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Germany, Jayne and the beer garden

October 10, 2004

PETER BUFFA

I'm back. Not tan, not fit, not rested ... but back nonetheless. Then

again, I wasn't tan or fit before I left, and who cares if I'm

rested? Nobody, that's who.

Ever been to Germany? It's a fascinating place, especially if you

go there after spending some time in Italy. Talk about polar

opposites. The Irish have a wonderful expression -- "life is a merry

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brawl." They must have just gotten back from Italy when they said it.

Italy is all energy and anarchy and excess, where anything goes

except no one is quite sure how or where. Germany is all efficiency

and order and quiet competence, where 2:55 should never be confused

with three o'clock. My only experience with Germany before this foray

was in the far north -- Berlin, Hamburg and Bremen. But we were in

Stuttgart, in the southwestern corner of Bavaria, which is called

Schwabia, and I was bowled over by what a beautiful, green, pastoral

place it is compared to the north.

Stuttgart and nearby Ludwigsburg are part of the realm of the 19th

century Bavarian king, Ludwig II, known as Ludwig Friedrich Wilhelm

to his friends. He was also known as "The Swan King," "The Dream

King" and "Mad King Ludwig." I guess it just depended on the day.

Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don't. Ludwig II is

perhaps best known for his three jaw-dropping castles, which he

called his "fantasies in stone." The most jaw-dropping of all is the

Neuschwanstein Castle, which would definitely ring a bell if you saw

it, because it was the model for Sleeping Beauty's castle at

Disneyland, a.k.a. the Happiest Place on Earth.

A model of precision

Today's Stuttgart is very user-friendly, squeaky clean, and boy do

the trains run on time. Every metro station has an electronic display

overhead that tells you when the next train will arrive, which is

usually no more than a few minutes, and where it's headed. If you're

into cars with prices that make you say, "Ach du lieber!" Stuttgart

is home to both Mercedes-Benz and Porsche. This is a company town,

though, and there's little doubt that the nummer-eine company in this

town is Mercedes Benz, which rolled out its first motorcar in Dec.

22, 1900, which was something like 104 years ago. In case anyone is

confused about whose calls get returned first at Stuttgart City Hall,

the spire atop the Stuttgart train station is topped by an enormous

Mercedes-Benz logo.

Our hotel, the Steigenberger Graf Zeppelin, was top-notch, with

great service, and, of course, everything was neat as a pin and had

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