Monday, January 22, 2018

Everything wrong with Professor Fair’s complaint

I was going to discontinue this blog and simply allow it to atrophy, but every once in a while something comes up that I really want to respond to, but won’t go into a video or a tweet. This is one such case, so... here goes.

On 12th January this year Professor C. Christine Fair wrote an article in the Huffington Post detailing an incident at Frankfurt Airport, claiming that she was “framed, arrested and robbed” by the German Federal Police. The allegations she made were so serious that the Federal Police took the unusual step of issuing a press statement while the investigation is still in progress.

Professor Fair has already caught a lot of flak over this article; and as the police statement mentions, her comments (including other public comments she made elsewhere) are now part of the evidence against her. Basically, she has been charged with insulting a police officer, a charge which she denies, and yet she has since insulted them in public.

Rather than simply add to the general roar of the crowd by complaining in vague terms about her attitude, I thought it would be helpful to go through her article and list all the problems with it. Be warned: this is going to be a long piece.
Frankfurt Airport is routinely decried as one of Europe’s worst airports.
While it’s true that Frankfurt Airport is not universally loved, Professor Fair gets off to a rocky start by confusing it with a different airport. In the space of two paragraphs she links to four articles to support her claim. However, two of those articles refer not to Frankfurt Airport, but to Frankfurt-Hahn Airport. One of those two lists Frankfurt-Hahn as one of the top ten least convenient airports for its destination (unsurprisingly, since it’s basically in a field halfway between Frankfurt and Cologne), while Frankfurt Airport is one of the top ten most convenient.

It’s a small matter, but suggests that the Professor wasn’t that interested in ensuring she got her facts right.
An officious woman with the professional pleasantries of a grave digger
One of Professor Fair’s complaints is that the staff at Frankfurt Airport are famously rude. As a frequent traveller to far-flung places all over the world, she should be aware of cultural differences: Americans frequently interpret as “rude” or “cold” what to Germans is professional efficiency. Germans don’t want their officials to pretend to care about you or waste time exchanging pleasantries. That kind of thing is regarded as fake, and therefore untrustworthy. You only smile if you feel like smiling, anything else is a lie. All German airports are the same in this regard: Frankfurt tends to be the one to make international lists because it’s the airport international travellers are most likely to go through.
Her English of course is much better than my non-existent German!
Professor Fair claims not to speak any German. This will be relevant later.
She came over and announced with scowl that the “police will be called as my bag tested positive.”
According to the police account, at this point her bag hadn’t been tested: they had merely seen something suspicious on the X-ray. I can’t say which version is closer to the truth, but the one time I had something tested for explosives at Frankfurt Airport, it was done in a separate office and involved taking, essentially, a kind of a swab which was then analyzed in a special machine.
You would think if this was in a fact a significant crisis with a potential terrorist with explosives in her bag in terror-stricken Germany, the police may have come a bit more alacrity.
That would certainly happen if you were wearing a suicide vest and threatening to detonate it. What happened here is something that happens all the time. They call the police, the police come when they’ve finished whatever thing they’re dealing with at the time and then arrive at a walk. What they don’t do is send an entire phalanx running through the terminal like Bruce Willis, yell at everyone to take cover and wrestle you to the ground. This is Germany, where the police don’t fly into a blind panic at the slightest provocation. Just because something is a threat doesn’t mean it’s an immediate threat.
I expressed my concern about missing my flight and she growled “This is not my problem.”
This is the correct answer to the question. She has turned the matter over to the police, and that’s where her involvement ends. Her job is not to ensure you don’t miss your flight, but to ensure that nothing dangerous gets on that flight. She has found something the thinks might be dangerous, so she is not allowing you to proceed until it can be determined whether or not the threat is real.
I also politely inquired about the process for resolving such matters. She simply repeated the phrase: “police will come.”
Again, that is the correct answer, and the only one she can give. From her perspective, the process for resolving such matters is to turn them over to the police. What the police will do, she cannot possibly predict.
it would not have truly pained this uniformed harridan to explain what happens in these circumstances.
In addition to what I said above, this quote illustrates the basic problem here: she calls the agent a “harridan”, which is a sexist insult. It’s things like this that will make it very difficult for her to refute the charge made against her.
I asked the officer what the process is for resolving this, but he ignored me gruffly and contemptuously.
In the following paragraph, Professor Fair lists some of the other questions she asked the officer while he was busy trying to do his job. The irony is that she says she was worried about missing her flight, yet even by her account she was constantly interrupting the officer who was only trying to get the job done as quickly and efficiently as possible so that (assuming it’s a false positive) she might be in with a chance of catching her flight. It’s never a good idea to annoy a law enforcement officer: it always ends badly.
my pleasant and concerned queries
In my experience, people who repeatedly refer to their virtues are doing so not because they actually have those virtues, but because they are desperate for us to think they do and can’t trust the facts to speak for themselves. That’s why, for example, we tend not to believe people who say things like, “I am the least racist person you’ll ever meet,” or, “I am a stable genius.”
Without explaining a thing, they began taking all items out of my suitcase in front of all customers. Again, had they any actual fear about explosives, would they wish to do this in the full visibility of a public which may be panicked or even injured by an exploding carry-on?
The assumption here is that either there are no explosives, or there is a live and booby-trapped bomb in the bag. If it had been the latter, that would have been obvious from the X-ray. That’s why all your luggage has to go through the X-ray machine.
For a variety of reasons, I would have preferred that this happen in private. (I was thinking to myself: thanks Dog I left my humongous vibrator at home.)
On the one hand, Professor Fair doesn’t want the general public to know that she uses sex toys; on the other, she is perfectly happy to let the general public know that she uses sex toys. It’s not like they would have held it up triumphantly and invited everyone to have a good laugh. And they themselves see things like this all the time.

She then goes on to detail some of the things she did have in her bag: underwear, tampons and maxi pads. For some reason, she was embarrassed to have them in there, but why? These are all perfectly normal things, and most women use them. We’re all adults here: we know what tampons are. Even those of us who never have to use them see them on supermarket shelves.

Of course, despite being embarrassed at having feminine hygiene products in her bag, she has no problem telling us in some detail about the effects of the menopause on her menstrual flow.
I committed the crime of not removing my liquids. I politely explained to her that this was not intentional that my bag was already on the conveyor belt while I was removing my jacket and my electronics.
Professor Fair says she is a very frequent flier, yet claims here that she made the basic rookie error of putting her bag on the conveyer before she was ready to do so. A simple, “Oops, I’m so sorry, I totally forgot” would have been a perfectly adequate explanation.
I am not sure how my liquids in any way pertain to a positive explosive test and the general unpleasant demeanor of all persons involved.
It doesn’t. Just because they were looking for one violation of regulations doesn’t mean they’ll give you a free pass on another violation. The “unpleasant demeanour” is, I suspect, a simple case of culture clash — although I have to be honest, one of the most unpleasant officials I ever encountered was a security guard at San Francisco’s internation terminal who yelled like a drill sergeant at the entire line just because one person asked why so few immigration desks were open to process us all.
They had nothing on me. There were no explosives.
Professor Fair seems to have some difficulty grasping what has actually happened. Security personnel found something suspicious. Accordingly, they called the police to conduct a manual search. The police found no explosives, although they did find that the professor had failed to comply with a minor requirement. She writes as if they were determined to find explosives and lock her up and were disappointed when they didn’t.

To put it in terms even a child would understand: “Hello, police? Can you see if this bag has some explosives in it?” — “We’ve had a look, and no, there are no explosives.”
I observed an incredibly inconsistent policing of the Liquid Regime at that airport. Some people had over-sized liquids in regular grocery-store plastic bags, which were visible to all as they removed them from their bags.
Apparently, in all her years (and 1.7 million miles) of flying experience, Professor Fair has never managed to grasp the concept of duty free. Those items are bought airside, so aren’t subject to the usual regulations. One stipulation is that they are carried through security and customs visibly, in the bags provided at the duty free shop. They look like “regular grocery-store plastic bags”, but if you look at them, you’ll see that they have “DUTY FREE” printed on them.
They said I could not take my deodorant because, they repeated insolently, it was a liquid and I had too many liquids.
Now, here’s where Professor Fair might have a point. I’ve tried to look into this, and while the TSA specifically states that stick deodorants are not classed as liquids, the situation isn’t quite so clear in Germany. I can’t find any guidance: spray deodorants are specifically mentioned, but not stick deodorants.

However, it’s always worth remembering that at any airport anywhere, although security must stop you if you are carrying something that’s specifically banned, they can also stop you if they think you’re carrying something dangerous even if the guidelines say you’re allowed to take it. That is to say, security personnel have the last word.
I explained it is most certainly not a liquid. It is a solid. In fact, the deodorant said very clearly on the container “dry,” which is typically an antonym of wet, which is a characteristic of most liquids.
What counts here is not what the product claims itself to be, but what the security guard judges it to be. Besides, the word “dry” on the label doesn’t describe the product itself, but the effect of the product when applied: it stops you sweating. Professor Fair includes a photo of the product, and as well as “dry”, the label says “invisible”, despite the fact that we can all see it. I’d be interested to know what she thinks a dry wine is.
The police officer explained, with all of the bluster with which Donald Trump declared himself to be a “stable genius,” that the solid mixes with the body and becomes a liquid and thus it is a liquid after arguing that the container has fluid in it. (I resolved that canard by opening the deodorant.)
It appears that this particular officer thought it was a roll-on deodorant.
His English is obviously better than my German: but my chemistry is much better than his.
Carol Christine Fair’s area of expertise is international politics. She is an associate professor at the Center for Peace and Security Studies at Georgetown University. [EDIT: I’m told that she does in fact have an undergraduate degree in biochemistry.]
His language, his body posture, his demeanor was thuggish, discourteous, demeaning and noxious.
Just to reiterate: this was written and published while an investigation was in progress relating to her allegedly insulting a police officer.
The police officer bellowed “I am the manager and that is a liquid.” I said politely. No. It is clearly not a liquid and you are not the manager. You are a police officer. And you are a rude police officer.
The police don’t have “managers”. He was presumably the senior officer in charge, and assumed that that was what she meant. In any case, telling a police officer to his face that he is flat out wrong and that he is rude is not a polite thing to do.

According to the police, she was given the option of putting her deodorant in her checked-in luggage. Even if that’s not true, the sensible option here is to simply ditch it, since it’s... well, a stick deodorant.
In the meantime, three American men were behind me. I had watched them come through the same security checkpoint as I did. One of the three seemed younger than the other two. He was wearing a flannel shirt with the sleeves rolled up to reveal his tattoos. He was actually sporting a Hitler’s youth haircut.
I find it endlessly fascinating that Professor Fair chooses to mention this particular individual. In her opinion, he looked like a Nazi. She has nothing to back this up except for his haircut, which she thinks looks like the kind of haircut a member of the Hitler Youth might have had. She doesn’t say what actual tattoos he had.
However, that do, in my view, was deliberately distinct from the hideous Hipster hairdo that Millennial metro-sexual males have regrettably popularized or the military’s high and tight cut, both of which are sometimes mistaken for the coiffure of American white supremacists.
I don’t know when a “hipster hairdo” was ever mistaken for a Nazi hairstyle.
It is illegal in Germany to be a Nazi or act like a Nazi.
This is basically an urban legend. What’s illegal is the dissemination of politically extremist propaganda, and certain symbols are banned in that context (but may be allowed in other contexts); it’s also illegal to denigrate the memory of the dead, so you can expect to get into a spot of trouble if you perform the Hitler salute in front of the Holocaust Memorial (for example); and political parties that pursue aims contrary to the constitution can be banned (after a very long and complicated procedure).

What is absolutely not illegal is to have a 1940s haircut. Sure, members of the Hitler Youth might have worn a similar hairstyle, but only really because it happened to be fashionable at a time when all young adults had to join the Hitler Youth. It’s not a symbol of a banned organisation, so can’t be banned.

Neither can you be charged with “being a Nazi”. As long as you keep your opinions to yourself, you can believe what you like.
But Inspector Clouseau and his daft sidekick was too busy impounding my solid deodorant and offering various preposterous explanations for why it was a liquid when it was clearly a god-damned solid to notice the fellow conspicuously sporting the preferred coiffure of the Hitler’s Youth.
As the article continues, I increasingly get the impression of a bitter woman who judges by outward appearance. There’s no reason at all to detain anyone — especially somebody who is leaving the country — because of a haircut. This is the typical “why aren’t you arresting real criminals?” line of somebody with a sense of entitlement who thinks they should get a free pass. The fact is, Professor Fair was found (rightly or wrongly) to have exceeded her allowance of liquids, not the guy with the dodgy hairdo.
I again courteously explained to the officer that I would like to know his name and I want to register my displeasure with this set of interactions. At this point, the officer threatened me with arrest!
I don’t know what happened here, so I can’t comment except to say that this sounds very unlikely.
I explained that, in my country, our law enforcement personnel wear name tags and that citizens have a right to register complaints when they believe they have been maltreated.
This is the kind of thing that gives Americans a bad reputation: complaining that they’re not being treated the way they would be treated back home. The only possible answer to this is, “You’re not in your country, you’re in Germany.” What happens in the US is completely irrelevant.
I am totally aware that this is a privilege generally reserved for white people. This is truly a white privilege.
This is where the sense of entitlement really kicks in. Professor Fair is expecting to be treated as a member of the privileged elite, and appears to be upset when this doesn’t work.
anyone who knows me knows that I can indeed by very “rude,” which is the adjective that men use for women who are assertive
Professor Fair appears to be trying to make the case that men are “rude” but women are “assertive”. Of course, everyday sexism is a thing (at least, I for one think it is), but writing an article peppered with personal insults is definitely rude: assertiveness doesn’t look like this.
the camera would record my mouth moving and the mouth movements would confirm my version, not their defamatory version.
Professor Fair doesn’t seem to realize that this is something a judge would have to decide. I’m not sure what she was expecting here: if her claim is that she’s being framed, she would surely expect the police to simply contradict her and say, “No, this footage clearly shows you being rude.” If she’s expecting somebody to say “Enhance grid D5” so the computer zooms in to a perfectly sharp close-up for the automatic lip-reading software to kick in, she should probably stop believing Hollywood.

Now, remember when I quoted Professor Fair as being unable to speak German? Here’s where that becomes relevant:
He also felt the need to belittle his uniformed colleague (who was apparently confused about the deodorant nonsense) by citing his lower rank.
It seems unlikely that this conversation was in English, so what are we to believe?
I muttered to myself while shaking my head “The crack German police have seized my deodorant…but they don’t seem to care about that Nazi-looking dude over there!”
According to the Professor, she was arrested because a security guard overheard this and thought she’d called the police officer a Nazi. Just how loudly was she muttering to herself?
I countered that the footage would show the three men behind me, my repeated astonished glances at the fellow, and the chap with the hairdo that was strikingly redolent of the Hitler’s Youth well-groomed pompadour
Why does Professor Fair think this in any way proves that she didn’t call the officer a Nazi?
This actually happened—not in Kabul, Lahore or Chicago—but at the airport in Frankfurt, a major city in one of Europe’s most important democracies known for its fastidious adherence to the rule of law.
Part of this “fastidious adherence to the rule of law” is that they don’t just take a suspect’s word for it: they launch an investigation.
I had expected this ostensible professional to resolve the matter allowing me to rebook yet another flight.
She had no right to expect that at all. She had been detained on suspicion of committing an actual crime: the law is very clear about what the next steps are. One of those steps is not “only listen to the suspect’s side of the story and then let them go”.
What kind of democracy is Germany where an individual has a right to perjure himself about a person but the victim of this perjury doesn’t have a right to know the name of her slanderer?
Professor Fair uses the word “perjury” here, and again later, apparently unaware of what perjury actually is. Perjury is either making a false oath, or lying under oath. A lie not made under oath can be many things, but perjury is not one of them.
according to Mr. Kapoor, I had called Mr. Austav a “Fucking Nazi German police,” which is a crime in Germany. I may note that this is not even standard American vernacular English, which is a fairly important point since Kapoor was adamant that this was a direct quote.
I don’t know why she says this isn’t “standard American vernacular English”. It seems perfectly standard and venacular to me. Sure, for the whole sentence to make sense you’d have to add the word “officer”, but the part in quotes is fine on its own. The charge is that she allegedly said “fucking Nazi German police” and was referring to Mr Austav.
Amongst themselves, Kapoor and Austav described me as a “hippy.” This is a peculiar appellation for me
Professor Fair has no problem describing somebody with a stupid haircut as a “Nazi”, but is outraged to be described as a “hippy”. And once more we have to ask the question: How does she know that’s what they said if she doesn’t know German?
I was literally charged with the criminal offense of defamation because I had the audacity to request politely for the names of the noxious and impolite officials
She was charged with the criminal offence of defamation for referring to officers of the law as “Nazis”.
I also was adamant that I wanted to file a police report for defamation against Mr. Kapoor who mendaciously asserted that I had called Austav a Nazi but who also perjured himself in doing so. I was told that if the prosecutor wanted to charge him, s/he could. I repeated my desire to file a police report against Mr. Kapoor. These efforts were denied repeatedly.
Again, Professor Fair doesn’t understand the rule of law. She can’t file for defamation if what was claimed is true. The veracity of that claim is currently under investigation, ergo it hasn’t been established. Therefore, a claim cannot be filed. However, if the investigation reveals that she was, as she claims, wrongfully detained, then that opens up the possibility of disciplinary proceedings or even criminal charges being made against the officer or officers concerned.
Before being allowed to leave they requested 300 Euros.
As the receipt she posted makes clear, this is a security deposit.
They took $260 dollars and told me that they were kindly leaving me with $40.
The deposit would normally have been €300, but in the end, given that she only had $300 (worth about €245 at current prices), they settled for $260. The alternative would have been either for her to be remanded in custody during the investigation, or for the police to confiscate belongings to the value of the deposit.
I was given a piece of paper, shown above, in which they indicated that they took this arbitrary amount of money from my wallet for “avoiding provisional arrest” and “securing the implementation of the process.”
I agree that the English translation is quite rough, but it doesn’t mean that they fined her for the crimes of avoiding arrest and securing the implementation of the process. They took a deposit from her to cover the anticipated legal costs so that they would not have to take her into custody.

The receipt says this was done pursuant to sections 127a and 132 of the Criminal Procedure Code. Section 127a states that if the suspect has no fixed address and would be remanded in custody only to prevent them from absconding (remember, in this case the suspect was trying to catch a plane to India), then at the officer’s discretion custody can be waived if the suspect leaves a deposit sufficient to pay any fine that might be imposed. Section 132 says that somebody “strongly suspected” of having committed a crime which is not punishable by a prison term (as is the case with a simple charge of verbal abuse), and they have no permanent residence within the jurisdiction of the court, then the suspect can leave a deposit and appoint somebody resident in the area as a proxy to receive any court orders.
this was a considerate robbery in which the perpetrators left me with a receipt.
If the suspect is found to be innocent, then of course the deposit is returned to them.
These two men were annoyed that a woman (whom they repeatedly called “Miss” despite the fact that I am a 49-year old woman) dared to seek accountability for their unprofessional behavior.
I suspect that “Miss” might be an attempt by a German-speaker to pronounce “Ms”. I also suspect that the charge of misogyny here is an attempt to evade responsibility for obstructive behaviour, although obviously I can’t be sure.
I say this to Mr. Austav: I did not call you a Nazi. But you are an insolent bully.
If Professor Fair wants the charge to be dropped, perhaps she should not then commit the exact same offence in public. The crime is defaming a police officer, not saying the word “Nazi”.
To Mr. Kapoor, whether your English is not as good as you insist or whether you are guileful and unctuous toadie, I have this to say:
What follows is a sentence in Punjabi which, I am told, expresses the wish that the officer in question be sodomized with a broom-handle. No wonder the police statement pointedly says that this article is now being used as evidence.

Professor Fair later updated the article to include the text of an e-mail from the police, with her original e-mail attached. Essentially, she announced that she wished to complain, but rather than give a dispassionate and factual account (i.e., one leaving out the numerous insults, including the obscene Punjabi insult directed at a specific individual), she simply linked to the article. This was a serious error on her part, and will possibly harm her case irreparably: a curious decision by somebody who wants us all to know that she is a respectable professor at a prestigious university.

She then added another update claiming that the police had rudely tweeted at her to silence her. In her wisdom, she included a screenshot which reveals that she began the conversation by tweeting at the police, accusing one named officer of being “thuggish” and another of being a “toadie”, and the Federal Police in general of a whitewash operation, and also linking to the article. Again, it’s important to remember that this is while the matter is still under investigation. The response from the police is simply that they cannot comment, and that they ask Professor Fair not to make public accusations of this nature.

Obviously, I can’t say exactly what happened, whose account is more reliable or who is guilty of what. But not only does Professor Fair seem curiously ignorant of a lot of important things, if the tone of the article is in any way representative of her tone in general, I’m not inclined to believe that she was as polite or reasonable as she would have us believe. And as for the lack of judgement in publishing an article full of unsubstantiated allegations and personal insults even while she is being investigated on suspicion of defamation, words fail me.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Ratzeburg: Additional notes

It seems that these days my blog serves little more than to explain how to get to places featured in my “Destination” series, so apologies for that. Nevertheless, here are some additional notes to accompany my video about the town of Ratzeburg, a pretty — and pretty unusual — little place in the far north of Germany.

Thanks in part to the support I’m getting via my Patreon page, I have been able to travel much further afield. This gives me the opportunity to show you something rather different: different building materials were available in different parts of the country, and architectural styles differed as well. There are fewer timber-framed buildings and a lot more red brick.


Rural idyll: the Island Town of Ratzeburg

Ratzeburg is a small place, but worth a day trip if you’re not looking for excitement and adventure — although you could, weather permitting, hire a canoe or simply go swimming. At least one restaurant I saw, on the lakeside right next to the Castle Green (Schlosswiese), offers freshly-caught fish straight from its own doorstep, so to speak.


The closest major city to Ratzeburg is Lübeck, from where it’s an easy day (or even half-day) trip. By car, it’s a quick drive down federal route 207 past the airport: Ratzeburg is signposted from central Lübeck.


As the seat of the local district administration, Ratzeburg is also served surprisingly well by public transport. It’s on the Lübeck-Lüneburg line, and there is an hourly service on, if my experience is typical, full trains.

The service also calls at Lübeck Airport, which some budget airlines fly to claiming it to be a Hamburg airport. Note that this stop is a request stop: you need to make sure the driver can see you on the platform. If you’re on the train wanting to get off at the airport, you need to press a button to signal your intention.

It’s also easily reachable from Hamburg, although it does involve a transfer at Büchen. You need to take a train bound for Schwerin and Rostock, and then transfer at Büchen for a train bound for Lübeck and Kiel. It is also possible to take a train to Lübeck and transfer there, but it takes longer and is more expensive.

There is a better alternative from Hamburg: a regular bus service runs from Wandsbek Markt U-Bahn station to Ratzeburg, taking an hour, which is actually faster than the train, including the time needed for transfers. It will also take you direct to the historic centre of Ratzeburg.


Ratzeburg train station is about 3 km (just under two miles) from the historic centre. A hundred years ago, as briefly mentioned in the video, there was a narrow-gauge railway that would have taken you there, but it is no more. The young and fit can easily walk that distance, but there are also frequent buses into town (including the aforementioned bus from Hamburg). “Demolierung” is probably the best place to alight, as it’s right by the (new) town hall which also serves as the tourist information centre.

Finally, don’t bother getting up at the crack of dawn and rushing to Ratzeburg as soon as you possibly can unless you’re a photographer. The place really doesn’t wake up properly until about 10 o’clock even on weekdays, and even the cathedral is closed until then.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Erfurt: Additional notes

Of all the sights I enjoyed most on my recent trip to Erfurt — and there were many — the one that made me smile the most was not (as you might expect) the exquisitely subversive Bernd das Brot, the depressive loaf of bread forced to work for children’s TV, but these characters:


This is Captain Blaubeer — his name means “blue bear” and is a pun on the German word for “blueberry” — and his sidekick, the rat Hein Blöd. Or rather, not so much the characters themselves, as the sculpture, which is probably the one that is the most dynamic and fun — I especially like the way Hein Blöd has somehow managed to get his leg stuck in the rowlock.

I should also like to express my profound thanks to the staff of the Augustinian Monastery, who basically gave me free (and, I may say, unsupervised, which was brave of them) access to Luther’s cell. Normally, you have to book a guided tour, but it’s well worth doing that if you’re interested in the life and works of Martin Luther.


Erfurt is at the intersection of the A4 and A71 autobahns, so not too difficult to get to. For rail passengers, Erfurt is Thuringia’s most important hub. There is even a small airport, Erfurt-Weimar, from where the number 4 tram will take you directly into the historic centre. For people who prefer travelling by coach, several routes call at Erfurt: the coach stops are a short walk from the train station, next to the bus station.


I found Erfurt to be easy to get around: its historic centre manages to be on the large side, yet compact enough that I didn’t need public transport.

I should point out that the tower of St Giles’s Church and the steps down to the cellar on the Merchants’ Bridge are not for anyone with physical difficulties (and if you’re in a wheelchair, don’t even think about it).

And that was Erfurt: an absolute gem, if you want my opinion, and a great addition to anyone’s itinerary.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Eisenach: Additional notes

Ah, Eisenach — the subject of my latest video. And for the avoidance of doubt, I should stress that I am talking about Eisenach, the historic town in Thuringia, and not Eisenach (Eifel), the village in Rhineland-Palatinate with a population of 355.

It rained the whole time I was there, which was unfortunate in the sense that I (and my camera) got soaked; but fortunate in the sense that I was able to get atmospheric shots like this:

The Wartburg looking suitably forbidding

This, of course, is the Wartburg, one of Eisenach’s top attractions, and it really does sit perched on top of a hill outside of the town. There is a bus that goes to the Wartburg, and a car park as well; but you can walk to it if you’re reasonably fit. Start at Luther’s school and walk up the steepest road you can see (called “Schlossberg”). Signs will tell you it’s 1.4 km to the Wartburg, and much further up is another sign telling you it’s 1.4 km, which will only confirm the feeling you’ve had that you have just walked one kilometer vertically upwards. (In fact, that second sign is wrong.)

At the point where the path to the Elisabethplan branches off there is a “donkey station”, apparently a 100-year-old tradition. In return for a fee, they’ll take you (or, for the sake of the donkeys, your children) the rest of the way.

Eisenach is on the Bebra-Halle line and is served regularly by ICE trains on the Frankfurt-Dresden run and IC trains running between Dortmund, Berlin and Stralsund.


Erfurt lies on the A4 autobahn which links Dresden with the A5 to Frankfurt; a new autobahn is being planned which will link Eisenach with Kassel.


The historic centre of Eisenach is small, and I did all the filming (including the Wartburg) in a single day. Of course, you’ll most likely want to tour the Wartburg and visit at least a couple of the museums, so you could easily fill two days here.

Definitely see the Wartburg. Maybe pick a less wet day than I did, but absolutely see it.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Mainz: Additional notes

Well, I certainly had fun filming my latest “Destination” video, this time about the fair city of Mainz (or “Mayence”, as it’s occasionally known). It’s about the furthest a place can be for me to not need to get a hotel for a couple of nights, and I was there on two days. I still didn’t get everything, though: a problem Mainz has is that there’s a lot to see, but it’s quite spread out.

No wonder this lion looks so smug: he’s caught a sheep.

As I mentioned in the video, Mainz has a lot of historic buildings embedded among the more modern stuff, and there are very few places where you feel you’re standing in the middle of an ancient city. This means that wandering off through the quiet back streets isn’t often as rewarding as it is in most places: in fact, it can be a bit dispiriting.


The city is surrounded by a ring of autobahns, so in theory it’s not that hard to get to. You might want to approach it from the south and west, rather than the north and east, to avoid having to cross the river on the one (non-autobahn) bridge that exists, and which dumps you right into the middle of the city traffic.






Mainz is just west of Frankfurt: S-Bahn line S8 goes from Frankfurt via Frankfurt Airport to Mainz (and then on to Wiesbaden), stopping at Römisches Theater and the central station. Lines S1 and S9 go via Mainz-Kastel (confusingly, now a suburb of Wiesbaden), the station being right next to the reduit, and from there it’s an easy walk across the bridge. Mainz’s central station is, of course, a major stop for long-distance trains.

Local public transport is probably quite good in Mainz, but at the moment there are road construction projects going on that have resulted in several tram lines being truncated or rerouted. Unfortunately, information about diversions and replacement buses is very hard to find and confusing when you do: even the locals seem to be unsure about how to get from A to B.

Which way to the river?

Mainz has an interesting quirk which, in theory, is supposed to help with orientation. Street name signs come in two colours: red for streets that run toward the river, blue for streets that run parallel to it. House numbers go up either as you get closer to the river, or with the direction of flow of the river, always with odd numbers on the left.

This would be a very helpful if Mainz was on a grid layout, but of course it’s not. You will still need Google Maps. But at least it was an attempt (in 1853) to make finding your way fractionally less daunting, as Mainz really is very easy to get lost in.

And that, folks, is why I needed two visits and still didn’t get everything.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Bayreuth: Additional notes

My latest video is of the city of Bayreuth, not too far from Kulmbach. In fact, the two videos together represent a whole weekend of filming, which was really tiring.

On reflection, I should have gone there a little later in the year, as many of the fountains were still switched off and crated to protect them from the winter frosts; but for various reasons it was convenient to do it that weekend.

Getting there is fairly simple. By car, Bayreuth is directly on the A9 autobahn .


By train, Bayreuth is about an hour away from Nuremberg.


It has a fairly compact historic centre, much of which is pedestrianized, although this is surrounded on about three sides by a busy ring-road which is a bit of a barrier: at some points footbridges and (rather unpleasant) foot tunnels provide pedestrian access.


The Festival Theatre (“Festspielhaus”) is located a little way north of the station; the Hermitage a few miles east of the city, just the other side of the autobahn. The main car park is at the southern end of the village of Sankt Johannis.

There are a few confusing things about Bayreuth. First of all, there are two “Old Palaces”, one in the city and one at the Hermitage; similarly, there are two “New Palaces”. It doesn’t help matters that the New Palace in the city looks older than the Old Palace in the city.

The buses are also nothing if not confusing. There are two systems: one operates in the evenings and on Sunday mornings, while the other operates at other times. If you’re looking at a timetable and it looks as if the bus you want isn’t running for the next few hours, you may need to look for a timetable for a bus with a different number. That said, the buses are pretty good.

Another thing to watch out for is that Bayreuth is notoriously expensive. And it gets very expensive indeed during the annual Bayreuth Festival, which is usually from 25th July to 28th August: if you’re looking for vaguely affordable accommodation, avoid at all costs the end of July and all of August. If you are a Wagner fan and money’s no object, be aware that ten-year waiting lists for tickets to the festival are not unusual.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Kulmbach: Additional notes

The first “Destination” video of 2017 is up on YouTube — and for this one, I was in Kulmbach. It certainly made a change: usually, small towns are full of timber-framed houses, but Kulmbach was rebuilt in the 16th century and so is more Renaissance. “A bit severe” is how my wife describes it, but I liked it.

A visit to the Plassenburg fortress is a must if you go to Kulmbach: I was there in the morning so that I wouldn’t have to shoot into the sun, but there is a fantastic view of the old town, and the fortress itself contains a few museums that I didn’t have time for but are probably very good.

If you’re planning to do what I did and go up the Rehturm watchtower, it’s really tricky to find. There are no signs in town pointing the way, and striking out in the general direction while looking for roads that have “Reh” in their names, while ultimately effective, is not the best way to do it.

Looking at a map, you might think you need to go due east, but in fact you need to go south and find a road called “Am Rehberg” which takes you to a nature trail, and this takes you right to the tower. The tower, by the way, is free to go in.

Central Kulmbach, showing the historic centre,
the Plassenburg fortress and the train and bus stations.


The historic centre of Kulmbach lies at the foot of the hill on which the Plassenburg is built, and is fairly compact. The train and bus stations are very close by, and there is also a bus that shuttles between the old town and the Plassenburg for those who can’t (or don’t want to) walk.


Although Kulmbach is quite a long way from major roads and railways, it’s not too difficult to get to. The nearest major railway hub is Nuremberg. It’s actually slightly quicker to take a train from there to Lichtenfels and change rather than a direct train via Bayreuth, although there’s not much in it. If you’re coming from Würzburg, it’s easier to take a train to Bamberg and get a train direct from there. There are also connections to Hof.


By road, Kulmbach is a few miles off the A70 autobahn: take exit 24 and follow the signs to Kulmbach.