When I've spent money to travel to Europe, I want to feel like I'm in Europe. That's one of the reasons we're so enthusiastic about the Restaurant Beograd. Here, in strange surroundings, hearing strange languages, and tasting strange food and drink, we felt very far from home. Sort of what the travel thing is all about.
Near us one night at Beograd was a large, convivial party of about 20 at one very long table. Midway through the evening, two young women from the group approached the musicians. Though we didn't hear what was said, it was obvious their business consisted of more than a routine request for "Melancholy Baby." Something had been arranged.
About an hour later, one of them returned to the podium to sing. She and the piano player conferred briefly on the proper key and then it was announced to the room that, as a birthday present for the honored guest at the long table, she would sing.
From Gershwin's Porgy and Bess she did Summertime. Dozens of times in my life I've heard people get up to sing at parties and in bars and restaurants. But nothing like this. After just a few seconds I'm sure everyone in the room realized this is a woman whose livelihood is singing. Maybe even the Staatsoper or Volksoper. She had a marvelous, clear voice, all the accompanying gestures, facial expressions, and absolute confidence. Everybody stopped eating and talking, and the waiters stopped serving; it was an extraordinary three or four minutes.
Stuff like that doesn't happen very often in Hayward.
But on to other business...
German Car Rental Fees
Because of intense competition, car rental companies in Germany have been losing money for the last several years. Though rates have risen steeply this summer, they are still lower than 10 years ago and the lowest in Europe. Now, however, the rental companies have discovered a way to pad the bottom line without raising rates. This year Auto Sixt began charging a 6% "premium station" fee. (A "premium station" is an airport or rail station.) In midsummer the rest of the rental companies who had been charging a flat fee of $10-$12 switched to the 6%. Alamo charges 10%. If your rental is an Opel Vectra for two weeks and the tab is $133 x 2 weeks x 16% VAT for a total of $308.56, most rental companies tack another $18.51 to your bill. That's not too bad compared to the previous system, but if you want a more expensive vehicle, such as a van for two weeks, the total is $950 and the extra charge is $57.
You can avoid this by picking up at a downtown location, but these are often not open on Saturday or Sunday. In addition, with a van you've got probably five or more people in your party and by the time you herd the group and wrestle the luggage to the rental location via public transport you're better off financially, physically and emotionally to just pay the 6%. The car rental companies know this.
But look at the positive side, car rentals in Switzerland and Austria are substantially more expensive than in Germany and they each charge 12% for airport pickups.
On the subject of car rentals, we've always recommended against paying $10 for an International Drivers License. We are now learning, however, that it is required for driving in Poland, and the Austrian Tourist Office tells us such has always been the case in their country.
Raves for New Berlin Museum
Recently we reported on the debut of Berlin's new Gemäldegalerie which contains about 1,000 paintings in 59 halls and galleries. The museum is apparently a big hit. Pierre Rosenberg, director of the Louvre in Paris, said "the great achievement of the Gemäldegalerie is the light." All paintings are exhibited in natural daylight. Another expert is quoted as saying, "on days when there is a relatively even covering of clouds, you get the impression that the paintings are igniting."
The Gemäldegalerie houses a collection of great works that, because of World War II, were dispersed to other museums and even other countries. They are all now reunited in this spectacular Berlin setting. Admission is 8 DM ($4.50).
Factory Outlet for Loden
Subscriber Joan Hawkins of Glen Cove, New York, calls to tell us of a factory outlet for Lodenwear, the traditional clothing seen in many parts of Germany, Austria and Switzerland, but more commonly in southern Bavaria and in the Austrian Tirol and Styria. Lodenwalke is in Ramsau am Dachstein (tel.+43/03687/81930), near Filzmoos, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) southeast of Salzburg. They take no credit cards and don't ship but will accept U.S. currency.
In Filzmoos, Ms. Hawkins gives high marks to Geniesserhotel Hubertus (Am Dorfplatz, A-5532 Filzmoos, tel. +43/06453/204, fax 2066) whose restaurant gets three red chef's toques (red meaning creative cuisine) in the 1997 Gault Millau for Austria.
Where To Taste Wine
This is the time of year to visit the German wine country. If you're headed that way, be sure to take along the Vintners to Visit guides recently produced by the German Wine Information Bureau.
This series of booklets contains hundreds of winery listings, road maps, and lists all available services (including which properties offer tasting).
When ordering the brochures, please specify the wine region(s) or city intended for travel. The German Wine Information Bureau accepts phone calls but would prefer your request for their free material arrive via a postcard or email.