Happy Birthday to Us

This month completes 11 years of Gemütlichkeit. For a surprising number of you it is issue number 132. Thank you. For some it is your first. Thank you. And to everyone in between, thank you.

Trip Notes

In late November, we flew Swissair and Crossair to Berlin via Zürich. Then, after a few days, trained and autoed our way back to Zürich over a route that included stops in the German city of Göttingen; the Austrian towns of Seefeld and Innsbruck; Austria's Stubai Valley; Bern, the Swiss capital; Langnau in the Emmental and finally half a day and a night in Zürich.

You'll get all the details over the next few months, but here are a few random impressions:

In Berlin they are putting Humpty-Dumpty back together again. When complete, the reincarnation will place Berlin once again alongside London, Rome and Paris as a preeminent European city. This metamorphosis from two wounded, divided towns to titanic city of Europe is surely one of the great stories of the 1990s. Over the next three to five years, I recommend Berlin to the Europe-bound traveler as a "must visit" destination. The scars left by communism and the death throes of 1945 can still be seen in and around the Mitte (formerly East Berlin), but are rapidly disappearing.

The former west (Ku'damm area), however, remains the place to headquarter: more vibrant, more shopping, more restaurants. The starchy Hotel Adlon made a big media splash with its 1997 opening; and its location near the Brandenburg Gate will be good...someday. Right now there's not much around it except construction cranes and torn up streets. In any case, high rollers looking for the best hotel in town are advised that it isn't the Adlon, but the glorious Schlosshotel in Grunewald. When all is said and done, the Adlon will be just another high-ticket business hotel. The classy Schlosshotel, on the other hand, has all the right stuff: great charm and authentic pedigree.

Germany's system of higher education is taking its lumps in the media. Meantime, Helmut Kohl sends his kids to Harvard and MIT.

The host of a David Letterman-like German TV show imitates Letterman's mannerisms right down to pencil throwing and card flipping. There are "top 10" gags and the set is a clone of the real Letterman show. It ain't satire and it ain't funny. Dumb and dumber.

Here's a vote for German cab drivers. They take you straight to your destination, usually in a tight Mercedes, help with the luggage and are unfailingly polite.

Confession time. This trip marked a first for us: American fast food overseas. Famished at 2 a.m. on the Ku'damm, on a long walk back to our hotel (the Domus, still good and a bargain), we ducked in to Burger King for a large fries to go. Sensational (2.4 DM/$1.37).

Where were we at 2 a.m? A jazz joint, Ewige Lampe, Niebuhrstr. 11a, near Savignyplatz. Lively, friendly, inexpensive, great music.

Cell phones are breeding like rabbits in Europe. You now see them everywhere: on the street, in stores, on trains and in restaurants. You think you're way off the beaten track in a rustic little Gasthaus in a tiny farm village and there's a guy at the next table with one stuck in his ear. Jarring.

A Rail Convert?

Because of our many backroads auto travel stories over the past 11 years, I am accused of being against train travel. I have also sometimes argued that traveling by auto in Europe is cheaper than by train.

Well, all you rail travel devotees who see Gemütlichkeit as anti-train are advised that each of the three trips we have taken in the last 12 months has had rail travel as an important element. And I love it. It's virtually everything you say it is: relaxing, reliable and romantic. Everything that is except cheap. Our 5-day, four country Europass for two persons was over $600. We can rent an Opel Astra (fine for two adults with lots of luggage) in Germany for less than $250, including tax and airport fees, for two weeks. That's 14 days unlimited travel.

I also must say that, contrary to our auto travel custom, we found ourselves reserving hotels in advance. With a car one can drive around a bit and eyeball hotels from the outside and, for those that look promising, ask to see a room or two.

I think trains are wonderful and I eagerly look forward to my next rail trip, but let's not let romance get in the way of reality. RHB

December 1997