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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Friday, April 18, 2014

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The view atop Minster.
The view atop Minster.

Onto Ulm

ULM, Germany -- It's about 15 kilometers from Blaubeuren to Ulm. I tend to favor the smaller communities outside the bigger cities because they're easier to maneuver, the people are friendlier and there's just a better hometown feel.

There are several big attractions in Ulm; it was the birthplace of Albert Einstein, there was a famed tailor Albrecht Ludwig Berblinger who made his own wings and tried to fly over the Danube river in 1811 failing miserably, and there's the Minster.

It's a magnificent, gothic church whose construction began in 1377.

There are a lot of hidden messages within the artwork in the church. Fiona Pregizer, 21, who is majoring in economics and physics and has worked at the Minster for a year, gives me a personal tour.

Pregizer said it was neither a bishop nor a prince who ordered construction of the Minster, but the people of Ulm who decided to take up the enormous project and finance it.

However, money became an issue and when the metal workers didn't get paid they welded a mermaid into the railing near the altar as a way of tarnishing it.

At the front of the church is a painting of the Last Supper. When that painter was also not paid, he included a man in a red robe in the painting with his left hand cupped, visibly behind his back as if waiting for payment.

The Minster has the world's highest church spire at 161.53 meters or 530 feet. Pay four Euros and you're welcome to climb to the top, where on a clear day you can see to the Alps.

Since I'm already there, I take up the challenge to climb the 768 steps. The spiral, stone staircase winds up a narrow ascent. During the climb, I meet 11-year-old Anna Funk and her much larger father Joachim. He is stopping to catch his breath.

We've gone up nearly 350 steps and the walkway is becoming even more narrow. The steps are like small, triangles of packaged cheese and they're noticeably worn like the wooden kitchen floor in front of the stove.

My hand never leaves the inside wall, yet I feel a strange gravitational pull towards the outer windows. They've been barred, for safety reasons but there's an unexplainable pull nonetheless.

Anna is fearless and obviously the force is not affecting her. We reach the halfway point and people circle the enclosed spire snapping photos of the Batman-like gargoyles that hang over the city.

The second half of the climb is three times narrower than the first and with equal number of steps. Only the children seem to attempt the rest and they get visibly clogged on the second tier as reality and fear set in.

I begin my 350-step descent and things start to go poorly. I catch a glimpse out the window and see the pin-head figures below.

There's also the constant movement in circles descending the spiral staircase. It's one of my top two aversions.

I've NEVER been a fan of circular motion. No swing rides at the State Fair. No merry-go-rounds at the playground. It's so bad there's no watching "Wheel of Fortune" or playing video racing games ... even working a compass at school made me nauseous.

It's pathetic, I know.

People are starting to pass me in the crowded stairwell and I'm pushed to the outside wall. I keep walking down, focused on the steps figuring it'll be over soon.

My legs are rubbery and my head dizzy. The stairwell is getting warmer and I can smell the brats cooking outside on the Main plaza so I know I'm nearing the ground floor.

Finally outside, I'm ready to vomit. Who gets sick climbing the frickin' stairs at a church?

I buy a Coke and hope the feeling will go away.

During the next 15 miles of biking my head pounds and I need to lay down. Racing the storms drawing near I reach Gunzburg and its youth hostel.

As I pull in, a woman is locking the front door. She looks at me with my bike and all my gear and forcefully announces, "Closed."

In my best Bob and Brian voice I say, "Shut the front door!"

We stand there in a brief moment of silence. My mouth open, belching and ready to puke. And nurse Rachett holding the keys.

She rolls her eyes and gives in. I don't know if it's a blessing or a curse. The hostel is like a hospital, only empty. Nurse Rachett tells me I'll be the only one there tonight.

Yeah, I have the whole place to myself. She gives me the keys to my room, it's on the fourth floor. I pitch into bed, hoping to get rid of my headache.

When I awake and explore my surroundings, the building is totally empty. I'm on the third floor, I start to feel there's some kind of code violation ... but, I'm out of the rain and safe for the night.

Nurse Rachett however, makes me think of Jack Nicholson which makes me think that while walking the hallway to my room I'll run into a kid on a Big Wheel talking to his finger about some scary twin girls.

I run to my bike and get my pepper spray and flashlight.

I'm trying to distract myself but can't help think Scatman Crothers will be in my dreams along with Billy Babbett getting lucky in the next room and the big Indian talking about Juicy Fruit before he puts a pillow over my face.

Here's hoping I'll be too tired to dream and getting set to bike toward Munich tomorrow.

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