Hot Air Ballooning Over Bavaria

We interrupt this barrage of travel posts to bring you a post about something that I did a little closer to town.  Thanks to my partner-in-crime Jenny and her fiancé Robert, I had the opportunity to go hot air ballooning.  They wanted to try this, and if enough people joined in, the balloon company would come to us instead of us going to them.  Arrangements were made, weather was checked, and on the very last Saturday in May, the balloon company traveled to us in the afternoon.

The first order of business was setting up.  We were all enlisted to help set up the balloon and basket.  The actual balloon was packed into a giant canvas bag.  Most of the material is a very lightweight nylon, but the material closest to the hot air burners is a slightly more flame retardant canvas blend.


First the balloon has to be inflated.  It’s connected to the basket, and pulled out over a large field.


I large gasoline powered fan is used to begin the inflation of the balloon chamber.  Two of us had to hold the mouth of the balloon open at first.


After enough  inflation is done with the fan, the flame jets can be used to heat the air inside to give it lift.


The burners actually have very fine control-  they can do hotter blue flame or cooler (but more visible and thus cooler looking) yellow flame.


Lift off was quite subtle-  there’s no acceleration like an airplane.  One minute you’re on the ground, and the next you simply aren’t on the ground any more. Once we were aloft, the navigation was simply based on which way the wind was blowing.  The blue vehicle with the white trailer is the balloonist’s partner following along from the ground.     They kept in contact via nearly functional radios.


Once we were fully aloft, the view was pretty spectacular.  There was, surprisingly, no wind noise at all because we were moving at the speed of the wind.  It was very quiet, except for the occasional use of the burner to adjust our altitude.  It also wasn’t cold, to my surprise, because of the burners.  Incidentally, the plume of steam coming up from the ground in the far distance is a nuclear power plant.


In this part of Germany, there are really only a few larger cities.  Most of Bavaria is really just villages of various sizes surrounded by fields of crops.  This was only fifteen or twenty kilometers outside of the center of Regensburg.  I’m not actually sure what village we’re looking at in this photograph.  From above, they all kind of look alike.


This field, I am told, is where the Battle of Regensburg took place in 1809.  This is where Napoleon was shot in the ankle, apparently.


Fields of solar panels are a common sight in Germany.  I didn’t realize until we were directly above one that sheep sometimes graze in between the panels.  Much easier than using a lawnmower around the solar panels, I imagine.


Just after we passed the field of solar panels and sheep, two trains passed, one in each direction.  The first one was a longer Munich to Prague commuter line, and the next was a shorter commuter train which probably only went from Landshut to Munich.   The furthest wagon to the left is the engine, and the second from last is a two level wagon with upper deck seats.  The other three wagons all contain compartments of six seats each, which is much less fun than the double-decker wagon, but is much much quieter.


After a while in the air, we had to look for a place to land.  This is the tricky part-  you have no steering other than the wind, and you want to avoid crops and powerlines.  Ideally, you need another field of just-grass.   While we were looking for a place to land, we passed fairly low over this village.  Lots of people came out to wave at us and shout things.   Most people are kind of fascinated to see a hot air balloon, particularly one this close.


As we approached an ideal landing spot, the sun was low on the horizon and we got some pretty neat perspectives.


After landing successfully at the edge of a crop field, we were joined by some neighborhood children who wanted to watch us break down and pack the balloon.


Once the enclosure was completely deflated, the balloonist scrunched it together to prepare it to go back into the canvas bag.


Last, but certainly not least, our wicker steed was ready to be disassembled and put back into the trailer.  This is the point at which a carload of random dudes wearing Lederhosen pulled up and helped us muscle the thing back into the trailer.  Bavaria is a ridiculous and hilariously fun place at times.


Have you ever been up in a hot air balloon?



It’s difficult to travel in January, unless you’re going to somewhere much warmer out of the country.  The days are short and grey and frequently a little bit on the chilled side, so sleeping in is usually much more desirable.

I’ve learned over the last two years that if I spend too long in Regensburg without taking any trips out of town, I start to get a little cranky.  To combat this, I’ve compiled a small list of day-trips-  places I can go in a single day on a Bayern Ticket (€23 for one person covers all RE,RB and local trains as well as bus rides, U-Bahn, and S-Bahn anywhere in Bavaria for the entire day.)  With that short list in mind, I just try to go on a Saturday morning.

For the first three Saturday mornings of January, I reached the all important moment of getting out of bed and going to the train station, and I chose to keep sleeping instead.  This weekend, however, I finally beat the evil snooze alarm, and I hopped the first train after 9am to scenic Bamberg!


Bamberg is about sixty kilometers north of Nuremberg, and is easily reachable by trains.  Local trains (RE and S-Bahn) go between Nuremberg and Bamberg on an almost hourly basis.  I arrived in town about fifteen or twenty minutes before noon, and started to wander.  I had a list of about five things I wanted to see in the city, and I took the time honored tradition of “winging it” for the rest.

Item the first on my Bamberg list:  Altenburg Castle

Altenburg Castle sits on a hill overlooking the old city of Bamberg.  I wasn’t interested in going inside the castle, and I could see it clearly from where I was, so I didn’t bother going much closer than you can see from this picture.


Item the second on my Bamberg list:  Bamberger Dom (the Bamberg Cathedral)

The main cathedral in Bamberg was built originally in 1012, but it was partially destroyed and rebuilt a few times.  Its present form is kind of like this:


Inside the cathedral are a lot of interesting statues, including the famous Bamberg Horseman (Der Bamberger Reiter.)    Nobody knows who this statue represents, but it’s probably been there since about the year 1237.  The crown suggests royalty, but there’s no other items to suggest identity.  Saint Henry II is buried in this cathedral, and some believe that it represents him, but there’s no Imperial Regalia to confirm that.  Pope Clement II is also buried in this cathedral.


There’s a lot of fascinating sculpture in the Bamberger Dom, so it’s worth having a look around.  I thought the headless clergyman here was interesting:


Just three more pictures from the cathedral, and then we’ll move on.




Item the third on my Bamberg list:  The Franconian Brewery Museum

Alas, the  Fränkisches Brauereimuseum is closed until April.  I do have some bad luck with things being closed when I visit.  I had the same problem with the film museum in Paris and the suspended trains in Wuppertal.

Item the fourth on my Bamberg list:  The Bamberg Historical Museum

Right next to the Dom, this was also closed, for “Winter Pause.”  That’s ok, though.  In this case, I didn’t want to go inside so much as I wanted to see the building.



Item the fifth on my Bamberg list:  Try Rauchbier

Bamberg is famous for Rauchbier, or smoked beer.  The distinctive smokey smell and flavor is achieved by drying barley over an open flame.  Schlenkerla and Spezial have been brewing smoked beer in Bamberg for nearly two hundred years, and Schlenkerla is one of the best known brands of smoked beer in the world.  This is what I tried.

I thought it would be disgusting, but it wasn’t.  It’s difficult to describe the flavor- my friend Alice likens it to “drinking a campfire,” and that’s probably the most accurate description I’ve yet heard.   I didn’t really care for Rauchbier, but I can see the appeal.  Additionally, I only tried one variety from one brewer- there’s also a smoked Weizen (wheat beer) available, and I’d like to try that some time.


Item the sixth on my Bamberg list:  The Bamberg Altes Rathaus

This building was my favorite thing about Bamberg.  It’s situated on the Regnitz river.   More accurately, it’s perched somewhat precariously over the Regnitz river.  Reachable from either side only by a pedestrian bridge, this is a very impressive and fascinatingly beautiful structure.  It helps that this is the one point all day where the sun came out and pretended to not be part of January.


This is one of the sides visible from the pedestrian bridge, a street fittingly named Obere Brücke, or Upper Bridge.


There are bridges on either side of the Altes Rathaus.  The first photograph of the Rathaus in this post was taken from this bridge, a much more modern affair, but with a fantastic view of the building.


Item the seventh on my Bamberg list:  Winging It

The rest of these are just things that I found wandering around the city that I thought were interesting.  For example, in the Grüner Markt, there’s a fountain containing a sculpture called “Gabelmann.”  Gabelmann translates to “Fork Man,” which is apropos since the statue represents Neptune, god of the seas, holding up his traditional trident.  In hind-sight, I wish I’d taken a better photograph than this one.


Mohren Haus means Moor’s house.  Every time I encounter something named after the Moors in Germany, I’m utterly fascinated.  The tiny statue of little Moor dude on the building totally makes it, don’t you think?


Interesting sculpture!


More interesting scultpture!  This one represents Kaiserin Kunigund, but I don’t have any real idea who that is.


Next up is a statue of Luitpold, Prince Regent of Bavaria.  Spend any amount of time in the south of Germany and you’ll encounter at least one Luitpoldstraße in every city.  There’s one in Regensburg, a block away from my apartment.

Luitpold became the Regent of Bavaria after the (frankly rather suspicious) death of his nephew, King Ludwig II.  He remained the Prince Regent until his death in 1912, at the age of 91.


Last, but not least, I stopped in at the Stadtgalerie (City Gallery) Bamberg, because there was a poster for an ongoing exhibit (there until the first of June) called Jüdisches in Bamberg.  I wanted to see what Jewish stuff was in the exhibit, so I took a look.  For a €5 entry fee, this was well worth a stop.


One of the displays had three or four of these rather amazing three dimensional images.  From above, it looks a little bit like a honey-comb.  It’s a cube rather than a rectangle, but when viewed from the front, the depth is rather ingenious. This picture doesn’t quite capture how amazing it is.


Among the artifacts on display in the Jewish exhibit was a Torah scroll, along with the Mantel (the velvet cloak that goes over it), the Kesser (the two silver doo-dads that go atop the wooden shafts), and the Yad (the silver pointer used to read from the Torah.)

This particular one is apparently on loan from the Bamberg Historical Museum, and I was not able to find any details about its origin prior to that.  Every Torah is hand-written by a special scribe, though, so they’re not terribly easy to come by.


Have you ever been to Bamberg?  Did you try the Rauchbier?  What did you think of it?

Freude am Fahren

Every week-day, I ride a bus from my home near the Altstadt of Regensburg to a bus stop a short walk from my office in nearby Neutraubling.  That bus rides past BMW’s Regensburg factory.

I have always known that BMW is a Bavarian company, but I forgot about it until I got here. BMW stands for Bayerische Motoren Werke, which roughly translates in English to Bavarian Motor Works.  The blue and white in the logo roundel match the blue and white of the Bavarian flag.  The logo is also stylized to evoke a spinning propeller.   The company goes back about a hundred years, but they started out as two different companies.  Bayerische Flugzeugwerke made airplane engines, and Rapp Motorenwerke was a motor company.  When they merged, the BMW name was born.  The first BMW branded vehicle is a motorcycle; the cars actually came a little bit later.

As you can see from the overhead view, it’s an enormous sprawling facility with a test track.

Up until the week before last, I’d only ever seen the gates and the high fences that surround the compound.   There’s a tour available to the public, however.  You just have to schedule it.   Here’s some of the interesting things I learned on the tour:

  • This facility produces several models of BMW, but ALL of the BMW Z4 line cars are made here.
  • The facility is a complete production line including enormous (and very loud) metal presses that convert huge rolls of steel into car doors, hoods, trunks, and bodies.
  • The seats are manufactured in a nearby town, and are driven to this facility less than an hour before they’re installed into new cars- this means that a traffic snarl on the Autobahn can back up production quite easily.
  • The factory produces one car every minute.  They make 1100 cars a day.
  • Much of the transport of cars from one end of the factory to the other is completely automated-  lots of robots and sparks and giant tracks.   There are forklifts, but there are also automatic robot cargo things that would look right at home in any Weyland-Yutani cargo deck.
  • Robots handle welding and bolting and all kinds of other precision work.
  • There are four layers in the painting process: a base primer, a protective layer, the color paint, and clear coat.  The paint work is all done by robots, and the paint is electrostatically charged during the painting process so that the paint will adhere more easily.
  • While the seats and engines are installed by robots,  a lot of fine installation work is done by humans- the Regensburg facility employs nine thousand people.
  • Ten percent of the finished cars are sent out to the test track for quality control.  I suspect that would probably be a fun job.

The video is a little bit older, but you can get a sense of the Regensburg facility in this Youtube clip.

This next video was taken in the Munich factory, but it clearly shows the metal press machinery, the paint robots, and more.  I’m quite fond of how the robot arms open and close the car doors during the painting process.

Weltenburg Abbey

Roughly 35 kilometers from my home town of Regensburg, there is a rather unique brewery.   There are dozens of breweries within a short distance of here-  this is Bavaria, after all, and Bavarian beer is legendary.  What makes the Weltenburg Abbey so unique is that it’s noted as the world’s oldest cloister brewery, beginning operation in the year 1050.

Weltenburg Abbey is located along the Danube Gorge.  Although you can reach it via land, the preferred (and far more scenic) way to get there is by a short boat ride, from nearby Kelheim.

The boat does touristy things on the route there, including explaining the history of this very narrow section of the Danube.  For example, it points out the crocodile in the rock face below.  Full disclosure- I couldn’t see it until someone else pointed it out.

Once you arrive, you can see markings on the corner of the Abbey’s front wall-  these represent the height of the Danube during different floods over the years.  You can’t really tell scale in the picture, but almost all of these were over my head.  I’ve seen this type of marking all over Regensburg as well.  This is a strong argument for not living on the first floor when you live this close to the river!

Inside the Abbey there is a a very ornate cathedral you can visit, expansive grounds you can explore, and a lovely beer garden where you can have lunch and some tasty beer.   Weltenburger Kloster Barock Dunkel (Baroque Dark) was given the World Beer Cup award in 2004 as the best Dunkel beer in the world.  I’ve had it on several occasions, and I can confirm that it is indeed a delicious dark beer.

Here are some pictures of the Abbey, the grounds, some actual real life monks, and the aforementioned tasty, tasty dark beer.

At ninety-eight, we all rotate.

This is a story about a revolving door.

One of the things that I see a lot of here that just doesn’t exist in Florida is the giant revolving doors that are in front of big stores, shopping malls, and so forth.  Like this one.  Well, exactly this one.   There are regular doors on either side of the revolving section.  That’s important in another paragraph or so.

Spinning Cage Of Doom!

Over the last few days, I’ve noticed that the shoes that I wear to work are starting to disintegrate.  They’re cracking badly on the spot that creases when I kneel down and the upper bends.  The damage is severe enough that my feet are starting to get cold from the extra air flow, so after work today, I decided to walk over to one of the shoe stores I’d seen in the Regensburg Arcade.

Whenever I walk over to the Arcade, I always decide whether to use the revolving door or the regular door based on a combination of where it is in the spin cycle, how crowded it is, and how much I’ll have to slow down when I get into the spin chamber.  Tonight, I saw that it was just closing, so I angled to the door on the right instead.  As I was approaching, I heard laughter from the other side, and when I looked up, the revolving part had stopped cycling entirely and had trapped one guy in a blue jacket inside.

I felt bad for this guy, trapped in the middle of the revolving door.  Normally you can push them, but this one was motorized so it seemed to be locked in place.  Anyone who’s known me for a while knows that it’s in my nature to stop and try to help people.  I’m not a doormat and I won’t usually go out of my way to ridiculous lengths to help people, but on a night like tonight when I have plenty of time, I can’t pass up the urge to help.

Two problems:  First, I don’t speak enough German to converse with everyone around me.  Second, I had no idea who to tell if there was a problem with the door.

The first thing that I did was to walk the full circle around the revolving door, looking for controls, buttons, and so forth.  By this point in time, the poor guy trapped inside had noticed that I wasn’t just walking by like the other shoppers, and we exchanged amused glances.  Some people would be freaking out; this guy was cool as a cucumber.   It didn’t take long to figure out that none of the controls were helpful-  they were designed to open it fully for wheelchair passage when it was already moving.  I did find a light panel near the top that showed that it was in a fault condition-  it seemed to think there was an obstruction.

A helpful passerby, the only person to stop and help besides me, suggested that we try pushing.  We had already done that, but we tried it again, without success.  The new helpful person went off to the information desk (which I did not know existed) to tell them about the situation.  As he walked away, I continued to try the different controls and levers and such on the door.  After a few minutes, new helpful guy came back and mentioned that he’d told the management and they were on their way.

While we waited, the guy stuck inside the door realized that the center partition of the revolving door was also a door, and this allowed him to move to the other side, where he could have better access to the part of the door that I was trying to get open.  Once he was directly opposite me, we managed to successfully turn the door just enough for him to slip out.  He thanked me briefly, then was on his way.

Here’s the really funny bit.  While all of this was going on, most people were just walking by.  Unbeknownst to me, however, a group of four guys sitting at the restaurant just to the right of the revolving door had been following our little adventure, and when my blue jacketed friend finally slipped out of his revolving cage, a loud cheer went up from the table.  When I turned to look, they had beer glasses raised in salute.  I couldn’t help but laugh.

The trip to the shoe store was a success, too.