|(U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Makenzie Lang)|
Among the many and wonderful joys of being assigned to NATO were the opportunities to play the tourist and the fact that I was stationed in a rather bucolic area of Germany miles and miles from the nearest USAF facility. I was not in USAFE (United States Air Forces in Europe) and was therefore not really subject to their strange customs and protocols.
When I had been in PACAF (Pacific Air Forces) we had heard many horror stories of how USAFE did things. As a matter of fact, we heard that they were just a European version of TAC (the old stateside based Tactical Air Command). The horror stories of TAC were legion: spit-shined shoes, uniform inspections on a regular basis, haircuts, rules, regulations, etc., etc. USAFE was simply TAC transplanted to Europe. Heck, might as well be stationed at the freaking Pentagon. (I'm sure that much of what I heard had been exaggerated. All I know is that PACAF wasn't that anal, nor was NATO, in fact NATO was even more laid back than PACAF.)
But I digress...
The Missus Herself and I first had the chance to "play the tourist" on our first Easter weekend in Europe. Much to my surprise and delight, Easter is a four day weekend in Germany. You might think that being NATO, with it's multiple nationalities, customs, and cultures that the holiday situation might be a bit confusing. Well, yes and no.
As we were in Germany, at some point in the past it had been decided that GK would celebrate German holidays, many of which were common to other countries as well. But not all "German" holidays were uniformly celebrated across Germany itself. GK is in Nordrhein-Westfalen which has a different set of holidays than the Rheinland-Pfalz, or Bayern. Sound confusing? It can be, there's an interesting chart here for those who wish to delve further into that topic.
Some American holidays, such as Thanksgiving, we didn't get. However, we also received (in addition to regular leave) four extra days a year we could take whenever we liked. This applied to all of us NATO wienies so we could celebrate our national holidays. Like Thanksgiving, Fourth of July, Memorial Day, etc. Sure, we missed some US holidays, but there were so many other holidays, we were fine with that.
First Easter in Germany, four day weekend, what to do, what to do...
Seems that my unit, the Mission Support Wing (which had a different name when we first got there, it's name escapes me at the moment) liked to take unit trips. One of the Canadian corporals was in charge of researching, organizing, and arranging these trips. He was very good at this extra duty. (For those who ponder such things.) These trips were easy-peasy and cheap. As long as you didn't mind the whole traveling with fifty of your wing mates and their significant others it could be a lot of fun.
Cheap was and is something I find most appealing. The only thing that beats cheap is free. But I have (again) gone somewhat off topic.
Paris. The City of Light. The Tour d'Eiffel, L'Arc de Triomphe, Les Invalides, the Champs-Élysées, and all that, is where we spent our first Easter in Europe. Awesome. Very awesome.
Another thing the Wing liked doing was wine "tasting" tours to the Mosel region of Germany where many delicious white wines are produced. (I don't know about the reds, if they had them there I don't remember, for I discovered Spätlese and Auslese on my first trip to the region and have loved those wines ever since. Not, mind you, to the exclusion of all others. I enjoy a bit of vin rouge as much as the next fellow. Especially chianti!)
Three separate incidents stand out in my memory from those many wine trips we took. The first was on the very first one.
It was a rainy day when our bus rolled into this little town on the banks of a tributary of the Mosel River. The bus pulled over and we were immediately assailed by the aroma of meat roasting over an open fire. Seems there was a tent (a very large tent) right next to where we parked where die Deutscher were cooking various types of wurst, ya know sausage...
Ahle Wurst, Beutelwurst, Bierwurst, Bockwurst, Bratwurst, Braunschweiger, Bregenwurst, Brühwurst, Cervelat, Currywurst, Extrawurst, Frankfurter Rindswurst, Frankfurter Würstchen, Gelbwurst, Jagdwurst, Kaszanka, Ketwurst, Knackwurst, Knipp, Kochwurst, Kohlwurst, Landjäger, Liverwurst, Mettwurst, Nürnberger Bratwürste, Panhas, Pinkel, Regensburger Wurst, Saumagen, Stadtwurst, Stippgrütze, Teewurst, Thüringer rotwurst, Thuringian sausage, Vienna sausage, Weckewerk, Weisswurst, Westfälische Rinderwurst, Wollwurst, und so weiter...
|Close-up of Thüringer Rostbratwurst by Christian Bier (Source)|
Okay, they didn't have that many varieties of sausage, I just wanted to show you some of the many sausage types they have in the German speaking parts of Europe. I have not tried them all, though I would probably give it a shot.
But you get the idea, delicious sausage roasted over an open flame then consumed with a generous dollop of Löwensenf (a particularly tasty hot mustard). On a cold, drizzly day next to a German river it's just the thing to warm a fella's heart, um, belly. Too much Löwensenf and yes, sometimes heartburn could be an issue!
After the sausage we trooped into the nearest weinstube where the delightful fräulein who waited on us inquired as to which of the ten wines they offered would we like to try, our fearless leader, one Senior MSgt Bill, simply said "Yes." The delightful lass seemed a bit nonplussed, no doubt thinking us to be confused as we obviously weren't locals. That's when one of our lot, a German speaker, said "Bitte bringen Sie uns eine Flasche von jedem."
Some of our number looked confused as the fräulein dashed off to fulfill our desires. I pointed out that Hans had instructed her to bring a bottle of each. So the seven (or eight, I can't remember precisely) of us received ten bottles of wine, one of each variety of wine this place offered. When we left, we left behind ten empty bottles. I wanted to hit the wurst tent again but The Missus Herself vetoed that idea.
That was the first incident I recall. I'm sure more happened that day (and night) but with so much wine on board the details remain hazy. But I remembered the sausage and the ten bottles of wine. Those are fond memories. (Though shrouded they are in a haze of fermented Riesling grapes.)
|German Monk Drinking Wine by Ernst Stierhof (1888) (Source)|
Not me mind you, though the hair style is similar to mine...
The second incident was a couple of years later. This time our wing commander, a Norwegian colonel of such stature as would have impressed his Viking ancestors and sporting a mustache of which Robin Olds would be jealous, went on the trip with us. This trip would feature more wine (no sausage this time, more's the pity) and a trip on a tour boat. Might have been on the Mosel itself, I don't remember for sure. After all, we boarded the boat after dark and I had (again) put a significant dent in the area's fermented grape supply.
The boat trip was very dramatic with crying Scots ladies, roaring Norwegian colonels, and the odd American sergeant barfing over the side. (No, that wasn't me. I only barf at parties when cheap cigars supplied by ensigns are involved. Hhmm, not sure if I've told that story. I will check, POCIR. And yes Skip, the alphabetizing of the Acronym Page is in the works.)
|Actual tour boat, not the one we were on though. (Source)|
Sadly the evening came to a close, the boat tied up to the pier, we all staggered ashore and went back to the bus. Sans our Norwegian colonel. Hhmm, our bus driver pointed out that he could not wait for the colonel, he had a schedule to keep. One of the Canadians pointed out that leaving our colonel behind would be a very bad thing. An argument ensued in which insults were exchanged in many languages (I recall the bus driver being Turkish, I could be wrong, it was a long time ago).
Eventually we all went quiet as apparently someone was slaughtering a very large bear somewhere nearby. The squalling, caterwauling, and outlandish noises were most off putting to the participants in the marathon, multi-lingual discussion at the front of the bus. We all turned to see just what the Hell was that bloody racket.
Well, it was our Norwegian colonel returning to the bus. The noise? Seems that the good colonel was giving voice to some old Norwegian folk song.
No wonder people were terrified of the Vikings.
That was the second wine trip incident of my recollection.
The third was on a wine trip but didn't really involve wine. The town we visited that year was having some sort of festival and most of the wine places were mobbed. Then a fellow of the English persuasion in our party said he knew of a pub which should occupy our time very nicely. I mean we were in Germany right? What else is Germany famous for other than the Mosel wines and the various forms of sausage?
Why beer of course.
|A Kranz (wreath) of fresh Kölsch beer that is typically carried by a server ("Köbes"), containing traditional Stange glasses and, in the center, larger modern glasses. Photo by Tim Bartel. (Source)|
We set sail for said pub and proceeded to put a dent in their supplies of lagers, pilseners, doppelbocks, heffenweisens, and what have you. We were having a lovely time until the English fellow (whose name I won't mention but we called him Alan, interpret that as you will) began to laugh so hard that he spilled his beer. All over the front of The Missus Herself. Now this was a cause of even more hilarity, even The Missus Herself found the situation amusing. Until she went to the ladies room to dry herself off (think electric hand dryers) only to discover that the hand dryer in the ladies loo was kaputt. That is: broken, ruined, busted, knackered, shattered, non-functional, and quite inoperable.
What to do, what to do?
Well, the one in the men's room worked just fine.
So we went there with all haste, I checked that it was not occupied and cleared The Missus Herself in hot. Posting myself at the door, I put on my very best Teutonic scowl and awaited the love of my life for to "do the laundry." So to speak.
A man approached. I crossed my arms and said, "Es tut mir leid, Sie können nicht dorthin gehen. Die Toilette ist kaputt." That is, roughly translated, "Sorry mate, can't go in, the loo is on the fritz." (Pun intended.) The rude fellow tried to shoulder his way past. At which point I bellowed, "Eintritt verboten!!" (Entry forbidden!)
One of the Germans nearby explained, between chuckles, what the situation was. I offered the chap a beer, he accepted, the wife came out all dried off and happy and an international incident of non-epic proportions was averted.
Thus the third incident ended in another alcohol fueled haze. No grapes were harmed in the process, though the local supply of hops and barley did suffer our depredations that night.
I miss that place.