Germany '98

It was precisely 5:30 PM as the Inter-City Express pulled into the Hannover Hauptbahnhof. The German railway system, the Deutsche Bahn, is famous for their promptness, and I found out that you really can set your watch by the schedule of German trains.

I grabbed my bags and stepped out onto the platform. After a few glances, I started walking towards the exit, then heard a German-accented female voice yelling, "Bruce! Bruce!" I turned and saw Minerva. She hugged me and we exchanged the European style cheek kisses, then she gave me her well rehearsed English greeting about how happy she and Jens were that I was able to visit them. Jens was waiting at the end of the platform.

It was two years ago to the day that I arrived here to meet my German cousins and attend the wedding of Jens and Minerva. I was embarrassed that I had forgotten that it was their anniversary, but this was pretty normal for me. There is only one such date that I can remember with regularity... my Mom's birthday... but only after a forgotten birthday when I was in my early 20's prompted a rare scolding from my Dad that is forever etched in my brain and is re-activated every year around the end of May.

I arrived in Germany five days earlier. This was business trip and I spent three days in Ulm, near the Tally Germany factory, attending meetings with my German counterparts to coordinate our engineering efforts for new products. Ulm is in southern Germany, about half way between Stuttgart and Munich. To get there, I flew to Frankfurt, via Amsterdam, then took the Inter-City Express (ICE) train for the remainder of the trip. The ICE trains are modern speedsters that cruise along at about 100 MPH, making inter-city overland travel quite easy.

I made arrangements to fly out of Hannover so that I could spend the weekend on a short family visit. Shortly after I arrived in Germany, I found out that it was also Oktoberfest time in Munich. Since Oktoberfest lasts only two weeks, and it was unlikely that I would be in Germany during this time of year again, I decided that a stop in Munich on my way to Hannover would be in order.

Unfortunately, Oktoberfest was a big disappointment. The combination of going solo and the massive crowds put a damper on the experience, but it was something that I had to see. I was told that Oktoberfest receives up to 500,000 visitors every day. It is basically a large carnival with a dozen very large beer gardens. The beer gardens are mostly in huge tent-buildings that house 3 to 5 thousand beer drinkers, quaffing from the traditional one liter mugs. In the center is a large stage where bands play traditional German music. Each beer garden is sponsored by a beer vendor to promote their brews.

I visited a half dozen of these beer gardens and was unable to find a single seat. It seems that the best way to do Oktoberfest is to have some sort of corporate connection to a reserved table. At least half of the tables were reserved.

The stay with Jens and Minerva was relaxing. One of the highlights was the national election where Gerhard Schroeder and his Social Democrats wrested power from Helmut Kohl and the Christian Democrats. Sunday was election day, so were all gathered around the TV at 6 PM to watch the election returns. It was a very educational experience for me as I learned the ins and outs of the parliamentary system of government.

The next morning, Jens gave me a ride to the airport, and I was on my way home.