German Unity Day

Today is German Unity Day, commemorating the day that East and West Germany, created after the end of World War II, were reunified into one country. I have friends who grew up in Germany before 1990 who remember a divided country, and while the process hasn’t been easy, it has made Germany one of the dominant countries in Europe. While our similarities bring us together, it is our differences that make us strong.

I, however, don’t get a holiday as I am in Vipiteno, Italy, working with a customer. To get here, Antonio and I drove down Autobahn 7, south through Austria. It is my first time in serious alpine country as well as my first long ride on an Autobahn. Here is Antonio in our noble chariot for the week, a rented Mercedes A160.

In the US, the Autobahn is this mythic highway without speed limits. While I don’t think it would work well in the US (our fierce independent streak seems to include a desire to ignore good driving practices, such as staying right unless to pass), it is pretty efficient in Germany. According to the GPS, our top speed was 169 km/hour , which I believe is close to 105 mph, and on several occasions we were passed as if we were standing still.

We also saw solar panels and windmills in abundance. Quite often several of the towering giants would stand sentinel over the highway.

As I mentioned above, the whole process is pretty efficient … up to a point. About halfway through our trip we saw the dreaded line of brake lights, and our progress slowed to a crawl. As there was no accident, the only thing I can figure is that with the holiday there were a large number of people heading toward the Alps, and it was a good ol’ traffic jam.

We took a slight detour through the country (where I paid 80€ for 50 liters of gasoline) and eventually the traffic let up, which was about the time we saw the mountains in the distance.

I’ve been in the Alps before, specifically in France, but this was my first time approaching them from Germany. It is impressive, since they rise from the ground like a forbidding wall. We entered a 1km tunnel and when we emerged, we were in Austria.

I’m glad Antonio was driving, because this is beautiful country and I got to watch it. I live in the Eastern half of the United States, and while we have mountains, they are relatively old. The highest mountain east of the Mississippi river is Mount Mitchell, and it is only 6685 feet (2037 meters) high.

These mountains are young, rocky and sharp, and a lot of people were out enjoying their beauty. Since there is almost no snow, the main attraction at the moment seems to be hiking, and I can only imagine the workout one would get.

We had missed lunch, so we decided to visit Innsbruck. Of course we brought Ulf, who seemed to be happy to be out of the car and in the mountains.

Innsbruck is a nice town – with a cold, fast moving river and brightly colored houses surrounded by the ever present ring of mountains. We found a nice outdoor cafe for a light meal, and as usual, Ulf was up to his old tricks.

This is Johanna, our waitress, who was kind enough to stop for a picture even though the cafe was very busy.

Ulf then introduced us to two young ladies sitting at the next table, Carina and Varina. They grew up together across the border in Germany, but are attending school in Innsbruck to study pharmacology. When I mentioned that my sunglasses were older than they were, Carina brought out her own pair of Wayfarers. They seemed excited to be in school, and we talked a lot about travel.

After lunch we hopped in the car for the drive through the Brenner pass into Italy. Vipiteno (Sterzing) is an interesting place, since it is a Germanic town in Italy. It kind of reminds me of Canada, as most of the signs are in both languages.

We got checked in to the hotel, which is lovely with the exception of the Internet connection. It is both 5€ an hour and limited to HTTP and HTTPS (sigh). The night ended with dinner, which was at a Thai/Japanese/Chinese/PIzzeria Restaurant. We thought the combination was so funny we had to try it, and I had hot and sour soup with a pizza.

More on Vipiteno and Italy to come.