Shiftless American in Germany

Vorsicht beim Aussteigen.

Bahn pendelt.

Cognate of the day: pendelt (3rd person, present tense of pendeln.)

By the late 1800s the lower Wupper River region was a highly industrialized area of closely spaced buildings, squeezed into a rather narrow valley. Stretching over 10km and between two large cities, and several small ones, transportation from one town to another — or one end to the other — had grown well nigh impossible.

Hence the Schwebebahn: Wuppertal’s fascinating intra-urban rail transport system. Hanging from trusses and following the Wupper riverbed, the Bahn is a marvel of 1890s technology — even the 600 volt DC motors — that works just fine and dandy today.

As a suspended mono-rail, each Bahn sways gently from side-to-side, excited by following the gentle bends in the river at speeds up to 60 kph.

As the train stops at each station she continues to swing, several inches each cycle of the pendulum, as passengers dismount (Aussteigen) … hence the warning (Vorsicht!). The bahn swings like a pendulum. Die Bahn pendelt. It is not a translation you’ll find in many dictionaries. Cognate recognition comes in handy.

By the way, a pretty full day of riding the Schwebebahn can leave you feeling both giddy and a bit seasick. As engineers we enjoyed it immensely.

A few more observations about Germany. I’ll start with the startling prevalence of some business types, for example, hearing testing and hearing aids. Also driving schools. These might reveal some deeper truths: Germany is aging and there is no evidence of car crashes.

You can’t go a day or two in the US without seeing a crash, or being caught in a jam because of one. Yet in over 4 weeks we’ve not only not seen a crash or been caught in a crash induced jam, we’ve seen just a few cars with dents or scratches!

And this with parking on sidewalks (or on two way streets that can barely fit side-by-side cars even if there WEREN’T parked cars.)

Other businesses we’ve also noticed far more often are bakeries and key services (locksmiths and the like).

This makes sense. Germans enjoy excellent breads and sweet tasty baked treats. And they like them all fresh and very convenient.

Also Germans have a thing about doors. They must be solid and they must be locked, whether a hotel or a simple Zimmer in a country Land Gasthaus. Often you must use your key to lock your room. From the inside. You get in the habit of leaving your single room key (Schlüssel — I love that word) in the keyhole at night against the advent of a quick exit in the event of an emergency.

Returning as I must to the most private of things … I’ll start with showers. Get used to the one person shower. No one’s gonna wash your back. Be careful turning around, too. It’s not just that it can be cramped, but the shower walls are usually fairly transparent, and you might accidently catch a horrifying glimpse of yourself in the mirror.

A few words on toilets. Flushing is different. No wimpy little flippers. A big strong button, often on the wall above the toilet is what’s used to activate the dismissal process. It’s not clear to me if there’s a flapper and float — the watet closet part is usually not visible.

Stay in a German-speaking country long enough and you will eventually be confrontrd with the “shelf toilet.” This is endearing poo catcher does not allow said deposit to simply plop where it belongs … into the water. No, it falls onto a “shelf”, presumeably an “inspection shelf” so that you can check out your specimen for health concerns. Or to admire your product.

Personally I find these interesting and possessing one strong positive and one strong negative feature. On the positive side: those especially large loads don’t “splash.” A splash reaching up to your bottom is most disturbing and annoying. Rather there is simply a dull “thunk” and no splash worries. On the other hand, since the poo is not under water, it can get pretty odiferous very quickly. I suppose this is one way those Germans are even more efficient; they’re not going to spend more time in the loo than is necessary.

One more good thing about poo in Germany and Austria (if you’re not too disgusted and you’ve read this far): you will almost certainly never be disappointed in the toilet paper. Good, solid and very reliable. No surprise disappointments there.

Of course I have pics of all of these things. Including the “urinal” at the Brauhaus in Wuppertal. It is really just a long wall, the lower half of the wall is a cascade of water, the upper half is a painting of about five women marveling — and tsk, tsking — at the plumbing. One has a camera, another, a tape measure.

Unfortunately, I’m having upload wifi issues so everything from “the cars parked on sidewalks” to “gawking women at the urinals” will have to wait. Maybe you can catch them on Facebook.

Tschüß. Bis bald!

Joe Girard (c) 2016


4 thoughts on “Shiftless American in Germany”

  1. Elle Rolfe

    Joe, this is really funny! Why don’t I remember Germany being so amusing? Without ever seeing car crashes, and just a few dents or scratches on cars, I wonder what the speed limits are?

    I can kind of follow your trip in my mind, with the help of an occasional map. Love to you and Audrey , Elle

  2. Elle Rolfe

    Joe, what do you mean by “hearing aids & hearing testing”? Are there lots of these types of businesses readily available in Germany? I wonder if Hear Aids are cheaper in Germany? As far as toilet paper is considered, the Germans must have improved their quality since I was last there. I remember, I had to buy the very thin sheets of TP from the attendant who also wanted a tip.

    1. Elle Rolfe

      Also, Audrey generally gets car sick unless she is the driver, didn’t she get a bit car sick or sea sick on the Schwebebahn?

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