Friday, April 13, 2007

Travel Report: Lindau, Germany

Through a strange fluke, I got invited to give a talk at a conference for young scientists. The conference was to be held in Lindau, Germany -- where Nobel laureates meet each year. Lindau is on Lake Constance, which borders Switzerland, Austria, and Germany. The area is a popular tourist destination -- for Germans. We had a tough time finding any information in English about the area, and not many people around here knew much about it.

I arrived in Friedrichshafen, Germany, on Wednesday morning after coming entirely too close to missing my flight. (Beware of train stations with similar names, especially when the one you actually need is twice as far away as the one you thought you needed.) I was greeted at the airport by a man holding a sign with my name on it. He didn't speak any English and drove a big Mercedes. This is one of those cases where even if you feel like you should ask questions, you can't!

Anyway, as you've probably seen by now, Lindau is just as cute as a button. You can walk the whole island in about an hour, and the place makes you feel like getting a beer and sitting and staring at the water, which I suppose is a hallmark of a vacation destination. The meeting started that night with a short talk and a reception. Now, most scientific conferences offer a chance for scientists to catch up with their colleagues, meet new people in their field, that sort of thing. This conference was 142 people from 71 countries who were from all different fields and had never met. So, everyone figured out pretty quickly that they were going to have to be proactive about meeting people to make the conference enjoyable.

At dinner that night, I mentally rolled my eyes when I realized that I had sat down across from an American, which was of course a silly thing to do because she's not someone I would encounter in any other context. She's a young professor at MIT in materials science and was absolutely lovely. We ended up hanging out for much of the meeting. We were sitting next to a theoretical physicist from Berlin and his wife. She grew up in East Germany and was 8 years old when the wall came down. She told us stories of going to West Germany with her family and people walking up to her and handing her money, and other people giving the family gifts and inviting them to dinner. So interesting.

The next two days were standard-issue conference days, and I met a lot of people and got plenty of story ideas. On the last night, Friday night, we took a sunset dinner cruise on the lake that was absolutely gorgeous. I went on the cruise instead of taking the train up to Friedrichshafen to meet John, meaning that he had to navigate the German train system on his own!

John arrived without incident, and so began our weekend in Germany. You may recall the phone call with the B&B; yeah, still no English. But the woman owner knew the right 10 words, so between those and some sign language, we did alright. Also, breakfast was a buffet, so I was not called upon to use my fine command of German words for breakfast foods.

Overall, it was a lovely weekend. We strolled, ate ice cream cones, strolled, drank beer, strolled, ate meat, strolled, ate more meat. A few of the memories we cherish from the trip:

We came across the Saturday market in Lindau, full of cheese, meat, flowers, bread, delis, and assorted crafts. I recognized the sausages at one of the stalls -- landjager, which my dad used to make. There seemed to be a menu of landjagers, though, and wasn't sure what kind I might like. I asked the vendor if he spoke English -- not really. I confidently asked, "Ich hatte gerne landjager, pero no se que tipo." I would like landjager (German), but I don't know what kind (Spanish). Am Huge Dork.

"OK," the vendor says. He says a word I don't recognize, then puts his hands up in zombie formation and pushes them down quickly. I figure he's probably not trying to sell zombie sausage. "Uhhhh. Horse!" he says proudly, motioning again with his hands, which were, of course, supposed to be hooves, not zombie hands.

"Oh! No," I say. "Not horse." We settled on good old fashioned beef. I hope. Well, it was tasty anyway.

On Easter Sunday, we were trying to decide whether to to go church. And then the bells started:

The bells seemed pretty insistent that we go to church, so we did. There was a sign on the door of the Protestant church that we couldn't read, so in case it said, "AMERICANS STAY OUT," we went into the Catholic church, which we hadn't been in yet. It was standing room only for mass, which was, of course, in German. It was nice, and it's a beautiful church.

Also on Sunday, we took a cruise around Lake Constance, which gave us a glance at Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. Apparently the big thing to do is to cycle around the lake -- 280 km, usually broken into a six-day trip. I like our way better.

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