Sorry to have disappeared for so long, but I've been busy with a secret project. Not one that is likely to make me any money any time soon, I'm afraid, but one I couldn't ignore either. A guy we'll call Vic's Pop came to town and asked me to show him German regional cooking.
Not for me to cook it, of course; I can't do that. But over the past five days we went hither and yon in search of great stuff, and some of the travelogue will appear here anon.
To accomplish this most efficiently, he rented a car, a nice Audi with a good sound system and a wonderful climate control which allows each passenger in the front seat to choose a climate. I like it colder than he does, and we were both comfortable.
Now, one thing everyone knows about driving in Germany is that the Autobahn doesn't have a speed limit. Thus, you get used to tooling around at whatever speed is most comfortable for you -- in this case between 120 and 180 kph (74.56-111.85 mph). Thing is, when you get off the Autobahn, you're supposed to obey the speed limit, but it's not posted. You're supposed to know.
And there are other things that are inevitable when you drive, too, like you can get frustrated by poorly-marked roads and virtually unannounced road construction, so when you're in the clear, you might wind up driving too fast. I did.
This led to my first-ever encounter with the German Police -- and my first-ever speeding ticket.
We decided on Sunday to go to Görlitz, home of a dish called Schlesische Himmelreich, or Silesian Kingdom of Heaven. Thing is, Görlitz isn't so far from Berlin, and we had a nice day and lots of time. So I proposed a trip to Cottbus, which was on the way, the better to try to connect with the Wendish culture which lives in the deep woods and swamps of the area known as the Spreewald. The Spreewald is home to Germany's best pickles, as well as excellent Sauerkraut and horseradish, and a bunch of other essentials for the German table.
Turns out, though, that Cottbus isn't where to find it, its Wendish Museum notwithstanding. From bits and pieces of evidence, we gathered that a trip a bit further up the road to Burg might be in order. Thus, we got back in the car and headed up there, just in time to catch the tail-end of the Spreewald Marathon and the market which had set up at the finish line. We dutifully bought some pickles, tasted some other at a farmer's stand, looked at the various pork products in the portable smoker, and noticed that we were feeling more and more ready for the Kingdom of Heaven.
Now, one conclusion that I've come to after all this recent driving is that it's possible in Germany to get from A to B, from A to C, and from A to D, especially when A is Berlin. However, trying to get from B to C, or from B to D can be flat-out impossible, or else very difficult. There may be an art to manipulating the Autobahns to your favor which I still haven't figured out, but B to D can often mean a tedious trip through narrow two-lanes which drive you through tiny village after tiny village, with loads of roadworks along the way. One advantage of driving on a Sunday, though, is that you're unlikely to encounter a tractor or other farm vehicle.
You will, however, inevitably encounter the roadworks. And you will be happy when they end, which is why a young gentleman in a green uniform stepped into the road and held up one of those round paddles with a red light in the middle of it which they use here to flag you down. I pulled into a dirt lot and he came over. "Good afternoon, my name is Plaschke and I am a policeman. My partner and I are controlling speed on this road at this time. May I see your license and registration, please?" I handed it over. "Please step out of the car." So I did.
"Come with me," he said, and started walking towards the road. There he had me look at the machine they had set up there on a tripod. "This is our speed-controlling machine," he said. "We have a toleration zone of 18 kph over the speed limit, but I'm afraid you were over that. There is a fine which escalates for increments of speed over the limit, and because you were 17 kph over the toleration zone, and 35 kph over the speed limit, you must pay a fine of €35. Do you have money with you?" Actually, I didn't, but Vic's Pop did. "He wants 35 bucks," I called over to him. He was grinning at the whole thing, and, hearing me speak English, Officer Plaschke looked at my license and realized that it was from Texas. It's much smaller than a German one, so he must have realized it earlier, but I'm pretty sure he lives out in the boondocks he was patrolling and doesn't encounter many American tourists. "Oh," he said, in English, "do you speak German?" I'd been speaking German with him, but maybe he thought his explanation had gone past me. It was very important to him that I understand exactly what was happening to me.
Meanwhile, his partner was inside their VW bus with a clipboard and some other paper. This turned out to be my ticket, a statement of what it was on top, with perforated strips underneath which could be torn off:
and so on, alternating between the normal paper color and a garish fluorescent pink. Vic's Pop paid him, he ripped the ticket at the appropriate place, and then took his pen to point out "This states that this is a citation for speeding. This is the date, this is my name, Plaschke, and this is the location." He then informed me that the limit was 70 kph (43.49 mph), and said, as people who speak a little English inevitably do here, "Have a nice day." I will, I told him, and I won't speed. He smiled.
I relate this in this much detail just to contrast it with a similar encounter one might have in America, a terrified cop yelling at you through a grille-mounted bullhorn, the whole hand-on-the-gun approach, and all of that. Given what I know about the Berlin police, this was an incredibly civilized exchange.
And I didn't speed, either, although the Kingdom of Heaven awaited.
Here it is: