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Monday, June 12, 2006
Updated: June 4, 2:52 PM ET
In a Deutschland State of Mind

By Jim Caple

(Editor's note: Welcome to the initial installment of "The Road Warrior," a new recurring column in the ESPN SportsTravel section by Jim Caple. Jim will be taking your travel questions in future columns.)

I really wish I was covering the World Cup right now. Not because I am a big soccer fan -- frankly, I'm still trying to figure out whether Ronaldo and Ronaldinho are the same guy or two different players -- but mostly because I love visiting Germany. Which is to say, I really enjoy visiting German beer cellars.

I've covered seven Olympics, 11 World Series and several Final Fours, golf majors and Super Bowls, but the most amazing performance I've ever witnessed was one rainy night at closing time in a smoky bar in the old Bavarian town of Fussen when a man at our table raised a 20-ounce beer stein, opened his mouth and tossed the entire contents down his throat. The beer literally disappeared within seconds. It couldn't have gone down faster with a hose and a funnel. It was like watching John Daly at a Delta house toga party.

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And that stein was at least the guy's eighth such beer of the evening. It was a miracle he could even stand up, let alone stagger to the door. Yet he somehow managed it, bidding us a slurred "Wiedersehen'' as he stumbled out of the bar and off to work the graveyard shift. As a butcher.

So, if you're traveling through Germany for the World Cup this month, I recommend detouring through Fussen, which is just a couple miles from the spectacular Neuschwanstein castle, the inspiration for the Sleeping Beauty castle at Disneyland. You might want to avoid eating sausage there, however.

You don't need to go all the way to Germany to experience the World Cup, though. Just head down to a local pub or restaurant that specializes in showing the games. Even if you're not interested in games that routinely end nil-nil, the competition between nations and the camaraderie among peoples is as rewarding as a backpack trip through Europe (and without the smelly hostels). There's an African restaurant here in Seattle where recent and not-so-recent immigrants from all around that continent gather to watch the games and feel home again. I was there with fans from at least nine African nations who stayed up all night during the last World Cup to root on Senegal in a match that started at 4:30 a.m. "People are living happy because of soccer. A sport has brought joy to an entire country," Ndiol Kayre said that night. "There is nothing more important you can do than that. Only sport can do it. It unifies everyone.''

He's right about that, especially after three or eight beers.

You may think your region of the country is more passionate than anywhere else, but you would be surprised. Everywhere you go, people care just as much about their local teams and sports as you do about yours. Be it the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry or a townball league in Minnesota or wife-carrying in northern Finland, people take their favored events very seriously.

Road Warrior Favorites
Read some of Jim Caple's best travel-related writing for
• Black Hills Motorcycle Rally, Sturgis, S.D. (I-90 Tour, 2002)
• Inside the Green Monster, Boston (I-90 Tour, 2002)
• Field of Dreams, Dyersville, Ia. (Mississippi River Tour, 2003)
• Mississippi Delta High School Football, Rosedale, Miss. (Mississippi River Tour, 2003)
• College World Series, Omaha (Lewis & Clark Tour, 2004)
• World Wife Carrying Championships (Pt. I), Sonkajarvi, Finland (Europe Tour, 2005)
• World Wife Carrying Championships (Pt. II), Sonkajarvi, Finland (Europe Tour, 2005)
• Seven Olympic events in one day, Torino, Italy (Olympics, 2006)
• E-Ticket: At Play in a Land of Death, Zambia (2006)
All this means that there is a wide, wide world of sports to see out there, so you better get cracking. And The Road Warrior is here to help. I travel so much for ESPN and spend so many nights in hotels that I instinctively leave my dishes outside the front door when I'm home. But I love it. Going through customs always poses a problem for me because I never know how to answer when the customs officer asks, "Is your trip for business or pleasure?'' Well, it's both.

My travels have taught me the places to go and the things to see for sports fans, from the well-known (Cooperstown) to the secret gems (the town's ball field in Jordan, Minnesota). I can help suggest a journey, recommend a place to stay or warn you of a route to avoid. I can tell you where to sit when watching the Giants in San Francisco or where not to stand when running with the bulls in Pamplona.

In future columns, I'll be writing about specific trips or events but right now I want to hear from you. If you have a question regarding a trip, need a suggestion for an itinerary, or have concerns about travel in a certain country or city or at a certain event, I'm happy to help out.

So drop me a line and grab a big stein of German beer -- it's summer and time to travel. Just don't try drinking that beer all at once.

Must-Visit Cities/Sites in Germany (even without the World Cup)
1. Berlin. With so much new construction, you just might mistake the former East Berlin for the former West Berlin.
2. Munich. Be sure to drop by the Hofbrau Haus.
3. Dresden. Rebuilt to its former glory after being destroyed in the infamous fire bombing.
4. Nuremberg. Especially great for a visit during Christmas when the old town is filled with stalls of merchants selling gifts and gluhwein.
5. Neuschwanstein Castle. This fairy tale come to life is just one of several built by mad King Ludwig.
6. Dachau. Just don't plan on doing anything for hours afterward. You won't want to.
7. Cologne Cathedral. Climb to the top, then refresh yourself with the local speciality, Kolsch beer in a nearby beer cellar.
8. Eagles Nest, Berchtesgaden. Hitler's seldom-used retreat offers breathtaking views -- if the clouds part.
9. Rothenberg. A medieval walled city carefully persevered for tourism.
10. Beer gardens almost anywhere.

Pack one of these books for the flight to Germany:

If you're going to Dresden (and you should, it's spectacular) you must read two books. "Dresden: Tuesday, Feb. 13, 1945" by Frederick Taylor is a recent and provocative account of the city's history and horrific firebombing. Kurt Vonnegut's classic novel, "Slaughterhouse Five," is a black comedy based partly on his own experiences as a POW in Dresden during the bombing.

"Stones from the River" by Ursula Hegi is one of my favorite books. It takes place in a fictional small town outside Dusseldorf and tells the history of Germany from WWI to the 1950s through the life of a dwarf, Trudi Montag. Yeah, I know. It sounds strange but it is an overpowering work. It's sort of like Lake Wobegon, only with Nazis instead of Minnesotans.

"A Small Town in Germany" by John LeCarre. One of LeCarre's first spy novels, this takes place in Bonn during the 1960s.

"The Berlin Stories" by Christopher Isherwood. These tales set in Berlin near the rise of the Nazis were the basis for the musical, "Cabaret."

William Shirer's masterpiece, "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich," and his "Berlin Diary" are thorough histories of the Nazi era. "The Murrow Boys" by Stanley Cloud and Lynn Olson is a rollicking history of Edward R. Murrow and his first set of news correspondents, with some of the most entertaining stories in Germany.

"The Arms of Krupp" by William Manchester. A masterful (though long) history of the infamous arms company that sold bullets to both sides in WWI and used slave labor in WWII and whose owners never really paid for their crimes.

"The Last Battle" by Cornelius Ryan describes the fall of Berlin in 1945.

I haven't read it yet but "Brandenburg Gate" by Henry Porter is getting great reviews as a spy novel set just before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

I recently returned from Lusaka, Zambia, where I traveled with Olympic speedskater Joey Cheek and swimmer Jenny Thompson for a story on the wonderful international athlete-driven charity, Right To Play. As I write in my story, if Zambia were a basketball program you would find it at the bottom of the Sagarin Ratings. The life expectancy is 37 (due largely to AIDS), the unemployment rate is around 50 percent and the official currency is worth so little that the exchange rate is 3,200 to the dollar. One of the few growth industries is making coffins. And yet the people are amazingly friendly.

Zambia also is home to some spectacular game parks as well as Victoria Falls, truly one of the seven wonders of the natural world. The falls are so high and so wide (about twice as big as Niagara) that you can see the spray from 10 miles away. Walking along the path across from the falls is like stepping into the most intense thunderstorm you've ever seen. The only thing wider than the falls themselves might have been the smiles on everyone's faces as they got soaked. "It's spiritual," said our South African cameraman Graham. "I've never been so happy to be wet in my life."

Graham was a great traveling companion, regaling us with stories about his time as a war correspondent in Iraq and Afghanistan ("Bush is good for business") and wild stories about the many dangerous animals of Africa, including the deadly black mamba snake. But the most entertaining tale was when our driver described a local method for producing potent marijuana: They starve a goat for a week, stick him in a field of cannabis, let him eat his fill and then smoke his dried manure. "I don't know about smoking it," Graham said, "but I'm telling you, brother, eating a field of marijuana after being starved for a week -- that goat would be flying out of his head."

We didn't have any kokoko but we enjoyed many bottles of Zambia's surprisingly good beer, Mosi, named after the native term for Victoria Falls: Mosi-oa-Tunya, the "Smoke That Thunders."

Graham and I had several delightful meals in Johannesburg on my way home. All we hear in America about Johannesburg is its crime and violence but the city is surprisingly lush, green and pretty. I liked it a lot. Although its global reputation for crime isn't entirely undeserved. In fact, if you're looking for a new career, I suggest selling razor wire to homeowners in Jo'burg.

On our way back from dinner, Graham needed to swap places with his truck and his roommate's car in the gated driveway. We backed up the car along the curb in front of the house and as we got out to go to his truck, Graham said, "You better stay with the car just in case while I back the truck out.'' Mind you, it took him less than a minute to back the truck out, yet he felt it best that I stay with the car. "You stay on edge living here,'' he said with pride.

Lusaka, Zambia is literally the farthest populated spot on the globe from my Seattle home, some 11,000 miles. The flights there and back each took 34 hours, and I was in a middle seat for almost 24 of those hours on the way home. I'm a pretty good flyer -- I travel 80,000 to 100,000 miles a year -- but after about 18 hours of this, I was convinced that I couldn't have had a less comfortable flight. And that's when the woman next to me tapped my arm, handed me a religious tract and said, "Excuse me, but could I tell you about my personal savior, Jesus Christ?''

Jim Caple is a senior writer for who has covered sports on five continents and written about them all across America. His work can also be found on Page 2, and his book, "The Devil Wears Pinstripes," can be ordered through