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By: Golden "Bub" Carper, of TheCarolinaRider.com
It's the mid 70s and I'm stationed at Patrick AFB near Cocoa Beach Florida. I'm a Msgt in charge of Radar Maintenance and just waiting until retirement next year. Then ... a message from Wing stating that I've been assigned to a Radar Sqd in Virginia - or - I can extend my enlistment 2 years and go to Germany for 3 years. Guess I better call wife and get her input as I already know my decision. She says, "Go Man Go," so that is how this retro ride began.
Packing up and selling down, my beloved 72 Honda CB750 and her CB160 are sold as only one vehicle can be shipped. So our VW Beetle gets to go home to the Fatherland. Then board a 747 at JFK in New York and off we go. We fly into Frankfurt Germany, board a bus for Hessisch Oldendorf and our new life. Hess is in northern Germany near the famed Pied Piper town of Hamlin. I am to help construct a new Radar Station, but the radar and associated equipment has not arrived yet. So a month of getting acclimatized to the German culture and then it's time to start working.
We're working 12-hour days, 6 days a week, but it's OK, it is interesting to build a squadron from scratch. But about Spring time the following year I get antsy for a motorcycle to ride the beautiful roads around there. I start searching and find out the Canadian PX has an arrangement with BMW Motorrad. Why not, kinda wanted to own one of those. A month later, Margie and I hitch a ride to a BMW shop in Rentelin, hand over my paper work and 4000 Duetch Marks. [this is way before the Euro!] and ride back to our German home on a 1977 R100 BMW. 1000cc strong and 500 lbs. light. Never been on anything with that much torque and handling to boot. We're quite a hit in Hessich Oldendorf. The Germans generally ride 250 to 400cc. as there is a severe tax on 500cc and up; so to have a 1000cc is quite rare.
We spend the Summer and Fall riding the mountain roads around north central Germany, West Germany at that time. Even though I was working 12-hour days, there was plenty of daylight after work to ride 2 or 3 hours. And then on Sunday after church we'd ride all day. Got lost so many times I couldn't remember. But by that time we knew a little German and could get by ... or just by saying our village's name would get a smile and pointing to the right road. [I still do that today ... get lost!, but now I can turn on the GPS.] The scenery is so beautiful, the old old buildings and castles setting on a hilltop, we were in awe, like being in a fairy tale.
We had rode past a ruined castle several times and one day we went up the road to it. There was a large picture at the castle entrance, with a picture of the castle before the US bomber raid of June 1944 and an arrow pointing to the ruins stating "After."
Winter came, but even though we're in northern Germany, the Gulf Stream from the other side of the world moderates the temperatures so that there are days we can ride. I bought snowmobile suits for us, mail ordered from Sears; and that helped a lot. Spring and Summer roll around again and I start thinking about a bike trip to Southern Germany, Austria and Switzerland, talk to my boss about taking a couple of weeks vacation and he said "sure." I had never seen high mountains although Margie had been west several times with her parents. So I wanted to not only see the Alps but ride the Alps and visit several countries as well. We ordered English language maps of Europe from the Air Force Exchange and studied them to determine our routes. As it was now late Summer, we thought a stop should be Munich and October Fest; which takes place in September, by-the-way. Then we'd head to Garmish and on to Innsbruck in Austria and check out Vienna too.
Our vacation start day finally arrives and off we go, riding the famous Autobahns to Munich. Park the bike on a sidewalk [which all Europeans do] and check out the famous beer tents. It's a wild town, kinda like Sturgis and Mardi Gras in New Orleans together. We check into a Gast Haus for the night and after breakfast of kaffee, brotchen [hard rolls] and cold cuts, we find the Autobahn and head south.
I frequently check the map and feel like we should be getting close to the Alps, I tell Margie that we should see them by now, but maybe those clouds are hiding them. Then it dawns on us, those clouds are the tops of snow covered mountains: the Alps!! Wow, are they beautiful!!!! We keep on and we're soon riding in the Alps on into the town of Garmish. This is a small city that is famous for the winter sports that go on here, but the beauty of it surrounded by snow covered mountains can not be described. We find a Gast Haus, rent a room for a couple of days and ride the mountains around here. The roads are in good condition and sometimes very narrow with no guard rails. Margie pounds me on the back when I get too close to the edge. I just want to look into the valleys!
It was here that I learned about cows on the road. The Germans move their cattle from barns near the home to pastures in the mountains each morning and evening. And, of course, livestock has the right of way. So you have to stop and wait for the herd to pass. Cows weren't too bad but sheep do a lot of milling around and checking out the stranger on the road. You just have to be patient and they'll soon be past you. I guess that's the secret of life here, slow down and enjoy the roses.
Then we're off to Austria and Innsbruck. Another beautiful ride to the Austrian border with Germany. Border guard looks at our passports, really checks out the BMW, tells us to have a good time and we're in another country. Of course Innsbruck is just as nice as Garmish and as is the case with most of Europe, English is the second language. So we have no problems finding good restaurants or places to stay. The ski slopes and jumps are very impressive even without snow. The roads are a motorcycle junkie's dream. Riding through a valley with mountains on each side and then the road starts up the mountain. You're very comfortable with light gear on and all of a sudden you've climbed 10 to 12 thousand feet, there is snow beside the roadway and you're looking for a place to pull off and put on some warmer clothes.
After Innsbruck we go the Vienna and it is a beautiful classical city. It's located at lower altitude than Innsbruck and is quite warm for that time of the year. You can just feel the history whereever you go. We accidentally find the home of William Tell who shot the apple off his son's head. My wife really liked him. There is a statue of him in the town square and he was very short -- Margie is 5 feet!
Our 2-week vacation is coming to a close and back across the mountains on the Autobahn with thousands of memories that are still fresh today. If you ever get the chance or can make a chance, go ride the Alps! There is nothing like them. And keep reading The Carolina Rider and watch for an upcoming Retro Ride article on our trip to England.