Sunday, May 17, 2009


Sunday 17 May 2009

Yesterday was a perfect day. The circumstances leading up to it were less than optimal, but this day was more than adequate compensation for the preceding inconvenience and discomfort. But first back to the beginning…

A few months ago I injured myself during mandatory Thursday morning sports PT. We were playing some sort of football/Frisbee game on a basketball court, and I pushed off too hard and injured something inside my right foot. It hurt like the dickens, and I could barely walk. At first I thought it would heal by itself, so I just took some ibuprofen and soldiered on. But it didn’t go away. Sometimes it was better, and sometimes it was worse, but it was always there. At best it was a dull ache, and I could more or less ignore it. At other times it was a very sharp pain that would bring tears to my eyes and almost prevent me from walking at all.

Meanwhile a different condition that had been surgically corrected years ago returned (or at least the symptoms returned) and I needed to get that looked at and taken care of. When I went to the TMC, I expected a referral to a doctor downtown, but instead they sent me to Landstuhl, Germany. I decided that while I was here I should have them look at my foot as well. So once again I find myself back in Germany for medical treatment in the middle of a deployment.

This time I did not go through the MEDEVAC system. They put me on TDY orders, booked a commercial flight and a rental car, and sent me on my way. I flew into Frankfurt airport on Wednesday, picked up my car (a little Mercedes diesel), and drove to Kaiserlautern. There was no room for me in the military lodging system, so I had to get a room in a German hotel (oh, darn!). They found me one right behind the medical center, so it is just a hop, skip, and a jump over there. I got myself settled in, and then went down to the hotel restaurant for an absolutely wonderful Jaegerschnitzel and a beer, then went to bed.

Hotel Gasthof "Pfaelzer Stuben" in Landstuhl
Der Wirt und die Wirtin mit ihre Waffensammlung
My first appointment was Thursday morning. After that consultation they scheduled me for an internal examination on Friday. I had lunch in the DFAC and then had to process into the DWMMC (Deployed Warrior Medical Management Center) so that they could keep track of me and give me a higher priority for appointments. Apparently the way I was sent here is not all that uncommon – they even had a name for it – I was a “ghost”, i.e. an apparition who just appeared without any advance notice, outside the system. So I got into the system, then went down to Orthopedics/Podiatry.

They started me out in podiatry, and after listening to all my symptoms, examining me, and taking X-rays, they pronounced the diagnosis: Plantar fasciitis. I also have a heel spur, but fortunately it is horizontal and is not the source of the pain. Apparently these grow in response to the sort of injury I have. Essentially I hyper-extended some tissues that support the arch of my foot, and it is very painful.

They gave me some anti-inflammatory drugs and also some orthotic inserts for my boots (actually they are off-the-shelf commercial arch supports called “Superfeet”). Ironically, I already used Superfeet at home in my backpacking boots, but did not bring them with me nor buy any for my combat boots. Now I have two pair courtesy of Uncle Sam, and they make a huge difference. I am hopeful and optimistic that they will make this condition bearable and permit my foot to heal.

Thursday evening I came back to the hotel, looked at the menu, and just *had* to have another Jaegerschitzel. It was too delicious to even think about trying anything else. I had a so-called Jaegerschitzel once at one of the military DFACs, but it was a very poor attempt – not even close. This was the real article. Large schnitzel, thick creamy sauce, and lots and lots of mushrooms. Mmmmm!

Friday morning I had my examination. I’ll spare you the details, but it involved poking and prodding and endoscopic instruments. I got a doctor’s-eye view on the screen as he looked around, and then a guided tour of my own innards as he showed me what was normal and healthy as well as the little bits that were not so healthy, and that were the source of my discomfort.

The good news is that it was *not* a recurrence of my earlier condition – it was a new condition with the same symptoms. This condition is treatable by medication, which he prescribed. He told me to take it over the weekend and report back on Monday for a consultation. At that point he will make a determination as to whether this is the right course of treatment for me, and if so, send me on my way back to the AOR.

So by early afternoon on Friday I was free to do as I pleased. What a conundrum – all on my own in Germany with nothing to do and no place to go! (Well, let me clarify – nothing I am *required* to do and no place I am *required* to go).

Since I’d had several meals in the hotel restaurant already, I wanted a change of scenery. We are way up the hill from the rest of the town (not within walking distance). Since I had every intention of drinking a beer or two, I got on the bus. It makes a complete circuit of the town once an hour. I got out in the middle of town and started looking for a restaurant to settle down in for the afternoon/evening.

The only problem was that I had forgotten a quaint German custom. I don’t know what they call it here, but the Mexicans call it “siesta”. Everything was closed until 1730. Since it was about 1530, I had two hours to kill. I walked around a bit, but since I hadn’t had lunch I was hungry. Besides that, my foot was starting to hurt quite a bit. I was wearing my running shoes and had not put in the other pair of insoles. (As Homer Simpson would say, *Doh*!)

I finally decided I either had to just get on the bus and go back, or pick a less-than optimal place to sit down. I ended up going into one of the only two places that were open – a little Turkish “Doner Kebab” place. Here I was re-introduced to another quaint German custom – smoking in restaurants. It was a tiny little place, filled with some colorful locals and dense clouds of smoke. I ordered a Doner Kebab (basically an “Olga’s” sandwich except the meat was mostly fat – yecch!) and a beer, and had my meal. The bus stop was right outside, so I was able to catch the bus without much walking, and got back the hotel. I opened the window in the bathroom and hung my jacket and sweatshirt up to air out, did some reading, and called it a night.

Saturday morning arrived and I was determined to make good use of the day. After my “Fruhstuck” (breakfast) of brotchen, cheese, ham, jam, and coffee (I bet I’ve gained back at least five pounds already), I headed out for a day on the road. The westerna part of this region of Germany (Rheinland-Pfalz) is informally known as the “Drei-Laender Eck” (“Three country corner”) because it is right near where Germany, France, and Luxemburg meet. The Mosel River is not too far to the west from here, and I decided to visit the city of Trier.

Trier is the oldest city in Germany. It was founded around the 16th century B.C., and has Roman ruins in it. The Romans cultivated vinyards here, and the region is still well-known for wine (the rivers that converge in this area are the Mosel, Saar, and Ruwer - sound familiar?)

I had an interesting time getting there. The last thing I wanted to do was drive on the Autobahn, as I really wanted a more intimate driving experience. I did drive on the Autobahn for about 30 km or so, and was reminded of the Kraftwerk song from the 1970’s – “Fahren, auf der Autobahn….vor uns liegt ein breites Tal, die Sonne scheint, mit Blitzendstrahl…die Fahrbahn ist ein graues Band, weisse Streifen, gruener Rand….). That’s all I could remember. It made me want to buy the album on CD. Maybe I will tomorrow, just so I can listen to it while I drive. :-) (Aside – I just bought it on iTunes….)

While driving today I was reminded of yet another little quirk of Germany – while the roads are very well-marked, they do not use directions at all. Whereas our Interstate highways are always marked with cardinal directions (e.g. I-75 north, I-80 west), theirs only tell the next major town or city (e.g. A6 to Kaiserlautern). So when you come to an interchange or intersection, you are presented with lists of cities. If you don’t know what city on the list you want to go towards, you are screwed. Never mind if you know you need to head generally west – they are not going to tell you which way that is. You are supposed to know that you want to go to to Kaiserlautern, or at least that Kaiserlautern is in the direction you want to go. If you don’t, tough ta-ta’s. Stop and study the map.

So I had an interesting morning driving “uberall rum herum”. It didn’t really matter, though. I didn’t much care where I was going, as long as it was out in the forests and mountains. And that’s exactly where I was. It was just awesome. Curvy roads, little villages, forests, farmland, mountains…the smell of spring in the air. What an unbelievable contrast to the desert. I was in heaven. I just drove wherever it seemed like it would be interesting, stopped to walk around whenever I felt like it, and tried to more or less stay headed in the right direction. I was all over the map, but eventually found my way to Trier.

Scenic overlook from a ruined castle

Observation platform at the castle. The ringwall partially encircled the hill.

Remains of a tower with a relief sculpture

While driving I was torn between stopping to take pictures and just absorbing it all, sucking in as much as I could. I knew that pictures would help later when I want to remember and to evoke the feeling of being here. But the act of photography felt (somewhat uncharacteristically) like a distraction. I just wanted to soak it all in like a sponge. I did take a few pictures, but didn’t really concentrate too much on them. I saw many things I may later wish I’d photographed, but it doesn’t really matter.

Country scene that caught my eye.

While driving, I have had the radio on almost constantly. I switch around and keep it on people talking rather than music. I want to hear the language as much as possible as an aid to remembering and recovering my fluency. I think it’s working, as I listened to quite a long scientific program discussing anti-oxidants and their effects on the aging process of cells, as well as the relationship of this process to cancer. I understood most of it pretty well. I find that words and phrases are popping into my head constantly. The rhythm, pronunciation, and intonation feel quite natural even though this is not the region of Germany where I learned to speak it. I guess it’s close enough.

I experienced something unusual during the drive – on my way to Trier, I lost touch with the station I was listening to and had to scan for a new one. The station that came on had people talking, and I could hardly understand them at first. It was clearly German, but spoken much differently – at first I thought it was French! The consonants were much softer and the rhythm and pronunciation were definitely very French-like. In fact I’d swear that they were interspersing German and French phrases and even whole sentences. It makes sense given that it is so close to France. It was very interesting to hear it. For all I know it was a Luxembourg station – I don’t know what they speak there.

Anyway, I found my way to Trier, and into a parking garage. Good thing I had a small car – the spaces were microscopic! (Not to mention the ramps). I had driven around for awhile before parking to try to get the feel of the place, and I chose my parking garage well – I came out right by the Fussgangerzone (pedestrian zone) and main central marketplace area. As I had in the countryside, I just meandered along and soaked it all in. I did take a number of photos, some of which I’ll include. But mostly I just looked and listened and smelled.

Marketplace in Trier. St. Gangolf Church in the background.

A building with a store in it. The little plaque on the right reads "Built circa 1290"

You take your sense of smell for granted, until you are in the desert for a long time. There just are no smells there to speak of except the dust, and the sewage smells when the systems occasionally back up. Of course, there is the smell of food in the DFAC, as well as all the obnoxious body sprays and colognes that the morons amongst us wear too much of, but they don’t really count. The smells that I missed were the smells of the woods and fields that I experienced all morning Saturday, and the smells of the various coffee shops and bakeries and restaurants as I walked around the city. It was wonderful!

The Dom - the oldest cathedral in Germany.

After walking over to the Roman ruins as well as to the Dom (a Romanesque cathedral), I settled into a seat at an outside table at a restaurant right by a fountain. I spent the rest of the afternoon people-watching and enjoying the food and drink. When I first sat down a man was sitting by the fountain playing tunes on a saxophone and clarinet alternately. He was quite good. Then he left, and a little while later a group started up across the square playing brass horns. I saw a trumpet and a trombone, and I’m not sure what else they had – there were at least four of them. They played for a long time, and had quite a variety in their repertoire. I recognized Handel, Mozart, Beethoven, Pachelbel, the Beatles (“When I’m 64”), some movie themes, and some others I can’t remember now. It was very pleasant. I resolved to put some money “in the hat” when I got up, but by then they were gone.

I ordered a meal, and it was a bit out of the ordinary for me. I usually get some kind of schnitzel or sausage. This time I ordered a dish called “Eifeler Wildragout”, which was a ragout made of two kinds of venison, along with Spaetzle (springy little potato knodels), a pear with Preiselbeeren (some kind of tart berries) and applesauce. Normally I’d just have a beer, but given where I was I ordered a glass of wine. I ordered a white wine, a Thiergartner something-or-another. It was a Spatlase, which is a higher quality wine (the grapes are picked later, after they have ripened further on the vine). I don’t know much about wine, but I do know that much. :-) It turned out to be fairly fruity. Normally I prefer what they call “halbtrocken”, or half-dry, and I don’t care much for fruity wines. But this was sublime. The taste stayed on my tongue long after I swallowed it, and I strove to make each sip last. I had also ordered a bottle of water, and I used that to cleanse my palate between sips of wine and bites of food. I lingered over every sip and every bite, just soaking it all in (again like a sponge!). When I took the time to think about it, I would become acutely conscious that in two or three days I’d be back in Qatar, and I wanted to enjoy every morsel and every moment. The contrast is so enormous it’s almost unbelievable. What on earth am I doing in that godforsaken sandbox?

Finally the food and wine was finished. Not yet content or ready to depart, I ordered a coffee and a slice of Erdbeerkuchen (strawberry cake) with whipped cream. I lingered over that as well, similarly savoring every sip and every bite. Finally it was all gone, and it was time to go. I paid and walked back to the car, taking time on the way to take a few more photos of things I had noticed while sitting at the restaurant:

This fountain was in right front of me as I sat outside at the restaurant.

I liked this statue on the side of a building across the square.

Of course there had to be a McDonald's - see the golden arches in the third story windows?

I had a little adventure getting out of the parking garage. I had gotten a ticket at the gate on the way in, just like you do in the USA. I left it in the car (as I always do). When I got to the gate on the way out, there was a place to insert the ticket, but no place to put money and no person. I put in the ticket but nothing happened. I finally pressed the speaker button and a voice came on. After exchanging a few words it became clear that I had misunderstood the system. You are supposed to take the ticket with you, and then pay as you walk back into the garage. Your payment is recorded on your ticket, and when you put it in the machine at the exit, the gate opens. *Now* they tell me! Fortunately nobody was behind me so I could back up, go around to the front, stop the car, get out and pay, and come back down to the gate. (“Stupid American – what the heck was he thinking?”)

The drive back was very similar to the drive to Trier. I had decided to just take the Autobahn back, but I got headed in the wrong direction and found myself going to Luxembourg. It was a narrow mountain road with no turnouts, and I went quite a ways before turning around. I went back down, through the city, and out, but still not on the right road to the Autobahn. At first I got irritated at the confusing road signage and thought to myself “This is why you lost the war, you idiots!”, but then I came to my senses and just relaxed and enjoyed the ride. A much healthier attitude. And the ride back was absolutely gorgeous.

At one point I stopped to get out and take photos. I had noticed a certain quality to the terrain while driving, and I wanted to capture it. Once I was out and on foot, it all looked pretty mundane, and the photos seemed very pedestrian. I just couldn’t quite get the feeling I’d felt while driving. So I got back in and continued down the road. It wasn’t even a quarter of a mile before I rounded a curve and was treated to a breathtaking view! I was at the top of a long hill, with a river (the Saar) at the bottom. Vinyards on the slopes, churches in the middle of tile-roofed villages, a castle in the distance – it was postcard-perfect. I was on an extremely narrow and steep road with no turnouts and had to keep driving, and had no opportunity to take a photograph. When I reached the bottom I almost went back up, but decided not to since it was very late in the day and I wanted to make it back to Landstuhl in daylight. But I thought the episode was interesting - I really think that I had sensed the photographic potential of the place where I was. I just stopped too soon (or didn’t explore enough) to take advantage of it. Too bad, but I have the memory if not the picture.

The photo I took just before the view opened into something really worthwhile. You can just see a hint of it between the trees at the end of the road in the lower center....

The rest of the drive back was wonderful. I just rolled the windows down and enjoyed the ride. Village after village, rolling fields and wooded hills, churches and the occasional castle, and most of all the forest. That heavy, moist, woody smell – cut logs, fallen leaves and moss, pollen in the air. I miss that so much.

Finally I reached the Autobahn, and headed for Kaiserlautern and Landstuhl. It was about 75km back from that point, so I had a good hour-plus drive. I was getting tired, so my timing was about right.

Today instead of a long drive I think I’ll take a walk up the mountain that this hotel is on. There is a castle (Burg) at the top and supposedly a long walking path. More on that later.

Mood: Content
Music: Kraftwerk - Autobahn


At 19:05, Blogger gessen1958 said...

Brad - I am just reading of your adventure today. 9-1-2009. Sounds like a great adventure! I remember the song you are talking about Kraftwerk - Autobahn. It was awesome!

Hope you are doing well!



Post a Comment

<< Home