Outside the Dackelmuseum in Passau, Germany, I dropped to the cobblestone pavement to greet its four-legged ambassadors, year-old siblings Moni and Little Seppi. The black-and-tan short-haired dachshunds sniffed me, then Little Seppi reached up to gently lick my face.
A kiss so soon? I felt special, though I'm guessing I was one of hundreds he'd smooched since the Dackelmuseum, or Dachshund Museum, opened in April. The 79-square-metre
space pays homage to the pooch that originated in Germany and first was bred for hunting badgers. The dachshund's long snout and body, as well as its short legs and thick, powerful paws, were well suited for ferreting badgers out of their tunnels. These days, the breed is a popular pet in many European countries and was ranked 13th in the United States last year by the American Kennel Club.
Even before the debut of the world's first museum devoted to the wonders of the wiener dog, the quirky attraction had garnered much media attention. The museum sports some 4000 pieces of wienerabilia and an unrivaled dachshund-themed gift shop. I learned of it because my Facebook page filled up with links from friends who know I go bonkers for the breed. In one of my early baby photos, I'm being kissed by the family dachshund, Schnapps. Since then, I've shared my life with eight other lowriders and fostered even more. I am currently houndless, but my devotion to the diminutives has not diminished.
Since Passau, an attractive historic city in southeastern Germany, is only a day's drive from my home in the Netherlands, I immediately put a visit on my shortlist. Then a friend mentioned the Teckel Hotel, run by a Dutch couple in the Austrian Alps devoted to "teckels," the Dutch word for dachshund. This being only a few hours southwest of Passau, my "teckel tour" was on. (Alas, I didn't have time to squeeze in a side trip to Posh Teckel, a Berlin bar and music club run by dachshund owners who also organise wiener-dog walks.)
In the baroque center of Passau, situated along the Danube, Inn and Ilz rivers, it's easy to spot the Dackelmuseum during opening hours. Co-owners Seppi Küblbeck and his longtime partner, Oliver Storz, who arrived during my visit, adorn the exterior with dachshund-shaped benches, watering cans and more. On nice days you're likely to find one or both of the men, often with Moni and Little Seppi, sitting outside in their knee-length lederhosen chatting up passersby, of which there are many. Passau, a main stop on the busy European river cruise circuit and a starting point for many cycling tours, hosts more than 1 million tourists a year.
"People, especially Americans, will send us emails before they go on a river cruise and ask if we'll be open and if we'll be there, but most of all if the dogs will be there," Storz said with an amused look. "I can't believe we're like celebrities, but if the dogs are here, it's like an audience with the pope. They kneel down and kiss them and sometimes go on their backs." (For the record, I did not go on my back.)
Some visitors show up wearing dachshund-themed clothing and jewelry, and one New Yorker arrived with her travel mate - a silhouette cutout of her dachshund.
"Then she asked, 'Can I get your autographs so I can show my dachshund when I'm home?' " Storz said, and the co-owners laughed at the memory.
But don't think they're mocking their customers - they're right there with them.
When the two started dating 21 years ago, Küblbeck had a long-haired dachshund who initially would turn her backside to Storz, but grew to love him. Moni and Little Seppi are the couple's third generation of dachshunds.
Over the years, the men, who are both medal-winning master florists and once owned a shop together, collected dachshund memorabilia during their travels and ended up with several hundred pieces.
"Only beautiful items of good quality," Küblbeck noted. Nothing too kitschy."
A few years ago, after Küblbeck broke his foot and Storz was hospitalised with a burst appendix, they decided to shutter the flower shop and open a less-stressful business selling classic Bavarian souvenirs, with some dackel doodads on the side.
"We discovered from our international travellers that the dachshund is really popular all over the world," Storz said. "So we started to increase that collection and had a 50 per cent turnover of dachshund items every day."
After a little digging around, they found a spot for a bona fide dachshund museum and gift shop. Thanks to some early publicity in Europe, the founder of the Belgian punk rock band Les Teckels reached out to donate about 3500 items.
"He came with a van completely full, with 60 banana boxes and each of the dachshunds wrapped in paper," Storz said.
They've since picked up more donations, including a collection of 2000 items.
"It's mostly from elderly people who want to clean out their lives," Storz said. We've had some really nice meetings."
Other items arrive unsolicited.
"Every day we get parcels at the shop. Sometimes they're addressed only to 'Dachshund Museum, Passau, Germany.' "
But Küblbeck and Storz are not just amassing inventory then sitting on their haunches. They've done a spectacular job of arranging and displaying dachshund items and information, including basics on the subtypes of the breed (smooth, long-haired and wire-haired), famous dachshund owners (Picasso, Warhol, Elizabeth Taylor, various royalty, and even a young John F. Kennedy), dachshunds in music, sport, art, toys, books, Christmas decorations and more (so much more). One exhibit is devoted to Waldi, the sausage-dog symbol of the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich.
The afternoon I visited, I ran into Barb Perez from Annapolis, Maryland, who had wandered in after spotting Küblbeck sitting outside with Moni and Little Seppi.
"I'm on a river cruise and was spending today walking around town when I saw the dogs," she said. "This place is adorable and so well done. I had no idea. I'm a huge dog lover."
Perez has two beagles and a basset hound/Yorkshire terrier mix.
"Everyone thinks he's a wire-haired dachshund," said Perez, swiping through her photos to show Storz and me the uncanny resemblance. (Not surprisingly, Storz and Küblbeck are treated to customers' dog photos multiple times a day.)
Before departing the gift shop with a museum magnet and a hot-pink bobblehead of a wiener dog, I checked out the guest book, signed by dachsie devotees from more than 50 countries and half the states in the Union. One glaring omission: Crusoe, the celebrity dachshund with millions of online followers, who thus far has not replied to his invitation.
The next day, armed with a stack of Dackelmuseum brochures to take to the Teckel Hotel, I headed down to the mountain resort town of Mayrhofen in the western Austrian region of Tyrol, an hour from Innsbruck.
I was greeted with a five-bark salute by Penny, the wire-haired matriarch (along with sister Pip), but was disappointed to find an empty lawn - until I learned that all the hounds were out hiking. Of course.
The 15-room hotel, which is a compact and comfortable ski lodge in the winter (teckels are welcome year-round), is a dachshund's delight in the summer. Owners Eric and Anneliese van den Broeke have gone to great lengths to satisfy canine and human customers, adding amenities such as a doggy pool, washing tub, bowls of water everywhere, secure play areas inside and out, and comfy chairs all over. Rooms come equipped with a dog bed, bowl and branded biscuits, and dogs are even allowed at the breakfast table.
The longtime dachshund owners bought the hotel last year and opened in July 2017. As a joke, they'd posted a note to a dachshund Facebook group suggesting maybe they should turn the place into a destination for teckels.
"We got around 1000 reactions from people saying they'd love to come and when could they book,' " said Eric, who was there with 1-year-old Penny during my stay. "It was crazy. So we rushed to open in the summer instead of waiting for ski season."
The interior is furnished in regional alpine style, with dashes of art dacho, including paintings, lamps and the same benches found at the Dackelmuseum.
As Eric predicted, later that afternoon, an impromptu yappy hour occurred, though my prayers for playing with a dozen dachshunds went unanswered. The dogs were more interested in their owners and each other, so I befriended some humans instead.
Nadia Ustyushenkova and her husband were visiting from Moscow with Esmeralda, 2, their wire-haired dachshund who would a few days later compete in the World Dog Show in Amsterdam. Meanwhile, Esmeralda was enjoying splashing in the pool and playing fetch. Earlier, she had hiked to a glacier and taken in a gondola ride.
"We're all having the best time," Ustyushenkova said. "Of course some hotels allow dogs, but we love that here she can go everywhere."
When I joked with Eric that he should loan out bedtime buddies to dogless guests (actually, I was serious), he offered up Penny with a wink, but we both knew the real solution: Next time, I need to pack my own pup.