Category Archives: Germany

Wroclaw, A Lucky Escape and A Museum

Following the coffee break we returned to the streets, walked through the Market Square and out the other side and at this point alarm bells started to ring because it soon became obvious to me that Kim was leading us directly towards the shopping arcades.  I knew the signs, I have seen them many times before, the sniff of the perfume, the glitter of the sparkly things catching the corner of the eye  and the smell of shoe leather.

For a while I fell behind after stopping to buy a doughnut from a shop with a long and patient queue but after the purchase I caught her up and queried this but was received an assurance that this was a complete coincidence – but I wasn’t entirely convinced. And as it turned out I had good reason not to be entirely convinced because suddenly we were outside the entrance to a modern shopping mall and the tractor beam that attracts women into shops was working on maximum draw power.

I had fallen for it again but I wasn’t the only one who didn’t want to shop so while Kim, Margaret and Sue went inside Mike, Christine and I declined and returned to the streets and relieved to have got away with it to a delightful linear park which was built on the site of the old city walls, demolished in 1814 by Napoleon Bonaparte until we came to the Wroclaw Municipal Museum.

The Museum is housed in a former Palace of the Hohenzollern Prussian Royal Family and has been restored to something of its former grandeur since being mostly destroyed in the fighting of 1945.

The Prussian Kings and the German Emperors rather liked Breslau (Wroclaw), spent some considerable time there and had monuments of themselves erected in prominent places to record the fact like these two of Wilhelm I and Wilhelm II…

This one was at a place called Partisan Hill a once elegant recreational area with a grandiose crescent-shaped structure like something that might be found in Baden-Baden or Bath but is now sadly neglected, forlorn and forgotten with crumbling masonry and cracked pavements, a once gleaming construction littered with smashed bottles and spray can squiggles and the only hope is that it stays standing long enough until someone restores it.

By the time the monarchy was abolished in 1918 the German Kaiser had quite a few royal palaces to choose from.  In Berlin he had the City Palace which was badly damaged by Allied bombing and despite the protests of West Germany demolished by the German Democratic Republic in 1950.  In the city of Posen (now Polish Poznań) he had the Imperial Castle, which during World-War-Two became Hitler’s residence in Poland and in Potsdam he had the New Palace, which was used as a Museum and was looted and badly damaged by Russian troops in the Red Army invasion and nearby Cecilienhof Palace which was used as the venue for the Potsdam Conference where Breslau eventually became Wroclaw.

Germany and Russia were always pinching each other’s treasure and all this thieving was a two-way thing and among the Red Army troops who entered Berlin in 1945 were experts sent to establish “trophy commissions.”

Their official mission was to look for Russian cultural property stolen by the Nazis when they had invaded the Soviet Union a few years earlier but Red Army officers widened their brief and started removing the large art collections and treasures from anywhere in Europe that had been stored in bunkers and railway depots during the war and transported them home in retaliation for the looting places like the Grand Palace at Peterhof in St. Petersburg and other museums by the Nazis a few years earlier.

In 1992, after the Soviet Union disintegrated, the German and Russian governments made an agreement of cultural cooperation and both countries are now bogged down in the process of returning stolen treasures to their rightful owners but inevitably a lot of these items have found their way into private collections and are difficult to track down.

In addition to the stately palaces in Berlin, Breslau (Wroclaw), Posen (Poznań) and Potsdam the Kaiser also had a nice summer holiday palace called the Achilleion on the Greek island of Corfu which I visited a few years ago and is now an up-market casino that was used as a location for the James Bond film ‘For Your Eyes Only’.

Four Palaces and a summer home might sound extravagant but compare that to the present King of Spain, Juan Carlos, who has seven palaces in mainland Spain and a summer home on the island of Majorca.

There were no temporary exhibitions today to slow us down so we went straight ahead into the permanent museum display ‘1000 years of Wroclaw’ which starts on the ground floor at around the year 1000 and ascends through three floors and two extensive wings right up to the present day.

We quickly passed through the first two hundred years or so but the pace slowed down through the medieval armoury section because I do admit fascination with those early weapons of mass destruction and through into the seventeenth century.

Then we crawled through one of my favourite periods of European history, the eighteenth century and took our time too through the nineteenth and the period of German unification and Prussian expansion and here in the Yellow Living Room I unearthed my favourite fact about the Palace for it was here in 1813 that King Frederic William III made the Proclamation of the Iron Cross as a war medal.

We spent most time however on the top floor in the twentieth century with exhibits and photographs from the two world wars, the siege of Breslau, the expulsion of the German population, the communist era and then modern-day Wroclaw.

An hour in the Museum was just about right and then we left and returned to the Market Square to meet up with the shoppers at the appointed time and place.

You might like to check out this website all about Wroclaw…

http://wroclawuncut.com/2017/01/31/city-museum-discover-the-history-of-wroclaw/

Poland and Wroclaw, Statistics and Shifting Borders

History Teaches us Lessons but we do not Learn…

I should have been in everyone’s interests (in 1803) to keep Poland as a cheerful. thriving buffer but instead, for careless, short-termed reasons the Prussians and the Russians carved Poland into non-existence.” – Simon Winder, ‘Germania’

Wroclaw it seems to me is a friendly, honest city, proud but not boastful, ambitious but unpretentious and as we walked I thought about the statistics that I generally use to get the measure of a country or a place.

Poland is placed thirty-ninth in the Human Development Index which means that it is the top fifty of most highly developed countries.  The Index ranks countries by level of ‘human development’ and the statistic is composed from data on life expectancy, education and per-capita gross national income.  It is rated nineteenth out of thirty in the European Happiness Index which may not sound very impressive but is two places above the United.

Poland has fourteen UNESCO World Heritage Sites which puts in nineteenth place in the World and tenth overall in Europe which is no mean achievement.  One of the nineteen is the Centennial Hall in Wroclaw which was built to commemorate the defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Leipzig and is included as an early example of the use of reinforced concrete.

Perhaps not surprisingly the country was rather late joining the Blue Flag Beach initiative but is now catching up and has by 2013 achieved the status at twenty-eight beaches and Marinas on the Baltic Sea.

But some things are not going so well, in football, Poland has finished third twice at the Football World Cup but has been spectacularly unsuccessful in the European Nations cup where it has qualified twice but on neither occasion progressed beyond the group stages.

If you think that the football statistics are disappointing however, consider this, Poland has made the finals of the Eurovision Song Contest only nine times in sixteen attempts although it did manage to come second in 1994 despite almost being disqualified for rehearsing in English!

But it is the history of the country that fascinates me most because Poland has had a most dramatic and unfortunate last one thousand years and the reason for this is largely down to its geographical position on one of the dangerously volatile European political fault lines with powerful neighbours to both east and west using it a convenient buffer state and taking it in turns to use it as a punch bag.

For a thousand years the borders of central Europe have expanded and contracted like a piano accordion as other more powerful states have invaded it, subjugated it and periodically annexed those parts that they found that they had a particular liking for.  The last great redrawing of the boundaries came in 1946 which gave us the geographical shape of Poland that we recognise today and I mention this here because this review of the borders had a significant impact on Wroclaw.

Prior to 1946 Wroclaw was called Breslau and was part of greater Germany and one of the important Imperial cities of old Prussia, by all accounts an elegant city of spires and canals.  The Germans were fond of Breslau and it survived most of the war pretty much intact but in 1945 as the Red Army advanced Hitler declared it a fortress city and ordered it to be defended to the last man.  There was a high price to pay for this military obstinacy and in a few weeks the city was almost completely destroyed to the extent that what we see now is all due to post war reconstruction.

After the city finally fell Soviet revenge for holding up the Red Army advance was swift and brutal, with reprisals against the German population going largely unchecked as bands of ill-disciplined Soviet soldiers rampaged across the city, dispensing instant and brutal justice to those who resisted.  Abandoned to anarchy Breslau had reached its lowest point, a city lost in human catastrophe.

With Germany defeated the Allies set about agreeing borders for new Poland and had to accommodate the desire of the USSR to push their western border as far into central Europe as possible to re-establish a series of buffer states that would protect Russia from further western aggression and another invasion – Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine all served this purpose.  So while Poland retreated in the east it was compensated for this loss with lands in the west – principally the old Prussian/German states of Pomerania and Silesia and a new border was agreed on the Oder-Neisse line with what was to become temporarily East Germany.

Now the trouble really began because the Soviets didn’t want the disaffected and troublesome Poles living in their annexed territories so they were forcibly expelled and sent west and replaced with Russian citizens in a process called Russification.  The Poles not unsurprisingly didn’t want the Germans living in new Poland so in turn forcibly expelled the Germans of old Breslau and sent them west as well  to make room for the Poles who had been displaced in the east.

The Poles arriving from the east didn’t much care for the Germanic appearance and infrastructure of the place (even though it had been largely demolished) and the end of the war signalled a belligerent campaign to de-Germanise the city.  Newspapers launched competitions to eliminate all traces of Wroclaw’s German heritage with monuments and street signs all falling victim to an iconoclastic whirlwind of destruction including an equine statue of Kaiser Wilhelm that once stood in the Market Square whilst other German structures that had survived the Russian siege were introduced to the Polish wrecking-ball.

By the end of 1946 as many as three hundred thousand Germans were still in the city and this was a problem for the Polish authorities. Forced transports began in July, and by January 1948 Wroclaw was officially declared to be free of German inhabitants.

Today occupies a significant position in central Europe, has borders with seven other States and is the tenth most visited country in Europe.

The Official Travel Guide in Wrocław – visitWroclaw.eu

 

Wrocklaw – Food, Street Entertainment and Beer

We were travelling with our friends Mike and Margaret and Christine and Sue and it was late afternoon when we left the hotel and made our way to the Old Town.

The sun was still shining so after a swift circuit of the Market Square and as we hadn’t eaten since breakfast we found a restaurant with outside seating arrangements with the intention of ordering a small snack to tide us over until evening meal time.

It seems however that the Polish people have a different interpretation to the English of what constitutes a small snack and what we thought would be a modest sharing platter turned out to be a mountainous plate of sandwiches, pastry, chips, bacon and sausage and something called Zapiekanka (a sort of baguette, about twice the size of a double Big Mac,  with nothing left out and then smothered in tomato sauce) which provided in one setting our entire calorie allowance for the day and completely eliminated the need to make any more plans for evening meal.

After all of that food and drink the only sensible thing to do now was to try to walk some of it off so we left the Market Square and headed out-of-town along one of the long boulevards which brought us eventually to the City’s main railway station and being a train enthusiast was to be the highlight of Mike’s day.  It was refurbished in 2011 in preparation for the Euro Football Championship and although it is an impressive structure it looks rather out-of-place, designed as it seems to be in the style of a North African Palace that would be more at home in Marrakech or Tangiers..

Image by Tim Richards – Lonely Planet

By the time Mike had tired of train spotting it was dark and becoming quite cool so we made our way back to the Market Square where various entertainments were in full swing.

This is one of the great pleasures of travelling to the Continent because the evening time is so very different to being in England where the town centres close up and empty of people very early and everyone rushes off home, close their gates and retreat behind their front doors.  Generally we are suspicious of people who hang around town centres at night – when Polish people living in England walk out at night people get upset and start writing letters to the local newspaper complaining about anti-social behaviour.

Once in Krakow I asked a tour guide why Polish people walk out at night even in bad weather and his explanation was that many people live in small overcrowded units in apartment blocks and rather than spend the evening getting in each other’s way they go out instead for some recreation and to be neighbourly….

… and sometimes to get drunk!

Here in Wroclaw the Market Square was buzzing and vibrant and families and friends were flowing like lava into the Old Town from every side street and alleyway and filling the bars and cafés around the perimeter.  I don’t know what they call it in Poland but this was the equivalent of the La Passeggiata in Italy or La Paseo in Spain and it was wonderful to be a part of it.

We walked around the square, several times I think, stopping frequently to watch the street entertainers and to throw some small coins in the collection boxes as we passed and when we had seen enough we looked for somewhere to stop for a drink.

We knew a place from our previous visit, a little place close to our hotel which is rather simply called ‘Drinks Bar’ which may seem unimaginative but avoids any confusion about what you are going to do in there or any other possible catastrophe such as inadvertently walking into a shop by mistake.

The really good thing about the ‘Drinks Bar’ is that it serves a variety of good beers and it is cheap so we stayed longer than we planned and drank more than we should have before moving on.

The Poles are statistically the fourth highest beer drinkers in Europe with per capita consumption of around one hundred litres a year just slightly behind the Germans and the Austrians at one hundred and five but some considerable way behind the Czechs who are way out in front with one hundred and forty-five litres per head.  So we thought we might make a contribution to a Polish challenge upon the Czech Republic beer consumption statistic and on the way back to the hotel stopped off several times at anywhere that looked bright and cheerful and would dispense foaming glasses of ale!

The Official Travel Guide in Wrocław – visitWroclaw.eu

National Pizza Day in the USA

53 Naples Pizza

“Hey Mom, they have pizza in Italy too!”  American tourist family overheard in Rome

February 9th in the USA is National Pizza Day. 

First, the facts…

… Over four billion pizzas are sold in America every year, 17% of all restaurants are pizzerias, including Italy at World Showcase at Disney World at EPCOT and around about three hundred and fifty pizza slices are eaten every second. Pepperoni is the most popular pizza at just over one-third of all pies ordered.

“When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie that’s Amore” (Harry Warren/Jack Brooks)

pizza-tonight-when-the-moon-hits-your-eye-like-a-big-pizza-pie-h2cg4e

When I was a boy growing up we didn’t have pizza!

For my Mum preparing food took up a lot of every day because there were no convenience meals and everything had to be prepared from scratch.  There was complete certainty about the menu because we generally had the same thing at the same time on the same day every week, there were no foreign foods at all, no pasta or curries and rice was only ever used in puddings.

The main meal of the week was Sunday dinner which was usually roast beef, pork or lamb (chicken was a rare treat and a turkey was only for Christmas) served with roast potatoes, Yorkshire puddings, which for some reason mum always called batter puddings, and strictly only seasonal vegetables because runner beans weren’t flown in from Kenya all year round as they are today.

We had never heard of moussaka, paella or lasagne and the week had a predictable routine; Monday was the best of the left-over meat served cold with potatoes and on Tuesday the tough bits were boiled up in a stew (we would call that bouef bourguignon now) and on Wednesday what was left was minced and cooked with onions and served with mash and in this way one good joint of meat provided four main meals with absolutely no waste.  Thursday was my personal favourite, fried egg and chips and Friday was my nightmare day with liver or kidneys because I liked neither (and still don’t!)  I complained so much about this that later I was allowed the concession of substituting sausage for liver but I was still obliged to have the gravy (which I didn’t care for much either) on the basis that ‘it was good for me!’

If we had been Catholics then we would have had fish I suppose but we didn’t have things out of the sea very often except for fish fingers.

I can still remember my very first pizza and I consider myself fortunate that it was in Italy, in 1976, my first ever overseas holiday when I visited Sorrento with my dad.

Centro Storico Naples

It was lunchtime and because we were in Naples we had to visit a pizzeria because Naples is the home of the dough based, tomato topped classic.  Legend has it that Queen Margherita of Savoy gave her name to the famous pizza on a visit there in 1889. Tired of French gourmet cooking (as you might well be) she summoned the city’s most famous pizza-maker, Raffaele Esposito, and asked him to bake her three pizzas – of which, prepared in the colours of the Italian flag – red (tomato), green (basil), and white (mozzarella) the simple and patriotic version was her favourite.

A lunchtime pizza stop in Rome…

Pizza Stop in Rome

Today, authentic Neapolitan pizzas are made with local produce and have been given the status of a ‘guaranteed traditional speciality’.  This allows only three official variants: pizza Marinara, which is made with tomato, garlic, oregano and extra virgin olive oil, pizza Margherita, made with tomato, sliced mozzarella, basil and extra virgin olive oil, and pizza Margherita Extra made with tomato, buffalo mozzarella from Campania, basil and extra virgin olive oil.

I became an immediate fan of the Italian classic and all of its variants just so long as it doesn’t have pineapple on it.  And, I am not the only one who thinks pineapple is wrong on pizza; in February 2017, the President of Iceland, Guðni Th. Jóhannesson said  and he was ‘fundamentally opposed’ to pineapple on pizzas.  He said…

“I like pineapples, just not on pizza. I do not (unfortunately) have the power to make laws which forbid people to put pineapples on their pizza.  For pizzas, I recommend seafood.”

Interestingly I cannot see that Italy itself has a National Pizza Day!

Maybe because in terms of pizza consumption per population Italy is only fifth in the World.   Fourth is Germany, third is the UK, second is the USA but first is NORWAY!  I can understand that, if I lived in Norway I would eat cheap pizza because Norway is amongst the most expensive places to live in the World.

Canada joins in on Pizza Day and I nominate this Poutine (fried potato, gravy and cheese curds) Pizza as probably the worst ever variation on the famous pie.  If we had ever had pizza at home and my mum served this up I can guarantee that I would be there twenty-four hours later listening to her repeat over and again – “you are not leaving the table until you have eaten all of your dinner” or, on rare occasions that I could wear her down…” one more mouthful and you can get down” and just to make it clear that didn’t include “I don’t want to eat this shit”.

poutine-pizza

Happy National Pizza Day USA  and Canada and Australia too, I believe – have an extra slice for me (no pineapple preferred).

pineapple-pizza

 

Black Forest, Cable Car Ride to the Top of the World

Schauinslandbahn Black Forest Cable Car

Overnight the rain turned to snow and there was a little dusting on the roofs of the houses next to the hotel and on the road outside but the sky was still grey and overcast so we decided to take a drive to the city of Freiburg about fifty kilometres.  We could have taken the direct route on the autobahn but we decided instead to take a scenic route through the forest.

The chosen route took us first through the village of Ortenberg which was an ordinary sort of place except for a large castle standing in a dominant position on a hill with a good view overlooking this part of the Rhine Valley.  It looked in good condition and we found out later that it is now a youth hostel.

Soon we arrived in Gengenbach which is a small town on the western edge of the Black Forest.  Gengenbach is well known for its traditional Fasnacht where the residents of the town closely follow tradition by wearing costumes and carved wooden masks and clapping with a Ratsche which is a wooden rattle like those we used to take to football matches before they became a health and safety hazard.

We parked the car and tried to make sense of the parking fee information, bought more time than we really needed (forty-eight hours) and then walked into the Altsadt which was gaily decorated with bunting and flags for the festival.  In the main square Gengenbach has a traditional town hall which is claimed to be the World’s biggest advent calendar because the twenty-four windows of the eighteenth century town hall represent the twenty-four windows of the calendar.

Gengenbach Germany

Just behind the main street there was a warren of tiny crooked streets surrounded on all sides by the most picturesque half timbered buildings and it was almost possible to imagine that we had wandered into a secret fairy tale village of uneven cobbled streets, colourful houses and cottages and might at any moment bump into Little Red Riding Hood but hopefully not the Wolf!

After leaving Gengenbach we followed the road as far as Haslachand then towards Elzach and Freiburg.  The road started to climb quickly and it began to snow just as we passed a road sign that seemed to suggest that it might be advisable to have snow chains ready for the tyres.  We didn’t have any but we carried on anyway.  As the snow became heavier we could understand why but it wasn’t getting too deep and the winter tyres seemed to be coping well enough again but just to be sure we kept to the main road and didn’t head off any ambitious scenic detours today.

And we really didn’t need to because this was a very attractive route anyway and we passed through the towns of Waldkirch, Denzlingen and Gundelfingen and eventually approached the outskirts of Freiburg where there was a series of road works and detours.  We drove straight through the city with a plan to come back later and continued south towards the one of the highest parts of the Black Forest, the Schauinsland, and once outside the city we started to climb once more.

Schauinslandbahn Germany Black Forest

Schauinsland literally translates as ‘look into the country’ and we now set off on a twelve kilometre climb to the top through a series of sharp twists and turns through hair pin bends and narrow gorges and as we climbed the temperature dropped to minus six, it started to snow, the windscreen froze solid and the road turned into a treacherous river of slush.

At one thousand, two hundred and ninety-five metres we reached the top and living in Lincolnshire that is about one thousand, three hundred metres higher than we are normally used to.  The top of the mountain was a place of winter pastimes and people were skiing down the slopes, children were sledging and families were walking together through the thick snow.  There were good views but the weather was getting worse and the snow even heavier and we were apprehensive about the drive back down so we didn’t stay too long.

Black Forest Germany

We negotiated the snow and drove down the difficult road to the village of Horben and then decided to go back up again but by a different form of transport because from here it was possible to reach the summit on the Schauinslandbahn, which at just over three and half kilometres is the longest cable car ride in Germany.  The return ticket cost €11.50 but it was well worth it because as we climbed through an avenue of snow-covered conifers there were great views to the north-west all along the Rhine valley and into neighbouring France.

At the top once more it was snowing again and we emerged into a scene of pristine white snow, several centimetres deep, a crisp atmosphere that clawed at our fingers and toes and pure mountain air that filled our lungs and cleared our heads.  We walked for a while through trees weighed down heavily with snow, deep frozen and covered in frost and ice, along steep slippery paths where we had to watch our step as we walked all around the summit and then back to the cable car.

On the return cable car journey it was cold and draughty in the cabin but for compensation there were more magnificent views over the mountains and across to the city of Freiburg which was where we were going next.

Schauinslandbahn Black Forest Germany

An alternative Donald Trump inspired Disney EPCOT World Showcase

trump-hall-of-presidents

Following the unexpected election of Donald J Trump to the office of President of the United States the Walt Disney Corporation may find it necessary to have a rethink about the way countries are represented at EPCOT World Showcase at World Disney World in Florida to more accurately reflect the thinking and the policies of the new Commander in Chief.

Here are some ideas that they might consider…

Starting with China the Temple of Heaven could easily be demolished and replaced with a replica of the Great Wall of China to reflect an immigration policy which will redesign the USA/Mexico border with the construction of Trump’s Great Wall of Texas/New Mexico/Arizona/California.

great-wall-of-china

Rather appropriately we come now straight to Mexico which could be completely redesigned with the removal of the Aztec Temple and the boat ride El Rio del Tiempo with its audio-animatronic figures clad in authentic folk clothing, singing, dancing, and playing music. They are all way too happy and friendly and I suggest should be replaced with a Western theme based entirely on the movie ‘The Magnificent Seven’ which will emphasise the Trump image of Mexicans as fearsome gun-toting criminals showing no respect to their neighbours and swarming illegally over the borders of their village.

magnificent-seven

No really big changes required at Norway except for more emphasis on Elves and Fairies because these are the sort of mythical creatures that Donald consults with at his policy think-tank meetings and a lot more Trolls because he is good at being sexist and insulting and trolling is the basis of his interactions with normal and respectable people.

Little People Elves Iceland

Belgium is a beautiful city” Trump said during a rally in Atlanta, Georgia.

Donald doesn’t seem to have an especially good understanding of the complexities of Europe and the diversity of its constituent countries so to make it easy for visitors it would be a good idea to simply amalgamate Germany, France and Italy into one brand new attraction called the European Union and put the Eiffel Tower in amongst the canals of Venice and next to the Brandenburg Gate.

The United Kingdom could be included if it wasn’t for the distracting issue of the referendum and the decision to leave the EU but thinking ahead it would make sense to place the two attractions side by side so that they could easily be integrated if the democratic decision of the British people is overturned by the Remainers.

epcot-eu

Until that issue is resolved the United Kingdom should remain mostly unchanged to reflect the ‘special relationship’ that Donald has promised to maintain but with one important addition to represent his own personal ‘special relationship’  a waxwork image of his pal and UK BREXIT champion Nigel Farage might be placed at the bar of the Rose and Crown pub.

nigel-farage

The concept of Neighbouring Canada is designed to represent the great healthy outdoors with a canyon and a lake with a waterfall and a healthy forest but to reflect Trump’s threatened environmental policies and a reckless denial of global warming it might have to go through a complete remodelling and a whole different sort of attraction.

My suggestion is forest of stumps, trees killed by acid rain.

dead-forest

Currently the only country at Epcot that represents the Muslim world is Morocco where six shops decorate the pavilion which showcase Moroccan art and skills, selling visitors everything from rugs to leather goods and traditional Moroccan clothing.

Donald of course has little or no respect for Islam and seems to regard them all as treacherous terrorists so all of these representations of art and culture and peaceful religion I am afraid will have to go and will need to be replaced with exhibits that explain just how sinister and dangerous these people are.

bomb-factory

With Donald reassessing his foreign policy alternatives and threatening to withdraw support from traditional allies then there will no place in the new EPCOT World Showcase for poor Japan who I recommend simply be replaced by new allies Russia and a replica of Red Square and the Kremlin and a Victory Day Military Parade ride.

victory-day-parade-2016

That only leaves USA and there seems no urgent need for change in this pavilion, Donald has promised great things and Hillary has said ‘give the guy a chance’ and anyway, there are four years of Trump Presidency so if he fails or lets people down we can return to World Showcase USA and make any changes we want any time we want.

Anybody else got any suggestions for a restructured World Showcase?

EPCOT USA

If you are at all interested you can check out my original World Showcase post here… 

Around The World in Eighty Minutes

Travelling – Car Hire Advice – Be Prepared to Complain

Black Forest Winter Tyres

“Car hire firms abroad have more catches than a corset” – Martin Lewis, MoneySavingExpert.com

It took only fifty-five minutes to fly the short distance and land at Kahlrsrue-Baden Airpark at nine-thirty in the evening and after quickly clearing immigration and customs we were soon at the Sixt Car Hire desk to pick up our hire car.

There was a pleasant young man on duty called Herr Schmidberger and he examined my hire details and then sighed and furrowed his brow and adopted a concerned demeanour, “You have a booking for a vehicle without the winter tyres” he said, “are you sure you want a car without the winter tyres?”  I had no idea what he was talking about (we don’t have Winter tyres in UK, except for Northern Scotland)  and must have given him my best ever blank expression because with that he rolled his eyes so far back into their sockets that if he had laser vision he would have surely fried his brains.

The winter tyres were an extra €55 and I was beginning to detect a well rehearsed scam so we took a while to consult with each other on the proposal of paying the extra and with a queue starting to form behind us this started to seriously test his patience.

I enquired why I might consider going to the unnecessary additional expense and although this was his opportunity to inform me that since May 2006 German motorists have been required by law to use the most appropriate tyres for the weather conditions and that driving on snow covered roads is permitted only if a car is equipped with winter tyres, he just became even more theatrical and began shouting “Look at the snow, you can see the snow, in just two minutes you can see the snow!”  

Black Forest, Badische Schwarzwaldbahn

Obviously I could see the snow but I still failed to understand why he was so insistent (unless it was a scam and I was becoming more and more sure of that).  He could have told me that in Germany motorists are obliged to make sure they have correct tyres to suit the winter weather conditions and if a vehicle becomes stuck because the tyres are unsuitable drivers are liable to an on the spot police fine, and furthermore if the vehicle causes an obstruction or aggravation to other traffic, the fine may be doubled.

Instead he went into his impression of a man in an electric chair and gave a look that suggested that I was the craziest customer that he had ever dealt with and that driving without winter tyres in snow was madder than wrestling with alligators, swimming in shark infested waters or sky-diving without a parachute.

Triburg Germany Black Forest

I enquired about the weather forecast and whether he thought it might be snowing in the Black Forest (which at over a thousand metres was an absolute certainty and a really dumb question) and then his eyes started to swivel from side to side like the symbols on a gaming machine and he was clearly losing his patience with me now.

He might have explained that winter tyres use a tread rubber compound that is softer and a tread block pattern with more sipes (small slits which are specifically designed to retain flexibility in low temperatures and give good braking and traction performance on snow and ice covered roads) but instead he just keep shrieking “Look at the snow, you can see the snow, in just two minutes you can see the snow!”  

Snow Driving Black Forest Germany

By now I was beginning to understand that he thought snow tyres were a very good idea so finally agreed to the additional charge and he immediately calmed down and set about allocating us an appropriate vehicle for the conditions.

After that he went through the booking and paying procedures, explained where we would find the car in the car park and then clearly lacking any sort of confidence in my snow driving abilities and not expecting to see the car again in one piece bade us farewell with the words “please be sure to drive carefully in the snow, it is very dangerous…”

We quickly found the bright blue Nissan Micra hidden under a blanket of snow, cleaned it down, examined the tyres which, at this time not understanding about the special rubber compound, looked quite normal to me and fairly soon after setting off I was certain we had been scammed.

And we had been of course because at €13.45 a day I calculate that if they are on the car for a third of the year that is an extra €1,600 or €400 a tyre and I could not believe that they can be that much more expensive than a regular tyre.  And of course they are not because I have checked and they can be bought for as little as €40 each.

Black Forest Winter Tyres

Double scammed as it happened because I am certain that we had already been allocated this car anyway – complete with winter tyres.  If I had refused to pay they were hardly likely to jack it up and take them off!

Upon return home I raised the issue of what I considered to be an excessive winter tyre charge in this journal and the reaction has left me speechless with admiration for Sixt Car Hire.

I have experienced the best customer service that I have ever had with a response from Gary Coughlan,  the Customer Services Manager in the United Kingdom who provided me with a clear explanation of the law relating to winter tyres and the company policy in respect to additional charges.  He also promised to raise the matter with the Company’s Commercial Director but I doubt that he ever did.  Gary has a job for life just fobbing off customer complaints!

Two days later I received a refund and a promise that the Board of Sixt would consider the policy at their next scheduled meeting.  I doubt that they ever did of course but I was glad of the refund.

Triberg Germany