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Feb 15, 2002
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February 15, 2002
Some Day My Prints Will Come

Click on photos with pink borders for gorgeous, full-size, full-resolution photos that will bring you to tears
February 15, 2002 Ė Neuschwanstein, Germany:
Itís 11:42 pm and Iíve just settled down in my room, Hotel Neutor (itís pronounced New-tore, not neuter--I was quickly corrected by an irritable front desk clerk, who may or may not have had an abnormally high voice). I left Kauserslautern, Germany this morning at 6am, but had to drive the opposite direction to find a gas station with diesel fuel for my Volkswagen Passat. The good thing about starting my trip in the wrong direction is that Iíd forgotten my pillow and covers, so after gas I returned to my room and grabbed them, and departed at 6:57am. I headed towards Mannheim (didnít see it) and Stuttgart (went around it) and outside of Heidelberg (I think it was before Stuttgart) at Sinsheim, while doing about 100 miles an hour on the autobahn, I spied what looked to be the Concorde Supersonic Airliner in a museum, the full-size plane, not a small plastic impression. As I passed it, I recognized it as the Tupelov TU-144, the Russian equivalent of the Concorde--larger and faster, but plagued with safety problems so you see, this one is a static display. That's the only place you'd ever see one.

Tupelov TU-144, Supersonic Russian Airliner, in retirement
There's an interesting story behind this airliner. When Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev found out the French and British were building the world's first supersonic airliner, he was furious and sent spies to steal the blueprints. The British and French caught on to the plan, so they allowed the Russian spies to steal a set of plans of their choosing. They'd modified the plans, moving the center of gravity too far back. Perhaps that's why two Tupelov TU-144's crashed within the first year? Those crafty devils!

You rarely even see photos of the TU-144, and here I was looking at the real thing! Wow! (itís the best word I can think of--Iíve been on the road for 18 hours). I could've crawled over the bushes, illegally entered the museum and licked the wings if I'd been so disposed to do so. So I left the autobahn, drove through some little town I canít remember at a speed far less than 100, found the Technik Museum (I think it means technical), climbed on some bushes (the museum wasn't open yet so I improvised) and shot a few of these photos. The plane had its cute little canards out like a dog hearing the word 'bacon', and its pointy nose down, like a dog sniffing for the bacon he heard about on the floor. It was supported on a stand. This was quite a treat! You wonít find too many people who have ever seen this aircraft, and I'm one of them. I'll charge you $25/hour for an audience.

Tupelov TU-144 Russian Supersonic Airliner
After my encounter with a near-extinct Communist Bird, I lept into my car through the rear hatch (itís a station wagon), fired up my atomic generators and was off to the Neuschwanstein Castle, that big, beautiful white castle you see on postcards all over the world. This was the first part of daring quadruple-header that I'd been planning for weeks, and my plans were to be gone for three days, on the road. I was scared--I liked being scared. It stopped me from falling asleep. This Passat was hard to keep down--100 miles an hour was too easy. I reached for the radio to turn off "Ballroom Blitz" and I twitched my little foot---100! I was always going faster than I wanted to go because this Passat was so stable. So I tried reaching 125 miles an hour. The engine was willing up to 112 but wimped out at 119. I was clearing the fast lane for a Mercedes and decided to see if I could outrun him instead (outrun Mercedes=motivation). I reached 125, and the Mercedes, still on my butt, flew by. Afterward I drove more conservatively (less than 100). So much for silly male games.

King Maximillian's pad

King Maximillian's home

I pulled into the town of Fussen at 11:30am, lost my way, turned around, came back and made it to the castles at Konigsschloss. The entire mountain range was fogged over, like a mound of chocolate pudding that had been left out so long it grew hair. I ran almost everywhere--I ran to buy tickets, I ran up to the first castle, the Schloss Hohenschwangau, built by King Maximilian between 1832 and 1836. It was destroyed a number of times, so letís just say the last rendition was built during those times. Itís handsome but painted puke yellow, and when we toured inside it seemed very flashy but not much to photograph. I did get a good shot here of the banquet table.

Then I ran down the hill to where a horse and carriage awaited me to whisk me away to the Neuschwanstein Castle. Iíd met two middle-aged ladies from Denver, Colorado who were working in Stuttgart. They were taking a carriage up to the Neuschwanstein Castle, so I did too (for 4 Euros). I followed them around so as to not have to think for myself. They moved, I moved, they coughed, I coughed, they jumped, I jumped, they went to the ladies room--this would be a nice diversion from all the churches and beggars I'd been seeing--a ridiculously elaborate castle built by a filthy-rich spoiled lunatic to show off for his dad. "My castle's bigger than yours". Itís the castle Walt Disney (heís dead) modeled Disneyland's Sleeping Beauty's Castle after. The poor horses had to pull a bunch of us fat, jiggly, gassy tourists up the hill from hell, and we were going so slow some fit walkers were passing us. The castle of Neuschwanstein was set 400 feet above, and it was about 1 1/2 miles up the top of a foggy cliff. When the horses paused (they were dropping no-bake horse cookies all the way up the hill) I jumped off the back and ran ahead of the horses and everyone else. The sign said it was another eight minutes to the top, but I made it in 2 1/2.

Max's banquet table
Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany, first sight

Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany, second sight

Five minutes later I looked up through the fog and there it was, a giant white swan of a soaring fairy tale, stuck in a Horseyís dream. The castle was built by Maximilian's son, Ludwig II from 1869 to 1886, dwarfing daddy's castle below (see photo to the right). The king saw both buildings as representatives of a romantic interpretation of the Middle Ages as well as the musical mythology of his friend Richard Wagner, his hero. Wagner's operas Tannhšuser and Lohengrin had made a lasting impression on him. Ludwig spent 172 days at Neuschwanstein before being declared nuts and mysteriously drowning the next day at the age of 40. His castle wasn't even completed yet. Neuschwanstein looks as if it sprouted right out of the hill, overlooking a deep, steep gorge with a waterfall flowing below a footbridge known as Maryís Bridge. His mama's name was Marie. It stretches 492 feet along the cliff and has a total of 64,581 square feet of combined floor space. It's also interesting that it contains 465 tons of marble from Salzburg, Austria.

Before I took the tour, I ran up a huge hill that connected to the footbridge. There was a Middle Eastern-looking man shooting a photo of his wife in front of an overlook, and when he motioned me to go past him to the overlook, just to be funny, I walked up next to his wife, smiled and posed with her for a photo. Lucky for me they hadnít declared Jihad and didnít blow my head off. They chuckled, probably thinking to themselves, ďAh, what a lovely Satan boy!Ē The altitude was getting to me. The hill was so fogged over that I couldn't see the castle at all--like staring through my neighbor's bathroom window when she showered, it was a waste of time. I stood there for ten minutes and had to leave to make the tour of the castle.

I didn't speak to the couple at all, and rarely spoke on my travels. This was just months after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and I didn't want to draw attention to the fact that I didn't know the language and was an American. A timid boy who happened to be in Air Force Intelligence, traveling alone, could be a vulnerable target. I dressed conservatively, and except for my inability to resist cheap laughs, was incognito. I was a little boy in a big, big world, alone.

King Max's house, as seen from his kid's house

Lonely