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Race Time!

This weekend, I finally cashed in on my Christmas gift from Jenny-  two races at Pro-Kart Raceland, in nearby Wackersdorf.  (I don’t think that Wackersdorf will ever stop being a funny name to me.)  Pro-Kart Raceland has two big tracks, one is indoors, in a giant warehouse type of space, and the other one is outdoors.  We were racing on the indoor track.

I’ve been on go-karts before, but never quite like this.  For one thing, these were a bit faster than any go-karts I’ve ever driven in the US.  For another thing, helmets are required.  There are shared helmets available, not unlike the bowling shoes you rent in the US.  You can also buy a cheap balaclava (a head covering that just leaves the eyes exposed) to protect your head from other people’s head-cooties if you want.   Some people bring their own helmets, racing gloves, and the like.  Some people are really into this.

So here’s how the day went.  We checked in, paid, and I got the aforementioned balaclava.  The next several minutes were spent taking funny pictures of me in a balaclava.  Then we went to the indoor track.  There’s a short list of rules and then you get assigned to a numbered car.  Everyone in that race is lined up, and the engines are started by a staff member.  As soon as your engine is started, you floor it out of the holding pen.

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Our races were ten minute heats, although there was a twenty minute race after we were done, so this varies.  When you see the guy waving the checkered flag like so, it means it’s time to come in at the end of your current lap.

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Once you get back in, all the engines are shut off and you get a print-out showing how well you did.  There’s a lap time for each lap, and your best time is marked.  Additionally, you’re ranked against everyone who was in that race.  I was not in first place.  Or second or third place.  I wasn’t very fast at all, in fact.

I take pride in the fact that my overall lap times were decreasing as I went.  The only exception was one lap where Jenny spun out in front of me and I braked hard to avoid hitting her.  I braked a little *too* hard and my engine stalled.  My time on that lap was 1:37.  My best time was 51.575 seconds.  And yes, these races were decided on hundredths of seconds.

For the part, there’s good sportsmanship here.  The cars aren’t bumper cars, and you can be penalized or ejected for ramming people intentionally.  That didn’t stop one kid from hitting me after I passed him, though.  Of course he might have just been annoyed by my helmet-  I didn’t realize it when I grabbed a helmet off the shelf, but I was giving everyone I passed a Trollface.

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After we were done with our races, we spent a little while watching the outdoor races.  These cars seemed to be faster even than the cars inside.  They also had a more traditional race structure.  They started out the same, with the staff members starting the engines, but the first few laps were a qualifying heat to put everyone in their starting positions.

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Once everyone had a starting position, they all started at the same time, instead of going one at a time as before.

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There’s an interesting side effect of doing this for two ten minute races on Saturday-  the muscles in between my shoulder-blades were sore the next day.  These cars have slick tires and no power steering, which means that if you turn hard, you’re doing it through strength and artful braking.  The track is very curvy, and I was trying to turn without a lot of slowing.

This was a crapload of fun, but it was expensive- two ten minute races came out to around €25 per person.  Still, I would do it again.  Zoom!

Have you ever been go-kart racing?

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Raising A Maypole

On the first of May last year, I wrote a little bit about May Day, and about Maibäume, or maypoles.  This year, I got to see the raising of a May Pole up close.  My partner-in-crime Jenny and her boyfriend were planning on going to a raising in nearby Peising and invited me along to hang out with the Village People.  (I mean the people who live in the village of Peising, not the band with the cowboy and the construction worker.  I would actually have enjoyed having a beer with them too.)    Since the day is a public holiday in Bavaria (no work!) I had nothing else planned, so I took them up on their offer.  I’m glad I did, because it was actually a lot of fun.

My shirt is the one German joke t-shirt I own.

First of all, a May Pole raising is often held with all the elements of a traditional Bavarian beer-fest.  There are beer garden styled tables and benches, lots of people in Tracht (lederhosen and dirndls), and even some live musical entertainment.

In Bavaria, accordions are cool.

This was also kind of a family event, and I have to just say-  kids in Tracht are incredibly damned cute.  These three pictures are proof of that.  Also, the little kid on the scooter is kind of an adorable badass with the sunglasses and the spiky hair.  He was my favorite Bavarian kid all day long.

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At two in the afternoon, it was time for the Maypole to be raised.  It had been stored a short distance from the place where it was to be raised, and there is a tradition where a group of people from the village guard their Maypole against theft by another village.  This involves drinking lots of beer and hanging out overnight around the pole.  If the people from the other village succeed in stealing the Maypole, it must be “bought” back for the princely sum of 50 Liters of beer and enough Bratwurst for all the members of the raiding party.  At least this is how it was explained to  me.  As you can see, however, it wouldn’t be terribly easy to steal another village’s Maypole:

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The process of raising the pole took around 45 minutes, but Robert says it can be done much faster if people really want to.  It starts with everyone lining the pole up with its metal base so that a primary spike can be put through it to anchor it in place.

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Next, they use smaller wood poles connected by barbed wire (seen below) to prop the pole up and to lift it in increments.  These tongs are in varying lengths, and the longest are nearly as long as the Maypole is tall.  The group would lever the pole up slightly, then move one or two of the sets of tongs further down the pole, then another lift.  This is repeated until the pole is completely vertical.  These next few photos show what I’m talking about.

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There’s a secondary type of pole, seen here, which is used to help guide the longer sets of tongs when they’re quite a large distance above the ground.  A “spotter” with one of these stands under the far end of the tongs to help steady them while they are being moved further down the Maypole.  This is probably a very good idea, because it’s very easy to lose control of the longest sets of tongs when you’re only gripping it from the furthest end.  As you can see, the tongs get very long.

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Once the Maypole is entirely vertical, metal plates are bolted across the open side to keep it from toppling over again.  A few pieces of wood are wedged into place to hold the pole steady.  Finally, a quick bit of spot-welding on the bolts keeps them from coming loose for the next few months.

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After all of this, Voila!  A lovely Maypole has been set up in the village of Peising.  The blue and white stripes are traditional; they’re the colors of the Bavarian flag.  Once the Maypole is fully raised, everyone settles back down for beer and bratwurst.  And, in my case, chocolate cake.

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Have you ever seen a Maypole raising?

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Burg Prunn

One of the things that you learn while living in Germany is that castles are to Germany what Waffle House, Coca-Cola, and the name Peachtree are to Atlanta.  There are castles everywhere over here.  Some of them aren’t all that stereotypically castle-ish.  For example, there’s Prunn Castle.

Burg (Castle) Prunn sits on the edge of a hill, so the view from the castle wall is nothing short of spectacular.  There’s literary historical significance to this castle, also.  The “Prunner Codex“, the fourth oldest complete manuscript of the high German heroic epic, the Nibelungenlied, was discovered in this castle.

The castle goes back to the 11th century, and there are clearly two parts to the castle. The central tower, and the buildings which were constructed around the tower later on.

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There is a small courtyard near the main entrance to the castle.  Unfortunately, pictures are not permitted inside the castle, so I can only show you the outside walls.  The inside was cold, but fascinating.  The entire structure has even been immortalized in Lego.

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Have you been to Burg Prunn?  What’s your favorite castle?

Living On The 49th Parallel

We’re a few days into Spring now, according to the calendar, but the temperatures outside still scream WINTER to me.   The sunlight, though, is definitely springtime sun.  Ever since this winter was declared the darkest on record since records began, I’ve been feeling the darkness much more acutely.  A few weeks ago, we had about one week of warmer temperatures and sunlight- a  Spring tease, if you will.

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This week, it snowed again.  And it got cold, damned cold.

49thParallelThe problem is that Germany pretty far north.  Bavaria, where I live, is on the 49th Parallel.  In North America, the 49th Parallel roughly describes the border between the US and Canada.   For someone who spent most of his life up until 2011 in Florida, this takes some getting used to.

During the core part of Winter,  the days are much shorter than anything I’m used to.  This is especially true in late November and December- it’s night-time dark by the time I leave the office at the end of the day.  Last year, I actually bought one of those sun lamps that people use to combat Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).  I used that lamp almost every day last winter, and I barely noticed the omnipresent gloom.  This year, I mostly didn’t pay attention to the lamp, and the end result was I didn’t leave my apartment as much, I didn’t travel as much, and I was generally less interested in doing much of anything. My friends noticed I was especially grumpy for about two months, and that it was obvious that I was super cranky and unhappy.

Lesson learned.

The trade-off is in the summer months, though. I was astonished last year while visiting Amsterdam to note that it was still basically daylight after 10pm, and didn’t start to get dark until close to 11.   When we switch to daylight savings time this weekend, that will put sunset at close to 8pm.  I’m really looking forward to it. (The switch for Germany is on the 31st of March, if you’re wondering.)

As usual, Itchy Feet nails what we’re all thinking:

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Summer time is coming.  Do you prefer longer or shorter days? 

How Not To Travel

Usually, when I decide to travel to a new place, I do fairly exhaustive research.  I look at information about what other people like to see in the city.  I check for walking tours or hop-on/hop-off tours.  I confirm information about the public transportation.

Most importantly, I do something that I’ve been doing before trips to new places for many years.  I make a list with three categories:

  1. Stuff I absolutely must see while I’m in this new city.  This category is the stuff that I’m most excited about. This category often includes the reason I went to the new city in the first place.
  2. Stuff that I really want to see.  This stuff isn’t quite as important as the MUST SEE category, but it usually includes a lot of interesting things that I’m glad I saw after the trip is done.
  3. Only if there’s time.  This is stuff that seems interesting to me, but if I don’t get to it, I won’t be too sad about it.

I’ve been using this three tier method for a lot of years, and when I’m traveling with a friend, I have them do the same list.  More often than not, we manage to get ALL of the must-see stuff, most of the really-want-to-see stuff, and occasionally, we even get to the only-if-there’s-time level.  Having things tiered this way makes it very easy to figure out a day by day plan without it becoming too overwhelming or stressful.   This planning method has always worked very well for me while traveling, and I should know better than to stray too far from it.

Yesterday, I tried something different.

I’ve been feeling kind of stuck lately- I don’t travel as much in January and February because it’s fricking cold and I don’t usually want to go take pictures of things when the sky is full-gray and I’m bundled up like the Michelin man.  Climbing hills to castles is not fun on snow and ice.

In order to combat the feeling of stuck-ness, I decided recently that I would try to visit some of the really close towns, places that I can get to in about an hour on the train.  A Bavaria Ticket costs me 22 Euros, and that covers the train there and back as well as any bus lines or public transportation in the destination city, anywhere in Bavaria.  The idea here is that if I day-trip to a new place, I don’t need to muck about with getting a hotel, packing a bag, and so forth.  I just go, wander around a new city for the day, then come back.

Why did this backfire?

  • It failed because I chose Ingolstadt as my first foray out this way.  Ingolstadt is perhaps the most boring city in Bavaria.  The most interesting things about Ingolstadt are that the Illuminati was founded there and the monster was created there in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.  Neither of these things is easy to see in a touristy way on a day trip.  Oh, and Audi has a factory and tour there, but I didn’t think to get information about that before I left Regensburg.
  • It failed because I went on a Sunday.  Everything is closed on Sundays.  Bus routes are cut down to once in hour in many routes on Sundays, which made getting around town kind of a pain in the ass.
  • Above all else, this little day trip failed because I didn’t prepare for it.  It failed because I didn’t do my list this time.  Ingolstadt doesn’t have many old buildings because it was significantly bombed out in World War II.  The few remaining old buildings look pretty nifty, but since I didn’t do my research before the trip, I didn’t know where to look.

This is the most interesting thing I managed to see in Ingolstadt yesterday:

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That’s directly opposite the Bahnhof.  I spent the rest of the day using the tediously slow Sunday bus routes to try to find cool things to see.  I didn’t even manage to figure out where Ingolstadt’s “Altstadt” or Zentrum (city center) was.

I did have a successful conversation with a passerby who spoke no English, so I feel like that was a win, but I learned a great deal on this trip about what doesn’t work for me when I travel.

What lessons have you learned in your life about what NOT to do when traveling?