We took the train from Cologne to Frankfurt for our last day of the trip. We didn’t get to do much in Frankfurt other than have lunch, do some shopping and get ready to fly out early the next morning.
Breakfast before leaving to the airport:
Trip observations & notes:
- There are generally at most four beer choices in Germany: light (as in color, not in calories), dark, wheat and Pilsner. You almost always have two of those, usually three and rarely all four. Brands don’t matter at all, you order “Helles” (light) or “dunkel” (dark), “Weiss” (white for wheat) or “Pilsner”. There is never two beers with the same style from two different breweries. That is very unlike the US beer market. The US has come a long long way in beer in my lifetime.
- There is no nuanced technique to beer-pouring — beers are poured roughly down the middle of the glass to release much of the carbonation and create a huge head of foam, often with a top-off pour. Lagers are traditionally carbonated at higher levels than ales but lagers in Germany are not “spritely” like they are in the US — they are almost creamy because they were poured so roughly. At Optimism, we teach the servers to pour beer in one motion down the side of the glass and time it to deliver the “perfect” amount of foam on top for each style. I think I’d like to get even more over-sized mugs for our lagers and pour them German-style with 2 inches of foam on top!
- “Craft beer” in Germany is disappointing – muddy flavors, poor fermentation and cloudy. I just stopped looking for and ordering them. I don’t understand why they can’t make quality beers given the culture is so beer-centric and their big breweries make very high quality beers. My guess is that anyone who leaves the big breweries to start small breweries never learned the science of brewing, they simply learned the rote practice and it doesn’t translate to anything other than making Pale lagers.
- Germany and the Czech Republic are averse to credit cards. Cash-only places are all too common. I expected Germany to be far more modern. Do Germans really carry $300 around in cash all the time?! Seems like easy prey for muggings.
- People don’t care about World Cup soccer as much as I’m led to believe in the US. Lots of bars and restaurants have the games on TV but most people were disinterested. Maybe because Germany fell out of it in Round 1.
- People smoke too much in Germany and Czech Republic — they rank 32nd and 7th, respectively, on the worldwide smoking list, whereas the US ranks 68th. And they seem to chain smoke, smoking 2-3 cigarettes in an hour of sitting. Coming from Seattle, where it’s unusual to see anyone smoking (mostly hipsters), it’s surprising.
- Google Maps makes everything so easy and is surprisingly accurate with European travel. But it was wrong a few times with train schedules and bus stops.
- Apple Maps and the Watch integration was nice for walking. I wish Google Maps didn’t drop their Apple Watch app.
- The famously no-speed-limit Autobahn has a lot of speed limits. 100 km/h (62mph) and 120 km/h (75mph) seem to be the norm with some short stretches of no limit. Max speed I got to was 172km/h (106mph) and I was going faster than other cars. I don’t think the Autobahn is any faster than US highways but the drivers seem to stay in their lanes more than in the US.
- It’s harder to watch the Tour de France while in Europe than in the US where the stages can be watched (or recorded) live but all I can find on TV in Germany and France are short broadcasts of the end or just summaries and are on late at night, as in 11pm or later.
We made a one-night stop in Cologne (Köln, to Germans) to drink Kölsch – Cologne’s contribution to the beer world. Kölsch is the only beer appellation, meaning you cannot legally call your Kölsch beer a “Kölsch” unless it’s made in Cologne. Cologne banned lagers in the 1800s so all breweries in Cologne were forced to make ales. A Kölsch is essentially a pale lager made with ale yeast. Even though the ban has been lifted, no breweries in Cologne make anything else. Interestingly, the famous Rothschild family did build a lager brewery after the ban was lifted but it failed. So still there are no lager breweries.
My sister, my brother-in-law and one of their daughters were recently in France visiting their other daughter, Sarah, who lives in Paris. We just missed them being in Europe by a few days so we couldn’t meet up with them but we did get Sarah to visit us in Cologne:
It seems like all beer served in Cologne is Kölsch (although I did spy a Pilsner once) and it is always served in 200ml (less than 7 fl ozs) glasses called a “stange“. Folklore about Cologne says that they keep bringing you these small beers until you put your coaster on top of the glass to signal them not to. That didn’t turn out to be true in our experience, we had to order another just like any other beer.
There are 4 or 6 historic Kölsch breweries and we made it to two of them, Päffgen and Früh and I was able to taste a third historic brewery, from Sion, at our hotel (in a 400ml stange even!).
Päffgen is a small brewery that dates to the mid-1800s and was and still is a family brewery that only serves their beer at their restaurant. This is the beer garden that sits between the indoor restaurant and their brewhouse, which can be seen through the glass in the 3-story building (note the wall-mounted old school valves, sight glass and, I think, a lauter grant):
Früh is located closer to our hotel and the train station and comprises of 3 buildings on a square where they have outdoor seating:
The Cologne Cathedral:
Cologne is also known for having the oldest cologne maker, hence the name. Eau de Cologne (“water of cologne”) has been made by 4711 for 200 years. I meant to buy cologne in Cologne but didn’t get around to it, unfortunately.
Our train leaving Strasbourg was at 9am so we had a quick breakfast, Uber’d to the train station and got the TGV train (150mph!) to Mannheim and then a connection to Cologne.
I like the Strasbourg train station:
Au revoir France!
Today is the World Cup Final between France and Croatia and France is expected to win. After breakfast we walked around town that was filling with people wearing blue, white and red. The game started at 5pm and by 3pm restaurants with TVs were filling. By 4pm we found a table very close to a TV.
France won, 4-2, and the town erupted. The Frenchman Kylian Mbappe scores the final goal making him, at 19, the second-youngest player to score a goal in a World Cup Final — Pelé did it at 17 in 1958. Apparently we witnessed the next great soccer player. It was pretty great to be in France when they won only their second World Cup and for the first time in 20 years.
Our original plan for the trip was to leave Munich and go to Nuremberg. Nuremberg is a natural tourist destination and easy to get to. However, it is also the base for Hitler’s 3rd Reich, of which I am no fan, and I wasn’t interested in visiting sites dedicated to Nazi successes. So we went westward instead on our way to Cologne.
Since this trip is a beer travel vacation, we decided to go to Strasbourg, France, which is just over the German border and is in the only French beer region, the Alsace region, influenced by both Germany and Belgium. Kronenbourg is Strasbourg’s most well-known brewery.
Gay and I haven’t been to France since 2005, shortly after we were married (and before kids). We loved France but never made it to this area.
After dropping the rental car off in central Strasbourg, we walked around in the hot (30°C) sun. We went to Academie de la Biere, a great beer bar, and immediately realized how much more diverse France is than Germany is beer-wise: we could choose from simple lagers to Biere de Gardes to Framboise to Bocks. I respect Germany’s beer culture and history but this is what beer is about!
The England vs Belgium World Cup game came on at 4pm so we walked several blocks to an Irish pub that promised to show the game. We assumed they’d be pro-England but they were decidedly pro-Belgium. Belgium won.
Today is also Bastille Day so we went towards the night’s 10:30pm fireworks display. Everyone in Strasbourg was out having dinner!
I wanted to see some small German towns instead of the large German cities we’d seen. And I wanted to drive a BMW in Bavaria. So we took the train back to Munich, picked up a rental car in Munich and drove to Tübingen.
I wanted a 5-series or the X5 but ended up with a BMW I’ve never seen, a 220 Tourer:
We stopped in Ulm for lunch and found a craft brewery, Barfüber:
The 3-hour drive became 4 hours, plus our stopover in Ulm got us to Tübingen by 6:30pm. Despite what Google says, I think driving in Europe is usually slower – and far more expensive – than taking a train. But I did get to drive a BMW in Germany!
Unfortunately, all we had time for in Tübingen was checking into the hotel, a dinner, a walk and back to the hotel for bed time.
We’re leaving this place tomorrow morning, reluctantly. We stayed 3 nights and considered staying longer. I always say I am disappointed in hotels because I like my own house better – but not this place.
We woke up to a dramatic view of the Alps that felt like they were in our backyard.
Our view from our room with morning coffee:
My club sandwich lunch, that I think cost almost $30, including fries, but it was good, even the kids were amazed.
It was built as a “wellness” resort in 1914, rebuilt by the grandson of the original builder in 2006-7 after a 2005 fire and they added the “retreat” building next door, where we stayed, in 2015. The decor is more Scandinavian than German – wood everywhere in simple clean design. I’d never tire of the view of the Alps from anywhere you are.
There are 3 pools, 2 that allowed kids and one that doesn’t, spas, yoga faculty, a gym, 2 huge saunas with one in the woods by a frigid stream that you could walk into after the sauna, many restaurants each with a different cuisine, tennis courts, bocce courts, volleyball, etc. and for the first time ever for me, the room had the Toto Neorest, just like home! There was also a small theater where I caught the England vs Croatia soccer game surrounded by Brits and 2 happy Croatians.
If I had a complaint, it’d be that they can’t make good cocktails.