die haard.
red dot museum.
lit stairs.

After collecting our baggage from the turnstile at Dortmund International, we walked through the “nothing to declare” gate and were welcomed by two smiling, familiar faces. Michael and Petra tried to take as much luggage from us as they could but were actually surprised by the lack of it. We threw our bags in the back of their brand spankin new Renault Koleos and took our places in the comfortable leather seats.

There was to be a barbecue to celebrate our arrival and the good weather so we needed to stop at the grocer. After we had all the supplies needed, we went to the Chmielewski’s house for the first time. We walked upstairs and dropped our bags on the floor beside the inflatable bed and made our way back downstairs for a few beers before the barbecue was lit.

Bernd, their next door neighbor came over right as the meat was coming off the grill. He insisted against feeding and stuck to his beer and Vodka shots. After numerous bratwursts, beers, and vodka shots, we retreated to our incredibly comfortable air bed for one of the best sleeps in months.

We didn’t wake till quite late on our first full day in Datteln. I think I actually opened my eyes at nine and by the time both of us had showered and semi organized our chaotic bags, it was ten. We trotted downstairs to a table filled with deli meats, fresh buns, cheeses and plenty of spreads. Petra had already been to the baker and Michael was reading the paper. We discussed what we would do today and settled upon Burg Vischering in Lüdinghausen. Apparently, Kate, Mom, Stan and Ann had all really liked the little thirteenth century castle.

We found parking and got out of the car in the castle’s parking lot. There was a little church leading up to the castle so we took a couple pictures of it and stood in an archway opposite the church so Michael could take our picture there. Mom and Kate had their picture taken in the exact same spot just two years before. When I first saw the castle itself, I was taken aback. It has a beautiful north German setting all around it. The large brick building is surrounded by a sizable moat and then surrounded again by beautiful wilderness. Walking across the drawbridge I really began to take the castle in. It is said to be one of the largest in the North-Rhine and I started imagining myself living in it. Really, there are houses larger and it wasn’t such a far fetched idea at the time. I could just do it like the Kaiser’s would have done back when the thing was made. All I would have to do is run in there, kick everybody out and raise the drawbridge claiming the castle for myself. I don’t think it works like that anymore though, the German political system. I think it’s a little more complicated and advanced.

After we had finished looking at the castle, we decided to walk into town with the prospect of a giant ice cream. Lüdinghausen was having a festival of some sort that day. We wandered into the the town and found a crowd gathered around some kids playing skate in a taped off section. A little further, we walked into the town square which was absolutely filled with people. Petra suggested we try some potato pancakes with sauerkraut and headed over to the trolley that housed the oily cakes. Michael had disappeared and upon finding us, rolled his eyes at our cakes. We went into the DM store, which resembles very much our Shopper’s Drug Mart, and bought some of the cheapest and best shampoo and conditioners I’ve had yet on the trip. We went around the corner and into an outdoor store where Michael bought a backpack and scoured short-sleeved collared shirts. Just around the corner was the ice cream shop and we headed that way now salivating at its proximity.

As we approached the store, we noticed a monstrous queue of people coming out the door and up the square towards us. Instead of waiting in line for take-out ice cream, we waited for a family to finish their food and snagged their table. After five minutes of trying to decipher the German ten page menu, we had a pretty good idea of what we wanted so we waited for the waiter. And waited. And waited. And decided it wasn’t worth our time.

We jumped in the car and headed back to Datteln. Michael pulled into some back alley and parked the car on the side of the road. We all got out and Michael and Petra led us to the main pedestrian street in Datteln and sat us down at the ice cream cafe. Goob got a massive fruity concoction and I got lemon ice cream with strawberries. Both were absolutely incredible and i have no idea what this other place had over Datteln’s Ice Cafe.
We had one more stop before we went home: the almighty TrinkGut. This place is a drunk’s mecca. It houses every single type of alcohol I have ever heard of (except Grey Goose and Belvedere) in a Costco style warehouse. Wow, just wow. We bought a bunch of stuff, but most memorably, two bottle of Duckstein, Michael’s favorite beer.

We went back home for some homemade schnitzel and more wines, scotches, and beers. After dinner and the first drinks were poured we went upstairs into the TV room to listen to Michael’s prized speakers. I was really impressed but Goob I don’t think really got it. We proceeded to chat over our beautiful Ducksteins and Highland single malts.

The next morning started out much the same as the one before it. We didn’t get up until pretty late but Michael and Petra weren’t up yet either. We showered and got ready for the day and by the time we were finished Petra was up downstairs fixing breakfast.

Fearing losing my ridiculously large photo collection, I made a point to purchase the cheapest DVD-R’s I could find today and Michael and Petra said they would help me out. We got in the car for our shopping day and took off to Recklinghausen. After parking we went into a sports shop to return a shirt that didn’t fit Michael. Goobie found a pretty cute pair of polka-dot flats for ten euros so she picked them up. We then went into Media Markt. Michael and I got lost in there looking at electronics and debating the quality of certain Hi-Fi’s. I decided I could find DVD-R’s cheaper but Michael bought some headphones for his trip to Canada.

After we got out of Media Markt, Petra thought it was a good time for more ice cream. Goobie didn’t disagree. How could I? Anyways, we were walking back to the car eating ice cream for lunch and Goob had new shoes, needless to say, she was pretty happy.

We stopped at a couple smaller stores on the way home and found some pretty good deals on DVD’s but being cheap, I wanted to check all the competition and then make a decision. As it turned out, Kodi was the store that offered them for the cheapest so I bought 40 discs and got back to the Chmielewski’s house.

I was burning Canon raw images to DVD and doing it twice for the rest of the day until it was time for dinner. We were going to the local watering hole for food tonight so we got all appropriate and got back in the car. We were meeting one of Petra’s two sisters, her husband and son there. Daniel and I were the first to arrive so we picked the biggest table in the back and sat down. Petra, Michael and Goob arrived shortly thereafter and we got to ordering beers. The IIHF World Championships were on but so was football. The Germans were playing the French and not doing a very good job of it so they changed to the UEFA cup. Petra’s sister’s family arrived and we did introductions but that was about it. None of them spoke any English and we certainly didn’t speak much German. Philip, their son, was learning English in school but he was shy and didn’t try to speak it. Michael, the husband was a fisherman and genuinely interested in Canada. He was on the phone looking if he could get us some fish for dinner one night but came up empty. He did, however, offer us tickets to the Schalke game on Saturday. He had a wedding to attend so I didn’t feel like I was stealing his tickets and accepted the gracious offer. After a hearty German meal of curry wurst and chips, I said thank you to him numerous times and shook everybody’s hands as they left.

We went back to the Chmielewski’s and went upstairs to watch highlights of UEFA cup game between Barcelona and Chelsea. We drank beers and scotches and ate candy switching between German television we couldn’t understand and blasting incredibly loud music from The Alan Parsons Project. We got too tired to keep our eyes open and fell into our incredibly comfortable air bed yet again.

The next day we were pretty lazy. In fact I was looking forward to some downtime as it felt like I hadn’t had a day to just relax in the last four months. We took it easy; I just burnt DVD’s, updated the blog and played a little football with a flat ball in the backyard while Michael mowed the lawn. Goob did a lot of reading in the sun and laundry.

We went into Datteln for some groceries and Michael and Petra went to visit Michael’s dad in the hospital. I looked at some suspenders in the street market they had but didn’t buy any.

Datteln is in the process of getting one of the largest coal power stations in northern Germany and it is quite an ominous picture so I expressed interest in getting some pictures. Michael had the same keen interest and had read in the newspaper that there was a visitor’s center nearby the site so we searched for it. At first, we drove right into the construction compound and looked and asked around. There were lots of no pictures signs so the best ones I got were from outside the compound. Most of them were useless due to a transfer problem with Windows Vista therefore I have very few pictures of the power station but rest assured, it was massive. I couldn’t get close enough to do the thing justice. The visitor’s center was just back down the road in front of the old coal plant. The people that worked there were incredible, they gave us more information than we needed and answered questions we didn’t know we had. On the top floor of the building, there was a good view of the new massive power plant little arrows pointing to other major landmarks in the area. The next floor down had interactive touchscreen exercises to get people to learn about the plants and they were admittedly very slick. They had a presentation centre on the next floor down and the entrance on the ground floor. I took a bunch of pamphlets because massive engineering makes me feel like when we used to climb the rope in gym class. The guy at the entrance also told us of a Red Dot design museum that he thought was cool.

After all those shenanigans, we got Goob some nose spray to unclog her sinuses and went back to TrinkGut. I got a case of Ducksteins for Michael and a bottle of Jägermeister because it was hella cheap. We made our way back to the house for a nice quiet evening.

On the first day we arrived, Michael asked us what we wanted to do. When he mentioned the planetarium I was very adamant that we go. Today was that day. Michael had worked hard to try and find tickets to the Jean Michelle Jarre laser show that would be happening and we found that buying them at the door was the best idea.

After kicking around town and the house for a few hours, it was time to head to the Zeiss Planetarium in Bochum. It was a leisurely drive through suburban Germany until we arrived in Bochum. It was a good sized town with healthy arts and tourism communities. The planetarium was really cool looking and, after I bought our tickets, we walked around the perimeter looking at the neat space pictures they had. When it was finally time to go in, we had our tickets taken and found seats. The show was pretty good. I had a number of instances where I experienced vertigo and only let go right before I would vomit to experience the weird sensation. I think everybody liked the show except Petra got a little dizzy more than once.

We got back in the car and they began to take us to a mystery location. After watching the sunset inside the car, we started to climb a good sized hill in the new SUV. After a while, I put it together in my head that it must be the Alpine Centre that Michael had spoken about earlier in the week. It is supposed to be the longest indoor winter sport facility in the world, and it really didn’t look it from the outside. It kind of looked like a barn that went on for a while, but nothing more. I guess it was really massive once inside. Anyways, we saw the aftermath of the sunset, a giant triangle called the Tetraeder and a cool looking factory on the other side. Apparently, the Tetraeder serves no other purpose than a lookout. I thought it would have at least communicated with alien life-forms but alas, lookout. When we had had our fill of post sunset Bottrop, we got back in the car and went home to finish the night the same way we had finished all the rest.

We had discussed going to Cologne the day before and had decided that traffic wouldn’t be too bad today so we went for it. We got up early, well maybe eight o’clock, ate and got on the road as early as it was possible for our lazy butts. The drive wasn’t too long getting in. Traffic wasn’t bad and Michael could really open up the car on the autobahn. We found a parking spot after a little confusion in navigating the city and put a couple hours in the meter before heading out to the cathedral.

Kölner Dom is absolutely huge. I don’t think I’ve ever been in the presence of a church so massive. It absolutely dominates the landscape and puts the rest of the city into perspective. We went in and took plenty of pictures. The church had lots of really cool stained glass including a random mosaic piece. The light shot through there completely randomly and colours spread all over whatever the light touched. It reminded me very much of atheism or agnosticism represented in the church. All the randomly placed colours coming together to make something beautiful. I digress. There were lots of tombs housing numerous holy people and I took some pictures of them too. The organs were the most impressive part, apart from the sheer size of the building. They have two separate Klais organs built fifty years apart, the first in 1948, but the pipes surround the building and sound just penetrates everything for miles.

After the Dom, we walked through Cologne’s main pedestrian shopping street and sat down for a Kolsch just off the beat. We made it back to the car with no time to spare and began the long, conjested drive back to Datteln. Because it was a long weekend, everybody was leaving work early on Thursday to see if they could make it just that little bit longer. As a result, the streets were absolutely packed. We tried to leave in the early afternoon before everybody got off work, but that had no effect. We tried several different routes but they were all backed up. The radio stations were saying that it was a bad day to be on the roads and it was.

We did eventually get home though. We were supposed to be going into Dortmund to party at a club with Daniel and his friends but the lack of a ride home and no place to sleep in Dortmund led to our staying in Datteln. Daniel was pretty upset because he wanted to show us a good time instead of just Datteln but we didn’t mind in the least. The social event of Datteln’s calendar was that night and we were going to attend.

When the time came, we piled in the car and found parking in the grocery store across the street from the party. We walked up to the first beer cart and were greeted by numerous people. Datteln is a small town and everybody knows everybody so there were some bumbly introductions and then we finally got to go to the beer trailer. These trailers were towed around behind a car like any other, but it’s what happened when stopped that made them special. They had awnings that rolled out over a square bar armed with five or six taps. Each trailer was manned by five people constantly pulling at the taps to refill beers for tickets. I had been promised the illusive Nacken Steak which is a very tender piece of pork neck served in a bun. As it turns out, they weren’t serving the swine neck steaks this year. Michael for one was pretty upset but no one was hit harder than me. They had been building up this neck steak to a holy degree and now, I wouldn’t have my chance to devour it. Shame it was but we got some good old bratwursts to drown our sorrows in.

After we had too many beers to drink, Michael, Goob, myself, Bernd from next door, his girlfriend Claudia, and Petra all piled into the car. Simple addition will tell you that that is one too many people for a five seater but we were in no state to figure that out before the car. Petra had only a couple of the delicious delicious Löwenbräus from the keg islands so she was our driver for the three block journey home. Goob and I were guests so we got the first choice of seats, then Bernd and Claudia because Michael is a good friend. That left Michael. He opted to ride in the trunk. Petra couldn’t stop saying he’s drunk in the trunk. We pulled the luggage cover over the back and took off towards home, past the police questioning kids.

Needless to say, it was easy getting to sleep that night.

The next day was to be a busy one. We wanted to go check out the Red Dot Design Award Museum at the site of the old Zollverein Colliery and it was also the big labour day music festival in the part in Recklinghausen. We hit the road after breakfast and arrived at the site in Essen in good time. The old coal extraction tools could be seen from miles away and they gave me the same feeling as the power plant did. When we finally walked through the parking lot to the complex, it was a completely surreal feeling. The colliery had been deserted for years as its initial function but it was stirring with people using it as a public park and tourist pull. We were pretty quick to find the design museum and scammed the family price of admission.

When you first walk into the museum, you are presented with an all aluminum unibody frame from an Audi A8. Not exactly the first thing you expect to see hanging from the roof of a design museum. I have to say that the rest of the museum didn’t really have the shock value of that first entrance, but it was entertaining nonetheless. It felt a lot like the finest IKEA ever. Stuff that was really pretty and if it was produced of a massive scale would actually be affordable to the everyday customer. Absolutely beautiful and ingenuitive products were on display. Everything from chairs to fridges and televisions.

After the museum, we walked into one of the old buildings and did some exploring. The trip led us up one of Europe’s longest escalators; it seriously took three minutes to ride the damn thing. Inside, the compound had been left largely the same, except the gift shop and cafeteria, those weren’t there before. We walked to the end of the giant room in the building and met with a staircase with orange lit handrails and stairs. In fact, it’s the one in the picture at the top of the page. Quite neat for pictures and basically impossible to fall down despite the lack of other lighting in the room. After I took my pictures, we made our way back down the escalator and back to the car.

On the way back to town, we decided to check out the music festival in Recklinghausen. We were there pretty late according to the Chmielewskis but there were still tonnes of people there. The field was filled with listeners and lined by food stands. After walking around once, I decided to get myself one of the illustrious Swine Nackens. They had been hyped so much in the past few days that I absolutely required one before I left. None were ready for serving so we waited. I had been waiting for days, a few extra minutes wouldn’t change anything. Michael pointed out what he believed to be the best steak and the barbecue master paid special attention to it. When it was ready, I was the first to be granted my giant pork steak in a tiny bun. It was then that I realized what the Germans had done. I always thought it was just a neat societal meme that they put such huge wieners in such tiny buns but I figured it out then. The bun is just a means of transporting the sweet meat into your mouth without sullying your hands on the various sauces present on the aforementioned meat. You can throw the bun out after you’ve got all the meat in you; it’s inconsequential. Again, I digress. This particular chunk of swine neck, right in the middle of the swine flu scare, was absolutely massive and I couldn’t prevent it from flopping over in my tiny bun. Sauces were already abundant on my steak so I didn’t dress it with anything. It was delicious. I turned around and Goobie was holding what was surely the longest bratwurst we had eaten in Germany, that merited a picture.

After standing through a pretty good jazz band, we made our way back to the car at the first sense of rain drops and headed back to the house for dinner.

Today was the day that I got to go to my first European football game. Schalke was playing Bayer Leverkusen and 61,673 people would be making their way toward Veltins Arena for the game. We went into town to make sure that we had the supplies required for dinner after we finished breakfast. We had gotten quite used to the neighborhood LIDL and ALDI by this point and were ready to go hunting for meats again. Time rolled by pretty quickly and it was time for us to get back to the house so that Michael and I could get on our way. I put on colours that I’m sure the Schalke fans wouldn’t stone me for, a borrowed Schalke scarf, grabbed my camera and met Michael at the car.

Our first stop was to pick up a friend of Michael’s who was a Schalke fan. He was going to help us find parking and walk us into the stadium. Willi was a pretty awesome guy and was pretty pumped on a soccer fan from Canada so he bought us both a beer before walking the gauntlet of fans into the stadium. We walked into the seating section and I got my first view of the pitch. Willi went to his seat and we headed back out to find ours. We took our seats about five rows from the back of the stadium and I took the whole experience in.

Michael is a BVB fan therefore being in the Schalke arena surrounded by his teams enemies, he was out of his element. It was pretty funny to watch him not cheer when Leverkusen would score. And they did score. Twice. With about five minutes left in the game, we decided we weren’t going to see a home team goal so we got out of our seats like thousands of others before us and tried to beat the crowds. As we were walking down the path back to the parking lot, we heard a huge uproar and then a bunch of cellphones beep. Everybody who had the goals sent to them as they happened had just received a message that Schalke had scored. It would, however, be too little to late as they would lose 3-1 to Leverkusen.

We made our way back to the house through medium traffic to another great dinner that Petra had made for us. Goobie had spent her day eating ice cream and suntanning in the back yard whilst reading her book. Tough day for her. We had more barbecued pork delicacies for dinner and went back upstairs to listen to music, watch German TV and drink Ducksteins and single malt scotches.

After staying with the Chmielewskis for a week and rarely finding the opportunity to pay for anything, we tried to give back, even just a tiny bit. The day before we had gone out and bought supplies to make the most incredible omelets ever conceived by man or woman and today was the day we were to make them. We got up before the other two and took to the kitchen. First, we whipped up a two egger for Petra. She didn’t like feta cheese so we saved that for ours. Michael’s was a three egg omelet but we hadn’t noticed that he really doesn’t eat much at breakfast. He had a tough time getting through the thing and ate about 1.5 eggs of it. I had no problem polishing off my one-pound three-egg omelet and Goobie made herself a two egg omelet. During breakfast, Michael had mentioned that the Kohler had finished his crop of coal and was ready to sell it. We both expressed interest and made it a priority of the day.

We piled into the car and began to drive through an overcast North Rhine Germany. Our first destination was sort of a mystery to us but MIchael had it planned out pretty well. We ended up turning his big new SUV up a bike path and parking beside a giant green iron structure. I knew where we were but I don’t know that Goobie did. Throughout Germany run a complicated network of man made rivers transporting goods efficiently from all corners of the country. When the geography changes, the Germans deal with raising and lowering boats like the rest of the world. Giant machinery.

We watched as they filled the locks with three boats, opened the gates to empty the water, and finally let the boats out. The expulsion of water from the giant bath tub was an absolutely incredible experience. So much noise and rushing water as a result of three car sized doors opening in a much larger gate. Standing beside the rushing water at the bottom of the lock gave me a very useless and feeble feeling but it made for some unforgettable pictures.

After the locks we made our way to Die Haard. No not Bruce Willis. I know, I was a little dissapointed too. While the Germans do indeed enjoy the movie, it just means “The Big Forest”. Die Haard really reminded me of a German Stanley Park. Everything was so green and well kept and the trails were beautiful. The park was the size of any of the surrounding towns.

We walked down a path to the right to the Kohler’s grounds and walked in to see a smoking mound of dirt. On the right, the Kohler’s hut stood modestly beside the cake stable. The hut was made out of the chunks of earth and grass that he cut away to make the pile. He would be expected to live in this hut for the two weeks it was required to yield a full crop of coal from the fire.

First, five square meters of earth is cut away from the spot where the fire will be. Then a series of pieces of wood is strategically and artfully laid until a small mountain of wood in created. The wood is then covered in soil and lit at special points from the inside so that the burn is controlled and no flames ever emerge. At the end of it all, the kohler is said to have the best natural charcoal available for any reason. Most people use it for barbecues and cooking, saying that the organic coal yields an absolutely unbeatable taste.

We watched the German version of the Scouts play a flute concerto whilst tourists and locals mingled, bought coal and cakes, and ate good German lunches. Goobie bought a cheesecake for two euros and we walked back to the car to pick up some final ingredients for the incredible dinner we were about to have.

The first course was a pea soup that Michael was particularly fond of. He kept complaining that it wasn’t turning out and apologized several times but we had no idea what he was talking about because as it was, it was some of the best soup I had ever had. The second course was a pork wrapped pork dish with knudles galore. The pork was bacon wrapped around tiny pork cutlets and I could not get enough of them. Until I tasted the knudle. These little bread dumplings are still fond in my memories. So squishy and warm and delicious. It is what dreams are made of. Finally, for desert, Michael made us his favorite desert. It was a martini glass with millions and millions of delicious tiny bubbles in it. It tasted so sweet but was made with champagne so that also had a dominant taste. Needless to say, we were absolutely stuffed and went to bed, knowing that we would be missing Germany in less than twelve hours.

The next day, Petra worked pretty hard to get the day off to take us to the bus station so that we could go to Amsterdam. Michael just made a phone call and told them he would be there late. The ride in was bittersweet; we didn’t want to leave our home away from home but knew that we couldn’t stay. We arrived at the bus stop and I went to the loo in one of the more interesting public washrooms yet. Our transportation arrived and Michael and Petra hugged us, shook our hands and put us on the bus.