German Map Porn

Wired Magazine was the first place I found out about the term “map porn.” That about describes it. I am one of these strange people that clicks around Google Earth in terrain mode, satellite mode, and regular old road map mode, panning, zooming, browsing, and clicking around, seeing what angle of the same old planet Earth will show itself that wasn’t there before. Its not like the Earth hasn’t been mapped and yet, like a moth to a flame, I am drawn to continue to poke around and see what I can find. I never have a lack of surprises.

Now throw this thing called “Europe” into the picture. Having this map porn fetish since I was young, I fulfilled it the old fashioned way: looking at atlases and books. Those had the predominate limitation of being in English and focusing on the United States of America. Why should the good taxpayers of the State of New York bother funding education to teach their children about the geography of other countries? If that isn’t a pork barrel project, then I don’t know what is. Thus, I restricted my map pornography to American print atlases, because there was nothing outside of America, except where the ocean runs over the edge of the flat earth.

That resulted two things: an abundance of knowledge about the USA, and the assumption that all maps were centered on the US. I discovered last month that maps printed in Germany put Germany in the middle of the globe. I brought this irony up to Germans, and their unilateral reply was: “Well, doesn’t that make sense that the map would be centered on the country where it is printed?” “No, I just thought that all maps were actually centered on the United States.”

At any rate, my knowledge of geography in Europe is in its virgin infancy. I am aware of the mountains in Norway, the Pyrenees, the Alps (of course) and the Carpathian Alps in Transylvania. Everything else is filed away as deciduous trees with grass or Mediterranean countryside. Now that I flung myself and the airplane across the ocean, it seemed to make sense to look at European map porn.

I decided to share the process of what I find. I am looking for things to fly to, and I am specifically not giving a hoot about rolling hills that look like Pennsylvania. There can be nothing worth flying to if it looks like Pennsylvania or upstate New York, quite simply because I grew up in those nether regions, and there is absolutely nothing worth pursuing to replicate that.

Looking at regular satellite view, most of Germany looks the same when looking at the photographs from the sky. It’s green, there are lots of fields, some trees, and that’s that. One could say the same thing about the East Coast of the US, and it takes a thorough analysis to find things that stand out. This is what I have found in Germany so far, using Google Earth terrain mode. Don’t forget that the Alps are the southern border of Germany, and that land of milk and honey goes without saying that I will most assuredly wait until the windiest day I can find to fly there.

For those with trouble reading maps, this is Germany. We are located just a hair south of Frankfurt. Note how most everything looks pretty flat, except for the Alps (this is terrain mode, not a satellite shot).

Rhein River Valley (“Rhine” in English – I REFUSE to learn two versions of German place names. You’re getting the authentic German version). Anyway, the Rhein River runs down the middle. The Pflazerwald is in the lower left, where hilly terrain suddenly gives way to wine country. To the right is the Odenwald, which is surprisingly hilly with castles lining the hills overlooking the valley. France is in the lower left.
2-Rhein Valley

Continuing down the Rhein valley, the France Germany border becomes the river. The Black Forest is to the right, with elevations almost as high as the NC mountains, and west of Colmar, France is the “Parc Naturel des Ballons des Vosges.” That is a French word salad for a hilly forest that is probably pretty. We went to Strasbourg last weekend, and I got splattered with dijon mustard that squirted out of a sandwich as a Frenchman bit into it. Vive Le France!
3-Black Forest

This is south of Stuttgart. Notice where the plateau gives way to the Neckar River Valley. That will probably be quite pretty. In Tuebingen (center left), a Chinese guy got stuck in a concrete vagina and had to be rescued by firemen two years ago. 26 emergency responders came to see it and it made international news.
4-Neckar River Headwaters

These hills look interesting in the middle of the image, particularly so because I took a train from Fulda northeast through here and saw it from the ground.5-SW of Erfurt

Mosel River. This is pure goodness visually speaking.
6-Mosel River

NW of the Harz Mountains, this terrain looks pretty wild as it gives way to the North German Plain.
7-NW of Harz Mountains

First Flight in Germany

The silly charging problem finally got fixed. Of course, Germany, being one of the most non-religious countries on the planet, has to have a silly tradition that everything closes on Sunday. Thus, I discovered the charging problem on Sunday, and couldn’t even begin sourcing parts until Monday, followed by installation, and then an overnight charge.

The day finally came to see if the airplane would fly, again. The weather looked good enough, though it was nothing picture perfect by any means, and I decided to head over to the airport. I checked every single bolt and wire that was touched in the rigging process, and decided to make a go for it. After standard procedures are followed, information reviewed, a moment of self-reflection to make sure nothing is missed is had, it just comes time to face reality: this is scary as shit and I am either doing it or I am not.

I powered up the engine. First thoughts: “hot damn! I have a starter!” Nervously, I made my first Egelsbach Apron call (not ground). Things are a bit more formal, though once the process is understood, it flies by with the same rapid speed as US control tower interactions, though here it is a “control zone” with an “information” tower, meaning that reporting of activities is mandatory, and the tower provides information services. The tower will not issue orders; it is up to the pilot to make decisions based on information available, though they will gladly record and report any ensuing violations that happen as a result of poor decision making while being watched. Welcome to Germany.

I taxied down to the end of runway 26, ran a very long run up test, stuck my head out the door to completely verify trim stabilizer movements as well as all control surfaces, checked my brand spanking new transponder again, glanced at my brand new switches, and took another look at my sheets of paper sitting in my lap.

That would be correct: I am too much of a cheapskate to purchase Jeppesen’s €349/year Europe iPad app (um, the same thing in the US is $75), spending one euro per day for the plane to possibly sit around not working. I opted for the traditional method of a map and a printout of the facility directory for the airport, even though the pattern touches Frankfurt’s airspace on the north and west sides as well as above the airport. Nothing like going vintage and doing some good old dead reckoning on the test flight after rigging on a new continent in the craziest general aviation airspace in Germany.

The airplane ahead of me took forever and a day to leave, and I finally made my Egelsbach Information radio call, pulling out on Runway 26 and holding for the other aircraft and a helicopter to move, advising that I am adding spacing for a test flight. Eventually, it was time. Just like the J-3, there is a whole lot of soul searching going on at this moment, which is interrupted by me adding full power. Just get it over with. There is nothing more that can be done to make this safer than to park the airplane forever.

This was the first flight with vortex generators at sea level. I was off the ground, without attempting a short field takeoff, in about 100 feet. The airplane climbed like a homesick angel. Initially at 100 feet above the ground, I gave the control surfaces a quick test, and then climbed at 55mph at an absurd angle. Once it sunk in that nothing was broken, it hit me that I am <<expletive, present participle form>> flying in GERMANY with my airplane! Holy shit! The moment didn’t last too long as I was climbing so fast that I was nearly at pattern altitude by the end of the runway, turning south not too long thereafter to follow the exit traffic designations along the A5 autobahn (where I repeatedly do 130mph to and from the airport, eliminating the speed advantage of flying).

Exiting Egelsbach Information at Juliet reporting point, I wandered a bit around the Rhein River plain, turning back toward Darmstadt and into the pattern via Kilo point for a picture perfect landing on runway 26. My routine is to touch down as early as possible, despite displaced thresholds, and I realized at that last moment that this is Germany and I’ll probably get written up for it, so I added power and plopped down a little past the numbers.

I must say, the smile on my face was about as big as the one when I got my pilot’s license 18 years ago.

NW of Darmstadt – Notice how nice and orderly everything is. Forests here, farms there, people somewhere else, everything in straight lines….
IMG_0652 (7 of 76)

Reporting point Juliet – NE of Griesheim. Note new houses left, old village distant, cemetery center left, industrial displeasure in the foreground. Again, everything in nice straight lines….
IMG_0660 (15 of 76)

Darmstadt – “Science City” – Headquarters of Merck, GSI (particle accelerator), the European Space Agency, and my favorite local coffee joint.
IMG_0717 (72 of 76)

IMG_0721 (76 of 76)

Assembling the Airplane

I have an assembled an airplane before. It was an ill-fated, poorly informed, and silly decision to purchase a Piper J-3 Cub that had been turned over in a thunderstorm, fix it, and fly it. I must say, one does not know fear until he gives an airplane full power that he put together himself. That sobering reminder of flaming death aside, I knew that it always takes longer than expected, so I factored that in the presumption that it should take a long day to re-assemble.

It did. The only problem is that there was a long list of new equipment, and all sorts of fun things had to be worked out.

After about 6 weeks of gerrymandering in the cold, engine tests, playing, and tinkering, it was time to take things to the next step and see if this thing would fly. There are so many hilarious issues with German culture and regulation that I am not even going to list them all. Suffice it to say, I dusted off my ragged piece of paper from 1999 that comes from the FCC that gives me a license to operate a radio. Yeah, they want those over here. I got it originally to fly to Canada and had to laminate it myself. The Feds thought so little of the document that they sent me something that came out of an inkjet printer.

Next was the radio “station” license. In the US, an airplane with a radio can use it. In Europe, the radio people have to authorize the airplane with a radio with a radio-licensed pilot to use the radio (that is as dumb as it sounds). $165 later, and I have me a nice PDF from the FCC that I have to print myself and hell, if I even dream of lamination, that’s on me. Prices go from $0 to $165, and I don’t even get the sheet of paper! The Germans wanted sound paperwork. If I didn’t produce a sound certification, my landing fee would go from €7.98 to €16 (yes, there are landing fees. Don’t ask.). That was an exercise in philosophical futility, though I eventually solved that lovely little problem.

The day finally came to take a lesson to get familiarization with an instructor. The rules are pretty similar to the differences in driving between countries. An American can fudge through driving in Europe straight off an airline flight, though riding around with a local at least once helps to understand the foreign signage and subtle differences in rules. If I didn’t care about fines and issues with flight safety and having a pilot’s license, I could have just gone flying, though that is dumb. I opted for a ground lesson as US regulations require a test flight after significant mechanical work to be done alone. That, there was no point in risking someone else’s life, and I really didn’t need to be inventing how to deal with European rules on a flight where I could have potential mechanical issues.

An hour later, I had enough general information to execute a relatively local flight, deal with the control tower, avoid Frankfurt’s airspace (some of the busiest in the world), and also focus on the myriad of things that may or may not quite be right with a newly assembled aircraft. Mechanics or not, the plane probably was safer before disassembly than right after being put together. There can be no improvement from taking it apart.

After the lesson, I decided to make a go of it, as I was fresh with the new procedures. I checked every single bolt and screw that was touched on that airplane for the third time, opened the hangar door, pulled the airplane out, closed the hangar doors, got in, strapped the seatbelts (a new procedure, because I have a starter), and looked up to the master switch. Hmmm…….its on. Not good. Click it off. No sound. On. Nothing. “Push to start.” Nothing. Battery is dead as a doornail. Get out. Open the hangar door, push the plane in, close hangar door, get charger. Won’t charge. Fiddlesticks. The battery is so dead, the relay won’t engage, so I can’t charge using this method.

This reminded me of a conversation with a German mechanic. He reviewed the whole setup some time back and advised that charging through the iPad cigarette lighter port was silly because it would use amperage to run over a three foot wire, would use amperage to keep the relay open, and the master would need to be on to allow charging. “Well, can I pull the breaker for the push to start switch so no one can accidentally turn the starter over?” “Well, yes, but you don’t want to forget to turn the master off when you’re done. I really suggest installing a charging port as close to the battery as possible.” “Thanks. Yeah, I don’t see myself forgetting to turn the master off. I’ll get around to it.”

So now, I walk in the office, hat in hand, advising that I left the master on after charging on the very first time. The mechanic’s advice was quite simple: “the only way you’re going to charge that thing is at the battery. You’re going to need a charging port installed.” I finished his sentence: “like you told me in the first place, I know!”

Stabilizers attached. No elevator or stringers yet.
Flugzeug 1

Elevators on, referring to the manual….
Flugzeug 2
Flugzeug 3

Laying out the puzzle pieces.
Flugzeug 4
Flugzeug 5

First wing on. The wrapping plastic makes it look like IKEA furniture.
Flugzeug 6
Flugzeug 7
Flugzeug 8

Stringers on, tail assembled. Note ferring strips at the wing root still off.
Flugzeug 9

This is an important junction.
Flugzeug 10

Flugzeug 11

Aileron cables come into the rear area near the passenger.
Flugzeug 12

Dumping some avgas (which costs as much as gold here) into the tank. Not as ready to fly yet as she looks….
G - 1

Arrival in Germany

Its sort of mind numbing when one adds up what it takes to move across the ocean. I literally tallied the amount of driving for all matters related to the move (visas, vet appointments for the animals, crossing the country, getting and dropping off borrowed vehicle, selling the truck, sudden trip to Germany, final drive to the airport) and it adds up to stunning one-hundred and forty-two (142!) hours. That’s just the driving to and from multiple places; none of that is the actual appointments, flying time, or other matters. We literally spent the night hearing the sound of the crashing waves of both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans as part of the machinations of moving in the past few months.

The time flew by quick after arriving in the US. I did have the matter of my visa not having been approved, and after a lovely reminder phone call to the Consulate, I was advised that the Federal Republic of Germany has decided that I am sponge-worthy to live there. Yeah, that only took until a week before we left. My backup plan was literally to arrive on a tourist visa (90 days) if they said no, appeal until I am blue in the face, and if they tell me to buzz off, simultaneously apply to the French, Swiss, Austrian, and Italian embassies and move to whichever country approved me first. Thankfully, that is not an issue. Why I didn’t throw Spain in there, when I speak Spanish fluently, makes no sense. I must have a masochistic fetish for linguistic ignorance.

We bought two more suitcases, threw out stuff, gave stuff away, gave more stuff away, and then shoved it all in. Then, on the day before, while visiting relatives, we realized that there is a weight limit of 51.2 pounds per suitcase. After three hours of arguing and merry go rounds, we re-arranged 60% of it and gave away an additional 2% to squeeze each suitcase in at roughly 51 pounds, according to my wife’s aunt’s bathroom scale.

On the day of our departure, I was walking the dog in the morning in Delaware, saw a bald eagle soaring in the bright blue sky, and couldn’t help but be stirred at this symbol of Americana, though it lasted about 1.36 seconds until I was posed with the philosophical debate of wondering if it was representative of the spirit of America, or the watchful eye of the NSA.

Leaving the country is a strange feeling. I had a sense of foreboding and excitement at the same time, though I really think that was more having to do with dragging 4 suitcases to the checkout desk (204.8 pounds, to be exact), getting the cat and arthritic dog through security, walking through the airport, getting on the plane, getting situated, and then dealing with an 8 hour flight, for which we would then have to walk a mile in the Frankfurt airport, fetch all 4 suitcases, get all of it plus the animals through customs, walk another half mile, shove it all in the as-yet-unknown rental car, and drive somewhere while jetlagged and operating on zero sleep.

There is the matter of leaving the land of one’s birth. I had done it once before when I was 18, the product of an absolutely poorly thought out impulse to go to Ecuador for three months during a revolution (either an act of profound exploration and self-preservation, or literally a moment of religious insanity), something that turned out to be one of the best decisions that I have ever made. I had two suitcases then, and wasn’t actually “moving” (though I should have just stayed there, live and learn). That particular trip had some dramatic homesickness that solved itself instantly the moment I spoke to family again in the US, so I knew that issues of longing and loss wouldn’t be apparent here. Any “connections” or “roots” that I have left are in the English language, the people that pay me, the current place I receive my mail, some friends of which I live in geographic proximity to none of them, and the warm loving embrace of the most recent state DMV that issued my license. Being as migratory as I have been, it’s pretty tough to connect to much of anything for any length of time. This step would be putting an ocean between what I last knew and the present, and I really don’t think that’s all that big of a deal.

Needless to say, we lived through it and nothing terribly bad went wrong, though we had some close calls with timing and logistics in a few places in the flight process. When we finally did sit down in the seats on the Lufthansa flight, the door closed, and they started backing away, it was a good feeling that we had finally made it. No matter what happens (barring mechanical or medical emergency), the flight was going to Germany, and whatever went wrong would have to be dealt with without aborting the whole thing. Finally, after 6 months of wrangling, logistics, head splitting problem solving, and sometimes utter hell, we were on the plane and it was moving.

The dog didn’t move once for the entire flight, and he was not drugged. The cat, drugged to the hilt and previously the best traveling feline ever, went through cyclical meltdowns, though he was enamored with being toted through Frankfurt airport in a sea of foreigners and bustle. It was the jet engine noise; he didn’t like it, and he was going to punish us over it and that was that.

Upon arrival into our new home, we discovered that the landlord turned the heat down in an act of thrift, which meant that the stone house had cooled to 45 degrees, and it was not going to warm up for days due to Germanic obsession with borderline non-functional efficiency. We had no wood for the stove, were operating on rage and 53 remaining IQ points (split between the two of us), and finally gave up and slept on the mattress on the floor in a pile of blankets, missing the alarm and oversleeping during the middle of the day. My wife aptly noted: “This is a concentration camp.”

In a moment of political correctness, I found it necessary to advise her that it was not, in fact, a concentration camp. Fifteen hours later, when I was a complete zombie and unable to sleep in a freezing cold house at three in the morning, I decided to take a shower. The hot water did not work (something I now understand to be a result of German hot water systems: they shut off at night). I said to myself, as I stood in cold water in the middle of the night in a cold house while pissy, cross-eyed and partially delusional: “This is a concentration camp.”

While using such a glorious ending as a literary device would be compelling, the bulk of readers would draw the conclusion that we don’t like Germany. That is certainly not the case! It’s sort of an obvious conclusion that we like it, because we fought for six months to come here. I keep falling back on the quote I have on the front page of the site: “Naiveté is the mother of adventure.” It is all of the silly innocence, optimism, and blind ambition that cause all of this mindless disruption in life, and it also makes a good story, wrapped around the existentialism of this whole affair being a wild journey.

Just before the drive to Washington-Dulles Airport. They both look a bit more optimistic this time.
P - 1 (1)

8 hours in that position with a very pissy kitty.
P - 1 (2)

Drunk kitty that would have preferred to hang out in the bathroom for the entire flight.
P - 1 (3)

Jet lagged dog.
P - 1 (4)

In a country where prostitution is both legal and a non-event socially and morally, it shouldn’t surprise me that they have erotically themed bread. 
P - 1 (5)

Eat the bread before eating the “Bio Lust Wiener Würstschen.” For a stolid culture of emotional austerity, they are very colorful with their food.
P - 1 (6)

Attempting to Move to Europe

I strongly advise against moving to another continent with an airplane. If you’re young, unencumbered, in the military, or a vagabonding hippie, give it a try (without your stuff). If you have family nearby where you can dump most of your crap and wander the globe, that helps. If you’re a pontificating snob that demands all of his stuff and his airplane, even in a country where the language is as of yet unknown, then perhaps just stay somewhere safe and predictable.

Unlike moving domestically, it’s not a D-day kind of event. There isn’t one finite “move.” There is the initial act of packing and sending the container off, which feels like the “move.” Then there is the two months before it arrives. Where does one exactly sleep for the next two months with only enough possessions to fit in 4 suitcases?

We elected to head back to the NC Outer Banks for December and January. We rented the furnished place that we were in last winter, solving the whole issue of having a bed, and decided to make our grand departure out of Washington, DC. The flight would be 3 hours shorter, which helps with the dog and the cat, and we could leave the car we were keeping in the Charlotte, NC area with a friend.

The whole plan went to hell in a hand basket (hand “cart” for UK readers).

I had the matter of selling the truck. By selling it, I would use the cash to buy a vehicle in Germany. That creates an issue, as the truck is 4×4, and the beach access requires 4×4. We lined up a backup plan, and a potential buyer called the day before we were leaving Wyoming. I made it clear what our situation was. He came in, saw it, loved it, and we arranged to meet at Wells Fargo the next morning at 9AM to do the deal in cash.

Packing the car with the dog, cat, and every item we owned in the USA, we arrived a bit late at the bank, due to minus 8F temps and yucky roads. I then got a text, “things fell through at the bank, I am not buying the truck.” Yeah, so much for “I have the money.” [expletive!]

So we both got to drive across the country, requiring 42 hours of driving on icy roads, through insane wind, freezing fog, heavy snow, and heavy rain. Dodging an ice storm in Kansas, we took the northern route, passing through all of Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, and then North Carolina. It was a long, long, long drive, yet soberingly only 30% of the total mileage to cross 1/3rd of planet Earth en route to Germany. What the hell are we doing this for again?

The first three weeks of the coast went well, save for both of us getting the world’s longest cold and driving to Charlotte for some work. That aside, it was many days of incredibly warm weather, sitting on moonlit evenings in shorts, viewing the crashing waves of the Atlantic Ocean while working earnestly away on my novel.

The truck finally sold, requiring borrowing a Land Rover from a friend in Charlotte. That plan went south, as the speedometer was malfunctioning, something I realized after I got a brutally expensive ticket. Then the machine started misfiring upon arrival to the coast, culminating in the catalytic converter falling off. Oh well, that option didn’t save us any money.

On December 21st, I got an email from the customs broker advising that our shipping container would arrive December 24th. “Oh, you must mean January 24th. Our freight forwarder arranged a late January arrival, and it hasn’t left the US according to them.” The reply was that our container was very much arriving into Germany, 5 weeks early, 3 days from the receipt of the email, on Christmas Eve. [expletive!]

That set off a firestorm of absolute hell, where I got extorted out of $2,200 in harbor and storage fees from EuroUSA Shipping, Inc (aka UPakWeShip), our freight forwarder. I prevented the $2,200 from becoming $4,500 by flying to Germany for a week at the last minute to clear the damn thing through customs and unload it to stop the bleeding. Needless to say, this particular freight forwarder and I will be walking down the aisle in court.

That meant that the airplane touched German soil at 9:05AM local time on January 14th. I moved all of our stuff over to the house and then flew back to the USA, driving 5 hours to the coast after landing in Washington, DC. I have mastered being able to function for 30 hours without sleep after this whole affair, and as of yet, I still had to repeat the process and get my rear end to Europe with the rest of the clan. Sigh.

This is Wyoming making it hard to leave. I don’t appreciate unwanted emotions. 
P - 1

We’re doing this……again?
P - 1 (1)

P - 1 (2)

Trader Joes selling metric system bratwurst. Its a sign!
P - 1 (3)

The dog hates water. He heard dolphins and was insistent on getting to them.
P - 1 (4)

Horse Nazis (Corolla Wild Horse Fund) disobeying the 50 foot rule
P - 1 (5)

I spent 4 months last year trying to get pictures of horses in the fog. 5,428 photos, and I couldn’t get any. This is what I end up with this year.
IMG_0497 (8 of 16)

Going to Germany? Don’t forget me….
P - 1 (6)

Beginning of 26 hours of travel to Germany to deal with customs crisis. The ocean decided to swallow the road at 6AM at the beginning of my 5 hour drive to Washington DC.
P - 1 (7)

Arrival in Frankfurt. I rode on an Airbus A380. Singapore Airlines knows their stuff.
P - 1 (8)

The airplane touches German soil, greeted by a bunch of Germans yelling at each other debating the best unload method.
P - 1 (9)

I think I am going to need this…..
P - 1 (11)

Land Rover catalytic converter. May it rest in peace.
P - 1 (10)