A Normal Day

We stayed by the airport and left early Thursday morning for Frankfurt. We picked up the car (which somehow became a 230 euro rental instead of the original quote of 73 euro. Dollar Rent-A-Car has a nice rep in Iceland but their people in Frankfurt are hideous. We drove to Mannheim and dropped off an Mbox for Philipp, then continued on to Strasbourg to see Carrot City, an exhibition of posters and planters describing urban farming projects around the world, where people grow food on their roofs or walls, or in-between their apartments. The exhibition was designed by June and Joe, our friends in Toronto. All of it seemed like a good idea, but there is so much overpopulation in the world that it doesn’t seem to add up: you couldn’t grow enough food in a city to feed all of its people, even if you wanted to. As an activity, it’s great to know where food comes from.

We found a typical Alsatian restaurant (Yelp Nearby Open Now) and discovered “tarte flambĂ©e”, which is essentially a super-thin-crust rectangular pizza. Delicious. My French wasn’t good enough for our waitress, and I think they were happy to see us leave. We stayed at HotelF1 (previously named Formule 1), one of a chain of budget hotels with self-cleaning shared toilets and showers which has been around for maybe 15 years. Unfortunately, the plastic in these toilets and showers doesn’t wear well, and the fraying of the infrastructure was pretty apparent. The prostitutes on the corner outside might not have minded.

Our goal on Friday was to get to Braunschweig, which with no traffic or distractions would be a five-hour drive from Strasbourg. We had thought that maybe we’d stop in Cologne and check out the cathedral. But then there was another distraction, a stop in Oppenheim for a photo opportunity, and then there was lots of traffic. We didn’t want to arrive at midnight, so we bailed on the Cologne idea. As it turned out, we got there exactly at 7:30 in time to have dinner with our friends. We would have gotten there a little earlier if all of our navigation devices (old Garmin GPS, iPhone 4 with Google maps, iPhone 5 with Apple maps) hadn’t given us differently bad information.

On Saturday we spent the day with the Schaaf family and their friends: Dennis and Paulina had come up from Munich to join us. After a large breakfast, we began a walking tour of the city as such tours should begin, with a view from a tower. This tower was on a shopping center in front of which a facade of the castle that had previously occupied that location had been placed. The top of the facade had the new Quadriga, a reconstructed group of statues of a goddess driving a team of four horses. Other noteworthy stops on the tour included an elevated passage between two buildings which had been built so Hermann Goering could walk from his office to the church without having to mix with the common people. (National Socialists, indeed.) There was also a model of the city as it was in the 1800s.

Saturday was Ray’s 60th birthday. We drove to Wolfsburg to get to the third party in the series, at the opening of the Thomas Rentmeister exhibit “Normal Tag”, which had as its promotional poster a picture of me and Ray standing next to a mop which was part of his previous exhibition in Perth. He took us around the exhibition, which was entirely different except for the mop. There was a room filled with power strips with three outlets each: one was plugged into the wall, three were plugged into it, nine were plugged into them, etc. There were 3280 power strips in all, which could have charged 6561 phones simultaneously except that the fire department would have objected. There were some works where colored pencils were rooted in the “canvas” so they could bounce around if you touched them. There was a cage made from refrigerator shelves; I thought it would have been more effective with someone in it. Almost all of it was ordinary things being used in unusual ways (or in the case of the bronze tampons, being made out of unusual materials). Most of the time was spent listening to the lectures at the opening (in German) and eating currywurst and drinking drinks at the party in the side room. The entire evening was delightful, and I’d really like to go back to Berlin someday and have dinner with Thomas and some of the other artists we met that night. Thanks to everyone who made time in his day to come to these parties.

On Sunday we went on another walk in the woods just outside town, along with hundreds of other people doing the same thing. A cute ensemble of bugle players practiced playing the limited bugle repertoire. The bugles were all circular coils, including one which seemed almost hula-hoop sized. We also met some folks who had been at the Wolfsburg party the night before. Then we hit the road and made it to the airport in plenty of time for our next flight despite heavy traffic again near Frankfurt. There are not a lot of places and times you can take advantage of the limitless speed on the Autobahn, but it gave us time to listen to Kraftwerk.

The car rental people make lots of money from requiring you to inspect the car for scratches before you leave, with your untrained eyes; they then inspect it super-carefully when you return. I’m assuming the insurance they tacked on when we rented the car will cover the eighth-inch scrape they found at the end of the left mirror (which may or may not have been there when we rented it.) There is no way the car’s mirror could have got scratched, by the way. Dollar’s German partner, Rent A Terstappen, is just dishonest. But it does suggest one of the missed the haystack missed the needle jokes: they charged us for insurance, but the insurance paid for the damage they invented.