February 2009
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The lucky krapfen

I never studied it at school, so my knowledge of the German language comes almost exclusively from Kraftwerk records.

So when I went to Austria this week, I was really hoping to keep communication to a minimum, rather than try to construct meaningful sentences from just the numbers one to eight and the word autobahn

A day trip to Salzburg may sound like a random act of madness, but there was a reason.  I had been scoping out possible poker tournaments to play this year and came across the PokerNews Cup Alpine, to be held in March at a casino somewhere up a snowy mountain.

The tournament series was quite an attractive prospect – a few hundred euro events and a EUR 1500 main event.  Compared to the five grand EPT events, this sounded like something I might be able to have a crack at.

The only problem (apart from the language) was the location.  The official package includes accomodation at the luxury five star resort, along with a helicopter transfer from the airport.  The total cost to play the EUR 1500 main event (preliminaries are extra) is a whopping EUR 6000!

So why not find a Formule 1 (or whatever the equivalent staffless, self-cleaning motel is in Austria) I thought, and try to do this on the cheap.  Hence the day trip to scope the place out, and to see if the helicopter is actually necessary.  Sadly, I now know that it is.

I made it about 20km out of the town before the snow on the ground started to become serious enough to worry about, and then the sat nav sent me down a road which had a temporary sign at the entrance that I had no chance of reading, because it wasn’t about pocket calculators or robots.

Other drivers didn’t seem too concerned so I carried on, but then Jane off of TomTom led me across a junction and up a hill where the snow was deep and only one side of the road was usable.  As I began wondering just how great an idea it was to be driving uphill on the wrong side of a slippy road, another car came in the opposite direction – thankfully, quite slowly – to push me back down.

As I backed out of the way, an animated little man came to the car window and started yelling something in German.  He must have been bemused at why his outburst failed to get any reaction whatsoever, so he eventually gave up and went back inside scratching his head.

How was I meant to react?  All I know is that he didn’t think I was a model, or that I was looking good.

But that was it.  The resort where the tournament was going to take place was still over an hour away (on good roads) and I’d failed to negotiate the very first hill – of what I had to assume would be many on the way up to an Alpine resort – spectacularly enough to disturb the locals.

Basically, even if I had found a way through, there’s no way I was going to commit myself to making this journey alone, in unknown weather conditions and against a clock.

So we went back to Salzburg itself for the day, where it turns out there’s not actually a great deal to do.  We wandered around for a while, taking in the sights – which consisted of a statue of Mozart, the Mozart museum, some streets named after Mozart and several shops which sold Mozart-branded confectionary.

We decided to play the odds when it came to finding somewhere we could order lunch in English.

A Big Mac’s a Big Mac, but they call it Das Big Mac. (Probably). I wonder what they call a whopper…

I learned two other German words.  I figured out that "Kondomautomat" means "condom machine", but I’m not sure I’d have done it without the graffiti:

The other word came from the pack of some random pink cakes I bought from a Spar.  I only looked up what it actually meant because it’s an amusing sounding word in English.


It means donut.  What are the odds?

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