and Ken Herbert recently
returned from having spent two years in Germany, where the following
happened to them.
My Husband, Ken, and I
moved into a small furnished apartment in Rottendorf, Germany, to
live there for a few years. We got along fine, since I’m
originally from Germany, and Ken taught German for several years. We
were hoping our children would visit, and they did. Marit, Liesel,
and Marit’s boyfriend Keith came for a four-week vacation in
second weekend they
were with us I announced, “Let’s do something
Saturday. Sunday is the last day of the Oktoberfest in Munich, and it
will be extremely crowded, so let’s go Saturday
up. “What a great idea. I always wanted to see what that is
it will be cheap. Munich isn’t that far from here. With a
weekend train ticket, all five of us can travel there and back for
only 34 Euro.”
take two hours for the trip,” I said.
so much fun.”
the next morning,
prepared with our cameras and backpacks, we trekked to the train
station, where we got our ticket and entered the train. I was
surprised at how many people wanted to take that train from our
sleepy little town. Ken and I had taken the weekend trains before,
and always found plenty of empty seats. But not today. When we got
in, the train was already crowded. Eventually, we did find some seats
in two separate compartments, and called ourselves lucky. Liesel sat
on my lap, and all of us were reasonably comfortable. This part of
the trip would take us to Nuremberg, about an hour away. Our next
stop, just a few minutes away, was Wuerzburg, where many other people
entered the train, which now was packed. Our train stopped in every
little town on the way, and people got on in each of those towns,
until I felt like the proverbial sardine in a can. I kept my elbows
and feet as close to me as I could and considered myself lucky that
twenty-year-old Liesel was so small.
transferred to the train that would take us to Munich. Ken and I
entered at one side of a compartment, and the girls and Keith at
another. Ken and I stood in the aisle, wedged in by many other
people, wondering how we would find our children. Eventually I saw
them through the window, running along the train, looking for us.
They squeezed into our compartment. Departure time came but the train
did not move, instead, two train officials opened the doors and
called, “This train has exceeded the limit of people it can
transport. We will not leave until everybody standing in the aisles
we want to
get to Munich,” someone called.
train on track five that will leave a few minutes after this one
does. Please leave the train through the doors ahead of you.”
we stood close to
the door where the officials were, we pushed between two heavy-set
men to get out that way.
stopped us. “You can’t leave from this door. You
get out the other way.”
looked back. Nothing
moved. “Please, let us get out,” I said to the
in my best American accented German. “The line
moving and it will take forever to get out the other side.”
security door, but, well, go ahead,” she said and stepped
so we could leave.
left, grateful for
the fresh air, and along with a large group of other travelers,
hurried to track five, where we found another train, maybe half full,
waiting for us. The announcement board above the track didn’t
say this train would go to Munich, but the people inside assured us
that it would.
found a set of seats
and settled down for the second leg of our trip to the Oktoberfest.
We arrived without further incident or discomfort an hour later.
who had come from Italy was to meet us at Beer Tent # 1on the Wies’n
(the Oktoberfest grounds), but first we had to find the place where
the action was. It was easy to follow the directions to the Wiesn.
We found the way to the U-bahn, the underground
squeezed in among all the other merry-makers on their way to the
fest. After two stops, we left and followed the crowds in a lightly
drizzling rain. Young men and women, already laughing and singing,
arm in arm, walked around us. A blonde young woman giggled with a
boyfriend, her hair braided under her umbrella and wearing a pink
checkered dirndl with a peasant blouse and
young man at her
side wore three-quarter length Bavarian style lederhos’n
with a grey jacket piped with green, and a perky Bavarian hat.
Everywhere I looked, women wearing dirndls mingled with other,
more plainly dressed people.
crossing a large
intersection, the Wies’n lay before us, a wonderland of
color and excitement, accompanied by canned music. It seemed a very
large carnival, with rides, bumper cars, and concession stands.
first thing we saw
was a haunted house ride, and we decided that we had time enough, so
we paid our 2 Euros each, sat down in the little carts and went
through a very kitschy and simple scare experience. By the time we
came out again, the rain had pretty much stopped, and we set out to
find the beer tents.
passed the Twist and
Twirl and the other rides and their blaring music, and found an
intersection that pointed to the different ‘beer
which in reality were small wooden buildings. Eventually, at the
other end of the field, we came across beer tent number one. However,
the doors were closed and a line of people queued up in front of
them, drinking beer, talking, singing and laughing. It was obvious
that the beer drinking had gone on for a while already.
had started raining
again, and we waited for about a half hour before Keith’s
sister found us. The children hugged and kissed, and decided to wait
a little longer to see if they couldn’t get into the tent
all. We talked to other people standing in line, and got conflicting
information. One guy told us the doors would be opened shortly,
someone else said you needed to go around the tent and get in from
the other side. A sign by the door, however, announced that the place
was full and the doors wouldn’t be opened until later.
was past noon by now
and we were hungry. While the kids and I stayed in our place in the
line, Ken brought us bratwursts with buns and mustard. After we ate,
Liesel said, “This is a waste of time.” I agreed
Liesel, and since the other children wanted to wait a little longer,
Liesel, Ken and I decided to meet them again two hours laterin front
of the haunted house.
took off towards the
rides. As we squeezed through the crowds, Liesel and I needed to go
to the bathroom. Looking for the toilets, Liesel suddenly stopped and
giggled. “Look at that, Mom,” she said, and pointed
the sign over the toilet buildings. “It says,
pisser,’” she announced amongst gales of laughter.
Germany, as in France, a section of the toilets for men is labeled
‘Pissoir,’ and for my American Liesel, this was a
brand-new experience. She made me stand in front of the building,
pointing to the sign, and took several pictures. Then I had to take
some pictures of her, too, before we finally went into the bathroom.
bathrooms, you pay for using the public toilets, but you are also
presented with a very clean and pleasant place to do your business,
even in the overcrowded Oktoberfest, and Liesel appreciated that.
minutes after we
left, Liesel pointed to something else; a gorgeous dark-skinned and
dark-haired girl in the most lovely lavender dirndl, accompanied by
the most handsome blond and blue-eyed young man in Lederhosen.
approached them and
said, “Excuse me, do you mind posing for a picture for my
daughter who is visiting from America?”
at all, and after the pictures were taken, we found out that the
young woman came from Brazil, where she had met the German fellow,
and she followed him to Munich. They took a few pictures of us, too,
and we said good-bye and left.
small beer stands
that were squeezed between other concession stands and the
attractions were so crowded with half drunk youth standing around
them, buying and drinking beer, that we passed them by and went on
for a Ferris wheel ride.
Ferris wheel was
humongous, one of the biggest transportable attractions we had ever
seen. Liesel, Ken and I shared our gondola with four other people. As
we reached the top, the gondola stopped. We could see out over the
whole carnival grounds, with the beer tents at one side, and the
attractions stretching out for several blocks. Ken and I took turns
taking pictures of the grounds and of the large churches and other
buildings of Munich that lay behind the grounds.
older couple in our
gondola asked where we were from. We told them we were living in the
area right now, but our children were here visiting from the U.S. The
old man told us that he had a sister that had immigrated to the
States many years ago. We told them about our other children still
waiting by the beer tents, hoping to get in, and they explained that
one had to have a ticket or a special invitation to get in.
close the doors, and no one can get in anymore unless you have a
special invitation,” he said. He pulled three blue plastic
strips from his pocket. “See these bracelets? If you wear one
of these, you can get in. That doesn’t mean you’ll
seat, but at least you can get in and see what’s going
He held the bracelets out to us. “You know what?
here for only a short time, and my wife and I come every year. Why
don’t you take those bracelets, so you can at least see
protested, but they
insisted, so we took the bracelets. When the ride was over, we bade
them a grateful farewell and handed the bracelets to Liesel.
Marit and Keith. Then you three can get in and have some
Ken said. “Your mom and I will be just as happy walking
and seeing what else is going on and what other rides we want to
We decided again to meet by the haunted house in two hours from now,
and she went off.
around a bit more, bought some fried fish and chips to eat, and
decided to try for an alcohol-free beer. We found a stand where it
wasn’t too busy, bought our beers, drank them and returned
glasses. We wandered back to the haunted house, feeling as if we were
done at the Oktoberfest, when we ran into the girls and Keith.
had planned to
escort his sister and her friend to their car, but everybody agreed
it was time to go home, so the girls from Italy said good-bye and
went on on their own.
the way back to the
road that would lead us to the subway, the girls told us about
visiting the beer tent. Their armbands got them into the tent, but
they couldn’t find a seat, so they stood against the wall
watching the people who were sitting ordering beers, talking and
laughing. Marit tried several times to stop a server to get some beer
too, but they didn’t take the time for the people standing
along the walls. The servers were rushed, hurried and probably dead
tired. After a while this was too much for the kids, and they left.
their way looking
for us, they walked along the perimeter of the fair grounds and
encountered a group of men standing and pissing against the fence.
Marit and Liesel weren’t the only ones taking pictures of
Oktoberfest celebrants, because several other girls, probably from
other countries too, also took pictures. My daughters thought that
doing this in public was a terrible thing to do and I assured them
that these guys were probably drunk. “People in Germany do
do this under normal circumstances,” I assured them.
find you all a beer, and then we’ll leave,” Ken
suggested. We found a beer stand where the crowds weren’t too
large, and the girls and Keith each got a glass of beer, paying the
three Euros as a deposit for the glasses. When they were done
drinking, they decided the glasses would make a great souvenir and
the price wasn’t too large, either, so they took the empty
glasses with them as we went on to the subway station.
station was packed, with people coming and going, and trains coming
by every three minutes or so. Several officials walked around, making
sure things went smoothly in spite of the inebriation of most of the
people. We asked one of the officials which train to take to the
train station, and she told us. She looked at the beer glasses in the
kids’ hands, and added that we weren’t allowed to
onto the subway train with the them, since they needed to stay on the
fair grounds. However, after we told her these glasses were paid for
and were souvenirs, which the girls would take to the United States,
she recommended putting the glasses out of sight and getting on where
she wasn’t watching.
girls stashed the
glasses into Ken’s backpack, and we boarded the next subway
train to the main train station in Munich. We had plenty of time left
for our last train back to Rottendorf, so we felt positive about
getting seats in the train. We decided to get to the platform right
now and get comfortable.
when we saw what seemed like thousands of people waiting on the
platform. In one spot a group of happy young men were singing
drinking songs, in another corner several middle aged people pushed
as close to the tracks as they could. Ken and I looked at each other.
“This is going to be fun,” Ken said.
we can do about it.”
screeching of its brakes, the train arrived and slowed to a stop. We
gathered around Ken and stood as close to the tracks as we could
without falling into the track pit, hoping that one of the doors
would open right in front of us. With our luck, however, as the train
came to a stop, we were right in between two doors. We pushed our way
through the throngs towards the closest door, when a train official
came running along the platform and calling, “This train is
full. Please refrain from trying to board. We have a special train
for you leaving for Nuremberg momentarily on track nineteen. Please
board the train waiting on track nineteen.”
it was hopeless
trying to get into the scheduled train, we took off for track
nineteen to at least get to Nuremberg. When we got there, I sighed
with relief. The train wasn’t overly full yet, and we found
seats, even though they weren’t next to each other. Across
aisle from Ken and me sat two other couples a bit younger than we
were. We settled in, talked and listened to the other couples who
talked loudly, obviously inebriated.
passed. Why wasn’t
the train leaving? We started to wonder whether we would get our
connection to Wuerzburg in Nuremburg. The lady across the aisle had
to go to the bathroom, but came back after a while saying the toilet
was stuffed up. About that time, the loudspeakers hissed to life. The
announcer told us they were sorry, but the train wouldn’t be
leaving right yet, since the brakes on the engine weren’t
working right. But the problem would be fixed within half an hour. He
thanked us for our patience and clicked off. The woman across from us
cussed under her breath and left, probably to look for a bathroom in
the station, and hoping to return in time for departure.
hour came and
went, and the ruckus in the compartment in front of us became louder
yet. Several groups of young men were swilling beer and singing and
toasting to the Oktoberfest, while a few passengers got tired of
waiting and left, which gave Ken and me and the two girls the chance
to sit together. The loudspeaker again crackled to life, and the
announcer told us that the brakes weren’t fixable, and they
would shortly have a new engine to get us going. Sorry for the wait,
but they wanted the passengers to be safe.
and it was now eight o’clock. The announcer told us that this
engine, too, had some problems, and they would have a new one in no
time. I kept myself busy with my knitting, and Ken with his book.
Marit was asleep against Keith’s shoulder, who also dropped
off, and Liesel read.
minutes after the last announcement, the train left. I was sure
miss the last train out of Wuerzburg to Rottendorf, if we’d
even make it that far. The train went agonizingly slow, since our
unscheduled train had to give way to the scheduled trains, but
eventually we arrived in Nuremburg.
this time it was
around midnight, but thankfully our connecting train to Wuerzburg and
on to Rottendorf stood on its tracks, waiting for us. We hurried on,
and the train left, about half an hour after its scheduled time. This
train was not only very slow, in order to let other trains who were
on schedule pass it by, but it was also one of the slow regional
trains that stop at every tiny little town which has a train station.
And, to top it all off, the train didn’t have a conductor who
called out the names of the towns, and neither did it have an
electronic announcement bar.
mind. We were happy to have caught the last train that would stop in
Rottendorf, and we were glad to have escaped the drunk teenagers who
rode with us to Nuremburg. We settled down, and when the train left,
Ken decided to visit the bathroom. In this train, the WC, or Water
Closet, as it’s still known in Germany, was clean. Ken
with a smile on his face.
met this GI,”
he said. “His German was really good.”
you sure he
wasn’t a German soldier?” I asked.
standard issue. Oh, here he is coming.”
enough, a young
man in an American soldiers’ outfit came along the passageway
and sat down on the other side of us. We got to talking, and he told
us he was German, but was born in the States, so he signed up for the
U.S. Army before he turned eighteen, so he wouldn’t lose his
U.S. citizenship. He told us he lived in Schweinfurt, the only place
that still has U.S. soldiers in the area.
other young men chimed in and told us they would have to leave a bit
after Schweinfurt, too. We had a quite pleasant conversation as the
train chugged along. The soldier left and we went on. We stopped at a
larger town, which I assumed was Wuerzburg. We had to leave at the
stop right after Wuerzburg, as that was where we lived. So the next
stop came, and I told the children and Ken that we needed to leave.
Ken asked, “Are you sure?”
sure. We passed Wuerzburg, and we need to get out of here
grabbed our stuff
and stumbled out of the train as it stopped.
was pitch dark
outside. We looked around, and Ken said, “That’s
Rottendorf. We need to get back in.”
ran back to the
train, but the doors wouldn’t open anymore and the train
started to leave. We looked after the receding train dumbfounded. The
train station we found ourselves in consisted of two tracks and a
fence beyond which we heard a sound. “Moo.” It must
been a pasture for some local cows. We walked along the small
platform until we could see the sign. It read,
We looked around. Everything was dark. We saw no houses.
Liesel said and hugged herself.
sank to the
ground, not saying a word.
checked my watch. It
was 1:10 am.
to go to the
bathroom. In the train, I wanted to wait since I knew we were very
close to home, but now the need became imperative. I slid down the
embankment and did my business behind some bushes while the rest of
the family huddled together, trying to figure out what to do now.
and I had lived in
Rottendorf for over three months already, but we had never heard of a
place named Buchbrunn, and I was sure I hadn’t seen it when I
figured out our train trip on the Internet. For all we knew, we could
still be forty kilometers or more from Rottendorf.
when the next train comes,” Ken said hopefully. After all
in Germany, trains come often, even at night. We found a train
schedule hanging from a post. One lonely streetlamp a bit further
away didn’t quite send enough light, but we finally made out
that we were several stops away from Wuerzburg and Rottendorf.
made out the
schedule, I sighed in relief. “The next train will be here
around 2:00.” Everybody looked more hopeful until Ken said,
“Are you sure that train is scheduled for Sundays, too?
checked again. Ken
was right. On Sunday mornings, the train we had just left was the
last one until 7:00 in the morning.
Marit said, and I heard the misery of the whole world in her voice.
She bravely tried not to fall apart and I appreciated her for that.
After all, this was all my fault. If I’d have watched closer,
we’d be in bed asleep right now.
think I see a
walkway,” Keith said. We went closer, and across the tracks
front of us a path was meandering along what might have been a
meadow, fringed with a few trees. We found a track crossing and
started walking up the path. As we came closer I saw something round
on the ground and picked it up. It was an apple. At least, we
starve to death, I thought as I followed my freezing children into
just a few
minutes we saw a light up ahead. “Maybe it’s a
Ken said. “Let’s see what we can find.”
path widened out
into a road, and as we got closer houses materialized out of the
dark. A few street lamps broke through the dark, illuminating tightly
shuttered private homes.
find an industrial part of the town,” Ken said.
went on, but things
didn’t change. We were in a very sleepy residential area.
knock on a door,” Marit suggested with chattering teeth.
know. Nobody will open their doors in the middle of the night to a
group of complete strangers,” I said.
a light on in the upper window!” Liesel called out.
to ask for help,” I said. “It’s better if
I do it.
I’m a little old woman, and less threatening than you guys.
Also, my German is better.”
went to the door and
rang the bell. Nothing happened. I rang again and the little speaker
by the door came to life. “Yes?” a sleepy male
explained that we
were lost because we got off the train too early, and asked really
nicely if he would be so kind as to let us borrow a phone book so we
could call a taxi.
man said. “It’s late and I’m already in
don’t you try the neighbor? They’re always
I could ask
again he’d disconnected the loudspeaker. By now it was past
believe this is happening,” Marit said.
gave her a reassuring
hug. “Look at it this way. Whatever will happen,
survive this, and when you’re back in the States,
have a good laugh over it.”
cold, hungry, and sleepy now,” she wailed.
walked along the
road, checking all the other houses, but everything was pitch dark.
suggested we take
another road and maybe we’d come across a gas station or
something, so we went around a corner.
“I saw a woman in that window right there.”
looked, and yes, I
faint light shone through that window.
hurried up the
walkway and was stopped by an iron gate locked in front of the door,
but luckily I also saw a bell. I rang the bell and instantly the
light in the window went out.
moment later the
window through which we had seen the light opened a crack.
the wavery voice of an old lady asked.
problem, and she said, “Just a moment. I’ll get my
window shut and all
was quiet for what seemed a long time while I waited, shivering, in
front of the iron gate. The rest of the family was huddled in the
darkness by a tree a bit farther off.
these people would just let us stand in front of their door and go to
sleep, but at that moment the door opened a crack and an old man
explained our problem
again. I told him I had a cell phone, but had no idea what number to
call for help, and he said, “Just wait here for a few
I’ll call you a taxi.”
thanked him profusely
and hurried back to the family. Encouraged, we dug out the last
left-over sandwiches from our backpacks, and started eating. We
expected at least a half hour to pass, since we assumed that the taxi
would have to come all the way from Wuerzburg.
when about five minutes later a car, the first one we had seen in
that town, came along the road and stopped in front of us. It was the
taxi driver, a
young man, was alert and friendly and told us he lived here in town
and had still been up. We started piling into the car, when he said,
“Just a minute. By law, I can only transport four people at a
time, and you are five.”
put on her
prettiest young girl face and begged in her broken German.
please, we’re so cold!”
children are skinny. They can squeeze together. Can’t you
driver said, “Okay
then. It’s not that far.”
sat in front and
the rest of us squeezed into the back. We talked about the
Oktoberfest and about America and in no time we had arrived.
when the driver delivered us in front of our house door and charged
only twenty Euros! Ken gave him double and thanked him again, and the
checked, and yes, I
had my keys. We were home from one of the strangest days we ever had!
author's name in
of the message.)