Greetings from my own personal black hole of all things media. Hmm, perhaps black hole is not the analogy I’m looking for, because that would assume information could get in, it just couldn’t get out. No, me, I’m completely cut off, my own personal Egypt might be a better analogy.
We knew that the one major downside to the house we’ve rented here in Ramstein was its lack of internet access. Somehow, when laying pipes, plumbing and electricity for this community they decided not to lay any internet cables. In fact, they didn’t lay any cables at all. No internet, no TV, not even phone lines. Crazy, eh?
Must be a real old home, eh? Nope, this whole community was built only 8 years ago. Why build a home without TV cables or phone lines? Well, cost for one. Why pay to set up an infrastructure for an entire neighborhood when you can just build the houses themselves. Plus this is Germany, their idea of core essentials for housing projects differ vastly. Well, at least, we’ve got water lines, …and a 6 minute commute to the base. With roads turning to ice once a week this time of year, I gotta say internet doesn’t seem as critical.
So, If you want TV you have to have a satellite dish put up, and if you want a phone line or internet you have to get what is called an “Aircard.” An AirCard is a small device that pulls internet, and phone data out of the air. Kind of like a cell phone. AirCards are available in the US, but they require a monthly subscription from the local phone company to keep working.
However, with most folks already paying a nominal monthly phone & internet bill for a hard line coming right into their house, there really is no point. Plus AirCards are exponentially slower than the hard line variety for data transfer. So, typically, AirCard usage is reserved for business folk who travel a lot and require a good bit of internet away from their own home’s digital umbilical cord, per say. But, for those of us without the benefit of a hard line option, an AirCard is just what herr doctor ordered.
However, said gee-whiz AirCard is just staring at me right now with its blinking red light, …taunting me. What does that red light mean? I have no idea, the instructions are in German. What does it say online about said blinking light? Don’t know, said light is also preventing from getting to the internet. So I called up the store, Vodafone, but it’s Saturday after noon. Vodafone (as well as every other store in Europe) has already closed for the day. Sure there is a nice answering machine, also in German. But clearly it was advising me to, yes …check online.
Hilariously tragic, I know. But par for the course over here. No wonder the word schadenfreude is derived from German.
Now I’m a tech-savy guy, so I can figure out others ways online, right? Sure, I can. After jailbreaking our iPhones last October, I am now able to use our computer to “tether” to our phones; i.e. suck the internet through our phones into the computer. And, believe our not, this works …to an extent.
It’s a carrier-pigeon slow method of communication, but it does allow me to surf the web long enough to find the Vodafone website. However, also in German.
A quick 411 on international internet. We in the US are familiar with sites ending in “.com” and “.org”, and these sites are always, amazingly, in English. Now sure the US is the epicenter of the internet world, but as only 22% of the world speaks our language, isn’t it a bit odd that every site we see seems to magically caters to us?
Well, the reason is that once you leave the US, each country has its own internet extensions. Even if you cross the border into Canada, you’ll see their internet sites all end in “.ca”. In fact, just about every other country in the world basis their own unique internet extension on their name. China is “.cn”, England is “.uk”, and here in Germany every site ends in “.de” for Deutschland. And, of course, every site ending in .de is in German.
However, enter modern linguistic technically stage right. Sites like Google Translate “http://translate.google.com/” will take foreign sites and literally translate them word for word for you. Give it a go. Go to a German site like the German yahooo, www.yahoo.de, all in German right? Now go to http://translate.google.com/ and type in “www.yahoo.de” in to the blank space. Select the dropdowns for “German” to “English” and hit “Translate”. Viola, an English version of a German site. Cool, eh?
Alas though, none of this translation magic was actually able to help my AirCard problem, other than to make to make it clear that I needed to call the German Vodafone technical support. However, (thank you internet) I was able to find an English language phone number for the Germany Vodafone hotline. Unfortunately, it seems that their idea of waiting “on hold” is limited. Initially, I was greeted by a nice automated voice saying all lines were busy, but after 3 minutes, the same voice came back on (this time in German) saying something else and hung up. It ended with a nice Auf wiedersehen, so I imagine it said something along the lines of “We’re really busy so get on with your life, goodbye.”
Now, this whole internet thing wouldn’t be so bad if the TV wasn’t also out. See all the aforementioned issues with trying to reach the satellite folks as well. Resigned to not getting my daily fix of some sort of digital entertainment, Rachel and I decided its time to get out of the house. It was a nice, balmy, 33 degree Fahrenheit day here in Germany. There has to be some sort of cool medieval, glühwein-drenched outdoor event going on somewhere right? Well, this is Europe …so turns out there were several. And one of them even involved “…flame throwing entertainment.”
I love Germany.
So off we went in the car with our trusty friends Kevin and Megan to “Eiswoog in Flammen.” Something about a torch-themed train ride through an old German coal mining town featuring a history of, …whatever. They had me a torches.
Turns out this “Eiswoog in Flames” party was a pretty big event. In fact it was supposed to be huge. As we came upon the parking lot areas we encountered what I would consider the international sign of all parties huge, …shuttle busses. Queuing up in line in front of the busses we noticed the hot wine cider, aka glühwein, and beer was already flowing. Awesome, German tailgating. Oddly, most folks were carrying flashlights and many even had head-lamps. And, as the shuttle bus drew us closer, I could see thousands of people packed around bonfires, carrying torches in the fields out in front of us. In the distance I could see fireballs blasting in the air. …What the hell was this place?
So taking in our new flame-laden surroundings, it turns out this was something of an extreme campfire party. As the temperature was now well below freezing, it makes sense that Germany began moving this direction after the Christmas-market season ended. I give them credit, they can drink outdoors in any season. After getting our cups of obligatory hot glühwein, we all gathered around the camp fire and began to make sense of things. It seems that everything here was some sort of pre-party. Apparently, the real party is at the top of the mountain in front of us. Your options of getting up there were either walking through the wood paths using the torches, or flashlights if you brought one, or buying a ticket to take the old-fashioned train up the mountain.
Not being the hiking sort, we spent the 1 euro each on the train for tickets and queued up for the next trolley to swing by. In the mean time we got to pay closer attention to the flame juggling acts nearby …craziness. The funniest part were all the kids pressed right next to these guys. Can’t say that was the smartest parenting move, but what do I know, this was my first Flame-Fest. Eventually the trolley came along, and myself and a few hundred other people pressed in, stacked 2 and 3 to a seat, and rumbled up the hill. It was still early, but it was clear the top of the mountain was where things were being directed to, so might as well get on with the getting-on. Rolling up the hill we passed several dozen folks who had opted for the heel-toe express option. Seeing the trail of torches go up the mountain in front of us was a very surreal sight. Unfortunately, yet another activity that would never be legal in the US, “…Yah, let’s have a party with tons of alcohol and pass out torches!” Lawyers would be salivating at the idea.
Reaching the summit, we found a much larger bonfire, but relatively few people. I was told you could hike up higher on foot if you wanted, but looking that direction I couldn’t see anything noteworthy other than torches, though not for lack of looking ;). Well, we were only the 2nd train up the hill, so I figured we’d be patient. There were folks up here also serving up the glühwein and bratwurst, so we were happy.
Odd thing was, after another hour we noticed relatively few people joining us. Hey, where’s the party at? While we certainly had a good time with the group we were in, I was expecting some sort of Matrix-esque bonfire rave that never seemed to materialize.
Eventually, the sub-freezing temperature began to really win out over the hot wine and we decided to head back down the mountain. Unfortunately, no more trains had appeared in the 2 plus hours since we had arrived. Facing having to walk back to town on foot, we were a little vexed by the whole thing. Basically, it seemed we had paid someone to drop us off at the top of a mountain and leave us there? Maybe we should have taken a closer look at the trolley’s name, as the translation probably was “Train to Nowhere.”
Well, if there weren’t coming to get us, we had few options. Besides it was downhill, so at least we had that going for us. Torches lit, we began the trek back to the Flame-Fest proper. I must admit, though, that walking down an old path using a torch for light is very cool. Something very Indiana Jones about it. Turns out there is actually a trick to using a torch to guide your way. You have to hold out in front of you, clearly, but the key is to make sure it is not directly in your line of sight. You see, if you can see the flame of the torch itself it ruins your night vision. The secret is making sure its far enough forward that it lights your way, but not far enough forward that it blinds you to anything else. Kinda cool.
Halfway down the mountain we began hearing a loud noise, a very odd noise. Our torches out in front of we soon found the source of the strange noise, …and the source of problems. The trolley had broken down.
There were several guys trying to get the engine to turn over with little luck. No wonder the mountain party never took off. Well, it turned out we were the last ones to make it up the mountain. And, as we were only the 2nd group up, I see now why things were pretty lonely up there. Passing by the train in near absolute darkness we continued down the mountain passing groups along the way. Reminded me a bit of my adventure climbing mountain Fuji. Something very surreal about coming across groups of people in the middle of the wilderness, in the pitch black. Who knows what would become of them. Soon, we could hear the thumping music of the party at the base of the mountain, and could see the glows of the campfires out ahead of us. After a good 25 minute walk, we were surprisingly warm, and the exercise helped clear out the glühwein a bit from our heads.
Ahh, here was everyone. We mingled a bit more at base-camp and took in a few other local German treats, Berliners! But soon we made our was over the shuttle buss area. Seeing the lines begin to grow, we knew soon that that this party would soon resemble the one at the top of the mountain. Plus shuttle busses back from a party are always more fun then going to a party. Group sing alongs (seems the whole world likes The Gambler), and rowdy crowds make for a very interesting ride. Back at the parking lot, and with Rachel, our perennial DD, behind the wheel, we were all soon safety home back to our abyss of internet and TV.
Check out our photo gallery for more torching images of the night :).
I have to admit though, that our trip out to Eiswoog put a lot of things in perspective. Coming in through the front door I turned up the heat, and proudly flipped the switch on the wall as the lights of our castle came on. No torches required here. See, there all always things still to be grateful for.