Trees, Pools, Injuries, Learning, and McDonald’s—a Typical Martindale Weekend

| September 30, 2013

baumkronenpfad nationalpark hainichThis weekend we checked out more of a German state we’ve enjoyed in the past, the state of Thüringen. We started out by heading to Nationalpark Hainich to visit the Baumkronenpfad, a boardwalk path above the treetops, with an observation tower and optional rope walks within the canopy. The path ascends several levels, and snakes its way around the observation tower in one large loop with a small loop on one side.

A rope bridge high in the trees leads you to a second rope walk—this one a thin rope balance beam enclosed in a net of rope. I was able to cross the first one without crapping my pants; the second was a close call. Sequoia and Paul crossed that one twice. Lest you find suspension above the trees to be boring, the Germans added obstacles such as a slalom of swaying tree stumps followed by a hanging balance beam in the wider rope bridge. The thin one is a rope balance beam in itself. Paul climbed down a ladder to a third rope walk, but I stayed behind with a timid Sequoia. I was very disappointed not to climb into the enclosed space before teetering above the trees, but a mother must think first of her child.

When we reached the observation tower, we climbed a tall spiral staircase made of the kind of steel grates that you can look down through to see how many stories you’ll fall to your death if they give way. Up top, the 360-degree view was amazing. There was even a sign letting us know how far it was to Yellowstone!

The trails leading to and from the canopy walk feature informational plaques and activities, and at the park entrance there is a museum exhibit featuring the region’s wildcats. Were I to come across one of these wildcats, I would think it an overfed neighborhood tabby.

It was while Sequoia was playing on a structure in the park that I observed very important evidence of her current stage of second language acquisition, as well as the footprint German Kindergarten has left on her psyche. We had all been interacting in English for hours. Then Paul was helping Sequoia swing from this structure when suddenly she shrieked, in fear, “LET ME DOWN!” – in German. When I mentioned this to Paul, he noted that when the two of them play fight or play Mercy–in English, of course–she shrieks, “LET ME GO!” in German. In other words, when the child is panicking in a situation similar to what one might find herself in while interacting with German children in a Kindergarten environment, regardless of what language she is using while playing at the time, Sequoia involuntarily shrieks in German. I feel confident that we’ve done our job both in fostering fluency and in ensuring future therapy bills.

Victor’s Residenz HotelVictor’s Residenz HotelFrom the national park, we headed to Victor’s Residenz Hotel in Teistungenburg, a Spa and Schwimmbad situated on the grounds of an old cloister. The property is still surrounded by walls and some ruins. Upon arrival, I was pleasantly surprised to find that they’d provided a dog pillow, bowl and treat for Flash. We quickly donned our bathing suits, left Flash to his pillow, and set off to find the pools. Germans can do pools.

This isn’t America’s Great Wolf Lodge chain, but that’s a good thing. This is a relaxing, arcadeless, family-friendly Schwimmbad with Spa. Oh, and squash courts, fitness centers the size of fitness centers, an indoor soccer field, etc.

In the pool was a familiar-style twisty waterslide, in the dark, and then there was a waterslide wall.

Victor’s Residenz Hotel

From atop the waterslide wall, you feel as if you are jumping off of a building in a suicide attempt. Then, if your body remains flat against the wall, you fly down and follow what feels like an underwater skateboard ramp and your feet continue speeding over your head, causing you to perform an underwater somersault. Now, this is all very fine. I can handle this. I don’t hold my nose for such activities like Paul and Sequoia do; there’s really no need. Unless, that is, your husband is going to grab your ass when you’re mid-underwater-flip, causing you to whip your head around in shock underwater, opening your airwaves and allowing water to shoot up your nostril and into your brain as if someone shoved a garden hose up your nose and turned it on, full-blast. I shot above the water, holding my left sinus, where I was experiencing something akin to brain freeze above my left eye.  At the hand of my husband. He apologized; he appeared sincere.

My child quietly observed this scene. From all indications, she felt not pity, but disappointment that Paul did not leave any external signs of the internal pain he had inflicted. She soon took it upon herself to rectify that situation. Perhaps you’ll notice the ice pack on my forehead? I would like to draw your attention to the goose egg above my left eye.


As I was passing by a wall, my child, without glancing behind or yelling, perhaps, “Fore!”, jumped backwards. Her granite melon of a skull made immediate, square impact with my delicate forehead. Paul claims that once he realized what was about to occur, he could not reach her in time; however, there is an ongoing investigation into his involvement.

When I approached the concessions counter to inquire after a bag of ice, our German exchange went like this:

Me: Do you have ice, in a bag? My daughter jumped and [I point to my head]

Woman: [Completes my thought, goes into the back for ice, returns with an ice pack in a wrap]

Me: Thank you. I’m going to my room and I’ll bring [I begin to falter] later [pronounce ‘later’ three times].

Woman: [Face indicates that she is assessing whether I have a concussion]

I headed back to the room. I was looking forward to taking some aspirin from the bottle I recalled seeing in my toiletry bag when I packed in the morning. Unfortunately, when I opened the bag, I saw that the bottle was actually Children’s Grape Chewable Advil fever/pain relief. While one of these alone might not taste altogether awful, five of these at once is precisely that: all together awful. I laid down to rest with an ice pack on my forehead and a mouth that felt like it was caked with grape-flavored play dough.

I was pleased when dinner—particularly the chocolate mousse—helped to cleanse my palate. In the morning, we enjoyed an excellent breakfast buffet, then returned to the pool. At first we were unsure if the pools were open since there were no employees in sight and not all of the rain mushrooms and rides were operating. But the doors were open, I believed that the hours were 0700, and the one employee who barely watches what’s going on in the pool only wanders in and out periodically even when it’s full, so we decided the place was ours.

I explored until it was time for my scheduled massage. While exploring, I came upon a door marked Sauna.

sauna bad sign

Now, in the US, ‘Sauna’ has one and only one meaning: a wood-paneled sweatbox of naked old people with whom you desperately try not to make eye contact, while keeping your eyes open just enough that you don’t accidentally sit on someone’s sagging breast or ball. For this reason, I rarely open doors marked ‘Sauna’. On this occasion, however, I opened the door because Paul was under the impression that my masseuse lay behind this door. Although she did not, I could not believe the tiled paradise that greeted me.

It became clear that the Germans put those sterile Sauna signs on the door to keep out the kids. A teenager sees the no underwear sign, recalls grandma naked, and runs for the waterslide. Meanwhile, mom and dad are sitting at the lounge having a beer in between treatment rooms, massage showers, foot baths, and all kinds of faucets and knobs I didn’t understand. Alas, I was not able to stick around because I had a massage appointment to get to. But I’d already learned an important lesson: stick Sauna signs on everything I want to hide.

I found the correct massage area and was led to my room. I was scheduled for a hot stone massage. I’m going to let you in on the difference between an American hot stone massage and a German hot stone massage:

America: A masseuse places river stones that are warmer than warm, but not scalding, on your body, and rubs the stones soothingly up and down your muscles.

Germany: A masseuse says, “Let me know if the stone is too hot” and then brands you like you’re cattle.

Note: I just removed my pants while typing this post. I am in genuine shock that there are not great, red circles remaining on my calves.

Victor’s Residenz HotelAfter convincing myself that I’d spent 70 minutes having a relaxing massage, I returned to the pool area to play for a bit with Paul and Sequoia, riding the waterslide a few more times before we checked out of the hotel and explored the surrounding area. First we wanted to find these Kloster ruins. We began by getting into the car and driving away from the hotel. We started up a road that turned quickly into gravel then dirt; Paul backed down the road and headed back toward the parking lot. We wondered if perhaps the remains were near the Sporthalle, for which there was a sign. In a Twilight Zone moment, Paul contemplated jumping the curb to drive down a wooded path while I, the unlikely voice of reason, informed him that I did not find this to be a good idea. We parked in the same lot we’d come from and walked up to the Sporthalle, where we were afforded a beautiful view of the countryside but alas, no Kloster ruins. We tried two paths, checked the GPS on my phone, and saw that we’d gone in the exact opposite direction of the hotel road called Klosterweg; we turned around. We walked down a different path toward the direction of the hotel and, lo and behold, came upon the stone ruins of a wall and an old stove.

Victor’s Residenz HotelVictor’s Residenz HotelAlso: the roof of our hotel just steps away down a small knoll.

If we’d walked out of the sliding door of our room and around the corner, we would’ve been there faster than getting to the parking lot. As our eyes followed the wall, we could see that it once surrounded a large parcel of land. Much of the stone wall on this side was still standing.

 Grenzlandmuseum EichsfeldWe walked around to the reconstructed gate of the monastery, and then on to the museum listed on the hotel literature. It was located across an overpass pedestrian walk. When I’d asked about the museum at the hotel reception desk, I was told that it was a “border museum.” I had no idea what she meant, but it was just that: the Grenzlandmuseum Eichsfeld. Eichsfeld is the region around where we were staying, and it was divided by the Inner German Border. The museum sits at what became a border crossing, eventually allowing those families and friends tragically separated by the fence to visit one another before the German-German border was torn down.

It’s a well done museum for being in the middle of nowhere. I especially respected the reminder of the difference between German museums and American museums. Americans would never allow barbed wire fence exhibits along the aisle, within reach of adults and children alike.

 Grenzlandmuseum Eichsfeld

You couldn’t pay me to touch the electric fence to see if it was live.

 Grenzlandmuseum Eichsfeld

An excellent interactive map allowed you to choose different dates to watch by light and color how Germany was divided; emigration patterns; unemployment; whose military bases were where; etc.

In one exhibit, you could pretend you were a border guard. I did let Paul pass, but he went quietly, so I did not have to get rough with him. I walked around the corner to find a second window and legitimately almost crapped my pants, letting out a (hopefully low) shriek, as I did not expect to see a uniformed mannequin seated in the window. A speaker asked in German for your pass. His voice was more intimidating than mine in a window.

After a worthwhile educational visit, we left in search of a long overdue lunch. It was even longer-overdue by the time we came across our first opportunity: a highway McDonald’s. If you’ve never stopped at a German highway McDonald’s, allow me to describe it to you. First, you come upon some kind of over-the-top children’s play structure or, in this case, a multi-story covered McDonald’s obstacle course standing next to the restaurant.

Then you enter the restaurant to find not a course—just an obstacle. For all the design and efficiency for which Germans are famous, they cannot for the life of them figure out a McDonald’s. It is under no circumstances to be considered fast food, for one thing. Nor are buildings set up in a manner designed for people to line up without first smacking into a wall of 50 other people. Everyone mills in the first line until they can break through to the next one, leaving behind a loved one to give them a better shot at hitting one of the counters faster (but taking their chances that a fortified German-German border will not be erected between them in the meantime). Barstools prevent lines from queuing more than three deep despite the fact that they are forming about 60-deep.

It is no secret that Germans are known for allowing patrons to take their time at restaurants—to allow you to enjoy your company and savor your food. But this is McDonald’s. I am not interested in carrying on a conversation with anyone around me. That is, unless the woman front of me is willing to listen to me give lessons on properly placing an order, because clearly she has no idea. In fact, when she finally made it to the counter, she appeared genuinely surprised that she was in McDonald’s. She had just spent 20 minutes talking to her companion about everything but a) what they wanted to eat and b) which Happy Meal book to choose for her son. At one point, I heard her say, “Ach, so…” This woman was having a realization; something had just been explained to her. During the McDonald’s ordering process. What—I ask, WHAT—did this woman not understand during the course of placing her order? And so it stands to reason that if this woman had desired to carry on a conversation with me about how to place a McDonald’s order in under two minutes (or seven), I would have obliged.

I’ll admit that I once hesitated at a German McDonald’s. And would you believe, the cashier actually made a suggestion that I order a wrap? I was flabbergasted that I looked like the type of person that would order a wrap. If I’m hesitating at McDonald’s, I’m thinking one of two things:

1) Should I supersize those fries?

2) How many patties do I want on that burger?

after which I’m thinking,

Speaking of “wrap”, let’s wrap up this order so I can sit down and shove [number of patties] into my gaping maw as soon as possible.

…And then I ate my Doppel Royal Cheese and we drove home.

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Category: Activities, FAMILY, Family Travel, Germany, Hiking, Hiking in other regions, Hotels, In Germany A Broad blog, Linguistics, Parks, Zoos & Aquariums, Restaurants, Shits & Giggles, Travel, Uncategorized

About the Author ()

Kari Martindale is a writer and ESL instructor. She’s visited all 50 states and 37 countries, including many of the big cities of Europe and a ton of Christmas Markets. She spends her days straddling the fence between a sense of adventure and a sense of dread. She is married to what is clearly a patient man and has a daughter who, frustratingly, is just like her. Her academic and professional backgrounds are in linguistics and foreign languages. When she's not teaching ESL, she's writing. When she's not writing, she's thinking about her next trip.

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