If you have been following this blog from the outset then, firstly, I thank you (not to mention sympathise with you for my inane ramblings) and secondly I will give a very brief explanation for anyone who has stumbled upon this page in search of information about Memmingen or Kempten. I had started off in very early April on what was meant to be a four day trip to visit a friend in the Netherlands and here I was nearly two months later in Bavaria and heading to meet a whole bunch of other dear friends. That is the potted version, the rest is fully explained in earlier blog entries here (and later ones hopefully) if you care to wade through sixty plus of them. Yes, it had gone on that long!
I awoke in my lovely room in the Park Hotel (it was brilliant, I loved it there) and, much as I would have loved to stay there as both hotel and town were stunning, I knew that I needed to move the short distance to Kempten to see my friends. Damn, I had humped myself from South central France to get here and I wasn’t going to blow it out of the water for a few more miles. On top of this I had told my dear friend Sarah (toonsarah on the Virtual Tourist and TravBuddy websites as she was, and a superb travel writer) that I was coming but I had asked her to keep it quiet. Having told everyone I wasn’t coming, I fancied making a bit of a drama queen entrance and, yes, I am that much of a tart.
I think breakfast was included in my room but it is a meal I rarely take unless it is in a glass and I do not mean fruit juice! Thanking the staff most heartily and genuinely for the wonderful hospitality I had received there provoked large smiles all round which made me feel as good as they obviously did. Lest the reader, new to my idiotic ramblings, think that I am writing this as an advertisement for the hotel, I am not. I have nothing to do with them and am most certainly not getting paid for writing this. There are enough people on other websites who have “officially” vouched for me and will undoubtedly do so in a less formal way if required. I merely write as I find.
I knew from my wanders of the previous day exactly where the train station was, about 15 minutes of another Disney wonderland through cobbled streets (not so good for a wheel along bag but utterly gorgeous) and past buildings that belonged in a child’s fantasy book.
Well, it was almost inevitable. It was time for a Fergy breakfast i.e. a beer. I came upon a small place which I had somehow missed the day before to be met by some pretty loud rock music (suits me) and a fairly heavily tattooed barmaid who I asked in German if the premises were open. She looked a tad surprised although whether that was because of the hour or my appalling German I could not possibly say. Yet another language I do not speak but insist on trying out. Suffice it to say that we ended up comparing tattoos (I have four and she had me beaten by a country mile without even taking her T-shirt off!) and chatting about rock music. Great time.
I know I am probably preaching to the choir a bit here as people who are reading this website are mostly known to me and are undoubtedly fairly independently minded and think for themselves. Please, I beg you, do not judge people, especially young people, on their appearance. Talk to them and find out what they are about, it might just surprise you and here endeth the lesson!
Anyway, I knew I had loads of time but I didn’t want to leave anything to chance, reliable as DB (German railways) are so I headed to Memmingen station which was merely a few hundred yards away. No problem and in I went to check the train times. Unusually for me I had not used the facilities in the bar with the tattooed barmaid before I left. They were immaculate from previous experience, and so I went to use those in the station. What an obscenity. I have been in public toilets on several continents and this was amongst the worst I have ever encountered. The stench was overpowering, there were used and bloody hypodermic needles on the floor and the place looked like it had not been cleaned since the day it was built. It looked like a field hospital in Scutari, it was abominable which surprised me as I know how highly Germans prize their efficiency. DB take note.
Still, I wasn’t there merely to use the “facilities”. I thought a quick beer may be in order so I went to the station cafe / bar and bought a well over-priced bottle which I brought to sit outside with on a now reasonably decent day. I had to sit outside because of the Federal States of E (aka EU) fascism about smoking. Nightmare. It appears they make no attempt to stop the street dwellers and their apparently uncontrolled yappy little dogs just sitting there all day and drinking their shop bought alcohol. I was glad I seemed to be upwind.
OK, sod that and it actually hurts me to write that because I loved Memmingen so much on an admittedly brief trip but I always attempt to write honestly and this was just a step too far. Surely there must be a real bar nearby. I knew there were plenty of trains so I was not going to be stranded. Out the front of the station and the Fergy “nose” took over. For those that do not know (I apologise to those that do and are getting bored by it) it has been said that I can sniff out alcohol at about 600 yards through concrete. I don’t know how true that is but I always seem to manage to get a beer wherever I am. Standing waiting on the pedestrian phase of the traffic lights, I had a bit of a scan. There were two options both within 100 yards. I scanned them both and the one on the right just felt wrong whilst the one on the left was calling to me. I know this sounds utterly ridiculous written down in the cold light of day but I swear it is the truth. Ask anyone who has ever been on a pub crawl with me in a place I have never been before.
Anyway, the “nose” had it absolutely spot on as always and I lugged my bag into a most beautiful and utterly crazy bar. Yes, I was right back in my element, this is where I belong. A beer was quickly ordered and swiftly supplied so I took a look around. Well that took about an hour, I have never seen a place like it and I have been in a lot of crazy bars. There were old radios, old records, old posters, cutlery sets, I could go on but it would take forever. Hopefully the images will give an idea.
A few people came in for lunch which was cooked to order (I could see into the kitchen from where I sat) and it looked delicious but still way too early for me to eat. There was a slightly rotund gentleman who came in and consumed, in no time flat and accompanied by a couple of beers, what I would have described as two main courses. This may well explain his waistline and I would love to be his cardiologist, I’d make a fortune.
I asked for permission to take a few pictures which was granted instantly and most charmingly. I know that in a public place you can effectively fire off your camera wherever you want, especially in these days of ‘phones with cams but I still like to ask. Damn, I could have taken 300 or more pics in there, it was that quaint. I hope the attached images do it justice.
Time was moving on and it was a very regretful Fergy that left this little locals bar but Kempten awaited.
I made the arduous trek of, oh, perhaps 100 yards across the main road to the station, found my platform and hopped onboard my absolutely punctual train, settled down in a comfy and spotlessly clean carriage and began what was not a particularly long journey.
I am quite content to just sit and look out the window on a train journey and so I did not even break out my book although in truth there was nothing spectacular, certainly not in comparison to the scenery we were to see in the region over the next few days. We pulled into Kempten im Allgau (hereinafter referred to as Kempten to save my poor fingers from more typing) bang on time. A decent station and I knew it was walking distance so off I took, thankfully downhill, towards where I needed to be. I only managed to get lost the once in what should have been a fifteen minute walk. Honestly, I do not know what has happened to me, I used to have an inbuilt compass that never failed and now I get lost two times out of three. Old age I suppose.
Anyway, eventually to the Art Hotel, which I had scored online and cheaply judging by my subsequent research) and checked in quickly and efficiently to what turned out to be a charming room. All the usual amenities like a flat screen TV and a safe etc. and I was in a room with a double and a single for which I was being charged single occupancy. The “features” were a beautiful monochrome print of a boat on a placid lake and the etched stylised map of the region on the shower doors which I thought was a nice touch.
I didn’t actually need one as it was still only about 1330 but I had a shower just for the Hell of it and to freshen up and headed out.
I had worked out it was a fairly short distance to the meet point and a thankfully fairly straight shot so navigation should not be a problem later on as I know these things can get a bit messy dependent on which lunatics I meet. I made it to the grandly named Brauereigaststätte Zum Stift and into the bar which was just about empty but a quick look in the beer garden (should I say Biergarten?) and I saw why. It was a more than decent day and everyone had very sensibly decided to sit outside albeit the indoor area was very comfortable.
Well, that was it and I knew I had done absolutely the right thing in coming. It was just like it had always been despite the catastrophe that had affected us communally. Those who have waded through the many long pages of this blog will know that Sarah was the only person I had told of my change of heart about attending and she, true to her word, had kept it entirely secret. I am not ashamed to say that the reception I received was close to reducing me to tears. I was having my hand shaken left and right, being embraced, slapped on the back and so on.
I saw so many familiar faces there, either people I had met before or people who I recognised from profile images on VT. After so many years of speaking online I finally got to meet Victor from the Ukraine which was a particular thrill although I would not like to single him out particularly, and nor would he wish to be singled out thus as he is a very humble and lovely man. I would say that there were probably 15% of people I did not “know” there, spouses, partners, friends or whatever but they were charming to a man and woman and I suppose it makes sense as if you “hang about” with a traveller you must be inclined that way as well.
After all the almost tearful introductions were made, it was time to get down to business. I have mentioned before that the guy organising the whole thing was a German friend called Christian and he must have been in a world of worry when VT was murdered. He had already laid down deposits for restaurants, coaches, had hotel rooms set aside and whatever else and stood to lose out badly. I sincerely hope he didn’t lose a cent as that would be wrong but I believe that is not the case. Anyway, I went to see him and paid for all the activities I had booked up for (i.e. everything, what’s the point otherwise?) and I still worry about the amount of cash he walked to the bank with. I have a little training in such matters and offered to accompany him but he assured me he would be OK. Nice one, mate.
Afternoon rolled into evening and soon it was the time for the first official function, the welcoming dinner. I know there had been a pre-meet elsewhere as there always is and there would be one or more post-meets, again organised totally by members but this was the start of the weekend “proper”. We were eventually assembled in a delightful and very typical Bavarian dining room and I was reminded of a saying that used to have a bit of currency on VT that trying to organise VT members was like trying to herd cats which is undoubtedly true. A blessedly short speech from Christian which certainly touched a few raw nerves, as it would under the circumstances, and it was time to eat.
We had all pre-ordered from a menu to assist the kitchen as we were such a large party and I must confess I had chosen my main as much for the accompaniments as for the “main event” which was pork in my case. I know people say I am mad and, whilst I’ll munch my way through a good fillet steak quite happily, I am equally happy with a well-grilled double pork chop. I do like a bit of dead pig, sorry veggies and vegans. As an aside I should mention that Christian had arranged veggie options everywhere we ate which is not perhaps standard practice in this very carnivore part of the world.
The dish arrived with the pork cooked to a turn and obviously carved off a large joint with the accompaniments I mentioned which were red cabbage and dumpling. When I am in eating mode in that part of the world they are two of my absolute favourites. Service was a bit slow but we were a fairly huge party and the food, when it arrived was certainly warm enough and very, very tasty.
A few more beers, well more than a few but this is Fergy, and it was off to the very decent hotel for the night against a reasonably early rising the next day. Early for me anyway. I slept like a baby which was another blessing as, just to add insult to injury, I suffer from sleep disorder as well as eating disorder. On all levels, it was a very content man that drifted off to sleep the sleep of the righteous, even if I am not.
Stay tuned and spread the word.