Bright and bold, Germans seem to love exchanging “good mornings” with eachother; and Lee and I happily join in, embracing the morning spirit with the few German words we know. After arriving a day late and planefull later than planned (never underestimate Newark traffic), Berlin proved a swirl of grunge and graffitti. But as soon as we awoke with a good 8 hour sleep behind us, Berlin transformed into a blossoming bier garten with endless entertainment options lining every corner. Our 3.5 hour historical walking tour was really insightful. Starting at the Brandenberg Gate, marching over the completely unmarked parking lot where Hitler’s bunker was and where he committed suicide, and on to the moving Holocaust memorial, past the Berlin wall and Checkpoint Charlie where thousands of people crossed the East-West border, and ending at the Berliner Dome, we experienced the multi-faceted city quickly but whole heartedly. I especially loved sunset on the river that snakes throughout the city, when all sorts of restaurants, beer gardens, and dancing platforms spring up to welcome the night. From bustling Berlin we took a local Weekender’s train through countryside dotted with apple and pear trees, fields full of sunflowers as far as the eye can see, and occasional castles tucked away in mountaintops. We even saw one lucky man in his tighty-whities weed eating his garden! Eight hours later and we stepped into storybook Bamberg. We easily survived solely on bratwurst, pretzels, and the town’s specialty “smoked beer” for three days without tiring of it one bit. Home to 50 breweries, flower window box galore, and twisting cobbled lanes, we had plenty of time in Bamberg to relax and practice our best German. We even had a chance to proudly show off our English skills while singing Dwight Yoakam’s “Suspicious Minds” and Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” as we danced around the town square during their “Jazz and Blues” festival. That seemed to really impress the locals! (We had an incompatible memory card in our camera throughout Berlin and Bamberg, so those pictures will have to be shared upon our return!) Once we planted our feet in The Black Forest a few days later, we were prepared to find Lee’s roots, knowing that the Finkbeiners originated from this region generations ago. We set our tent up right above a small clear river, and to our delight a family of ducks and ducklings called the space below our tent home too. Of course we had to explore the woods and after forging what seemed to be many a new paths, meeting a pot-bellied pig, and spotting huckleberries growing wild, we managed to complete a very long and virtually sign-less hike through The Black Forest. ee The quiet peaceful town of Schiltach turned into a bumping river festival on Saturday and we took full advantage of the newly placed lounge chairs and pulsating music as we lounged riverside and watched all the activity swirl around us. By 3pm we were part of the staple crowd and a waitress came by smiling and telling us something we surely thought must be exciting, but it was all in German. Once we established “English only”, we got an even broader smile and a broken English explanation that Lee MUST join the eating contest, that we must not pay, and that the event was a true tradition we must not miss. Lee agreed and was officially entered into the games. As Lee’s name was called to join the ranks of the other contestants, the whole riverside cheered and laughed at whatever jokes were being told about the English speaker. The roars, all in good spirit, only got louder as Lee was seated FIRST to begin the eating contest where each person is given a piece of speck (smoked bacon of sorts), two pieces of bread, a jug of apple wine, and a glass to drink from. Lee is then told he must cut the food and finish it all, along with the apple wine, before his time is recorded and the next contestant can begin. As you can expect, the combination of a broken English explanation and going first lead to several uproariously funny moments. 1) Lee cuts the bread (nobody cuts the bread!) 2) Lee eats the whole piece of spec (nobody eats the rind, it is unchewable and too large to swallow) 3) Lee tries to finish both pieces of cut up bread (only ONE is required to be eaten, and the emcee quickly slides half his bread away for him) 4) Lee takes 4+ minutes to complete the task (twice as long as the crowd is expecting) and finally 5) Lee secretely discards of the spec rind he had hidden in his gums as contestant #5 is chugging. Lee and the contest were such a hit that the village reporter came to find out all about our trip and Lee’s family roots in The Black Forest. To top the evening off we were given free beer and caiprinha from the venue owners and learned more about The Black Forest from them and where the German Finkbeiners might be today. On to Munich and we notice our travel savvy improving: booking night stays several weeks out, pouring over city maps to get our bearings, finding the most authentic and least pricey bakery – all coming to us more fluidly now. Finding the city center, we stood amongst hundreds in the main square who all came to a silent stop sharply at 11am. The bells of the immense grey town hall rung out and the perfectly carved wooden actors of the Glockenspiel (carillon) began to dance and move and put on a play for the crowd below. It was captivating and so playful for a square filled with so much history and austere archtiecture. For lunch we took our scouted spoils from the farmers market (2 freshly baked bread rolls, salami, a peach, a pickle, and a bag full of pickled peppers) to the nearby Englischergarten where we dined and relaxed in one of the world’s largest urban parks. And apparently summer in the Englischergarten means that many a local are too hot to wear even a stitch of clothing, plunging into the ice cold river stream alongside their “overdressed” counterparts all the same. After sunning and reading we headed to Haufbrahaus, the famously enormous and touristy beer hall, which ended up being a blast. We wandered the cavernous floors of bench after bench of cheery beer drinkers and landed at a table right in front of the band. The Bavarian music filledthe hall and partners danced what looked like a hopped- up version of square dancing. We ordered the original beer and it arrived in a stein larger than my head. We took in the scene, paying particular attention to the regulars marked by their unique personal steins and more obviously, their traditional Bavarian threads. One man wore lederhosen that was made almost commonplace by the hundredsof tiny boar tusks, metal pins, long bird feathers, and single shrunken boar’s head he wore across his chest. The following day, after chumming it with the locals, we got a taste of the high life at the Residenz, where Bavarian rulers resided and entertained from 1385 – 1918. Lee was especially taken by the intricate tapestries depicting life during different months in Bavaria, while I was more drawn to the craftmanship and textiles used for the furniture and how it contrasted against the lavish wallpaper and window drapings. Camping next to Munich’s zoo and talking over the sounds of seals barking made the experience that much more surreal.