Thursday, July 23, 2009

Week 20 - 21: Hardcore Bavarian Weekend

We're winding up our time here (sniff) and were told there were a couple things we HAD to do before we leave. 1) go to Berchtesgaden and 2) go to a medieval festival. And so, here we go again!

#1 Berchtesgaden, I have to say, is one of the most beautiful places ever. You could tell that despite the blistering rain and 7 degree weather. 7 DEGREES. That's colder than it was in March when there was still snow on the ground. Quite unseasonable, most here say.

Anyway, our first destination didn't need good weather-- we went underground to the Salzbergwerks Salt Mine. (where we were warned it would be "cold" but it was a balmy 12 degrees. MUCH nicer underground, really) This is a fantastic and fun tour- slides, a boat ride, a couple train rides into deep dark tunnels way underground. And to make it even more fun, we got to wear these really cool "worker man outfits" (Miles). All I kept thinking was "Intergalactic planetary, planetary intergalactic...." The outfits made you feel like jumping around and doing a West-coast sign... Anyway, this was way too much fun. We did learn about Salt Mining too- which was fascinating! When they find salt (through boring), they then pump water down to it, let it dissolve creating a bigger and bigger cavity full of brine for about a year. Then they pump the brine up, and process it, and ta-da- SALT! The boat ride was actually across a brine cavity, in the pitch black, where they then did a light show on the ceiling that reflected in the water. Very cool. We all loved it, and Miles got to leave with his own Salzbergwerk's coverall. Too good to resist.

Coming up from the mine was unpleasant, to say the least, because we had to give our coveralls back and were then stuck in our short sleeves in the frigid rain again. We hoped to see Konigsee- another "don't miss" in Berchtesgaden, but it was way too unpleasant and we were severely underdressed. Eric even caved and bought a raincoat- after 5 months through rainy Munich without one.

The next day thankfully the clouds parted and then we could see the new snow on the mountains, and it was time to hit the other main destination in the area, the Kehlsteinhaus or Eagle's Nest. After a 20 minute somewhat harrowing drive in a bus up cliffs and then a 400 foot high elevator through the mountain, you arrive at this place which sits on the tippy top of a mountain at 1834 meters. It's completely stunning, the view is endless in one direction, but behind you are up against glaciated cliffs that go even higher.

Then you have to realize that the Kehlsteinhaus was built for Hitler's 50th birthday by the party. Apparently he hosted some dignitaries here to impress upon them the beauty and sense of calm that the party could bring to the people. He also apparently dreamt up some of his plans for his final solution gazing over this view-- which is beyond comprehension, really. The pathways and tippy-topness of it all is as precarious as it looks. There was no way we were letting Miles out of the backpack here.

Overall, a fantastic couple days there-- and we'll be back to the area next week to try to get to the lakes again.

#2 Medieval Festival. So we found one- a popular one apparently- called the Kaltenberg Ritterturnier. Weird? Definitely. A little creepy? Uh-huh. Fun? Yes. This was a stand out memory for sure. Guys like sword fights and knights and stuff, but this was way over the top. Hundreds of people - totally in character- create a complete festival including medieval food (legs of meat on sticks), medieval "rides" (hand-cranked ferris wheel), medieval sentencing (we saw a tar and feathering of some poor guy who paid 5 Euro for the honor of being yelled at by a "judge" then coated with melted marshmellow and feathers). These people take this stuff VERY seriously. The crowd was a mix of medieval junkies (in costume) and hardcore goths. There was even a medieval-goth-punk-bagpipe band. They'd be very popular at Bumbershoot!

But the best part of all this, was actually the tournament- 2 hours of medieval-style WWF in front of about 10,000 screaming / cheering Germans who LOVE this stuff (as does Eric...who was giddy the whole time). We watched the whole story- from the crusaders being dragged away by bad knights, to jousting between good and bad nights, some sword fighting, then finally a good knight wins and is crowned. All this over 2 hours of whooping and hollering and even 5 minute round of "the wave" through the crowd.

I have to digress here a little for everyone at home who like me, doesn't let my kids have swords, or hit, or anything like that. Every little kid in this stadium had a little sword and there were LOTS of sideline little sword fights between kids. Kids here grow up with this stuff- actively. And although I think the boys here are a little tough and not as disciplined as at home, there is virtually NO crime in Bavaria. I mean NONE. It's similar to how kids can play buck naked in parks here (and some adults for that matter too), and there are no creepy weirdos to be found. What's up with that, or with us? I don't know... but I think it's just that there's a bit of innocense here and an understanding that all this is in good fun. Back to the tournament, it was impossible not to be swept up in it all. In the end, the kids loved it- they both keep talking about it days later. Miles of course really wanted a wooden sword, and I have to admit, it was hard not to get him one. But if he set foot with one in preschool at home, he'd likely be expelled. :) We ended up getting him a shield- which he now sleeps with. :)

So check out the video- the whole thing was such extreme, experiential theater- it was a blast. Yet another thing though that would NEVER EVER happen at home, for better or worse.

OK- one more week to go. We are packing, saying goodbye to our preschool friends tomorrow, and need to vacate by next Friday. Our flight leaves 4 days later, so we're doing a few more in Austria, then home. Can't wait to see friends, sleep in my bed, grab Rufus' slobbery jowls and smell the salt in the air.

Here are the best pictures of these two great places- best viewed with a big leg of lamb in one hand and an edelweiss in the other.

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