Our German travel would not be complete without a visit to my good friend, Andy. Andy is the godfather to my eldest son, Andreas, who is named after him. People are often curious as to how Andreas has a German godfather but I won’t digress here. Anyway, thanks to Andy, who did a good job as our travel agent two months prior to our trip, arranging our itinerary and booking our hotel.
13 December 2011: F dropped us at the Frankfurt main train station on his way to work. We were to catch the 8am express train (Bahn) to Stuttgart, one and a half hours away. F kindly gave us three €5 vouchers which he had received from the Bahn company. Apparently while returning from a business trip, F’s train journey was interrupted when a man committed suicide in the train tunnel. By way of an apology, F, who had registered his name with the Bahn, received the free vouchers as compensation in the post one day.
Four years ago while travelling to Stuttgart with my aunt, our train platform was changed without our knowledge until a kind woman told us. This time, we were extra careful to listen to every announcement and watch our fellow passengers. The train arrived punctually and we found our first class cabin easily. Unfortunately, we had to share our cabin with another man, who dropped off half way and another man came on board. F’s vouchers came in handy and we ordered ‘room service’.
In my opinion, Germans are rather reserved and so we were surprised when the man started chatting with us. He told us he owns three Porsches and had even been to Singapore. All too soon, we reached Stuttgart and he offered to take us to our subway for our connecting train to Tamm. While walking along, from a distance, I spotted Andy. Whenever I see Andy, he reminds me of the Standard Chartered Bank TV advertisement tagline from my childhood – ‘Big, Strong, and Friendly.’ At 1.88m, he towers over most Germans too. We bid a hurried goodbye to our fellow passenger and greeted Andy with hugs. Andy came bearing my order of warm bretzels with butter and a new fad – with chives.
Outside the station, there was a barricaded-fence filled with protest posters. The protestors were protesting against the tearing down of the old station to be replaced by a new one. Andy was still driving his red station wagon from four years ago. He drove us straight to our hotel in his village, dropped off our luggage and then took us to his house for lunch. Ying, Andy’s Thai wife was there but their two children were away at school.
Mike and I had been to the Mercedes Museum in Stuttgart during our last trip and thought the factory visit would be fun for the boys since we would be visiting Porsche Museum as well. The English plant tour is free (I think!) and was an eye-opening experience. 99% of the factory is operated automatically by robots and 1% by humans. The robots, which resemble Transformers, have arms which move with precision timing to assemble the body to the chassis, the engines, the seats etc. The cars are made to order and a assembly line can have many different models and colours. In the lobby was a sports car on display which Ivan spent lovely moments in there.
Dinner was arranged at our hotel. The owner of the hotel, Mr Ulrich Seger, is also the chef. (I will do a separate review on the hotel.) Andy’s mother -Oma Helga,Ying, their son Felix and good friend, Martin and his wife joined us. Martin visited Singapore and stayed with us at Harvey when the two older boys were toddlers. He remembered four-year-old Ivan telling him, ‘I’ll spit on you!’ and reminded Ivan that. Andy’s mother reminded me of Mrs Doubtfire (Robin Williams’ character in the movie of the same name), with the same twinkle and humour. Felix was shy but was quick to act as a translator when necessary.
14 December 2012. This morning, we visited the Porsche Museum. In my opinion, it was not as interesting as the Mecedes Museum as the cars displayed are not as varied. What was interesting is that they have a car for you to get in to take photos. We all took turns sitting in there. Ivan took a little longer and left it with much reluctance as there were some American tourists waiting for their turns. The American told him, ‘Tell Mom to buy one for you.’ I replied, “Porsche is one thing you don’t ask your mother to buy!” That man laughed, “Very true, study hard and buy one yourself.” I must add here that Martin, who joined us at the museum, works as a auto designer and is an a autofreak, drives a Porsche himself, also owns a cute little Smart car and a minivan (to transport his apples from his gardens).
Lunch was buffet at a Chinese restaurant. (Rice at last!) After lunch, we drove 45 mins to Esslingen to visit the Christmas Market there. Esslingen Christmas Market is unique as the market is done in medieval times and the stall owners were in gothic costumes. Cobblers, bakers and blacksmiths were clothed in thick hooded robes and had braided hairs.
All too soon, Andy had to rush us back for my dinner appointment with my pen pal Elga, who had just gotten married to Michael, her partner of eighteen years. Elga and I have been pen pals since we were thirteen.
Dinner was Swabian food in her village Besigheim. Besighem is a charming village which still retains its 800-year-old timber framed houses and cobbled stoned roads. In summer, Besighem is a wine-growing region famous for its red wines. (That night, while looking at the night scene atop a city wall, we spotted our first shooting star. So memorable, it left a lasting impression on Ivan.) After dinner, we went to Elga and Michael’s house for a nightcap before heading home close to midnight.
15 December 2012. We checked out of our hotel. In the morning, Andy took us to a castle which now housed a mental asylum. In the afternoon, he arranged for us to join an English tour at the Ludwigsburg Palace. Built in 1704, the palace is one of the few in Germany that was not destroyed during the world wars. The interiors were designed in Baroque and Rococo. In one of the halls, the ceiling has birds painted on, their talons clutching on the chandeliers hanging down. When one stands in the middle of the room and clap loudly, the echo created is the sound of flapping wings. Amazing.
Just before we departed for the train station for our journey back to Frankfurt, Andy requested that we make a quick stop to visit his grandmother, Oma Betty. Oma Betty is 92 and lives alone, albeit close to her daughter, Andy’s mother. She had missed dinner with us the night before and had wanted to meet us. I was sorry we had to rudely rush off soon after.
At the train station, it was a sad parting as our trip was too short and too rushed. I had not have time to sit down and catch up with Andy. Andy shook hands with the boys, secretly thrusting €50 notes to each boy. It’s a pity that in his annual trip to Thailand, he had not made plans to include Singapore, even this year.
Auf Wiedersehen and Danke, Andy. Till we meet again.
Next: Munich and the Bavaria Forest.