A Final Dispatch (Maybe) From Germany

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HÜRTH, GERMANY — This city of 60,000 nudges up against the southwest border of Köln (Cologne to most of the world). In early times, the Eifel Aqueduct, built around 80 A.D. by the Roman Empire, provided water from the hills of the Eifel region down to what is now Köln but was originally called Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium.

Glad they changed the name. That is a mouthful.

The water flowed strictly by gravity for about 60 miles. Originally, the stone aqueduct was entirely underground to protect it from freezing weather. Now, one can find small sections of the aqueduct preserved above ground, usually surrounded by a chain link fence to protect them from souvenir hunters and graffiti artists.

On one of our morning walks with the dogs, Zelda and Miri, daughter Meredith brought me by one of those preserved pieces. It was a disconcerting site, a 2000-year-old piece of an aqueduct, an early example of impressive engineering, plopped down on a quiet street.

I walked alone one early morning to Germany’s version of Home Depot on steroids, Bauhaus, to get Matt a gift card and a small present. His birthday fell on Boxer’s Day. I found a folding ruler with the German version of his name, Matthias, printed on it. Perfect. On my way, I spied a Santa figure climbing a rope ladder into the second floor of a house I passed. That brought a chuckle.

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Our hotel is part of a European chain and reminds me of a nice Holiday Inn Express. The rooms are less than $100 a night. An impressive breakfast buffet is included. These folks know how to put on a spread: scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, crepes, fruit, all manner of pastries, and a high-tech caffeine machine that takes getting used to. Germans prefer espresso in tiny cups.

One of my duties when we are on a trip is to bring coffee to my Beautiful Mystery Companion. It is my favorite way to start the day. The first day I failed miserably. The espresso was tepid by the time I got to our third-floor room, which lacked a microwave. Conveniently, there was a large mall across the street, which included a T.K. Maxx. (That is not a typo. It is the same company that operates the ubiquitous American versions, just with a different consonant.) I went inside the store and bought an insulated coffee cup of “normal” size.

After that, I could push the “cappuccino” button on that fancy machine, pour the tiny cup into the purchased cup and do so three times. My BMC was happy with my ingenuity, though the German woman behind the counter kept giving me the eye. I would smile and say Danke Schön and hightail it out of there, having already polished off a plate of breakfast goodies and four or five tiny cups of cappuccino.

Once you cross the Big Pond, ice becomes a precious commodity in restaurants, hotels, and bars. I first noticed this on a previous trip, 25 years ago, to Britain and France. Our hotel did not have an ice machine for its patrons, something that is expected in American hotels. I went to the restaurant to ask for a glass of ice for my BMC’s water glass.

“Ice?” the woman asked, giving me what Mere refers to as “that German stare.” She and Matt have perfected it after more than a year living there. “Bitte,” I replied. Please and thank you, sort of. She retreated into the bowels of the restaurant, eventually returning with a glass filled with ice. I thanked her again and left.

Back in the states, I researched this. It appears Europeans believe they are being shorted of whatever beverage they ordered if it contains too much ice. Some are concerned the ice is not clean, a worry I share since I have witnessed some mighty funky hotel ice machines that look as if they have not been cleaned since they were installed in the late 1960s. Luckily, Mere had assured me the water out of the tap was probably purer than bottled water from the store, and it was deliciously cold. I learned to do without ice for 10 days. No biggie.

As Mere and I toured the mall one morning, looking for that insulated coffee cup, she pointed out the Subway store near the main entrance. “That is the best Subway store I have ever eaten at,” she said. One afternoon, while doing surreptitious Christmas shopping (most our group activities began when Matt got off work), I went into Subway and ordered a six-inch tuna sandwich on wheat.

She was right. It was heavenly.

Finally, the French fries everywhere we traveled were uniformly delicious. At the Christmas market in Köln, I watched a young man sending peeled potatoes through a slicer to make raw fries, which were immediately put into boiling oil by his coworker. No wonder their fries are so tasty! No wonder my New Year’s diet is now underway.

That is all to report from this amazing trip. Unless, of course, I think of something else. Cheers and Happy New Year to all!

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