until around 2 or 3, by my estimates. I road on through beautiful countryside. I made a mistake at some point and ended up along a narrow footpath along the Rhein, which was walled in along the shoreline, so there was no way to get back to the bike path immediately. I did peek in through the walls at some rather lovely backyards along the way. Wow. There was no way to turn around (I'm telling you, this was a very, very narrow path), so I had to continue on foot along side my bike for about half a mile before I found a place to walk back to the bike path.

I road on, all the way to Unkel, a town I had admired from the other side of the Rhein just the weekend before. It's a very old town, and I walked around the narrow cobblestone streets and colorful houses and buildings with windows almost at waist level, and was utterly charmed by it all. What a lovely place. I wish I'd looked for postcards of the place. Next time. I ate at Cafe Sicilian and had a most tasty wood oven-cooked spinach and garlic pizza and a glass of very nice red wine. I took my time, relaxed... and then I road home. It was even more crowded by the time I got to the road to Bad Honnef, and I had to walk my bike through the thick crowds. Just as I got to Königswinter, which was now even more packed, the sun disappeared and the temperature dropped. I was back over the Rhein and in my apartment just after 3:30.

Total KM round trip? I don't know -- none of my maps go farther west than the road to Bad Honnef or father south than Königswinter. Bonn is right at the edge of this district in Germany, and that makes it hard to get a detailed map of just this particular area.

Once Spring really gets here, and through summer, routes along the Rhein will be impossible for bikes on weekends and holidays, from what I've heard, because of the extremely heavy pedestrian traffic. So I'm enjoying it while I can, and looking for alternatives to take up later.

I've found some good web sites regarding the routes I've taken so far -- I've added them to my list of suggested Germany and Europe web sites.

Random thoughts:

I have three friends who also have travelogue web sites, and they are excellent, so if you have found yourself addicted to reading about the adventures of others, have a look:

On BBC, they did a profile of a Gladiator school in Rome. This is what one students said about attending:
"It's like, a real experience, you know?"
Thank you for sharing.

I'll end with these Three Religious Truths, sent to me recently:

1. Jews do not recognize Jesus as the Messiah.
2. Protestants do not recognize the Pope as the leader of the Christian faith.
3. Baptists do not recognize each other in the liquor store or at Hooters.

More later . . .

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