Shopping in the what? The Grafenwoehr “Troop Training Area” (put the words together and you get the concise Truppenübungsplatz in German), or “US Military Base” as it’s more commonly called, is just a short, 2 1/2 hour drive across the border into neighboring Germany. So - we loaded up the car with the kids, the trusty DVD player, and a couple ice chests, and hit the road.
Let me just say - crossing borders in Europe is a wee bit less cumbersome than in the Middle East. We drove from the UAE to Oman a lot in the last few years, and most crossings went something like this... first, park the car in the 115 degree sun, and walk to a little hut on the side of the road. Once in the hut, convince the bored immigration official to stop yakking on his GSM phone, and give you the form that you need to fill out for each traveler. After filling out the form, wait for a pause in conversation again so he can stamp the thing with his rubber stamp. Walk back across to the booth on the other side of the road, give another bored guard your forms and passports. Watch as he pecks away at his keyboard to enter the stuff you’ve just written into the computer. Show him how to hold the form right side up. Get a little piece of paper stamped. Take this paper back to the car, where, by now, the kids are awake and ready to get out of the car... strap them back in, and drive across the border, handing your little stamped piece of paper (heaven forbid it gets lost somewhere along the way) to the final guard.
But... I digress... our crossing from the Czech Republic to Gemany? Pause at the crossing. Wave passports out the window. Proceed, picking up speed to join the Autobahn. Cool!
Several hours later, we crossed back out of Germany, and into the United States... kind of. Like many US military bases around the world, this one was a bit like a mid-sized US town, picked up, and then plopped down in Germany, complete with hospital, school, housing, gas stations, and most importantly to us... SHOPPING!
The recently opened commissary and PX (Post Exchange) boasts close to 100,000 square feet of retail space, restaurants, a barbershop and more. Best of all, you can SHOP IN ENGLISH! The kids weren't too interested in either the Taco Bell in the food court or the cheap grocery sales... but the face painting booth in the corner of the store was an instant hit! In no time, we had two full carts of groceries, a significantly lighter wallet, a (tired) butterfly dressed in a "SuperGirl" outfit, and a bunny, complete with balloon ears. What more could you want from a Saturday?