Germany Part 6: Goethe, Glücksburg, and Gaffes

4 08 2012

By seeking and blundering we learn.”
― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

    Every U.S. city worth its salt has a road named after Martin Luther King.  King was an important man who did important things and still to this day is inspiring people. Germany’s King is Goethe.  So far, we have not found a city in Germany that doesn’t have a Goethestraße, or a Goetheplatz, or a Goethesomething.   In Lübeck, we went to the Thomas Mann museum ( didn’t know who he was either) and found out that in his writings he often referred to Goethe’s ideas.  So I finally got off my duff and Googled him.   Turns out that I already knew Goethe, or at least his sayings, many of which are written on plaques and sold in gift shops.

“There are two things children should get from their parents: roots and wings.”

“There is nothing worse than aggressive stupidity.”

      And the quote I started with, which should very well be our trip mantra.  For we are seeking and doing more than our fair share of blundering, but at the same time we are learning.  Mostly, we are learning how to ask for help.

We left Lübeck this morning after a quick breakfast in our room courtesy of Aldi’s.  We boarded our train and made the connections without any trouble.  We have learned that much.  We got to Flensbug about noon and looked around for the bus station since our hotel was a couple of miles away, but without any luck.  Then I picked up a sweet sound, a woman speaking American.  I went up to her with our inquiry.  Turns out she was from Steamboat Springs where Brian and I had honeymooned.  She and her mother were visiting the city where her mother grew up.  She told us how to get the bus tickets, but then suggested that we share a taxi since they were going the same direction.  We did, and learned a lot about the city sights as well as information about a boat ride through the fjord that went through Danish waters.  The taxi dropped us off at the Gästehaus Seewarte and we went on in.  That’s when the sitcom began.

Germany 2012 409

Gästehaus Seewarte


Once inside we were confronted with a set of stairs, down which tumbled a smallish man with a lisp and a stutter.  “Follow me, follow me”.  So we did, going up the stairs to a hallway with several doors and a tiny office where an old woman in a wheelchair played video games.  The smallish man couldn’t find our reservation, but “no problem no problem,” and he led us to a room.  “130 euros for night,” he said, at which point I became the stutterer as I tried to point out that their website said 100 euros for two nights.  “Ja ja ja,” he said, “Ok,” making this the most profitable bargaining I’d ever done.

If you Google “Fawlty Towers” you’ll get some feeling for the quirkiness of this place.  Each time we came out of our room, the smallish man appeared around the corner.  We took to sneaking around to try to avoid his curious looks.

We boarded a bus at the bus stop across from the hotel and headed, we hoped, for the city center.  Relief: we got there.  Then on the advice of the cab driver, we bought tickets for a two hour tour of the Flensburg Fjord on the good ship Viking.  Germany 2012 382We passed sailboats, yachts, huge container ships, sailboarders, kayaks, and even a lone paddle boarder making his way across the fjord.  More than once I caught Annalise zooming in with the viewfinder of my camera to get a better view of his Scandinavian good looks!

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We passed over into Denmark.  From what we could see, Denmark is a very wet country.  Back on dry land, we walked through the Altstadt ( old town) and ate a late lunch at a cafe.  By the time we located a museum, it was too late to go in, so we made our way back to the bus station.  Not knowing which bus we should take, we fumbled around for a while before I got tired and asked a bus driver.  Success!

After freshening up in our room, we headed back out for a walk at the water’s edge, it being too early to stay inside.  Finally, our legs could take no more and we snuck back into our room.  Voices followed us, but we saw no one, probably due to pre-game warm-ups as Germany played Italy this evening.  Yes, we had blundered around but we learned from our blunders.  Goethe would be proud.

Day 10, Friday,  June 29
We broke our fast at the bäckeri across the street from the Seewarte hotel, then caught the bus heading for the city.  We got off before we got to the city and started out on foot to find the university. Flensburg University has an arrangement with Winthrop University for a  Study Abroad  program, so we figured that we would check it out while we were so close. Got lost again.  Darn.  An older woman saw our confused looks and tried to help but knew no English, and Annalise couldn’t make herself understood in German.  We somehow managed to get on the right street and passed the bahnhoff so we stopped to pick up our train tickets for Bremen, tomorrow’s destination.

That done, we kept on walking.  In spite of, or because of, the thunderstorm the night before, it was uncommonly warm and muggy.  Off came my scarf.  We kept on walking.   Off came my sweater.  It was a good thing we got to the campus or things might have gotten ugly.  Annalise asked a hapless bystander for directions to the admissions office.  He directed us to one office who directed us to another office.  We spoke to a woman about the program but she couldn’t do a tour as she was quite busy.  We decided we would take a bus back, but couldn’t  find the bus stop.  Once again we looked so confused that two girls came up and asked if they could help.  They directed us to the bus stop so soon we were back at the city center.

We walked over to the ship museum, which would have been more interesting had there been English captions on the exhibits.  As it was, we learned that there was a thriving slave trade based on the Danish colony on the Caribbean island of St. Thomas.  Denmark had ruled St. Thomas from 1666 until 1917 when the U.S. bought it for $25 million in gold.  Who knew?  Sugar cane plantations were used to produce rum, which was exported to Flensburg.  Entry in this museum also gave us tickets to another museum, so we walked up a breathless hill to see an exhibit of Grimm”s fairy tales as shown in art nouveau tapestries.  Even more interesting to me was the building, an old castle- like mansion.  It being 2:30 by this point, I insisted we stop for lunch, which for me was a plate of curry worst mit fries.  Annalise pretty much exists on air.

    Next we boarded a bus for Glücksburg Castle, in the town of Glücksburg about half an hour away.  The castle, or schlosse, built in the 1500s was magnificent, from the attic where the many servants lived, to the large gathering hall where we had to don huge felt slippers to protect the wooden floors, to the basement housing the prison and torture chamber.  The docent was quite friendly and even took us behind the scenes to show us the water closet installed in the early 1900s.  By the time we left, it was 6:00, the museum was closing and it was pouring rain.

    Of course we had no idea of the bus schedule, having neglected yet again to check before we got off.  Fortunately, there was a covered bus shelter, where we waited in the pouring rain for about half an hour, making nervous jokes about spending the night on the wooden bench, before asking a couple passing by if they knew when the next bus would be.  They didn’t, but the man helped us figure out from the posted sign that a bus should be arriving in another twenty minutes, which it did, delivering us safely back to our quirky hotel about 7:30.  For the third time today, we were helped by the kindness of strangers.

Yesterday, traveling through the dark forests by train, I had envisioned stern soldiers seeking out frightened groups of Jews fleeing the Nazi cruelty.   As our train sped us smoothly from one city to the next, I imagined the rough, clattering ride of Jews crammed into smelly, cold cattle cars.  Yet today that vision has changed as we have encountered friendly folk at every turn, stepping out of their comfort zone to help two confused travelers.



One response

7 08 2012
Kathryn Fenner

My favorite Goethe saying, which clearly applies to your trip, is “Act boldly, and mighty forces will come to your aid.” Another one, which I think might suit your teaching, ” a person hears only what he understands” and “treat others as if they were what they ought to be and you help them become what they are capable of being.” That last one is far more graceful in German.

Finally, what I am finding so true after too long in Germany, “go to foreign countries and you will get to appreciate the good things you have at at home.”

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