Sunday, July 12, 2009

Happy Birthday G'Pa?

Wow, what a day.... what a week... so we finally go the new ride this week. One of the many perks of being a Cisco employee in Europe is the company car, not just any old company car either. It's a complicated process but basically you get an allowance, and a list of car models and then you get to order your car. So we went with the BMW, and since we are 5 we figured the wagon, so it's the 5-Series Touring Wagon. Next is the "bigger motor or more options" debate, we went with the more options so it's the 520D. Now that's not to say the motor is small, it does 225 on the Autobahn comfortably. And it looks pretty good too don't ya think?

And of course there are the options, leather power seats (and in BMW-ese that means power headrests too) built-in navi, built-in bluetooth, a USB port, sun-roof, leather seats, run-flat tires, parking distance control (front-rear parking radar) and my favorite new toy, 'BMW Night Vision' an infra-red camera that feeds a display in the dash.

We had been planning on a weekend trip to Munchen with Julia's dad - who is in town for a month - but something came up at work and I couldn't take Friday off, so instead we decided Bill, Joe and I would drive to Munchen by way of Castle Neuschwanstein. Why Munchen? Well, when we asked Bill, "what do you want to see while you're here" the only thing in his list was a concentration camp. So we drug him down to the Schwarzwald last week to the World's Largest Cuckoo Clock last weekend and this weekend it's Dachau.

The drive to Castle Neuschanstein was nice, the car handles great, has adequate power and lots of cool gadgets to keep everyone occupied. Bill rode in the back because the extra-long sunroof gives him a great view out the top as we're driving into the Bavarian Alps. The last 25km or so were on the Deutche AlpenStrasse, which was a lot of fun. The navi of course worked flawlessly guiding us in her polite nicely-clipped British accent ("please leave the motorway now") right to the parking lot at the beginning of the trail up to the castle. Our "plan" was to just do a 'drive-by' get a look, do the "ooh ahh" thing and then roll on to Dachau, but you really don't get any good views of the castle driving in from the West, and we had about 90 minutes to spare so we decided to head up. And "up" it was, just guessing I'd say it was 12% for at least a mile on a lovely shaded paved (and horse-pooped) road. The horse poop is because one of the alternatives to get to the top, or almost the top, is a horse-drawn carriage and they leave their presents on the roadway as an additional obstacle to the hearty/foolish who walk it. There was a lovely waterfall along the way that gave us a nice excuse to stop and take a breather...errr.. picture.

Then once we got to the top it really was gorgeous, naturally we took a couple of snaps to prove we conquered the hill, and then because we had to get to Dachau in time for the 2:00 film showing it was back down the hill, I still think going down was worse than up, but the experience was worth it. Once back at the bottom we grabbed a Brat, Pommes and a Coke and were back on the road again. When we left Hohenschwangau we headed north on ST2016 and about a mile out of town Bill says, "look at that view" and Joe had to get a shot, so we pulled over - here's the result. Worth the stop I'd say.

Then it was on to Dachau, what an experience that was. In case you've been living in a cave for the last 60 or so years Dachau was the first concentration camp built in Germany, by the Nazis in March of 1933. As we walked along the pea-gravel path to the memorial site and entered through the gate into the prison site all I could think, and say, was "what a horrible place." To which Joe responded with such an insightful question, "If it's so horrible, why do so many people come here?" A thought-provoking question, no doubt. Anyway, we got there in time to see the 1400 showing of the 22-minute documentary "The Dachau Concentration Camp" and then went through the museum. After the museum everyone had seen enough and we headed back home. I think Joe's expression in this picture, taken on the way out, pretty much sums up our mood. It was, for me, a sobering, educational - and frightening, experience.

The words on the gate, which I so nicely clipped off on the right say "Arbeit macht frei" which means "work brings freedom", or literally in English "work makes (one) free." This slogan was placed at the entrance to a number of of the Nazi concentration camps. The thought of all those prisoners having to see that each day as there were marched back from whatever forced labor effort they had, starving, sick, dieing, provided a fitting finish for my visit to this place that where more than 25,000 died.

On the drive home Joe remembered that this was the the second Saturday in July, the day of the second Schlossbeleuchtung (castle lighting)! One of Heidelberg's most famous landmarks is its Schloss. Each year in June, July and September, there is a Castle Lighting (Schlossbeleuchtung) to commemorate three times when the castle went up in flames (1689, 1693 and 1764). The first two times were due to wars with the French, and the last time by lighting. It's a great show, it starts with what sounds like mortar fire from the Alte Brucke (old bridge), which signals the lighting of the castle resulting in an eerie red glow as if the castle were on fire. This is followed by a spectacular 15-minute fireworks display. Since we're between the Alte Brucke and the Schloss, Flower and I went down to the street and watched this year, it was awesome.

All in all, it was a eventful day, 800km in the car, 1mile up and down a 12+% slope, a concentration camp and a castle burning.... not sure it's the kind of birthday he would have asked for, but I'm sure it's one he won't forget....

Happy Birthday G'Pa...

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