My “summer of reunions” concluded with a 3-week trip to Germany, for a 3-part adventure. The primary purpose was to rendezvous with Ulf, my business school friend and roommate, to celebrate his birthday with his family and friends. We supplemented the celebration, though, with a hiking trip and Oktoberfest.
My trip began with a direct flight from San Francisco into Munich. Arriving at 7pm (about 90 minutes late), I met another friend, Uli, after a highly-coordinated logistical plan including a parked car, a hidden key, and a pre-determined meeting place within the Oktoberfest fairgrounds. We pulled it off without a hitch, and I just made last call at the wine tent. As the designated driver that night, I drove us home later to Uli’s house in Berg, about 30 minutes south of Munich.
The following day we returned to the fairgrounds for a full day of Oktoberfest celebration. This time, we used the train and taxi services. But this was all just warm-up before the main event: the birthday part on the island of Sylt.
I flew from Munich to Hamburg, where I met up with Ulf, and another business school friend (from SF), Adam. Ulf drove us to his home in Neumunster – where we enjoyed an evening barbecue with his family. The following day, we loaded up the van with luggage and party supplies, and drove north to the island of Sylt. Getting there was pretty interesting. We drove for a couple hours on the autobahn, and then we boarded a train – with the van on a flatbed train car – and the train took us the rest of the way to the island, across a marshy wetland. Uli and his girlfriend Danni would make the trip a day later due to work commitments.
On Sylt, Ulf set us up in his vacation cottage, where we stayed for the next several days during the birthday festivities. And what a celebration it was! It was more like a wedding than a birthday party.
The first night, after an evening beach walk, we had an intimate dinner with good friends at a nearby restaurant on the cliffs above the beach. We returned to the cottage where we played cards and drank schnapps into the wee hours of the morning.
The second evening included a buffet dinner at another restaurant, as well as an “open mic” where guests played random instruments and sang (I’m assuming) German folk songs.
The third night was the main event, with a fancy dinner, speeches, and a whole lot of dancing. I was on photograph duty, so I ran around with a camera and practiced my German, “Excuse me, may I take your picture.” Later in the evening, it shortened to “Attention! Picture!” It was a lot of fun and a great way to meet (or re-meet) Ulf’s family and friends. (I have attended two other milestone birthdays of his during the last decade.)
The next few days and nights were spent in recovery and relax mode, just enjoying our time in the small beach community. We took a couple of drives to the north and south ends of the narrow island. We walked along the dam that cuts across the wetland. We took an ecological tour, with guides, across the wetland. We poked along the pedestrian-only shopping area. We feasted on fresh fish dishes at Gosch Market.
After nearly a week of island life, it was time to head back south. We boarded the train and rode all the way down to the Hamburg airport, where we then boarded a flight back to Munich.
Back at Uli’s house, we changed gear – ditching our party outfits and packing our hiking outfits. We loaded up Uli’s car and drove 90 minutes to the Tegernsee region where we would spend the next three days on two day-long hikes. There were 5 guys total: me, Adam, Ulf, Uli, and Olaf. Our usual 6th, Bernd, had to cancel at the last minute due to work commitments. We missed him!
The first hike was a long one. We covered over 20 kilometers and 1,500 meters of elevation. It took all day. The highlight was summiting two peaks, and walking along a narrow ridge between the two peaks.
The second hike was much shorter, but much steeper. We climbed nearly 1,000 meters in only 3 kilometers of distance, including scaling a rock wall wired with sturdy cables. We were rewarded with a cold beer and hot snack at the Tegernsee Hutte, nestled in the cliffs above, affording us a magnificent view of the Alps. We weaved our way back down a different route that was much longer (and therefore flatter). After one final ascent toward the end, which surprised our tired legs, we finally found our way back to our hotel. The total hike ended up being about 13 kilometers.
Although I couldn’t bring my new trekking poles from San Francisco (they wouldn’t fit in my luggage, and I’m not allowed to carry them onto the plane), Uli was nice enough to let me use his. They really help. I’m impressed that Uli was able to complete the two days of hiking with legs only! Next time I’ll ship my poles ahead of time to his house.
As in Sylt, we spent the evenings in Tegernsee playing cards and sipping schnapps. The German guys did a great job speaking English, and being patient with Adam and me as we tried to learn a few more German phrases. I’ve been visiting Ulf and his friends for over 15 years; I really should learn German.
Exhausted and sore after the two big hikes, we headed back to Munich. We drove to Uli’s house to regroup and prepare for our third adventure: Oktoberfest. For three days straight, we headed off to the fairgrounds to meet with different groups of friends and eat/drink at different tents. It was a fun time, but as usual, back-to-back days at Oktoberfest is pretty tough. But “that’s Wiesn,” as we say.
I spent my final day on a nice walk around Lake Starnberg with Uli. We walked into town and enjoyed a final beer lakeside, at the Orange Beach Club, reminiscing about our wild 3-week adventure and loosely planning our next outing in 2018 or 2019.
It was an action-packed, fun-filled vacation. I enjoyed seeing my German friends again, and I’m grateful for their amazing, generous hospitality. Uli and Ulf are such gracious hosts, they really make me feel at home. I look forward to their visits to the USA sometime so I can return the royal treatment!
For now, I’m back in San Francisco to complete a U.S. Sailing Instructor Certification course. (Update: I passed!)
And in a few days, I turn around and fly the other direction – west, and south – to Fiji where I’ll join the crew of Avalon for another sailing adventure…